This article was written by David Bjorkgren. It was originally published on November 30, 2020 by MontcoToday.
Bethany Bonner certainly has her hands full at The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) helping elderly victims in Montgomery County.
Yet, the Pottstown resident still manages to clean out an occasional flood-ravaged home or fly off to Texas to take care of some damage after a hurricane.
Bonner, who was raised in Lansdale, has been a case manager for over a year at The Lincoln Center, working with clients in their Elder Victim Mobile Support Program. She connects those over 60 who have been victims of crime or abuse with community resources.
The 28-year-old is also part of Team Rubicon, an organized group of veterans and civilians who respond to disasters. The group provides man power, equipment and materials to get people back on their feet when a disaster strikes.
Disaster aid is usually food and comfort for the victims, but Team Rubicon is more about the heavy lifting.
“You need people to roll up their sleeves and get to work and do the gritty stuff,” Bonner says.
She describes the work as “soul food.”
“You don’t do this because you want to play in mold. You do this because you want to help somebody on their worst day,” she says.
She joined Team Rubicon in 2017. That was the year of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
To meet the needs of hurricane victims, Team Rubicon recruited a lot of civilians like Bonner from around the country and even accepted volunteers from Canada, Australia and Norway.
Bonner’s husband Steve Kokko is a 12-year Marine Reservist and architectural surveyor who was deployed in Afghanistan. He joined Team Rubicon in 2016 after finding them on Facebook, and that is what led Bonner to join the following year.
“It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”
She started off working the phone, taking requests for help and writing up work orders which were distributed to various teams in the disaster areas, whether it was Team Rubicon, the Red Cross or FEMA.
She decided after a week or two she wanted to be in the field. Next thing she knew, she was on a charter flight with 70 other volunteers heading to Wharton, Texas for eight days.
Most of her work is “muck outs,” cleaning up after flood waters have invaded a home or business.
Mold sets in very quickly, so everything has to be removed—couches, appliances, drywall, flooring, anything water logged or damaged. It’s nasty work.
“I always look at TR (Team Rubicon) as the wrecking ball before the recovery. We’re stripping the damage to expedite getting to the recovery process,” Bonner explains.
Team Rubicon brings together individuals with different experiences which makes the group strong.
As a social worker, Bonner is able to provide comfort to traumatized victims and team members.
“I’ve dealt with both homeowners breaking down and crying and volunteers as well because it’s heavy work,” she says. “I try being a source of listening and compassion, a positive figure, something I do at work and out in the field.”
Team Rubicon also stepped up during the COVID pandemic, working test sites and distributing food through local food banks.
Bonner treats what she does through Team Rubicon differently than what she does with TLC, even though both involve helping others.
“I have conviction that if I’m physically, mentally, emotionally able to do more, I should do more.”
It’s a way of thinking we should all adopt.
“It doesn’t have to be going out in the field for eight days and volunteering your time. It can be as simple as opening a door for somebody or carrying somebody’s groceries,” she says. “If we can and we’re able to, we should be doing more. That’s how we evolve and become better people and better communities.”
You can find out more about The Lincoln Center by clicking here.
To find out more about Team Rubicon, and to volunteer, click here.