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Angels Walk Among Us: Support Officer Volunteers Help Strangers Through the Hardest Times of Their Lives

April 26, 2019

Teresa Flinn - Commercial Banking Officer and Support Officer Volunteer

Teresa Flinn - Commercial Banking Officer and Support Officer Volunteer


Life is unpredictable. At the drop of a hat, everything you know can change. An unexpected, tragic loss happened for one Whatcom County man’s mother who learned her son had died. She lived in Florida and heard the terrible news just before Hurricane Irma hit. The mother was beside herself because airports and roads were closed, and she could not travel to Washington state to take care of her son’s affairs.


“Her son was very well-loved,” says Kendra Cristelli, executive director of Support Officer Community Crisis Care. “His friends helped us clean out his apartment, and we found placement for his cats. We helped sell his car and did everything his mother would have done had she been able to come.”


Tragic incidents like vehicular fatalities, homicides, suicides, and sudden deaths happen every day. When families are in crisis, the organization is here to help in every possible way.


Support Officers began in 1982. “The fire chief at the time and a local pastor got together and realized the need,” says Cristelli.


When first responders are called out to fatality situations, they have investigations to run and work to complete. Then they get called out to the next emergency. Unfortunately, more often than not, they don’t have time to help family members beyond the scope of their emergency duties.


The local fire chief didn’t feel right about leaving grieving families behind. He and the pastor started the Support Officer program to help. “Back then there was a group of pastors who would carry a pager. They would be contacted any time there was a death outside of a care facility,” says Cristelli.


Today, out of 22 Support Officers, many still represent the clergy. Others, some who have experienced tragedy themselves, volunteer with the organization as a way to give back.


Teresa Flinn, a commercial banking officer at the Peoples Bank Barkley Financial Center, is one such volunteer. She found out about the organization the way most people do, amid a crisis. Flinn lost a dear friend who died unexpectedly during a hike. “The Support Officer on site contacted my husband and me and was available to help us and the family pull it all together,” she says.


“Peoples Bank helps support the organization, not only through donations, but if necessary, they allow me to leave during the work day to assist those in need,” says Flinn. “It’s very gracious of the bank to support this organization, and all of the other important volunteer work in our local community.”


Emergency response is only the tip of the iceberg for Support Officer volunteers who provide information, emotional support, resources, and anything else the family needs. Read more...