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Karen Charles

Karen Charles

Faculty of Applied Health & Community Studies

Degree: Emergency Management

Year of graduation: 2008

Finding Hope Amid the Wreckage

As a District Manager for the Canadian Red Cross, I have witnessed deep levels of generosity and strength of spirit that have strengthened my commitment to my work. 

I can still see the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, the two most destructive and costly storms in United States history. I was on the scene with the Red Cross following both disasters, providing support for the thousands of American Red Cross volunteers who poured into the regions. I saw displaced residents, many already marginalized by a life of poverty, receive much-needed medical attention at no cost through the Red Cross. 

Remaining with me, too, are memories from other disaster zones where I have been part of relief efforts. I can clearly recall the dust and smell of New York City following the 9/11 attack, and the haunting stories of volunteers from all walks of life who felt compelled to sign up to work day after day. 

My previous experience in disaster services kept me closer to home. In 1999, I spent five weeks at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton to support the 5,000 Kosovo refugees who were airlifted to Canada during the war in the former Yugoslavia. Only a few weeks after graduation, I was involved in organizing temporary shelter for hundreds of First Nations people in Ontario’s James Bay region after severe flooding threatened their safety. 

It was a winding road that led me to this point in my career, and Sheridan has been a key part of that journey. In 1974, I followed my husband (then boyfriend) who was a student at Sheridan, and enrolled in the Medical Secretary program. After graduation, I worked for several years in the field, returning to Sheridan to receive an accounting diploma in 1984. 

In 1991, I took an accounting position with the Canadian Red Cross in Waterloo which led to my involvement in International and Disaster Services. When Sheridan introduced its Emergency Management graduate certificate program in 2007, it was an ideal fit for me. 

It is interesting to see how all of my education at Sheridan has culminated into my current career. The Medical office training and background has helped me with Pandemic Planning, the accounting has provided the attention to detail and cost analysis necessary to get a job done on time and within budget, and the Emergency Management has enhanced my knowledge and understanding of the complexities, challenges and rewards of building stronger more resilient communities. Education is never wasted. All learning and experience helps us become a stronger resource to others, as well as ourselves.
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