Sandy Ramirez PsyD ’93 Renders Disaster Aid

After 22 years as a Red Cross volunteer providing mental health help to people in crisis, Sandy Ramirez PsyD ’93 was in a new place in the fall of 2020. It was her third “virtual deployment” to disaster areas since the beginning of the year, and this time, the crisis was close to home.

Sandy RamirezAfter responding remotely to natural disasters in Michigan and Iowa, she was working in her own backyard.

The Oregon wildfires of the fall of 2020 made up a “highly unusual and spectacular-in-a-bad-way disaster,” she said from her home in southwest Portland. The size of the Red Cross response to the crisis was unprecedented, she said.

The fires affected much of the state, and Ramirez was assigned oversight of a district that covered Portland, Salem and Bend, as well as other smaller towns in between. In those areas, fires had devastated vast swaths, forcing many to flee their houses. And many homes were lost to the flames.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she wasn’t on the scene of the 2020 disasters in Michigan, Iowa and Oregon. But she was able to virtually work with some clients, and also to tend to the emotional health of front-line Red Cross volunteers. Many of them need help, too.

“There’s a whole layer of the pandemic that’s been wearing on everybody,” Ramirez said. “Everyone is my client.”

In fact, that’s the idea that has animated Ramirez, 72, ever since she started babysitting more than 60 years ago. She likes people and wants to help them.

“I’m very relationship-oriented,” she said. Helping people is “beneficial for them and also for me.”

In Portland, she belongs to the congregation Havurah Shalom, which cultivates personal action in social ministry. She lives the Judaic value of Tikkun Olam — repair the world. She has served on professional bodies and taken part in volunteer initiatives. She is involved in works of generational equity, or passing wisdom, skills and values to the next generation. She has returned to Pacific, for example, to join in Senior Projects Day, Career Day and other activities. She is delighted to see the emergence of “really brilliant students” who care about issues of social equity.

Ramirez earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. She moved to Portland to go to work as a school psychologist. She was working for Portland Public Schools in the early 1980s when Portland began to experience gang violence. In time, she said, “I became less interested in learning disabilities and more interested in the emotional well-being of kids.”

During a sabbatical from her school district, she enrolled at Pacific in what was then the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. She earned her PsyD in 1993. Her dissertation was about children and gangs.

“I really loved it,” she said, citing faculty members and former students who remain friends. “I really liked the values. And it was small, and personal.”

Pacific was an important part of a lifetime journey that Ramirez began many years ago.

“I’ve always liked to be a helper,” she said, and her faith and experience have guided her to greater and greater involvement. “We have to do something,” she said. “It’s like the saying ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’

“We have to get outside of ourselves and take some action.”

This story appears in the Winter 2020 issue of Pacific magazine as part of the Boxers are Helpers series. For more stories, visit

Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020