AIA Interview with Sylla SHeppard-Hanger

by Alliance of International Aromatherapists

AIA Interview with Sylla Sheppard-Hanger Transcript

UAE Inc.- past present future

Did you ever have an idea that seemed silly? After 911 I did, and it manifested!!

How we started

Doug E. Rasmusson was my inspiration to get involved with disaster relief. Affectionately known as “Doug E”, he had over the previous years become a very good friend, mentee, supporter and instructor for the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy. We first met when he came to my class in Tampa, 1992. He sponsored aromatherapy classes in the Florida Keys and sold his own oil line. Together, we travelled to many conferences within the aromatherapy community. He formed the first Florida massage team before moving to NC and in 1998 where he developed Carolina Emergency Response Massage Team (CERMT). They provided stress relief during hurricanes and other disasters in North Carolina, and were well known and invited in once they realized the value a simple chair massage for Critical Incident Stress management or CISM

In 2001, after the tragedy of September 11th That day I was on the way to moffitt for volunteer work and parking heard on the radio a plane had hit. As we started the Look good feel better presentation, we kept getting interrupted by the update as word spread around the hospital. I quickly went home devastated and spent the next days with my husband and daughter and watching the events of unbelievable horror unfold. This was my wake-up call, I had never felt compelled to action.

I so wanted to do something to help those affected because we are moved at these times to do something to help…. As a cancer survivor, I couldn’t donate blood so I decided to join “Doug E.” and his team who were preparing to venture to New York to participate in the disaster relief. I called to tell him I am joining the team.

The next day during a massage while I was working on my client and I heard- aromatize Manhattan!! to help with the smell and other issues. I did not know how at first, but Thanks to the internet, IDMA list, I said I’m going, what should I take? the call for donations from all my friends and colleagues in aromatherapy produced a miracle. So, we were able to give out supplies to others, and take care of ourselves; this is where the blend we call Purification came in. We all used that in our rooms, sprayed masks, and even the subway. We all became imprinted with this memory as some know!!

The first trip in November we carried $10K worth of supplies to give out. DougE led us back 3 more times, with help from therapists from all over the USA and the REST-UK, the teamed formed by therapists in England. 786

Nyssa my daughter was in her senior year of high school, went too, after 2nd I said imp going back, for my Christmas and they joined me-he for Christmas night and Day entertaining himself while we worked Ground zero Christmas morning and the Harlem zoo, firehouse in the afternoon. For the team Nyssa did logistics, helped with subways, how to get where, and on the assignments helped people sign in, pick a product, have a chat, she even did some hand massage and was a valuable part of our team. She can speak on how this changed her life.

Mynou DeMey made some of our initial contacts in Safe Horizions, taking care of the survivors;

with the help of Eileen Christina, over bacon and eggs, we also set up the Adopt a Station program to help FDNY houses; we were able to set up 22 firehouses with supplies including diffusors, vaporizers, stock oils to use, and other things the sponsors added like a steak dinner!! I was blessed to go set them up, what fun we had with these firefighters, and how honored we were to be there. They showered us with shirts, pins, special trips in the truck, and so much more. An honor of my life to serve there

outpouring of community to help us go there and do that was tremendous and showed the power of giving and gratitude. This was something people could do, they could supply US with tools that we could put into the hands of those that needed. They knew we didn’t just drop off a box, each product went into a hand. And we did, we spread that love all over NYC. performing almost 3000 chair massages to workers from FDNY, PAPD, NYPD, and other relief workers

We even had some pocket angels, I still have and occasionally am told to pop into a package I’m sending…

Our tribute video called Please Remember sums up that time in so many ways

After that we rested and spent the next year or two fundraising to pay off debts accrued that we still had to cover even though the rest of the world had moved onto other things, I personally suffered PTSD afterwards and thanks to some work on myself, learning EFT, and other techniques, using our blend again during Biloxi and not getting burnt out, I was able to move through that part!

We worked hard to pay off our debts and we celebrated ourselves at the NAHA Raleigh conference, where we raffled off strands of DougE’s long hair for fund raising, and we partied hard with lots of aromatic friends and supporters! YEAR

we finally did it when DougE broke the world’s record in longest chair massage in Asheville during our final fundraiser chair massage event.

Moving on, in a few years 2005-6 Hurricane Katrina and Rita happened. Geraldine Zelenski in LA stepped up and became our Central Staging- “camp runamuk- in Shreveport, and supplies poured in again. I was able to go for one week deployment this time. We stayed on cots in a volunteer fire station and worked in one of the Incident Command Center set up on the top floor of only hotels not destroyed by the wave that washed over the island; and made a great connection with the workers, in particularly the mortuary division whose head guy ordered his men to come see us every day, and they really appreciated the aromatics as their jobs are one of the worst imaginable. Sara Holmes interviewed him afterwards. WE felt we made an impact with our chair massages by the time the Relief effort ended we had distributed in excess of $100,000 in donated goods.

In 2009 My nephew, Jim was being deployed for a year to Kabul and I woke up to duh, we need to help the soldiers!!! Besides this is a way for me to focus on productive instead of fear for him. he helped us get the donations dispersed at Camp Phoenix by acting as our Soldier on the Ground, receiving and distributing supplies to other soldiers on duty.

This began a new type of operation, and sending overseas, to someone who could have access to distribute and knew what these things were!! So, Jim was able to receive and distribute, and share the love! We were able to connect people and companies who then shipped direct in masses, like the Nelson Bach company,with an outreach in excess of 20K, All was so well received and appreciated, and Jim made a lot of new friends!!! We did too!

In our honor, a flag was flown over Camp Phoenix!! And sent to us along with a beautiful letter and the flag. We shared this with our largest supporters over the years such as Marge Clark of Natures Gift, and Marcia Elston of Samara Botane, they got to spend time and share that honor.

We also came through with 20k worth of hand-sanitizer for the Gulf/BP spill. , we closed the org due to lack of funds, interest, and my energy to do paperwork, etc. as well so we focused locally again with the VA and Moffitt.

Recently we RESTARTED up and were able to reinstate and get a bank account, pay pal and upgrade with Facebook page, a working FB group, and a new team of volunteers who can help and have agreed to receive this baby we birthed long ago, and raise it up- our new team of leaders are half elders like me and Doug with Nyssa as the in between in age yet experienced; with new generation of expertise in new areas! Judy Klispie, Karen Kinter-Norland, Hana Viola Belikova, Amy Kreydin, Dedi Thorn.and Lisa Sweet-Kinsey. Thanks to all our newbies with awesome techy talents, Dedi made our new site with all the bells and whistles- after 15 yrs! Hana Viola Belikova – secretary and records keeper, in charge of all things spreadsheetable 🙂 Judy keeps bank records and stuff, and stages for FL; Karen is our EMT/FR and Amy is our TX ambassador, with Lisa being our Social media worker! I feel blessed to have this new talent so I am no longer on my own!

We no longer have the massage team and are shifting our activities, when we have a way to disseminate we do so and are playing by ear; Amy has brought in some great ways of connecting through local herbal groups; our FL School set up wellness wagons that we could donate inhalers, etc. after the Orlando Pulse shootings- Nyssa may speak on her part in that.

In addition, we cannot always get to the FR, or those in EM because it’s a strict area and we are not yet recognized as DougE/CERMT was in the old days. Our dream is to be that, and we have plans for that in the future.

In 2017 after hurricane Harvey devastated TX, Amy Krydin Barefoot Dragonfly, stepped up to be staging in Austin and has done tremendous work staging there, and Judy Klispie and her team at Aromatic Harmony are staging here in FL. As we were soon hit. Followed by PR

Toward these efforts, we have had:

  • Roughly 1500 inhalers, of which 1/3 were blank
  • About 270 roll-on bottles that will be filled using some 300 donated pipette
  • About 3 liters of pure essential oils
  • Other assorted donations
  • Well over $2,000 donated by more than 40 donors (individuals, companies, and associations)

So here we are, total volunteers, no one gets paid and it has cost me a bit at times when needed, like the fees to reinstate. But people come thru, and organizations such as this one who gave us our opening funds!! (We have been blessed with donations from all over the nation! AIA gave us a generous donation, which helped us complete the reinstatement of the organization and set up our bank account so that we have some funds available, if needed. There are so many of you that donated supplies and that is what helps us to remain a viable not-for-profit and keeps our mission going. Right now, we are in a planning and preparing stage so we will be ready for the next time we are needed.)jk

How people can help;

of course, financial, we have PayPal or take checks, info on the site.

Products; we try to issue what is need at present. Needs are different for each disaster so we have our system in place to post what/when/where when we need.

Things I learned:

The knowledge and experience I gained was incredibly valuable.

Wrote this recently: Things I learned in disaster work.

Remain calm. cry when needed;

Pace yourself. Feed yourself Debrief daily. Remember the world is still going on. One must still chop wood and carry water. One can’t make a living doing this. Keep your cup full. Debrief daily…. Be grateful daily. Life is too short. Embrace the spontaneous Heart breaks and the heart warming. Count your blessings.

I learned so much, most importantly that giving back feels better than receiving. I also learned that one has to receive in order to ‘fill the cup’. My dear friend and colleague Trevor Stokes said during my cancer recovery, “you have to let people help because it is giving them a chance to do something, and they need this gift”. And so, I did. I got what I needed and gave them the gift of helping me.

When we help someone, it’s a win win. Giving makes the giver feel good, the receiver feels good for receiving, and anyone watching also feels good too because of the endorphin release which can occur for observers witnessing a good deed too! To keep it going now we local therapists volunteer with the James Haley Veterans Hospital here in Tampa, so we continue to accept a chance to give to the wounded warriors, and their caregivers too. If we can work locally it makes a lot of difference in a small way, and that adds up

How to best help is understanding how it all works and the protocol necessary to be a part of a relief effort;


Assessment of incident-determine what may be needed (continuous)

Call to Action: both supplies and financial

Set Up Staging:

log supplies coming in and out, report to sec weekly

determine what to ready

decide on Ambassador/ who can handle all the above or train others to:

Ambassador disseminates to delivery people whether they are a team, group of FRS, displaced victims, etc. they need to know what to do, what is for, etc. so it is helpful if we could have a list of RAs who can talk about the product provided and assess needs. One more reason to become an RA. This will add more to our credibility as we move into recognition in the future.

As a team member, or to even be an Ambassador:

Must first understand all IC protocol by taking the 3 FEMA emergency tests

agree to abide by code of professional ethics: no self-deployment, or self-advertising,

After Deployment: document your actions for the org; debrief as needed, recover

Doug Said: One of the main things that happen after disaster, is the goodness in our hearts pour out to the people who are in need. We want to do something right away. Please stop and think just a bit before rushing into an area that has been devastated. if you show up without any affiliation with an emergency respond team, you will be sent home. If you are watching the news you’ll see that there isn’t any place for you to stay, the food you would be eating should be going to someone that doesn’t have any, and you’ll just be getting in the way. You need to make contract with the local emergency response teams. If you can piggy back on one of them, that is a get way of getting into areas of disaster. Now that you’ve been there and seen all the horrible things, you need to take care of yourself. Contact a group like the local Critical Incident Stress Management, CISM, Team and do some debriefing. This is one of the most important parts of a deployment, decompressing.


I feel blessed to pass this onto the new gen, and the future. Like a child this org that grows and changes, I am accepting of those changes and see the focus change as a good thing,

For the future, we will need to have a network of qualified ambassadors throughout the nation that will assist us getting the needed supplies to the affected areas. We had a contact through Amy for the fire devastation in California and were able to send supplies. Another contact was sent supplies for the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings. We were challenged when Hurricane Maria hit PR in that there was no one we knew who could assist with dissemination if we were able to get supplies there. In addition, the infrastructure of the whole island was destroyed so their needs were survival oriented and remain so as of this date. There are many displaced PR’s in Florida, upwards of 75, 000. With the population scattered throughout the state, it is a challenge to try to work with that population, but we continue to look for any opportunities to be able to reach out. UAE, Inc. could affect many people who need relief, and we are looking for ways to help, both big and small.


As I said in the Uncommon Scents Movie teasers

THE greatest experience of my life and if I never did anything else, this was it!

And it spread and now we have created something others can follow, be a part of, or have a venue to help. There is nothing greater than giving back or being a part of someting larger, it unites us in our grief; remember how we were the days after 911? being kind to others, traffic courtesy, etc. This is the feeling of doing this work, or supporting it.

The moral of this tale is you never know what a random thought can do, even though it seems silly or impossible at the time! Go ahead, fly with it! It could become an important move. You could help a lot of people including yourself and if nothing else you will have a grand story to tell later.


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