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Red Cross Volunteers Share their Pets to Help Service Members, Veterans and their Families

Wed, 08/31/2022 - 08:53
Pre-deployment event at Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

Across the country and around the globe, American Red Cross therapy dogs use their time and talent to serve the community in unique ways. They comfort disaster survivors who may have lost everything after a storm, veterans receiving medical care at hospitals, and military families in need of support before, during and/or after deployment.

We’re grateful for our Red Cross pups and their handlers who serve our mission each and every day. Meet a few of them from our Northern Ohio region:

Paul and Katie Svasta with Bree and Shasta.

Bree, a Goldendoodle, and Shane, a Rough Collie, are trained members of the Red Cross Animal Visitation Program (AVP) in northern Ohio. They – along with their owners, Paul and Katie Svasta of Canfield – bring comfort to members of all branches of the military who deploy from or return to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. The dogs are also welcome at family days at the air base.

“Bree is spot on,” Paul said. “She can identify somebody who needs her. She’ll pull me over to the person, and if that person gives me the go-ahead, she’ll lean right up next to them, for
them to pet her or hug her.

“It breaks the tension, the anxiety. That unconditional connection,” he said. “It’s rewarding, that something so simple can give so much comfort.”

Paul and Katie began acclimating Bree to therapy work five years ago, when she was a puppy, so she’s the pro of the pair. Shane got a slow start because pandemic protocols interrupted the conditioning all therapy dogs go through. “But he’s coming along,” Paul said affectionately.

Red Cross volunteer Kate Mazzolini and Sully.

The animal visitation program has been operating at the Youngstown base, which hosts the 910th Airlift Wing, for several years. The Svastas are part of a team of more than three dozen handlers and their dogs who attend events there.

Recently, Jessica Tischler, manager of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces in northern Ohio expanded the visitation program to send canine therapy teams into the northeast Ohio VA healthcare system, to lift the spirits of hospitalized veterans.

“We’re so grateful that our volunteers are willing to share the love these animals offer during their visits,” Jessica said. Now she’s looking to make contact with more dog owners who already have therapy experience, as the Svastas did.

The Red Cross has been training and dispatching therapy dogs into military hospitals to comfort wounded warriors and veterans undergoing treatment since shortly after World War II.

At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Jen O’Keefe and her Leonberger Digory carry on the tradition. Digory is a three-legged cancer survivor, so he’s a uniquely positive presence, especially for amputees.

Jen O’Keefe and Digory.

“We (Digory and I) can’t fix people, but we can help lift the anxiety, the stress, for patients, their families – and for the staff,” she said. “The staff is a huge part of our job.

“For me, this is the highlight of my week,” she said. “This is how I de-stress from my job as an emergency veterinarian. I don’t often get to bring good news, but with Digory, I know we’re welcome.”

If you’d like more information about the animal visitation program or any of the other volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, visit

This story was originally published on the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region’s blog. 

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How One Wife and Husband Volunteer Duo are Providing Military Patients Comfort and Care

Tue, 08/30/2022 - 13:29

Each week, service members, contractors or military families living overseas who need more comprehensive medical care than their duty station or remote operational location can provide, arrive at the Andrews Air Force Base in Morningside, Maryland.

While there, military families find Red Cross volunteers like Sridhar Srinivasan and his wife, Becky Callahan, who visit the base every week, to help patients who arrive on the Department of the Defense’s aeromedical evacuation missions.

You’re dealing with people who are having their worst day. You’re supporting them — providing them a meal, a snack and the comfort of home. It’s a little thing but we think it helps,” said Sridhar.

Patients arriving have a wide range of injuries from mild to severe and are usually exhausted after their long journey. Unfortunately, this base is just a stop for them, where they can receive medical care before continuing to their final destination, which may be a military facility or hospital stateside. While patients are routed through Landstuhl, Germany, their original location could have been Africa, the Middle East or Europe. The multiple stops along with the severity of their medical conditions are exhausting and grueling for many military patients and their families.

“It’s all about making people feel welcome and that they’re normal. Everyone here has been through something,” Becky said. Sridhar says that this is often the first time that these patients have not returned to the states in a long time. “It’s their first night back and things might be challenging. We like to be here no matter what. We want these patients to know that somebody cares,” he said.

Both Sridhar and Becky love volunteering in this capacity, and especially, together. “I knew if I ever wanted to spend quality time with my wife, I’d have to become a Red Cross volunteer too,” Sridhar jokes.

Many times, because of weather, scheduling conflicts or other unforeseen circumstances, flights can come in at any time of the day. This is why the Red Cross role is so critical on base and why Red Cross volunteers need to be flexible and ready to support when called upon.

Master Sgt. Darrell Brantley, who oversees military operations at the center, says that despite the logistical challenges, the Red Cross almost always has volunteers at the center, ready to go the extra mile. “We love the American Red Cross. We couldn’t do this mission without volunteers like Sridhar and Becky,” he said.

If you’d like to learn about volunteer opportunities to help service members, veterans and their families, click here.


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90 Years Strong and Still Serving

Tue, 08/30/2022 - 07:03

Norma Smith vividly remembers the last time she saw her brother. She was nine; he was a 20-year-old heading overseas to serve as a bombardier and navigator in the Air Corps during World War II. The memory that lingers the strongest after all this time is the feel of his khaki uniform and the smell of wool wet from the snow as she leaped into his arms and hugged him goodbye. “It’s 80 years later and I still remember it to this day,” says Norma.

He wrote to his family about the Red Cross ladies that gave service members cookies, coffee, and doughnuts. Sadly, 2nd Lt. Norris Kenneth Calkins was killed in combat on May 17, 1943, shortly after his letter home. But that small detail of those volunteers stuck with Norma and led to an incredible 72 years of service to her community through the Red Cross.

“[Volunteering] gives back a lot more than you give it. The reward I have gotten for it in terms of satisfaction from a job well done and people who are unbelievably grateful and kind about what you’ve done for them. It makes you feel good and you’re doing something you know is helping,” says Norma.

It all started when she was an 18-year-old student nurse and got enrolled as a volunteer responder with the Red Cross in Detroit where she grew up. She graduated from Wayne State University College of Nursing in 1954 with a bachelor’s in nursing, her R.N. license, and her Public Health Nursing certificate. During her nursing career, she would often end up working with the Red Cross to set up blood banks in the hospitals where she worked as a hospital supervisor or director of nursing. She has also taught professional CPR for years.

She recalls one of her most memorable moments was “my feeling when I did CPR in the field for the first time, and it worked!” She was with her husband and three kids driving one Christmas Eve when they witnessed a car accident right in front of them, so they pulled over to help. The woman driving the car had gotten stuck behind the steering wheel. Norma assessed that she wasn’t breathing and quickly asked a service member who was also there to help her get the woman out. Norma instructed him to call 911, then started performing CPR. The woman regained consciousness after about four minutes and by then the paramedics had arrived.

“It is an incredibly satisfying feeling that you just saved a life,” says Norma.

Her service not only spans years, but many states – Michigan, South Carolina, California, and eventually to Bainbridge Island, Wash., where she and her husband, Jerome, moved when they retired in 1996. Located across from Seattle, she is active in the American Red Cross Northwest Region.

It is here that she added Disaster Action Team (DAT) responder to her Red Cross resumé and now has 14 years under her belt. She describes client response work – where she’d show up to fire calls at any hour – as “very rewarding because at four o’clock in the morning when you’re out there and they’re standing there in their slippers and pajamas and that’s all they got left in the world, it’s really nice the way you can help them.”

These days, she does disaster response calls – ensuring those affected by home fires have resources, someplace to stay, and basic necessities – mostly from home. She will also follow up with folks four to six weeks later to check in on them and make sure they still have the support they need.

In addition to her Red Cross work, Norma does Meals on Wheels, works for the Medical Reserve Corps, and assists the Department of Emergency Management at their warming centers. Because her nursing license is still valid, she does health care work at the local senior center, goes to nearby Indian reservations to give inoculations, and was able to help with COVID testing and vaccinations in her area.

It is an impressive amount of activity and perhaps the secret to her longevity. “My mother said to me years ago, ‘You get to lie down a long time when you’re dead so get up and go to work.’ And I’ve also seen it as a nurse. People who sit back and retire and do nothing don’t do well. What I do makes me feel good.”

On July 2, Norma threw a party to celebrate her 90th birthday. Jerome passed away six years ago (they were married for 52 years), but her three kids, three grandkids, and two great grandkids were there, along with about 70 of her Red Cross friends and colleagues from over the years who traveled to be there. Her daughter made her birthday cake featuring a picture of Norma proudly wearing her Red Cross gear – always promoting the organization and encouraging others to get involved.

“There are jobs for everybody. The Red Cross needs help in every area. You shouldn’t feel like you’ve got nothing to offer. Everybody has something to offer.”

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Q + A with Award-Winning Humanitarian Communicator, Jenelle Eli

Wed, 08/24/2022 - 07:47
Kids living in Kutupalong, a displacement camp in Cox’s Bazar, Myanmar, make ‘heart’ symbols alongside Red Crosser Jenelle Eli. Photo by Brad Zerivitz/American Red Cross.

American Red Crosser Jenelle Eli is a humanitarian, crisis communicator, refugee advocate, and most recently, named to the class of 2022 PRNEWS Top Women in the Industry Innovators category.

Between her near back-to-back deployments over six months to the Mediterranean Sea and Poland in support of the Ukraine Crisis, Jenelle has secured prominent headlines in more than 180 countries to help people around the world understand urgent, lifesaving needs during more than 10 international missions with the Red Cross.

Among her responsibilities, Jenelle has helped secure ports of safety for stranded migrants at sea, enforced neutrality and the importance of upholding the Geneva Conventions, stood in as an impartial aid actor in the midst of war, protected the identities of vulnerable families fleeing violence, and contributed to the message in helping patients receive lifesaving blood during a national shortage.

Jenelle has dedicated nearly two decades of her life to amplifying the stories of displaced survivors through a lens of empathy and empowerment rather than victimization and pity. It is no surprise that when she was invited to speak at the United Nations in May, she discussed the importance of humanitarian aid for migrants and drew on her Red Cross experience helping people around the globe to amplify that message.

Now, within these next six months, Jenelle will join the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva as head of media relations and advocacy. In this role, she’ll continue her work advocating for those in need while building empathy for the world’s most vulnerable people.

If you’re interested in learning what drives Jenelle’s passion for this type of work, keep reading to find out.

Jenelle Eli, speaks to a child at an humanitarian aid distribution in Morelos, Mexico in the wake of a 7.1 earthquake. Photo by: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross What has motivated you to raise your hand for these high-intensity international missions with the Red Cross?

“Right now, there are more people displaced from their homes than at any other point in history. I studied refugee issues in school and have devoted my career to raising awareness about people’s needs on migratory routes and even once they’ve reached safety. I raise my hand for international missions because I know that getting refugees’ stories out and elevating their voices is the only way to truly create space for empathy.”

Who has inspired you along the way?

“Every mission I go on feels more inspiring than the last. I am in awe of people’s strength when they’re going through challenges and their ability to hold on to hope. When I worked aboard a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, my team rescued a 17-year-old kid from a sinking raft. Traveling without parents, all the way from Somalia, he told me of the hardships he faced and the family members he lost along the way. He had every right to be angry and tired, yet every day he was the first person to wake up and help fellow passengers. He helped us serve breakfast and tea, washed dishes, and made the kids aboard feel comfortable. Meeting people like him is what keeps me going.”

What does winning this award mean to you?

“It’s not easy to get attention from audiences about humanitarian crises—especially because there are just so many taking place at one time. People get disaster fatigue and start tuning out all the hurt that’s happening in the U.S. and around the world. Yet, harnessing people’s attention for good is the only way that things are going to change. I’m really pleased that the professional world of PR recognizes the importance of humanitarian communication—and that communicating in a way that ensures dignity for refugees is key. Words matter. And I think this award recognizes that.”

What do you hope your story inspires others to do? How can people help?

“I just want people to know that they don’t have to deploy to crisis zones to make a huge difference! Everyone can have a humanitarian impact in their own way—whether that’s volunteering in their community, donating money, raising awareness, or choosing a career responding to crises.

In the U.S., if you want to help refugees, volunteer for an organization helping to reconnect them with separated family members (like the Red Cross!) or a group that welcomes newly-arrived refugees in small cities and helps them navigate their new lives here. There are loads of ways to be a humanitarian.”

Syra Grace Sister (right) gathers water from a tap in Santiago, Philippines. The town’s water system was damaged by a powerful typhoon, but the American Red Cross and Philippines Red Cross has helped repair it—including this tap near Syra’s house and school. Photo by: Brad Zerivitz/American Red Cross

Learn more about how the Red Cross works internationally to help reconnect families separated by crises, rebuild communities devastated by disasters, and work alongside health organizations to eliminate global disease here.

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It All Started With A Television Ad: Meet Bernita Gallego Barfield

Mon, 08/22/2022 - 10:46
1971 Christmas photo taken in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. Pictured from L to R: Richard Moore, Bernita Gallego Barfield, Guy Sunny as Santa, Piji White and Sharon Rose.

A television ad made all the difference for Bernita Gallego Barfield.

It was the summer of 1967 and the U.S. had significantly increased its military presence in Southeast Asia because of the Vietnam War. Major U.S. cities were embroiled in race riots, anti-war protests, and widespread poverty–especially in Detroit where Bernita lived and worked at the time.

After being ordered to stay home from her advertising job in response to the growing violence in Detroit, Bernita came across an ad on her television calling on viewers to join the American Red Cross and work on military installations across the country and around the world.

Yearning for a deeper purpose in her life and wanting to make a difference during those troubling times, Bernita answered the call and became a Red Cross Assistant Field Director. Serving on military installations at home and abroad, she provided social services such as financial assistance and facilitated communications between soldiers and their loved ones.

As the war intensified, Bernita wanted to expand her impact beyond national borders and into Vietnam to support active-duty service members. She was assigned to Cam Ranh Bay in 1971, a major Army installation in Vietnam.

She recalls Christmas Day in 1971, aboard an Air Force Caribou, painted on the outside like Santa Claus and decorated on the inside. She flew to various nearby Firebases, landing to the cheers of soldiers and beaming Vietnamese children waiting for presents from Santa Claus.

Pictured from L to R: Sharon Rose, Richard Moore, Pigu White, Bernita Gallego Barfield and Guy Sunny as Santa.

In addition to the tight-knit group of Red Crossers on her team, Bernita also worked alongside “Donut Dollies,” Red Cross women who traveled by helicopters providing entertainment, comfort, and a familiar smiling face to service members. “We worked hard and played hard,” she said about her small but courageous team.

Her year in Vietnam was an emotional rollercoaster, from moments of joy and laughter to extreme sadness as she witnessed the horrors of war. As an Assistant Field Director, Bernita recounts arranging an emergency leave for an 18-year-old private after she had to inform the young man that his two-year-old brother had died.

She got through the tough times with the support of her team and a dose of humor to pass the long and exhausting days.

In 1972, Bernita completed her year of service and left Vietnam on an aircraft full of cheering soldiers. As the motors of the departing aircraft revved and the plane took off, she cried. A year’s worth of tears and mixed emotions finally bubbled to the surface–grief, relief, sadness, and celebration.

The soldiers she witnessed endured dangerous conditions and often lived in dugouts for shelter. Bernita too navigated these conditions with the Red Cross, relying on her resourcefulness, bravery, and empathy to uplift servicemen and the Vietnamese people she encountered in villages and on military installations.

Bernita’s time in Vietnam undoubtedly changed her outlook on life. She holds tremendous respect for the military community, which influenced her pursuits following that plane ride home. After leaving Vietnam, she met her husband in Germany–and found her next calling.

After the Vietnam War, veterans and civilians started to develop severe mental health issues characterized by traumatic memories of their wartime experiences. The American Psychiatric Association soon identified their condition as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which became an official mental health diagnosis in 1980. Today, it is estimated that about 30% of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD in their lifetime.

Bernita was at the forefront of supporting those suffering from the traumas of the war. In the mid-1970s, she worked at Frankfurt 97th U.S. Army General Hospital in Germany and played a key role in developing the hospital’s 30-day inpatient alcohol and drug treatment program, the first of its kind in Europe. She furthered her education and earned a master’s degree in counseling to better treat those in recovery.

When asked to sum up her Red Cross journey in a few words, Bernita paused, then smiled. “I’ve loved those that I served and served those that I loved.” She hopes that younger generations who were not around during the war can understand the turbulent time in the world and appreciate the invaluable contributions and true grit of the military.

The Red Cross helped to fulfill Bernita’s purpose, invigorated her passions for traveling and serving others, led her to find her husband, contributed to breakthroughs in the mental health field, and gave her a rewarding career in social services–all thanks to a television ad in 1967.

Bernita Gallego Barfield pictured today. Error happened.

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A Day in the Life of a Deployed Services to Armed Forces Team Member in Eastern Europe

Tue, 08/09/2022 - 10:29

Lorie Warchol, who is normally based in Louisiana, is now one of 50 American Red Cross workers who have deployed to bases in Europe to support U.S. troops since the war in Ukraine began 6 months ago.

While on base in Eastern Europe, Lori plays an integral role in supporting all the organizational activities for deployed troops in her region. As a Site Lead, she helps connect military families during times of crisis by delivering emergency messages from loved ones to service members in the area. In addition, a huge component of Lori’s role is to offer a sense of home and ‘normalcy’ for troops serving overseas by providing snacks, toiletries, games, free WIFI, and most importantly, lend a comforting ear to those in need. She finds great value and connection in rising early and joining the troops for physical fitness classes in the morning, stating that connecting through morale-boosting activities like these is a great way to show support to the service members.

When her deployment ends, Lorie will be relocating to Misawa, Japan to support more U.S. troops as a Red Cross Program Specialist and Station Manager. Until then, get a glimpse of what a typical day looks like for her on base in Europe:

Note: Time is displayed in military time.

0530: Reveille, Reveille! The mornings begin early at our base. I enjoy waking up early to meet with the troops for a morning of physical fitness, also called PT. As a deployed Red Crosser, it is important, for me to embody the spirit of my job and lead by example.

0700: After PT, I head to the office and load up bags with comfort and care items, containing things like soap, shampoo, razors, deodorant and snacks. We distribute these kits to various locations across our Forward Operating Site (FOS) to ensure soldiers have the small comforts they need. Next, I head to my barracks to shower and get dressed for the day.

0800: After grabbing a quick breakfast at the Dining Facility (DFAC), I head to my office for admin time, and to check the queue for any emergency care messages. These messages ensure that service members and their families can communicate during critical emergencies. Next, I prepare for any scheduled meetings. I typically have two to three a day.

1230: The DFAC does a good job trying to offer us variety with a choice of meat and sometimes fish. There is a small salad bar and when we get lucky, fresh fruit. Yum! We are lucky at our location to have a panini maker. There is also always yogurt available and either an ice-cream sandwich or frozen strawberry shortcake bar. The coffee is always consistent…STRONG.

1300: One of my favorite parts of the day is my daily walk around the facility. This is when I get to engage with soldiers, assess morale and pick up mail for the soldiers to send home to families and friends. I take these to our post office to make sure they are sent out and collect any new mail. Receiving packages is the BEST.

1400: I’m back in the office to be available when the USO opens, and soldiers start filtering into the Red Cross office. Oftentimes, service members inquire about volunteer opportunities or work shifts that consist of helping sort care packages, develop programs, or organize fun events and programs — such as movie nights, karaoke, educational classes, fitness programs, games, and healing garden.

1500: I’m struck by the fact that being present for the soldiers and listening is a huge part of this job. We recently had an ad hoc roundtable discussion breakout with 12 soldiers, and they were so open to sharing about their lives before they enlisted, family dynamics, and why they joined the Army. It is such an amazing experience watching them connect with each other. One thing they all had in common was that they were so proud to serve, and they all felt like they had truly found a family with their fellow soldiers. As a veteran, I can fully understand this connection.

1800: Dinner is very similar to lunch. The food at the DFAC is not much to write home about. It’s pretty much, Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) cooked in bulk. However, it does the job, and we are all grateful for the efforts of the staff.

1900: After dinner, I finish up my emails or ECMs in the queue before heading to teach yoga. Tonight’s class was really wonderful. I always close the class with a mindfulness practice. We all find a comfortable position and I play ‘the daily calm’ from the calm app. Following the practice, we reflect on the day and there are usually positive comments on the mindfulness practice. One example was the message of being grateful. It’s so wonderful to provide a space for them to express their feelings and aspirations.

2030: It’s now time to head back to the room to relax, reset and speak with the family. Not many days are the same, so flexibility and patience are required. It is all about being accessible to support, encourage, and when asked, advise!

Learn More

In the U.S. and across the globe, the Red Cross supports U.S. service members, veterans and their families through emergency communications, resiliency workshops, available resources, financial assistance and more. To learn more about our mission work on military bases, hospitals and in the community, click here.


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Oak Fire Response: Stories & Reflections of the People Impacted

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 11:00

For more than two weeks, American Red Cross disaster workers have been working around the clock with local response officials to help people affected by the Oak Fire in Mariposa County, California. The wildfire broke out on July 22, burning through more than 19,000 acres and destroying people’s businesses, homes, and belongings along with it. Over 80 trained Red Cross disaster workers answered the call to help provide people with a safe place to stay, warm meals and critical relief supplies like hygiene items and clean-up kits. Volunteers also helped care for those with medical or disability needs and provided people with emotional and spiritual support during these challenging times.

Red Cross volunteers serving lunch at a shelter.

As the Oak Wildfire is now reportedly 86% contained, it gives the Mariposa community the opportunity to begin their road to recovery. Many evacuations have been lifted and residents are now transitioning to alternative housing arrangements and utilizing resources provided by the Red Cross and local partners. Although Oak Fire residents are beginning to take the first steps to recovery, Red Cross volunteers will continue to support and connect them with additional resources for as long as it’s needed.


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Here are some of the inspiring stories of the people we’ve helped and the exceptional work of our volunteers:

Providing Care When It is Needed Most Richard Perez speaking with Red Cross volunteer Dave Wagner. Photo by: Tracy Sebastian/American Red Cross “I looked outside and saw that the fire was pretty close. When I saw the tankers fly over our house, I knew it was serious.”

Richard Perez, a retired Army Scout and National Park Ranger, had to quickly evacuate with his wife and three German shepherds when fires broke out near his home. They stayed the night in a motel, and unfortunately, left behind his CPAP machine. The next day, they sought refuge at a Red Cross shelter and were able to work with volunteers to retrieve his machine. This is one example of how the Red Cross can support people who have additional medical needs during a disaster.

In shelters, Red Cross nurses are available and help respond to any medical needs people may have. They regularly assess those who need additional medical attention and can address minor injuries like cuts and sprains. They can also help replace critical medical supplies and equipment like medication, walkers, and eyeglasses for those who may have lost or left them behind during their evacuation to safety.

George Leroy Williams, Sr. sharing his story with a Red Cross volunteer. Photo by: Tracy Sebastian/American Red Cross “It was pure torture trying to find places to stay until we found the Red Cross shelter.”

When the Williams family, members of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe of the Miwok Indians, were forced from their mountain home, they chose to shelter with the Red Cross, but in their own way. George Leroy Williams, Sr. and his family chose to camp outside, instead of staying inside the shelter, so they could stay with their two dogs and two cats around the clock, and because they enjoy being outdoors as much as possible.

When his daughter told him that there was a fire approaching their home, Williams told her not to worry because it wasn’t coming their way. Twenty minutes later, he looked out his kitchen window. “It was like the fire was alive,” he recalls. “It was green outside one minute and just an orange ball of fire the next.”

Happy that his family finally found safe refuge, he pointed to his cot nestled beneath some nearby trees and remarked, “The best sleep I had in a week was on that cot. It’s better than my own bed at home. I hope they let me take it home with me.” Although the Williams family camped outside the shelter, they took advantage of the other amenities provided, such as three meals each day and hot showers.

Showing Love to Our Furry Friends, Too! Red Cross volunteers Michael Mcgehee and Annikah Trail assist our partners, the Central California Animal Disaster Team in the cat room. Photo by: Tracy Sebastian/American Red Cross “A lot of people will not evacuate if they have no place to take their animals. Many of the animals are stressed in a new environment. We take time every day to calm their nerves,” said Leslie Harris, CCADT shelter manager and eight-year volunteer.

As people arrived at the Red Cross shelter, they brought their furry friends along with them. Barbara Cone, who is a local Fire Safe Council volunteer, evacuated with her dogs Charlie and Kramer, and her cat, Reign, and brought them with her to the shelter. Barbara shared how she and her furry friends were very comfortable staying at the shelter, adding, “It was really nice to get breakfast here this morning, and I will definitely be using the showers later.”


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Thanks to our partners, the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT), these beloved pets, which included cats, dogs, birds and reptiles, were cared for with the same love and assistance as their human companions. They had their own sleeping quarters in an air-conditioned classroom, plenty of food, and were provided regular walks, as well as a make-shift hospital suite for those that arrived injured.

Volunteering with Passion, No Matter the Circumstances Sisters Sally McCalla and Marion Chappell at a Red Cross Shelter in Mariposa County. Photo by: Tracy Sebastian/American Red Cross “I had been in a shelter before, and the Red Cross people were wonderful. They make you feel like you belong. The main thing I think about is how caring they are.”

In the Sierra Nevada mountains, Sisters Sally McCalla and Marion Chappell live next to each other. When the Oak Fire forced them out of their homes, they evacuated together to a Red Cross shelter.

Although they were both seeking refuge at the shelter, Marion, who is a current Red Cross volunteer for the Central California region, grabbed a red vest and started helping wherever she was needed. She has been volunteering for the past 54 years and started her Red Cross journey teaching baby care classes when her daughter was born, and then, CPR classes.


Disasters like these, as well as home fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes, can affect anyone, at any time. In fact, every 8 minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster across the country. But you can help provide the hope and relief people desperately need and ensure they don’t face these crises alone. If you’d like to help people affected by disasters big and small in your community and across the county, here are two ways you can help:

  • Make a contribution. Your generous gift helps the Red Cross prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters like home fires and severe weather events.
  • Volunteer your time. You can make an impact in someone’s life after they have lost everything in a disaster by signing up to volunteer. From setting up shelters to providing meals and emotional support, your time and talent can help someone in need.
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Five Preparedness Tips for People with Disabilities

Wed, 08/03/2022 - 08:37
Emily Holley’s Emergency Kit.

In honor of National Disability Independence Day (July 26), Regional Communicator Emily Holley from the American Red Cross of Nebraska & Iowa Region shared tips on how she prepares herself during emergencies. 

“I have been disabled for 27 years, and in that time, I’ve learned how to live my life around my conditions. That includes knowing what to do when disaster strikes, especially since living in the Midwest means unpredictable weather. With the help of the Red Cross, here are some of my personal tips people with disabilities can use to prepare.

#1: Assess Your Situation.

Make a list of your day-to-day needs, including any assistance you may require if disaster strikes and you need to take shelter or evacuate your community. Be sure to include your mobility aids, adaptive equipment, and necessary medications. Discuss these needs with your health care providers and personal support network.

#2: Make An Emergency Plan.

Consider the common emergencies we face here in the Midwest – tornadoes, extreme heat, derechos, and home fires. Work with your support network and care team to ensure that all of your basic needs are covered. How will you exit the building? Is your storm shelter comfortable and equipped for your needs?

#3: Prepare Your Storm Shelter.

Severe storms are common here, especially in the spring and summer months. In addition to ensuring your storm shelter is in the safest place in your home, outfit your shelter with items you may need. Have a comfortable place to sit and wait out the storm. Keep a basket with a charged portable charger, snacks, bottled water, flashlights, and essential medications. If you use a mobility aid, make sure you have that and a pair of shoes on hand. Also, include a bicycle helmet to protect your head. If you can, keep everything you need in an accessible backpack.

#4: Have a Backup Plan.

Those of us with disabilities know all too well the importance of backup plans and backups for your backups. Disasters are rarely predictable and disabilities can be that way too. I think about what my greatest needs are when managing my disabilities and start from there. Since medications are a necessity for me when severe weather is on its way, I move all of my medications to a bag I can keep near me in case I have to quickly move to my shelter. I have also thought about how to get to my shelter or evacuate my home while using a cane. My husband and I discuss these plans and different scenarios a few times a year.

#5: Practice Your Emergency Plans!

A few times a year, take the time to go over your plans by yourself and with your support network.”

Find more resources and information on inclusive disaster preparedness on our website here.


This story was originally published on the American Red Cross of Nebraska and Iowa Region’s blog. 

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What the Tick! Here’s How You Can Avoid & Treat Tick Bites

Tue, 08/02/2022 - 11:44

If you ever walk your dog in the park, garden, in your backyard, or go hiking in a wooded, you more than likely have been around or come across a tick. They are little parasites that like to feed on warm-blooded animals like dogs and birds as well as people. If you come across a tick bite on yourself, a loved one, or your pet, here’s what you should do:

  • Use a fine-tipped, pointed tweezer to grasp the tick at the head as close to the skin as possible.
  • Pull upward slowly without twisting until the tick releases its hold.
  • Wash the area with soap and warm water.
  • Apply an antibiotic wound ointment, cream or gel as long as there are no known allergies or sensitivities to the ingredients.

Also, don’t try burning, or using nail polish or petroleum jelly to remove the tick. That could take hours waiting for the tick to detach itself. The goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible in one fell swoop.


How to Avoid Ticks

Many of us are also not fans of ticks in general. So, if you’re looking to avoid ticks altogether, follow these helpful tips to lower your risk of getting bit by one:


  • Limit the amount of exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Also, not forgetting to tuck your shirt into your pants and your pant legs in your socks or boots. You don’t want a tick going in there!
  • Stay in the middle of trails and avoid underbrush and tall grass.
  • Use an insect repellent if you plan to be in a grassy or wooded area for a long period of time or if you know the area is known for ticks.
When to Seek Medical Care

Most tick bites can be removed and treated at home, but they can also spread pathogens that cause severe illnesses and reactions. Here are some commons signs to look out for when it’s time to seek additional medical attention:

  • You’re unable to remove the tick.
  • Pieces of the tick are still embedded in your skin.
  • If you develop any flu-like symptoms.
  • The bitten area appears red and swollen.

For additional first aid safety tips on treating things like tick and insect bites, download the free Red Cross First Aid app.

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Oak Fire Response: How One 10-Year-Old is Making a Difference

Tue, 07/26/2022 - 13:26

Meet Taylor, the youngest helper at an American Red Cross shelter located in Mariposa, California. This ten-year-old from Oregon was in Mariposa County visiting her grandparents when they were evacuated by the Oak Fire late Friday night.

“This was my first time evacuating in my whole entire ten years,” Taylor explained. She collected her suitcase and cockatiel bird, Julie, while her grandma Miriam evacuated their home in Midpines.

On Saturday, she helped serve 100 sandwiches for lunch to evacuees and volunteers “just because a Red Cross volunteer asked, so I said sure!” Her excited spirit helped residents currently staying at the shelter feel better thanks to her big smile.

While she’s in the shelter with her grandma, her pet bird is being cared for by the Central California Animal Disaster Team. She checks on her bird often and even puts the cockatiel on a leash so she can get some sun outside.

She has spent the weekend in the shelter drawing because “that’s my favorite thing to do in school.” So far, while staying in the shelter, she’s made dozens of pictures for others and started selling homemade fans for 25 cents to help.

She shared that these activities are helping her cope too. “I was really scared [when we evacuated], you could see the flames. And my mom wasn’t here, so I had to be brave.”

Thank you, Taylor, for helping our feeding team and inspiring others through your resilience.

The Red Cross welcomes everyone into their shelters. Anyone in the affected areas that needs a safe place to stay should visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767), or download the free Red Cross Emergency App for shelter locations.

This story was originally shared on the American Red Cross Central California Region blog. 

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A Day in the Life of a Service to Armed Forces Team Member Deployed to Djibouti

Mon, 07/18/2022 - 12:24

Normally in Wisconsin, you can find Alexandra “Lexy” Huber serving as the Senior Services to Armed Forces Program Specialist, supporting service members, veterans and their families and connecting them to local and available resources.


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However, right now, Lexy is stationed in Djibouti. She is one of 23 Red Cross workers currently deployed on behalf of the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Division. They support U.S troops on bases in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

In her role as a Station Manager, Lexy delivers emergency messages to those stationed at Camp Lemonnier and within the surrounding area of operations in the Middle East and Africa. This base is the only Red Cross deployment site to offer free First Aid/CPR/AED courses for service members.

In addition to these services, a huge portion of Lexy’s role is to offer snacks, toiletries, games, free WIFI, and to lend a listening ear to anyone who needs one. She says that connecting through morale-boosting activities is a great way to show support for service members who are so far from home.

Lexy distributes freeze pops to residents on Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti during a day when the temperature reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Photo cred: U.S. Navy.

We asked Lexy if she could share with us what a typical day looks like for her. Here’s a peek at one of her recent journal entries:

Note: Time is displayed in military time.

0700: Time to get up, or maybe sleep in a little.

0715: Okay, I am definitely awake now! I make sure my teeth are brushed, my hair goes up to keep me cool and the dust away, and then I apply ALL the sunscreen.

0730: Head to breakfast at the galley. I like to start my day with a glass of lemon water and some fruit, nice and light when it’s 120 degrees outside!

0800: Get into the office, check my emails, check the Emergency Communication Message queue, get a pot of coffee going for folks when they come in and make sure the office is ready to open for service members.

Lexy taking a selfie outside of her office.

0830: We are officially open! Welcome to the canteen! Here you can get snacks, free WIFI, water and some awesome A.C. to keep you cool in this heat. We’re open every day so soldiers and the camp community can enjoy our programming any time.

0850: It’s time to go to the department head meeting with base leadership. I get to report my weekly developments, hear what is happening on base and talk with department heads about upcoming activities.

0950: I’m off to the Newcomers Briefing to talk about Red Cross and all our awesome activities. It’s fun to see all the new faces on camp and introduce myself, so they know who to look for when they are out and want to say ‘hi’!

1030: Back to the office to check in on my emails again, the Emergency Communication Message queues, and start planning for my afternoon.

1130: Lunch time rolls around and service members who work near the office start coming in to visit. I greet them with a smile, a “Hi, how ya doing?” and a chat about our days. Lots of service members like to eat lunch at the canteen because it is closer to their offices than the galley and the “take-out” galley is just around the corner. I welcome their visits.

1300: The lunch rush dies down so time for me to get a bite to eat! Another light meal of fruits, veggies, and maybe rice and beans? As a vegetarian on base, it’s important to have a balanced diet, especially when options for non-meat eaters are limited. Luckily, I have years of practice as a vegetarian, so I know what fills me up and leaves me feeling ready to take on the afternoon.

1400: Game time! Every week, on the same day, we host a game day at the office. What started as a small group, has grown into a popular afternoon activity. We always try to switch up the games; Catan, Cards Against Humanity, Disgruntled Decks, Ticket to Ride, Sequence – whatever we feel. It’s a fun way to build relationships and give service members a nice reprieve in the middle of their long days.

1630: The office is closed, but that doesn’t mean activities end yet! Time to set up for our First Aid/CPR/AED Courses. Camp Lemonnier – Djibouti (CLDJ) is the only Red Cross deployment site that offers free training services courses for our active-duty service members. My awesome volunteers and I take turns teaching the classes.

1830: Class is over, time to work out! I like to go to CrossFit, Ultimate Frisbee, or if it is really hot, the indoor gym on base. My workout changes day to day, but I always make sure to get moving as a way to end my day. It gives me time to refocus after a long day and connect with the movement and action of the workout. It also keeps me healthy, which in a deployed environment is key.

1930: With my workout over, time to shower and race to the galley before dinner ends.

1950: Whew, made it just before it closed! A quick light bite for dinner; again involving fruits, veggies and rice and beans. This is usually before meeting up with friends for a movie, playing ping pong at one of the social spaces on camp, or retreating to my room to read and prepare for the next day.

2200: Bedtime! Going to sleep with a smile on my face after another awesome day at Camp Lemonnier.

To learn more about how we support service members, veterans and their families in the U.S. and across the globe on military bases and hospitals, click here.

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How a Red Cross Experience Led Debbie Consolver to Volunteering

Fri, 07/15/2022 - 11:55
Red Cross volunteer Debbie Consolver and her grandson, St. Joseph firefighter Tyler Howery.

A year after retiring from the St. Joseph, Missouri School District, I felt like I needed something to do. I really wanted to help people and remembered how the Red Cross had saved my family.

In 2007, my 9-year-old grandson, Tyler Howery, woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of smoke alarms going off. Their house was full of smoke and the kitchen was on fire.  He woke up his mom and brother and got them out of the house and safely away from the fire that had started within feet of their bedrooms.

This was all thanks to what he learned from Sparky the Fire Dog, a mascot the Red Cross used when Tyler was in elementary school. Sparky taught students about the importance of fire safety and what to do in case of a fire.

Later in life, Tyler decided he wanted to be a firefighter. He took the fire and EMT classes at Hillyard Technical Center during his junior and senior years of high school and has now worked for the St. Joseph Fire Department for five years.

Our paths sometimes cross at home fires when I arrive as a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) member. Recently, we showed up as firefighters were wrapping up, and I saw Tyler among them. It’s always good to see the firefighters are safe, especially when it’s your own family.

Being a DAT member is a rewarding experience. We get to offer a helping hand to people at what often is the worst time in their lives.

Talking to the survivors, we can get them immediate assistance so they can have a safe place to stay and get some food and clothing. While at the scene, we can provide a warm blanket on a cold night or a bottle of water on a hot day.

Many times, they need to talk and we are good listeners. We can help them think of things that they may not have thought of when their world is crumbling in front of them.

There are so many stories to tell, and everyone’s situation is different. But what they all have in common is the shock of having lost their home and possessions as well as the concerns about what will they do next.

I remember interviewing a woman by phone during the COVID-19 pandemic when much of our work was done remotely. She declined our offer of health services assistance over the phone but when I went to deliver the Client Assistance Card to her, I saw that she was an amputee.

I asked her about her prosthesis, and she said it burned up in the fire. I added health services to her case to help her and explained that mental health services also were available if she felt it would be of help to her.

There are several DAT calls that stand out in my mind. One in particular that has weighed heavily on my mind was a woman whose rented home was destroyed in a fire and she lost everything.

She had young children living in another city and had terminal cancer. She was going to use the money the Red Cross had provided to take a bus to be with her kids as soon as she had her last cancer treatment.

In addition to being a DAT volunteer, I help install free smoke alarms in homes. In the past year, our team has installed more than 1,700 smoke alarms and made over 700 homes safer in our area.

I’m also the volunteer partner of Ralph Dishong, the disaster program specialist in the St. Joseph office that supports 28 counties. We’re responsible for building and maintaining relationships with emergency management directors, public officials, and other agencies that assist in disasters and emergencies.

In my four years as a Red Cross volunteer, I have assisted with local flooding efforts, opened cases, worked with public affairs, fed flood victims, assessed disaster-affected areas, and opened warming centers, along with going to many home fires and homes having storm damage.

We are the face of the Red Cross in this effort and work towards emergency preparedness and response, along with our volunteers, to assist in emergencies and disasters.

This story was originally published on the American Red Cross of Missiouri page.

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A Day in the Life of a Communications Crisis Responder

Mon, 07/11/2022 - 14:37

In response to the Ukraine crisis, Katie Wilkes deployed to Europe as a Communications Crisis Responder on behalf of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC). She is one of 28 international crisis responders from the American Red Cross who have deployed to Poland, Moldova, Hungary and Romania to support the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Katie, who is currently working in Hungary, coordinates communications for Ukraine and the seven neighboring countries where thousands of Red Cross responders are helping those in need. Here, she shares one of her journal entries of what a typical day looks like for her as a Communications Crisis Responder.

6:15 a.m. Alarm goes off, shower time! Quick morning yoga stretch and personal journal session. The consistency of a morning routine helps ground me for what is nearly always an unpredictable day ahead — so does breakfast in my belly.

7:00 a.m. I scan the morning headlines of CNN, The New York Times and the BBC which helps me understand where we can lend our voice through the media. I see The New York Times has a big story on mental health needs in Ukraine — an area we, as the Red Cross, are helping too.

8:00 a.m. I arrive at the office where we gather for an all-team member “stand-up” meeting. We hear updates from the Operations team that the new clinic in Ukraine is opening this week. The Information Management team shares that refugees in Poland are struggling to get jobs — a topic that could be interesting for us to speak about at this week’s United Nations press briefing the IFRC attends.

9:30 a.m. I text a BBC Health producer I know to see if she’s interested in an interview with our health expert to talk about mental health needs of those impacted by the crisis. She’s in! We line up an interview for tomorrow morning.

10:30 a.m. Hot off the presses: The IFRC communications team in Ukraine sends me new video footage of the clinic being set up. I distribute it to our 192 national societies around the globe that can use this for their own local stories, donor reports and media pitching.

11:00 a.m. I grab sandwiches for my team as we hit the road on our way to the border of Hungary and Ukraine. I sit next to Ana, a member of the Spanish Red Cross health team who has been essential in helping the Hungarian Red Cross set up relief centers here. She’s got a fascinating personal story — I make a mental note to write a blog post with her this week.

1:30 p.m. We arrive at the train station in Zahony, Hungary. Thousands of people fleeing Ukraine have passed through here. I film a behind-the-scenes tour of a clinic with Ana for our social media channels and meet a local volunteer who beams with pride. Another compelling story — and don’t forget those photo release forms!


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3:00 p.m. I host a live Twitter session from the train station to show how the Red Cross is helping. We love answering questions from the public in real-time.

Join us!

— Katie Wilkes (@kwilkes1) June 23, 2022

3:45 p.m. I interview a mother and her two young sons at a local Red Cross-run shelter down the road and interview them about what it’s like being so far from home. They show me their favorite dog back home named Adel — the same breed as my own pup. We share a moment of having something in common. I get shivers down my spine and am reminded that we are always more alike than unalike, no matter how divided our world may seem.

“I mostly let him win,” Artim told me with a small grin when his little brother wasn’t looking.” In Hungary for a hockey tournament shortly before the #Ukraine conflict escalated, they’re still unable to return home to Kyiv. That doesn’t stop them from playing. ? @IFRC_Europe

— Katie Wilkes (@kwilkes1) June 17, 2022

4:00 p.m. Time to head back to the office. Ping! I get a text from our Head of Operations with brand new information about how our teams are helping in Romania. I fire up my WiFi hotspot, whip out my laptop and update our talking points from the backseat, which go out to national society communication team members around the globe.

4:45 p.m. Ping! Another text, this time from a London newspaper reporter asking why the Red Cross isn’t moving faster to help people. I respond by sharing all the locations we are working in and how we are helping, along with brand new photos from the field. She thanks me, unaware of that information. I alert my communications team to focus on sharing more stories from these communities publicly this week.

Millions of Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries & needs are shifting.

The IFRC has been key in scaling up humanitarian assistance to people in Ukraine & neighboring countries.

Hear more from @kwilkes1.

Thanks @EWScrippsCo for amplifying voices on the ground.

— IFRC (@ifrc) June 24, 2022

6:30 p.m. I write down details from the day I don’t want to forget, knowing I can use this information for photo captions, web stories and media pitches the rest of the week.

7:30 p.m. I crash in my room for a simple, quiet dinner alone to recharge before getting ready for another big day ahead.

American Red Cross Crisis responders like Katie are working shoulder to shoulder with international Red Cross teams to aid those impacted by the Ukraine crisis. Delegates lend skills such as crisis leadership, information management, cash assistance programming, GIS systems and communications. To learn more about the Red Cross’ global response, click here.

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Care That Goes Beyond Words

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 13:03
Diana Torres-Calderon, Red Cross volunteer

In Fall 2017, when disaster hit Puerto Rico in the form of Hurricane Maria, Diana Torres-Calderon knew she had to do something to help. She had grown up spending summers with her grandparents on the island and still had family members living there. The tragic images of the island’s devastation felt very personal. After seeing a television ad asking for volunteers, Diana went to the American Red Cross website and began the volunteer application process.

It has been five years since Hurricane Maria. Within that time, Diana has been a dedicated volunteer who brings her skills as a social worker and educator to help others in their time of greatest need.

Diana works closely with those who have been affected by disasters. Not only does she focus on identifying and securing resources to help individuals, but as importantly, she works to encourage those affected to become their own best advocates. She is an empathetic listener who guides people through the steps necessary to secure their immediate needs of housing, food and living essentials. And, because Diana speaks Spanish, she is particularly capable of bringing comfort to those for whom English is not their first language. During a crisis, individuals are struggling to communicate their needs and having a Red Cross volunteer who speaks their native language facilitates communication and eases their fears. Diana shared a story that stands out in her volunteer journey.

On April 22, 2022, a fire broke out in an abandoned building in Ansonia, Connecticut. Although no one was in that building, the apartment building adjacent to the fire was impacted by smoke and fumes from burning asbestos. The tenants were not able to return to their apartments until the air quality was considered safe by the Department of Health. Diana received an email notification about this fire and within 24 hours was in contact with local agencies and identified resources to assist those affected.

One young family who were particularly impacted by the Ansonia fire included a one-month-old infant. The father is a park ranger, working seasonally and the mother was home on maternity leave. The father was deeply concerned about returning to his apartment with an infant after fumes had penetrated their home. With Red Cross resources, Diana arranged for the family to stay in a hotel and put the family in touch with a local agency so they could obtain the items needed for their infant’s care, including diapers. This family understood the importance of advocating for themselves. They followed Diana’s advice and were able to obtain additional funds through long-term recovery organizations that helped them extend their hotel stay for two weeks until their apartment was deemed safe for return.

Diana knows she could not be the effective volunteer she is without the support of a team of volunteers and community agencies. She credits another Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer with mentoring her, “she is my lifeline.” At the start of Diana’s service she traveled to the Farmington, Connecticut headquarters once a week to witness first-hand how casework is handled. Diana learned that in some cases, volunteers need to provide a little extra support as some individuals might struggle more than others with their ability to access resources. Diana is there to provide that support.

Diana also credits her father’s experience while a soldier in the Korean War with introducing her to the invaluable resources the American Red Cross offers. While stationed overseas, his mother passed away and the Red Cross paid his airfare so he could be home for her funeral. Diana’s commitment to the Red Cross is a way to honor her father’s gratitude and to carry on the family tradition of making a difference in the lives of others.

Thank you, Diana, for all you do on behalf of the American Red Cross. Volunteers are always needed to help following a disaster to care for families after they are faced with one. Learn how you can help and get involved like Diana here.

This story was originally published on the American Red Cross of Connecticut and Rhode Island Region.

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How Red Cross Resources Groups Came Together to Form Its First Allyship in Action Celebration

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 16:24

At the American Red Cross, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team serves as an enterprise-wide resource to enhance cultural sensitivity when engaging with communities as they prepare, respond, and recover from disaster events. DEI helps cultivate a culturally competent and inclusive environment Red Cross employees, volunteers, donors and partners reflect those they serve and ensure products and services are delivered in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner.

Team Member Resource Groups at the Red Cross

The DEI team also works closely with the organization’s Team Member Resource Groups (TMRGs), which are seven groups comprised of Red Cross employees and volunteers who have an opportunity to express themselves, connect with fellow Red Crossers, gain professional development experience, and contribute to and support organizational goals. Like in many other businesses and organizations, these TMRGs are increasingly being engaged as a source of invaluable insight into the cultures and communities they represent, as well as guideposts for communicating and forming connections with our diverse team members, communities, partners, and donors.

Establishing a Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan with Curated Events

Earlier this year, the Red Cross launched a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan to stand against the many forms of racism and injustice in our society and help make meaningful and lasting change. In support of that plan, the TMRGs organized its first Allyship in Action celebration by hosting curated events to build awareness of the importance of active allyship and strengthen their workplace community.

This month-long event was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail.  He wrote the open letter after he was jailed for coordinating marches and sit-ins protesting racial segregation. He stated that it was not enough to sit on the sidelines and offer support against injustice.   Direct action and committed allyship were needed to address social inequities and to build a more equitable and inclusive environment for all individuals.

The celebration included 19 different events with nearly 4,000 participants. Each event provided a diversity of topics reflective of each resource group’s interests which included conversations on identity and intersectionalism–colorism and the impact on communities of color, microaggressions, interactions with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the global intersectional justice movement, the immigrant experience, women in leadership, and more.

In addition to critical conversations and networking events, Red Cross’ senior leadership also participated in two separate roundtable discussions on allyship and inclusive leadership, which included closing remarks from Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern on the impact of allyship on her professional and personal development.

Lisa Simmons, National Co-Sponsor of the Umoja African-American Resource Group, was the thought leader behind the celebration and worked with the TRMGs Planning Committee to host the celebration.

“The initial goal was to foster new connections and heighten awareness of the resource groups among employees and volunteers. As the celebration took shape, I realized we could offer fresh perspectives to the discussions around diversity and inclusion. The authenticity and representation shown by Red Cross employees and partners provided an intimate environment to convey personal experiences that resonated with audiences. It was extremely gratifying that the event inspired people to reconsider how they engage with others.”

The End Result

The resource groups not only welcomed more than 160 new members but many event participants shared that they gained valuable insights and skills—whether in practicing cultural humility or better understanding how intersectionality influences workplace behaviors. The goal is to make this an annual event for Red Crossers to equip them with resources and knowledge to continue delivering culturally competent services to all those they serve through their mission—because allyship speaks louder than words.

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Finding Personal and Professional Belonging at the Red Cross

Wed, 06/29/2022 - 08:42
Lynn (center), Tammy (left) and their children.

In 1999, I watched a show that touted a brand-new way to discover volunteer opportunities — on the internet! I found a volunteer opportunity as a Disaster Action Team member with the American Red Cross and started in January of 2000. It was the fit I was looking for — a way to help people who needed it right in my community.

As the years went by I found serving as part of the disaster leadership team rewarding and started to see my future as a Red Cross employee. At the same time, I realized that someone I had been friends with for over a year was the one. Tammy and I had just started dating when I joined the Red Cross as an employee in September 2004. I served as a Mass Care Lead, supporting sheltering efforts and bulk distribution as well as providing resources and guidance on our service delivery work. Tammy was the first woman I seriously dated and while I was fine with that, I was not sure how to deal with the rest of the world and their opinions.

Throughout personal life-changing events, my colleagues at the Red Cross have always been exceptionally supportive, giving me a sense of inclusion and, most importantly, belonging.

When Tammy and I decided to grow our family, we took advantage of the Red Cross domestic partner benefits —it was particularly helpful as we welcomed our first child and Tammy took time off from work to be with her.

Before we welcomed our first daughter, my colleagues hosted a huge baby shower for us, inviting Tammy to come to the office. They pulled off a tremendous surprise complete with a presentation that included awesome baby photos of me and Tammy. And, they hosted another shower in 2012 for our second child.

Lynn and Tammy on their wedding day.

When Washington, D.C. passed marriage equality in 2010, I was overwhelmed by the joy and support my colleagues showed. So many people wanted to know how Tammy and I felt and when our ceremony would be. Since the beginning and throughout my career at the Red Cross, Tammy, Dana and Liam have been part of the Red Cross family, brought into the fold just like any other family.

I remember shortly after Gail McGovern joined the Red Cross in 2008 as President and CEO, I connected with her at a town hall and gave her feedback on the benefits for same-sex partners. I told her how appreciative I was to be a part of such a great organization, one that valued diverse perspectives and supported me and my family. Over the years, Gail has asked me about my wife and our kids. Gail also served as executive champion of the Pride Team Member Resource Group (TMRG) for several years, showing up for our community in numerous ways.

I’ve been part of the Pride TMRG since nearly its beginning. This year is the group’s 10-year anniversary celebrating another year of support, inclusivity and community for our volunteers, employees and the people we serve. Pride TMRG is a supportive environment where individuals exchange information and ideas, discuss the unique issues facing LGBTQ+ people and allies, and offer opportunities to learn about, understand and engage the LGBTQ+ community.

Beyond the message of support from our senior leadership for the LGBTQ+ community, I have been embraced by my colleagues — across the organization, the country and around the world. We all deserve to have such support.

My message to others is this: May each of you find joy and confidence in who you are; may we all continue to work to make the world a place where we can be our true selves.

The Seltzer/Crabb family. Error happened.

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Force for Good: Meet Keondra Jones

Mon, 06/27/2022 - 11:49

Keondra Jones is a passionate collections specialist and on-site instructor at the American Red Cross Nashville Blood Donation Center in the Tennessee Region. There, she trains and supervises collection staff members, and is responsible for ensuring the safe collection of blood products from donors while providing a great customer service experience.

“Every day is a gift from God,” said Keondra. “I try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

Keondra knows firsthand how it feels to have a loved one in need of lifesaving blood. After graduating from medical assistant school, she was drawn to the Red Cross mission when her mother received a blood transfusion. Fascinated by how a blood donation helped her mother, she decided to join the Red Cross blood collections team in 2005.

“My mom later received two units of blood during her quadruple bypass surgery in 2010 and four units of plasma in 2020 when she was septic from a peritoneal port infection,” said Keondra. “Plasma sustained her life for an additional 30 days.”

A native of Flintstone, Georgia, Keondra has lived in Nashville for over 30 years where she is also the owner of an eyelash boutique. A dedicated Red Cross worker for nearly 17 years, Keondra has served as a collections team supervisor managing collection operations and compliance.

In her spare time, she enjoys attending service at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and participating in monthly community service activities, such as feeding the homeless and hosting clothing drives as a member of The Order of the Eastern Star (OES).

While the pandemic has brought its challenges, Keondra understands the immeasurable impact she and other frontline Red Crossers have made.

“In today’s world it can sometimes seem that small actions may not make an impact,” said Keondra. “Seeing a donor, with tears, express gratitude that we were collecting convalescent plasma — because it helped her husband when he was diagnosed with COVID — keeps us focused on our lifesaving mission and working together as one Red Cross family.”

Keondra is a force for good in more ways than one. In fact, she’s hosting her first blood drive in August with the goal to help save more lives.

“There is no guarantee of tomorrow,” said Keondra. “I write it on my heart that every day is the best day of the year and I act as if what I do makes a difference because it does. [At the Red Cross], we are dedicated to improving the lives of those we serve, and my heart is so full.”

This story is part of an American Red Cross Force for Good blog series, featuring dedicated Red Cross workers whose exceptional contributions to our humanitarian mission enable us to help and support people in communities across the country.

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First Aid Tips: What You Should Know for Any Emergency

Wed, 06/22/2022 - 10:08

Did you know that the American Red Cross offers first aid classes? In these classes, you learn how to prevent emergencies and handle them when they occur. Whether you are at home, at work, or out and about, it is important to have some basic first aid knowledge.

What Is First Aid and Who Can Do It?

First aid is the initial care given to a person who has been injured or who is suddenly ill. It can be provided by emergency medical personnel and event and even people with little or no medical training.

Why You Need to Learn It.

While you may never need to use first aid, it’s always good to be prepared. You never know when you might be the one who needs to provide first aid to someone else. First aid can make the difference between life and death in some situations, so it’s important to know what to do in an emergency.

Frequently Asked First Aid Questions

During a recent Facebook Live discussion with Red Cross Instructors Owen Long and Dawn DeCicco, shared the best ways to Learn Critical First Aid Tips by answering some frequently asked first aid questions they receive in their classes.

Q: What should I include in my first aid kit?

A: Your first aid kit should be tailored to your specific needs. However, there are some basic items that every first aid kit should include, such as gloves, sterile dressings, a tourniquet, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.

Q: What are some common first aid mistakes?

A: One of the most common first aid mistakes is using the wrong type of dressing for a wound. Another common mistake is not properly cleaning a wound before applying a bandage or other type of dressing.

Q: How do I stay safe in an emergency?

A: The best way to stay safe is to remain calm and think clearly. If you can do so, try to assess the situation and determine what the best course of action is. If you’re not sure what to do, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and call 911.

Also, Remember These Important Lifesaving Steps.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone needs first aid, there are some important steps to remember:

Check To See What’s Going on Around You.

If it is dangerous for you to enter or approach the person or the scene, whatever it is, don’t go in there, because you may end up being another person who needs help. The first thing is just to be aware of what’s around you and form an initial impression of what you see. Is it one person? Do they appear like they’re queasy or lightheaded? Are they completely unresponsive? Is there any life-threatening bleeding? Is there anybody around that can help you, or are you there by yourself? During those initial first scene moments, it’s important to take a breath and pay attention to what’s around you.

Call 911.

Call the designated emergency response number for additional help. Emergency Medical Services will be able to step in and assist the person, whether they are responsive or unresponsive, with immediate lifesaving care. The key with understanding your surroundings and the situation is to also relay that information to the 911 dispatcher to allow them to send adequate and appropriate resources to the scene.

Care for any life-threatening injuries.

During an emergency, it’s also critical to pay attention to any life-threatening injuries a person may have. If you find any, use your training or the information provided to you by the 911 dispatcher to care for any wounds. Providing immediate care to life-threatening wounds can help increase the person’s chances of surviving.

For more information on first aid and safety tips or to find a Red Cross class near you, click here. Download our free First Aid app too.


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From Nurse to Licensed Training Provider: Meet Dawn DeCicco

Wed, 06/22/2022 - 09:56

How can I tell if a person is unconscious? What are the steps for using an AED?

When most people think about emergency training, a First Aid or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) class may come to mind. But that’s just the beginning.

There’s a variety of classes out there—lifeguarding, land-based support, water training, and more—designed to equip you with the knowledge to save a life when an emergency strikes. Just ask Dawn DeCicco, Operations Manager for Sertified, an American Red Cross Nationwide Licensed Training Provider.

Circa 1994. Dawn’s commissioning photo when she first joined the Navy.

For the former nurse and mom of three living in Maryland, joining the Red Cross as a Training Services Instructor was the perfect opportunity for her to educate the public on essential lifesaving skills while enjoying the flexibility that allows her to spend time with her children.

As most Americans stayed home for work and school during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to spend more time with her children as they embarked on remote learning – all while teaching lifesaving certification classes in a virtual capacity with Sertified.

Dawn is no stranger to taking charge in an emergency, and her service to others has stemmed beyond national borders. Before finding her calling at the Red Cross, she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing and spent seven years as a labor and delivery nurse in the Navy, stationed in San Diego and eventually in Sicily where she met her husband.

She was first exposed to the Red Cross through the Service to the Armed Forces program. When her first child was born, the Red Cross helped deliver the message to her husband, who was serving as a Navy doctor overseas at the time.

Dawn, her husband and kids.

Years later, through her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, Dawn learned about Sertified. Since joining the training provider as an Operations Manager, Dawn has earned a variety of training certifications beyond basic First Aid and CPR.

She holds American Red Cross certifications as a First Aid/CPR/AED Instructor Trainer, Basic Life Support Instructor Trainer, Pediatric Advanced Life Support Instructor Trainer, Advanced Life Support Instructor Trainer, and Emergency Medical Response Instructor.

Most recently, she was a featured guest on a Facebook live with two Training Instructors where she shared her Red Cross training journey and also provided First Aid Tips.

Dawn with Sertified colleague, Owen Long, who were both recently featured in a Facebook Live discussion.

At the peak of the pandemic, Dawn met fellow nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals looking to freshen up on their certifications. In one of the nation’s darkest times, she witnessed healthcare workers, frontliners, individuals, and families step up to the plate to learn something new.

Aside from the newfound skills and personal reward that comes with taking a class, Dawn also notes that training presents the opportunity to connect with others who are also looking to obtain their certifications. She encourages peer-to-peer coaching as one of the best ways to learn something new alongside others who are learning too.

Whether leading an in-person class on Basic Life Support or giving land-based training tips behind the computer screen, Dawn continues to empower future lifesavers to take charge when an emergency strikes.

“You’re never too young or too old to save someone’s life and be a resource in an emergency,” she says. “You can be the person to act.”

If you’re seeking a flexible career path that enables you to make a difference in others’ lives, Dawn encourages you to look no further than becoming a Red Cross Certified Training Instructor.

To learn more about how you can be prepared for the unexpected, check out the American Red Cross Training Services page. Also, if you’re looking to become a certified and/or licensed trainer in lifesaving skills like Dawn, click here to learn how to get started.

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