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Volunteer Spotlight: Tami Cowen

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 09:18

Originally published on the Texas Gulf Coast Region blog


If you’ve been on a disaster in the Texas Gulf Coast Region within the past thirty years, the name Tami Cowen might sound familiar. Leading more than twenty disaster response operations, Tami has made her mark as a Red Cross volunteer. It’s ironic that a disaster led her to help people affected by disaster.

Trained as a nurse, Tami gained experience in the emergency room, “I was exposed to the fast paced, rapid environment where you need to make decisions as you go,” she says.

Eventually she became chief nursing officer at hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley. “I like to create a vision and set the pace where we are going to go.”

A building collapse that left 17 dead in Brownsville, Texas in 1988 was the beginning of Tami’s engagement with the Red Cross. When she arrived on the scene of the devastation, she stared at a big pile of rubble and asked herself: What can I do? Where do I start? The call to serve came when a doctor turned to her and asked her to set up a clinic. So, she setup a clinic, established a partnership with the Red Cross and the rest is history.

“My mother used to tell me, sitting on your hands is not volunteering,” Tami recalls, and she has taken her advise seriously. With a lengthy series of leadership positions at the Red Cross, she has excelled in emergency response operations big and small.

Her formula for being a long-term Red Crosser is being able to identify the strengths of each team member and enjoying being part of their success. She finds invigorating “setting up a structure and delivering services from that,” she proudly states.

For Tami, mentoring plays a big role in leadership. “On a disaster assignment, mentoring means helping people achieve what they want to accomplish,” she says, “and I am looking for that opportunity for them to grow, I will back them all the way through.”

Having received many awards and recognition, Tami is honest when it comes to her real motivation: “I love being able to help people in need, it just speaks to my heart.”

Like Tami, you can become a Red Cross volunteer. Visit us a redcross.org/volunteer for more information.

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Marty Knight: A Veteran Who Continues to Serve through Volunteering with the Red Cross

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 07:03

Originally published on the Chicago Red Cross Stories blog

Marty Knight

Marty Knight has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross for the over 10 years. However, his experience with the Red Cross goes back to the early 1970s while serving in the United States Navy.

In 1972, Marty deployed during the Vietnam War aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga and a year later aboard  USS Kitty Hawk, as a jet and engine mechanic working on airplanes and helicopters.

Years later, while onboard USS Kitty Hawk, Marty crossed path with the American Red Cross, “In July of 1979, I was in Pattaya Beach, Thailand when I got the Red Cross message that my son was born in the city of San Diego” says Marty. Even though, he didn’t get to meet his son until February of 1980, Marty was very grateful to the Red Cross for letting him know that both, his wife and son were doing well.

Copy of the message the Red Cross sent to Marty Knight in 1979 notifying him of the birth of his son

However, this wouldn’t be the last time that Marty was going to hear from the Red Cross. While still on duty, he remembers receiving notification from the American Red Cross that one of the members of his squad needed to return home on emergency leave. “…we started the paperwork and a few minutes later the Red Cross called back to ask if he needed travelling money and I said yes…and so they gave him travel money, which I thought it was very nice of the Red Cross,” recalls Marty.

In 2001, Marty’s wife was gravely ill with cancer and once more the Red Cross was there to assist the family, helping his son, who was serving in the U.S. Navy, come home on emergency leave to be by his mother’s side.

Marty credits this familiarity and personal experience with the work of the Red Cross that prompted him to become a volunteer.  As a Red Crosser, Marty has been able to provide support to other veterans, delivering supplies from the Red Cross to a Veterans Home in Manteno whenever possible, adding that he does whatever he can to make their lives better.

As a member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, Marty responds to home fires, providing comfort and assistance to families during their toughest moments. He has also deployed multiple times during major disasters to help with relief efforts. Last year, Marty deployed to Alabama to assist with logistics in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, “I was distributing supplies like shovels, rakes and water to people,” explains Marty.

Marty received 2018 Clara Barton Award for the Chicago & Northern Illinois Region.

His past deployments also include North Carolina and New Jersey after Hurricanes Florence and Sandy, respectively. Both times, Marty assisted with mass feeding in Red Cross shelters and drove an Emergency Response Vehicle to bring food to those in the affected areas.

Marty is one of the many veterans who are making a positive impact in their communities through their volunteering with the American Red Cross, being there for others in time of need, lending a helping hand and shoulder to lean on.  Thank you, Marty, for your service and for supporting the mission of the Red Cross.

Learn More

Visit redcross.org to learn how to become a volunteer. You can also learn more about how the Red Cross supports members of the military and their families here.

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Blood Donation was my Rite of Passage

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 09:27
Jacob during his first blood donation appointment.

Well before I was old enough to donate blood, I remember visiting my grandfather and being fascinated with his collection of American Red Cross blood donor pins. The average whole blood donation is about one pint of blood, and eight pints equals a gallon. For every gallon of blood my grandfather donated, he was awarded with a pin from the Red Cross. Initially I just thought the pins were cool, but now I realize they helped to fuel my passion for blood donation.

I considered blood donation like a rite of passage. For years I joined my mom and three older brothers while they donated blood. I would enviously watch the four of them roll up their sleeves to give and sit waiting for my opportunity. For most teenagers turning 16, they are excited to take their drivers test, for me it was donating my first unit of blood at a Red Cross blood donor center. It was a proud moment.

Standing with my mom and brother after my first blood donation. My Blood Type is Kind of a Big Deal

After I was finished, I realized the donation process is painless and easy and didn’t understand why more people aren’t motivated to donate blood. Here’s the cool part, from my initial blood donation, I learned that my blood type is O negative, and that it is the universal blood type. Emergency rooms rely on O negative blood to help patients with urgent needs when there is no time to determine their blood type.

Even cooler, my blood is also CMV negative, which means that I have never been exposed to a flu-like virus that is present in as many as 85% of the adult population by the time they reach the age of 40. This status makes me a hero for babies that are in need of blood transfusions for their medical care. CMV is generally harmless to adults but can be fatal to babies, so any blood transfused to them must be free of this virus or the antibodies that it leaves behind.

Me sitting with my family. Answering the Call to Donate is a No Brainer

When I receive emails from the Red Cross indicating there is a need for blood, I feel an even greater sense of responsibility to show up to donate because my blood type is essential to assisting patients during emergency situations and can help babies in need.

As a college student it’s nearly impossible to make a financial contribution to the causes I want to support. With blood donation I feel like my volunteer efforts are really helping individuals through each unit of blood that I give. Using the Red Cross Blood Donor App makes the process even more rewarding because I can use it to find out when my donation reaches a hospital to help a patient in need.

Give Now for a Chance to Attend Super Bowl LIV in Miami

Give Now for a Chance to Attend Super Bowl LIV in Miami

The Red Cross has a critical shortage of type O blood and urgently needs blood donors of all blood types – especially type O – and platelet donors to make an appointment to give and help replenish the blood supply after the holiday weeks. To thank you for helping tackle the shortage, we’ve teamed up with the NFL to offer one lucky winner a trip to Miami! Come to give [blood/platelets/AB Elite] by Jan.19, and you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win a trip for two including two tickets to Super Bowl LIV, entry to the official NFL Tailgate, tickets to the Super Bowl Experience at the Miami Beach Convention Center, round-trip airfare to Miami, three-night hotel accommodations at The Alexander® – All Suite Oceanfront Resort (Jan. 31 to Feb. 3), plus a $500 gift card for expenses. * Your chance to experience the Super Bowl live awaits! Schedule your appointment to suit up and give ASAP.

*Terms and conditions apply. Valid email address is required. Limit three (3) entries per presenting donor. Winner will be selected and notified via the email listed in their American Red Cross donor profile on or around Jan. 24, 2020. Offer is non-transferable and not redeemable for cash. Void where prohibited. Giveaway begins Jan. 1, 2020, and ends Jan. 19, 2020. The prize shall not be sold on any internet site and any ticket that has been re-sold via the internet will be nullified. The National Football League’s licensed marks (“NFL”; “National Football League” and the NFL Shield design, “Super Bowl” and the Super Bowl LIV logo) on any giveaway related materials have been reviewed by NFL and are used with permission. The NFL Entities have not offered or sponsored this giveaway in any way.

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Youth and the Power of Humanity

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 09:55
Sitting with my fellow youth delegates at the Youth Forum welcome.

The American Red Cross is just one of 192 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies that gathered in Geneva, Switzerland last December. As the Chair of American Red Cross’s National Youth Council and the Youth Engagement Lead for the Desert to the Sea Region, I was nominated to represent American Red Cross youth at what are called the Statutory Meetings.

Every four years, national societies from around the globe, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), national governments, and all other high contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions gather to make decisions and engage in debates on key issues of humanitarian concern.

Being at the Statutory Meetings allowed me to see not only what the American Red Cross contributes to the world, but how all of the pieces of the global Red Cross Red Crescent network fit together. I’ve been using the phrase, “Down the street, across the country, around the world,” for years. I didn’t fully appreciate it, though, until I met youth delegates from all over the world who were volunteering in their local communities or working together with the American Red Cross following natural disasters. This organization truly does work everywhere, and youth volunteers are such a huge part of that work wherever they go!

Youth delegates during the Youth Forum welcome. Reaching Historic Milestones

This meeting also marked two historic milestones: the IFRC turned 100 years old and it admitted two new national societies—the Bhutan Red Cross and the Marshall Islands Red Cross—to join in our life changing work. The decisions made at these meetings have an immediate impact on our work and will continue to do so for years to come. Through it all, youth played a key role in what happened in Geneva.

Called the Statutory Meetings, each segment of the two-week-long discussions build upon one another. There are four parts, the: 1) Youth Forum; 2) General Assembly; 3) Council of Delegates; and 4) International Conference. Throughout the course of the meetings, our work was driven by the unifying theme of, “The power of humanity.”

Humanity can be powerful, but only as powerful as our emphasis on it. At a time when the number of people fleeing violence is the highest recorded since WWII, and when natural disasters displace millions, the need to leverage the power of humanity has arguably never been greater. This theme covers the humanitarian work that each of our Red Cross and Red Crescent societies provide to our local communities, and it describes the unique ability of the global Red Cross Red Crescent network to garner consensus among our partners around the world. Humanity is one our fundamental principles, and one that youth volunteers are particularly good at embodying.

A group photo of the youth delegates. A Seat at the Table

This event was the first time that youth volunteers had a place at the table and a vote to match it. The Youth Forum, a two-day kickoff to the meetings, was designed to allow youth delegates to come together, learn from one another, share best practices in supporting youth volunteers, give feedback on the IFRC’s new Strategy 2030, and coordinate regionally. I was part of the Americas region, covering everywhere from Canada to Chile, and I was able to see how the American Red Cross plays into the delivery of our mission in this part of the world. I also  learned from others who are already working together to share resources and develop leadership potential across borders.

The Youth Forum also set the stage for the historic first election of the Global Youth Commission of the IFRC. For the first time ever, youth were able to take power into their own hands by selecting the young people who will be representing them and making decisions that impact the entire Red Cross Red Crescent network. This election was launched by IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who encouraged youth volunteers to “see the power that we have in our hands to help humanity as the largest humanitarian and volunteer network for the world.” The newly-elected Youth Commission will help advocate and develop resources and policy to improve youth engagement in the coming years.

Standing with IFRC President Francesco Rocca. Shaping the Future of the Red Cross

National societies took the gathering as an opportunity to sign pledges on collaborative efforts.  One pledge that the American Red Cross signed was to increase the effectiveness of our cross-border response to disasters and other emergencies in North America with the Canadian Red Cross and Mexican Red Cross. This was a special pledge for me because the youth delegates at the Statutory Meetings were engaged in the signing ceremony with our Presidents. This exchange also created a platform for the youth delegates to start discussing the strengths of our youth engagement efforts in each of our national societies and to brainstorm what that collaboration could look like in the future.

Red Cross Society presidents and youth delegates.

In addition to monitoring the progress of the pledges that were made in Geneva, I am brimming with ideas on how to act today to shape tomorrow. I know so many youth volunteers in the United States are making a difference in Red Cross Clubs through disaster preparedness, fundraising, blood drives and so much more.

Any action that you take today to improve your community will help shape the future of our organization. You can learn more about youth engagement at the American Red Cross by visiting redcrossyouth.org. You can also learn more about the global Red Cross Crescent network at https://www.ifrc.org/en/who-we-are/the-movement/.

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Father and Son Team Serve Veterans this Holiday Season

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 06:29
Bill and his father William.

Bill and his father William are a dynamic duo. This holiday season, they’ll be supporting their community in Eastern Pennsylvania with their local Veterans Food Basket Program. Their journey of working together at the Red Cross started after they retired from their respective careers in the U.S. Army and Air Force.

“It feels very good to work with my son. He was away from home for 20 years serving in the Army and to have him in the area is surreal,” William Rodebaugh II said. “I am enjoying every minute of it.

In retirement after a 20-year military career, Bill Rodebaugh III wanted to give back in his community. After two years of volunteering with displaced children and hospice care residents, he found a permanent position as the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Director for our Eastern Pennsylvania Region.

Serving with the Red Cross

“When I found out that I could come back home to be with my family and give back, it was almost like the perfect job,” Bill said. “They were going to pay me to do something I really wanted to do, which was to help others.”

In his current role, Bill ensures that members of the military, veterans and their families living in the area have access to SAF programs and services like the Red Cross Hero Care Network and Mind Body Workshops. He also works with volunteers who are providing support for wounded warriors at military hospitals.

And he’s thrilled at the opportunity to get to do this work with his father.

William served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Today he works alongside his son as their region’s volunteer engagement lead.

In his role he helps volunteers find their best fit within the Red Cross. He also attends veteran outreach events with Bill and helps to recruit volunteers every opportunity he gets.

“At times it takes a veteran to get through to another veteran because of our shared experience,” William said. “So, reaching out to veterans and placing them in a position where they can help other vets for me is really meaningful.”

Making a Difference

Over the holidays the father and son duo will be serving with the Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania Region’s Veterans Food Basket and Transportation Programs. Through the Veterans Food Basket Program, volunteers will be delivering food straight to veteran’s homes. Last year they distributed 350 baskets in their community. Volunteers will also be driving veterans, who otherwise wouldn’t have transportation, to local VA hospitals for appointments through the Veterans Transportation Program.

We’re grateful for Red Crossers like Bill and William who have not only served in the military themselves, but continue to support service members and their families in the community during the holidays and year-round.

“I’m grateful to be able to do the work that I do every day,” Bill said. “If I can help give someone a little rest or piece of mind by connecting them to a Red Cross program or service, it’s more important than anything else. I love knowing that a large part of my day goes toward doing something good that helps people move forward.”

Helping Military and Veteran Families

Learn more about how the Red Cross supports military families here.

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Some of Our Favorite Red Cross Stories from 2019

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 14:00

With 2019 coming to a close, we’d like to share some of our favorite stories from the year that highlight our services, the dedication of our volunteers and employees, the generosity of our donors and the strength of those affected by disasters.

9 Things to Know Before You Donate Blood

January is a time for new resolutions, as well as National Blood Donor Month, which is why we kicked off the year with nine tips to know before donating blood in 2019. There’s still time to make an impact this year — tap here for tips before your next appointment.

You’re More Likely to Experience a Home Fire Than These 5 Things

Each year, we respond to an average of more than 60,000 disasters, and the majority of these are home fires. While you may think a home fire is unlikely to happen to you, the odds are one in 3,000. We did some research and learned that 40 percent of people believe they are more likely to win the lottery or get struck by lightning than experience a home fire. Which made us wonder – what other uncommon experiences are less likely than home fires? Find out.

10 Years After Surviving Cardiac Arrest: Jessie and Bradley’s Story

In July 2009, Jessie and Bradley were only two weeks away from their wedding date and were expecting their first child. Both Jessie and Bradley had served in the U.S. military, and Jessie had just returned from a 10-month deployment in Iraq as a certified combat lifesaver. They were looking forward to beginning their lives together when the unexpected happened. Jessie and Bradley told us their story this June.

Why One Veteran Continues to Serve Her Country with the Red Cross

We love working with veterans who share our commitment to service and possess the leadership abilities to support our humanitarian organization. Donna is an Army National Guard veteran and the Executive Director of our Indiana Region. In November, Donna shares how the leadership skills she learned from the military set her up for success, as well as a special moment that made the Red Cross mission personal. Read her story here.

Having a Plan Helped My Family Stay Safe during the Dayton Tornado

You never know when you and your family will need to be prepared for an emergency. Take it from Sarah, a mother of two who had to jump into action when a tornado hit Dayton, Ohio, this May. Read how her plan helped keep her family safe that day here.

One Year after the Lombok Earthquakes: Sydney Reflects on Her Deployment

Last year, Sydney deployed to Lombok, Indonesia, after a series of devastating earthquakes struck the area. We spoke with Sydney this August to hear how her perspective has changed a year later. Tap here to learn how this deployment has made a lasting impact in her life.

Thank you to all of our readers who supported the Red Cross in 2019, and we hope you have a happy new year!

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One Woman’s 50-Year Journey with the Red Cross

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 09:15
Sue Richter putting together POW kits for ICRC representatives.

In the late 1960s, the Vietnam War was an unavoidable headline. At that time, a young woman by the name of Sue Wieting was teaching at a school near Quantico, Virginia.

One day, Sue came across a Red Cross advertisement seeking young women who had graduated from college to serve in Vietnam. Having grown up admiring her father’s military service in WWII, the decision was easy. She wanted to serve her country too.

Sue responded to the ad, and she found where she fit in by supporting recreational programs in military hospitals. For the first time, she was serving alongside the military, and her impact felt profound.

“Not only was it a role that I knew I would enjoy, but it also gave me an opportunity to make a difference by helping members of the military,” Sue said.

Little did she know that it was just the beginning of what would become a 50-year career with the American Red Cross.

Learning the Ropes Sue with former Red Cross President and CEO Elizabeth Dole.

Throughout the years, Sue has held a variety of positions at the Red Cross. After ending her service with military hospitals in the early 1970s, Sue endeavored to take on a managerial role. She started as the Director of Youth Services for the Montgomery County Chapter in Silver Spring, Maryland, which compelled her to pursue bigger projects. She became the Division Representative of the National Capital Division in Washington, DC, and then managed the chapter in Greenville, South Carolina.

One of her favorite roles was working as the Executive Director of the San Antonio Area Chapter in Texas. In this position, Sue led Red Cross operations in a community of over one million residents. She was the first woman to manage a chapter of this size and was thrilled by the opportunity to grow in her career.

While in this role, she also met the love of her life, FJ (Frank) Richter. But their relationship wasn’t exactly amicable at first.

A Red Cross Love Story Sue and her husband FJ.

During the spring of 1982, in the aftermath of a deadly tornado in Paris, Texas, both Sue and FJ were working to provide aid to residents.

At that time, FJ was the Red Cross Mass Care Officer in charge of feeding and sheltering people living in the affected area. Sue sent two Red Cross vans to the Paris area to help. When she later requested for them to be sent back to San Antonio for a critically important event, she realized she had a long-distance adversary in FJ, who had decided to keep the vans in the Paris area instead.

Months later, when Sue returned home to Southern Illinois for the holidays, there was significant flooding along the Mississippi River. The Red Cross set up a relief operation in nearby Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Katherine Graves, a mutual friend of both FJ and Sue, was the head nurse on the operation, and FJ was also assigned as the Mass Care Officer. While Katherine was eager to get the two to meet in person, Sue and FJ were both hesitant after the Paris debacle. When they finally met for lunch, it was love at first sight.

A year later, they were married.

A Passion for Service Sue’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

In the years following, Sue continued to build her career by working as Managing Director of Midwestern Operations Headquarters in Missouri, and then serving as the Vice President of Western Operations in California.

In 1992, when she landed the position as Vice President of Armed Forces Emergency Services at National Headquarters, a position she held for 11 years, she was happily taken back to her roots of military service.

She had always been inspired by her passion for helping service members, and she loves that the Red Cross strives to ensure members of the military know when their relatives are facing an emergency back home.

“My heart will always be in our Service to Armed Forces work,” Sue said. “These young men and women raise their hands to volunteer for military service. They’re away from home and their families. And the Red Cross is there to make sure that their families know if there is an emergency, we will be there to help.”

She has instilled this same passion in her daughter, Jane, who works as a physical therapist at a military hospital in Virginia.

After working as the Service Area Executive for the Southwest Service Area in Houston, Texas, Sue retired from the Red Cross in the summer of 2005. But even during her four years of retirement, she couldn’t shake the Red Cross mission, which is why she decided to accept temporary assignments to serve as the interim CEO for the Red Cross Chapters in Pasadena, Omaha and in Minneapolis.

50th anniversary pin.

During her 50 years of service, Sue has made many friends, including our President and CEO Gail McGovern.

“It has been a tremendous privilege for me to get to know Sue since I first joined the Red Cross eleven years ago,” Gail said. “I truly can’t imagine a more compassionate and dedicated leader; and I’m honored to consider her not only a deeply valued colleague – but also a dear friend.”

Sue continues to serve as the Division Vice President for the Crossroads Division where she works tirelessly to make sure that her division team is doing the very best they can for the people they serve. For Sue, it’s hard to think of another organization that touches so many people in so many different ways with a mission focus as the forefront of their operations.

“I believe that the lifesaving work of the Red Cross will always be needed and will continue to evolve with the changing needs of communities across the country and around the world. I’m honored and very grateful to have played a small part in this very rich history,” Sue said.

Thank you, Sue, for your 50 years of truly remarkable service in support of our mission!

Find Your Fit at the Red Cross

To find your dream career at the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/careers.

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Serving Our Diverse Communities as a Disaster Spiritual Care Volunteer

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 13:11

Originally published on the American Red Cross Texas Gulf Coast Region blog

Fernando Fernandez, a Red Cross spiritual care volunteer, hugging a disaster survivor.

Fernando Fernandez knows first-hand what a difference a friendly face and a helping hand can make to those in need. “When I was growing up, it was difficult for me, and someone was always there to give me a helping hand. I feel that is so important to pay it forward.”

A retired Merchant Marine from Corpus Christi, Fernando Fernandez has served as a spiritual care volunteer for the American Red Cross Texas Gulf Coast Region for the past 10 years. He has been deployed more than 30 times, assisting in disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and more recently during the California wildfires of November 2018. His most recent volunteer experience has been to be a part of the Latino Engagement Team where he traveled to Nebraska and was there for a month.

Of his experience with the Red Cross, Fernando says, “I am so blessed to be able to use my Spanish language skills in order to better serve our Hispanic community. I am able to assist and speak to clients in their home language and help ease the communication gap. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to be able to contribute in assisting with the language barrier and address our diverse populations. Everyone has a gift they can utilize as a volunteer; you just need to want to help out, and you will find that your talent can always be used and welcomed as an American Red Cross Volunteer.”

Become a Volunteer

If you are interested in using your unique gifts to pay it forward as a volunteer, please visit: redcross.org/volunteer.

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Red Cross Emergency App Warned My Family of Dallas Tornado

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 09:11
Chelssya Han

I didn’t hear a tornado siren. There’s one located directly behind my house. When it sounds, it is deafening. The city of Dallas activates them during severe weather. I’ve lived within Tornado Alley my entire life; the sirens are my fail-safe. But not this time.

This time, it malfunctioned. Our TV was off. I wasn’t on the computer or scrolling through my phone. My kids were playing a final video game before their 9:30pm cut off. Thunderstorms were forecasted around midnight, so the lightning flashes surprised me. North Texas weather, I thought to myself. Expect the unexpected.

The storm didn’t seem that bad. The rain drops were large and infrequent. There was no thunder. It was quiet, actually.

But that’s what happens before a tornado barrels through. Eerie silence.

Then, the Red Cross Emergency App began blaring on my phone. The house went black. Below my feet, the floor rumbled. I shouted for my kids to run to the closet and I grabbed our dogs. Minutes later we heard the freight train. With my phone battery dying, I fumbled blindly for a pillowcase, a project of the Red Cross Youth Preparedness Program. Inside was a flashlight and a portable phone charger. I followed the tornado’s 16-mile trek on the app’s tracking map. I was concerned about my mother who lives across town. But the tornado veered north, missing her by several miles.

Red Cross Emergency App monitor for Dallas.

Our dogs were anxious, panting and drooling onto our legs, their hot breath heating up the already warm closet. My older son begged to leave, believing the threat had passed with an absolute certainty only held by teenagers. He was cramped and uncomfortable, our German Shepherd’s paw digging into his thigh.

“Do not open that door,” I said. “The app alerts are still sounding.”

I sensed an eyeroll in the darkness. The tornado warning was extended—and extended again.

For 45 minutes, we sheltered snuggly in that closet until the Emergency App alerted us that the warning had expired. We opened the door, and I marked us as safe on the app. Thankfully, my family was unharmed, and our home sustained only minimal damage.

Many of my neighbors weren’t so lucky.

Tornado damage in Chelssya’s neighborhood.

Down the street, interior walls were exposed. A mangled HVAC unit from the adjacent shopping center was wedged inside a neighbor’s roof. Rain flooded the lower units of quadplexes, their second floors stolen by the night air. In my backyard were walls from unknown houses and a jack-o’-lantern missing its trick-or-treaters. Three schools were levelled. Roads were closed, trapping many of us in our homes. Most of the neighborhood remained without power for days, taken out by a trampoline ensnarled in high-voltage lines. I remain baffled but grateful that there were no fatalities.

Ten tornadoes hit Dallas that Sunday, October 20, one passing directly over my house, lifting just high enough to spare us. But without the Red Cross Emergency App, I would’ve continued folding laundry, surrounded by windows, unaware an EF3 tornado was minutes away.

Download the Red Cross Emergency App

Download the free Red Cross Emergency App today to help keep you and your loved ones safe during emergencies such as tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes.

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Aslan and Digory: Two of our Furriest Volunteers

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 08:27

Originally published on the Red Cross National Capital Region blog.

Digory (left) and Aslan (right) the Leonbergers

Honoring an American Red Cross volunteer at a ceremony typically involves a handshake, but with this special volunteer team, you need to shake a few paws as well.

Dr. Jen O’Keefe is a veterinarian at SouthPaws who has two male purebred Leonbergers. The trio was recently recognized as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Volunteers of the Quarter. Each of the dogs volunteer close to 100 hours a year, at the Walter Reed Hospital and its clinics as well as at numerous schools, libraries, rehab centers, nursing homes and disaster sites.

“The dogs love serving as therapy dogs,” said Jen. It’s the highlight of their week.”

Digory

In the years since, they have been very busy. Besides making the rounds at their usual local sites, Jen and the dogs have traveled to other states in response to various disasters. She will take them anywhere that the dogs will be beneficial, including locations where there has been a crisis or natural disaster. Aslan is eight years old and weighs 160 pounds; Digory is five years old and 120 pounds. Aslan has a sweet, gentle demeanor, while Digory is more outgoing and active, but both love their roles as volunteers. They especially love working with children. As therapy dogs, their jobs require them to make appearances, get showered with attention and brighten people’s days. An occasional dog treat is surely an appreciated incentive as well.

Both dogs had to go through an extensive process to qualify as Red Cross therapy dogs. After almost a year as volunteers in various locations, they needed to pass Good Citizen Tests, which are certified by the American Kennel Club. Then they had to go through a Red Cross screening before being approved to serve at Red Cross sites. Aslan earned his Red Cross certification in 2014, while Digory earned his in 2018.

Aslan

Wherever they go, the dogs turn heads. Initially, people can’t help but notice them for their size. Before long, though, it’s their happy, calming energy that draws people to interact with them.

“It’s amazing to walk into a room and see everyone smile,” said Jen. “The dogs and I get as much out of the experience as the people that we visit.”

The Red Cross is grateful that these three are so committed to serving the community!

Contact your your local Red Cross Chapter to find out how your pup can become a volunteer: https://www.redcross.org/find-your-local-chapter.html.

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How You Can Give with Meaning This Holiday Season

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 07:35

Giving Tuesday is only one day away! Here are some simple ways that you can give with meaning to bring comfort and hope to disaster survivors, service members and children across the globe.

Help Disaster Survivors During Their Darkest Hour

Danielle’s daughter, Harper, turned six months old the day a hurricane made landfall in their community. It was the third hurricane her family had experienced in three years.

“This is way worse,” said Danielle. “But it’s a lot easier now that we have somewhere to sleep.”

A gift of just $45 can provide infant care supplies and cribs for families like Danielle’s who are staying in Red Cross shelters.

Click here to learn more about how you can help those who have lost everything to natural disasters.

Help Veterans and Service Members

Every day we strive to help members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. We do this by providing home comforts and critical services on bases and in military hospitals around the world, supporting military families during deployments and emergencies and serving our nation’s veterans after their service ends.

You can show our heroes and veterans you care with a gift of $58, which can provide them with much needed hospital kits.

Help Save Children’s Lives Around the World

Measles is one of the most contagious and severe childhood diseases. Every day, it takes the lives of hundreds of children around the world.

Local Red Cross volunteers go door-to-door to identify children who are missing routine immunizations, update vaccination records at local health centers, encourage parents and caregivers to have their children vaccinated, and follow up with families to confirm receipt of the recommended vaccinations. Prince Osinachi received his measles-rubella vaccine in Nairobi, Kenya.

“The Red Cross has educated me and my neighbors about the importance of our children receiving vaccinations. My son was four months late receiving one of his measles doses, so I was afraid of taking him to the health center—but the volunteer convinced me to go,” said Prince’s mother, Lydia Odinga.

You can help save lives with a gift of $50.

However you choose to support on Giving Tuesday, you are making a difference in people’s lives. Thank you for your continued support of the Red Cross mission.

About Our Corporate Holiday Supporters

During this holiday season, the American Red Cross is grateful for corporate donors that generously contribute to our Holiday Campaign. They include: Amazon, Circle K, Microsoft and PayPal. Thanks to the generosity of these and other supporters, the Red Cross is able to bring help and hope to people across the country. Special thanks to companies helping to raise donations during the holiday season: Citi, Facebook, Google, Streamlabs and Westfields Mall. To learn more about our corporate holiday supporters, visit https://www.redcross.org/donations/ways-to-donate/holiday-gifts/holiday-partners.html

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Patients and Their Families Give Thanks for Blood Donors

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 05:48

This Thanksgiving, we’re grateful for everyone who has donated lifesaving blood or platelets to help patients in need. Here are a few patients and their families who want to say thank you for rolling up your sleeves to make a difference in their lives.

Ali and Finnegan “Finn” Olson Finnegan “Finn” Olson and his mom Ali

Ali’s son, Finnegan “Finn” Olson was born Jan. 13, 2017. Hours after birth, Finn was admitted to the hospital for what was assumed to be a minor respiratory problem. At the hospital, Finn’s parents’ joy soon turned to fear when an echocardiogram found that their newborn son had severe hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of his body. His heart was found to be five times larger than the expected size for a newborn.

After spending a month in the cardiac intensive care unit, eventually being attached to a heart-lung bypass machine, Finn was transferred to another hospital with high priority to receive a pediatric heart transplant. Finn would need many blood transfusions during the six months after his birth, while waiting to receive a very special gift – a lifesaving heart. He spent the next three months fighting rejection, infections, blood clots, kidney failure and lung disease, and received more blood transfusions. Three months post-transplant, Finn finally left the hospital with a new heart.

 “Thank you just isn’t enough to the blood donors who helped save Finn’s life,” said Ali. “You never know when you or your family is going to be the one in need.”

Daniela Ciriello Daniela Ciriello

Daniela was born with a rare genetic blood disorder called beta thalassemia that went undiagnosed for months. At 14 months old, the Ciriellos rushed Daniela to the hospital and finally received the answers they were looking for.   Doctors confirmed their daughter had been  so fussy and wasn’t gaining much weight or eating becauseDaniela’s body doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells.

Daniela required seven transfusions during the ER visit. Since then, Daniela receives lifesaving transfusions of type O positive blood about every three weeks to help manage her condition.

“Because people donate blood, my daughter is alive and living her best life. I can’t put into words how thankful I am for that and what it means to our family,” said Daniela’s mom, Nicole.

Blaze Eppinger Blaze Eppinger

Blaze was born with sickle cell disease. People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that are stiff and distorted in shape, sometimes blocking blood flow. Their red blood cells break down prematurely, leaving a shortage of healthy red blood cells. Sadly, one in 12 African Americans carries a sickle cell gene.

As a child, Blaze would receive blood transfusions at least once a month. Today at 28, he needs blood transfusions nine to 10 times a year. Each time he requires transfusions, he receives at least three units of blood.

 “Blood donors may not think about where the blood goes to at the time of their donation, but I consider them as silent heroes,” Blaze said. “It’s just a task to them, an hour of their time, but that task helps save lives. If it wasn’t for generous blood donors, I wouldn’t be alive.”

Susie Pitts and Tymia McCullough Susie Pitts and her daughter Tymia

Susie’s daughter, Tymia McCullough, is a spirited 12-year-old who aspires to be a pediatrician and model when she grows up. Like Blaze, she is also battling sickle cell disease. Although she’s very young, Tymia has already been hospitalized 40 times, received over 40 blood transfusions and experienced surgeries to remove her spleen and gallbladder. The side effects of sickle cell disease can make Tymia feel ill and slow her down from doing the things she loves like dancing, cheerleading and modeling.

However, her determination to fight the disease continues to push her to challenge herself and inspire others. Tymia is an honor roll student and was crowned Miss South Carolina Jr. Pre-Teen in 2015.

For Tymia’s mother Susie, words cannot express enough gratitude for those who so generously volunteer to roll up a sleeve and donate blood.

“For the blood donors, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, because you have given just a little of your time to ensure someone like our daughter is able to live,” Susie said. “We thank you!”

Holly Bosse and Kinzie Frey Holly Bosse and her daughter Kinzie Frey

After months of vague symptoms and emergency room visits, Holly’s daughter, 6-year-old Kinzie Frey, was diagnosed with stage 4, high-risk neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that can grow into tumors. Her tumor was collectively the size of a small basketball.

After a number of treatments, procedures and complications, Kinzie required numerous blood and platelet transfusions. Over 18 months, Kinzie received 46 red blood cell transfusions and 72 platelet transfusions.

Today Kinzie is cancer-free.

“If it weren’t for the generosity of blood donors, Kinzie wouldn’t be here with us today,” Holly said. “Those blood donations aren’t only a gift to Kinzie but to our family, friends and supporters. They are also a reminder to give for the benefit of others.”

Give a Lifesaving Gift

You can schedule an appointment to donate today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the blood donor skill on any Alexa Echo device by saying, “Alexa, find a blood drive.” To speed up the donation process, you can also complete a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass on mobile devices.

As a special thank you for your generosity, you could get a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card via email and an exclusive t-shirt, while supplies last, if you come to give from November 27-30.

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Why One Veteran Continues to Serve Her Country with the Red Cross

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 10:38

We love working with veterans who share our commitment to service and possess the leadership abilities to support our humanitarian organization. That’s why we sat down with Donna Colon, an Army National Guard veteran and the Executive Director of the Red Cross Indiana Region, to learn why she wanted to work for the Red Cross and how being in the military has affected her work with the organization.

When did you join the Red Cross and what roles have you held?

“I have been with the Red Cross for more than four years. I began my career on August 3, 2015. My first position was with the Service to the Armed Forces team, and I served as our specialist. From there, I transitioned into the Regional Volunteer Services Officer role where I supported all of our volunteers across the Indiana Region and worked to develop strategies and drive recruitment for our five service lines. Then, I became the Executive Director for the Indiana Region.”

In one sentence, describe your role.

“Every day I work to recruit, inform and educate external partners about the importance of supporting the critical work we do every day!”

How has being in the military made a difference in your role at the Red Cross?

“The leadership skills I learned from the military have helped me adapt and overcome the obstacles that I have faced during time here at Red Cross. I worked in high pressure environments, managed large personnel and strategized missions within the military. These skills have taught me to work well with my Red Cross field staff, develop thorough plans and to be flexible. The military for me, has made a huge difference in my personal and professional life, and I am proud of my military career and the lessons I learned.”

What do you love most about your job?

“I love working for the Red Cross because every day is a new challenge to overcome. I thrive in our fast-paced work environment because that was how I was trained for more than 10 years in the military. I believe in our mission and the growth potential. I can connect and build relationships with all types of external partners. Relationship management has always come easy to me and this particular role has inspired me to keep meeting people, introduce who we are and then recruit the support that we critically need.

“I love this job because I am allowed to be that voice of service. I get to witness great deeds from our volunteers daily, and I get to mentor and help volunteers who want to learn more. I have a great role within a great organization, and I am very proud of our Indiana Region.”

What does the Red Cross mission mean to you?

“The Red Cross mission to me is personal. Back when I was injured during a military deployment overseas, I was sent to the Landstuhl Medical Center. I was approached by two Red Cross volunteers who helped me get civilian clothes. I didn’t know anyone. I was saddened [to see how many of] my brothers and sisters who had been hurt, and I was unsure of what would happen to me.

“Those volunteers checked on me, talked to me and introduced me to a pastor that took a handful of us to Luxembourg for a trip. I am grateful to those Red Cross volunteers. They helped me at one of the lowest and saddest moments of my life. When I read that the Service to Armed Forces position was open here in my own back yard, I had to apply, and I am so glad I did.

What would you say to someone who is a fellow veteran who is thinking about applying for a job with the Red Cross?

“I would tell my fellow veterans to apply. Your special skill sets transfer, and you will fit into the fast-paced, changing environment. You have the leadership skills, the discipline, the heart of service, and you are not afraid to take the mission and move it forward. You are great under pressure; you deliver and exceed expectations in tough environments and when disasters arise. You are capable of flexibility and you are able to move within the organization based off of your individual skills. We become family in the military, and I can honestly say, in my position, I too have a Red Cross family here. Good luck in your endeavors and never be afraid to march forward!”

Join Us

Like Donna, you can find your dream career at the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/careers to search for opportunities.

The post Why One Veteran Continues to Serve Her Country with the Red Cross appeared first on red cross chat.

Why One Navy Veteran Became a Red Crosser for Life

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:37

When Tony Briggs joined the U.S. Navy, he didn’t know much about the American Red Cross or the services it provides. But during his 24 years in the military, he had such powerful experiences with the organization that it inspired him to become a Red Crosser for life.

In 1981, during the Gulf War, Tony remembers being on the USS Theodore Roosevelt when he first came in contact with the Red Cross. At the time, his wife Kelly was eight months pregnant with their second child. Although he was proud to be serving his country, he couldn’t help but feel sad about not being by his wife’s side during the birth of their child.

One day he got a call from his commanding officer to come to his stateroom. He was handed a message from the Red Cross stating that Kelly had given birth to their son, Jeremy, and that they were both doing well.

“In that moment, I was absolutely over the moon,” Tony said. “It meant everything to me to find out that my wife and child were doing well. And I’ll always be thankful to the Red Cross for that message.”

His next encounter with the Red Cross took place during a Navy assignment. He had been tasked with developing film of storm damage that Hurricane Andrew had caused. When he found out that this film would be shared with the Red Cross to show the public the extent of the damage, he realized he wanted to work for the organization.

He got to do just that.

After he retired from the Navy, he started working in Red Cross blood services as a communications professional. He was in that role for 16 months before he became a communicator for the Desert to the Sea Region of the Red Cross. Now, Tony is the CEO of the Central California Region, where he supports Red Cross humanitarian efforts in a 10-county region.

“This is my dream job because every single day I get to touch the Red Cross mission,” Tony said.

Since he’s worked at the Red Cross, he’s deployed more than 12 times during natural disasters. His most memorable deployment took place during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“I really felt like my work had the most impact during Hurricane Harvey because I got to share what the Red Cross was doing in Houston with thousands of people,” he said.  “I wanted to make sure that people understood what we were doing there and how others could help.”

During each of his deployments, he’s come in contact with a fellow veteran continuing to serve the country as a Red Cross volunteer.

“No matter what branch of service you’re in, it’s a very tight knit family, just like the Red Cross,” Tony said. “The Red Cross gives people who want to serve their country another opportunity to do it, just without being in uniform.”

Today Tony is proud to share what the Red Cross is doing to help service members across the world.

“We take a holistic approach, from the time they raise their hand at the military processing station to the time they’re no longer with us,” he said. “The Red Cross is going to be there for those who have served their country and their families.

I’m proud to be affiliated with the Red Cross and the military.”

Learn More

Visit redcross.org/military to read more about how we support America’s military and veteran families, and how you can make a difference as a volunteer.

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Vietnamese Youth Volunteers Reconnect 44 Years Later at the Red Cross

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 11:28
The former volunteers standing in from of the American Red Cross National Headquarters.

From 1962 to 1975, youth volunteers with the Vietnam Red Cross served together to help injured people in need during the Vietnam War. After the war, the volunteers were forced to flee the country for their safety and find new homes. They had no idea that they would later reconnect on the internet and come together to commemorate the relationships they had built during the Vietnam War.

This past September, during their annual reunion, this group of more than 30 volunteers and their spouses visited the American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to learn more about the organization’s history. During their visit, we were honored to hear their stories of courage and selflessness. Here are some of the volunteers we met that day:

Lisa Van (right) and her husband, Cuong Minh Huynh (left)

Meet Lisa Van and her husband Cuong Minh Huynh. Cuong started volunteering with the Vietnam Red Cross when he was 14 years old. As a volunteer, he helped people with their wounds, moved them to safe locations and used emergency first aid, often in dangerous circumstances. On multiple occasions, he remembers hearing bullets fly past him while the volunteers were out in the field. Although they were serving during a difficult time, they made sacrifices every day for the sake of injured persons. And the relationships they forged bonded them for life.

“They weren’t afraid to risk their lives to help soldiers and the village people,” Lisa said. “They stood strong and went out there not thinking about the dangers for themselves, but about helping others.”

Van Cao

Van Cao was also a high school student when she became a volunteer. She remembers how her family was accepting of her desire to help others, but wanted her to stay close to home for her safety. As a result, she wasn’t able to deploy as much as other volunteers, but she is thankful for the times she was able to go out and make a difference. During her 10 deployments, she supported poverty-stricken families and individuals during disasters, and she provided medications and immunizations.

“I felt good when I helped people, and that feeling lasts forever,” Van said.

Trong (left) and Khang (right) Nguyen.

Trong Nguyen helped organize this year’s reunion and was joined by his wife Khang. He’s still amazed by how they were able to help people in need as youth volunteers, and how they can all come together today more than 40 years later.

“We were students who wanted to use our strength and energy to heal the damage from the war, and we did our best to do that,” Trong said.

Become a volunteer

Like this group of volunteers, you can make a difference at any age. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find the right opportunity for you.

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6 Ways a Hurricane Impacts Everyday Life – Making A Difference after Dorian

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 06:47
Janine, a resident of Grand Bahama, talks about her experience surviving the storm with the support of a Red Cross emotional support volunteer.

Over the past six weeks, people displaced by the strongest storm to ever hit the Bahamas have opened up and let me into their lives. With each mother, nurse, son and social worker who have spoken of those unforgettable days when Hurricane Dorian passed through, I am reminded that even the “normal” everyday tasks we all carry out have changed for so many who weathered the storm. In an instant, everything we are used to can be turned upside down.

Bridging that gap between the ever familiar and a “new normal” can be hard. However, I’ve seen firsthand how the Red Cross is helping to bring a sense of normalcy and comfort when it’s needed most.

Let’s pause for a second and think of an average routine on a weekday:

Every day, do you…

Turn on the lights?

With generators scarce in some neighborhoods, some families still don’t have electricity. Imagine trying to race the sun to complete your errands, household tasks and homework.

That burden is starting to be lifted as the Red Cross and other agencies provide solar powered lights in places like the Abaco Islands.

Take a shower?

For many, access to utilities has become challenging, as running water is still sporadic in some parts of the islands.

A grandmother of three lets me know she’s grateful for buckets from the Red Cross, which she uses to bathe.

Dellerece, a grandmother of two and resident of Grand Bahama, says she has been using the buckets she was provided by the Red Cross to bathe daily. Go to school?

A mother of two kids in second and fourth grade tells me she’s had to uproot their lives from Abaco and transfer them to a new school on Nassau. They’ve been without school uniforms and workbooks until now.

She was able to use the financial assistance she received from the Red Cross to buy new outfits for her kids so they’d no longer feel left out in school.

Shirley Jean received a cash grant to help her family move forward from Hurricane Dorian. Flush the toilet?

Without a reserve of water, flushing automatic toilets is impossible. One solution is to fill up a collapsible jerry can—like the ones we’re distributing across the Bahamas—with water and have it on hand the next time the power goes out.

The American Red Cross has been distributing relief supplies including solar powered lights, clean up supplies, hygeine items and kitchen sets to those most impacted by Hurricane Dorian. Heat up leftovers?

Families who have lost everything still need a way to eat.

With the help of USAID, the Red Cross has distributed portable stoves across the island of Grand Bahama. “I usually make grits, oatmeal, rice or mac and cheese,” said a single mother, grateful for the extra help.

MaryAnn learns how to use a portable stove to cook her meals, as electricity is still scarce in many neighborhoods across the Bahamas. Cross the street?

If you are used to the slow, leisurely pace of living in a small fishing village, imagine the shock of evacuating to a busy city on another island. A simple task like crossing or walking down the road can cause anxiety.

Trained psychologists and nurses are on hand to provide mental health support to evacuees across the islands, helping to comfort them in a time of extreme transition.

Anischka, along with many others, has had to adjust to the faster pace of New Providence Island from her former life on Abaco.

Months after the storm, the Bahamas Red Cross, with the support of the American Red Cross and the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network, continues to provide relief and support to those most affected by Hurricane Dorian. For its part, the American Red Cross has committed $6.1 million towards recovery efforts so far and has deployed more than 35 disaster relief specialists to the Bahamas. Follow updates on our Hurricane Dorian relief projects at redcross.org/dorian.

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How CPR Saved My Life

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 11:53
Christine with Frank (left) and Mark (middle) who both performed CPR to help save her life.

On Saturday, April 7, 2018, I went to White Plains beach to meet my friends as I usually do every weekend. We surf or fish in the morning and then BBQ and hang out for the rest of the day. The day started out as it usually does, with the only remarkable event being that I did not eat breakfast and was hungry that morning. My friends Mark and Dann and I decided to fish because there wasn’t much surf that day. The three of us walked down the beach and fished for about an hour and then returned to the parking lot where all of our other friends had congregated. For the next hour or so, we hung out with our friends as a small group of us decided where to go eat since we still hadn’t eaten breakfast. Finally, a restaurant was chosen and my friends and I started to say goodbye to our friends. This is the last part of the story I remember. The remainder of the story was recounted to me by my friends.

My Accident

The last friend I said goodbye to was Jill. Jill was standing by my car, so after I said my goodbyes, I would have gotten in my car and headed to the restaurant. Instead, I hugged Jill and then blacked out. When I blacked out, I fell over and the first part of my body to strike the ground was the right side of my head, just above my ear. The impact with the ground was hard enough to interrupt the body signals that regulate my heartbeat. In essence, the impact was hard enough to stop my heart.

Two of my friends rushed to my aid. Mark Kam, a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, and Bob Heffelfinger, a civilian government employee, began performing CPR. Bob then realized he wasn’t comfortable performing it, so he stood up and yelled “Somebody Help!”

While at his car putting away his surfboard and fishing equipment, Frank Asuncion, a retired welder from the shipyard at Pearl Harbor, heard Bob’s call and rushed to my aid. Together, Mark and Frank performed CPR, and at this point, I was told I was blue and hadn’t been breathing for approximately three minutes. At some point, I began to breathe again but was told I kept going in and out of consciousness. I remember waking up and seeing paramedics and firefighters hovering over me. One of them asked if I knew where I was and I replied, “I’m at White Plains Beach. Why am I on the ground?” After I answered, I blacked out again.

A Perfect Storm

The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital when they allowed Mark in to see me. At this point, about four hours had passed since my fall in the parking lot. The hospital performed many tests including a CT scan and an MRI. I also received three staples above my right ear for the crack in my skull and was diagnosed with a concussion. The hospital physicians didn’t know the cause of my accident and released me, instructing me to follow up with my primary care doctor. Mark took sick leave from work to help me during my recovery, and I stayed at his house since all of my family members live on the mainland in Pennsylvania. On Monday, Mark took me to my primary care doctor who then referred me to a neurologist and cardiologist. All tests from the neurologist and cardiologist found there was no evidence of heart or brain trouble. So my primary care doctor, using the results from all my tests and procedures, concluded that low blood sugar from not eating breakfast and dehydration caused me to black out, fall, and strike my head on the ground, which affected my heartbeat. In essence, it was a perfect storm of things that combined to cause a potentially deadly situation. But the right people were in the right place that morning and I am still here to share my story.

Bonded for Life

I did have an opportunity to really get to know the men who saved my life. Mark Kam and I had been friends for about two years prior to my accident. We are even closer friends now. He saved my life and he is my best friend. I had not met Frank prior to my accident, but a few days later, I went back to the beach where the accident occurred and spoke to the lifeguards who also assisted during my accident. I asked if they knew who the “other guy” was who helped me. At this point, I only knew his name was ‘Frank’ because it was written on the lifeguard’s report. I asked the head lifeguard, Marvin, if he could give my name and phone number to Frank and ask him to contact me if he was comfortable meeting.

 

Later that day, Frank called me, and we spoke for the first time. We scheduled a time to meet at the beach later that week. It was an emotional reunion, and we were both in tears when we saw each other. During our reunion, we found out that we share a common interest: fishing! So, Frank and I have fished together a few times since my accident, and we continue to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Frank texts me on the seventh day of each month to recognize another month of my new life.

Learn Lifesaving Skills

Register for a Red Cross CPR course today at https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr to learn lifesaving skills. You never know when you’ll need them.

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Disability Employment Awareness Month: Meet Michael Wojcik

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 06:45

Michael Wojcik is Chief Development Officer for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. He is a 16-year veteran of the organization. Michael is also legally blind. During Disability Employment Awareness Month, we sat down with Michael to talk about the importance of having honest conversations with colleagues, the meaning of an inclusive workplace, and the valuable insight people with disabilities bring to the Red Cross mission.

When did you join the Red Cross and what is your role?

I joined the Red Cross in September 2003 in my hometown of Chicago. Back then I never thought that I would have the many opportunities for professional growth that I have had at the Red Cross, let alone to serve as Chief Development Officer for the Massachusetts region. I am so proud of what we do here. I get to lead a team of 15 talented Red Crossers (fundraisers) who link compassionate individuals, brand aware companies and impact driven foundations with our lifesaving mission. It is an honor to advocate for a set of values and services that I truly believe in.

How has working at the Red Cross impacted your life or career?

Serving the Red Cross mission is incredibly rewarding. I am reminded daily of how truly fragile life is. We are all one step away from something unexpected disrupting our lives, sometimes forever. At the same time, we also see the humanity and hope in those we serve and our volunteers who reach out their hand to help. At the end of the day, there is hope in the world and it is the Red Cross. Beyond that, the life and career lessons that I have gained from colleagues past and present are too numerous to mention, but they shape who I am and they remind me of why we serve this cause.

What do you love most about your job?

I enjoy supporting our leadership volunteers. I love learning why they choose to champion our cause and strategizing with them to bring the needs of clients to their networks. Supporting their advocacy and helping my team build strategic partnerships to grow our organizational capacity is meaningful to me. Honestly, you would not have heard me say that 16 years ago. Like many, I began my nonprofit career because I learned firsthand that the world is fair to all. While I still know that to be true, what motivates me now is executing our goals. If X is our desired outcome, what will it take to get that done and who must be involved, where, when and how? This may not sound inspiring to some but affecting the desired outcome is cool stuff.

How has/does the Red Cross support you and other individuals with disabilities?

It took me years to grow comfortable talking to my managers about my vision impairment and acknowledging that I may need certain accommodations. For the better part of my life I tried to deny my impairment so that I could “fit in” with everyone else. In the workplace it’s not easy or comfortable to divulge a need. And frankly it took some of my managers time to feel comfortable talking with me about what I may need in terms of support. Ultimately, through courage and conversation, both sides took minor leaps of faith and for years now I’ve maintained a solution-oriented dialogue with my various bosses. For those who may perceive disclosing a disability as professional vulnerability, I say forget that. Just be you. Say what you need. Ultimately, we are our own advocates. No one else but you really knows what you need, so speak up. Believe in yourself and the value you add to this organization and our clients. Remember, our clients see us just as much as our peers do and our advocacy sends a message to them too.

What disabled Red Crossers find is an organization that has fairly well established support systems for folks with a variety of accommodations needs.  For me, it’s ensuring that when I’m at a divisional/national meeting that I have printed copies of all PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, I work in an open office environment. When reporting out on our fundraising metrics, I need to be in front of my computer looking at a large screen while everyone else on my team is gathered in the conference room looking at the TV monitor on the wall. I also have help navigating some online systems.

Ultimately, the Red Cross is a collection of people, just like you and me, who live in and believe in community and who by our very nature believe in the concept of helping others. None of us would be working as hard as we do if we felt otherwise. So, if there is a volunteer or employee who either through fear of stigma, self-doubt or personal pride is unsure about sharing their needs; I am confident that you will find a willing listener and plenty of solutions-oriented people who will help.

What would you say to an individual with a disability looking for a job who might be considering the Red Cross?

The Red Cross is a great organization to serve. Volunteers or employees with a disability are instant rock stars. We play a key role in serving our community because we represent our community. By showing up and offering help, we uphold not only the mission but the values of this organization; in part because we look like those we serve and we experience life like those we serve. That street credibility is priceless. As a disabled Red Crosser, we have more than just our talent to offer; we have a perspective on life that shapes who we are and how we think about ourselves and those we serve. These are coveted assets to a humanitarian organization like ours and they are valued. Embrace it.

What, if anything, surprised you about working at the Red Cross?

I am surprised every day, even 16 years in, by the depth of compassion and sheer determination of Red Cross volunteers and employees. We bring so much of the communities that we serve to the workplace. This makes us a stronger organization every single day.

I have also seen a more inclusive workplace emerge. A few years ago, I was proud to help form our Ability Network. This is a resource group for Red Cross volunteers and staff with disabilities, function and access needs. Ability Network members bring to Gail’s leadership table the challenge, obstacles, perspectives and opportunities that we encounter every day across the organization. In addition to being a forum to drive organizational enhancements, the Ability Network has exposed me to so many Red Crossers who I quite frankly would have never met. Our group affirms that the Red Cross is vast and wide, and has volunteers and staff who represent every aspect of life, our lines of service and ways of working. It’s cool stuff.

What else would you like to share?

Accepting and embracing “the other,” is a continuous journey and requires intention, whether the other is a person who does not look like, talk like or function like us. Take the initiative to ask them who they are, what they value, how they like to be addressed and what we can expect from them. Don’t assume that because someone is different that they can’t. Assume they can and then hold them accountable to deliver on what they promise. It pains me when so called able-bodied folks give those of us with a disability a pass. I’m here to deliver just as much as anyone else and I expect to be held accountable, and believe me, I have been (lol). Everyone values being trusted, respected and expected to deliver for others. Those with disabilities are no different. Every Red Crosser adds value.

Join Us

To find a career where you can make a difference at the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/careers.

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Helping the Red Cross is in Kendra Young’s Blood

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:51

Supporting American Red Cross blood donation services is in Kendra Young’s blood.

The Issaquah High School student recently organized a blood drive at her school. Twenty-three pints of blood were collected.

More than 70 years earlier, her grandfather Raymond Henry Salyer helped set up a Red Cross blood bank in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t ever really get the chance to know him,” Kendra said about her grandfather. But he was still an inspiration.

“I was definitely more eager to get involved because of that family history,” she said.

It was Kendra’s mother who gave her the idea to host the blood drive. Kendra liked it because she enjoys planning events and volunteering. Over the years, she’s participated in various charity events through her church including food, clothing and school supply drives and handing out Thanksgiving meals for families and individuals in need.

Planning the blood drive was fun, Kendra said. When the day came, she volunteered to check people in. Many of the donors were people she had invited from school, church and work. Some were strangers who saw the flyers she had posted in the area. The payoff was seeing how great people felt after donating.

In thanks for her effort, the Red Cross gave Kendra and her friends a special role at a Reign FC game. The women’s soccer team recently announced their commitment to collecting blood, through a partnership with the Red Cross Missing Types Campaign.

Kendra and her peers were escorted onto the field at halftime and invited to test their luck by attempting to kick a goal (they call it a chip-shot) from the midline.

“We were kicking in the right direction, but we could not kick that far,” said Kendra, who competes on her school’s swim team.

Host a Blood Drive

By hosting a blood drive, students can become eligible for a Red Cross scholarship. Kendra will be a senior this fall and said she might organize another blood drive toward the end of the school year.

“Kendra’s passion and commitment to help others is an inspiration. The Red Cross future is very bright because of young people like Kendra,” said Red Cross Regional Philanthropy Officer, Ken Mundt.

Donate Blood to Help Save Lives

Schedule an appointment to donate today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the blood donor skill on any Alexa Echo device by saying, “Alexa, find a blood drive.” To speed up the donation process, you can also complete a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass on mobile devices.

As a thank you for coming to give this October, you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win one of five $500 gift cards redeemable at hundreds of merchants, courtesy of Tango Card. Terms apply, see: rcblood.org/game.

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Youth Action Campaign: Making a Global Impact in High School

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 06:25

Evan Edler is a 16-year-old Red Cross volunteer from Massachusetts, who spent this past year participating in his school’s International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Youth Action Campaign. IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. These rules attempt to reconcile the reality of armed conflicts with the protection of lives and preservation of human dignity. The Red Cross’s Youth Action Campaign gives students the opportunity to learn more about this important body of law. We asked Evan a few questions about what he learned from the campaign and why he thinks others should get involved.

What is the Youth Action Campaign?

The IHL Youth Action Campaign is a way for youth volunteers and activists to educate their communities about international humanitarian law, and how it affects people around the world.

How long have you been involved with the Youth Action Campaign?

Last year was my first (and my school’s first) year participating in the Youth Action Campaign.

Why is it important for people to know about international humanitarian law?

Though some people are far removed from warfare or military involvement, to many, IHL is a life-or-death matter. For people living in active war zones or with family members in danger, IHL can be an extremely important protection – which is why the rest of the world should be aware when such essential rules are violated.

What do you do as a member of the Youth Action Campaign?

As a member of the Youth Action Campaign, I work to teach my peers about IHL and its importance. I plan creative events, advertise throughout the school and encourage other students and my community to get involved with the Red Cross. I generally promote excitement about IHL to increase awareness in fun and different ways.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about international humanitarian law?

The most surprising thing I learned was that people violate IHL so frequently. It was shocking to hear stories and see examples of combatants in war targeting medical facilities, considering the neutrality protections that the symbol of the Red Cross should grant in such places.

Why do you think others should get involved with the campaign?

The campaign is not only a good way to learn more about international humanitarian law, but it also spreads awareness around the work of the Red Cross and humanitarianism in general. The Youth Action Campaign is a doorway into the Red Cross as an international effort and it provides a valuable perspective on both history and modern-day events. And most importantly, the campaign allows you to connect to your peers in new ways over very important issues.

What do you like most about being involved with the campaign?

I loved the idea that so many other people were running the same campaign. The fact that youth across the country and beyond were participating together to achieve the same goal was especially powerful, and it made the campaign much more interesting than an average school event. In addition, it got me more involved with the Red Cross as a whole. Thanks to the campaign, I had the invaluable opportunity to come all the way for a visit to the Red Cross national headquarters in D.C.

Learn More

To learn more about the International Humanitarian Law Youth Action campaign, visit redcross.org.

 

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