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How the Red Cross Helped Veterans and Military Families Recover After Tennessee Tornadoes

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 13:08

In March, deadly tornadoes ripped through Tennessee, devastating many who lived in Nashville and surrounding areas. Sadly, military and veteran families were among those who were hit the hardest. After seeing the destruction, Tonya Glasgow, a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Specialist in Tennessee, knew she needed to jump in and help. Keep reading to learn about her experiences helping these military communities recover from disaster.

Tonya, how do you support the military and veteran communities at the Red Cross?

At the Red Cross, we serve active-duty military, veterans, the National Guard, Reserves and their family members. We help in so many different ways! We follow up on emergency calls from service members and their families in times of crisis, and assist with financial aid through our Hero Care Network and the military aid societies. We have volunteers at veteran and military hospitals; we brief families on what to expect when their family member has just joined the military; we provide refreshments to our local guard members and their families at Welcome Home Events and comfort kits to our deployed troops. We also hold a Military Kids Serve Too event every year for military children and support homeless veterans in finding housing and employment. The list goes on!

After the tornadoes struck in Nashville, how did you identify veterans and military families in need?

I immediately went to work looking for people to help. I contacted the Tennessee National Guard and asked how many guard members had been impacted. They granted me permission to call each person. So, I called every family on that list and asked them, “What do you need and how can we help?” Then we went to work trying to meet as many of those needs as possible. We also went to the hardest hit areas in search of veterans’ homes, and we worked with the local Veterans Service Office to offer our assistance in reaching out to the veterans in the area.

So many people lost everything; the devastation was massive. But I was so impressed at how resilient the veterans and military families were. Even though they had lost so much, they were still so happy because their families were all safe. That was their main concern.

Can you share some stories of people that were helped?

We helped so many amazing people. There was a Sergeant Major who had served six tours in Iraq. He and his family had recently completed building their dream retirement home. Then the tornado hit, and nothing was left but the concrete slab.  Fortunately, they survived, and he was so thankful for that.  Most of their items can be replaced, but some items could not, like their family Bible and his purple heart award. We were able to provide them with toiletries, food, water and clothing, and we connected them with grants and other resources in the community. They even continued to pay it forward by helping others in their neighborhood. They are a truly remarkable and inspiring family.

There was also a Vietnam veteran who was seriously impacted by the tornado and lost most of his belongings. As with most of the other veterans that we offered assistance to, he proudly said that he didn’t need anything. I asked him his shoe size, knowing that we had one pair of combat boots donated by the 118th Air Wing of the Tennessee Air Guard. The shoes just happened to be his size and he was so happy when we handed them to him!

There was also a Specialist serving in the National Guard with eight children who needed help. One of the children was a premature baby that had to be on constant oxygen. Then the tornado hit, damaging their home and both of their vehicles. Having transportation was crucial so they could get the baby to and from the hospital for her appointments. Luckily, we were able to assist them with the insurance deductibles for their vehicles to be repaired, thanks to a generous donation from VFW Post 1970 in Nashville. We also brought them clothes, food, water and some toys, since the children lost most of their toys. Among the donations from the Tennessee Air Guard was a brand-new tricycle. There was no doubt in my mind exactly where that needed to go.  The kids were thrilled when we pulled the tricycle off the truck and gave it to them.  Seeing them smile made me smile. I’m so glad that we were able to add a little bit of joy back into their lives. Those kids taught me what true resiliency was that day.

Tonya, who helps you carry out these important missions?

I could not do this alone. It takes every single volunteer stepping up! I am so thankful for the amazing group of volunteers that we have. They have such a heart for helping the military and veteran communities in the area. I also work with amazing organizations like the VA, the American Legion, VetLinx and the VFW.

Why do you specifically serve veterans and military families?

I’m a veteran and these are my brothers and sisters. In the military you learn, “never leave a soldier behind,” and I live by that. I think that once you’ve been in the service, it becomes a part of you to always be in service to others for the rest of your life. I want to make sure that no service member, veteran or their families are ever left behind. Through the Red Cross, I’m able to serve those communities, find out their needs and offer solutions.

I want to also provide them with hope. At the Red Cross, we take the time to listen and provide relief, letting them know we are there and we care.

What do you want people to know about the Red Cross?

I want people to know that the Red Cross was born on the battlefield. I think people forget that the American Red Cross was started as a service to soldiers by Clara Barton. I believe that if more people knew just how much we are doing behind the scenes to support our military, veterans and their families, then they would want to help as well!

On a personal note, I am so proud to be a Red Crosser in Tennessee. Whenever a disaster strikes or someone is in need, we take our role as the Volunteer State seriously. We never shy away from lending a helping hand.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces or would like to volunteer, click here to find out more.

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Celebrating Pride Month: Meet Hannah Simpson

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 06:46

This Pride Month, we’re celebrating our employees and volunteers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Each and every day they work to carry out our humanitarian mission in communities across the country. Meet Hannah Simpson, a Disaster Cycle Services volunteer in our Greater New York Region. She is also a member of our American Red Cross Pride Team Resource Group. Here is a conversation we had with her around Pride Month and the importance of diversity and representation.

Why is Pride Month important to you?

I like to explain to those unfamiliar with Pride that while it ends each year on June 30th, it begins again on July 1st. In my own life, Pride, specifically the days when there is a march or a parade, became a proving ground for presenting myself in public as Hannah long before I fully came out or transitioned. Like Halloween, it felt like permission for me to conquer my fear of interacting with the world as a female, even if only for a day at a time. Most importantly, it drew me closer to others on the same journey.

Six years since revealing myself as Hannah once and for all, Pride might feel easy and effortless to me not only in New York, but traveling to Austin, Montreal, Amsterdam, or Jerusalem. It can only be a party though if it remains a promise too. We must remember those we have lost who paved the way for us to even contemplate our identities, let alone flourish within them. We must remember the murdered, particularly the men and women of color, whose chances to realize themselves were cut short. The path moving forward must be wider and more welcoming for those next to come out than we ourselves found.

What is your role at the Red Cross?

I am a Disaster Cycle Services volunteer in the Greater New York Region helping locally with the Workforce Engagement team. Whenever a disaster hits, this team is slightly behind the scenes making lots of phone calls to see which volunteers are available, track who has been activated, and make sure everyone’s contributions are logged.

I have deployed four times to efforts in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, to Florida for Hurricane Michael and for preparations for Hurricane Dorian, and to the Camp Fires in Northern California, where I work directly with clients in our shelters and as a member of our Disability Integration (DI) team. When we establish ourselves in an impacted community, our mandate is to be there for everyone to the best of our ability. The DI team focuses in on those who need specialized assistance or equipment to help them progress in their own recovery. This may mean replacing a walker that someone evacuated without, setting up a video-phone laptop for signing clients, or maintaining a few less sensory-intensive spaces within a shelter for neurodiverse individuals of any age.

I have also had to the privilege to give lunchtime talks about gender identity and how it relates to disaster from this volunteer’s perspective at my local chapter and others nearby.

What drew you to the Red Cross?

This is a favorite story. I was on a business trip, hired to be the keynote speaker and sermon-giver for Austin, Texas’s Interfaith Pride Coalition’s 2017 annual Pride service. This was held on Tuesday night of Pride week and went great, but I booked my flight home for Sunday to stay for Saturday’s planned parade. A storm now called Hurricane Harvey was suddenly forecast to make landfall and stay overhead all weekend. Pride was sensibly cancelled for safety and the entire airport was shuttered too.

Unable to leave, I started reading the local news about the storm prep and saw an ad that the Red Cross was recruiting local volunteers. My host in Texas dropped me off at the Central and South Texas Chapter office, where I was at first told the intake training was full and asked to come back that evening. I walked around the back to the staff entrance instead, and just said, “I’m hanging around for the next meeting, how can I help while I wait?” Once I got signed up formally and was cleared, I was immediately dispatched on a team to help set up an evacuation shelter at a local school gym for everyone bussed away from the coast. As the storm came in, I began client intakes, read stories to kids with donated books, and helped in the shelter for the next 30 straight hours through the entire storm. Even though I took breaks, I don’t think I slept at all.

I loved what I was doing in Austin so much that I stayed on there and then transferred to Houston as a general volunteer for a total of three and a half weeks.

What is one of your favorite Red Cross moments?

I was volunteering at a shelter for the Camp Fires not far outside of the city of Paradise, which had burned to the ground, displacing countless people from their familiar surroundings and resources that help them live independently. I had been referred to a new woman who arrived at the shelter and at first appeared disoriented and in perhaps mental or medical distress. I had the chance to sit down and start talking with her and realized that she was cognitively much younger than she appeared physically. She needed special attention more than emergency services, which is the goal for the DI team to help facilitate. I regularly carry clown balloons and a small pump with me for entertaining kids while their parents speak with caseworkers or agencies, so I took them out for her. We made balloon swords and circled the shelter in marching steps pretending to be its guardian knights. I made her a Red Cross blanket cape too. It was make-believe, but she immediately felt more relaxed, more seen, and safer.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and work at the Red Cross?

There is no wrong way to volunteer for your community, but I particularly love being a proud trans woman in an organization works hard to serve our nation and to embrace diversity. Some people want to believe that LGBTQ+ issues only impact the fringes of society and can be disregarded when emergencies arise, but in reality, the opposite is true. Who we are doesn’t burn down with a house in wildfires or dissolve away with material possessions in floodwaters.

For anyone who survives a disaster, your sense of self could suddenly be all you have left. Yet transgender and nonbinary people, as well as those in other marginalized identities, might feel like recovery services are less available or that they will risk mistreatment by other clients, or even staff. I strive to be one face among the many changing that perception. There is work to be done to improve for sure.

I also love that we can and do proactively devote resources to empower volunteers, who might be blind, deaf, work with service animals, or utilize mobility assistance, to contribute meaningfully.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20-year-old self?

My grandfather recently passed away at 97. He only met me being my authentic self at age 92. He took it in stride, and stands as an example for anyone’s conservative grandpa. At his funeral, something hit me: I spent so much more of my life with him wondering how to say what I had to than we had together once it had been said. We only get so much time for ourselves and with those we care about it, don’t waste it being something or someone you aren’t. I am visible and open because not hiding my past might help others to stop hiding their futures.

What would you tell someone who is interested in working or volunteering with the Red Cross?

Call your local chapter. Then show up. Be persistent. The organization may feel large, but it’s really just because there is so much going on from home fire prevention to blood collection to local and national response efforts. It can admittedly take a little while to figure out where your schedule and interests will fit best.

Connect with Hannah on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Blood Donation Makes Me Feel Alive

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 12:50

Just as I was beginning high school I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Over the years I had been bullied and called names for being “different.” During my junior year I became a blood donor. Giving blood made me feel brave and proud to help save lives, like I could finally be just like my peers. Growing up on the autism spectrum has made it difficult to connect and build relationships in my community. However, from the moment I entered my first blood drive and gave my first donation, a mutual friendship with the American Red Cross was established and has been constant for more than 20 years.

Every two months, I schedule an appointment to give blood or platelets to the Red Cross to help people in need. Donating blood and getting a chance to interact with others during this pandemic has given me a sense of normalcy and is helping to keep me going. It may sound weird, but it’s one of the few activities I can take part in now, in the same ways that I was able to before COVID-19. The only major difference is that I can further show my support for the autism community by sporting a puzzle-print face mask during my donation. Multi-colored puzzle pieces are a trademark symbol that represent the autism spectrum.

Maintaining a Passion for Blood Donation  

Donating blood is one of my passions and a generous act that provides a comfortable and peaceful setting when the world beyond its walls can be so loud and cruel. I feel like a champion and like I’m solving a problem every time I roll up my sleeve to give. I know that with each blood donation I make, I am helping to save more than one life. As a man living with Asperger’s, this is one of the few ways I feel like I am instantly making a difference and only takes as little as an hour from start to finish!

Preventing a Blood Shortage During a Pandemic

Coming together to help others in need has been empowering for me. I want others to share in this momentum and urge all eligible blood, platelet and plasma donors to join me in my efforts. Right now, the Red Cross has an urgent need for blood and donors who will step up to donate. Blood products can’t be bought or created. They must come from people who are generous enough to help someone in need.

My ultimate dream is that the silver lining of this pandemic will inspire a new population of blood donors who will pass along this tradition to the generations that follow. Even during this pandemic, I am hopeful that eligible individuals will make appointments to give blood.

COVID-19 has No End Date: Help the Red Cross Meet Urgent Blood Needs

We’re especially grateful to our blood donors who help to ensure a diverse blood supply is available for patients battling cancer, sickle cell disease, those involved in car accidents or undergoing planned and unexpected surgeries. Patients in need across the U.S. depend on the generosity of blood donors to ensure their needs are met as we all navigate the uncertainties of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, there is no end date to this pandemic. During this time, we have an urgent need for blood and platelets. If you are healthy, feeling well and eligible to donate please help us meet patient needs and prevent a summer blood shortage by scheduling an appointment to give by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Together, we can make a difference to help a patient in need. Our friends at Amazon have a special gift for you this June. To thank you for making time to donate by June 30, we will send you a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card* via email.**

*Restrictions apply, see amazon.com/gclegal.

About Jesse

Jesse Saperstein is a 38-year-old motivational speaker and autism advocate. He is the author of Atypical and Getting a Life with Asperger’s published by Penguin Group (USA). Jesse currently lives in Guilderland, NY and has been a Media and Activities Liaison for the College Experience since 2015, run by Living Resources, Inc. There he works to provide students with intellectual disabilities a modified education at the College of Saint Rose located in Albany, NY.

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The Importance of Juneteenth for One Red Crosser

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 13:48

Our nation is heartbroken by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd’s death, captured on video, was the catalyst that reignited a movement promoting racial justice and equality for Black Americans. As a Black woman, I’ve observed the movement transcend cultures and ethnicities. I find pride in witnessing many groups, from corporations to civic organizations, join forces and take action aimed at creating change, promoting equity and moving the country forward.

The movement has also sparked renewed interest in the Juneteenth holiday, a special occasion marked by Black communities for more than 155 years. This year, there’s a special significance in recognizing Juneteenth. For many, it’s a way to stand in solidarity with the voices fighting for the liberties that all Americans value.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a day of reflection and pride that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. It has been observed on June 19, since 1866. On that date one year earlier, enslaved people in Texas learned of the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery, though the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years earlier in 1863. In 1980, Juneteenth officially became a holiday in Texas and has since been recognized by 45 other states.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Many communities across the country have adopted Juneteenth celebrations, including parades, cookouts and festivals. Juneteenth is more than a commemoration of the end of slavery or an appreciation for African American history. Juneteenth celebrates the Black experience. It celebrates the accomplishments of our ancestors like Red Cross blood bank pioneer, Dr. Charles Drew. It celebrates the progression toward equality and healing from decades of a painful history.

As a young girl, I vividly remember Juneteenth celebrations in my hometown of Denver, Colorado. I remember it as a multicultural gathering where diversity was a value that was respected. As a Red Crosser, I take pride in the organization also recognizing diversity as a value that helps drive our mission forward, especially during the uncertain times our nation is facing.

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How Red Cross Donut Dollies Supported U.S. Troops During Wartime

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 14:00
December 1970. Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam. Red Cross worker Christine Foerster, 21, of 1545 Hialeah St., Orlando, Florida, and Sgt. Thomas L. Micka, of 813 Lee St., Vicksburg, Mississippi, investigate the contents of his ditty bag. Sgt. Micka was on guard along the Tan Son Nhut air base perimeter in an armored personnel carrier. Photo by John E. Hendrickson/American Red Cross

It’s National Donut Day! Here at the Red Cross, our favorite donuts are our “Donut Dollies.” Today, we love them all and want to honor them.

You might be wondering, what is a Donut Dolly? The term “Donut Dolly” was actually a nickname given to American women that deployed and served soldiers overseas during war time in Korea and Vietnam. Their official title was Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas staff or SRAO.

Starting in WWII, the American Red Cross mobilized its club service into the clubmobile program. “Clubmobiles” were equipped to provide food, drink, newspapers and other American items for soldiers at war. The aim was to bring a taste of home to the frontlines.

Staffing the clubmobiles were American women who wanted to actively support the troops on the frontlines. From WWII to the Vietnam War, these women deployed to warzones and followed American soldiers as they fought, providing the soldiers with hope and cheer.

Donut Dollies did not shy away from the mission; they were fearless. They arrived shortly after the invasion of Normandy. They flew to Korea during the war and served soldiers in combat. They even flew alongside soldiers in helicopters during the Vietnam War. They were a brave, selfless group of women.

We are honored to learn about their mission through pictures, videos and through their own words. Many Donut Dollies are still around today and love to share their experiences with others. Two of these exceptional women are Joyce LeGrande and Linda Jager.

Joyce LeGrande (left) helping provide service members with snacks and drinks.

Joyce LeGrande served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and was one of the first five Red Cross staff to be sent into Vietnam. Not only did she ride in helicopters, helping soldiers during the war, she also assisted Bob Hope when he came to visit the troops.

Joyce loved bringing comfort and cheer to soldiers. While serving in Vietnam, she penned to her mother, “We are needed desperately. We watch the flares go off outside the perimeter…hearing the artillery firing in the distance…we dream of peace.”

Joyce was recently awarded the American Red Cross legacy certificate and pin for her service. At the award ceremony, she recounted her time serving and said, “The Red Cross impacted my life more than anything else, other than having my children!”

Joyce with Red Cross volunteers from the Virginia region.

Joyce shared that she recently visited a Vietnam War memorial and started crying.

“I lost a part of myself there,” Joyce said. “I wasn’t sure if anyone remembered us.”

Veterans hugged her and said, “We remember you. We remember the Donut Dollies!”

Linda Jager sitting with a service member.

Linda Jager was a Donut Dolly during the Vietnam War, and we are honored that she continues to serve as a Red Cross volunteer for the Cascades region helping military and veteran families.

“On a typical day, we would rise at 5:30 a.m., board a UH-1H ‘Huey’ helicopter and depart with a large canvas club mobile kit and partner,” she said. “Each day, we went to service clubs, units, mess halls, hospitals or off into ‘the bush,’ where the war and men who fought in it, became an intimate part of our lives. Working 10 to 12-hour days, six days a week. It was only when we were in our billets that we would cry, scream, or let ourselves talk about our experiences.”

“In 1970, U.S. troops were fighting some of the fiercest battles of the war. I remember standing in the middle of a large field, surrounded by tanks. The day before, one of these tank units had lost some of their men. There I was, trying to cheer them up. Our task seemed ludicrous.”

“But, slowly, something began to happen. First, there were a few smiles, then, a couple of wisecracking jokes. Gradually, the men got caught up in the program.”

“The pictures I have remind me of the places, Pleiku, Freedom Hill, Monkey Mountain, and Danang Air Base. The memories I have remind me of the people, my role, and my purpose for going.”

Thank you, Donut Dollies, for the vital role you played in our Red Cross mission. Thank you for supporting our service members on the frontlines. Today, we honor you!

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