Red Cross internship offers unique perspective and community-building skills for local social work students

By Jason Copsey, American Red Cross volunteer

November 8, 2019 – When Jessi Graber, a senior in Cleveland State University’s School of Social Work was considering internship opportunities, she was surprised to see ‘American Red Cross Disaster Relief’ as an option.

“I thought it was interesting because I knew about the Red Cross blood blood drives, but I never considered the Red Cross for case work,” said Jessi. “I got excited when I learned how much the Red Cross helps families and supports the community.”Jessi

Jessi applied to become a Red Cross Disaster Relief intern through her program at CSU. The American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio partners with Cleveland State University to place students in internship programs, a requirement for graduates of its School of Social Work.

                    Jessi Graber

“The internship program is a great opportunity for students to experience a unique side of social work,” said Ben Bellucci, Disaster Program Manager, American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland.

Out of more than a dozen applicants each year, five CSU students become interns in the Red Cross Disaster Services office. Interns work at the Red Cross between 13 and 18 hours per week supporting the recovery side of the Red Cross Disaster Program. They assist individuals and families displaced by man-made or natural disasters. A number of CSU students have also taken on support of the complete cycle of disaster services, including preparedness, response and recovery.

“We start each internship by building a plan for continual development,” said Ben. “Each week students provide their own assessment of themselves, how they did for the week and how they feel they are progressing in the internship. I add input as a supervisor on their progress toward achieving goals.”

Red Cross interns work for two semesters, beginning in August and ending in May. The program is structured to establish a baseline through the first semester and develop leadership and management skills during the second. Case work often adds context to class work for Red Cross interns.

“The social work competencies can be very academic in a classroom setting,” said Jessi. “But they come to life in the internship. I get to refer back to the things I’m learning, and it is a completely different perspective.”

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One of the strongest benefits of the Red Cross Disaster Relief internship is the unique pace. At the state and county levels, it is not uncommon for case workers to follow clients for a year or more. At the Red Cross, clients cycle through in 35 days, on average.

“Because it is such a fast environment, building a relationship quickly is important,” explained Ben. “Our interns become extremely detail-oriented and learn to make connections quickly. By the time they graduate, they are able to identify gaps and recovery roadblocks immediately and know how to work around them.”

For Jessi, the best part about the experience so far has been building relationships with clients and seeing a different side of the community. She spends time each day checking in with clients via phone, email or in person, ensuring their needs are being met and that progress is made.

“No two days are alike, because no two clients are alike,” said Jessi. “Being able to help families who have experienced significant trauma is why I became interested in case work in the first place.”

For more information on internships with the Red Cross, visit our website.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Home fires keep NEO disaster responders busy

Weekend disaster report, November 1-3, 2019

More than three-dozen people in Northeast Ohio were chased from their homes by fire over the weekend.  They received comfort and care from trained Red Cross disaster responders, volunteers who, in some cases, traveled far from their homes to help those in need.2019 Euclid fire response

“Our volunteers worked long and hard this weekend to make sure people in need received immediate assistance,” said Renee Palagyi, senior regional disaster program manager. “Some drove an hour-and-a-half to get help to the people who needed it.  Some stayed after their shift was scheduled to end; some started before they were scheduled to start.  I can’t say enough about the dedication of our volunteers.”

Disaster Action Team (DAT) members are on-call during scheduled shifts, and when a call comes to the Red Cross from a fire department, a neighbor, or another source, the volunteers on-call respond.  They provide immediate financial assistance, comfort kits filled with toiletries and other necessary supplies, and other help for those affected by fire.

This weekend, Red Cross disaster responders distributed nearly $8,200 to folks affected by home fires in 11 separate cases, impacting residents in Cleveland, Canton, Youngstown, Sandusky, Ashtabula Chesterland, Lisbon and East Liverpool.

There is always a need for trained disaster responders to help people during their darkest hours.  Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more, and to apply to become part of the regional Red Cross workforce in Northeast Ohio.

Disaster mental health volunteer helps people cope and heal after devastating losses

By Jason Copsey, American Red Cross volunteer

October 10, 2019- After Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017, the American Red Cross deployed volunteers to help provide food, clothing and shelter for impacted residents. Alongside these basic needs, the Red Cross deployed specialized volunteers trained to help individuals navigate the difficult emotional and psychological aftermath of a traumatic experience.

Adrienne Ford was one of the disaster mental health volunteers deployed to the Virgin Islands. Ford, a retired teacher and school counselor, joined the Red Cross as a volunteer in 2014 after learning about disaster mental health at a conference for school counselors. As an independently licensed counselor, Ford saw in the Red Cross an opportunity to continue practicing while serving those in need.

California Wildfires 2018

“The first time the Red Cross called on me to provide services was in response to the California wildfires in 2014,” said Ford. “There was a massive shelter set up at the Napa Valley fairgrounds. So many people had run for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Disaster mental health volunteers tend to the emotional trauma people experience after a disaster. They play a critical role in the delivery of the Red Cross mission by providing support, comfort and hope to people impacted by incidents of all sizes, from home fires to natural disasters.

California Wildfires 2017

“Ultimately, people want to tell their stories to begin the healing process,” said Ford. “As mental health workers, we know how to ask the right questions for people to begin telling the story of what they have been through. The anxiety that comes from living through a near- death experience is considerable and depression can often follow.”

During her Virgin Islands deployment, Ford encountered families that were continuing to live in severely damaged homes instead of shelters. Working as part of medical teams consisting of a nurse, mental health advocate and a case worker, Ford would visit families and monitor for risk factors.

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“There was one family we had seen a few times and were continuing to check on,” said Ford. “I had talked with the mother several times about her experience. Half of her house had collapsed during the storm. Her son, a teenager, had been trapped in part of the house, and for a period of time she feared the worst.”

While Ford was able to connect with the mother, the son was less forthcoming. Over time, Ford was able to build trust with the child.

Texas Floods 2019

“We talked about sports and things he was interested in,” says Ford. “Little by little, he let me ask him questions about his experience. He started telling me about what it was like for him to have been alone and the fear he had experienced.”

As first responders, Red Cross volunteers are often the connection between individuals and community resources and local agencies. Mental health volunteers are critical in this role, as trauma can easily trigger harmful tendencies for those without adequate coping skills. The early intervention of a Red Cross mental health volunteer can be a key factor in the recovery process.

Oroville Dam Spillway Compromised 2017

Ford said that over her five years as a Red Cross volunteer, it is the firsthand experience of individuals helping one another that has been most rewarding.

“The way communities respond to disasters renews your faith in humanity,” said Ford. “People really do take care of each other.”

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross continues Hurricane Dorian relief efforts, prepares for future storms

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

September 23, 2019- Three weeks since Hurricane Dorian made landfall devastating the  Bahamas, the Red Cross is continuing to provide relief for those affected by the storm.

There is a very long road ahead for people who have lost everything to Hurricane Dorian. Getting relief to people in the Bahamas and helping people plan their recovery are the American Red Cross’ priorities.

Hurricane Dorian 2019

Thousands of people have evacuated the damaged islands via helicopter, plane and boat. They are staying on different islands with family members or at government-run shelters in the capital city. Some evacuees have joined loved ones in the U.S.

If you have lost contact with a US citizen traveling in the Bahamas, contact the U.S. State Department at 1-888-407-4747.

Families still remain on the devastated islands and are in need of basic relief, such as emergency supplies and hygiene items—which Red Cross teams are distributing on both Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Hurricane Dorian Bahamas 2019

The Red Cross has had to be flexible in our response to this crisis. The changing nature of this disaster—including on which islands affected people are taking shelter—means that aid is being delivered to storm survivors in places not majorly affected by the storm, such as Nassau.

Tele-connectivity challenges mean that many people still haven’t been able to get in touch with loved ones. In shelters, volunteers are helping evacuees make phone calls to their families. When necessary, volunteers are initiating missing persons cases with the hope of tracing loved ones.

Trained psychologists and nurses are providing comfort and mental health support to evacuees coping with emotional distress.

People remaining in communities damaged by Hurricane Dorian need emergency materials and help recovering from the storm. The global Red Cross network has started rolling out a major emergency relief effort.

Hurricane Dorian 2019

Red Cross shelter, water and sanitation, health, logistics, cash-as-aid and other sector specialists are on the ground supporting the Bahamas Red Cross.

There has been an outpouring of support from both the international and local community.

Hurricane Dorian Bahamas 2019

Thus far, the American Red Cross has committed $4.5 million to support those affected in the Bahamas by Dorian.

The American Red Cross has deployed 21 disaster response specialists to provide support to the relief operation in the Bahamas.

The American Red Cross is also working in close coordination with the U.S. government and community partners to support evacuees arriving in the U.S. from the Bahamas immediately following the hurricane.

Hurricane Dorian 2019

The Red Cross also stands ready to help again if the need arises.

Jim Celestino, a health service worker, was one of 20 disaster response workers deployed from Northeast Ohio to the southeast U.S. to assist with Hurricane Dorian. Watch the following video to hear Jim discuss his experience on his first deployment with the Red Cross and his call for others to become Red Cross volunteers:

Currently, we are in the middle of hurricane season, with tropical storms Karen and Jerry fast approaching Puerto Rico, Bermuda and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tropical Storm Imelda has also also made landfall, forcing the governor of Texas to declare a state of disaster.

The Red Cross continues to remain prepared to respond to provide relief at a moment’s notice whenever a disaster devastates a community.

Visit redcross.org/donate to help support the Red Cross’ efforts to respond to and assist in the aftermath when the next storm such as Dorian strikes.

Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

 

In Northeast Ohio, and everywhere, Red Cross committed to helping anyone in need

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross Volunteer

September 18, 2019- In light of reports over the last few months that some may be reluctant to seek help following a disaster or tragic event, we would like to reiterate that, “The Red Cross is committed to delivering help to anyone in need—regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or citizenship status—and to remain a neutral and impartial party, so we can access and help people on all sides,” as stated in this national press release.

The American Red Cross works to ensure that all people affected by disasters receive care, shelter and hope.

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Our commitment to assisting all those in need is reflected daily in Northeast Ohio. Whether a home fire, flood, tornado, storm or other disaster, our teams respond. We do not ask about a person’s beliefs, orientation or citizenship—and we maintain confidentiality.

Following a large event, an important resource is the Safe and Well website at https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php, in Spanish at https://safeandwell-es.communityos.org/cms/index.php. Following a disaster, those impacted can use the site to mark themselves “safe and well,” provide details and post a brief message, allowing loved ones to search for them.

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – Migration/Refugee Crisis 2019

In addition, the Red Cross has a number of programs to assist migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. These include disaster relief, aid and an international service to reconnect families. An overview of programs is available at: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/how-does-the-american-red-cross-help-migrants.html.

In Northeast Ohio, those seeking assistance or information can contact their local chapter. Phone numbers and addresses are available at: https://www.redcross.org/local/ohio/northeast.html. A national Spanish-language site is available at: https://www.redcross.org/cruz-roja.html.

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – Migration/Refugee Crisis 2019

In times of need, please remember that anyone can call on us for assistance. The Red Cross is guided by seven fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. Our mission statement and values can be found at: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/mission-and-values.html.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

What will you share on Grandparents Day?

By Doug Bardwell,  American Red Cross volunteer

Grandparents Day is not a national holiday, but rather a day of observance. Most people get the day off; but only because it occurs on a Sunday. That said, there is so much grandchildren can learn if their grandparents take the time to share.

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Red Cross volunteer Doug Bardwell and grandsons William Saki and Drew Saki .  Photo provided by Doug Bardwell

For example, I’d like to share with my older grandchildren the joy of volunteering. I’ve been with the American Red Cross for exactly three years today, and I can recall so many wonderful memories of times I was able to help someone.

When a family has experienced a terrible fire and have lost everything they own, helping them realize there is hope for the future and helping them start that rebuilding process is a joy I get every time I respond to a fire in our community with our Northeast Ohio Region’s Disaster Action Team.

When I give blood, I’ve learned that every pint I donate could help as many as three different people. For the 42 pints I’ve donated, that’s up to 126 people. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve talked with someone who required more than 330 units of plasma in just under two weeks to keep her alive. Having enough blood on the shelves is always important for whatever emergency might come next. I suggest that all my college-age grandchildren try to donate blood.

I’ve also shared the story of a homeless man in California that I met after the giant Camp Fire last year. He was born in Ohio but moved to California because there was “too much traffic” in Warrensville Heights, where he was born. At the time of the fire he was homeless but happy, living in the woods outside of Paradise, CA. He enjoyed being able to tell his story to someone who knew about his original hometown, and we talked for hours. Sometimes a person in distress starts to heal by just having someone to talk with.

I also share that while the Red Cross responds to disasters and helps people recover after a disaster, we also help people prevent and prepare for disasters. With all the Red Cross apps for mobile phones, two are especially good to share with grandchildren: the Monster App and the Swim app. They can easily download either one by texting “MONSTER” or “SWIM” to 90999.

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Eddie Bardwell, left, Grandmother Maureen Bardwell, and Ella Bardwell.  Photo provided by Doug Bardwell

So on this Grandparents Day, take your children to talk with their grandparents and see what wisdom they have to share. Or if you are a grandparent and don’t already have an abundance of stories to share, consider volunteering with the Red Cross. You’re guaranteed to have some soon enough for next Grandparents Day.

For more on the history of Grandparents Day

National Grandparents Day falls each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. It was initiated at the grassroots level by West Virginian Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade. She and her husband had 15 children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. And she still found time to lobby state and federal leaders to create this day of observance.

It was in 1979 that President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first Sunday after Labor Day each year as National Grandparents Day. September was chosen to signify the “autumn” years of life.

While Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have apostrophes, officially Grandparents Day does not. It seems this may have simply been an oversight when the holiday was proclaimed. But it’s an oversight that serves the holiday well. Marian did not envision the holiday as “belonging” to grandparents. Instead, she saw it as a day of celebration involving the whole family, a day to connect the generations. It’s just as much a day to honor grandparents as it is a day for grandparents themselves to confirm their loving legacy to the generations that follow them.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

Snapshots: Moments from disaster response

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

August 12, 2019- I have been a part of the American Red Cross’ Disaster Relief team for 18 months, which has been exceptionally challenging and rewarding. Here are a few of the many moments lingering in my memory:

Tim Poe

Tim Poe

I hand an information packet and financial assistance card to a woman in tears. I see astonishment followed by relief on her face as I explain what it is. She looks out the window, breathes deeply and begins planning her family’s recovery.

An enormous, isolated tree stands in a field. Near the top, a remnant of a house is embedded in twisted limbs. Other pieces of homes and people’s belongings lie scattered across the field as people work to clean up and recover.

Assisting a large number of clients after a major fire, people from the community come in throughout the day, bringing supplies, offering comfort, asking how they can donate, finding ways to help.

In an ER, a woman lifts her oxygen mask, says it’s her birthday, and asks for cake.

Interviewing a client as her grandson plays with a stuffed toy, I ask if she’s a veteran and the grandchild declares he is. “No you’re not, sweetheart,” she says. He answers, “I am too. I don’t even like meat.”

On Christmas Eve, standing on the porch of what remains of a house, helping a family plan their recovery, the mother makes a joke and laughter warms the winter air. I feel the mood lighten as they look to the future.

2019 Euclid fire responseAt a community event with the Emergency Response Vehicle, I let children use the public-address system. Some shyly say, “hi,” others say their names and a few words. One yells, “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! … and ice cream!” Nearly all smile as their voices amplify.

Standing in the rain, clearing the scene of a very large fire, the family’s father grasps my hand, holds on, begins to say something, then simply nods.

Leaving a scene, a three-year-old child runs up and gives me a hug.

Volunteers like me  carry out 90 percent of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross. Whether helping displaced families or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, the time and talents of volunteers can make a real difference. Explore the Red Cross’ many volunteer opportunities here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer