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.

60405662_10157187182004500_3969712532230242304_n

“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.

american20red_1539353655751.jpg_58765830_ver1.0

 

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.

grandparents 1

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.

Grandparents 2

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

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: July 4-7, 2019

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

July 8, 2019- As residents across Northeast Ohio were enjoying barbecues, fireworks, nice weather and the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities, the American Red Cross was actively assisting individuals who were experiencing their most difficult moments.

During Independence Day weekend, July 4-7, the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio responded to 13 incidents, including a structural collapse in Lorain. The disaster team assisted 34 adults, 24 children and provided more than $13,000 in immediate financial assistance to help these individuals get back on their feet following the local disaster.

Another weekend incident the disaster team responded to over the holiday weekend, was a home fire resulting from arson on Dudley Avenue in Cleveland.

Arson1

Dudley Avenue home fire

“It has been a busy time with home fires recently in Northeast Ohio. We have responded to multiple fires in the last few weeks under suspicion of arson. This is one of the wonderful attributes of this organization. We are so inclusive that we provide assistance to anyone who is in need, despite how the disaster began,” said Ben Bellucci, the disaster program manager for the Greater Cleveland Chapter.

“This past weekend, the volunteers were beyond amazing,” Ben added. “With the average temperatures in the 90s and high humidity, the disaster action team was up at all hours providing light in many individuals’ darkest hours. We can’t do it without our volunteers, and the generosity of our community, who all make it possible.”

Just as disasters do not discriminate in terms of whose lives they destroy; the Red Cross does not discriminate in terms of whose lives we help rebuild. The Red Cross does not turn away people who need assistance after a disaster. We are committed to helping everyone in need.

As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

To help the Red Cross provide hope and comfort to individuals in Northeast Ohio experiencing their darkest hours, please visit our Crowdrise page to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross provides support to help residents escape cold, wind following weekend storm

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

February 26, 2019 –  “Since 1:30 p.m. Sunday, we had no power, no heat and no water. We could see our breath and we had nowhere else to go. This warming center mean a lot. IMG_5958Not only were we given a place to warm up and enjoy food and refreshments, but we were given great support from everyone here,” said Bill and Diane Harasyn, Chardon residents who escaped the cold by visiting an American Red Cross-supported warming center.

Bill and Diane were not alone. As wind gusts reached as high as 60 miles an hour and temperatures plummeted across Northeast Ohio this weekend,  thousands of residents lost power and heat in their homes. Throughout the weekend, the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio disaster team monitored the damage and power outage throughout the region. The disaster team also remained in contact with local emergency representatives to determine the need for Red Cross support for warming centers and shelters.

The Red Cross helped support an overnight warming center at the Chardon United Methodist Church on 515 North Street, providing blankets, cots and other materials needed to support residents spending time at the center.IMG_5974

The shelter workers in Chardon also received Red Cross training to help them properly operate an overnight shelter. “While we have operated a warming center three times, this was the first time we operated an overnight shelter,” stated shelter workers Vern and Lynn Kempf. “The Red Cross training we received helped prepare us for what we might expect as well as providing support for overnight residents.”

The Chardon warming center remained open Monday night to provide residents relief from the cold.

The Red Cross is also supporting a warming center at the Solon Community Center on 35000 Portz Parkway, by providing cots and blankets.

The Red Cross also opened and operated an overnight shelter Monday at the Salvation Army on 809 Emmet Avenue NW in New Philadelphia, and at the North Canton United Church of Christ.  No residents spent the night in either shelter.

Additionally, the Red Cross responded to several cases regarding to storm-related damage, including the wind damaging and removing the roof of an apartment building in Woodmere and a tree falling on a home in Painesville. Below are photos from the additional response.

You can support our efforts to train volunteers as shelter workers, and to purchase supplies like cots and blankets by making a donation here, or by calling 1-800 RED CROSS.