Volunteers provide disaster relief for hidden concerns

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

The American Red Cross continues to assist residents affected by hurricanes in the Southeast.  Among the disaster relief workers who are playing a role are mental health volunteers.

Red Cross mental health volunteers are a treasured group of individuals. They are all licensed independent health practitioners: psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers and psychiatric registered nurses.

California Wildfires 2018

In addition to being licensed professionally, mental health volunteers must take specialized Red Cross training in disaster mental health which, for the most part, is far different than what they do in their daily full-time jobs. The specialized training is based on many years of experience in disaster relief, from those who have lost precious mementos in a home fire to the victims of 9/11 and everyone in between.

Red Cross mental health volunteers provide immediate crisis management. They instruct clients in becoming more resilient and help them cope with the various emotions they may experience following their loss. While mental health volunteers do not do long-term counseling, if they determine a client would benefit from long-term intervention, they will make a referral to a proper mental health specialist. They will not refer the client to themselves or to any other member of the team.

California Wildfires 2017

“Many victims and survivors do not recognize the need for intervention or do not want to be judged or labeled if they are struggling with recovery,” said Renee Palagyi, senior program manager of disaster cycle services for the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. “Our disaster mental health volunteers can help them to recognize the normal and destigmatize the need for counseling.”

Northeast Ohio is particularly fortunate to have some of the finest and most experienced mental health volunteers. They never fail to step up as needed even though the majority have full-time positions or time-consuming private practices.

Edgardo Padin, a mental health volunteer from Northeast Ohio, deployed to assist in the 2018 California wildfires. Recently, he discussed his experience assisting individuals who lost their homes with their mental health needs.

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While it is easy to see the physical damage that a home fire or a hurricane can cause, it is not often as easy to see the internal effects a disaster can have on an individual. On World Mental Health Day, it is important to recognize the disaster mental health volunteers who assist with disaster relief efforts to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

For more information on the Red Cross’ disaster mental health services or to become a volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Don’t be a statistic: It’s National Fire Prevention Week

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

A home can be rebuilt. Human lives, pets and mementos can’t.

For those with insurance, a home fire a major disruption. For those without insurance, it’s devastating. The good news is that most home fires are preventable.

As a member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, I’ve seen numerous fires that didn’t have to happen:

  • A kitchen fire was caused by unattended grease left in a pan on the burner; another was caused by loose papers left too close to the gas burner; and a third by a plastic highchair overhanging an electrical element.
  • Overloaded electrical outlets and faulty wiring contributed to the loss of a beautiful century home.
  • An unattended burning candle and a young child playing alone in the home displaced two families.

I could go on, but the good news is that no lives were lost. However, with a modicum of prevention, they could have all been avoided.

Here are 10 simple tips to share with members of your family during National Fire Prevention Week:

  1. Make sure to have working smoke alarms and replace the entire unit if it’s more than 10 years old. Even with a good battery, the sensor in an old alarm wears out in 10 years.
  2. Create an escape plan and make sure every child and adult knows that they must be outside within two minutes of hearing the alarm. Practice the plan with your children so they know the official meeting place outside.
  3. Never smoke in bed or when extremely tired or intoxicated.
  4. Keep matches and lighters away from children.
  5. Keep lit candles away from flammables, children and pets.
  6. Take care that nothing can blow over or into your kitchen gas burners.
  7. Keep frying pan handles turned away from the front edge of the stove so they aren’t tipped by children or pets.
  8. Electric space heaters can easily start fires if clothes or newspapers are tossed on top of them.
  9. Keep a working fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it.
  10. Keep gas cans outside if possible; but, never in a basement or near a furnace or water heater.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States, recognized the huge loss caused by fires, both to property and human life. To address the problem, he proclaimed the first Fire Prevention Week in 1926, with the hope it would become an annual event.

He wrote:

“While efforts should be made constantly to reduce fire destruction to a minimum, in pursuance of a well-established precedent, one week is set aside each year during which the urgent need of preventing fires is forcibly stressed.

“If every individual will adopt and practice the simple precautionary measures advocated as fire prevention safeguards, fire hazards and their consequences will be materially reduced.”

Make Calvin proud, and use caution to avoid unnecessary fires.

For more resources, visit the American Red Cross Home Fire Safety page for videos, tips and mobile apps to help you safeguard your family.

On October 6, volunteers from the Red Cross, Parma CERT, Hope World Wide Ministries and the Parma Fire Department held a Sound the Alarm home fire safety and smoke alarm installation event. The volunteers installed 171 smoke alarms making 61 home safer.

To view photos from the Parma Sound the Alarm event, visit our Flickr page. Furthermore, to learn more about home fire safety and to request a smoke alarm, visit the American Red Cross Northeast Ohio Home Fire Campaign page.

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Danke, gracias, grazie, merci: It’s International Volunteer Day!

The American Red Cross is a proud part of a vast network of international organizations. So when the United Nations began to promote December 5 as International Volunteer Day, we were completely on-board!

To our more than 1,700 local volunteers, who promote our mission to prepare and alleviate human suffering…Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Thank you, also, to those who serve the call of humanitarian organizations across the globe. And to those who serve along side of us as we continuethe recovery process from this year’s hurricane and wildfire season…thank you!

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If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross, please visit redcross.org/neo and click on Volunteer. There are so many opportunities to serve, here in Northeast Ohio, and across the country.

Messy, Stressful, Heartwarming; Volunteers Describe Work in Texas

Disaster Workers Return After Two-Week Deployment 

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Northeast Ohio Red Cross volunteers Furman Alden and Sue Wisdom

Furman Alden and Sue Wisdom are back home, after spending two weeks on deployment following Hurricane Harvey.  The Northeast Ohio volunteers spent long hours driving an Emergency Response Vehicle through streets in and around Houston, making sure residents had access to warm meals, water and snacks.

“No one sees skin color, religion or politics,” said Sue, a Lake County resident and a veteran of disaster relief operations.  “From the youngest to the oldest, the way people came together to help each other, it’s heartwarming.”

Sue said several little boys volunteered to help distribute meals, going door-to-door after receiving their own meals and learning about the work of the Red Cross.  “They were amazing,” she said.  “I gave them cookies, and one of them said ‘You are so nice.’  That made may day!”

Furman Alden, also a veteran of disaster work, said he has never seen so much debris piled so high in front of so many houses. The Youngstown resident said, “The whole way down the street, they emptied their houses completely.   Furniture, dry wall, everything. It was messy.”

He says they were the first relief workers to reach a neighborhood that had been cut off by flooded roadways.  “We were the first ones to get in there.  They were so happy to see us.”

It was a struggle getting anywhere.  Furman says driving was stressful, due to bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic.  But the ERV he and Sue drove was a lifeline for so many Texans who lost so much in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

More than 7,000 Red Cross disaster workers responded in Texas, Florida, and other areas hit hard by Harvey and Hurricane Irma, providing the same life-sustaining services that Sue and Furman delivered.  More volunteers are needed to continue the mission.  Visit our website at redcross.org/neo, and click the VOLUNTEER tab to begin an application.

A message from the Volunteer Services Department:

All volunteers must complete a free online volunteer application, which includes acknowledgement of policy statements and a criminal background check

Volunteers will need to successfully complete disaster training before being eligible for potential deployment, this can include a combination of in-person and/or online training

Depending on adjustment of the real-time needs of the disaster locations and your specific abilities- you may not deploy immediately or at all. 

Call 216-431-3328 for more information.

This video was created on the day Sue Wisdom and Furman Alden left Northeast Ohio in response to the residents of Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

On Being a Phone Bank Volunteer for Hurricane Harvey Relief

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer 

Your alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. and its pitch-dark outside. You shower, shave, fill your travel mug with coffee and head for the garage. Traffic is amazingly light at 6:00 a.m., which is one of the benefits of starting so early, you tell yourself.

You and seven of your fellow Red Crossers are heading to the Cleveland ABC affiliate – WEWS Channel 5 TV, for the start of an all-day Hurricane Harvey fund raiser.  Only the all-night anchors are here, so there’s plenty of parking spaces to choose from.

graphiconscreenThe studio is all set for us.  Tables are arranged, phones are ready and a large flat screen announces the Red Cross website URL, phone number and text information for a quick pledge.

One-by-one, Red Cross volunteers, employees and even a board member file in and take their place at the tables.  Four shifts are planned, so plenty of people can take part in this 6:00 a.m until 11:00 p.m. phone bank effort.Thursday phonebank

In fact, this is our second phone bank. Three days prior, another group of volunteers manned the phones from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. and were inundated with calls. “It was non-stop calling,” one volunteer said. “As soon as you hung up the call, there was another one ringing on the same line.”

 

Tuesday phone bank

The cameraman comes in and suggests a slight modification to our seating arrangement.  We’ve begun the countdown to going ‘On Air.’

“We’re live in ten seconds,” says the cameraman, and we are off, fielding phone calls from across Northeastern Ohio.

By this time, there’s probably no one in America that hasn’t heard about the devastation being wrought upon Texas and Louisiana.  News anchors compare the total rainfall to the amount of water in Lake Michigan, and another asks you to visualize the amount of water flowing over the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls. Now consider that flow for nine months straight, and you’ve got an idea how much water fell in just a few days in Texas.

“Oh my,” says the first caller. “Thank you for doing this for those poor people.  I only wish I could give more.  They must need so much help.”

Another caller is so distraught that she asks for a few seconds to collect herself, before completing her credit card information.  Actually, many of the callers were quite emotional, knowing the stress and anguish being felt by the thousands of victims.

“I don’t know what those people would do if it weren’t for the Red Cross and the other agencies down there,” says another.  This was a recurrent theme all morning.

By the end of the first shift, you start to compare numbers of callers and amounts raised. Amounts donated ranged from $10 to $1,000 this morning.  Even larger amounts were reported from that first phone bank and possibly will be duplicated later in the day. Northeast Ohio has always been famous for its immense generosity whenever a need like this occurs, and it’s a great privilege to help out those so desperately in need.

You turn over your phone to the next volunteer, already missing the opportunity to talk with more like-minded Ohioans, bound to make a difference for the victims in Texas and Louisiana.

Won’t you join us? The American Red Cross is always looking for more volunteers. Sign up today to donate or to volunteer at http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer. 

 

 

 

Partnership with VA, Vets Groups Makes 100+ Homes Safer

The heat couldn’t keep the Red Cross and some of its partners from installing smoke alarms throughout Northeast Ohio on Saturday, June 17, 2017.

The high temperature topped out at 93 degrees, as volunteers from the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System and members of several veterans groups helped install nearly 300 smoke alarms in homes in four separate cities simultaneously.  The Operation Save-A-Life event was scheduled to occur during the same week as Flag Day, an observance that is held with reverence among many members of the military and veterans.

“Our Northeast Ohio VA employees are dedicated to serving those who serve day in and day out.  Their dedication carries over to their time away from work as we join forces with the Red Cross to make our Veterans homes and those of their neighbors safer,” said Susan M. Fuehrer, Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System Director.

Homeowners in Akron, Canton, Mansfield and Parma received home fire safety information as well as smoke alarms, installed at no cost to them.

“It was an extremely hot day, but through your hard work and commitment to your communities, we were able to make 103 homes in Northeast Ohio safer by installing 297 smoke alarms,” wrote Jessica Tischler, Director of Service to the Armed Forces for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, in a message to the volunteers.

“I can’t get over it, this is such a nice thing you all are doing,” said Sara Janasik of Parma, as smoke alarms were being installed in her Monmouth Road home.

The Flag Day event preceded another big push to prevent home fire deaths this fall. Sound the Alarm, a home fire safety and smoke alarm installation event will take place across the country, including Northeast Ohio during the weekends of September 23, September 30, October 7 and October 14, 2017.  If you’d like to help us make homes safer, become a Red Cross volunteer.  Call 216-431-3328 for more information about Sound the Alarm and all of the volunteer opportunities the Red Cross offers.

You can also help people affected by disasters like home fires by making a donation to support Red Cross disaster relief online.  Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.  Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the words RED CROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

 

Partners Help Make Parma Homes Safer

Young Professionals Help Protect People in Parma from Home Fires

A new partnership proved to be fruitful for residents in a neighborhood of Parma on Saturday, May 6.  Members of the Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club joined forces with the Red Cross and members of the Parma Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to install more than two-dozen smoke alarms in homes where needed. The volunteers also performed home fire safety inspections and offered valuable fire prevention and safety education.

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The Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club is the longest-running young professional association in Northeast Ohio. The mission and vision is to enrich the lives of young professionals, to foster the future leaders of Cleveland. The group is independent, open and inclusive, and membership represents a wide range of cultures, backgrounds and professions, and touching the lives of more than 1,000 young professionals through its programs on an annual basis.

“Our volunteers from The Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club enjoyed working together with the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland and Parma Cert to help install free smoke alarms in people’s homes,” said Melanie Raese, Philanthropy Director of the Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club.  “It was a fun, team building experience and we learned about fire safety.  We are grateful to serve our communities and to work alongside those dedicated to building safer neighborhoods.”

Since 2014, Red Cross volunteers, along with fire departments and other partners, have visited homes installing free smoke alarms, replacing batteries in existing alarms and providing fire prevention and safety education to prevent needless tragedies. More than 26,000 smoke alarms have been installed in homes in Northeast Ohio in the past two years. This fall, the Red Cross will celebrate the program with Sound the Alarm, a series of home fire safety and smoke alarm installation events nationwide. Volunteers will install 100,000 free smoke alarms in high risk neighborhoods in Akron, Cleveland, and more than 100 other cities across the country, culminating in the installation of the one millionth smoke alarm!

If you would like to help us Sound the Alarm about fire safety and help save lives, visit us at redcross.org/neo and click on the Volunteer tab.  More information about Sound the Alarm is located here.

See more photos, taken by Red Cross volunteer George Scherma, on Flickr.