Marine Gains “Second Family” Volunteering for the Red Cross

By Manuel Andrews, American Red Cross Volunteer

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays written by volunteers for the American Red Cross in the Northeast Ohio Region)

My name is Manuel Andrews I am a volunteer Disaster Action Team (DAT) member in disaster cycle services. I’ve been a volunteer since July 2014.

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Red Cross Disaster Action Team member Manuel Andrews, assisting residents who were forced to flee their home due to an apartment building fire in Brunswick in 2016.

I moved to Ohio back in 2011 after serving 5 years in the Marine Corps. After a few years, it came apparent that I was missing something, so I sought to find work that related to what I did overseas in Civil Affairs. After finding several nonprofit organizations online, I found the Red Cross to be closest to what I had hoped to get out of volunteering. After a review of all the services the Red Cross offers we found that I would be a great fit at the Akron chapter as a DAT member. The experience alone made it easy to volunteer any time I had available. We provided smiles, coffee, snacks and jokes for first responders during long cold Ohio nights and helped provide immediate assistance to clients that lost their homes due to a disaster. I even got to volunteer on a national deployment to Florida and North Carolina, providing safety in shelters and food distribution sites.

The Red Cross offers a continued learning experience through annual mini-institutes and always make sure my volunteer time goes toward what I value. I could not be happier with my decision; I have gained a second family with the staff and volunteers. Now I’m a team leader and proudly serve my community as a Red Cross volunteer as often as I can.IMG_3752

Manuel Andrews is a resident of Akron, and serves residents in the Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Chapter.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, or to begin an application, visit our volunteer page or call 216-431-3328.  To help the Red Cross train volunteers and provide them with the resources needed to assist people who experience disasters, big and small, visit our Giving Day page.

Thank You, Volunteers!

During National Volunteer Week (April 23-29) we will feature the Red Cross stories of some of our 1,750 cherished Regional volunteers who help fulfill the Red Cross mission: to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. The generous donation of time, skill, and caring of ALL of our volunteers make us truly grateful.

Beginning Monday, you will read about a different volunteer each day.  We hope their stories inspire others to devote their time and expertise to help others in need.

Regional CEO Mike Parks offers his own words of appreciation to the volunteers of the Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region:

Dear Valued Volunteer,

As this year’s National Volunteer Week (April 23-29) begins, again I offer a sincere “thank you” for the tremendous support that you are to the American Red Cross and for all that you accomplish for our organization each and every day.  I continue to be invigorated everyday by the passion and energy that you bring to everything you do and to everyone that you work with at the Red Cross.  I am amazed by the incredible skill, knowledge and dedication that you, our volunteers, share with us as our trusted and valued colleagues.  As volunteers, you not only support and enhance the work we do, but also guide it.   We count on you and you are always there.  Again, thank you for all that you do as we carry out our mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.  Happy Volunteer Week!

With grateful appreciation,

Mike Parks

RADM, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.)

Chief Executive Officer

Northeast Ohio Region

American Red Cross

 

Disaster Workers Busy Helping Fire Victims Over Easter Weekend

Volunteers are at the heart of the Red Cross.

That has never been more apparent in Northeast Ohio as it has been in the last week. Since Friday, April 7, there have been 4 apartment building fires, in Boardman, Warrensville Heights, Parma and Cuyahoga Falls.  More than 180 residents have been chased from their homes during that time, including more than 60 children.

Red Cross disaster workers, the bulk of them volunteers, have responded to each of these emergencies, providing initial financial assistance, comfort and hope to people who, in some cases, have lost everything.

Red Cross Disaster workers open a reception center in the Warrensville Heights Civic Center in response to an apartment building fire on Monday, April 10, 2017.

As Chief Operating Officer Jorge Martinez notes,  “This is very impressive.  I’m always awed by volunteers.  Doing some quick math, they amassed nearly 59,000 volunteer hours (and we know there’s more that’s gone unrecorded).  That’s an average of 27 employees putting in an 8 hour workday 7 days a week over the past 9 months.  Given our current staffing, they more than doubled our capacity.”

Between Friday, April 7 and Friday April 14, Red Cross disaster workers offered initial financial assistance totaling more than $35,000 to the affected residents.  And they opened a shelter in Cuyahoga Falls, for residents affected by Thursday night’s fire.

Photo credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

Ongoing assistance includes helping match residents with the agencies and resources that will help them plan their next moves.  And those in need have been offered mental health assistance, as well as help with medical needs, such as filling prescriptions.

On Easter Sunday, volunteers Teresa Greenlief, Jamie Waid and Bob Rupp played basketball with Bob Loch and Mike Surrel, two of the Cuyahoga Falls residents staying in a Red Cross shelter.

Photo Credit: Zackery McAvoy/American Red Cross

A final word from COO Jorge Martinez: “We’re truly lucky to have these volunteers in my opinion.  Great work.”

Visit redcross.org/neo and click the volunteer tab to learn more about opportunities to help those in need.

Virtual Volunteers Provide Very Real Services

By EILENE E. GUY American Red Cross Volunteer

In the wake of an unprecedented number of large disasters last year, the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced people touched the hearts of Americans near and far.

Dozens of American Red Cross disaster responders from Northeast Ohio answered the call to help, but not all of them left the Buckeye State.

“I couldn’t see going all the way to another state to sit in a cubicle and talk to people on the phone when I could do it just as well from right here,” said Red Cross volunteer Charles “Charlie” Emick of Mount Eaton.

Charlie is an experienced disaster caseworker who helps Wooster-area individuals and families after a home fire or other local emergency. He put that experience to use last year for flood victims a thousand miles away.

“People don’t realize I’m not right there,” he said. “A lot of times, they’re just tickled to death to talk to someone who cares about what they’ve been through.

“I had one lady (on the phone), she wasn’t injured, but she had to wade out through water up to her elbows and she saw a water moccasin swimming toward her. The more she tried to swish it away, the more it came toward her. She finally got to a shallow spot and got out of the water and she said all she could do was scream.

“I told her, I’m afraid of snakes too,” Charlie said with a chuckle.

“Some clients expect that you can put things back the way they were before,” he observed. “But with others, it’s like you’re talking to a neighbor across the street. They’re just so glad someone cares.”

Charlie uses computer data bases to screen clients for eligibility for the limited financial assistance Red Cross can give if victims don’t qualify for federal assistance through FEMA.

He can also connect them with Red Cross health and mental health services as well as local resources listed in the national computer-based Client Assistance Network.

Sandy Perry-Johnson of Warren is another member of the Red Cross “virtual volunteer” team.

“I’m in awe of people who can leave home and go to help, but I can’t do that right now because of my family responsibilities here,” she said.

For the past year, Sandy has been helping Youngstown-area disaster victims figure out what they need and connecting them with resources to meet those needs. She knows that recovery from a disaster can be a confusing, emotionally draining and complicated process.

She appreciates that the Red Cross gives her a way to help, long-distance. “Now I can do casework with people from Louisiana right from my home,” she said following the disastrous flooding there.

“During our response in Louisiana (last year), we committed a great amount of resources to designing and implementing a virtual casework process that enables volunteers to remotely assist those in the disaster area,” said Timothy J. O’Toole, Red Cross regional disaster officer for northeast Ohio.

“Our use of virtual volunteers opens up opportunities for a whole lot more people to help with disaster relief,” he explained. “Plus it lets us provide the most services for the money we spend, making the best use of our donated dollars.”

Virtual volunteers supplemented the work of more than 4,200 Red Cross responders in Louisiana, who, in one month, served more than a million meals and snacks, operated shelters that provided some 72,000 overnight stays, and distributed more than 679,000 relief supplies such as bottled water, insect repellant, cleaning supplies and bleach.

Meanwhile, Crystal Wagner of Akron put her 15 years of disaster experience to work to “virtually” help Red Crossers who actually went to Louisiana. She considers herself a “lifeline” for volunteers who run into roadblocks on the way.

“We had so many brand new volunteers who have no clue what to expect,” she said. It’s a surprise to many that if they run into a problem en route, experienced volunteers like Crystal are just a phone call away, day or night.

“For example, I had this poor guy from Pennsylvania who was headed for Baton Rouge. When he got to Atlanta, there was no connection to Baton Rouge, so they put him on a plane to New Orleans,” she recounted. To make a long story short, Crystal spent several hours sorting out transportation and housing snafus for the first-time volunteer so that he could fulfill his mission – to help Louisiana flood victims.

Crystal knows how to navigate the hurdles of deployment: She’s been all over the country on 69 disasters herself. But now, at age 70 with an elderly mother to look after at home, she’s enthusiastic about being part of the Red Cross disaster response “virtually.”

She fondly recalls her own first deployment, to New York City after 9/11. “I had only been on a plane once, I had never been to New York City… Everything that could go wrong did,” she said. But she stayed for five weeks and learned two lessons she cherishes.

“They needed me,” she said. “And I found out there’s nothing in this world I can’t handle.”

Now Crystal doesn’t have to leave home to experience the joy of helping those who need her.

During the month of March, which has been designated Red Cross Month for the past 70 years, we salute the dedicated volunteers who help fulfill the Red Cross mission.

To find out more about becoming a Red Cross disaster volunteer, contact your local Red Cross chapter or go to redcross.org/neo and click on the “volunteer” tab.

The Red Cross relies on the generosity of the American public for its funding. To help people affected by disasters big and small, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-REDCROSS, or text the words RED CROSS to 90999 to a make a $10 donation. Designated donations are the first dollars used to support Red Cross response efforts. If costs exceed designated donations, Red Cross Disaster Relief funds will be used to cover the difference.

Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters near and far.

Local Artisan Donates the Comfort of Clean to Stark and Muskingum Lakes Comfort Kits

Sometimes all you want is to strip off the day by taking a shower.

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Tim Reichel, Disaster Program Manager, shows off a crate full of REDBUDSUDS shower bars with artisan Aubrey Helmuth Miller and Kim Kroh, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Executive Director. The bars will be included in comfort kits for local disaster clients.

That is especially true for those who experience a disaster such as a home fire.

When Red Cross volunteers respond to the scene, the affected individuals immediate needs are assessed. Will they have access to shelter, food and clothing? Are there any other needs, like eyeglasses or medication, that were lost during the event?

Very often, before volunteers leave, the families will be handed a small bag with “Compliments of the American Red Cross” printed on it. The contents of which can help them begin to feel a little better. These items – shaving cream, razor, toothbrush, shampoo, soap – will help wash away the day so that they can start to focus on their recovery.

Aubrey Helmuth Miller, a Canton-area artisan, wanted to find a way to use her craft to contribute to her community. She took the trimmings of her natural REDBUDSUDS soaps, that would have been discarded as part of the process, and tucked them in to a small muslin bag and brought them to Disaster Program Manager, Tim Reichel at the Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter.

While her original intention was to provide clean comfort to those affected by the storms in the southeast, she saw that her soap could make a bigger impact here, in her own community.

Now each family and individual that receives a Red Cross comfort kit, will also receive a satchel of clean comfort courtesy of REDBUDSUDS and Aubrey.

Thank you, Aubrey!

Volunteers Pass the Bucket for Donations from Globetrotter Fans

Dozens of volunteers fanned out at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown on Saturday with buckets in hand, hoping for donations at the Harlem Globetrotters  game.

They weren’t disappointed.

“The crowd was fantastic.  Most everyone dug into their pockets to put a buck or two in our Red Cross buckets,” said volunteer Gary Offerdahl. “We got 5’s, 10’s and 20’s too. Most everyone was very generous.  And not only did we collect some money for the Red Cross, we had a lot of fun, too.”

The Globetrotters have designated the Red Cross as their official charity, as part of the team’s The Great Assist initiative.  The Pass the Bucket effort in Youngstown was the first such attempt to collect funds directly from fans at a Globetrotters game.

“This partnership brings two great American organizations together in order to achieve a common goal—to help people in need and to put smiles on people’s faces,” said Howard Smith, President of the Harlem Globetrotters.

“This was so worthwhile,” said Karen Conklin, Executive Director of the Lake to River Chapter.  “We got to meet a lot of the people we serve in the community, and we got to get up close and personal with some REALLY tall basketball players.  Our volunteers will remember this day for a long, long time.”

WKBN covered the effort, airing the story during the 11:00 news Saturday night.

If you aren’t able to donate to the Red Cross at a Globetrotters game, but would like to contribute to the life saving mission of the Red Cross, you can make a donation here, or call 1-800-RED CROSS.  You can also text the word ASSIST to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

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Click here for ticket information and the schedule for the Globetrotters 2017 World Tour.

 

Smoke Alarms Installed on MLK Day of Service

Austintown, Boardman Residents Receive Fire Safety Information Along with Smoke Alarms

Among the many community groups taking part in the 2017 MLK Day of Service was the Red Cross.  Volunteers from the Lake to River Chapter visited homes in Austintown and Boardman to distribute valuable information meant to keep families safe in the event of a home fire. They also installed smoke alarms where needed.

Four teams of volunteers fanned out to install more than 60 alarms in 27 homes.  Their efforts were covered by WKBN.

Smoke alarms cut the risk of serious injury or death due to home fire in half.  The Red Cross launched its Home Fire Campaign, know locally as Operation Save-A-Life, in 2014, with the goal of reducing the number of fire-related deaths by 25%  over a fire year period.

So far, more than 130 lives across the country have been saved because residents were alerted to fire in their homes by smoke alarms.

If you are in need of smoke alarms in your home, log onto the Operation Save-A-Life page.

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Photo credit:  Paul Wadowick/American Rede Cross volunteer