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

Mr. Classic, Rocker and Recruiter for the Red Cross in NEO

Veteran Cleveland DJ Explains Why He Now Volunteers for the Red Cross

By Anmol Nigam, American Red Cross Volunteer

In downtown Cleveland, classic rock fills a studio in the Halle Building. Midway through a conversation, Walter Garrett’s eyes light up and he rapidly presses keys and pulls down sliders on a variety of keyboards and mixers in front of him. With a grin on his face, his voice fills the room as he takes the first of many callers who will phone-in during the night.

“You’re on 98.5 WNCX!”

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Walter Garrett, aka “Mr. Classic” Photo credit: Anmol Nigam/American Red Cross Volunteer

Walter is “Mr. Classic,” the host of the Saturday evening radio show Saturday Night Live House Party for over twenty-five years. A native Clevelander, he now lives right next to the Lorain County office of the American Red Cross in Elyria.

Each day he passed the Red Cross and thought about how he should be doing something there – volunteering or donating blood.

Then, three years ago, Walter underwent a major surgery.

“I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the ER. It turns out I was having a heart attack.”

Walter needed six pints of blood during his surgery. And due to the efforts of the Red Cross and its volunteers, Walter got it.

He thought about his daily commute and decided that it was finally time to give back to the organization that had helped him in his time of need. He walked into the Red Cross office and asked about volunteering. Now Walter can be found at Red Cross events recruiting new volunteers.

Volunteer Walter Garrett at Regional Headquarters
Photo credit: Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

“I really enjoy talking to people at the events for the Red Cross. You can’t put a price on that. It’s not something you get in a paycheck. It’s something you can’t put a price on.”

If you have an interest in volunteering for the Red Cross,  log onto redcross.org/neo, and click on the volunteer tab.

 

 

Mike’s New Year’s Challenge

A message to all American Red Cross Volunteers in Northeast Ohio:  Happy New Year!!  I trust this finds you well and that you enjoyed your holidays.  First, thanks to all of you who worked over the holidays—your support to our clients was critical in their times of need and instrumental to their roads to recovery.

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Second, I’d like to offer you each a challenge for the new year–2017.  It’s something I’ve said to almost every gathering of volunteers since I started more than a year and a half ago so a number of you have heard it before.  I challenge each of you to recruit one volunteer in the next 12 months.  I ask each of you to identify one individual you know that is, or can become, passionate about our Red Cross mission of caring for others, and is someone that you’d like to work with because they’re nice, and convince them to join our effort by becoming a Red Cross volunteer!  If every current volunteer accepts and meets this challenge, we’ll double the number of volunteers we have to better serve the 4.5 million residents of Northeast Ohio.  Now that’s exciting!!

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Finally, thank you all for your tremendous support to the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio—we literally could not perform our essential mission without you—thank you!!  Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2017!!  Best regards…Mike

 

Raising the Roof and Raising Awareness

By: Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

While the legendary Harlem Globetrotters raised the roof in Quicken Loans Arena, Red Cross volunteers raised awareness with an information table in the lobby across from Section 128.  It was a two-fold information, full-court press.

The Globetrotters have partnered with the Red Cross in The Great Assist initiative, helping Americans before, during and after local incidents or national disasters.

A large banner proclaimed “Join Us” and the information table was stacked high with handouts providing the details. Many people don’t realize the multiple ways they can become involved with Red Cross, and the brochure nicely lays out options for people of all talent, skill and interest levels.

The Globetrotters played two games on December 27; at 1:00 pm and again at 6:00 pm.  Separate volunteer groups manned the table at each game.

The table also displayed small signs with the same message that appeared courtside — “Text ASSIST to 90999 to donate $10.”  Again, something small that people can easily do, but when combined with thousands of others, can make a serious impact.

2016-garrett-at-globetrotter-gameThe table attracted a number of people, including Garrett Chapin (15) and his mother Laura. We wished we could have kept them longer, as Garrett demonstrated his spinning-ball-on-the-finger-tip trick.  Wearing a uniform just like the Globetrotters, he truly illuminated the area with blinking LED lights in his basketball shoes.

So, did the table do its job?

That’s probably an answer best left to the data analysts, but this writer does have a few opinions.

First, the more people see your sign or your logo, the more likely they are to remember you when the need arises.  Marketing 101 stuff, but it is a truism.

Secondly, it seems that people are so tired of seeing tables set up in the mall or airport, that they often shy away from a manned table, not wanting to get involved. Exactly the opposite reaction we were hoping for.

So, after staffing the table for more than an hour, and having 99% of our great brochures still sitting there, unloved, we decided to take the brochures on a road-show.

Walking around the entire Quicken Loans Arena lobby, if a person looked receptive, we approached and delivered a short message while handing them a brochure.  “The Red Cross is always looking for good volunteers if you or someone you know might be interested.” or “If you are looking for volunteer opportunities for yourself or someone in your family, the Red Cross would love to talk to you.”

In an hour, the brochures were gone, and a good 90% of them were met with smiles, with heartfelt “Thanks” and some with “I’ll definitely look it.”

Hopefully at the end of the evening, the announcements over the PA raised some money from the fans, and hopefully the brochures will further raise awareness of the many ways our organization contributes to the community.