Vermilion Volunteer is Happy to Help After Hurricane in Houston

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By Brad Galvan, American Red Cross Communications Volunteer

Paul Mueller is 83 years young. He helps when people need help. The people of Texas needed help. Helping makes him happy.

Paul got a call and packed his bags after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston, Texas. The call came from the American Red Cross, an organization that Paul has been volunteering for since 2001. Over the past 16 years, he has answered similar calls five times, supporting those affected on the west coast during wildfires, in the south for hurricanes and other natural disasters.

This one, the largest hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005, created the need for Paul to help at a Red Cross food and supply distribution center on the outskirts of Houston. The former mechanical engineer and resident of Vermilion, Ohio, spent two weeks organizing and distributing food and water. He also served as a navigator from the passenger seat when trucking the supplies from the distribution center to residents in need.

 

 

Paul, a lifelong learner, took the opportunity to acquire a skill while in storm-ravaged Houston. He says he still needs a little work, but vows that he can handle maneuvering a forklift next time his phone rings, to assist in an American Red Cross supply distribution center!

Mr. Mueller reminds those who are on the fence about volunteering for the Red Cross that seeing the faces of those who are helped is worth it and then some. He said that the simple gesture of handing out bottles of water and donated non-perishable food items made him feel good inside.

Early September was a tough time for Texans, so Paul’s commitment to the Red Cross and his willingness to help strangers made a difference. He said he’ll be ready to serve again the next time the Red Cross calls on him following a disaster.

If you’d like to learn the skills necessary to help people affected by disasters, big and small, visit redcross.org/neo and click on the Volunteer tab.

 

Restoring Courage and Hope

Psychologist Volunteers to Help People During Their Darkest Hours

Kriss Wyant

By EILENE E. GUY
American Red Cross volunteer

CLEVELAND – “Volunteering with the American Red Cross in general, and for me in particular, represents a profound privilege.  It doesn’t take long to realize how close we all are to needing help,” says Kriss Wiant.

A psychologist by profession and a humanitarian by nature, Kriss finds valuable perspective and rich reward as a disaster mental health volunteer.

With more than 20 years of experience helping children, adults and families in conventional clinical settings, Kriss was looking for what he calls “innovative applications of psychology.” A chance encounter with a Red Cross Disaster Action Team member led him to join that group, responding to home fires, floods or tornadoes across the Greater Cleveland area.

“Connecting people with primary resources – food, shelter, essential medications – that goes a long way to helping people in their time of acute need,” he says.

Eventually, Kriss – who makes his home in Brecksville – decided to make himself available for deployment to larger-scale disasters beyond the Buckeye State.  Of the nine major relief operations he has traveled to, most have been related to tornadoes or hurricanes. Although working conditions can be challenging and stress levels high, Wiant knows how to make a difference.

“The unifying need among those traumatized by a disaster is the loss of courage, the loss of hope,” he says in the gentle, knowing tone of someone who understands trauma as both a doctor of psychology and a first-hand observer. “So what we do is restore courage, restore hope. Most of us can do that, even just by our presence.”

Kriss believes that even the untrained individual can offer psychological first aid. “You are standing on the shore for someone in the deep,” he says. “The only question is, how far can you wade in to reach that person.”

In the wake of a tragedy as dramatic as the May 2013 tornado that killed 24 people – including nine children – and caused an estimated $2 billion in property damage in Moore, Okla., Kriss was part of a large Red Cross mental health outreach to families of those who lost their lives or were seriously injured.

Some people, he found, had the emotional stamina to surround themselves with family, friends and faith; others he pointed toward local resources for longer-term professional support.

At the same time, he watches for signs of stress among the Red Cross responders who work long hours and interact with clients in often-devastating situations. He encourages workers to talk, to share their experiences. “That can be very therapeutic ,” he says.

Kriss is one of some 300 Red Cross disaster volunteers across the 22 counties of Northeast Ohio. Most respond to local disasters or participate in prevention activities such as Operation Save-a-Life, installing thousands of smoke alarms. Those with the time, training and experience can volunteer to respond farther from home.

In addition to his work helping people affected by disasters, Kriss provides Service to the Armed Forces.  In fact, he is one of 5 recipients of the Vega Award, given annually to individuals or groups that have performed outstanding service in a department/line of service for the Greater Cleveland Chapter.  Kriss was honored for his on-going support to the military community,  helping to develop Reconnection Workshop-type materials that have been used in two pilot projects with the Troop and Family Assistance Center, as well as with the Ohio Army National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program. The workshops aim to provide coping and reunification skills to family members of National Guard recruits who are preparing to leave for basic training or Advanced Individualized Training, as well as educate families on a board range of services within the military community and via the Red Cross.  In addition, Kriss makes follow up calls to those who have utilized the Red Cross Emergency Communication services, completes home visits to local veterans, and is a Reconnection Workshop Facilitator.

Other Vega Award winners, honored on Saturday, September 17, are Rita Szymczak, Mark Cline, Rhoda Seifert, and SAF Reconnetion Workshop Facilitators Tom Adams, Lynne Wiseman, Jackie Otte, and Kathy Parsons.

Visit the Greater Cleveland Chapter Facebook Page to see a photo gallery from the Volunteer Recognition Event.

To learn more about the wide variety of volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross – including Service to the Armed Forces, health and safety education, and blood services – visit www.redcross.org/neo and click on “volunteer.”

Remembering the Red Cross Role on 9/11

The attack on America 15 years ago, on 9/11, 2001 brought out the best in people.

“Within the first 48 hours, the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio had deployed emergency response vehicles and workers (most of them volunteers) to both New York and Pennsylvania,” according to Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross of Summit, Portage and Medina Counties.

Debbie went to New York with about two dozen other workers from Northeast Ohio. In this video, she recalls the role the Red Cross played in the days immediately after the attack at Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were brought down. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum now stands at the site.

“It’s still very emotional for me,” Debbie added, “especially at this time of year.”

Northeast Ohio Red Cross Workers were also deployed to Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after the passengers fought the terrorists who had hijacked the plane.  The role the Red Cross played is acknowledged at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, which is about a three and-a-half hour drive southeast of Cleveland.

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In 2009, Congress designated September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. In honor of the sacrifice so many made on that day, many people donate blood at one of the numerous Red Cross blood drives held across the country, not only on 9/11, but also on the days preceding and following the anniversary of the attack.

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If you feel so inclined to donate blood, in honor of those innocent Americans who lost their lives in the attacks 15 years ago,  you can find the blood drive nearest you at redcrossblood.org.

JOIN OUR TEAM: Red Cross Mobilizes Disaster Relief Efforts Coast-to-Coast

Did you realize that the Red Cross is supporting disasters from coast-to-coast? For nearly three weeks, thousands of Red Cross volunteers have been helping thousands of people affected by the devastating and historic flooding in Louisiana, meanwhile we prepared to respond to the multiple storms which threatened much of the East Coast and Hawaii.

 

Red Cross workers in Florida and Georgia opened 46 shelters where almost 550 people spent Thursday night. The Red Cross is helping officials with damage assessment in those states to determine what additional help is needed. Hundreds of thousands of people are without power and many schools closed due to heavy rain and downed trees.

Two Pacific hurricanes – Madeline and Lester – were expected to hit Hawaii over the last several days, bringing as much as 15 inches of rain and 75 mph winds to the Aloha State. The Red Cross had disaster workers and supplies on alert to respond, and as many as 14 Red Cross and community evacuation shelters were opened.

Red Cross workers are also responding to wildfires out west, flooding in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and tornadoes in Indiana, along with numerous smaller emergencies that occur every day, such as home fires.

The last several weeks have kept Red Cross disaster volunteers busy. Red Cross Vice President of Disaster Operations and Logistics Brad Kieserman says, “To date, the Red Cross has deployed more than 6,300 volunteers in less than two months, two-and-half-times the number called upon by this point in 2015. Plus, last year saw 24,000 volunteers deployed, with 2015 requiring more than triple the number of volunteers to respond to disasters than in any of the past three years.” Read more here.

We will continue to do what we do – provide hope to those affected by disaster – but we can’t do it without the generosity of people like you. If you would like to join our team, get started at redcross.org/neo by clicking on volunteer. Or, you can contact our Volunteer Services Department directly at 216-431-3328 or NEOvolunteer@redcross.org.

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Reporting for Duty: Mike Parks Deploying to Louisiana

Mike Parks, CEO of the Northeast Ohio Region, is deploying to Louisiana.

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NEO CEO Mike Parks, addressing Red Cross workers during flood relief work in West Virginia in July, 2016

“The situation in Louisiana remains critical,” said Parks.  “People need help right now. This is who we are as the Red Cross, caring servants. I am proud to join over 2,500 Red Cross workers – 13 of whom are from Northeast Ohio – already in Louisiana.”

Each day, the Red Cross is able to get into more and more neighborhoods, and volunteers are working tirelessly to provide assistance. More than 90 Red Cross response vehicles, including 2 from Northeast Ohio, are fanning through affected neighborhoods to distribute food, water and relief supplies. Disaster mental health and health services volunteers are providing emotional support and helping to replace things like lost eyeglasses, wheelchairs and medications.

Some residents remain in shelters.

Since the onset of flooding in Louisiana, the Red Cross and partners have provided more than 55,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters. At the peak of the floods, more than 50 shelters provided safety for more than 10,000 people.In addition, more than 466,000 meals and snacks have been served.

“Our help is just beginning. We will be there to help people recover in the weeks and months to come. We ask people to please consider making a financial donation to the Red Cross today to support the people of Louisiana.”

Learn more here how the Red Cross is giving people a place to go when there is no place to go through the words of one woman who has lost everything.

HOW TO HELP People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word LAFLOODS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recovery from these disasters.

BECOME A VOLUNTEER To join us, visit redcross.org/neo and click on VOLUNTEER today to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application.

 

From NEO to La: Red Cross Response to Louisiana Flooding Continues

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August 22, 2016.  Breaux Bridge, St. Martin Parish, Louisiana.  Red Cross Volunteer Jodi Bocco visits with 5 year-old Larlasia.  Photo credit: Marko Kokic/American Red Cross

The Number of Northeast Ohio Volunteers Responding Continues to Grow

American Red Cross workers continue to work around the clock in flood ravaged communities of Louisiana to provide shelter, meals, comfort and support services for people who have lost so much during this devastating event. 20 volunteers from the Northeast Ohio Region have been deployed to the operation.

It’s been over a week since historic flooding devastated tens of thousands of lives in Louisiana, and the work of the Red Cross is just beginning. Shelters are still open and as many as 2,500 people were still seeking refuge in 18 Red Cross and community shelters on Tuesday night.

Within shelters, residents can access meals, relief supplies and information. Red Cross volunteers are also providing emotional support to help people cope. More than 2,300 Red Crossers – from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico – have supported relief efforts since the flooding began; over 90 percent of these trained disaster workers are volunteers.

Each day, the Red Cross is able to get into more and more neighborhoods, and volunteers are working tirelessly to provide assistance. Where possible, the Red Cross is beginning to distribute food and relief supplies, such as personal hygiene items, insect repellant, cleaning kits and bleach, to people at their homes. More than 90 response vehicles, including 2 from Northeast Ohio are fanning out through affected neighborhoods.

Since the floodwaters destroyed and damaged thousands of homes, together with local, state and national partners, the Red Cross has already:

  • Provided more than 47,700 overnight shelter stays;
  • Distributed more than 126,000 relief items;
  • Served nearly 356,500 meals and snacks;
  • Handled more than 17,000 calls from people seeking information and help.

Disaster mental health and health services volunteers are providing emotional support and helping to replace things like lost eyeglasses, wheelchairs and medications.

Early estimates predict the massive Red Cross relief effort in Louisiana could cost at least $30 million – and we haven’t raised nearly enough in donations to cover this cost. This cost estimate may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation. It includes the costs of providing food, shelter, blankets, cots, emotional support, health services, initial casework and relief supplies. It also includes some of the less visible costs that make relief possible including logistics, staff and technology expenses.

You can help the Red Cross respond to disasters big and small by donating to disaster relief at redcross.org, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.  You can also make a $10 donation directly to the Louisiana Flood relief effort by texting LAFLOODS to 90999.

The road to recovery will be long and arduous for residents in Louisiana, but they won’t face it alone. The Red Cross will remain in impacted communities in the weeks and months to come to provide people with the resources and support they need to return to a sense of normalcy.

Fire Drives Residents from Home, Draws Red Cross Workers for Help

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This resident of a home on E. 82nd St. in Cleveland received Red Cross assistance, including money to buy shoes, after fleeing his burning home in bare feet.

He stood in his bare feet as he watched his home burn.  The man, one of three residents of a multi-family house on E. 82nd Street in Cleveland, was awakened by firefighters pounding on his door just after dawn Monday morning, and fled with no shoes or socks on his feet.

Two other residents,  Therens Vitanzan and Larry Anderson also escaped.  All three received financial assistance from the Red Cross, to help them with their immediate needs; a safe place to stay, a warm meal, and for one of the residents, shoes.

“That’s why we go,” said Disaster Program Manager Jeremy Bayer of the Greater Cleveland Chapter. “People who just lost their home, all their possessions, they need our help and the hope we can give them during their darkest hour.”

In addition to financial aid, the suddenly homeless residents received a small plastic bag filled with personal items like a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap.

Mr. Vitanzan, who was wrapped in a blanket, sat quietly in a van that doubles as an intake office at disaster locations, while Walter Reddick, a Red Cross volunteer, offered what comfort he could.  Walter also helped Mr. Anderson, who was grateful to escape from his burning home with his prized possession: his guitar.

Photo credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

In the coming days, all three residents will receive follow-up care from Red Cross case workers, who will help them develop a plan for recovery from the fire that forced them from their homes.

They were fortunate to escape without suffering serious injuries.Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out. Seven times a day, someone in this country dies in a home fire.

Incidents like this highlight the importance of having working smoke alarms in every residence in Northeast Ohio, and the Red Cross is ready, willing and able to install free smoke alarms and provide valuable fire safety information to residents in their homes. Northeast Ohio residents can visit the Operation Save-A-Life website to contact their local Red Cross chapter and schedule an appointment for a free home safety inspection, free smoke alarms and free installation.

It’s our goal to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to home fires by 25% over a five-year period.  Last year,  the Red Cross and its partners saved at least 102 lives as part of its nationwide Home Fire Campaign, and in Northeast Ohio, 12 lives were saved and more than 12,500 free smoke alarms were installed in homes throughout the Region.