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.

‘It Was a Relief’: Red Cross Helps Residents Displaced by Fire

North Olmsted Residents Receive Red Cross Assistance

Christine Kisela needed a place to stay after her apartment building in North Olmsted recently caught fire.

A ceiling fan in one of the units sparked the blaze, which spread quickly to the building’s attic. Firefighters had to use so much water to put out the fire that all eight homes became uninhabitable.

 

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Displaced without food and belongings, Kisela had many questions and no sense of when she could return to her daily life in North Olmsted, Ohio.red-cross-volunteers-mark-cline-and-gary-grano-and-disaster-program-manager-jeremy-bayer-assist-clients-in-north-olmsted

To help Kisela and her neighbors navigate their next steps, four workers from the American Red Cross Greater Cleveland Chapter arrived to meet one-on-one with residents to discuss their needs and connect them with available resources.

 

“I thought it was great when the Red Cross showed up,” Kisela said. “Not knowing when we could get back into our apartments, it was a relief to get some answers and some assistance.”

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Resident Christine Kisela assisted by Red Cross volunteer Gary Grano

Her neighbor, Keith Kasprzyk, agreed.

“To see the Red Cross here was great,” Kasprzyk said. “The help they gave us will definitely be put to good use.”

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Red Cross volunteer Taylor Ley assists resident Keith Kazprzyk and dog Lola

 

 

 

The Red Cross responds to nearly 66,000 disasters every year, with the vast majority of them home fires. People can help residents in their darkest hours by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

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Resident Joan Kravetz receives assistance from Red Cross volunteer Mark Cline

Volunteering Spans Generations for One Red Cross Family

Grandfather, Grandson in North Carolina Helping with Hurricane Response

Alejandro Reynoso is trying to teach his grandson a lesson. His classroom is a Red Cross emergency response vehicle.

Mr. Reynoso and his grandson, 18-year old Dominic drove the ERV from Arizona to North Carolina to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew.

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“I think we should all take some time to contribute to society,” Mr. Reynoso says.  “It’s more of a duty.”

Dominic just graduated from high school, and isn’t sure what he wants to do in the future.  But for the present, he and his grandfather are busy dishing out bratwurst and baked beans, canned pears and potato chips to North Carolina residents impacted by flooding and other storm damage.

They make a good team.

“That lady told me she hadn’t eaten in three days,” Dominic says of one flood-affected resident, who received food prepared by the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization.  He gave her two meals and a case of bottled water.  “She said she has no water either.”img_2663

Mr. Reynoso is a Vietnam veteran who left his engineering firm to volunteer in North Carolina.  “That’s the price you pay.  It’s unconditional.  The reward is being asked to come back.”

That is the lesson he hopes to impart on his grandson.

If you would like to volunteer for the Red Cross, log onto redcross.org.

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Photos and story: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

Volunteers from Across the U.S. Help in N.C.

Red Cross volunteers have come from all over the U. S. to help residents affected by flooding following Hurricane Matthew. About three dozen workers are from Northeast Ohio

Flooding in North Carolina is expected to persist through the weekend, as rivers continue to crest six days post-hurricane.

At the Western Prong Baptist Church in Whiteville, North Carolina on Thursday, October 13, volunteers from several states arrived in Emergency Response Vehicles to deliver meals prepared at the mobile kitchen set up by the Southern Baptist Convention.

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A dozen states were represented by Red Cross volunteers, who traveled to North Carolina, some of them driving for days, to help residents by distributing food, water, and clean-up kits.

Volunteers came o the kitchen in ERVs from Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.  They have been trained by the Red Cross to help deliver mass care during disasters.

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New volunteers can be trained to drive ERVs, run shelters, and many more essential services provided by the Red Cross during times of crisis.  If you’re interested, log onto  redcross.org/neo and click the volunteer tab to begin the application process.

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.

More Local Red Cross Workers Respond to West Virginia Flooding

Resources Include Personnel, Equipment

Nearly 500 American Red Cross volunteers have responded to the call for help in West Virginia, where heavy rain last week caused widespread flooding.  Seven volunteers are from Northeast Ohio.  In addition, Regional CEO Mike Parks is there to offer his assistance.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see American Red Cross volunteers and staff from across the country descend on the devastated communities of West Virginia,” said Parks. “It makes me proud to be part of this humanitarian organization.”

23 fatalities are being attributed to the flooding.  Preliminary reports indicate upwards of 2,000 homes could have been damaged or destroyed.  Thousands of people are still without power and gas service. Many areas are still inaccessible due to flood damage, and the number of affected homes is likely to change.

Red Cross workers, including those from Northeast Ohio, continue to support shelter operations. Workers are also providing meals, relief supplies and other assistance to those affected.

By the numbers:

-More than 1,900 overnight stays in emergency shelters

-More than 40,000 meals and snacks distributed

-Over 61,000 relief items like cleaning supplies and comfort kits distributed

Red Cross disaster mental health workers are helping people cope with the loss of their homes. Health workers are helping to replace needed items like prescription medications and eyeglasses. The Red Cross is working with state and local officials and with partners like the Southern Baptist Convention and AmeriCorps to help ensure people get the help they need.

In addition to the Red Cross personnel deployed, the Northeast Ohio Region is also contributing 3 emergency response vehicles and 2 passenger vans to the response and recovery effort in West Virginia.

This is a large relief response and the Red Cross needs the public’s support. Entire families have lost their homes and everything they own. We need your support now to help people affected by disasters big and small.

  • People can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief to support disasters big and small by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

 Financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most.

FLOOD SAFETY

Download the free Red Cross Emergency App to have safety information and shelter locations available on your mobile device.

  • The Emergency App features emergency weather alerts to help keep the user safe, and provides information about what to do in case of floods as well as the locations of open shelters.
  • Red Cross apps are available in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.

 

 

 

Bring IT On: Disaster Services Technology

When a disaster strikes, who is it that gets the basic IT services that we’ve come to depend upon back up and running? The Disaster Services Technology team – a unique group of volunteers who deploy to a disaster response to set up communications technology!

The team provides the necessary infrastructure that a response may require, from internet capabilities (think: Safe And Well Services) to telecommunications (like an antenna based radio if cellular services are down).

“We can service everyone from a single user connection up to a whole site,” said Ed Finley, National Field Communications Engineer.

This week the team held a rare hands-on training at our Akron office. The three-day course is only offered once a year in each division. The training staff has already taught the course in Mobile, Ala.; Oakland, Calif.; and Austin, Texas. After Akron, they will head out to Tinton Falls, N.J.; Columbia, S.C.; and Minneapolis, Minn.

The course gives volunteers the opportunity to train on equipment that will deploy to a disaster response; such as laptops, cell phones, routers and satellites.

“Not only will students learn how to set-up and use the equipment, but also that there is a support system behind them that will help them get through the process and be successful,” said Ed.

Students at the Akron class hail from all over Ohio and the rest of the country – California, New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

If you are interested in joining the Disaster Services Technology team, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer and sign-up to be a volunteer. You’ll go through a couple of basic Red Cross courses, including Disaster Services Technology Overview, and from there you’ll be able to train with some of the IT leaders who we are lucky enough to have living in Northeast Ohio before deploying.

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