Snapshots: Moments from disaster response

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

August 12, 2019- I have been a part of the American Red Cross’ Disaster Relief team for 18 months, which has been exceptionally challenging and rewarding. Here are a few of the many moments lingering in my memory:

Tim Poe

Tim Poe

I hand an information packet and financial assistance card to a woman in tears. I see astonishment followed by relief on her face as I explain what it is. She looks out the window, breathes deeply and begins planning her family’s recovery.

An enormous, isolated tree stands in a field. Near the top, a remnant of a house is embedded in twisted limbs. Other pieces of homes and people’s belongings lie scattered across the field as people work to clean up and recover.

Assisting a large number of clients after a major fire, people from the community come in throughout the day, bringing supplies, offering comfort, asking how they can donate, finding ways to help.

In an ER, a woman lifts her oxygen mask, says it’s her birthday, and asks for cake.

Interviewing a client as her grandson plays with a stuffed toy, I ask if she’s a veteran and the grandchild declares he is. “No you’re not, sweetheart,” she says. He answers, “I am too. I don’t even like meat.”

On Christmas Eve, standing on the porch of what remains of a house, helping a family plan their recovery, the mother makes a joke and laughter warms the winter air. I feel the mood lighten as they look to the future.

2019 Euclid fire responseAt a community event with the Emergency Response Vehicle, I let children use the public-address system. Some shyly say, “hi,” others say their names and a few words. One yells, “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! … and ice cream!” Nearly all smile as their voices amplify.

Standing in the rain, clearing the scene of a very large fire, the family’s father grasps my hand, holds on, begins to say something, then simply nods.

Leaving a scene, a three-year-old child runs up and gives me a hug.

Volunteers like me  carry out 90 percent of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross. Whether helping displaced families or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, the time and talents of volunteers can make a real difference. Explore the Red Cross’ many volunteer opportunities here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross volunteer who provided service in Vietnam War among those to be honored this weekend in nation’s capital

By Sue Wilson Cordle, Summit, Portage, Medina Chapter board of directors member. Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

Jackie Otte is the Regional Volunteer Lead for the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services team and has been a Red Cross volunteer for the last 26 years. That in itself is significant; but it is just one aspect of her commitment to the organization.

1883jo Jackie Christmas Card 1968 copyIn the late 1960s, Jackie served with the Red Cross in Vietnam. She explained, “There were two national Red Cross programs serving the military during the Vietnam War: SMI, Service to Military Installations, and SMH, Service to Military Hospitals.”  Jackie served in both areas doing casework and recreational therapy.

“When I received orders for Vietnam in the spring of 1968, the patients I worked with told me not to go— that I would forever be affected. However, I was an idealist and did not turn down orders.”  She was assigned to the 2nd Surgical Hospital in Chu Lai, about 50 miles south of DaNang.

This weekend, her contribution for those years and many more will be recognized at the American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, D.C., with a Legacy Award. This award recognizes Red Cross staff and volunteers, like Jackie, who have served side-by-side with members of the United States armed forces in combat zones.

After her service in Vietnam, Jackie was stationed in Germany. “I am the daughter of a veteran and my service in military hospitals has given me a life-long desire to give back to our military personnel and veterans. I am still working part-time as a social worker in a hospice program,” she said. Jackie is very involved with We Honor Veterans, the national hospice organization that recognizes vets at end-of–life and trains staff on end-of-life issues faced by combat vets.

Jackie, who is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, comes from a Red Cross family. Her father, a World War II vet, served the Red Cross as a board member at both the local and national levels until his death. Jackie learned while planning his funeral that her dad used to read her letters from Vietnam at Red Cross board meetings. While in Washington this weekend for Veterans Day-related events, she’ll stay with her nephew, who is a former Red Cross employee, and his wife, a current Red Cross employee. Red Cross roots spread wide in her family.JackieOtte2

Jackie also plans to visit the Vietnam Veterans Women’s Memorial on its 25th anniversary. “I was the Ohio volunteer coordinator for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial,” explained Jackie. “I made a lot of appearances to educate others about the memorial and raise funds to build it.”

Jackie said she is looking forward to seeing old friends, both from the Red Cross and military. “It has been 50 years since we were there and we aren’t getting any younger. Many may not be with us in the near future.”

The Red Cross legacy of service to members of the military began when founder Clara Barton provided comfort on the battlefields during the Civil War. Since then, American Red Cross staff and volunteers have served in every major military combat or conflict operation around the world. They are among a select group who have proudly worn the Red Cross emblem to provide care and comfort to members of the United States armed forces, their families and our veterans. And Jackie is a member of that select group who will be honored this weekend.

In Jackie’s words, “These ceremonies are always moving for all involved. It will be an honor to take part in a ceremony like this for recognition for combat Red Cross staff.”

Congratulations, Jackie, and thank you for your years of dedication and service to the Red Cross, our military and our veterans.

You are a true hero.

Red Cross biomedical worker reflects on first disaster deployment

By Tracie Endress, American Red Cross Biomedical Services Recruitment Account Specialist

Editor’s note:  Tracie Endress was deployed in September 2018 as a Red Cross disaster volunteer for the first time in support of those affected by Hurricane Florence.

Hurricane Florence 2018

September 26, 2018. Raeford, North Carolina. Lashandra was overjoyed when the Red Cross
truck pulled up to her house. She lives in a home with her seven kids and needed supplies badly.
When asked what she needed she replied, “I’ll take anything you’ve got, I have seven babies!”
Lashandra’s kids, ranging from ages seventeen to four, helped her carry the supplies to the
house. The Red Cross gave the family everything from cleaning supplies to diapers and
everything in between. Lashandra and her kids were all very thankful for the help from the Red
Cross, and hugs were given by first-time Red Cross Disaster Volunteer Tracie Endress. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

I donate blood and plasma to the American Red Cross, and knew I wanted to do more so I enrolled as a disaster volunteer. I decided to volunteer because I wanted to make a difference and help people who needed support during this disaster. This was my first disaster deployment. I served in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for two weeks. I was very proud to be a part of this Red Cross disaster response. I met a lot of amazing people who were affected by the disaster and who wanted to give back by volunteering for the Red Cross themselves. It was heartwarming to see how someone who was affected wanted to join the American Red Cross mission to help those in need.

Photo credit: Tracie Endress, American Red Cross

florence 5I worked in the warehouse that packed and distributed the emergency supplies to areas that were affected by the storm. Driving into the disaster areas with 16-foot box trucks to help was very humbling and rewarding. When the people saw us, you could see hope in their eyes, knowing that others cared. People started helping us unpack the trucks and move the items. They would hug me and say, “Thank you for coming.”  The days were long, but we knew we couldn’t stop until all the supplies were dispersed.

While in North Carolina, I met a lot of people who were taking the same journey with me as disaster volunteers. I keep in touch with the volunteers that were there with me. We are family now.  It was a great experience, and I am honored to be a part of the American Red Cross Disaster Volunteer team.

Thousands of American Red Cross workers mounted a massive response to help tens of thousands of people impacted by Hurricane Florence. Read more about the Red Cross response to Hurricane Florence here.

To apply to become a Red Cross volunteer, complete a volunteer application here.

Local Volunteer Has International Ties

Ifat

Editor’s note:  Ifat Gazia is a new Red Cross volunteer now based in the US. She was born and brought up in the conflict zone of Kashmir. She is a researcher who reports on human rights issues in her native land.

Photo provided by Ifat Gazia

Born and brought up in the largest militarized zone on earth, I grew up listening to stories of not just violence and killings but also of strength, courage and empathy. That is how we as Kashmiris were very empathetic towards each other and to the rest of the world, that usually visited us as tourists.

Kashmir is known for its conflict, and in spite of all the war and suffering the people have to go through on a daily basis, it is also known for its warm hospitality. Being occupied, killed, disappeared, raped, orphaned and tortured by the foreign powers did not leave us bitter and weak. Instead, it increased our strength and intellect. Made us realise that all we have is us and we need to stand up for each other time and again.

There has been a tradition of oral memory deeply rooted in our culture. I grew up hearing stories from my elders and later on started telling the same. Alongside, I understood the value of human empathy at a very young age. I also learned the will to defend our rights and the power to fight for the same.

The storyteller in me pushed me to pursue journalism, which I eventually realised wasn’t something I was really happy in doing. The reason was simple, reporting wasn’t enough. I did write stories but that was it. I didn’t see the impact. And just writing the stories wasn’t helping anyone anymore. People I interviewed for my stories tied their hopes to me and it wasn’t their fault but I did consider it my fault somehow for not delivering up to their expectations. That is when I changed my course of work and studied more about Human Rights, International Political Communication, Development, Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Media so that I can get into an organisation which actually works for making lives of common people better.

I recently moved to the USA for further education and got to observe the amazing work of American Red Cross very closely. The type of empathy and care the staff and volunteers have for their communities is really uplifting. Thousands of volunteers respond to emergencies and disasters every year, keeping their personal priorities aside. This is why I decided to volunteer for Red Cross and try to help with any skills I have got while I am here.

Canton Volunteer Reflects on More Than Two Decades of Service

By Nila Welsh, American Red Cross Volunteer, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter

(Editor’s note:  Nila Welsh is a Canton-based Disaster Action Team member.  She has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1994, and has been assigned to three-dozen national disaster relief operations.  This is her Red Cross story.)

SMLX vols

Red Cross volunteers Nila Welsh, left, and Elinor Carosello

It wasn’t too long after my husband and I returned from the Peace Corps in 1989 that we found we needed something to do.  We lived for two years in an under-developed part of the Solomon Islands, and due to the hot weather on the equator, we had led a quiet life and missed working with people.

One day I read in the newspaper that the Red Cross needed volunteers.  That was 23 years ago, when I first became a part of such a great organization.

After taking all the classes offered and responding to local disasters, we became qualified to respond to national disasters.  Our first call was to respond to flooding in Missouri along the Mississippi River in 1995. Nothing prepares you for the devastation of a flood or hurricane when people have nowhere to go. The Red Cross sets up shelters and we volunteers do our best to help people affected by disasters rebuild their lives.  My husband was a good listener.  He would sit and listen.  People need that – need to know that others care, and that if material things are all they lose, the Red Cross can help.

We found that what matters most in life is how we live and how we treat each other – how we can give back for what we have been blessed with.  People find it hard to believe that we don’t get paid to do what we do. They don’t know what they’re missing.

We don’t know how long we have in this life, but as long as we are here we will continue to do our best.

 

Volunteer Provides Leadership at Many Levels

Some of us plan barbecues and college football watch parties on Labor Day Weekend.

Not Pam Williams.

Pam2

Pam, chairwoman of the board of the Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Chapter was waiting to find out if she’ll be headed to the Houston area in response to Hurricane Harvey.

As of Monday night, nearly 300 shelters were open in Texas and Louisiana, with about 35,000 people spending the night.  3,760 Red Cross workers have been deployed to the disaster relief operation so far, including 30 from Northeast Ohio.

In addition to her board responsibilities, Pam is a Red Cross volunteer, and, if needed, would deploy as the assistant director for external relations on the Division Response Management Team.

Over the last ten years, Pam has been deployed around 30 times, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“I get to see the country at its worst, but people at their best.” Pam said.

Pam recalled working with Native American tribes in Montana when asked what was the most interesting thing she’s done on deployment.

“Sometimes it’s the people who have been affected that make the biggest difference. I remember a family during a storm who were offered aid. They pointed to the next family and said ‘they need it more.”

She realizes that what she does isn’t for everyone. If someone were on the fence about volunteering in a crisis, she would ask them why they wanted to do it.

“You have to have a passion for it. It’s not just about being on TV.”

There are a few things that Pam hasn’t done yet on deployment that she’d like to; “I’ve never been deployed to a wildfire. As much as you don’t want it to happen to anyone, I’d like to have that experience. I’d also like the opportunity to ride along in an ERV (emergency response vehicle).”

Pam’s a retired school teacher by trade, and even with 30 deployments under her belt, she’s not ready to kick back and enjoy retirement just yet.

“I’ll keep going as long as I believe I’m contributing. I had two great mentors when I got started, and I’d love to mentor the folks who are coming up.”

If you would like to become a trained volunteer with the skills needed to help people affected by disasters big and small, visit our volunteer site to begin the application process.  Expedited training is currently taking place throughout the Northeast Ohio Region.

Help NEEDED…More Volunteers

Red Cross volunteer Kim Sterling of Ashtabula met Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern after being deployed to Austin, Texas

There are currently 30 volunteers from Northeast Ohio in or en route to Texas to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Some of them have been featured in the local media:

http://www.wkyc.com/news/local/five-ways-you-can-help-make-a-difference-for-harvey-victims-in-need/469042466

http://www.medina-gazette.com/Medina-County/2017/08/31/Medina-County-natives-involved-in-Harvey-efforts.html

http://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/oh-summit/two-local-red-cross-volunteers-head-south-to-help-thousands-forced-from-their-flooded-homes

Volunteers continue to leave for the hurricane zone to provide sheltering, meals, and other services to residents who were forced from their homes.  And more volunteers will be needed in the coming weeks, to continue providing assistance to the tens of thousands of residents affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Red Cross volunteers are trained to provide the services needed before, during and after disaster strikes.  New training sessions are being scheduled.  If you are interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, and helping people like the volunteers featured in the media stories above, visit our volunteer page to begin the application process.