Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Red Cross enabled me to sprint into action and not panic."

I have been a camp director for Our Kids Day Camp in Sullivan County, NY, for the past 14 years. We take our CPR renewal each year and although you hope to never use it, I had to when one of my counselors brought in another staff member who was choking. This boy could not breathe because he had a Dum Dum lollipop stuck in the back of his throat. I grabbed him, bent him over and gave back blows—and the lollipop came flying out. Afterward, it did sink in that this boy could have died, but the training I had year after year with the Red Cross enabled me to sprint into action and not panic. Thanks!

–Helen Hoffman, Woodbourne

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Students were deeply touched by the Red Cross."

I participated in a Red Cross outreach event at Queens College. This event gave me an opportunity to explain to students about the services provided by the Red Cross. I also had an opportunity to observe how people see the Red Cross and their desire to get involved in this humanitarian organization. Students exploring new possibilities expressed a desire to travel and serve people in other geographic areas. Some students expressed a desire to become volunteers, to get training, and to take courses related to helping others in crisis situations. I realized that they were deeply touched by the Red Cross and were willing to commit themselves to the service of humanity.

–Mauricio Forero, New York, NY

Friday, March 19, 2010

“It’s the little things you don’t think about that are crucial to moving forward."

Luis Avila knows all about responding to emergencies—for nine years he worked for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. Starting as a volunteer, he came to wear many hats at the Chapter: 9/11 responder, Assistant Director of Operations, Disaster Capital Initiative Project Manager and ultimately, Director of Mass Care. In 2006 Luis left the NY Red Cross to become Regional Emergency Services Officer at the Greater Miami & The Keys Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Then, on February 4, 2010, Luis learned firsthand how it feels to receive help from the Red Cross. That day his parents’ home in Corona, Queens was destroyed in a fire. They had lived in the house for 28 years, and Luis had lived there too. After receiving a call from his father, Luis booked a flight to New York. By the time he arrived that same evening, Red Cross responders from his old Chapter had provided Luis’ parents with temporary housing and emergency funds for food and clothing.

Luis got to see how a little help in those first traumatic moments after a disaster makes a big difference. “Their credit cards were burned. They had nothing," Luis said. "My mom—she needed comfort; she needed to get some makeup, a hairbrush, gloves and underwear. It’s the little things you don’t think about that are crucial to moving forward." He added, "My mom loved the sneakers they gave her. She’s still wearing them."

After experiencing this role reversal Luis says, “Being a client was an opportunity to really see how a little bit helps. There are things I can see now, some things I think we can do differently at the Miami Red Cross. They’re not going to be more expensive—some more toiletries—but it may benefit the clients a little more. We don’t give out shoes, but now, having seen my mom wear the sneakers she was given, I have a different perspective."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

“I never knew Red Cross helped at emergencies this small.”

Charmaine Berry was at work when a fire broke out on her street in Jamaica, Queens, and spread to her home. Her daughter, Tenisha, called to say their house was on fire. “I thought she was joking,” said Charmaine, who left work and raced home. When she arrived, she discovered that the Red Cross was already at the scene, and that she was unable to go back into her home of 16 years because of water damage from putting out the fire.

“A man from Red Cross saw that I was getting agitated,” she said. “He took my blood pressure and calmed me down. Red Cross took care of us—they put us up in a room, gave us some money for clothing.” Tenisha broke in to remind her mother that “The Red Cross also fed us that day. They gave us hot chocolate and cookies and water.”

Charmaine said, “I’ve always thought highly of the Red Cross. But I never knew Red Cross helped at emergencies this small. Now I think even more highly of them. I knew I was going to get through this, but at that moment, I didn’t know where to turn and they were there to assist us.”

–Charmaine Berry, Jamica, Queens

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

“We called him John Doe.”

Marie-Ange Tribié was not a Red Cross volunteer before the earthquake in Haiti. But when she learned from her nephew-in-law in Miami that the Red Cross was recruiting volunteer translators to go to Haiti, she signed on immediately.

She trained for a day at Chapter headquarters in Manhattan and was on her way two days later. Before leaving, Marie-Ange presciently said, “Translation is the assignment, but we know before going that we’ll be doing more. They need our comfort, our empathy. That’s where the human touch comes in. That is going to make a big difference in these people’s lives.”

On the Navy hospital ship Comfort Marie-Ange worked in a 58-bed ward filled with sick and injured children. “We called him John Doe,” Marie says of the little boy from a destroyed orphanage in Port-au-Prince who had been dropped off at a hospital in the capital by a motorcycle driver and sent to the ship by an onshore doctor. He was suffering from a skin disease that covered his emaciated body and had invaded his eye, and he was severely traumatized from the earthquake and its chaotic aftermath.

On the ship John drank nothing, and, at first, ate only graham crackers. His legs were like jelly; he would just fall down if one tried to make him stand. He did not speak. He screamed and cried constantly. He was so difficult that for a while he required sedation.

Noticing a few days later that little John Doe seemed responsive to soothing and holding, Marie-Ange volunteered to care for him and spent hours caressing, stroking and speaking to him. Since he couldn’t stand, she just sat and held him. Slowly he began to eat more and, after two weeks, he was eating, walking, jumping up and down, smiling from time to time, even kissing and hugging a stuffed bear. The same John who most of the kids were afraid of when he arrived onboard, became loved and cared for by all.

But John Doe never really talked. He did, however, curse—in Creole. Gently but firmly Marie-Ange weaned him from this habit. One day he went to help himself to the milk he knew was kept in a certain refrigerator. He cursed at the nurse who stopped him. Marie-Ange told him, “No cursing. When you want something, ask for it.” And he took the nurse’s hand and put it on the fridge.

“He was such a success story that everybody on the ship came to see him, even the captain and two visiting admirals,” said Marie-Ange. “But all he really needed was some love.”

Marie-Ange Tribié lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and was in Queens when the earthquake in Haiti occurred. Following her introductory volunteer mission with the Red Cross, she plans to continue as a volunteer and take advantage of Red Cross training courses. Marie-Ange reports that following an operation performed on the hospital ship, John Doe was transferred to an orphanage in Haiti operated by Mission of Hope. She never learned his real name.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

“We became their mothers, brothers, sisters, counselors.”

As soon as Sherri Casting heard about the earthquake in Haiti, she wanted to volunteer immediately. She learned via a friend’s Facebook page that the Red Cross needed translators. A few phone calls later Sherri was enrolled in a special volunteer program for Creole speakers who would serve as translators for Haitian patients being treated by Navy doctors on the 1,000-bed hospital ship, Comfort.

After a one-day training course Sherri flew from Florida to Guantanamo, then to Port-au-Prince by cargo plane and from there by helicopter to the hospital ship located off the coast of the Haitian capital for a 30-day stint as a translator. “As soon as we got on the ship and saw the patients, we knew we couldn’t just sit around and translate. We became mothers, brothers, sisters, counselors to the patients. We wanted to be part of their rehabilitation,” Sherri reported.

On the Comfort, Sherri worked in a limited-care ward where the patients weren’t so critically injured. She says that she mostly listened, prayed and talked with them. One patient Sherri especially remembers was a young 19-year-old boy, an artist, whose name was “Lucky Star.” He had been at home on the day of the earthquake because he wasn’t feeling well. He was lying in bed when the ceiling fell on him, breaking his pelvis and tearing his bladder. Lucky Star impressed Sherri, because even after all he’d been through, he was so positive. She told herself, “I can’t let myself be down when here’s this fellow with nothing and he’s always smiling.”

Sherri Casting, 25, was born in Brooklyn but raised in Pétionville, Haiti, until the age of 17. Now a full-time student majoring in forensic psychology at John Jay College, Sherri last visited the country in 2005. Her relatives in Haiti, riding in a car far from Port-au-Prince, felt the severe shaking of the earthquake, but suffered no harm. The school Sherri attended in Port-au-Prince was destroyed by the earthquake.

Monday, March 15, 2010

“The Red Cross has done a good job in Haiti and in New York.”

When the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Cherizer Franguel, his wife, and their 14-month-old daughter escaped unharmed from their home just before it collapsed. For the next three days, having no other recourse, they slept outside. Then, a friend suggested that because their daughter had been born in New York City and was therefore a citizen, Jean should bring his family to the United States.

After consulting with the American consulate, Jean’s wife and daughter traveled together to New York on a US Navy plane; Jean traveled separately and reunited with them here. Remembering the support the Red Cross provided in Haiti after the earthquake, Jean sought help for his family too. At Chapter headquarters in Manhattan, they were given emergency funds for food and clothing. Through a translator, Jean said, “The Red Cross has done a good job in Haiti and in New York."

–Jean Cherizer Franguel

Friday, March 12, 2010

"I found NYC spirit in the American Red Cross."

When I first arrived in NYC from Italy in December 2007 I had a tough time to find my space and adapt to the energetic and apparent closeness of the people. I was trying to grasp the spirit of the city and its people, of which I had heard so many times, particularly in relation to the incredible examples of resilience and generosity after the tragedy of 9/11. I could not. Then I read about the American Red Cross giving “Reserve Institutes” for potential volunteers. Volunteering had always been part of my life in Italy and most places where I had lived. I also wanted to give something back to the city that was hosting me and my family. I discovered something really impressive: People with extremely different backgrounds and experiences, very interesting in most cases, coming to give their time and dedication. I also discovered parts of NYC where I found extremely interesting stories and cultures. One year later, I am also a DAT (Disaster Action Team) member. I wish I had more time but I also want to be with my kids when I leave work. I feel very lucky, 'cause I found NYC spirit in the American Red Cross. The amazing response to the Haiti earthquake is just the latest example.

–Lorenzo Nesti, New York, NY

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"It turned out to be the greatest experience of my life."

We were all shocked by the earthquake in Haiti. I felt helpless and left out as I watched on TV how the world was swarming to help Haiti. When I learned on Facebook that the Red Cross was looking for volunteers, I applied right away. The training process was very quick. Then I got a phone call confirming that I would be on the hospital ship Comfort for 30 days. I was apprehensive, because I wanted to be on land. I thought, “How can I help by being on a hospital ship?” It turned out to be the greatest experience of my life; the best thing I have ever had the privilege to do.

I worked in Casualty Receiving, which was the emergency room that all the patients came through when they arrived. The first two weeks were extremely busy but well-organized. Though I was a volunteer translator, I had the chance to do a lot more than just translating—holding down patients during painful procedures, washing them, feeding those who couldn’t feed themselves because of their new disability, or who were just too weak to do it themselves. It was a humbling experience.

I have many wonderful but sad stories that will always stay with me, but here is one I would like to share: Casualty Receiving was not very busy during the last week of my stay, and most of the patients I normally would visit during my off hours had been transferred to onshore hospitals. I started to visit the pediatrics ward where I brought goodies. One day a girl about 10 years of age called me. “Zanmi, zanmi vini pale ou,” she said. “My friend, can I talk to you a second?” She was lying on a transport bed and was paralyzed from back injuries. The girl had a wonderful smile, and I later found out that she was loved by many volunteers. She was escorted by her aunt, who was not with her at the moment.

The girl asked if I had a pen and a sheet of white paper. Her request was very specific—she knew exactly what she wanted. I jokingly asked if I could give her a pencil instead, since I didn't want to part with my only pen, which I needed to take down numbers to call for patients who needed to contact relatives. I asked her why she wanted a pen. I figured she needed to draw, but she wanted to write a “thank you” letter to the people on the boat. She was pleased with our efforts and grateful for how we cared for her and loved her. That small child was one of many who made me feel I was there for a purpose.

–Emmanuel Guerrier, Queens, NY

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

“Sometimes it’s the small things that make a big difference.”

When the clothes dryer in his Staten Island home burst into flames, Marc Chernoff rushed his wife, Laura, and their two-year-old son out of the house. A few weeks later, they came to Chapter headquarters to get some advice on how to talk to their son, “to make sure he feels safe and secure,” explained Laura, adding, “We didn't realize the Red Cross helped in this type of situation."

“Our son keeps talking about the fire,” said Marc. “All his stuff was destroyed, and the fire ruined a trip to Disneyworld.” But he said that he and Laura were very pleased that they were eligible for Red Cross mental health counseling and by the fact that “a fantastic woman” behind the front desk at Red Cross Client Services gave them a Mickey Mouse doll for their son. “Sometimes it’s the small things that make a big difference,” said Marc.

–Laura and Marc Chernoff, Staten Island,NY

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Timing is everything.

It’s funny how certain dates will never leave your memory, especially when your mind flashes back to the very thing that caused the date to be etched there in the first place. August 29th, 2005, is a day I will always remember—hunkering down with 180 other people in a small, rural elementary school in Hammond, LA, as Katrina barreled through the Gulf Coast. We were in Louisiana on vacation, my friend and I, both Red Cross volunteers from NYC, and, like others who could, we managed to evacuate to higher ground from New Orleans.

Yet I couldn’t imagine being there and not offering to help in some way, even before knowing the magnitude of the devastation that lay ahead. We could have easily jumped aboard a plane the next morning and flown out to safety. Instead we contacted the local Red Cross chapter to offer our assistance since we were trained shelter volunteers. Then we sprang into action, running an evacuation shelter for the next few days. Like that date in our memories—the Red Cross is etched into our beings. It is what we do … it is who we are. I couldn’t have imagined spending that day any other way.

–Sharon Hawa, Bronx, NY

Monday, March 8, 2010

“I fulfill a small but crucial role as a face of the Red Cross.”

I started working as an AmeriCorps New York State volunteer doing community development at the New York Chapter’s Queens office in November 2009. There I work with the Community Outreach team, preparing and training individuals and groups—from five-year olds to the elderly—about how to deal with emergencies. I also interact with local businesses, civic leaders and other members of the community to spread awareness of the humanitarian services offered by the Red Cross and to help create fundraising networks. When I am not running all around Queens by car, I help manage the office.

At Duke University—from which I graduated in 2008—I majored in international comparative studies (focusing on East Asia) and Chinese. I’ve always wanted to live life meaningfully, and for me, that desire involves using my personal skill-set to engage with and offer concrete aid to diverse groups of people. Because my interests range from social justice to humanitarian aid (both internationally and locally), I was drawn to the Red Cross after a brief experience fighting for immigrant rights at a labor union. In the future, I hope to continue working with the underprivileged populations I feel drawn to and to explore the different, most effective ways I can serve them.

During the past few months, I have seen and heard a lot about the Red Cross in action, both locally and internationally. What has been so impressive to me is that whether it’s the folks whose home has been devastated by a fire right here in my neighborhood or the three million affected by the Haiti earthquake, the Red Cross is there. And we are not only delivering much-needed items, but providing the care and concern so essential for someone to get through a crisis.

The Red Cross is a wonderful equalizer, uniting people from all walks and places both to help and be helped. While my daily interactions with the diversity of ethnicity, language, age and interests of my Queens neighbors can be a challenge, it is a welcome learning experience. While, at first, the Red Cross seemed overwhelmingly large because of its global nature, I now realize that I fulfill a small but crucial role as a face of the Red Cross in Queens. To many, I am the only face or voice they may hear. And so it is an honor for me to assist the ongoing efforts of the Red Cross—aiding those in need and continuing the cycle of unconditional giving.

–Eunice Ok, Little Neck, Queens

Friday, March 5, 2010

“Hope can be given.”

I felt a sense of team accomplishment after volunteering at the Haitian Resource Center at the Brooklyn Armory for the past few weeks. Knowing that we helped the evacuees and their families to get immediate resources—clothing, food—as well as setting them on to a path for longer-term recovery made a difference in their lives and in ours. The team members I worked with were diverse in background and experience, but we all had one mission: to assist those who came to the Red Cross. In a time of tragedy, we made sure our clients felt they had support. Sometimes it was just to tell their story, to know that people really cared about them. It’s a reminder that in times of extreme sorrow, some compassion can be felt, and hope can be given.

–Amelia Hennighausen, Brooklyn

Thursday, March 4, 2010

“People in Greater NY depend on the Red Cross for hope and help.”

As Director of Government Relations for the American Red Cross in Greater New York it's not often that I have an opportunity to go into the field and see first hand the impact the NY Red Cross has on those affected by disaster or realize the difference our disaster responders make everyday for those who have lost everything.

In January I was asked by Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia to take part in a meeting with 20 men and women from Guatemala whose apartments on 86th Street were destroyed by a 5-alarm fire. The fire claimed the life of a young mother whom they all knew and left her infant hospitalized after she threw him from a window to safety. What made this event more traumatic for them was learning that one of their own had deliberately set the fire. These people spoke little, if any, English, had no "family" other then themselves and the community, and spent their days on street corners looking for work as day laborers.

The meeting was held three days after the fire. Working through a translator I was able to gather information to assist these clients and also able to let them know what services our Chapter was making available to them, including emergency financial assistance for food and clothing.

What stood out for me was despite all they had been through and the uncertainty of what they would do next, they came up to me to offer thanks and prayers for our organization and for me just being there with them. I also spent several minutes with the husband of the deceased woman; he was more interested in talking about his admiration for the Red Cross then about what I could do to help him.

I now have first hand knowledge and a greater understanding of our value to the community. People in Greater NY depend on the Red Cross for hope and help after they’ve been displaced by a disaster, and no one else does what we do to respond to their immediate needs. We are truly the First Humanitarian Responders and an organization well worth supporting––be it by government, businesses, corporations or the public.

–Alex Lutz, Staten Island