Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"The Red Cross literally picked us up from our apartment."

Cousins Gil and Tim Silverbird have been performing together since Gil was 6 years old and Tim a year younger when they toured the U.S. with their parents’ singing group, Los Coronados. They are members of a family that has been singing, acting, and playing music together across the United States and around the world for five generations.

For 26 years Gil and Tim shared an apartment near Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, filling it with a collection of Native American costumes, photographs of their Apache and Navaho ancestors and many musical instruments. On April 7 a fire broke out in the kitchen of their apartment. Gil ran out with his new computer and Tim left in his underwear with nothing. “The Red Cross literally picked us up from our apartment, gave us food, clothes and put us in a very nice place. I didn’t know the Red Cross did that,” said Tim.

On April 16, just nine days after the fire that destroyed their apartment, Gil and Tim gave a noonday musical performance at Chapter headquarters in Manhattan to thank their new friends at the Red Cross for all the help they had given them—emergency funds for food and clothing, personal hygiene comfort kits, temporary housing and emotional support. “The Red Cross got us out of a slump,” says Tim. “They didn’t just give me stuff, they were one-on-one nice to me as a human being, which snapped me out of my depression. They said, ‘Hey, look, don’t worry about it; we’re going to help you out. We do this.’”

Monday, April 26, 2010

"I was very happy with my life and I wanted to give back."

It seems that Gary Chin became a volunteer at the NY Chapter in late 2004 out of sheer exuberance: “I was very happy with my life and I wanted to give back,” he said. Since then, Gary has worn many hats at the Red Cross—responder, Disaster Action Team (DAT) member, volunteer partner to the Assistant Director of Disaster Staffing, and a Volunteer Quality Assurance Board member.

But it is going out on a response that Gary has always enjoyed the most. Recently he became the captain of one of Brooklyn’s three DAT teams. Gary particularly relishes the leadership skills he’s called on to use in his new role. “Now,” he says, “I’m not just waiting to respond, I’m developing my team to keep them as engaged and as prepared as possible for our team responses.” In his quest to be the best possible manager, Gary has been reading books like Three Signs of a Miserable Job. “Despite the title it’s a management book,” he says. “Being a volunteer is kind of like a job, but for people to stay engaged, they need to feel they’re not anonymous, they need to feel satisfaction.”

Gary describes the personal satisfaction he derives from being a Red Cross volunteer: “I love what I do and I wish I could do a lot more. Invariably, the people we help during a response say something like ‘Thanks for being there.’ People feel like they’re being listened to.” Gary’s now busy making sure his Red Cross team members feel the same way.

Gary Chin, Ridgewood, Queens

Friday, April 23, 2010

“The American Red Cross has been the most rewarding volunteer experience."

Amy Fratkin travels from Philadelphia to New York City twice, and sometimes three times a week, to volunteer with the American Red Cross in Greater New York. You read it right—Amy lives in Philadelphia and volunteers in New York.

She is a New York City labor and employment attorney who has a long history of service to the community. She chose to include the American Red Cross in her consulting projects to combine her human resources management experience with workplace law to help ensure the Chapter’s People Resources Unit’s ongoing commitment to diversity. Her recruitment of paid staff and volunteers often includes working remotely and attending Reserve Institutes (one-day volunteer trainings) to interview volunteers. In addition, she has assisted with the American Red Cross pilot for National Organization on Disability’s Start on Success high school-to-work mentoring program.

For another recruiting project, Amy interviewed Creole-speaking volunteer candidates who wanted to serve as translators on the USNS Comfort. She and the other interviewers were told to be careful about selecting any volunteers who had lost family members. Sadly, it turned out that almost every prospective volunteer had lost a loved one. Someone had even lost his dad. “Yet, they all said they still wanted to volunteer,” said Amy. “It was inspiring to watch the Haitian community come together in the face of such adversity and find the strength to help others.”

During the Haiti relief effort, Amy also answered phone calls from people worried about their relatives. “That was heart wrenching,” she said. “We instructed callers to use the ICRC Web site to locate lost family members. In some instances we created profiles for them, and when one woman needed to find to her daughter but did not have an email address to use, I used my personal email address as a contact.” Amy also took credit card donations and told people what process to follow if they wanted to hold fundraising events for Haiti relief. And she trained spontaneous volunteers to take family tracing calls, accept donations and speak to people who wanted to become NY Red Cross volunteers.

“The American Red Cross,” she said, “has been the most rewarding volunteer experience since it is an opportunity to work side by side with professionals whom I admire and to play a meaningful role in providing important services to the community.”

Amy Fratkin, Philadelphia, PA

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For me, there was no saying, “No.”

My journey back to my homeland, Haiti, came at a time when my people were at their worst. I had left as a 10-year-old child and had never been back. The American Red Cross opened a door for me to travel back to Haiti, and I accepted the opportunity with a heart full of grief. The earthquake left so many dead and so many survivors suffering from severe trauma—both physical and mental.

I am a licensed Master Social Worker. I had also trained and been certified as a NY Red Cross Disaster Mental Health worker in April 2009. On January 17 I was recruited by the Red Cross to work as a Creole-speaking volunteer on the military hospital ship the USNS Comfort. I left to serve as a translator and was told to use my mental health skills as needed—and that the Haitians onboard the ship would definitely need them. For me, there was no saying, “No,” though I was faced with family and financial constraints.

I arrived on board the ship on January 22. By luck, that day, I sat next to the ship’s psychiatrist at dinner. After discovering that I was the only Creole-speaking Haitian social worker on the ship she said, “You have to participate in my mental health program.”

One cannot detail the enormous mental health needs aboard the ship, which had one psychiatrist, one psychologist, three military mental-health support staff and one social worker—me. The disaster brought the Haitian community face-to-face with many mental health issues: the death of loved ones, separation of families, loss of function, jobs, shelter, personal belongings and having to rebuild and recover in the mist of their own grief and medical issues. Many faced life-challenging questions—whether to amputate an arm, a leg, or both. Some faced the realization that they might never walk, sit, see or think the way they used to.

The experience of counseling fellow Haitians on the hospital ship helped me to reconnect with my culture. I met people from all classes in Haiti—men, women and children, young, old. This enriched my knowledge of what the culture is really about. They would call me their sister. The fathers and mothers would call me their daughter. They made me feel I had a purpose as a social worker—this was what I needed to use my skills for.

Traveling to Haiti has been rewarding in more ways than words can express. Thank you, American Red Cross in Greater NY, for giving me the opportunity to serve my fellow countrymen in a time of crisis.

Magaly Polo, a 42-year-old single mother of two, immigrated to New York from Haiti with her family when she was ten. Magaly, who now lives in Elmont, New York, is a licensed master social worker holding down three jobs: at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, Brookdale University Hospital in Brooklyn and at Transitional Services for NY, Inc. She recently received the “Woman of the Year Trailblazer Award” from the Nassau County Executive’s Office for her work as a Red Cross volunteer aboard the USNS Comfort. She also received the Navy’s “Person of the Day” award, while serving aboard the Comfort.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"I really enjoy the mix of office and field work."

Lana Mullen, a freelance book illustrator, made her first “16 minute walk down 11th Avenue” to Chapter headquarters to attend a one-day volunteer Reserve Institute training in 2008 and quickly realized that she wanted to play a very active role as Red Cross volunteer.

To sort out what that role would be Lana embarked on what she calls “Red Cross 101,” taking as many volunteer classes as she could: Mass Care, Psychological First Aid, Public Speaking—one class per week. “Taking classes, meeting other volunteers, staff and instructors has been a great way to become more familiar with the NY Chapter and with all the opportunities available,” she said.

While bulking up her Red Cross resume, Lana also trained to become a Volunteer Intake Specialist, learning how to conduct interviews with new volunteers and to manage data on the organization’s My Red Cross Web site. She put this training to work two days a week in the Chapter’s People Resource Unit (PRU), where she and volunteer colleague Lesley Stewart also developed detailed training manuals and procedures for administrating critical portions of the volunteer recruitment and placement process.

But Lana wanted to have direct contact with the people helped every day by the Red Cross. So, in September 2009, she began training as a responder. “During my training, I kept up my work in PRU, generally doing a Response training shift one full day a week, one full day in PRU, then one half-day in PRU and then an 8-hour shift in Response,” says Lana. “That made for some long Red Cross days.” Earlier this month, she became certified as a Level 4 (full) responder.

“I really enjoy the mix of office and field work,” Lana said. “It's great to talk with our volunteers and coach them through the process of finding a position within the Chapter that they find rewarding.” She added that she also appreciates being on the scene of a disaster and knowing that through the work of the Red Cross, she can be of assistance to her neighbors. “I am grateful for all the opportunities to contribute to my community that the Chapter provides,” she said.

Lana V. Mullen, Manhattan

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Training the next generation of CPR and first aid instructors

For Stuyvesant High School student and Manhattan resident Curtis Lim, there’s no such thing as senior slump. Two or three times a week, after a full day of classes in AP Calculus, AP Physics C, AP Economics, and AP Chinese, Curtis teaches CPR/AED and Standard First Aid to fellow students. So far he’s given 80 fellow students training that may help them to some day save a life. “It’s fulfilling,” Curtis says. “We’re giving them valuable skills. I plan on training 40 more students."

As a sophomore Curtis joined the American Red Cross Youth Group, and participated in the Chapter’s Instructor Aide program, spending the following summer at Chapter headquarters helping out in 13 CPR and First Aid classes. During October of his junior year, Curtis took the remaining courses to become a Lay Responder Instructor at the Chapter.

Curtis now works with Harry Truong in managing the Youth Volunteer Program at the New York Red Cross. Curtis’s duties also extend to training new youth volunteers—both high school and college students—to become instructors by teaching basic level first-aid skills before the students move on to more advanced classes taught by adults.

His involvement doesn’t stop there. Curtis is currently the president of the 150-member Stuyvesant Red Cross Club and worked on the “Let It Rock” fundraising concert held on April 2 at Greater New York headquarters and attended by over 200 young people. Before he leaves Stuyvesant, Curtis hopes to hold planning meetings to set up the club’s activities for next year, which will include training students to do community outreach and preparedness-training sessions.

In July 2009 Curtis received a Youth Volunteer Recognition Award from the New York Red Cross that cited his contributions to disaster planning and response. Even though Curtis will be moving on to Dartmouth College, he’ll take his Red Cross credentials with him. Who knows how many more students he’ll instruct in the future?

Curtis Lim, Manhattan

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Working with a focus on health and safety attracted me to the Red Cross."

AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Kaitlin Tyler arrived at the NY Red Cross in September 2009 after graduating from Dickinson College with a BA in political science. After interning at Planned Parenthood and later, with a congresswoman from Wisconsin, she realized she wanted to work for change, and the idea of working with a focus on health and safety attracted her to the Red Cross.

So, when she first arrived at the Red Cross, Kaitlin, who is charged with working on programs that target low income and high-incidence areas of Greater New York, began traveling to Far Rockaway and Harlem to do community outreach through the Chapter’s Ready NY preparedness program. “It’s been nice to get a whole new perspective and to learn about preparedness,” she said, adding that in addition to teaching preparedness to New Yorkers, she has also spread the word to family and friends.

Kaitlin also trains volunteers to give outreach presentations to both adults and children. Additionally, she evaluates and oversees new volunteers, and works to promote volunteer recruitment, engagement and retention. Kaitlin recently worked with Alicia Learmont from the People Resources department to devise a system using data from the organization’s My Red Cross Web site to identify volunteers by their activity level with the hope of targeting those who are most active to enlist new volunteers.

“So far, my favorite thing has been my ability to work with children,” Kaitlin said. As a result of her outreach experience with Scrubby Bear and BAT (Basic Aid Training)—two health and safety outreach programs especially designed for children—she is looking for a job in children’s education when her AmeriCorps year at the Red Cross is over in September.

Kaitlin said she feels lucky to have had this experience with the Red Cross. “I’ve never been involved with an organization that depends so much on volunteer service. “The Red Cross attracts people who are very dedicated to what they do, and they’re doing it for free. I think that makes for a stronger organization—one that has a lot diversity and dedication."

Kaitlin Tyler, Manhattan

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"My first response response on such a large scale disaster."

AmeriCorps Volunteer, Monica Czwarno, talks about her first large-scale response to the 7-Alarm Chinatown Fire.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Red Cross is our backbone for community service"

David Chao of the Tzu Chi foundation discusses the translation services being provided at the Red Cross Reception Center for the residents left homeless from the 7-alarm fire in Chinatown.

"Going through this tough process towards recovery."

David Dunn, Director of Disaster Staffing & Partner Groups, describes the activities and services being provided at the reception center for the 7-alarm fire in Chinatown.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Helping to connect people locally, nationally, and internationally

In many ways Jennifer Baker, NY Red Cross Senior Coordinator, Service Programs, is uniquely qualified for her job of connecting and reconnecting people, whether it is someone seeking information about a family member lost in the Holocaust, a Haitian American living in New York searching for a relative after the January 2010 earthquake, a family member of a serviceperson who needs financial help to travel to a service memorializing that serviceperson, or a housebound senior looking forward to a weekly phone call from a volunteer enquiring about his or her well-being.

While obtaining her BA in social work from the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Jennifer was especially drawn to social work that had an international aspect. She also connected with former servicemen when she worked in a nursing home for veterans. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2007, Jennifer married and moved to New York with her husband, who is a firefighter in the Bronx and a veteran who served in Iraq in 2006. She took a job with the NY Red Cross that same year.

Calls to the NY Chapter that involve emergencies in the families of persons serving in the U.S. military are handled by the Chapter’s Service to Armed Forces program. Jennifer and her staff of 20 volunteers routes calls from families needing urgently to communicate with overseas service members, arrange emergency financial aid for families who need to cover travel costs to visit a wounded family member or attend a funeral, and provide community support at local VA hospitals and at West Point’s Keller Hospital and Warrior Transition unit. They also participate in deployment briefings and family days, and partner with the Disaster Mental Health staff to offer the Chapter’s new course, “Psychological First Aid: Coping with Deployment.”

Most of the cases handled by the Restoring Family Links program at the NY Chapter which Jennifer oversees—about 25 each month—involve helping people seeking documentation about relatives lost in the Holocaust. She and her staff of eight volunteers and one employee help the family complete a “page of testimony” about their relatives that is then filed at the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem.

After the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, Jennifer coordinated the instruction of volunteers at the Brooklyn Armory on how to enter inquiries into the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Web site database in order to establish contact between Haitians living in New York and their relatives in Haiti.

Jennifer also manages a group of 12 NY Red Cross volunteers who are part of the Chapter’s Telephone Reassurance Program. These volunteers reach out to some 65 homebound seniors by phone once a week in an effort to relieve their isolation. She has one volunteer who has been phoning some of the same people for 16 years!

Jennifer loves working to connect and reconnect people whether it’s here in New York, nationally or internationally. “For me it’s being a listener that is so important, hearing a person’s story so that they can begin the healing process or get closure,” she says.

Jennifer Baker, Monroe, NY