Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“When I needed help the most, the Red Cross was there.”

The Red Cross touched Mike Curtin in a profound way; so when Mike heard that a team from the NY Red Cross was participating in the 2009 ING NYC Marathon, he knew that he had to be part of Team Red Cross.

While Mike was serving in the US Army at Fort Bragg, NC, in 1995, his dad suddenly passed away. Distraught to learn that he was not going to be granted leave from his duties, nor could he afford the trip home to attend the funeral, Mike turned to the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces unit. The Red Cross was able to get Mike the time he needed and emergency financial assistance for transportation to the funeral.

As a way of giving back, Mike successfully raised more than $2,500 for the NY Red Cross as he crossed the finish line at the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. “Red Cross and running saved my life,” said Mike, who became a runner two years earlier to improve his health. “When I needed help the most, the Red Cross was there. Now I’m there for them.”

Mike Curtin, Brewster, New York

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I love that I can use my native language to bring information about emergency preparedness to the Latino community in New York City."

While working on her bachelor’s degree in community health education at Hunter College, Elizabeth Ureña volunteered for an internship that looked like a perfect fit with the academic skills she was acquiring. From June 2009 to December 2009 Elizabeth interned in the Community Outreach Department at the NY Red Cross, where she trained to give “Ready New York” preparedness presentations and children’s programs on basic health and safety. A major benefit of doing community outreach, she said, has been the enjoyment she’s gotten from going out and meeting different types of people.

As her internship was coming to a close and graduation was looming, her supervisor, Catherine Lague, Assistant Director of Community Outreach and Preparedness, invited Elizabeth to continue working in the department as an AmeriCorps State volunteer. During this 10-month-long commitment she would participate in disaster preparedness and response programs at the NY Red Cross.

Elizabeth accepted, and began after her graduation from Hunter. Most of the preparedness programs she coordinates and presents are given in Queens, but she also helps out in the other boroughs.

Additionally, as an unexpected perk of volunteering, Elizabeth says she speaks better Spanish. Both her parents were born and raised in the Dominican Republic, so growing up, she spoke Spanish at home and even had some difficulty learning English. But after starting school, Elizabeth’s Spanish became less polished as her English-speaking skills improved.

“Even though my Spanish is not the best, I love that I can use my native language to bring information about emergency preparedness to the Latino community in New York City,” Elizabeth said. “And I know that the chance that I have had to work with both English and non-English speaking populations will help me work with vulnerable populations in the future.” Elizabeth plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health which she will use to continue to help people in need.

Elizabeth Ureña from East Elmhurst, Queens

"Volunteer service does not simply mean to work for free, but to practice and promote humanity."

My service as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Community Outreach Department of the New York Red Cross has been unlike anything I have ever done before. I believe in living charitably and respectfully. So all through high school and college, I helped out wherever I could—playing my guitar at nursing homes or a Special Olympics event, writing articles about outstanding community members’ achievements for the Saratogian newspaper, or helping an elderly neighbor by carrying her dumpster up and down her driveway each week.

But through my AmeriCorps service, I have been motivated to develop my sense of altruism into a lifestyle, a career. I have since discovered that volunteer service does not simply mean to “work for free,” but to “practice and promote humanity.”

In my main function in the Community Outreach Department, I meet people every day and teach them how to be prepared for disasters—topics they often never stop to consider. The look on their faces when they hear me talk about how fast fires actually spread, or when they realize they don't know the evacuation plan of their child's school, reassures me that I am making an impact.

But it is more often in the one-on-one conversations that I am touched most deeply by how humans deal with disasters. A mother once told me how she threw her children out the window of her fifth-story apartment into a net below to save them from a fire; and when I was deployed to Massachusetts earlier this year to help with devastating floods, I met with firefighters and community emergency response teams who had been working overtime to clear the roads and pump out homes. It is stories like these that push me to continue giving service.

Alexander R. Selby from Brooklyn, NY

Thursday, May 13, 2010

“When we handed out the gifts I saw firsthand the result of giving back to the community."

AmeriCorps volunteer David Tarver works in the People Resources Unit (PRU) here at the American Red Cross in Greater New York, where his roles include updating the My Red Cross Web site and organizing and distributing PRU’s weekly e-mail newsletters. Additionally, David has participated in the “Ready New York” program as an instructor, giving presentations that promote safety and emergency preparedness to audiences around the city.

He also helped out with last year’s Book and Toy Drive, a fundraiser that helps children affected by homelessness and disasters to have a brighter holiday season. During the two-day event, Red Cross volunteers distributed presents to children at Chapter headquarters and at the Ascension Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “At the Church my job was to oversee the event as well as to help the other volunteers wrap the presents and distribute them to the children,” said David. “When we handed out the gifts I saw firsthand the result of giving back to the community—the proud faces of the kids and parents.”

David Tarver from Manhattan, NY

"I felt ready to help vulnerable populations become better prepared to face emergencies."

At the University of Vermont my majors were sociology and environmental studies. I spent most of my classes researching disasters and their environmental effects. After completing my thesis, “Rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: Exploring the racial, economic and environmental relationships of two communities during the reconstruction process,” I felt ready to help vulnerable populations become better prepared to face emergencies.

The chance to work in the NY Red Cross’s Community Outreach and Preparedness department was a perfect match for my education and passion. I began my AmeriCorps service with the NY Red Cross in November 2009, administering and conducting emergency-preparedness events in Manhattan for residents, civic groups, nonprofit and government agencies, and other community organizations. Because most New Yorkers don’t think much about preparedness until after an emergency has disrupted their lives, these presentations are crucial to beginning conversations about preparedness before the fact. I meet with all kinds of folks and discuss how to create a communications plan, how to assemble an emergency supplies kit and how to stay connected in times of disaster.

So far, the most memorable moment of my internship has to be my first solo “Ready New York” presentation. The program was held at a settlement house in Lower Manhattan and I was unaware that my audience would be composed mostly of high-school students, 15–16 years old, until they began slowly trickling into the room. I wasn’t much older than these kids and I had no idea how they would take to a conversation about emergency preparedness, whether I would be able to hold their attention. I was a little rocky from nerves as I began, but their interest and my excitement made this one of my most memorable presentations. That first solo gave me a sampling of the broad range of connections I would make with New Yorkers as I guided them through the first steps of emergency preparedness.

Nicole Henderson-Roy from Jamaica, Queens

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Making a difference in someone's life is probably what gives me the most meaning in life."

From the NewCityPatch:
When disaster strikes in Rockland County, there's a good chance Cynthia Conine will be there. That certainly was the case recently when a fire damaged three buildings on Slinn Avenue, in Spring Valley, and left 35 families displaced. Conine, one of about 50 Red Cross volunteers in Rockland County, was there to provide aid and comfort to the victims. She interviewed them and helped them get the food, clothing and shelter they needed.

It's something the 60-year-old New City woman has been doing since shortly after moving to the county from the Philippines in 2002.

"I have seen a lot of disasters and people need people during these times," she said. "I ask myself: 'When disaster strikes, how would it feel to be alone with no help from anyone?' This is enough to keep me with the Red Cross.

"I feel so sorry for these people who have no one else to help them and no one else to turn to."
Conine originally moved to the United States so her three children could go to college and receive a better education.

Like her decision to relocate, her involvement with the Red Cross also has family ties. Her sister, Rose Marie Fajardo, is the assistant director for response for Rockland County.
"In the beginning, I was just going along to keep her company; then she said 'why don't you just volunteer.' "
Read the rest of the story here

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

“Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?”

Jean-Henri (Henry) Dunant—the Swiss businessman who founded the Red Cross—never expected to have a life-altering experience when he set off in June 1859 to find Napoleon III. He simply wanted to register a business complaint about some French colonial bureaucrats in Algeria directly with the man who ruled the Second French Empire. To connect with Napoleon, Henry Dunant traveled from Geneva to northern Italy where the emperor was battling the Austrian army, with the goal of expelling Austria from the Italian peninsula.

Dunant arrived in Castiglione delle Stiviere in the evening of June 24 after a terrible day-long battle around nearby Solferino that had left close to 40,000 soldiers dead or wounded. He was deeply shocked by what he witnessed: the medical services were totally overwhelmed with just one surgeon for every 1,000 men, the stretcher bearers were poorly trained and boxes of medicines and bandages left at the rear never reached the front lines. Dunant was galvanized into action, helping to set up makeshift hospitals, working on the logistics of moving supplies to where they were needed and organizing the civilian population to assist the wounded. His business problem was forgotten, and Dunant’s overriding concern from this point on was to assist wounded soldiers, without discrimination, to the cry of “Tutti fratelli” (“We are all brothers.”).

On his return to Geneva “as if moved, possessed by a superior force and driven by divine inspiration,” Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino in which he gave a detailed account of the battle and its gruesome aftermath. As he reflected on his motivation for writing the book, Dunant wrote, “Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?” Published in 1862, the book was immensely popular, stirring the consciences of many people, and setting in motion the process that would lead to the establishment of the International Red Cross and the enactment of the Geneva Conventions—the international laws that spell out humanitarian treatment of victims during wartime.

One of Dunant’s admirers was Gustave Moynier, a Swiss lawyer and president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. Moynier realized that implementing Dunant’s ideas would change the plight of the victims of armed conflict and proposed that a commission study and disseminate these ideas. When this group convened for the first time in February 1863, it decreed itself a permanent international committee. Its five members believed passionately in their embryonic initiative and intended that it extend far beyond the narrow boundaries of their city. This decision marked the start of the Red Cross.

The “Committee of Five” was dedicated to giving concrete form to three underlying ideals of Dunant: the neutral status, during wartime, of victims and health personnel and material; the creation of national committees to assist the wounded; and the establishment of space protected by law during wartime. At an international conference in Geneva held on October 26, 1863, delegates from 14 governments adopted the founding charter of the Red Cross and invited all countries to set up committees and relief societies.

August 22, 1864, saw the adoption of the original Geneva Convention which incorporated into international law the rules governing the establishment of a neutral, humanitarian space on the battlefield. It was also at this convention that the universally recognized symbol of the Red Cross was adopted as the distinctive sign during wartime to mark hospitals, ambulances, evacuation vehicles and neutral personnel.

The Red Cross ideals were thus set to conquer the world. The visionary spirit of Dunant has never ceased to inspire humanitarian action, and he was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, which he shared with the French pacifist, Frédéric Passy. Henry Dunant died on October 30, 1910, at the age of 82.

World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day is celebrated on May 8, Henry Dunant’s birthday.

Jean-Henri Dunant, Geneva, Switzerland