Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Whatever questions I needed answered, they answered."

Angela Phillips was in the shower when she noticed a strange smell that got stronger and stronger. She got out to check the hallway and everything seemed fine, until she noticed smoke coming up through the floor. She grabbed some clothes and her one-and-a-half-year-old son and ran down the stairs of the house they shared with another family in Springfield Gardens, Queens. She heard children screaming in the downstairs apartment.

Once they got far enough down the block, Angela turned around to see her home in flames. Angela’s husband and stepdaughter also lived in the house, but neither were home at the time. According to Angela, the fire was directly underneath her stepdaughter’s bedroom, so it was lucky that she hadn’t been there. Two of the downstairs’ neighbor’s children were not so fortunate; sadly, they perished in the blaze.

Angela and her son, Kyler, were rushed to Jamaica Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. The Red Cross met them there. “They came within the hour,” Angela said, “they started explaining to me how they could help us right then and there. I didn’t know what I was going to do and they came and gave us the emergency money and a place to stay for a few days so I could at least relax and take everything in.”

Angela, a pharmacy technician, was familiar with the Red Cross. Just last year, Chapter responders came to the aid of her father and stepmother, when their Manhattan home was lost to a fire. She appreciates everything the Red Cross is doing to help her and her family move on with their lives. “Everybody was just nice. Whatever questions I needed answered, they answered them for me. They told me about other programs that can help us get back on our feet.”

Angela Phillips, Springfield Gardens, Queens

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"They set a wonderful example for other businesses to follow."

Empire BlueCross BlueShield is a most deserving recipient of the 2010 Corporate Community Partnership Award, which is given to an organization that has helped the American Red Cross in Greater New York to help other others through exemplary action including employee volunteerism and support of Chapter programs and activities.

Empire BlueCross BlueShield has had a multiyear, multilevel partnership with the NY Red Cross that began in 2005 when more than 20 of their employees established a Response Call Team after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The team spent many hours from September through December in the NY Red Cross National Disaster Call Center, assisting callers who had been affected by the 2005 hurricanes. Katrina also prompted 40 Empire BlueCross BlueShield employees to take disaster training courses in mass care/feeding. Since then, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and its parent company, WellPoint, has continued to help the Chapter provide support and relief services to New Yorkers affected by emergencies and disasters.

Last year WellPoint selected the NY Red Cross as one of three New York City nonprofit organizations where its employees could choose to volunteer on their annual “Community Service Day.” Empire employees came to NY Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan, where they reorganized the Chapter’s mass-care room (the storage area for food and beverage supplies), cleaned disaster-response vests, conducted an inventory and added new supplies to the Chapter’s health and mental-health disaster kits. Some volunteers also worked on creating and painting a trio of murals depicting the humanitarian services of the Red Cross on a wall outside of the headquarters building. The costs of all supplies and materials were generously donated by the WellPoint Foundation. Additionally, Wellpoint has encouraged Empire employees throughout New York State to support the American Red Cross through their annual workplace giving campaigns, resulting in significant financial assistance.

For its part, Empire BlueCross BlueShield has conducted annual awareness and personal emergency preparedness training as a part of its annual Associates Workplace Giving Campaign for its 2,500 employees throughout the New York City metro area and New York State. Since 2009, staff members at the company’s Brooklyn and Middletown, NY operations centers have taken Red Cross disaster training and established their own Ready When The Time Comes disaster reserve team of 30-plus employees.

Mark Wagar, Empire BlueCross BlueShield President, who joined the NY Red Cross Board of Trustees in 2008, said, “Especially during difficult economic times, it is important for community leaders and businesses to recognize the importance of the organizations that help people when they need it most. I’m proud to serve with the American Red Cross in Greater New York and to support its mission of helping people prepare for and respond to disasters.”

Mr. Wager has been instrumental in obtaining a grant from the WellPoint Foundation to support NY Red Cross disaster health and mental-health services. Empire BlueCross BlueShield also provides philanthropic funding to the Chapter through sponsorship of the annual Red Cross Ball and the Great Things Every Day breakfast.

David Gibbs, New York Red Cross Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations, said, “The support, encouragement and leadership of Empire BlueCross BlueShield/Wellpoint has been ongoing for more than five years. They have been strong advocates of the importance of supporting the Red Cross by encouraging others in the health-care industry to join them in meaningful partnerships with the Chapter. Their continuing relationship with the New York Red Cross encompasses employee volunteerism, community service, philanthropy and disaster preparedness. They set a wonderful example for other businesses to follow.”

Empire BlueCross BlueShield is the recipient of the  2010 Corporate Community Partnership Award

“Richard is the embodiment of exemplary voluntary service.”

Richard Gallis is no stranger when it comes to garnering NY Red Cross awards, having won the Volunteer Support Services Award in 2009 and the First Year Award in 2005. This year he is the winner of the most prestigious award granted to a volunteer by the Greater New York Chapter—the Clara Barton award. This award recognizes a truly exceptional volunteer, one who “has served for a minimum of five years and has made an outstanding contribution to the success of a particular service area or project activity, or who has served in multiple capacities and maintained service excellence.”

As volunteer partner to Assistant Director of Disaster Training Joshua Martenson, Richard has become what Josh calls “the keeper of Disaster Training Records at the American Red Cross in Greater New York.” Chief Response Officer Bob Imbornoni simply labels Richard “Mister Training.”

At least several days each week Richard puts his formidable skills as a data manager and computer programmer, practiced for decades at Chase Manhattan Bank, to work. He efficiently, accurately and in a timely manner enters training records to the profiles of all NY Red Cross volunteers on the Chapter’s “My Red Cross” volunteer Web site. Additionally, he produces and mails the coveted wallet-size completion certificates to trainees. Rose Marie Fajardo, assistant director of response in the NY Red Cross–Rockland office, explains how Richard’s reconciling and updating the training records of Rockland/Putnam volunteers has not only “contributed to morale but actually encouraged many volunteers to continue working with the Red Cross and become leaders in this work.”

But Richard does far more that just data entry and certificate production. Since the Chapter’s implementation of a new Volunteer Management System in 2008, he has used his programming background to troubleshoot glitches and worked with IT to correct them. “It is because of his desire to create a system that actually works for staff that many improvements have been made to it, whether obvious to the end user or not,” says Martenson, who adds, “Richard’s work often goes unnoticed because it takes place in the background, but it is essential.”

Richard also regularly takes shifts in the Call Center before returning to what he calls his “day-to-day” work in Disaster Training. He has also acted as a disaster relief worker and qualified as a Chapter shelter manager, a role he’s played in several NY Red Cross shelter exercises.

Given that his colleagues at the NY Red Cross cite him for his “personable demeanor, knowledge, professionalism and devotion to his work,” for being “always pleasant, kind and gentle” and “the embodiment of exemplary voluntary service,” it is no surprise that Richard Gallis is following his prior award with the Clara Barton award, the Chapter’s most prestigious.

Richard Gallis from Manhattan, NY is the recipient of the 2010 Clara Barton Award

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"She touches every segment of the community."

Kathleen Preston is one of two volunteers at the NY Red Cross receiving citations this year as “emerging leaders.” This new award recognizes people who have shown strong leadership qualities early in their tenure at the Chapter and who are viewed as good role models for other volunteers.

Kathleen’s knowledge of and involvement in all things Red Cross began in 2005 when she became a Disaster Action Team member in Rockland County, where she’s lived for 20 years, “after and because of Hurricane Katrina.” Hurricane response turned out to be part of her destiny at the Red Cross. In August 2008 Kathleen received an e-mail from the NY Red Cross that began, “Have you ever wished you could spend more time with the Red Cross?” She did so wish and within weeks joined the AmeriCorps program. As a member of that program, Kathleen signed on to support Red Cross Disaster Planning and Response in Rockland County, serving in all aspects of Disaster Services, including disaster response, planning and preparedness, logistics, client services, staffing, training, recruitment and emergency communications.

A little over a week later she found herself working in the kitchen of the Red Cross mega-shelter in Louisiana “and spending more time with the Red Cross than I ever imagined I would,” said Kathleen. It was her first deployment and her most intense volunteer experience as she worked to help feed 3,000 people who fled Hurricane Gustav in early September 2008. “I’m glad that it was my first deployment; it made my other deployments seem much easier,” she said.

Now, should you ever end up in a Red Cross shelter of any size, Kathleen is the type of volunteer you would want to encounter. She has taken all the available training to become a qualified shelter manager and has deployed to work in shelters set up after local disasters in New York, as well as conducted disaster assessment in North Dakota and Virginia. And she is working to add “Disaster Kitchen Supervisor” to her can-do list.

Another of Kathleen’s strengths lies in nurturing cooperation between Rockland town and county government officials and the Red Cross. As Local Disaster Coordinator for the Town of Clarkstown and a qualified Red Cross Emergency Operations Center Government Liaison Officer, she brings innovation and improved communications between the NY Red Cross and the local municipalities.

Kathleen has taken a leadership role in helping to manage almost every aspect of the Red Cross Volunteer Orientation/Fulfilling Our Mission program at the Rockland area office. “Hers is one of the first faces of the Red Cross new volunteers encounter and the impression she makes as a caring and committed volunteer speaks volumes to new recruits,” says Mary Ellen Douglas, NY Red Cross Assistant Director–Response for Putnam/West Point. “She patiently guides all new volunteers, even those daunted by computers, to navigate the My Red Cross volunteer management system, which makes a big difference in successful staffing, whether day-to-day or for a larger operation.”

Mary Ellen adds, “Kathleen’s presence in the Rockland area office of the NY Red Cross lends a sense of calm and good humor. She touches every segment of the community through outreach, research, communication, sharing ideas, teaching and direct service, building the Chapter’s capacity every day by her participation in so many areas.”

Kathleen Preston from Nyack, NY is the co-recipient of the 2010 Emerging Leader Award

Demi Lovato delivers letters written by local kids to Chile

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Her kindness and compassion are an example for all of us."

This year two volunteers at the NY Red Cross are receiving citations as "emerging leaders," a new award that recognizes people who have shown strong leadership qualities early in their tenure at the Chapter and who are viewed as exemplary role models for other volunteers.

For Mary O'Shaughnessy, one of the winners, that description fits like a glove. Born, bred and still living in Manhattan, she joined the Red Cross in 2007 and trained to work as a disaster responder. As she gained experience, Mary quickly rose in the responder ranks, taking a leadership role in training and mentoring many disaster response volunteers. She also heads her own Disaster Action Team, or DAT, which is on call to respond from Chapter headquarters every other Saturday.

Volunteer Rebecca Callahan, who has worked with Mary for almost four years, explains the leadership qualities she sees in Mary: "She is able to stay impartial and attempts to bring out the best in volunteers while making sure they have the tools and the skills necessary to meet the needs of clients in a range of disaster situations." Rebecca says that Mary is terrific at maintaining the morale of her disaster responders, attending to their training needs and giving them positive reinforcement, "even after the most challenging situations."

It isn't just her organizational and training skills that make Mary such a valuable volunteer. "Her spirit is infectious," says disaster-response volunteer Jack Gwaltney. "Her kindness and compassion are an example for all of us when dealing with clients."

By day, Mary is a manager of legal services for a nonprofit law firm that aids low-income women in need of legal representation in marital and family cases. She does database management and statistical reporting, as well as soliciting non-attorney volunteer help. Mary regrets that due to her job requirements she's been unable to deploy on two-week-long national disaster relief responses. To compensate, she does more at Chapter headquarters: serving as a Call Center agent when possible and training as a public affairs representative, a government liaison and a "Ready New York" preparedness program presenter.

"I really like responding to fellow New Yorkers on the regular basis that I do," says Mary. "I have made great friends, witnessed great kindness and strength in adversity, and grown tremendously through my Red Cross volunteering."

Mary O'Shaughnessy from Manhattan, NY is the co-recipient of the 2010 Emerging Leader Award

"They teach people about how to cope with stress and provide crisis intervention."

The NY Red Cross Chapter’s Disaster Mental Health Leadership Team is the recipient of 2010 Leadership Award. The work of the team’s nine volunteer members—Jill Bellison, Patricia Berliner, Dottie Brier, Linda Certo, Michael Cronin, Athena Drews, Eileen Dwyer, Fred Mazor and Mary Tramontin—is being recognized for its profound impact on the Chapter’s mission.

Red Cross mental-health volunteers are one of the cornerstones of the organization’s relief efforts. Recognizing how vital immediate counseling is to people experiencing disaster trauma, these workers provide on-the-spot emergency mental-health support, not just to people affected by disaster, but also to first responders and to Red Cross staff assigned to disaster relief operations. They’ve been there to support morale, lend an empathetic ear and offer counseling after fatal fires, airplane crashes, crane collapses, ice storms, hurricanes, floods and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They teach people about how to cope with stress and provide crisis intervention and appropriate referral services when necessary.

The Greater New York Chapter’s Mental Health Leadership Team had its genesis 15 years ago, when a small group of mental-health professionals in New York City developed a disaster mental-health program at the NY Red Cross modeled on one initiated by the National Red Cross two years earlier. Made up of clinical social workers and psychologists, this NY leadership team grew in volunteer membership over the next few years and was responsible for all aspects of the mental-health counseling until 2001, when a position for a staff mental-health professional was established.

Over time, “the compassionate leadership of these volunteers was reflected by the manner in which the mental-health program became integrated into Chapter activities and by the acceptance of the idea that a mental-health support model was helpful,” says Diane Ryan, NY Red Cross Director of Disaster Mental Health.

Amazingly, many of the team’s members have served for over a decade, including three of the team’s founding members—Patricia Berliner, Dottie Brier and Mary Tramontin—ensuring a 15-year span of consistency and quality service. The team continues to assist by collaborating on protocols; ensuring quality of client care; mentoring new volunteers at exercises and disaster sites; instructing disaster courses which have trained hundreds of additional mental-health volunteers; teaching Psychological First Aid to our regular volunteers; representing the Chapter at local, national and international mental health venues; sharing on-call responsibilities and covering for the director in her absence.

Recipents of the 2010 Leadership Award:
Jill Bellison from Manhattan, NY
Patricia Berliner from Queens, NY
Dottie Brier from Manhattan, NY
Linda Certo from Orange County, NY
Michael Cronin from Manhattan, NY
Athena Drews from Orange County, NY
Eileen Dwyer from Queens, NY
Fred Mazor from Bronx, NY
Mary Tramontin from Manhattan, NY

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Mary Beth is a true Red Cross champion."

Retired science-magazine editor Mary Beth Aberlin arrived at the Chapter’s annual “Great Things Every Day Fundraising Breakfast” in 2008 expecting to write a check. What she didn’t expect was how overwhelmed she would be by the personal stories shared by people whose lives had been changed—and even saved—because of the NY Red Cross. She soon offered to volunteer as a writer/editor in the Marketing and Public Relations department to help spread the word “about how the Red Cross helps New Yorkers every day––365 days a year.”

Two years later, Mary Beth has been awarded the Chapter’s Support Services Award for her outstanding work supporting the Marketing and Public Relations team. Like the Red Cross, she is always there to help, and at a minimum, works two full days every week with the Marketing/PR team where she shares her writing and editing skills. Her expertise is put to good use in so many ways, including researching and writing stories for the NY Red Cross Web site that cover every facet of the organization, editing everything from brochures to the complete overhaul of Web site copy that accompanied the Chapter’s relaunch of in September 2009 and creating photo journals based on “ride-alongs” she has done with the disaster response team.

Additionally, she works with the Client Services Group to capture the poignant stories of the people we help every day in Greater New York. She is a major contributor, as both a writer and editor, to the Chapter’s “Changing Lives” storybook, the blog platform for individuals to share stories of how their lives have been touched by the NY Red Cross. Through “Changing Lives,” the public at large is able to gain a deeper understanding of the Chapter’s humanitarian work and the impact it has on all those we touch––clients, donors, students of CPR, First Aid and other courses, volunteers and employees. Mary Beth’s latest challenge involves the development of a NY Red Cross style manual encompassing a set of standards for language use, including grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting that will be used as a reference guide by the Marketing and PR team.

As a tireless advocate for the Chapter, Mary Beth’s passion for the Red Cross goes beyond the borders of the Marketing and Public Relations Department. She continues to attend the annual fundraising breakfast, and brings friends with her so that they can gain a better understanding and appreciation for why the Red Cross is so near and dear to her heart. After participating in a disaster “ride-along” Mary Beth decided to became a mass care worker, and has taken the training necessary to accomplish this goal. “Mary Beth “Red Crosses” New York in so many meaningful ways, and this additional level of volunteer engagement is a true testament to her dedication and commitment to our mission and changing lives in the community,” said Marianne Darlak, Senior Director, Marketing and Public Relations.

“Mary Beth is a true champion of the mission and principles of the Red Cross, both here at the Chapter and in her personal life,” added Anita Salzberg, Senior Coordinator, Marketing and Public Relations. “She is well deserving of this award.”

Mary Beth Aberlin from Brooklyn,NY is the recipient of the 2010 Support Services Award

Friday, June 11, 2010

"These translators are giving elements of their history, heritage, family, intellect, and wisdom.”

Robert Kennedy famously said, “Some men look at things the way they are and ask, “Why?” I dream of things that are not and ask, “Why not?” The thirteen volunteers of the American Red Cross in Greater New York’s Health & Safety Services Translation Team being honored with the 2010 Innovation Award looked at “things that are not,” asked, “Why not?” then made things happen—things that have had both a local and a global impact.

The team came into being in 2008, when Tiffany & Co., the New York jewelry firm, decided to implement the NY Red Cross’s Pandemic Preparedness program at all of its overseas facilities. Team members Jenny Chun, Clarissa Espinosa, Mario Fontenla, Shuhung Hong, Marsa Kindl-Omuse, Monica Mei, Elizabeth Musso, Diep Ngyuen, Carlos Rodríguez, Nancy Soto, Corina Stonebanks, Norika Takatsuka and Lily Too immediately set about translating the NY Chapter’s pandemic preparedness Instructor’s Manual and PowerPoint slide presentation into nine languages: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese. At about 100 pages for each course, that added up to many hours of work, which was completed in 2009.

After the translated materials arrived in the different countries, Web X conference courses for instructors using the translated manuals were held from the Chapter’s headquarters in Manhattan. Members of the translation team sat in to help out with any language problems, often doing so at night to account for time differences. These New York Red Cross classes have now been taught in China, Central and South America, Europe, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. And the team continues to translate material. Most recently, the “Be Red Cross Ready” preparedness program has been translated into Japanese.

The translation was an “extracurricular Red Cross activity,” said Health & Human Safety Account Executive Matt Conley, who oversaw the project. “Some of the volunteers did the work at home and had other family members vet it.

“These translators are giving elements of their history, heritage, family, intellect, and wisdom,” he continued. “They are creating something that will aid people in their homeland or the land of their ancestors.”

By greatly increasing the number of people who are touched by the Red Cross because they can teach and learn in their own language, the translation team truly has not only made the Greater New York Chapter more relevant to the community that we serve, it has spread the word about the importance of preparedness around the country—and the globe.

Recipients of the Innovation Award
Shuhung Hong from Queens, NY
Lily Too from Queens, NY
Corina Stonebanks from Manhattan, NY
Marsa Kindl-Omuse from Brooklyn, NY
Monica Mei from Bronx, NY
Noriko Takatsuka from Woodside, NY
Jenny Chun from Manhattan, NY
Diep Nguyen from Brooklyn, NY
Mario Fontenla from Flushing, NY
Carlos Rodriguez from Fairfield County, CT
Clarissa Espinosa from Flushing, NY
Nancy Soto from Brooklyn, NY
Elizabeth Musso from Paramus, NJ

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

“Bob almost single-handedly coordinates the New York National Disaster Call Center.”

Red Cross volunteer Robert Lirtzman is the 2010 recipient of the Community Services Award which recognizes an exceptional volunteer or team of volunteers who have served for at least one year within areas such as community outreach, the emergency communications center and international training services. “Bob almost single-handedly coordinates the New York National Disaster Call Center,” said Chief Response Officer Bob Imbornoni.

This center is activated after large-scale national disasters as part of the national hotline of the American Red Cross to provide information and assistance to people who call 866-GET-INFO, the American Red Cross 24/7 information number. It ensures that individuals in need will always be able to hear a compassionate voice when they call the Red Cross looking for help. While running the Call Center is a job that is not particularly visible, “things can get very busy and sometimes pretty frantic,” said Disaster Mental Health volunteer Diana Brown.

A native New Yorker and retired high school science teacher, Bob began volunteering at the NY Red Cross in 1977 as a CPR instructor. He started working in the Call Center (aka the Response Center Network) when it was first set up at the Chapter in 2005. For Bob it was definitely a baptism by wind and water. The hurricane season in the Atlantic that year was the most active in recorded history with three major hurricanes—Katrina, Rita and Wilma—affecting some 1.2 million families on the US mainland in a period of two months. The newly inaugurated Call Center handled approximately 19,000 calls in 9 weeks; it was open 7 days a week, approximately 16 hours a day. Bob attributes the success of the Call Center to “the dedication, professionalism and hard work of the volunteers and employees who serve as call agents or provide on-site mental health support.”

Red Cross people with whom he works cited Bob for his almost-constant presence, his patience and his sensitivity to a caller’s need to speak with a mental-health counselor: “Bob encourages us to keep talking to these faceless clients who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away and who may be upset, angry, crying—it doesn’t matter—we keep talking to them until we calm them down and until they know they’ve been helped,” said Diana.

“He makes clear that we are to be caring and patient no matter how upset the caller is,” she continued, “nonjudgmental about their level of upset, and ready to get them needed services. He recognizes our role as representing the larger Red Cross in this country and in the world.”

Bob also trains CPR and first aid instructors, and teaches CPR and first aid classes and basic disaster services. He supports Disaster Training, works with the Chapter’s amateur radio group, and coordinates with National headquarters to organize the Welfare Information activities so important for initiating contacts between family members and loved ones in disaster-affected areas. He is truly deserving of the Community Services Award.

Robert Lirtzman from Bronx, NY is the recipient of the Community Services Award

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

“We are blessed to have a volunteer with Hun-Jue’s compassion, flexibility and mission to serve.”

The recipient of the 2010 First Year Award is Hun-Jue Luu, honored as an exceptional volunteer who has served for less than one year. A practicing psychologist who wrote his dissertation on trauma caused by airplane crashes, Hun-Ju has made an outstanding contribution as a disaster mental-health volunteer.

He is also a translator and mediator. Hun-Ju completed the NY Red Cross’s newly offered one-day Disaster Mental Health Institute training in February 2009. Not long after, he was tapped by NY Red Cross Director of Mental Health & Service Programs Diane Ryan to go to JFK airport with a small team of Red Cross volunteers to meet Mandarin-speaking families arriving from China. The families flew to the US to identify loved ones who had been killed when a gunman opened fire at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York in April 2009.

The arriving families were exhausted, stunned and grieving. Hun-Jue greeted them in Mandarin, offered condolences from the Red Cross and provided support and crisis intervention. He explained how they were to be taken to Binghamton and prepared them for what to expect upon arrival there. He took special charge of the brother of a woman who had been killed, comforting him, shielding him from the media and getting him safely on the way to Binghamton together with relatives from Long Island. “Building trust is the first giant step in establishing a relationship with clients, and understanding both the culture and the language is essential to making this happen,” said Hun-Jue. “Grieving families, especially Chinese ones, don’t want to talk to strangers. But once they understand what the Red Cross is trying to do for them, they are very grateful.”

Just eight weeks later, at the beginning of June, Air France Flight 447 crashed off the coast of Brazil en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The airline called the Red Cross to ask for assistance in notifying a Mandarin-speaking family whose only son had been on the flight. The victim’s parents had lived in New York City for 18 years and were getting ready to move permanently to Brazil to join their son, who had opened a business there. Hun-Jue provided essential translation services for the Air France personnel and offered culturally sensitive guidance and support to the family as they dealt with Air France liaisons and the Office of the Medical Examiner. For many months he remained available to the family, who came to trust him and did not wish a referral for ongoing counseling. Hun-Jue was able, over time, to help this family accept the fact of their loss and begin to make decisions about their future.

“Throughout all of this, Hun-Jue demonstrated an amazing ability to meet the clinical needs of this distraught family, the needs of the staff of Air France, and to work within the parameters of the mission of the American Red Cross—this after knowing us for just a few months,” said Diane Ryan. “It was an honor to work with Hun-Jue on the Binghamton disaster and the Air France aviation incident. The NY Red Cross is blessed to have a volunteer with his compassion, flexibility and mission to serve.”

While Hun-Jue recognizes that he possesses a particular set of skills he can call on when the trauma of a disaster is compounded by an inability to communicate in English, he says, “Mental-health skills are not always the most important thing. No matter who you are, if your heart is in the right place, people will appreciate what you’re doing.”

Hun-Jue Luu from Kew Gardens is the recipient of the 2010 First Year Award

Monday, June 7, 2010

“I would be lost without her.”

One and one don’t always equal two. When a volunteer acts as a “partner” with a NY Red Cross employee, the degree of symbiosis can sometimes be extraordinary. Zofia Bolewicz, the 2010 recipient of the Partnership Award, has acted as a volunteer partner for Cheskeca Miller, Assistant Director, Staff Relations, since Zofia joined the New York Red Cross last September.

“I would be lost without her,” says Cheskeca. “In the spirit of learning Zofia raises her hand for tasks outside of Staff Relations to broaden her own HR experience.” According to Cheskeca, not only does Zofia work hard at whatever she is assigned, she makes herself available during weekend events and works on projects from home.

Zofia hails from Brooklyn, where she settled after arriving in the US from Poland five years ago. She says that working at the Chapter is a perfect fit for her. She was looking for a volunteer opportunity to do human-resources work, and decided on the Red Cross “because of its mission and because it is a very respected organization in Poland.” Zofia arrived from Poland with several years of HR experience and has continued to take advanced management courses at NYU.

Cheskeca says that Zofia’s interest in the field of human resources “keeps me on my toes.” Zofia has conducted research on HR legislation and current best practices employed at other organizations. Her findings have led to a re-examination of Chapter policies and resulted in recommendations that will be implemented at the NY Red Cross in the near future. For example, Zofia has worked with Cheskeca on a policy that will clarify the expectations of our NY Red Cross staff’s use of social networking sites.

Zofia also played a role in the Haiti relief effort. She screened potential Creole-speaking volunteers to send to Haiti as translators on the hospital ship the USNS Comfort, where many of the seriously injured were treated, and she followed up with the volunteers on their return to the States. She also helps with Reserve Institutes and volunteer recruitment.

“I am often amazed at Zofia's dedication and work ethic,” says Cheskeca. “She is a wonderful example of voluntary service.”

Zofia Bolewicz is the recipient of the 2010 Partnership Award

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Seeing the dedication of the volunteers who were willing to give so much of their time was an unforgettable experience,”

When Gael James’s husband, John, was sent to fight in Vietnam in 1969, Gael began looking for something worthwhile to occupy herself during John’s absence—and became a Red Cross volunteer. Her first Red Cross volunteer job was at the Charleston Naval Hospital, working in the OB-GYN clinics. She went on to volunteer for the Red Cross while stationed at military bases throughout the US and in Germany.

In 1973, Gael, John and their family moved to West Point, where Gael volunteered on the board that managed Red Cross volunteer opportunities. She also organized the biannual blood drives. The family soon moved again (and again), during which time Gael earned her bachelor’s degree at Old Dominion University in Virginia, and John received his PhD from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The James family finally returned to West Point, where they have remained since 2000, with Gael again serving in various roles as a devoted Red Cross volunteer.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, the Red Cross issued a request for volunteers to train for disaster work. Gael took every class offered at the West Point Red Cross, which was then under the jurisdiction of the Dutchess County Red Cross Chapter. When West Point was absorbed by the Greater New York Chapter in July 2006, Gael became an active Greater New York disaster volunteer.

Gael has been deployed once nationally, to Louisiana after Hurricane Gustav, driving a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle in Lafayette, LA. This deployment proved to be a life-altering experience. “Seeing the way that the disaster affected the people that could least afford the consequences, and seeing the dedication of the volunteers who were willing to give so much of their time was an unforgettable experience,” she said.

Gael has provided assistance at several local disasters. She takes as many disaster training courses as possible and is two classes away from completing the requirements to be promoted to a supervisory volunteer position. Gael enjoys volunteering for the Red Cross because she believes the organization’s work is vital to the safety and well-being of our communities and because she wants “to contribute in some way to lessen the suffering of others.”

Gael and John have been married for 43 years, having tied the knot at West Point the day after John’s graduation. They have moved 23 times in the past 42 years, and have two children and four grandchildren. Gail hopes to serve as a disaster services volunteer for many years to come.

Gael James from West Point, NY is the recipient of the 2010 American Red Cross West Point Award

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

“Red Cross staff and volunteers always shown great goodness in their daily lives.”

Military wives lead famously peripatetic lives—moving from base to base as their husbands’ assignments change. Joan Finnegan is a perfect example, having set up house in many places since she married her husband, Patrick. And it is the qualities for which she is being recognized—extraordinary kindness, optimism and cheerfulness—that surely moved with her from Massachusetts to Washington, Virginia (several times), Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, Germany (twice) and then here to West Point. Joan is the recipient of the Harriet Demarest Congeniality Award which recognizes a Red Cross volunteer who has served the West Point community with exactly those sterling personality traits.

Joan, who hails from Long Island, has been volunteering with the Red Cross since her high school days when she worked as a candy striper at Nassau Hospital in Mineola. And while studying nursing in Syracuse she worked as a Red Cross blood-drive volunteer.

She married Patrick Finnegan upon his graduation from the United States Military Academy in 1971, and the couple moved to Massachusetts where Patrick attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Moves to bases in Washington State and Virginia followed. From an assignment in Warrenton, Virginia they traveled to Charlottesville where Patrick obtained a law degree from the University of Virginia. It was here that Joan reconnected with the Red Cross, developing and teaching childbirth classes at the UVA Hospital where she also worked as a part-time labor and delivery nurse.

Next it was off to Germany where Joan continued to teach childbirth classes as a Red Cross volunteer. Three years later the family was back in Charlottesville where Joan resumed teaching childbirth classes and worked full-time as a nurse. Then it was off to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and, after that, back to Germany where Joan worked as a quality-assurance volunteer in the US Army Health Clinic in Stuttgart under the auspices of the Red Cross. In 1998, upon Patrick’s appointment as head of the Academy’s Department of Law, the couple settled at West Point, where Joan has worked since her arrival as a Blood Drive volunteer, including six years as Blood Drive Captain. In 2004, she was awarded the NY Red Cross Jean MacArthur Volunteer of the Year Award.

Additionally, since her arrival at West Point, Joan has served as a Red Cross volunteer at the Keller Army Hospital’s front desk. Where better to put her famous congeniality on display?

"Whenever we moved as an Army family, after the boxes were unpacked and the children were in school, the first place I'd go was to the local Red Cross office,” said Joan. “That's because I discovered early on that the friendliest and nicest people in the neighborhood (or on post) were Red Cross volunteers. Over many years, Red Cross staff and volunteers always shown great goodness in their daily lives, challenging me to be a better person."

Joan C. Finnegan from West Point, NY is the recipient of the 2010 Harriet Demarest Congeniality Award

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"I believe in the Red Cross; everything we do is driven by the heart.”

Joyce Morse began her Red Cross volunteer career in 1996 when she and her husband, Matt, Chief Warrant Officer W04, and Associate USMA Band Master, were stationed at Camp Zama in Japan. Starting as a General Support volunteer, Joyce became involved in emergency communications, then trained to become a CPR, First Aid, and Babysitter’s Training Instructor. Ultimately she served as the Red Cross Station Chairperson, overseeing all the other volunteer positions.

She continued her Red Cross service while Matt was stationed at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia; Fort Stewart, GA; Wiesbaden, Germany; and Fort Jackson, NC, volunteering at all these locations as Blood Services Chairperson; teaching CPR and First Aid; and/or working in Red Cross Emergency Communications. Additionally, she participated in a study for the reorganization of the Emergency Communications Center at the Central South Carolina–Columbia Chapter of the American Red Cross.

In recognition of her service Joyce received the Red Cross Exceptional Volunteer Award while stationed in both Japan and Germany, and the Clara Barton Meritorious Leadership Award from the Central South Carolina–Columbia Chapter of the American Red Cross.

In 2007, Joyce and her family, which now included children, Anthony and Jessica, moved to West Point. There she serves as a member of the NY Red Cross West Point Leadership committee; helps to coordinate volunteer staffing at all the West Point blood drives, at which she also works and oversees volunteers; teaches Red Cross Volunteer Orientation and Health and Safety Classes; and provides general administrative support.

A Johnsonburg, PA, native, Joyce received a BS Degree in medical technology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her non-Red Cross volunteer service includes serving as Family Support Group Leader for her husband’s units while stationed in Virginia, Georgia, Germany and South Carolina.

At West Point, Joyce gives her time to her children’s schools, volunteering in the classroom and the school nurse’s office, and helping to run book fairs. She also volunteers at the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, where she is a Eucharistic Minister; helps with the Little Flowers Girls Club and with the altar servers; and helps with her son’s baseball team.

Joyce says, “Volunteering for past 14 years has been a wonderful experience. I’ve worked all over the world, and the people are great. That’s one reason I’ve stayed as long as I have. I believe in the Red Cross; everything we do is driven by the heart.”

Joyce Morse from West Point, NY is the recipient of the 2010 Jean MacArthur Volunteer of the Year Award

“This was very meaningful and I felt I could bring something to it.”

Françoise Max came to the NY Red Cross in 2001 as a Holocaust Tracing Services client. Appreciative of the help she received, in 2007 she began volunteering in International Services at the NY Chapter to help those who have experienced similar losses and/or disconnects.

Between September 1939 and the summer of 1943 Françoise Max, an only child, and her parents, French Jews who made their home in Paris, escaped the Nazis by living first in Cannes, France, and in 1943, by hiding out in the tiny French hamlet of Callian. Françoise and her parents returned to Paris in 1945 to take up their lives again, but the rest of her family—her parents’ siblings, her paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother—were not so lucky. Most of them had been living in Krakow, Poland, or in Podgorze, a suburb of Krakow, when Françoise and her parents lost track of them during the war.

The fate of many of her relatives was still a mystery when, in 1952, Françoise, who was then 20 years old, and her parents immigrated to New York City and settled in Manhattan. Françoise soon married and moved to Forest Hills, Queens, and later Great Neck, Long Island, and gave birth to two daughters. When her marriage broke up in 1974, Françoise relocated to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she still resides. She held jobs in the toy industry, and then at the cosmetics company, L’Oreal, where she started as a secretary and rose to become Director of Public Relations.

Sometime in 2001, Françoise learned about Red Cross International Tracing Services and came to Greater NY Chapter headquarters in Manhattan, seeking to learn the fate of four of her father’s five sisters and their families, as well as of her maternal grandmother and uncle. Françoise had little information about her family to share with the NY Red Cross Tracing Services caseworkers. She knew that before the war, three of her father’s five sisters had been living in Poland, and one in Paris. She also knew that the fifth sister and her daughter, both of whom survived the war, had been deported to Russia, along with the sister’s husband, who was later killed in 1940 in the Katyn Forest massacre, a mass murder of Polish nationals carried out by the Soviet secret police. Sadly, she was also aware that her father’s only brother had been shot in the streets of Krakow, Poland.

In order to move the tracing process forward, Françoise decided to give “supposed” birthdates for family members, based on what she could remember. Tracing is painstaking work, and many years can pass before a case yields information. Almost four years after submitting her paperwork, Françoise received news from American Red Cross Tracing Services that was “very meaningful” to her. A German questionnaire from 1940, used to determine who should be sent to concentration camps, had been found for her maternal grandmother, Hendla Neugasser, and a paternal aunt, Rive. A copy of the questionnaire, which was in the handwriting of her Grandmother Neugasser and Aunt Rive, was mailed to Françoise, and gave her dates of birth for the two women, as well as for Rive’s daughter, Tosha, and for her mother’s brother, Izak. Françoise sent this new information to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., hoping their researchers would be able to discover even more.

By the beginning of 2007, however, she had not heard anything from the museum. It was then that she came to the Chapter to meet with the International Services staff about another paternal aunt, Hela Samuel, who had been living in Paris. Judy Stieglitz, the NY Red Cross tracing services volunteer working on Françoise’s case, believed that Françoise would be an ideal fit as a caseworker and suggested that she come aboard. Françoise readily agreed. “I was looking for volunteer work,” she said. “This was very meaningful and I felt I could bring something to it.” In 2009, she received the Greater NY Chapter’s International Humanitarian Service award, given to a volunteer “whose international work exemplifies or inspires the humanitarian values of human dignity, respect, compassion and the protection and assistance implied in the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.”

After almost a decade of searching for answers, in January, 2010, out of the blue, Françoise received an e-mail from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Attached was a 1940 photo of a girl of about age 18, in Poland’s Krakow ghetto. Françoise recognized the girl as her cousin Tosha. Although gratified that the photo had been found, Françoise wished they had also found a record of Tosha’s death, or any further information.

However, Françoise derived some comfort from the photo., and was gratified to know that as a volunteer with NY Red Cross International Tracing Services she is able to bring the same feeling of closure to others around the world—including Australia, Indonesia, the Congo, and other countries—by helping them to learn the fate of or to reconnect with loved ones separated or lost by war or natural disaster. “I am glad to be associated with the Red Cross,” she said.

Françoise Max from the Upper East Side of Manhattan