Thursday, October 28, 2010

You help people right away—no “ifs,” no “buts,” no “tomorrow”

Denise Wilson (left), Sarah Greenidge (middle) & Mark Greenidge (right)
Denise Wilson lit the stove as she was preparing dinner for her family in their West Harlem apartment, and “it just blew,” setting fire to her hair. After patting out the flames burning her hair, she grabbed her grandson and 9-year-old daughter and ran out. She called the fire department, ran back in and banged on her neighbors’ doors to warn them.

The blaze destroyed her top-floor apartment. “There was no more kitchen,” says Denise. “They broke all the windows and made holes in the roof—we could see airplanes flying across.” She reports that Red Cross relief workers came to the building right away, while she was at the hospital being checked for smoke inhalation. By the time she was released the Red Cross had made arrangements for emergency housing for her entire family of ten, as well as assistance for food and clothing.

Denise and her husband, Mark Greenidge, like almost all victims of fires to which the Red Cross responds, knew only that when a flood, earthquake or other big disaster happens, the Red Cross is always there. When she and her family came to NY Red Cross Chapter headquarters the day after the fire, they were amazed by the amount of help and caring offered by the organization. “They gave us food and they looked out for the kids,” said Denise. “I hadn’t eaten, I was really upset, and the Red Cross caseworker talked to me about how important it was to care of myself. She went and got me something to eat. I was grateful for that.”

What impressed Mark was that the Red Cross had no hesitation about helping. “You come and help people right away—no “ifs,” no “buts,” no “tomorrow,” no “next week”—right away,” he said. Denise added, “You guys helped immediately and didn’t look at us like we just wanted handouts. I am very grateful for that as well.”

Denise Wilson and Mark Greenidge from New York, NY

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

American Red Cross CEO & President Gail McGovern on CNBC

American Red Cross CEO & President Gail McGovern discusses how new technologies are changing not only how but who is making charitable contributions around the world. See below for the full version of the program "Executive Vision: Leadership in Action."

Monday, October 18, 2010

"I didn't know the Red Cross did so much."

Anita Cruz and her son Adrian
Anita Cruz and her 22-year-old son, Adrian, were about to sit down to dinner in their Bronx apartment when some of the lights went out. Then, they noticed a strange smell. After checking the electrical outlets and finding nothing, they saw smoke above a skylight in the hallway, alerted the neighbors and called 911.

Firefighters soon arrived, but also had difficulty finding the source of the smoke. To do so, they used chainsaws to break open the roof and ceiling of the apartment’s rooms (Anita and Adrian lived on the top floor). They finally discovered that the smoke had come from faulty electrical fixture in the kitchen ceiling. “In the end,” Anita said, “everything was destroyed,” making the apartment where she had lived for 27 years “unlivable.”

The Red Cross arrived at the scene to help, offering to arrange temporary housing for Anita, who decided to stay with her brother. But they referred Anita to different agencies and gave her valuable information about her legal rights as a tenant. She was grateful for all the “little details” she hadn’t know about, which helped to ease her difficult situation. The Red Cross also gave Anita and Adrian emergency financial assistance for food and clothing.

Anita said, “I think the Red Cross is great. I had not personally seen them in action until now. I’ve seen them in action when it comes to big disasters, but not smaller ones. I didn’t know how much they can help. Now that I do, I will definitely tell others.”

Anita Cruz from Bronx, NY

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"There's nothing that compares to what it feels like to help people."

As a recent psychology graduate looking for something fulfilling to do before embarking on graduate school adventures, I found the idea of working in the Disaster Response department of the NY Red Cross through the AmeriCorps program uniquely exciting. Although from the job description, interviews, trainings and such, I had some idea of what I was in for, no words or textbook descriptions can fully relay what one can experience in this program.

AmeriCorps members working in Red Cross Disaster Response take several weeks of training with the goal of becoming a "Full Responder"—someone authorized to respond to local emergencies and provide assistance without the aid of a trainer/partner. Throughout the training, but especially in the beginning, I was a bit intimidated by what I saw as the huge, extremely important responsibility given to each responder.

I tried to focus on working the computer program that's used, the proper lingo, and other intricacies of Red Cross standard protocol. These technical/mechanical things would sometimes make me so nervous I felt as if I was back in college during finals week; they started to distract me from the bigger truth that I tell anyone who asks me: "Why are you doing this?" The answer is: "To help people."

On my first disaster response, seeing what a client goes through, I remember thinking how very real everything suddenly became. In this instance, the Red Cross was helping a young woman whose home had been destroyed in a fire. The woman lived alone in NY; her family lived in another state. I immediately felt for her; at one time I had been in this exact situation. I snapped out of it and remembered to try to not make this about me, or relate to people so personally. Studying psychology, I learned that if I were to relate to every sad instance I come across, with no healthy boundary, I would go home crying every day.

As the client surveyed her destroyed belongings, her tears, angst, and shock were not only understandable, but likely inevitable. At one point, the responder I was training with, Diane (who is one of my favorite people at the Red Cross), was explaining to the client what assistance the Red Cross could offer her. I compare the feeling I got to watching a movie you know will make you cry, yet, you watch anyway.

The responder spoke to the client with objectivity, balanced with genuine warmth, giving this young woman the strength and clarity she needed during this difficult time. The client wasn't the only person comforted; I felt grateful to witness this exchange, and comforted to see Red Cross responders humbly helping their fellow human beings. As they went down the list of things to do, I brought over some water and a couple snacks. When they were finished speaking, the young woman looked at me and said "Thank you so much. It's nice to know people actually do this."

That moment was the first of many to follow when I realized how vital it is to remember my ultimate goal in these response calls. Sure, it's important to study and know the rules and protocol to be followed. But there's nothing that compares to what it feels like to help people. I remind myself of this each time I start a response shift. I anticipate many more stories to come that reflect this truth.

–Cynthia Martinez, AmeriCorps NPRC Member