Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Understanding the Global Red Cross Network

Do you ever see the Red Cross mentioned in the news and wonder how it is associated with the Red Cross here in New York? Do you ever hear about the Federation or the ICRC and wonder exactly what they are? Do you ever wonder what the different emblems are and what they represent? Read below for a basic explanation of the different components of the Global Red Cross Network.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an umbrella term referring to all the national and international organizations allowed to use the Red Cross, Red Crescent and, recently, the Red Crystal emblems, and all the activities they undertake to relieve human suffering throughout the world. This network is one of the largest in the world with a presence in almost every country. It is unified and guided by seven Fundamental Principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. All Red Cross and Red Crescent activities have one central purpose: to help those who suffer without discrimination, whether it is during conflict, in response to natural or man-made disasters, or to alleviate the suffering brought on by conditions of chronic poverty.

The three arms of the global network are: the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. No part of the network governs any of the others, but all three coordinate and collaborate as part of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to provide neutral and impartial assistance to those affected by conflicts and disasters.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has the primary function of protecting and assisting the victims of war and conflict while remaining impartial and neutral. The ICRC also attempts to prevent suffering through the promotion and adoption of universal humanitarian laws and principles throughout the world. Founded in 1863, the ICRC gains its mandate primarily from the first Geneva conventions.
  • The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) coordinates international assistance efforts in response to natural and man-made disasters that are unrelated to war. The IFRC’s main mission is to improve the lives of the vulnerable by mobilizing the capable. The IFRC also strives to teach disaster preparedness, fight the spread of disease, discourage discrimination and violence, and promote humanitarian values.
  • The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are each uniquely chartered to operate within their respective countries. Each society works in cooperation with ICRC and IFRC projects as well as with the societies of other nations. The range of services provided by each society varies depending on the needs of the country, but can include disaster preparedness and relief; health and social initiatives; and aide to those locally affected by war. Each National Society also promotes humanitarian values and advocates for the vulnerable within its own country.
The Emblems
The IFRC, ICRC and all National Societies work together to protect the emblems (Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal) against misuse and abuse, as it is essential that they stand unchallenged as symbols of neutral and independent assistance at all times, and as guarantees of protection in times of conflict or emergency. Governments have accepted an obligation to prevent misuse and abuse, and in many countries the misuse or abuse of the emblems can lead to prosecution.

Read more about the emblems

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“I’ve never been treated so nicely.”

Imagine receiving a phone call informing you that all the possessions you once had were gone, literally thrown out the windows during an apartment fire. For Keisha C., this situation was far from fantasy.

With an unknown spark, a fire broke out in Keisha’s brownstone apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn while she was not home. It was only when her landlord called her that she received the tragic news. Keisha recalls, “I told him I was on my way, but he said it wasn’t even necessary for me to come because everything was gone. I still wanted to go and see for myself.”

When she arrived around 3AM, nothing was salageable. Soot coated all of her possessions and a large portion of her belongings had been tossed out the window during the fire. It wasn’t until she saw a note left by the Red Cross posted on her apartment door that she had an idea of what to do next. When the Red Cross responds to a disaster and the tenants of affected apartments are not present at the scene, the disaster response team will always post information about support offered by the Red Cross and advises a visit to our chapter in Manhattan. Keisha did not think of calling immediately and had to spend the night in her car. “I think of the Red Cross with Japan or hurricanes, I didn’t think about the Red Cross for this.”

Two days later, Keisha made the trip to our chapter in Manhattan and received the services she needed. After meeting with a case worker, Keisha received emergency housing at a local hotel, assistance with medical needs, help with necessary paperwork and guidance about her next step to get back on her feet. “I’ve never been treated so nicely.”

Keisha C. from Brooklyn

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Sense of Perspective through Volunteering

Jim Shevlin has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross since 2003, mainly providing support to our Services to the Armed Forces program. We recently chatted with Jim about his work with the Red Cross.

I understand that your son is in the military. What branch of the service is he in?

He is a Marine. His name is James E. Shevlin, and he is currently in Afghanistan. He will be there for 7 months.

Besides your son, do you have any other family members serving?

I have a nephew who graduated from West Point; another nephew who served in the Army and was stationed in Saudi Arabia; and a third nephew who is currently a doctor in the Navy serving aboard the USNS Comfort in South America.

How did you first get involved with the Red Cross?

A woman I worked with volunteered for the Red Cross. She told me a story about a mother who lost track of her son while he was deployed. The prospect of my wife being in that position was just numbing. I had been to a deployment briefing when my son got deployed, and it was chaotic and fast. I thought that I could make a difference.

What are some responsibilities you have as a volunteer?

I volunteer most of my time with Service to the Armed Forces where I go to deployment briefings, and work large military events in the city like the Veterans Day Parade and Fleet Week.

I am also involved with client services. During Hurricane Katrina, I was the volunteer partner to the director of Client Services. I performed the duties of a caseworker at the chapter and at the two venues set up by the City’s Office of Emergency Management. I also taught some of the introductory courses and Client Casework to new volunteers. I still do that.

What is a deployment briefing?

A deployment briefing is a meeting at which reservists and/or their families are given information about various issues that might affect family-life during the absence of the soldier. The information ranges from needing to give someone power of attorney to explaining the absence of a parent to small children.

What is the most challenging part of your experience?

Remaining focused on other people—remembering that I am doing it for them, and if they don’t seem appreciative, that’s okay. If I am tired and cranky in the morning because I have to get up and teach a 6 a.m. or 9 a.m. class, and it’s snowing, it’s not about me—it’s about them. I have to keep focused on the service and not on myself.

What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteer duties?

I got an award from the President of the United States once, a Red Cross pin—and I wear that pin. I received it for helping after Hurricane Katrina. One day I was riding the subway to teach a class, and I was wearing my Red Cross pin. A little old church lady grabbed my hand, squeezed it and said, “God Bless You”.

How do military personnel and their families find out about the services that are offered by the Red Cross program?

The troops get the information from the military command; the military is pretty aware of the services provided by the Red Cross. The families get the information from briefings that are done when the reserve units get called up. Those briefings are offered at places like Fort Totten or Fort Hamilton—usually on a Saturday morning. It’s there that we explain what the Red Cross can do for them.

Do families make use of the Service to the Armed Forces program?

Thankfully, most families don’t, because it is emergency communication. If the Red Cross is calling you, it is usually because there is an emergency at home that you need to be made aware of. Sometimes it’s a birth—those are the good ones. But frequently, it’s that someone was in a car accident or died—that kind of news.

What does the Red Cross represent to a service member and his family?

It represents certainty; they can be sure that important information will be transmitted. For the military command, the Red Cross serves to confirm the veracity of a family situation so that they can make decisions based on facts.

What qualities do you need to be a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer?

You have to be somewhat outgoing, flexible, prepared to work on weekends—and you have to be patient.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add about the Red Cross?

My experience with the Red Cross has done more for me than I have done for the Red Cross. I find volunteering rewarding. It helps me to focus on things better, and it gives me a sense of perspective.

Learn more about Service to the Armed Forces program

Monday, April 11, 2011

To Love, Honor and Respond to Disasters

Queens residents Jordan Humphrey and Melissa Magnotta are a husband and wife volunteer team who work together, not only as Red Cross Disaster Responders, but also as Public Affairs volunteers.  Last week, we chatted with them about the Red Cross, their Disaster Response work and what it's like volunteering with your spouse.

How did you first get involved with the Red Cross?

Jordan: We were volunteering with the organization NY Cares, but we wanted to do something that made a stronger impact and thought that helping people who are victims of disaster would be more fulfilling. Right after our interview we were asked if we wanted to do a ride-along. The day we went out was the same day as President Obama’s inauguration. It was a five-alarm fire. It was so cold and was really intense. Many people were affected and the help we provided was obviously just so vital that we just felt like we couldn’t say no to disaster response.

Can you explain the work of a Disaster Responder?

Jordan: We go out and help people on what is surely one of the worst days of their lives. We help them get through that. We give them a little glimmer of hope that things can be OK. Our job is to show up and make it a little bit easier. So every job is different but the goal is always the same—it’s to try to help somebody who really, really needs it—and people are so appreciative of that.

What is the hardest situation you’ve had to deal with?

Melissa: Each event is demanding, but the most challenging are the ones that occur in the middle of the night, when people are woken up by fires and have to run out with just what they’re wearing. Those people are just in such a state of shock that they don’t know what to do with themselves and they’re really just happy to be alive. So it’s very emotionally demanding.

Jordan: Every disaster has its own challenges. I’d say the hardest thing to do is to walk away at the end. It makes it a little easier to know there is a building full of people at the Red Cross ready to step in where you’re leaving off, but it's still hard not knowing if they will take that extra step to go down there to get all the help they need. That’s the hardest part—having faith that people will take the initiative to get all the help that’s available to them.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

Melissa: The most rewarding part is helping people, knowing that you are the go-to person for someone who might not have someplace to go if the Red Cross wasn’t there. Some people don’t have any place to go. With this particular volunteer experience you get to see your hard work pay off. You get to see that what you did helped someone.

How do you manage your volunteer work with your full-time job?

Jordan: I don’t. One of the supervisors has a great saying, “Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.”
Melissa was just saying earlier that she’s had a really rough week at work and she really needs to respond this weekend. It’s the great equalizer. What is an emergency, really? I have a 24-hour-a-day type of job and I do get work calls at responses. I don’t take them because what’s more important, someone needs a file uploaded or the family who has just lost everything. It’s hard to imagine what everything looks like until you see someone standing there in their pajamas with no shoes on and it’s 17 degrees. They had to run out with nothing, not even a subway card to get to their mother’s house. We help them, and it’s so satisfying, I can’t not do it.

: You have to think about the people who are out there who are dealing with a disaster and working a job too, and if we weren’t there to help them they would have an even more difficult time so we just make it happen. If we weren’t there they might not be able to cover a shift and I don’t want to think about letting those people down, so I just suck it up and go into work a little tired the next day. I’m a teacher, so calling in isn’t an option.

What qualities would you say are important if someone wanted to be a Disaster Responder?

Jordan: Disaster response is very challenging. I would say someone who can organize his or her thoughts and stay calm under pressure, because on-site everything is a true emergency. Sometimes there are 60 people needing someplace to stay, so where do you start? You just have to start at the beginning and you can’t panic. The other thing is being a really good ear. I don’t talk a lot on calls but I do a lot of listening because people need to express their frustration, their fears. I like to think of it as: I’m everybody’s best friend—a friend who has done this hundreds of times and knows how to help.

Melissa: A disaster responder should be someone with good communication skills and someone who can coordinate events with a calm head, because a lot of people are looking to you in difficult situations and you have to know just what to do.

How long have you guys been married?

Jordan: Five, going on six years.

Melissa: But we met in high school, so we’ve been together even longer.

What is it like responding to a disaster with your spouse?

Melissa: It’s really interesting because you get to see your spouse in a different light than you would when you’re in a home environment or even a typical work environment. I get to see him in action and see what he’s really good at, and see those special qualities that he has that make him a great responder.

: I love responding with my wife. It’s fantastic, the non-verbal communication that we have, knowing what each other needs right away with just a look. For example, when we know something is going to be pretty bad and we need more help, like if someone is crying on my shoulder, she’ll know with just a look to page disaster mental health. Or, I’ll know if she glances at me a certain way that the kids really need some extra attention and I’ll come over and keep the kids occupied while she takes care of Mom. I have a real partner who understands me.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add about the Red Cross?

Melissa: The Red Cross really is an amazing organization that does really good things. I would encourage everyone to look into volunteering. Everyone can do something, even if it isn’t disaster response, there is always a way you can put your skills to use to help.

Jordan: Being able to help and give hope at people’s greatest time of need is so powerful. You don’t know how many times I’ve said to someone, “Do you have someplace to stay tonight?” and they’ve said, “Well, yeah, I can sleep in my car,” or “I can stay on the subway tonight.” And it’s incredible to be able to say, “No, we can get you someplace if you need it.” They don’t know—and it’s so important.

Thank you to all our volunteers!

In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 10-16, 2011), I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for working tirelessly to fulfill the American Red Cross mission. This year’s theme, Celebrating People in Action, aptly describes the Metro New York Region’s volunteers. Red Cross volunteers are doers. Red Cross volunteers are people in action.

Our region has more than 11,000 volunteers from all walks of life. They come together with one common purpose—to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Considering that our region is the Nation’s largest—serving more than 13 million people—that is a tremendous task

Red Cross volunteers like you are always ready to step in and help people down the street, across the nation and around the world. Last year, you helped us bring lifesaving safety courses such as first aid, CPR, babysitting and care giving to over 300,000 people. You helped us serve veterans, members of the military, and their families. You supported our critical mission-related work through general office support.

And of course, you helped us provide food, shelter, comfort and hope to over 15,000 area residents affected by over 2,500 local disasters—from house fires to floods, and even tornados—you were there.

So, on behalf of everyone throughout our region, I send this heartfelt “Thank You!”
Warm regards,

Vikki Pryor
CEO, American Red Cross Metro NY Region