Thursday, May 26, 2011

Never too late to say "Thank You"

By Aabye-Gayle Favilla
The American Red Cross receives numerous calls from people who want to say “thank you” for the services they’ve received. One such recent call came from a man who wanted express his gratitude for assistance dating back 65 years.

During World War II, Lawrence Hoffman was recovering from injuries in Bournemouth, England. As a result of repeatedly being moved from hospital to hospital, he had not received his military salary for several months. Fortunately, someone put him in touch with a representative from the Red Cross. In addition to providing Lawrence with emergency financial assistance, the Red Cross also contacted his parents to let them know where he was and how he was doing.

Lawrence, now 85, lives in Great Neck, New York. “I hadn’t thought about it for many, many years,” he said. “Then I came across some notes I made years ago, and thought I should call the Red Cross to tell them how much I appreciated what they did for me.” Lawrence didn’t just call to say “thank you,” he also wanted to make a donation to the Red Cross in honor of the assistance he received more than six decades ago.

Through the American Red Cross’s Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, the services Lawrence received during World War II are still being made available to members of the United States military. Through SAF, the Red Cross provides military personnel and their families with emergency communication resources, financial assistance and community-based support.

Learn more about SAF.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Video: The Red Cross Responds to Bronx 4-Alarm Fire

Video Editor: Nicholas Martinez

On March 9, 2011, the Metro NY Red Cross responded to a 4-alarm fire in the Bronx and opened a reception center/shelter for the displaced residents. This video gives viewers a glance at how everyday disasters like fires affects the lives of many local residents and how the Red Cross provides help and hope to them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Kim Walker

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

"The Metro New York Red Cross is a fabulous place to be an AmeriCorps member—you are more than just a member of the AmeriCorps State program; you are also a valued part of the Red Cross team. AmeriCorps enables you to give your time to a great cause while living in NYC. My work has been very fulfilling, in part because I have a flexible schedule and the ability to choose the projects I work on.

As a member of the Staffing Team, I assist in staffing mass care (feeding and sheltering) volunteers in opening shelters and reception centers. The snowstorms just after Christmas were a particularly notable time in my AmeriCorps experience. It was chaotic and frustrating at times working remotely as a team with various technologies. However this gave us the opportunity to rework how we staff events, developing new protocols so the team could communicate more effectively and efficiently.

We spent the months after the storms researching technologies and developing a staffing handbook for current team and incoming volunteers. The end result is an improved “standing up” and “standing down” process for volunteers, a decrease in stress when staffing events and an increase in each team member’s being able to communicate readily, even when working remotely. Discovering kinks and developing solutions is the key to the AmeriCorps program. The program’s flexibility and freedom sets the foundation to 'get things done.'"

–Kim Walker, AmeriCorps State

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Monica Camacho

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

"My role at the American Red Cross is in the Mass Care department, where I identify new locations for shelters and new vendors for emergency feeding. My most memorable AmeriCorps experience so far has been running a family assistance center for the relatives of the victims of a tragic bus accident in the Bronx.

One Saturday morning in March I received a phone call from Staffing, asking me to report to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and serve as the Mass Care Lead for the day. A bus had run off the highway and killed 15 passengers; now their relatives waited at OCME to learn the fate of their loved ones.

The Red Cross provided mental health counselors, interpreters, and food and beverages for the families and for the staff of the multiple city agencies. I was in charge of food, beverages and volunteers. I jumped head-first into the chaos of the day: I liaised with city officials, set up a canteen area with food and drinks, directed various groups of volunteers, coordinated with the rest of the Mass Care department, interacted with food vendors, and cleaned up at the end of the 12-hour shift.

More importantly, I witnessed people experiencing the worst day of their lives, but I also witnessed the compassion and professionalism with which counselors, volunteers and officials treated them. It was a terrible and beautiful thing to see. Had I stayed home and gone about my day normally, I would have likely wasted time on less meaningful activities, but I got to spend my day on something that mattered, and AmeriCorps made it happen."

–Monica Camacho, AmeriCorps State

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Carmin Y. Sandoval

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them.

"I am the Red Cross Community Outreach Coordinator for the Bronx. This means I work directly with other nonprofits and government organizations to provide emergency preparedness events for adults, as well as Health & Safety programming for children. Since my position involves much direct connection with the community it is difficult to choose one experience. However, if I were to pinpoint one thing it would be the gratitude shown by the people I visit.

Many of the organizations I visit are not often offered or partake in preparedness programming because of their socio-economic status. On the flip-side, in this position I can extend the Red Cross’s programming reach and educate many people in preparedness, as well as increase community morale.

An example, I have presented the Ready New York preparedness program bilingually, in Spanish and English, in many communities. After many presentations I have had people thank me for presenting the information in their native tongue. In many of the evaluations I receive, the most frequent remark I see is thank you for “remembering us” or “concerning yourself with us.” It is the remarks of people who appreciate, if only for a short time, being showered with real attention and concern."

–Carmin Y. Sandoval, AmeriCorps State

Thursday, May 19, 2011

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Alphonse D. Ramsey II

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

"A major part of the commitment to AmeriCorps is being prepared to get involved in any challenges presented and keeping in line with the AmeriCorps motto “Getting things done.” Sometimes this means getting familiar with concepts very quickly. Most of my experience prior to AmeriCorps was in training and risk management, but a portion of my service brought me into the arena of exercise development and delivery, one I was not familiar with. In order to be effective, I took every Red Cross class offered on exercise design and evaluation. In a short time, the exercise was completed and I accomplished many of the goals that were set. Sometimes getting things done means trying something unfamiliar and being willing to learn."

–Alphonse D. Ramsey II, Americorps State

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Katherine Lorca

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

My experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA member has been really great! I started at the Metro NY Red Cross in August, and I have already learned and accomplished so much. My main function at the Red Cross is recruitment. I review volunteer applications, interview volunteers, and train volunteers and employees at different workshops. Being part of the recruitment team allowed me the opportunity to help develop the new online on-boarding model. This was a great experience, because I helped build something from scratch that has turned out to be successful so far.

One experience I can truly say embodies being an AmeriCorps member is that I have managed 25 volunteers in the past 9 months and retained them in the organization. Through engagement and recognition I have also been able to increase the number of volunteers as well as retain them in the Red Cross. My main goal coming in to the Red Cross was to build a foundation of volunteers who are dedicated and qualified to do their jobs. I feel that with the new on-boarding model I have been able to accomplish that and so much more.

–Katherine Lorca, AmeriCorps VISTA

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Other Flood

Sam Kille, our region’s Senior Director of Marketing and Public Relations, was down south last week as part of the Red Cross’s Advanced Public Affairs Team, reporting on the response to flooding along the Mississippi River. Below is a candid look at his week-long deployment.

It was on I-20 East, midway between Vicksburg and Jackson when a tear ran down my face. Now, besides my four-plus years with the American Red Cross, I spent over a decade in the Marine Corps. I’ve witnessed many sad situations but I’m not one to get emotional. Yet for some reason, this was different.

My journey began just before the Mississippi River approached near-record flood levels in Memphis, Tennessee. There, I watched hundreds of Red Cross volunteers file in and out of the relief operation headquarters. They came from places like Wisconsin, New York—even Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Like any disaster, supplies were received at warehouses and then shipped out on trucks and emergency response vehicles to shelters and aid stations.

As a member of the advanced public affairs team, I was directed to take a video crew throughout the region to document the Red Cross response. It was exciting at first—there’s always a bit of an adrenaline rush during a disaster operation. I even had the opportunity to tape a public service announcement with Lionel Hollins, the coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. The team was in the midst of the NBA playoffs—a bittersweet feeling for the team as their excitement was tempered by concern for fans and employees who were in harm’s way.

I had the opportunity to view the walls downtown that were doing all they could to hold the “Mighty” Mississippi. It was leaking and I hoped it would hold. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for every area along the river. A little less than an hour south is Tunica, Mississippi. Besides the homes that have been flooded, so to are the casinos that employ thousands.

Trying to get ahead of the river, my crew continued to make its way south into Mississippi. For some communities, it was a tale of two disasters as some were still recovering from tornadoes that destroyed property and took lives in places like Yazoo County. During an interview with teachers there, they told of the anxiety their students felt. One has to wonder how they will get through this.

I then had the opportunity to follow Red Cross volunteers into the impending flood zone. They were going door-to-door, business-to-business, trying to get the word out about Red Cross services and encouraging people to heed any evacuation orders. At one business, named Shake on the Lake, water was already lapping at the steps. The owner was doing all she could to save her possessions.

In Yazoo, I also met a 71-year-old woman who said she would ride it out. We tried to convince her otherwise but she was concerned about her daughter who was not only wheel-chair bound but unable to speak. “If she could talk, maybe …” but she was afraid to think of her being put in a corner unable to communicate her needs. I can only hope they survive.

I saw a lot of Mississippi in a short period of time, small towns like Greenville and Lambert. I saw many positive things like the Red Cross working with the NAACP in Jackson to train shelter volunteers. I’m sure the rental car agency was none too happy about the miles I racked up. My work ended in Vicksburg—a hotbed of excitement for the media. A record-level crest was expected and water was beginning to flood low-level areas downtown.

Now, I’ve been through Vicksburg before so I knew how impressive the Mississippi River looked, but this time from an overlook by the bridge, I saw just how wide the river was becoming. Yet what I wasn’t prepared for was what I saw on the outskirts of the town in a community called Kings. There was a church that was nearly surrounded by water. Two teenage girls were foolishly splashing round the water, ignoring warnings about snakes and alligators until a police officer sent them on their way.

Though the church looked safe—maybe a few prayers were being answered—the same couldn’t be said for the neighborhood next to it. Dozens of homes were flooded. Based on the mailboxes and street signs, you could see where the roads once were. Of course now, you would need a boat to get around.

At first, I only shook my head. Sure, I thought it was sad but it still seemed unreal—that is until something caught the corner of my eye. Within inches of the rising water was one of those battery-operated, ride-on toy Jeeps. My gaze began to focus on it until I started to feel the sting of fire ants which were now climbing all over me. Distracted, I rushed to the car and quickly forgot about what I had just seen.

That is until I was on I-20 that afternoon. I was headed to the airport and was looking forward to getting back home to Long Island, New York, and seeing my family. There wasn’t much to see on the ride to the airport and my thoughts soon drifted back to the week I had spent along the Mississippi River. Maybe it’s because I’m a father, but one image overshadowed them all—that little Jeep. I couldn’t help but to think of the child who probably spent countless hours driving it, imagining that it was real—as real as the home that was no longer going to be there.

It was then that I had to fight back a whole other flood—a flood of emotion. Yet what I was feeling is nothing compared to the “floodwaters” that tens of thousands will have to fight back in coming days and weeks—in some places, maybe months. And as I try to hold back my own tears, I can only hope that my experience will encourage others to lend a hand.

Monday, May 16, 2011

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Gares

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

"As an AmeriCorps member at the Metro NY Red Cross I have had the opportunity to do many things. One of the most memorable occasions was being in Times Square for New Year’s Eve. I have dreamed of spending December 31st in Times Square from the day I first learned about the ball falling from its perch to ring in the New Year. I provided support via mass care distribution (feeding) to the security personnel at the event. Not only was it the ideal location to actually see the ball drop, I was also able to help the community."

–Christine Gares, AmeriCorps NPRC

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie Stachow

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

"When you join AmeriCorps you are told that this will be the one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding years of your life. Since starting my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the Metro NY Red Cross’s Youth Services Department, I’ve worked on more than 7 major projects with our 20 High School Red Cross Clubs.

But if I had to pick one event that really stood out, it would be our annual Let It Rock Benefit, a concert for youth volunteers, planned by youth volunteers. True to the AmeriCorps axiom, I couldn’t have even begun to imagine the months of planning it took make this event a reality. Every waking moment was consumed by training club leaders to recruit performers and sell tickets, working with youth volunteers to make musical note- and guitar-shaped decorations, and last-minute text messaging about cupcake donations and how to use a sound mixer. If one person tried to pull off this event, it would be absolutely impossible. Yet the night of the concert, as I watched our youth volunteers and guests wave their glow sticks in time to the drum beats and guitar riffs, all the sleepless nights were worth it. It takes a team to make a real difference and I’m glad to be part of the AmeriCorps and American Red Cross teams."

–Stephanie Stachow, AmeriCorps VISTA

AmeriCorps Week Volunteer Spotlight: Louqueta Cort

In honor of AmeriCorps Week 2011 we asked our own AmeriCorps members what their Red Cross experience has meant to them. 

"As an AmeriCorps member working with Disaster Response I help develop manuals, assist with volunteer management and help the department further develop some of the systems already in place. In order to complete these tasks I have had the opportunity to train as a responder while working closely with the response supervisors. At a recent 5-alarm fire in the Bronx I was able to play an integral part in registering clients while helping newer responders get acquainted with how things are run during a big job. This experience embodies being an AmeriCorps member because it shows that we are willing and able to help outside of our regular service at any time"

–Louqueta Cort, AmeriCorps NPRC

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mississippi River Flooding

Sam Kille, our region’s Senior Director of Marketing and Public Relations has been down south all week as part of the Red Cross’ Advanced Public Affairs Team reporting on the our response to flooding along the Mississippi River.

Monday, May 9, 2011

North Carolina Deployment

 As the country’s attention turned to tornado-ravaged Alabama and preparations for flooding relief efforts along the Mississippi River, five NY Red Cross volunteers were concluding their deployment to Red Cross tornado relief efforts in North Carolina. One of them, AmeriCorps member Martha van Gelder, left for Smithfield, NC about a week after a violent band of storms tore through parts of that state, leaving hundreds homeless. As her stay was winding down, we talked with her about the experience.

When did you find out that you were going to deploy?
On Saturday, April 24th, I was planning to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday upstate but at 9:30 that morning I got the call that I was being deployed as a caseworker. I left the next morning.

When did the storms hit that area?
The 16th of April, so we were actually there pretty late into it. This is normal for caseworkers. When you have a big disaster, the first people to come in are the sheltering and damage assessment people. You can’t really do casework until after you understand what kind of damage people have suffered.

What was your role exactly?
I was deployed as a caseworker. I traveled with mental health workers and nurses to clients’ homes to discuss the disaster-related needs. As a caseworker, I was often able to pass on emergency financial assistance as well as referrals to local organizations. My partners were able to offer services which ranged from a voucher for new eyeglasses to mental health counseling.

What kind of damage did you see?
You’d have houses that were nothing but rubble, and right next door there would be a house that only had a couple of shingles missing. It was pretty un-nerving to go down a peaceful-looking neighborhood, turn a corner, and see a block of complete destruction.

How would you describe the general mood of the people you helped?
This was several days after the disaster, not immediately following the storm, so people were trying to move on. Some people were confused about why it had happened to them and not the person next door.

A couple days after I arrived, there was a pretty bad storm approaching, and a tornado watch was in effect. After seeing all these houses that were completely destroyed, it didn’t make me feel good when people said to just hide in the bathroom—because there were all these places where everything including the bathroom was gone. Then the watch became a warning, which means you should find shelter right away. I didn’t think it would be frightening, but after seeing destruction day after day and talking hearing people’s stories, it was a little scary.

Yet I can’t imagine what it must have been like for our clients who had just gone through the disaster. So to answer your question about the mood, I think that people were trying to move on but were still traumatized.

What do you think you will take away from the experience?
It was really interesting to see how a large-scale disaster relief operation is organized. Here in New York, the largest scale disasters I’ve been to are five-alarm fires. They’ve seemed pretty big, but they don’t require the same extent of coordination between functions. In North Carolina, we were working with damage assessment, shelter workers, health services and staffing, all at the same time.

Also, as part of my team included a mental health worker, we took the time to discuss the emotional impacts of the disaster with every client. We listened to their stories and discussed recovery plans. Many showed real resiliency and hope in moving forward, and I’m glad we got to represent the Red Cross as part of that process.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

“I think that Red Cross will always be in my life.”

For years, Jessica Powers, better known as Jess, has been feeding people. She has worked as a chef, an event caterer and managed an emergency feeding program. Until last year, she was a Red Cross employee; now she is a volunteer. She currently works for WhyHunger, a non-profit organization committed to ending hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. At WhyHunger, she is Director of the National Hunger Clearinghouse, which supports the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3HUNGRY) and emergency food providers.

As a Red Cross mass care volunteer, Jess continues to meet the needs of those who are hungry. On April 29, she was deployed to Rainsville, Alabama (a small rural town northeast of Birmingham) to assist with the Red Cross tornado relief efforts. A group of volunteers from Red Cross partner organization the Southern Baptist Convention cooks the meals, and Jess, as Kitchen Site Manager, oversees and coordinates the delivery of those meals by Red Cross volunteers. “The capacity of our kitchen is 20,000 meals a day,” she said. “Right now, we’re serving about 2,500 people two meals a day—lunch and dinner.”

Feeding that many people in a tornado-ravaged rural area isn’t easy. Some of the drivers on Jess’s team must travel for over an hour to reach people. “It’s a logistical challenge,” she said. “We’re working with local fire departments and sheriff's departments who know the community. Some people will go to the sheriff’s department to pick up their meals—so we’ll park our Emergency Response Vehicle there or we’ll drop meals off there and church volunteers will drive the food even further out.”

In addition to seeing that the hungry are fed, Jess also has to look after her team. Given the long hours volunteers sometimes must work, part of Jess’s job involves making sure that everyone is getting a break when they need it. “There is the potential to develop secondary trauma on this job,” she said. “I’m kind of isolated, so I’ve only seen a minimal amount of the destruction caused by the tornado, but what I did see was really shocking—for example, an entire diner that was shredded.” Some of the other members of Jess’s team see this level of destruction routinely, so she tries to monitor their stress levels.

Despite the challenges she faces, Jess is often encouraged by her work with the Red Cross. “My favorite part is witnessing the resiliency of people,” she said. “It’s very moving to see people come together and help each other.” Jess recalls meeting an elementary school teacher who saw the building she had worked in for more than 20 years destroyed by a tornado. The teacher is devastated and not sure she’ll ever be able to go back to that school, but she’s also one of the volunteers coming in every day to sort clothing donations for people in need.

Jess is also inspired by the diversity and commitment of the Red Cross volunteers. She sees senior citizens working 15-hour days, driving the food delivery vehicles, and lifting heavy objects. Younger men from the community come in with chainsaws and ask if they can help clear debris. And high school kids regularly help with tasks like folding and organizing clothes.

Jess sees the value of volunteering reflected in the faces of those she’s helping. “They are always grateful,” she said. “Some are stressed out. Some are sad. A couple people come and burst into tears. It’s part of the recovery process.” And so she remains committed to volunteering. “I think that Red Cross will always be in my life,” said Jess. “I feel very strongly about the mission and the work.”

Jessica Powers, Brooklyn, NY