Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Long Island Youth Step Up during the Sandy Relief Effort

Students from Central Islip High School
When American Red Cross youth volunteers on Long Island saw how Hurricane Sandy affected their communities, they were eager to contribute to the relief effort.
After Red Cross disaster volunteers received requests for school supplies in disaster impacted areas, a request went out to Red Cross High School Clubs and other youth organizations that had expressed interest in helping neighbors affected by the storm. Would they please host a school supplies drive?  
Three groups stepped up to the plate: the Central Islip High School Red Cross Club, the W.T. Clarke High School Red Cross Club, and the Howitt Middle School National Junior Honor Society. Youth volunteers from these groups collected backpacks filled with supplies—notebooks, pens, rulers, and protractors—to help children in communities that no longer had even these basic materials.
The supplies were delivered to a Disaster Recovery Center in Mastic Beach, under the guidance of Mayor Bill Biondi. They will be distributed to school children in the Mastic Beach school district on the south shore of Long Island. 
Students from W.T.Clarke High School

“We thank these groups for coming together to help their peers during this time of need,” said Doha Ali, Red Cross Volunteer & Youth Services Associate. “The families and children the youth groups helped are truly thankful for their support.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Video: Three Months After Sandy, Red Cross Continues Relief Effort

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Patch Local Editor Matthew Hampton and videographer Eric Alexander participated in a ride-along with Red Cross volunteer workers in the Rockaways. On the three-month anniversary of the storm's landfall, the video above represents a small sample of the ongoing relief effort in the region hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy.

Source: Forest Hills, NY Patch

Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking Back at Sandy, Through the Eyes of a Child

By Sam Kille, Regional Communications Director, American Red Cross Greater New York

It’s hard to believe that it has now been three months since Superstorm Sandy slammed the northeast—even harder to believe that so many are still reeling from her.

Days ago, I started thinking about writing this; however, I wasn’t really sure what path to take. I could write about the millions of meals the American Red Cross has and continues to serve.

I could talk about the great pride I felt earlier this month when Denise Paulette, from Rockaway Beach, not only thanked us for her meals but said, “It is the Red Cross that is still here.”

And then there is the elephant in the room—the criticism that often comes following disasters—sometimes valid, more often from armchair quarterbacks.

Maybe a comparison between Sandy and the numerous other disasters I’ve witnessed as a Red Crosser for the past six years? I can tell you this, it’s much harder when it’s in your own backyard—and your backyard is the most densely populated region of the country.

The answer to my dilemma finally hit me yesterday in, of all places, a second grade classroom.

My children’s school was holding an open house. I tend to hate these types of events. I mean, c’mon, how many times do I have to look at over-glittered projects and such in the hallways and on the bulletin boards?

After entering my son’s classroom, my wife quickly engaged in conversation with other parents to which I quickly zoned out. I‘m pretty good at the faux-interest head nod. Then I found a distraction—my son’s journal.

Each day, he and his classmates start their days with a few sentences. As I thumbed through it, the thoughts and interests expressed were those to be expected from a 7-year-old boy.

Also not surprising, there was a gap from Oct. 26 through Nov. 5. Due to power outages on Long Island, the school had been closed. Even when the school reopened, many students were still in the dark at home.

My son’s first, post-Sandy entry left a lump in my throat. He had written the following (spelling errors corrected by Dad):
“During Hurricane Sandy my Dad had to help people and he had to sleep on a cot. He put the people in a shelter. There were cranes lifting trees off the homes and some people lost everything.”
Not only was I touched that he thought of me, yet he understood why the help was needed—he was thinking of others and the immediate effects of the storm.

As hard as the past few months have been, I was quickly reminded of what mattered most—all thanks to a bright-eyed 2nd grader.

Granted, the next few months will be equally challenging. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy have a long road ahead of them, as recovery is not a sprint—rather it is a marathon.

Yet at the end of each day, if I can honestly look my children in their eyes and tell them that the Red Cross is doing the best that it can, then I know we are on the right path.

Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross Sandy response.

Volunteer Spotlight: Laura Harms

Laura Harms of Jefferson City, Mo., is on her first national disaster relief deployment. The Red Cross Health Services volunteer, who has been assisting clients with replacing medical items and devices lost during Superstorm Sandy, even serves as a resource for those who simply need help with insurance.

“It’s nice to see a case through from beginning to end,” said Harms. “Hearing the voice on the other end of the phone say their needs have been taken care of is a great feeling.”

Harms understands the Red Cross mission well. When not volunteering she works as a Collections Specialist 2, LPN in the Missouri-Illinois Blood Services region of the Red Cross. She’s been a Red Cross volunteer since 2006 working with disaster services and Service to the Armed Forces.

“I know what I want to do,” Harms explained when asked why she volunteers. “Disaster Services is where I want to be.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Call Center Volunteer Saves a the Lives of a Family

Eighty-year old Red Cross volunteer, Hyacinth Charles, credits “the Man upstairs” with giving her the compassion to talk a suicidal Sandy survivor out of her plan. (American Red Cross/Carl Manning)

by Joellen Barak

It was just a small plot of land. That’s what Hyacinth Charles thought back in 1963, when she was helping get the American Red Cross in the U.S. Virgin Islands started. The fledgling chapter just needed a small plot of land for their offices. 

Hyacinth persuaded a wealthy man to donate the land, and the chapter began to build. Little did she know that this was the beginning of her lifetime involvement with the Red Cross—and that she would end up literally saving the lives of an entire family 50 years later in New York City.

Hyacinth, of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been volunteering in New York as part of the Superstorm Sandy response. She works in the client casework call center, a place residents affected by Sandy and still facing challenges can call for information that will help them as they rebuild their lives.
Hyacinth knew that the woman she was talking to seemed distraught. 

“She was crying before she even started talking,” she said. 

The woman told Hyacinth she could only think of one way to solve her problems—she was going to kill her children and then herself. There happened to be a volunteer chaplain working as a fellow call taker near Hyacinth in the call center that day. Hyacinth immediately signaled for him to help with the call. 

Before the chaplain could respond, Hyacinth continued to listen as the woman sobbed out her story. It turns out that the caller had lost both her home and her job as a result of the storm. A single mom, she was at the end of her rope. She truly felt that ending their lives was the only way to help her family.

Hyacinth tried immediately to remind the woman of reasons to be glad to be alive. 

She told her, “Honey, you’re here another day. Your children still have their mother. Only the man upstairs knows what comes next.” 

She offered to pray with the woman, and they did so. Hyacinth says she could hear the woman calming down.

As Hyacinth turned the call over to the chaplain, the woman thanked her. She told Charles to “keep up your good work.” 

The American Red Cross can save lives in a number of ways: by collecting blood, teaching CPR skills, or teaching children to swim. Or simply by having a volunteer like Hyacinth Charles in place to answer a call from a desperate storm survivor.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ellen Abate Honored at Knicks Game

On December 23, 2013, the New York  Knicks presented Red Cross volunteer Ellen Abbate with the Sweetwater Clifton Award—honoring local heroes who have made a significant difference in the lives of others.

A One Alarm Fire Puts Things into Perspective

By Ashley Chapman

At two a.m., the smell of burning electricity was so strong that it awoke Angela Rosa and her three kids in their Bronx apartment.

Rosa heard people scream, “Fire! Call 911!” so she and her children, ages 11, 15 and 17, grabbed warm clothes and a few photos off the wall, and fled. When they emerged into the cold January night, they saw that the apartment directly above theirs was in flames.

While the American Red Cross continues to manage recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy, its emergency dispatchers are also responding around-the-clock to disasters, like the one-alarm fire that destroyed Angela Rosa’s apartment.

Throughout the Greater New York region, the Red Cross responds to an average of seven disasters daily, and provides comfort, shelter and support to those affected.

Even one-alarm fires like Rosa’s make homes uninhabitable due to extensive water and smoke damage. When the fire department let Rosa back into her home the next day, she had to use an umbrella as the ceilings had collapsed.

“It was raining everywhere,” said Rosa. “Our mattresses were soaked, our clothing was ruined, and even the ceiling in the bedroom that I share with my little girl had burst.”

The Red Cross provided the affected residents with temporary emergency shelter at a local hotel and gave them essential resources like clothing and hygiene kits.

“The Red Cross is excellent at times in need,” said Rosa. “When you don’t have anything, you know you can turn to them because they understand.”

Rosa, who is a single mother with type 1 diabetes, hopes to return to her apartment as soon as possible with her family. But you won’t hear her complain about her situation. Instead she laments about the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

“They don’t even have a home to return to,” she said. “Just bricks. Imagine how those people are suffering. We are lucky to have a roof over our heads. We’re being taken care of, and staying warm.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

After Hurricane Sandy, A San Antonio Red Cross Volunteer’s Story

Firefighter Joseph Aminolfi (left) being interviewed by Steve Brown in Breezy Point, N.Y. Photo courtesy of American Red Cross.
As you approach the scene of a natural disaster, it’s nearly overwhelming. Every time.

On Coney Island, residents in the area told me that there was an elderly lady in a wheelchair who lived in a high-rise building and needed help. I walked up more than 20 floors and knocked on her door.

“Who are you?” I heard a very quiet voice say.

“I’m from the Red Cross and came all the way from Texas to help you.”

I gave her blankets and food. She sat there with a hot tray of food on her lap, and you could immediately see what a difference it made. I reported to the Red Cross nurses that she needed more help than I could give her.

As a volunteer for the American Red Cross, I flew from San Antonio to New York on Oct. 31 to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, one of more than 15,000 trained disaster workers deployed by the Red Cross in the wake of an enormous disaster.

Sandy made landfall in the United States on Oct. 29, bringing with her 80 mph winds that knocked out power, and produced heavy rainfall, flooding and a destructive storm surge. It impacted an area the size of Europe, left 125 people dead, and caused tens of billions of dollars in property damage across New York, New Jersey and other northeastern states. I was assigned to the American Red Cross in Greater New York, on 49th Street in Manhattan, where we were deployed around the region to help in the areas that were hardest hit.

Breezy Point, in the New York City borough of Queens on Rockaway Peninsula, is home to many generations of firefighters and police officers, both active duty and retired. Breezy Point sustained heavy damage from flooding, and nearly 100 homes burned to the ground.

I talked with Joseph Aminolfi, a local fireman, who said he was hesitant to be interviewed because so many people had lost so much more than he had (his basement was flooded). He said local firefighters tried to respond when the fire started, but their fire trucks had all been flooded with seawater and they couldn’t even find the fire hydrants because they were under six feet of water. They tried to fight the blaze by pumping seawater. Nearly everything that caught fire burned down to the foundation, Aminolfi said.

The firefighters and police officers whose homes were damaged or destroyed all seemed to be reluctant to talk about their own personal losses. Uncomfortable, I think, because they’re typically not the victims – they’re used to being the rescuers.

My work as a Red Cross disaster volunteer is usually in public affairs – we hear people’s stories, write them down and pass them along to the Red Cross. Our stories are used to help determine what people’s needs are and to share with media outlets. For example, we might observe a mass feeding and try to determine how well it’s working and what else is needed to make it work. We are the eyes and ears for the Red Cross. I think working in public affairs is important in order to tell the lucky ones what’s happened to the unlucky ones and vice versa. Be grateful for what you have because it could be gone in a second.

When I respond to a disaster, I know my role as a public affairs worker. But when you wear that red vest, you represent the whole of American Red Cross and that means you’ll have to commit and adapt to each situation. You can’t just play one role, you have to adapt to play them all.

In addition to my public affairs duties, I have fed people, distributed comfort kits and blankets, organized feeding sites, knocked on doors, provided psychological comfort to people, done needs assessments and made referrals. The best thing is just to be able to help people.

At Lido Beach, a working middle-class and retirement community on Long Island, Hurricane Sandy sent 10 feet of water rushing in. The place was just devastated. We heard about a senior center that was without power, and the residents were cold and had not been attended to. This was an entire week after the disaster.

We filled the car with blankets and comfort kits and hot and cold food. When we got there, we would knock on doors and people would just burst into tears. They had no power, no access to media, so they didn’t understand the scope of the disaster and why it was taking so long to get help. They thought they had been abandoned. So we listened, reassured them and promised that more help was on the way.

Many people in the region had no grasp of the enormity of the storm and its impact, and thus, why they had not yet received the attention and help they needed. People who suffer in a natural disaster don’t want to feel alone. They want to know that other people know what’s happened to them. They want help.

One elderly man in a mass shelter in Brooklyn – he had been evacuated from a nursing home – told me he wanted to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. He had been there two weeks and wasn’t getting the care he was accustomed to. He missed his room and his bed and didn’t know how long he would be there. He was fed up and just needed someone to talk to. He didn’t understand the magnitude of what had happened to the region and why everything was taking so long. Once he did, it was like a weight was lifted off of him. By the time I left, he was smiling.

In my “real life” at home, I am serving my second term as the Converse City Councilman for Place 6. Since I am retired from the Air Force, I’m able to spend most of my time as a volunteer. In addition to responding to disasters for the American Red Cross, I am active with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and speak up for abused and neglected children. I do other volunteer work, too. My philosophy is that if you’re going to complain about something, you need to be part of the solution, otherwise you’re part of the problem.

I’ve responded to five or six major disasters for the Red Cross since I became a volunteer with the San Antonio Area Chapter in 2004 – Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike, and major floods on the Mississippi River. Stephanie, my wife, understands my passion for this and the other volunteer work that I do and is very supportive. So is Converse Mayor Al Suarez, when I’ve missed a couple of City Council meetings.

In addition to the individuals deployed in response to Hurricane Sandy, the American Red Cross has provided more than nine million meals and snacks, 81,000 stays in shelters, 103,000 health and emotional support contacts, 6.7 million personal relief items such as cold-weather gear and cleaning supplies, and sent in more than 300 emergency-response vehicles. About 1,400 Red Cross workers continue to support Hurricane Sandy survivors through the relief work, which continued through Christmas and past the New Year holiday.

I left New York on Nov. 15, tired and ready to go home, but I was so glad I was able to impact people’s lives. That red vest with a cross on it is a sign of hope. Help is coming.

Steve Brown serves on the City Council in Converse, Texas (just northeast of San Antonio) for Place 6 and works with local and national disaster relief and youth outreach programs.

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of The Rivard Report