Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Red Cross … are like the family you had, but never knew about.”

Earlier this week, Rafael Cotto and his family lost their  home in the Bronx after a powerful fire spread from a nearby house.

While Rafael was in his bedroom on a late afternoon, he heard people yelling, “Get out, get out, there’s a fire!”

He looked out the window. “There were flames right in my face,” Rafael said. “I pulled the curtain back, ran to the hallway, and I yelled to the kids, ‘There’s a fire! Let’s get out of here!’”

After quickly returning to his room to retrieve a few items, Rafael walked out of the house with his daughter and son, 17 and 15. His daughter was draped in a towel; his son was in shorts and a tee shirt.

They stood on the street as firefighters started spraying the house. The source of the fire had been a house next to a grocery store. A second house succumbed as well, and Rafael’s next.

Rafael called his wife, Selene, at work, and she rushed home. The Red Cross was on the scene within 45 minutes, quickly wrapping people in warm blankets.

Selene said, “They also gave us warm drinks—tea and coffee. It was very nice. They did a very, very good job.”

The Red Cross provided the family with hotel accommodations as well.

Rafael and Selena admitted, “We didn’t know that the Red Cross responded to fires; it was our first time in this situation.”

When the couple visited Greater New York Red Cross headquarters, they were given a debit card with which to buy replacement clothes and food, along with an organized plan about what to do next after meeting with their caseworker.

“I feel better, I feel comfortable; I give my thanks to the Red Cross,” Selene said. “They are like the family you had, but never knew about.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Greater NY Red Cross Honors Sandy Anniversary through Service: Oct. 26, 2013

In advance of next week’s one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross Greater New York Region is honoring the anniversary through service. Red Cross volunteers are helping to rebuild and muck out homes and community centers, clean up parks, and teach emergency preparedness classes to hundreds of Greater New York residents.

Here’s a roundup of Red Cross Sandy anniversary activities for Sat., Oct. 26:

Teaching Chinatown Residents Emergency Preparedness
Photo: Brett Whysel

This morning, the American Red Cross teamed up with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) and University Settlement to train more than 350 Chinatown residents in emergency preparedness at the New York Chinese Community Center, 62 Mott Street.

Yim Chan, English secretary for CCBA, said many in the Chinese community are particularly vulnerable during a disaster because of their age and language barriers.

“This community was hit hard during Superstorm Sandy,” Chan said. “We have a lot of senior citizens who live here. During the storm, many of them didn’t know what to do – a lot of them were stranded in high rises with no water, electricity or communication. It’s especially important for them to have an emergency kit.”

“Preparing New Yorkers for disaster – whether a fire or a cataclysmic event like Sandy – has never been more urgent or more relevant,” said Kathryn Soman, co-chair of the Centennial Circle, a group of women leaders whose goal is to make preparedness a part of every New Yorker’s life, and an event partner. “As we mark the first-year anniversary of that devastating storm, the Centennial Circle is proud to support the efforts of the Greater New York Red Cross and delighted to partner with the CCBA at this Community Preparedness Day.”

Soman presented the preparedness information in English; Eva Wong, from University Settlement, translated the presentation into Cantonese. The Red Cross thanks its partners: the CCBA, the Visiting Nurse Service of NY, Chinatown Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community; University Settlement; and Council member Margaret Chin.

L-R: Denise Bloise, American Red Cross Greater NY Region; Eva Wong, University Settlement; Kathryn Soman, Red Cross volunteer; Zhongmin Yu, preparedness event participant; Paul Ng, CCBA president; and Stephanie Gootman, Red Cross volunteer. Photo: Brett Whysel. 

Rebuilding on Coney Island
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Red Cross partnered with Rebuilding Together NYC in its home rebuilding and revitalization activities as part of a 24-hour rebuild.

Greater New York Red Cross volunteers, including regional CEO Josh Lockwood, worked side-by-side with Jack Brand, Deutschebank Bank North America CEO; Chelsea Muller from the governor's office of NY Storm Recovery; Councilman Dominic Reccia; Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasney; Felipe Lopez of NBA Cares, members of Team Rubicon and Shaumet Builds; and other partner organizations. Scores of volunteers came out in the cold to lend a helping hand.

L to R: Chelsea Muller, NYC regional lead, NY Office of Storm Recovery; Kimberly George, executive director, Rebuilding Together NYC; Jacques Brand, CEO of North America Deutsche Bank; Rocco Brescia, homeowner; Josh Lockwood, regional CEO, American Red Cross Greater NY 

Alec Brook-Krasney, assemblyman for Coney Island, Donna M. Morrissey, director of communication, American Red Cross, Northeast Division, Felipe Lopez, NBA Cares ambassador, Councilman Dominic Recchia, Josh Lockwood, regional CEO, American Red Cross Greater NY  

Teaching Emergency Preparedness on Long Island
More than 50 people attended a free Be Red Cross Ready preparedness event at St. Anne’s Church in Brentwood, N.Y., today. Jeff O'Neill, Red Cross community recovery specialist, and Nathan Ward, Red Cross AmeriCorps volunteer, taught the class.

An additional 14 Red Cross volunteers, all of whom assisted with the Sandy relief effort, also took the training. A Spanish interpreter from St. Anne’s, Margarita Espinosa, translated the information for the Spanish speakers in attendance. On hand for the event were Deborah Kirnon, director of St. Anne’s Parish outreach; a representative from Senator Phillip Boyle’s office; and Long Island legislator Ricardo Montano. After the training, the volunteers went to Brentwood’s Ross Park to hand out Red Cross preparedness flyers.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Without the Red Cross, I don’t know where I would be.

For Bedford-Stuyvesant native Halzian Owen, one tragedy was followed by another.

Just a week after her husband passed away, a devastating act of arson destroyed her quiet building and her family-owned apartment.

Owen recalled, “I saw and smelt smoke, but I didn’t see flames. I just reached for the door handle; it was hot to the touch.”

With no other escape route available, Owen, her 2-year-old son, Derrick, and her 16-year-old niece decided to jump out of the second-story apartment’s back window. 

Firefighters arrived to put out the fire and helped Owen rescue her dogs, Brownie and Prince. Soon after, a Red Cross van arrived at the scene and a responder assisted the family.  

Owen said, “She made sure we were okay ... it was comforting.”

Red Cross also extended help to Owen’s neighbors, giving them temporary housing and emergency funds. Owen declined housing, and her family stayed with her son’s godparents; however, she accepted financial assistance from the Red Cross, which allowed her to buy food and clothing.

For Owen, experiencing an apartment fire firsthand was surreal. “I could not believe it,” she explained. “You see it on TV, but you never truly understand until you live through it.”

As for the next step, Owen plans to visit the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, as well as Crime Victim Services.

She said, “There are a lot of services available. The Red Cross gave me referrals that I wouldn’t have ever known about.”

“Without the Red Cross, I don’t know where I would be,” Owen added. “I would be lost. They were there for me and my family, and I am really thankful for that.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

Long Island Red Cross Volunteer Fall Social

See more photos.

Fifty American Red Cross volunteers from Long Island came out to Phelps Lane Park in North Babylon, N.Y. , Sept. 29 to enjoy great weather and great company at the Long Island volunteer picnic.

On an unusually warm and sunny Sunday, new volunteers had the opportunity to meet with experienced volunteers over a meal, and everyone was able to speak with John Miller, Long Island CEO, and Josh Lockwood, Greater New York regional CEO.

Meanwhile, volunteers’ children played in the park, had their hands and faces painted, and blew bubbles as well as munching down on their favorite foods. 

Miller, Lockwood and Liz Barker, Long Island emergency services director, thanked all the volunteers for their dedication and continued support of their communities and the Red Cross. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Visiting Our Colleagues at Magen David Adom in Israel

American Red Cross President & CEO Gail McGovern speaking at the launch of a First Aid smartphone app in Tel Aviv
By Josh Lockwood, Regional CEO, Greater New York Red Cross

Often, we become so immersed in our local activities as Red Crossers that we lose sight of the fact that we are part of an international movement to alleviate suffering in the face of tragedy and disaster. The Red Cross movement operates in more than 185 nations according to seven fundamental principles. 

At the end of September, I had the honor of making a short trip to Israel with American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern and other American Red Cross colleagues, to visit our colleagues at Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's official emergency service and a member of the Red Cross Movement. The purpose of the trip was to share lessons learned in preparing for, and responding to, mass casualty events such as earthquakes and terrorist attacks. The two leadership groups—from the American Red Cross and from MDA—also discussed improving ways to recruit blood donors and working with government both before and during a disaster.

MDA and the American Red Cross have a longstanding history of cooperation. This meeting was a continuation of ongoing activities. These include a recent joint earthquake preparedness exercise between MDA and the Jordanian Red Crescent Society; a global Red Cross network coordination meeting in Tel Aviv in July; and a joint deployment of American Red Cross and MDA workers to Haiti to deliver lifesaving assistance following the January 2010 earthquake.

Another first: The Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC), a partnership between the American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is building on the success of the Red Cross First Aid app by developing a first aid app with a universal approach, which will allow national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to translate and localize content. The GDPC will assist with releasing the app. 

During my time in Israel, I was humbled by the power and breadth of our shared Movement.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross has seen a wave of Sandy survivors who have “paid it forward” by volunteering for the Red Cross after receiving services. These survivors include Lou Caridad in Staten Island, who drove an Emergency Response Vehicle through both Staten Island and Long Island after his home was damaged by Sandy, and Tom and Jeanne Gargiulo, along with their son Ryan, from Babylon, N.Y., who handed out Thanksgiving meals through the Red Cross after their home was destroyed. 

So it was with particular interest that I spoke with Nachman Lavi, a 30-year-old Israeli, while I was in Jerusalem. Nachman was injured in a bus station bombing in Jerusalem several years ago that sent shards of metal into this legs. Horrified by the dozens injured all around him, Nachman wanted to help those who were injured, but did not have the skills to do so. 

Forever changed by this event, Nachman began training and volunteering with MDA; he now serves as a volunteer responder with the mission’s ambulatory service in Jerusalem.  Nachman paraphrased the Talmud when he shared with us part of his motivation for helping others, “Well,” he said, “Isn’t it, ‘He who saves a life, saves the world’?”

It is difficult to imagine a more charged environment than Jerusalem in which to deliver Red Cross services. While our Red Cross principle of neutrality can seem benign, in a city that’s home to thousands of years of strife, providing life-saving assistance can be fraught with danger.

Yet MDA has adapted. By training its responders in cultural sensitivity and by engaging all members of its community in service delivery, the MDA is able to respond within minutes to an array of incidents: traffic accidents, heart attacks and occasionally, terrorist bombings.

MDA also leverages cutting-edge technology to instantaneously activate volunteers within close proximity to an incident. Every time the equivalent of a 9-1-1 call comes in, MDA notifies the five responders located nearest to the event. Further, Israel is at risk of a major earthquake, and hearing of the American Red Cross preparations for, and operations after, major disasters, has provided tremendous learning for both societies.

The Greater New York chapter was instrumental in pressing for the recognition of Magen David Adom within the Red Cross movement amidst a fraught political environment. In 2006, we sent a delegation to Tel Aviv to raise our voices to encourage the International Federation as well as our own American Red Cross to effect change. Ultimately, due in large part to the energies and influence of the American Red Cross, MDA was recognized and became a full-fledged member of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

In meeting our colleagues at MDA, we were privileged to make new friendships with a diverse and dynamic workforce.