Thursday, January 30, 2014

#WhyIVolunteer: Diaster Responder Bob Cowert

Red Cross volunteer Bob Cowert, pictured above, lives in Nyack, N.Y., in Rockland County and owns a floor covering store in Congers, N.Y. He began volunteering with the Red Cross in 2005. He is currently captain of the Bronx Disaster Action Team (DAT), a team of volunteers that responds to home fires and other emergencies, providing compassionate assistance to those affected. Bob hopes the story of how and why he became a volunteer may motivate others to volunteer with the Red Cross.

Bob Cowert: Why I Volunteer

Without my knowing it, the sequence of events that culminated with my decision to become a Red Cross volunteer started with a phone call on a cold February day in 2005.

My wife, Lisa, received this call from Dr. Axtman, direct from a field hospital in Al Asad, Iraq. Dr. Axtman called to inform us that our son, a Marine Corps corporal, had collapsed while on a mission. He was very sick. The diagnosis was double pneumonia, which developed into sepsis, a very dangerous condition. The doctor explained that his condition was critical and, in a delicate, roundabout way, was preparing us for the worst.

Subsequent phone calls over the next few days informed us that Ken made it through the critical phase and would be airlifted home for recovery. I later found out from my tough-as-nails son that before going on this mission with his squad, he felt feverish and ill, but declined to say anything. He explained that they had a job to do, had trained for it, and all the members of the squad were needed for its success. A fever (it was pushing 105 when he collapsed and the field medic checked it) was no reason to stay behind.

Ken’s recovery at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, and a month at home after that, passed quickly. The final follow-up visit at Bethesda was an interesting one. The doctor explained that due to the injury to his lungs and respiratory system, she was offering to sign papers that would keep him stateside for the duration of his enlistment.

He refused. It was important to him, no, it was mandatory, that he return to his unit in Iraq. His team was there and he intended to go back. No other options. Case closed. She cleared him for duty and he was going back to war.

As a father, this was a tough one. I was so very proud of Ken and at the same time scared beyond words. He returned to Iraq, completed his tour of duty and later that year came back to us healthy and intact. Upon his return, after all the celebration had subsided, I thought about the gift I had been given. My son: alive, unharmed, home safe.

I did not know what to do; I just knew that I had to do something. I needed to give, give back, to somehow say a meaningful “thank you.” What do I have? What can I share? All I knew was that it had to be personal. Certainly not money; having three children cured me of any excess in that department. The only possibility was me, my time.

I spoke to Rose Marie Fajardo at the (former) Red Cross office in Nyack and immediately decided to volunteer and become one of the people who actually do something rather than just talk or dream about doing something.

Now, almost eight years later, with hundreds of responses on my résumé, my motives for volunteering have come full circle.

My son’s actions and safe return opened the door for me, but now I consider my continuing involvement more selfish than anything else. Let me explain: I enjoy helping people.

I feel a sense of importance and accomplishment being in a position to provide assistance to those in need.

I volunteer with the most incredible people. Like minded, down-to-earth people who share my own views about what we do. Which is, in a nutshell: On a disaster of any scale, those affected are our mission! We push our own lives aside and concentrate on assisting this person or family in their time of distress.

I drive home after a shift in New York City and am always reminded that my own life's problems are inconsequential compared to the disaster-related outcomes caused by fire, flood, negligence and so many other causes.

The above paragraph has an excess of I’s ... which is why I use the word selfish. Certainly, volunteering is not about me, but about my fellow members of the human race, those in need.

I thank the Red Cross for giving me the opportunity to work on the front lines. I will continue to—hopefully—shine a light in a person's life during a time of darkness.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Red Cross Hero Carlos Arredondo to Be Guest at State of the Union Address

Tonight, as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress, First Lady Michelle Obama will be joined in her viewing box by a number of extraordinary Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union.

Among those present will be Red Cross volunteer Carlos Arredondo, who heroically sprang into action immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing last April.

Many people are familiar with the now-iconic photo of Carlos, wearing his white cowboy hat, running alongside the injured Jeff Bauman in the aftermath of the bombing. Bauman, missing both his legs and losing blood rapidly, was caught under the bombing wreckage—until Carlos lifted him into a wheelchair and, running alongside, held the tourniquet fabric to keep it from getting caught in the wheels. Jeff will also be a guest in the First Lady’s viewing box.

In 2004, Alex, Carlos’ 20-year-old firstborn son and a Marine Lance Corporal, was killed while serving in Iraq. This tragedy spurred Carlos and his wife, Mélida, into becoming passionate voices for peace. Sadly, seven years later, Carlos’ surviving son, 24-year-old Brian Arredondo, passed away as well. Carlos and Mélida attended the Boston Marathon to support members of the National Guard who were running to honor Alex and Brian.

Carlos exemplifies the Red Cross mission of alleviating human suffering in the face of emergency. He has been a Red Cross volunteer most of his life.

Today, Carlos volunteers with the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, focusing on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program, which is close to his heart.

The Greater New York Red Cross honored Carlos last October, at its Red Tie Affair Honoring Our Heroes.

Monday, January 27, 2014


As part of a regional contest, we asked our Greater NY volunteers to tweet out why they volunteer, using the hashtag #WhyIVolunteer. Below is a spotlight of contest winner Denise Allen (with her prize), whom we chose at random, along with a selection of the entry tweets we received.
Denise Allen was born and raised in Brooklyn and works as a train conductor with the New York City Transit Authority. She started to volunteer for the Greater New York Red Cross in February 2013 and is a member of the Brooklyn Disaster Action Team (DAT), which responds to disasters throughout that borough. Denise says that having overcome difficult times in her life while feeling as if she did not have adequate support led her to join the Red Cross. "I am now able to be that person for victims of disaster to turn to for help, comfort and reassurance. The 'thank you' I receive from people we help is worth a million dollars to me."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Red Cross Helps Connect Case Managers with Recovery Resources

With a goal of helping people better recover from Superstorm Sandy, the American Red Cross is bringing together disaster case managers and representatives from recovery programs.

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, dozens of case managers from the Red Cross and other case management agencies - including Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and the Jewish Community Center - attended a presentation by representatives from the Temporary Disaster Assistance Program (TDAP). Vivian Louie and Meagan Van Harte from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development spoke about the qualification and approval process for people applying for TDAP.

TDAP is one of four NYC Build it Back (BiB) recovery programs.  Under the BiB programs, TDAP uniquely targets low-income renter households that have been directly displaced by Sandy. TDAP provides two years of rental subsidy to help stabilize households still recovering from the storm. In addition, the TDAP program offers Independent Living Planning services to help households attain long-term stability.

On Friday, Jan. 17, representatives from the Salvation Army and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) provided information about assistance available for people affected by Sandy. Pictured L-R is Kim Durow, recovery support project director, National VOAD and John Berglund, emergency disaster services director, Salvation Army.

Last fall, the Red Cross awarded a $2.5 million grant to the Salvation Army to provide direct assistance to clients for unmet recovery and housing needs. The Red Cross also awarded a grant of $500,000 to National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for support to Long Term Recovery Groups.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Red Cross Helps Bronx Couple Stay Together After Vacate

“We were in a panic.”

That’s how Maxine Scott describes how she and her companion, Jack Tucker, felt as they were being vacated from their home of two years on Tinton Avenue in the Bronx.

This occurred on a recent Sunday evening in the middle of a bitter cold snap. The building, a one-family home, had been broken up to accommodate a number of families. City inspectors deemed it unsafe; in fact said Maxine, they called it a fire trap.

Maxine and Jack, although unmarried, have been together 27 years, and were afraid they would be separated.

“I’m thinking he’ll be with men: I’ll be in a place where there’s all women,” Maxine said. “He is my family. We depend on one another. I’m his right hand. I start a sentence; Jack can finish it.”

Jack nodded in agreement.

They quickly gathered what few belongings they could carry, including one change of clothes.

Red Cross disaster responders were soon on the scene to help.

“The Red Cross showed up; the person who helped us was so polite,” Maxine said. “He explained everything, step by step. If we didn’t understand something, he broke it down.”

The Red Cross gave the couple a debit card with funds for basic needs, MetroCards and temporary housing (together) at a local hotel.

Maxine, who recently lost her job in food service and is about to begin classes in custodial management, said the Red Cross alleviated her fears.

“I’m trying to go to school, I’m trying to work. And I don’t know if I can do all this at the same time. But I feel at ease,” she said. “We’re not just going to be thrown out into the street …. the Red Cross is awesome.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

LISC Honors Red Cross for Sandy Recovery

Pictured L-R: Brad Gair, director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations; Denise Scott, executive vice president for programs, LISC; and Josh Lockwood, CEO, American Red Cross Greater New York Region.
More than a dozen organizations, including the American Red Cross, were honored at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) 12th Annual Big Apple Innovation Awards on Jan. 15, 2014. The theme for the event was "The Heart of NYC.” LISC honored groups that helped people affected by Superstorm Sandy and continue to practice community development throughout New York City.

Josh Lockwood, CEO, Red Cross Greater New York Region and Jessica Pavone, Red Cross senior director, Long Term Recovery New York State, represented the Red Cross.

“We’re proud to stand alongside such strong community partners like LISC and the other honorees who are making a difference for people affected by Sandy,” Lockwood said.

Brad Gair, director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations (HRO), accepted the Emergency Relief Community Partners Award on behalf of HRO and the following community partners: AAFE Community Development Fund, American Red Cross Greater New York Region, Astella Development Corporation, Brighton Neighborhood Association, Environmental Contractors Association, Fifth Avenue Committee, The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, MHANY Management, Inc., NHS of East Flatbush, Northfield Community LDC, Ocean Bay CDC, The Robin Hood Foundation and Zone A New York.

 For more photos, visit the Red Cross Greater New York Flickr page.

Red Cross Helps Coney Islanders Prepare for Next Disaster

The American Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters across the U.S. each year, including about 2,300 in the Greater New York Region alone, and wants people to be prepared for an emergency.

On Jan. 8, Darius Alemzadeh, Red Cross community recovery specialist, helped some Brooklyn residents prepare for disaster with a Be Red Cross Ready presentation at the Brooklyn Public Library in Coney Island. Be Red Cross Ready is a 30–45 minute free presentation that allows participants to learn about steps they can take toward preparedness, including making a plan and building an emergency kit.

If your community organization is interested in Be Red Cross Ready, please email

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Remembering Flight 1549

January 15, 2009: U.S. Airways Flight 1549, en route from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, landed on the Hudson River in sub-zero temperatures. The American Red Cross responded immediately with blankets, hot drinks, sweat suits, socks and health and mental health support for passengers and crew members who evacuated to the New York Waterways Terminal in Manhattan. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Red Cross Partner, Food Bank For New York City, Gives Sandy Update

Dominque Jones, chief program officer at Food Bank For New York City, spoke to American Red Cross case managers on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The presentation included information about how Food Bank For New York City is using funding from the Red Cross to feed vulnerable populations, particularly senior citizens, affected by Superstorm Sandy. Case managers learned how to refer people for assistance.

Last year, the Red Cross awarded a $4.48 million grant to Food Bank For New York City to support emergency feeding services for people affected by Sandy throughout the five boroughs and a $500,000 grant to support recovery services for senior citizens affected by Sandy in parts of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.

Friday, January 10, 2014

NYDIS Presents Red Cross with Partner of Year Award

Pictured L-R: Ron Drews, executive director, Lutheran Social Services and president, NYDIS Board of Directors; Josh Lockwood, CEO, Red Cross Greater New York Region; Jessica Pavone, senior director, Red Cross Long Term Recovery New York State; and Rev. Ruth Yoder Wenger, executive vice president, Mennonite Disaster Service.
On Thursday, Jan. 9, New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) held its Annual Meeting and 2013 Partnership Awards. Dozens of non-profit and faith-based organizations, including the American Red Cross, received awards. The Red Cross Greater New York Region was honored as the NYDIS Partner of the Year and also recognized for being a donor to the Superstorm Sandy Unmet Needs Roundtable.

“The Red Cross is proud to stand with such a great group of organizations that have worked tirelessly to help people affected by Sandy,” said Josh Lockwood, CEO, Red Cross Greater New York Region. “By working together, we are able to help people recover in many different ways.”

This summer, the Red Cross awarded a nearly $3 million grant to NYDIS to support long-term recovery services for people affected by Sandy. The Unmet Needs Roundtable program is an established long-term recovery resource that customizes assistance for eligible Sandy clients in need.

Founded in response to 9/11, NYDIS is a faith-based federation of more than 80 service providers and charitable organizations that collaborate to provide disaster readiness, response and recovery services to New York City.

For more photos from the event, please visit the Red Cross Greater New York Region Facebook page. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bronx Woman Turns to Red Cross After Electrical Fire

Although Imeh Cuthbertson and her husband had had problems with the power in their Bronx apartment for some time (for example, if their bedroom light was on, their kitchen light was likely to be off, and vice versa), Imeh never expected those problems to escalate into a fire.

But in mid-December, that’s exactly what happened. Imeh, who emigrated from Liberia in 2004 and works nights as a security guard in Queens, and her husband, who came to the States from Nigeria somewhat earlier, went out to an early appointment at 6 am.

When they returned a few hours later, they received a shock: Their street was filled with people and police, and their apartment had been destroyed by an electrical fire.

“I couldn’t take anything out of my house. It was all burnt," she said. "All that I sweat for, all that I worked for!” She despaired, “How am I going to start life over again?”

Imeh had heard that the Red Cross helps people after fires. Yet when the Red Cross worker on the scene first approached her, Imeh was too upset to speak with her.

“The Red Cross lady came in, and she said, ‘How you doing, ma’am?’ She walked with me; she was so sweet, she was so kind, even though I was crying. She almost burst into tears, too. She said, ‘You relax; when you’re ready you come to me.'”

After a time, Imeh calmed down. She conferred with the responder, who provided her and her husband with emergency housing at a local motel, and a debit card with funds for emergency food and clothing. Imeh later came to Greater New York Red Cross regional headquarters in Manhattan, where a caseworker helped her with next steps.

“We never know what tomorrow has for us,” Imeh said. “Anything can happen. And if anything does, I think Red Cross is the best."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Another Red Cross Volunteer to Represent Greater NY in the Philippines

Christophe Lobry-Boulanger, along-side fellow Red Cross volunteers departing for the Philippines

Christophe P. Lobry-Boulanger, advisor to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Delegation to the UN, and an eight-year Greater New York Red Cross volunteer, took off for the Philippines today for a four-week deployment to Tacloban.

Christophe will be a member of a five-person Red Cross Relief Emergency Response Unit, or ERU, and will help with the Typhoon Haiyan relief effort. He will overlap briefly with Raul Rivera Nuñez, Greater New York’s regional manager of mass care and logistics, whose has been working with the Philippine relief effort since December. We spoke with Christophe just before he left. 
Greater NY Red Cross (GNY).  You have deployed overseas many times with the Red Cross, correct?
Christophe Lobry-Boulanger (CLB).  Yes, this will be my fourth deployment. I deployed to Haiti early in 2010 after the earthquake; later that year I was in Pakistan after the massive 2010 floods. I also deployed to Kenya in 2009 after a flood in that country. 

GNY. What will your role be in the Philippines?
CLB. I will be part of a five-person team of American Red Cross workers from around the U.S. We are traveling to Washington, D.C. today [Jan. 3] and will be given our precise responsibilities in D.C. I do know I’ll be doing some work in communications. 

GNY:  Will you be working with Raul?
CLB. We’re going to be in same base camp as Raul and we’ll do a turnover of responsibilities. Raul is part of the second ERU rotation and we are the third rotation. 

GNY. Are you looking forward to this deployment?
CLB. I am proud to represent the American Red Cross and the Greater New York Red Cross. We represent an organization that helps everyone; this is for me the true representation of our saying that the Red Cross helps people “Down the street, across the country, and around the world.” 

I like that I’ll be providing assistance and support to the Filipino Red Cross as they assist their own population. They have a very strong national society. They have the wherewithal and volunteers and resilience; but in past three months they’ve had four major disasters, including an earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan. Their resources have been put to the limit and that’s where we come in.

GNY. How does your family feel about your work?
CLB. I have family in Germany and France. They support me; they are proud of me. They say I volunteer for them.  

GNY. Is there something you are especially looking forward to on this deployment?
. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Red Crossers I’ve worked with before on other overseas deployments. And most important, this is chance to go into the field again. It ties into the work that I do at the UN, which is mostly policy work. I miss being in the field and meeting the volunteers who do the work.

You can follow Christophe on Twitter, @lobryboulanger.