Thursday, May 5, 2016

Red Cross Salutes Teachers: Elaine Biller

It's National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when everyone should stop to thank our educators for all they do to build strong communities. The American Red Cross in Greater New York is proud to count many wonderful teachers among our dedicated volunteers. This week, we want to spotlight their amazing commitment, compassion and talent. 

Elaine Biller
Elaine received the 2016 Community Preparedness Award. 
Elaine began her teaching career with the Red Cross, as a 16 year old Red Cross trained lifeguard and swim instructor. She then taught swimming at a residential camp for developmentally disabled children and adults. What started as a summer job, led to an amazing and richly rewarding career that continues over 30 years later. Elaine says, “Thank Goodness I look and feel younger than I am!”

Q: What inspired you to be a teacher?
A: Being a teacher is a calling. I cannot imagine doing anything but teaching. It is very rewarding to be so connected to children. As a High School teacher for Sciences and Special Education, I am involved in helping all children achieve their potential. Many of my students could not graduate without intervention so helping a student earn a diploma and enter either a college or go on to a career is a privilege. 

Q: If you wanted to share one thing about teaching with us what would it be?
A: Teachers change lives – that is a fact that can be undervalued in our country. If you are reading this, thank a teacher. Like all professions, some excel more than others, some teachers will teach better than others, but it is an honorable profession that makes lasting differences in the lives of others.

Q: What made you decide to volunteer with the Red Cross?
A: I wrote a blog post about what made me decide to join the Red Cross. The Red Cross has always been in my life. I learned to swim with the Red Cross, became a water safety instructor through the Red Cross, [I] started my career because of these certifications. When September 11 happened, I went to Ground Zero. I basically grew up in Tower 2 [at the World Trade Center] as my father worked there. I was drawn to a non-Red Cross citizen Bulk Distribution site on the West Side Highway. At the time I was a marathon runner. When the police needed batteries up at Ground Zero, the site had them but no way to bring them to the forefront as officers could not leave their posts. I volunteered to run them up. I did this several times. Through the devastation I could not comprehend what happened to the towers. The only stand out for me, the only sign of something I could recognize as familiar and comforting on scene was the Red Cross on the trucks, which I later learned to be ERV’s (Emergency Response Vehicles). It was then I made the decision to volunteer. I did not formally volunteer until my children were older (they were learning to swim with the Red Cross), but the seed had been planted that day.

Q: Which Red Cross service activities do you participate in?
A: LOL, this is the Red Cross... as a volunteer you learn to say YES! We are here for the commitment so when asked, you do it. If you don't know how, you learn it! You join, and participate in as many events, trainings, and meetings as you can. I currently serve as the Long Island Lead for Citizen Preparedness, Disaster Instructor, Disaster Action Team, Shelter Manager, Disaster Assessment Team, Local Mass Care Disaster Operations Center, ERV Team/Driver/Instructor, Logistics, Bulk Distribution, Public Affairs, Media Relations, and have been seen emptying a garbage can or two!

Q: What characteristics do you think a teacher and a Red Cross volunteer have in common?
A: I love this question! I was working as a Bulk Distribution Manger in Mastic Beach during Super Storm Sandy. A representative from the Governor’s office was on site for a hand-off a tractor trailer of supplies from Albany to the Red Cross for distribution. The National Guard was on scene, 100+ volunteers and clients, mental health professionals, the media... it was like a little city! In it, everyone was working in small groups, on different projects, handling different tasks. I was directing the National Guardsman where to offload supplies, keeping groups working, client services meeting the needs of clients, when the Governor’s Appointee asked me, “What do you do for a living?” The National Guardsman laughed and said, “I can tell you... she’s a teacher! No one but the military or a teacher can get people this organized and moving!” To this day, that makes me laugh!

Being a teacher requires you to think quickly, find the strengths in others, help people work cooperatively and in an organized manner. It asks you to be patient and empathetic, and to multi-task! You have to be able to communicate your needs, follow objectives and work toward a goal. Being a teacher helps to reflect on whether or not you are being productive, if everyone on your team understands the goal we are working toward, and how to make quick changes if we are not. You have to be able to speak with others, listen and laugh! Most importantly, you have to want to help others. 

To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Red Cross visit 

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