Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Typhoon Relief in Saipan - Up Close and Personal

Written by: Reed Mszar, intern

On August 2, Typhoon Soudelor made landfall in the United States territory of Saipan, located approximately 120 miles north of its sister island, Guam. No more than a week and a half later, the island of around 50,000 people faced yet another serious disaster - Tropical Storm Goni. These two dreadful storms, not only left a great deal of damage and destruction to the infrastructure on the island, but they also took an emotional toll on all of its residents. The following is a summarized account from Dawn Tritch, an American Red Cross volunteer who is currently at the front lines helping those in desperate need.

“At the American Red Cross, I volunteer for eight hours each day, from about noon to 8 p.m. or whenever the day finally ends. As one of eight mental health workers, I am responsible for the mental health and sanity of about 30 case managers, the staff that support[s] them, and a call center of 20 workers at another location 20 minutes away. I am also responsible for answering people's questions and making appointments for the case managers, and basic crowd management - diffusing angry people in line and trying to sort their squabbles out before a riot breaks out. We have had about 2,000 people showing up in lines each day, in fierce heat, with little to no shade, water, or food (the tempers are ugly). It takes very little to spark arguments and fights. The police have been assisting us fortunately or it [the crowds] would be uncontrollable, nevertheless, sometimes a mental-health approach is more calming that the brute-force of the police. So that is my role, working the line, sorting things out, getting medical help when people pass out, and listening to burn-out with the case workers (30 to 2,000 is just impossible),.

We have been told that it is a minimum of six months before we will get power (because all the island generators were destroyed, as well as most of the lines). We were able to locate a small generator, one that would have been about $450 in the states, but was over $2,000 here, so we have a bit of power each evening, but it is not much and it is expensive to run as gas is over $5 per gallon. In addition, because there is no power, there is also little to no water except when it rains. Since households are limited to five gallons of drinking water and ten gallons of non-drinking water for everything else per day (laundry, bathing, sanitation, cooking, cleaning, etc), one must drive to one of the military posts to get it - a real challenge for the many who don't have cars or other means of transportation.

Food is coming to the island, but is still limited and prices continue to rise. Internet and cell reception are very sporadic and often non-existent. There is no TV except the local station, but that is also sporadic. Gas is limited to ten gallons per household per day, and lines can be exceedingly (hours) long. A reliable gas source is much needed here. Also, ice is quite the luxury as there are only 1600 five-pound bags available on the island each day, all for 50,000 residents and businesses (which means there is usually not enough for the Red Cross). It is for this reason that each night I collect all the hand-sized towels, take them home and wash them. Then, I roll them up and put them in the freezer, still wet, so they freeze while our generator is running.  I later take them to the Red Cross and hand them out to the volunteers to stay cool. It does seem to help since there is little to no air conditioning or air circulation in the bunker [where] we are working out of. Laundry is a challenge for our little generator. So much of our clothes were muddy either from the mildew as a result of the standing water from the storm or the lack of necessary air-circulation units. Last, but not least, the mosquitos are vicious and there is no bug spray to be found anywhere on the island.”

We at the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region would like to thank Dawn and the numerous other Red Cross volunteers in Saipan and around the world for the selfless work you do helping to alleviate human suffering, even in the most dangerous environments. You all truly embody the mission of the Red Cross and we could not be more proud of all your hard work providing relief to thousands of people. If you too would like to make a difference and support our efforts, you can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Be Red Cross Ready - Hurricane and Tropical Storm Safety Guide

Written by: Reed Mszar, intern

Hurricanes are strong storms that cause life- and property- threatening hazards such as flooding, storm surge, high winds, and tornadoes. Preparation is the best protection against the dangers of a hurricane. Tropical Storm Danny is making its way through the Eastern Atlantic Basin, and with the potential for more storms to come this summer, here are a few key points that could help you prepare for the worst and clear up some common misconceptions. For more information on Tropical Storm Danny and its current path, follow the attached link: http://www.weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-danny-tropical-storm-danny-atlantic-2015. We hope this information helps and that you have a safe remainder of your summer.

Q: What is the difference between a ‘Hurricane Watch’ and a ‘Hurricane Warning’?

A: Hurricane Watch: When hurricane conditions are a threat within 48 hours. One should review emergency plans and keep informed and be ready to act if a warning is issued.
Hurricane Warning: When hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. One should complete storm preparations and leave area if directed to do so by authorities.

Q: What should I do to prepare for a hurricane or tropical storm?

A: To best prepare for a hurricane or tropical storm, one should do the following:
-Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio for information from the National Weather Service.
-Check your disaster supplies and restock as needed.
-Bring in anything that can be picked up by the wind (bicycles, lawn furniture, etc.).
-Close windows and doors. If you do not have hurricane shutters, close and board up all windows and doors with plywood.
-Turn refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting in case of power outage.
-Turn off propane tanks and unplug small appliances.
-Fill your car’s gas tank.
-Talk with members of your household and create/practice an evacuation plan.
-Learn about your community’s hurricane response plan.

Q: What supplies should I have on hand to prepare for a hurricane?

A: To ensure that you are prepared for the worst, the following items should be on hand:
-Water - at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
-Food - at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
-Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
-Extra batteries
-First aid kit
-Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (cane, contact lenses, etc.)
-Multi-purpose tools
-Personal hygiene items
-Copies of personal documents (medication list, passports, birth certificates, etc.)
-Cell phones with chargers
-Extra cash
-Emergency blanket
-Map(s) of the area
-Baby/pet supplies if applicable
-Extra set of car keys and house keys
-Extra clothing, hats, and sturdy shoes
-Rain gear
-Insect repellant and sunscreen

Q: What should I do following a hurricane?

A: The following is a list of steps one should take in order to safely return home following a hurricane and prevent future dangerous situations:
-Continue listening to a NOAA Weather Radio or the local news for updates.
-Stay alert for extended rainfall and subsequent flooding.
-If you evacuated, return home only when officials say it is safe.
-Keep away from loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the power company.
-Stay out of any building that has water around it.
-Inspect your home for damage. Take pictures of damage for insurance purposes.
-Use flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles.
-Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are positive it’s not contaminated.
-Check refrigerated food for spoilage.
-Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control.
-Use the telephone only for emergency calls.

Q: Why should I download the free Red Cross hurricane app to my mobile device?

A: The app sends location-based weather alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It also includes tips on how to assemble an emergency kit for your family in the event of a power outage or evacuation, an “I’m Safe” button to let loved ones know you are okay, and a real-time map to help you find the location of Red Cross shelters should you need to leave your home. The hurricane app also includes a toolkit with a flashlight, strobe light, and alarm. A Spanish language toggle switch is available. Download the app by visiting redcross.org/apps.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Summer with the American Red Cross

Written by: Reed Mszar, intern

Over the course of the past three months, I have had the distinct pleasure to meet many hardworking and caring people, gain valuable work experience in the nonprofit and public health sectors, learn how to effectively communicate with the masses through a wide range of media sites, and, most importantly, to make a difference in the community in which I was born and raised. Over the course of the past three months, I have had the distinct pleasure to intern with the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region.

Interning with the American Red Cross has provided me with important insight on what goes on behind the scenes everyday. Beyond drawing your blood several times per year, the Red Cross is also responsible for the following:
  • responding to thousands of disasters including floods and home fires
  • providing safety courses such as CPR, First Aid, and Lifeguard training
  • serving as the largest single supplier of blood and carrying out critical biomedical research
  • serving the brave men and women of the armed forces and their families, and
  • engaging in the world’s largest humanitarian network
1st Annual Red Cross Giving Day
My first day as an intern was certainly one to remember. It was the first annual Red Cross Giving Day- twenty-four hours devoted to seeking financial support so the Red Cross can continue to do what they do best- help those in need. I recall arriving at the Fairfax, VA office and making my way down to the Regional Disaster Coordination Center (RDCC), which, in a way, reminded me of NASA’s mission control center in Houston, TX. Instead of huge screens displaying neighboring planets and pictures of orbiting satellites hung on the walls, there were monitors mapping out the Washington Metropolitan area and diagrams of different disaster response vehicles ready to be used at a moment’s notice. I will never forget walking into the RDCC for the first time that day and seeing so many energetic and welcoming people wearing the symbolic Red Cross red. It was quite a rewarding experience taking part in this annual day of giving. This year, the American Red Cross raised over $2 million from thousands of generous donors. I feel extremely fortunate to have helped make this year’s Giving Day a successful one, working alongside a group of passionate and dedicated volunteers and staff.

I also had the chance to attend the Annual Meeting at the Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington D.C. The meeting took place in one of the most exquisite rooms I have ever seen - the Board of Governors Hall (complete with some of the largest Tiffany stained glass windows). The conference included an inspirational panel of community leaders, remarks from the regional Chief Executive Officer, Linda Mathes, and the recognition of several worthy volunteers.

Part of my responsibilities as a Marketing and Community Outreach Intern included updating and helping to facilitate the different online outlets for Red Cross-related communications. Through my work, I learned the importance of being clear and concise to reach and engage with a larger audience. Although I had a general sense of what my role would be before the summer began, I never imagined having the opportunity to write Red Cross articles covering such a range of subject matters. Being a biochemistry major on the pre-med track, I already knew that I was stepping out of my comfort zone. So in order to be the most efficient volunteer intern as I could, I gladly took initiative researching matters previously foreign to me. These articles covered subjects ranging from World Refugee Day events in the Nation’s capital to the Ready 365 Giving Program, a mid-level corporate program designed to standardize the rights and benefits for regional business seeking to deepen their relationship with the Red Cross. I am extremely confident in saying that I have learned a great deal about the American Red Cross and their altruistic work in the community through writing these articles and researching each topic in detail. I have, without a doubt in my mind, gained a deeper sense of appreciation and respect for all that they do.
Annual Meeting - Board of Governors Hall

The ability to engage with people in the community alongside a team of passionate members of the Red Cross family has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had this summer. Packing community engagement resources to be sent out to the local chapters spanning D.C., Maryland, and Virginia has given me a new perspective and appreciation for all the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Red Cross. The experience I have gained and the skills I have acquired from writing press releases, researching content for blog articles, scheduling promotions through different social media outlets, summarizing volunteer testimonials, organizing community outreach resources, and covering Red Cross events will help me considerably in my future endeavors. However, it is the connections I have made, the caring people who I have met, and the heart-wrenching stories I have heard that I will cherish the most. I look forward to continue volunteering with the Red Cross family and embodying its mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering at home and abroad.

If you would like to give back to your community, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer with the American Red Cross as outlined above. Find your local Red Cross chapter and lend a helping hand today. Everyone has the power to help save a life and make a difference.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Corporate Giving in Your Nation's Capital: An Inside Look at the American Red Cross Ready 365 Giving Program

Written by: Reed Mszar, volunteer

The American Red Cross Ready 365 Giving Program is targeted to local corporations seeking to provide financial support to the Red Cross in the $25,000 - $75,000 (mid-level) giving range. Ready 365, not only standardizes the rights and benefits for corporate donors of the Red Cross, but it also highlights two valuable principles. The first is that in order to make a significant difference in the community, a certain level of give-and-take is necessary. The giving program helps bring in financial support from local businesses for the Red Cross to use when responding to local disasters like floods and home fires and also provides the same corporations and foundations an opportunity to gain a valued relationship with the Red Cross brand and thus, enhance their reputation in the community. Depending on the company’s giving level, ranging from Bronze all the way to Platinum, they will also be recognized in front of other Red Cross supporters.

The second ideal that Ready 365 embodies is that no matter who you are or where you live, you can help your community and those in need. Prior to Ready 365, there was no consistent framework for annual corporate giving at the mid-level giving range specified above. This inevitably led to a great deal of variation in mid-level giving programs among different Red Cross chapters across the country. It is expected that not all businesses who wish to support the efforts of the American Red Cross can give to the same degree as others. Ready 365 takes this fact into consideration as the benefits of joining the program are flexible based on the market size of the region in which the company is located and the capacity at which they can give. Regardless of how big or small a corporation is, there are now clear guidelines on how they can best maximize their gifts to their local American Red Cross.

The most recent company to join Ready 365 in the National Capital Region is Host Hotels and Resorts in Bethesda, Maryland. Without companies like Host Hotels and Resorts, we at the Red Cross would not have been able to respond to over 477 local disasters and teach 54,728 people lifesaving skills in an array of classes in the past year. Ready 365 provides the American Red Cross the flexibility to apply the gifts where the need is greatest.

Companies and foundations who choose to join Ready 365 and develop a valuable relationship with the Red Cross will have the opportunity to enhance their existing reputation, deepen relationships within their community, generate donations to give back to vital markets, and have their gifts highlighted through high-traffic communication channels. A variety of specific benefits are also outlined in the local benefits matrix depending on a company’s particular giving level.

Ready 365 certainly has the potential to build stable and lasting relationships between the American Red Cross and regional business looking to make a difference in the lives of many every day.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Join us for a fun-filled afternoon during our upcoming In the Bag VI event on Friday, October 16, 2015. In the Bag is an annual charity event held to support the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region and its mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. The funds raised from the silent auction of designer handbags and luncheon support the five Red Cross services: service to the armed forces, lifesaving blood, health and safety training, disaster relief, and international services.

In the Bag is an opportunity to support the communities of the National Capital Region, especially those in extremely dire circumstances. It's a chance to meet other highly motivated, successful business women and to have fun while you're at it! In the Bag is an event that you can, quite literally, walk in feeling and looking one way, then have yourself and your business completely transformed by the time you walk out. You can socialize, have lunch, bid on high-end handbags from such designers as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Michael Kors, YSL, St John and Jimmy Choo, all while helping to give back to the community!

Our Featured donation for this year is from Nezha Alaoui, an artist, photographer, writer, international traveler, humanist, philanthropist and founder and CEO of Maison Luxury of Paris, an international lifestyle brand that includes purses, clothing, home d├ęcor; the Mayshad Women's Club and the Mayshad Foundation, which supports women and girls in the desert region of Morocco. She has graciously donated her signature purse, the BFF valued at $2,500, to In the Bag and we couldn't be more thrilled!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

World Refugee Day - Community Outreach on a Global Scale

Written by: Reed Mszar, volunteer

On June 9 in Silver Spring, MD and on June 13 in Arlington, VA a group of American Red Cross volunteers from the National Capital Region partnered with regional organizations, including the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Lutheran Social Services (LSS). Together, they took part in recognizing World Refugee Day, internationally recognized on June 20. In honor of the thousands of immigrants who have made the United States their home, a third event will be held on June 26 in Washington D.C.

It is safe to say that the World Refugee Day events were an emotional and rewarding experience, not only for the refugees in attendance, but also for the volunteers who helped facilitate the activities. One of the special opportunities provided at the Washington Suburban Resettlement Center in Silver Spring included free Skype phone calls. This allowed refugees to contact family members in their home countries. Red Cross volunteers also distributed useful information and giveaways during the events, including first aid kits. Further material was provided about the Restoring Family Links program, a Red Cross mission aimed toward helping thousands of refugees around the world locate loved ones separated by disaster or war. Contact information was collected for those who demonstrated need for or expressed interest in the program to allow a caseworker to follow up with them. Several brave refugees took advantage of an open mic opportunity that was provided to candidly speak about their past experiences including reasons for coming to America.

It is events like these that are extremely powerful in the way they bring the entire community together to help others. Rebecca Callahan, a Public Affairs Liaison for the Red Cross in the National Capital Region, touched on this issue after speaking with several of the refugees. Ms. Callahan said, “Two refugees I spoke with, one from Haiti and another from Honduras, have been here for nearly 3 years and are both finally beginning to feel like first generation Americans.” Some obstacles refugees often face include learning to call 9-1-1 in an emergency, how to pay for food and transportation and how to operate a computer – skills many Americans often take for granted.

It was remarkable to experience the range of emotions in the room, from pain to determination and hope. Ms. Callahan described her experiences at these events by saying, “It is extremely humbling speaking with people who have been in refugee camps bordering on chaos and in constant hunger, danger and excruciating pain.” Callahan, who has an extensive history helping those in need and easing the transition to citizenship for many refugees, notes that the opportunity she has had volunteering with the Red Cross has given clarity to her life. With the help of the volunteers at the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region and other relief organizations, we can ease the pain for those seeking a new and safer life. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Preparedness - Get to know us before you need us

Part 1 of a multi-part series

Written by: Erwin Stierle, Executive Director for Loudoun County

For sure, we are blessed to be in an area like ours where natural disasters aren't as prevalent as in other parts of the country.  But, it doesn't mean being prepared shouldn't be a priority for us all.  To help reduce the risk of home fires, households need to be vigilant with their preparedness.  Home fires are our nation’s largest national and local (Loudoun and Prince William) disaster threat that we face right now – more than any natural disaster.

Home fires devastate families and communities.  When a home fire hits, our local first responders ensure that the families are safe and that the threat of fire to a family's safety is removed.  The Red Cross responds to those fires to ensure the family has a resource for shelter, food, clothing and comfort.  When the fire is put out, what happens then?  It makes no difference if the family is insured or not.  When there is a home fire, there is an immediate family need that only the Red Cross can fulfill.  Whether it's medication needs; food, shelter, clothing needs; psychological needs; etc., the Red Cross stands ready to help during these times of disaster.

The preparedness effort devoted to reducing home fires includes our Home Fire Campaign, which takes Red Cross volunteers into community neighborhoods to canvass with preparedness information and to even install smoke alarms in homes where they are needed.  The nationwide goal is to reduce home fire related deaths and injuries by 25% in the next 5 years.

For our youth, preparedness education comes in the form of our Pillowcase Project, a Disney-sponsored initiative to teach students in grades 3-5 how to prepare for local disasters like home fires and to utilize their personally decorated pillowcases as their disaster bag, which is stuffed with their preparedness items as well as their favorite blanket, toy or stuffed animal.

To further prepare our community, the Red Cross offers our residents, local companies, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and community organizations the opportunity to prepare their constituents and employees with First Aid, CPR and AED training - lifesaving skills that can be used at any time in the case of emergency.  Locally, one of our Prince William Leadership Council members needed to use CPR immediately after her husband’s massive heart attack while in their home.  In the end, she saved her husband's life using the lifesaving skills training she learned from the American Red Cross.  Over the course of the last year, we trained nearly 15,000 people across Loudoun and Prince William Counties in lifesaving skills training like CPR, First Aid, Babysitter Training, Lifeguarding and Water Safety.

This is all part of your Red Cross community preparedness effort throughout Loudoun and Prince William Counties.  We’re active, we’re preparing our community, and we’re here for you to get to know us before you need us.