Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Volunteer Profile - Bahman Naraghi

Written by: Kelly Norman, volunteer

One of the great things about the American Red Cross is that it is an organization whose mission touches every state and there are volunteers all across the country. One of the local Red Cross volunteers, Bahman Naraghi, originally began volunteering with the Red Cross in Columbus, Ohio in 2012.  He was interested in humanitarian efforts and disaster relief and knew the Red Cross would be a great way to get involved.

When he moved to DC to pursue a new job, he did not let that interrupt his volunteering. Now as a volunteer in the National Capital region in Montgomery County, Bahman does a variety of things: provides disaster relief services as a member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), helps at the warehouse, and assists with large-scale DC events like the Fourth of July.

“Working with the Red Cross has given me the ability to do many interesting things, like driving a forklift. It’s exciting to try out new things,” explained Bahman.  He also shared how much he values the friendships he has made with other volunteers.

Bahman shared a recent story of how he responded to a fire with the Red Cross DAT on one of the coldest days of winter. The residents’ furnace had malfunctioned and the fire was thankfully put quickly out. Bahman made sure the displaced residents had blankets, food, and a temporary shelter.

Bahman works full time as a Program Officer at FHI 360, an international development agency, and volunteers on the weekend. I think it speaks volumes of Bahman’s character that he spends his free weekends giving back to his community.  Thank you Bahman for all that you do!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Everyday Heroes – March is Red Cross Month

Written by: Susan Kumah, volunteer

To many, the term ‘volunteer' means performing a service voluntarily. Contrary to the popular consensus, a Red Cross volunteer is not – and cannot be – defined according to his or her mainstream counterpart: Red Cross volunteers are especially distinct. Here, volunteering is not a singular service but instead numerous selfless acts that multiply tenfold. These acts of charitable commitments have inspired what we have come to know as Red Cross Month.

Officially proclaimed 'Red Cross Month' in 1943 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, March is a month that formally celebrates volunteers and their service, and rightfully so. With volunteers making up more than 95% of the American Red Cross work force, the organization by its very structural makeup is a network of givers. Few know the contributions of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This month, the American Red Cross celebrates each emergency worker, praises all blood donors, salutes every financial supporter and more. Whether it is on a one-to-one basis or in a group, physical and financial needs are being met everyday by a diverse group of volunteers or – as we like to call them- everyday heroes.

Everyday heroes appropriately deserve everyday praise. Describing volunteer contributions almost attracts a library of clichés: volunteers are 'changing futures' and 'saving lives'. The temptation of heaping cliché upon cliché should often be resisted, let's face it, clichés are thoughtlessly overused. But if ten minutes of a student's lunch break can add decades unto a cancer patients life through a blood donation- call it what you may: clichés, truisms or trite phrases – it really doesn't matter; these acts are quite simply, life-changing. Even though many volunteers will never know the entirety of their self-sacrifice, Red Cross will spotlight their many tremendous efforts this month.

“During the darkness of storm, we see what is brightest in America -- the drive to shield our neighbors from danger, to roll up our sleeves in times of crisis, to respond as one Nation and leave no one behind.” In his 2015 proclamation of Red Cross Month, President Barack Obama notes the essence of Red Cross volunteerism: simplicity. The simple gesture of rolling up ones sleeves and shielding ones neighbor declares the simplicity of heroic action unique to Red Cross volunteers. In addition to this simplicity, Obama's statement rightfully addresses the ethos that the American Red Cross is founded upon: solidarity and a commitment to the national community.

To put it simply, everyday heroes abandon their needs and seek out the needs of others. They often contribute in the background while attention is given to the nature of disasters, its survivors, and wreckage. Well this month, we all return our gratitude to Red Cross volunteers. This month we ask you to remember our heroes' place within the action. More so, let us respect their namesake; remembering their efforts not only this month but also everyday.

Volunteer Profile - Mary Bochanis

90 Years Young Walter Reed Volunteer

Written by: Megan Sanko, volunteer

Long-time American Red Cross volunteer Mary Bochanis is an avid supporter of the work at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where she began volunteering during World War II. She still considers it to be a world-class hospital.  It was at old Walter Reed Hospital where she met her husband of over 60 years, then a soldier and amputee.  Bochanis feels her marriage offered her the ability to connect with both injured patients and their spouses on a personal level.  She visits with them during her Comfort Cart rounds each week, distributing toiletries and snacks and having conversations along the way.  The prosthesis technology available to amputees today continues to amaze Bochanis.  Her outgoing and friendly nature is also an asset at the Children’s Inn at NIH, where she has volunteered for 25 years using her bilingual skills to interpret for Greek patients.  At 90 years of age, Bochanis is thrilled to be able to volunteer at both locations and credits her interactions with patients and their families as her motivation to continue.  She is grateful for the opportunity to give back, a feeling that is likely mutual for the many individuals to whom she has offered her kind support.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Endless Opportunities

March is Red Cross Month

Written by: Grace Ly, volunteer
Grace Ly serving the Red Cross in Iraq

It was July 2007 and I was in Pamplona, Spain. We hadn’t planned on running with the bulls; in fact I had purchased a very expensive spot on a balcony where we could watch the running of the bulls at a safe elevation. However, this was our last day, so we easily convinced ourselves by asking "When will we ever get another chance to run with the bulls?” Well, the answer to that question was quite obviously ‘never,’ and with that we took our places amongst a crowd of others who had also decided to partake in the infamous running of the bulls. I had to take a minute and think back on how exactly I ended up on a cobblestone street in Pamplona, spurred on by the threat of a 1,700 pound bull.

I always knew I wanted to see the world; I just had no idea how to make that happen. After graduating from college my best friend called me excitedly, “Hey Grace, I decided to do some volunteer work with the American Red Cross and guess what I found? They have a division called ‘Services to the Armed Forces’ where you get to work with the military. You need to check it out.” So I did. I couldn’t believe it, it literally was my dream job. I had been that little girl in 5th grade sending care packages to service members in Iraq. I was the one rallying all my classmates to send letters to our soldiers. Now, here was my chance to actually serve our military. I sent in my application immediately. I was rejected. I didn’t have any relevant work experience. Of course I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop me. I began volunteering at my local Red Cross chapter and I applied for an administrative assistant job at the Red Cross to get my foot in the door. I was hired. Six months later I applied to switch divisions and was finally accepted into the Services to the Armed Forces.

This job with the Red Cross was going to let me accomplish my goal of seeing the world. I would be stationed on military bases around the globe providing Red Cross services to our military. I was so excited to get the acceptance call that I could barely contain myself. I remember my parents driving home and me blasting out the front door, exploding across the yard to tell them the good news. My first assignment? Camp Lejeune, NC. I had to laugh at the irony. I thought I was going to see the world; turns out I wasn’t even leaving my home state. I was just driving 5 hours up the road. But I loved Camp Lejeune. It is one of the nicest military bases I have ever been to, and I started gaining experience very quickly. Each week I briefed 400 Marines, organizing fundraisers and directing volunteer events. I was at Camp Lejeune for 7 months before being told I was transferring to South Korea.

I didn’t even know where South Korea was on a map. The plane that took me to South Korea was the biggest plane I had ever seen in my entire life. Fifteen hours later I was on the other side of the world. I spent the entire year of 2005 in South Korea, and it was the best year of my life. I had so much fun I didn’t want to leave. In fact I asked if I could extend. Professionally I was growing; personally I was having the time of my life. I took advantage of my home base in South Korea and traveled to Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. I even took a weekend trip into North Korea and hiked the Diamond Mountains.

I was told I couldn’t extend in Korea, they needed me in Iraq where I would receive care packages to distribute to the soldiers. Working in Iraq was a very gratifying experience. It was hard work with little rest, but being there, being on the ground gave me a real sense of purpose, real meaning. These service members needed the American Red Cross and we were there for them.

After my deployment to Iraq I was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany for over a year. Germany was amazing and of course I took advantage of living in Europe. I traveled all over; England, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, Czech Republic to name a few. I went dogsledding in Finland for a week. I partied at Carnival in Italy. I grew professionally and personally.

I spent almost 5 years working for the American Red Cross before I decided to return to the United States. I moved to Washington, DC and decided the only place I wanted to work was at The White House. I sent in an application. Thanks to the volunteer management work I had done at the Red Cross I was hired. My position was to travel around the United States and present individuals with the “President’s Volunteer Service Award.” All of those briefings I had done throughout my career at the Red Cross prepared me for this position.

The Bush administration ended and we were required to find our next opportunity. I found mine at the Central Intelligence Agency. I guess all of my travels abroad made me an appealing candidate. I know that my experience working for the American Red Cross is what led me to where I am today. Working for the Red Cross was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It allowed me to fulfill a dream. I traveled the world. I explored 30 countries. I lived abroad for 3 years. I hiked mountains in North Korea, rode a camel in the Gobi Desert, crawled through the Chu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, experienced Oktoberfest, rode elephants in Thailand, and explored castles in Germany. I did all of this while gaining professional experience and saving financially. The Red Cross really allowed me to create a solid foundation on which to build a successful and unique career and a wonderful life.

I urge you to explore the opportunities at the American Red Cross and to get involved. You never know what doors will open, what opportunities lay ahead, where your involvement will lead you. The Red Cross allowed me to fulfill a dream. It may allow you to fulfill one of yours. Maybe one day you will find yourself delivering a Red Cross message to a soldier, or wrapping a blanket around a flood victim, or donating blood or teaching a first aid class. And maybe one day, you too will find yourself on the cobblestone streets of Pamplona Spain running with the bulls.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Disasters Never Take Holidays- Manassas Building Collapse

Disasters Never Take Holidays

Manassas Building Collapse

Written by: Sara Cook, volunteer

On Valentine's Day this year, many couples in the area stayed in for the night due to high winds and a snow squall.  For those living on Battle Street in Manassass VA, it was not the quiet night a couple expects when they choose to stay in for the holiday.

A portion of a building collapsed due to the extremely high winds. Residents heard a loud rumbling they thought was either a nearby train or thunder. Shortly after, fire trucks arrived to help evacuate residents of six nearby apartments.

The next day residents returned to gather belongings and make plans for recovery. The Fire Department assessed damages and the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) was called to help the residents manage their displacement. Five DAT volunteers setup in the command center the Emergency Responders had arranged. DAT also brought in an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) to help serve lunches and drinks to all of the responders and residents.

In total, 9 people were displaced from 6 apartments. DAT maintains the privacy of our clients, speaking with each household individually. As each case was addressed, clients were supplied with Comfort Kits as their need for lodging and financial supplement was evaluated and supplied.

Soon, all of the clients were making their way to stay with family or to a hotel provided by The Red Cross. As the crowd thinned out, the DAT team made sure the emergency responders were also taken care of since most of them had been on the scene for their entire shift. Before departing, the Red Cross cleaned up and left enough supplies to last the remainder of the day.

We're always looking for great volunteers willing to be on-call a few days a month to join DAT. To join, get started at RedCross.org/Volunteer. Or browse other ways to help support those affected by everyday disasters at redcross.org/support

See more of Sara Cook’s photos.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Volunteer Profile - Tucker Allard

Youth Team Adviser Volunteer

Written by: Tucker Allard, volunteer

About a year and a half ago I realized that I wanted to make a difference in my community. I explored different organizations but always found myself drawn to the American Red Cross. In college, I saw numerous blood drives held every year and met friendly and informative Red Cross volunteers. These are just two reasons why I am interested in this organization and its mission.

I joined the Red Cross as a Montgomery County Youth Team Adviser, and so far my experience in this position has been everything I could have hoped for and more! For those unfamiliar with what Youth Team Advisers do, let me explain. Together with the other advisers, I lead a small Red Cross team in Montgomery County that consists of teenagers ranging anywhere from middle to high school. We meet a few times each month to discuss how we can spread awareness about Red Cross related issues. We also help those affected by recent disasters and reflect on past events. One of our most recent group activities involved making holiday cards for heroes who are fighting overseas and may not get to see their families during the holidays. The advisers and I assist the youth members with almost anything they may need. If the youth need supplies or have questions, then we serve as the intermediary to retrieve what it is they need. If they have any problems, they come to us for a solution. Advisers serve the team to guide meetings and supply ideas for activities based on the theme for the month.

My time with the Red Cross has been very rewarding thanks to all the amazing and generous people I have met through this organization. I enjoy working with the members in my group and the other advisers. I know we are making a real difference, not only in the lives of those who are a part of the group, but also with the other people in our community.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Through the Eyes of DAT: Disaster Action Team

Dale City Apartment Fire, February 9, 2015

Written by: Sara Cook, Red Cross DAT Volunteer

At 10:25pm the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region Disaster Action Team (DAT) responded to an apartment fire on Boxwood Drive in Dale City, VA.

The first task for the five DAT Responders, as always, is to touch base with the Fire Department. Afterwards they reached out to four families, a total of 15 people scattered around the immediate area waiting in their cars to keep warm in the frigid and rainy night. DAT immediately offered blankets and tried to secure a warm meeting area to begin the process of getting them all a place to settle in for the night. DAT also provided Comfort Kits to all of the victims of the fire, which include a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, tissues, soap, and other daily essentials.

It was a very long and cold night for all of the responders and residents. When the Building Inspector finished his review of the building, he allowed the unaffected residents to remain in their homes. Two other families were provided with a local hotel room for 3 nights. All of the effected individuals were provided with emergency funds for food and immediate clothing needs.

With all of the residents’ immediate needs met, DAT departed the scene at 1:30am. The next day, a follow-up team met with the family that was unable to have a household representative present at the time of the fire, which gave the DAT team an opportunity to see one of the other families from the night before. It isn’t often that DAT Responders get a chance to see their clients a second time. They had three generations of boys at the apartment working together to retrieve the contents of the house and take them to storage. They were all in very good spirits saying, “We’re just blessed that no one was hurt.” After catching up on recovery plans and talking about what to do with soaked mattresses (throw them out, they don’t dry), DAT left them to get reorganized and move on from the fire.

Every 8 minutes, the American Red Cross responds to a home fire or other emergency. You don't have to be a DAT team member to help home fire victims in your community. #GiveWhatFireTakes to install smoke detectors, provide clothes, or financial assistance.

See more of Sara Cook’s photos.