Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Red Cross Story: Gabrielle and Karen DeThomas

Written by: Rebecca Churchill, volunteer

People are motivated to volunteer for the Red Cross for many different reasons. In Karen DeThomas’ case, she finds comfort and purpose doing volunteer work like her daughter, Gabrielle, did when she was a freshman in high school. As a Foreign Service family, they lived all over the world, including Ethiopia and Mexico where Karen taught English to local children. The family made efforts to integrate themselves into their new communities. “We do these things, especially in difficult places, to be involved, to keep that human connection going, and to try to contribute to the big picture,” she said. The family subsequently returned stateside, and although Gabrielle was a typical teen in many respects, she was also much more mature and aware than her peers. Gabrielle sought out volunteering for the Arlington Red Cross as a phone receptionist but quickly found her stride working at the canteen as a BSYV (Blood Services Youth Volunteer). She even wrote about her passion for volunteering at the Red Cross in an English class essay where she stated, “My secret love is not some untouchable movie star or a handsome upperclassman. I love my volunteer work.”

The following year, the DeThomas family moved to Vienna, Austria in the summer of 1997. That fall, Gaby was stricken with bacterial meningitis on November 30 and died the next day. “Gaby’s short life was so important to me, she was [an] amazing young girl and our life in the Foreign Service made a great impression on her.” Karen has recently retired from the National Air and Space Museum and now volunteers as a blood donor ambassador in the Arlington and Silver Spring offices of the Red Cross. “Blood drives save lives; you can’t get around that. I am just a mom who wants to keep her daughter’s memory alive. Doing this [work] makes me feel closer to her, and I have chosen good things to honor her with, and I do it happily.” In discussing the importance of the Red Cross and volunteering, Karen said, “This should be our national conversation. A few hours a week can allow for marvelous things. You don’t have to give up something to be a volunteer. It is essential to our lives to understand, and to be relevant. Joy and sorrow can live companionably in my heart. As long as I can be around, I will be volunteering.”

You can help!
The Red Cross is facing a critical blood shortage this summer and has issued an emergency call for eligible blood and platelet donors of all blood types to roll up a sleeve now to help save lives. Blood donations are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in, and more donations are needed now to replenish the supply.

  • Click here to find a blood drive near you
  • Use the Blood Donor App, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to schedule your blood or platelet donation appointment
  • Encourage friends, family members and your social networks to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets this summer

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Heat Wave Safety

Written by: Morgan Terry, volunteer

Residents of DC, Maryland and Virginia have seen a spike in summer temperatures over the past few years from one of the greatest global problems, climate change. Heat related illnesses are extremely threatening:

  • According to the Maryland Department of Health, heat related illnesses were responsible for over 70 deaths from 1999 to 2010
  • In the summer of June 2016, the Baltimore City Health department issued a Code Red Heat Advisory for the city, as temperatures rose to 109 degrees, the highest recorded temperature the state of Maryland had ever seen
Nevertheless, disasters can be avoided with the proper precautions. That is why the American Red Cross is urging all residents to recognize the symptoms of heat related illnesses, like heat exhaustion, and offering ways to prepare for high temperatures.
STAYING INDOORS: Staying out of the sun and in a cool, shady area is the best thing to do during extremely high heat conditions. Be aware of when heat waves are approaching by listening to the news and plan to remain in an air-conditioned location until it’s safe to go back outside. If your house does not have a functioning air conditioning system, make plans to go to a place that you know does, like a mall or church, ahead of time. Indoors is the best place to be – even pools and waterparks are dangerous places to be in high heat.
IF YOU MUST BE OUTDOORS: Keep your time spent outdoors as brief as possible. Wear loose, light-colored clothing and a hat to shield your eyes and face from the sun. Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. Employ the buddy system by avoiding going anywhere on your own and limit your exertion of energy as much as possible (i.e. no sports, outdoor games, strenuous manual labor, etc.)
KEEPING OTHERS SAFE: Do not, for any reason, leave children or pets in the car – not even for less than moment. Check on your neighbors and pets frequently, as animals cannot vocalize when they are becoming heat-stricken or dehydrated. Recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses such as dizziness, moist and flushed skin, nausea, headache, weakness and exhaustion. Heat-related illnesses get progressively worse in a short amount of time if they are unrecognized and untreated.
First Aid and Pet First Aid are two helpful apps to help you and your pets stay safe during heat waves. 

Visit for more safety information.

My Red Cross Blood Donor Story: Merrick Tan

For Merrick Tan, Donating Blood is a Coast-to-Coast Endeavor and Blessing to Share

By Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

For more than 10 years, Merrick Tan, a fourth-year medical student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., has been donating blood, a coast-to-coast endeavor that started in his youth in Union City, California, and carried through to adulthood.

“As a medical student, I see firsthand how valuable blood products are, and how frequently they are required to save lives,” said Tan. “I have been blessed with the ability to make my own, healthy blood. And if it takes a few hours of my time every few months to share that blessing with others, I am more than happy.”

Tan began donating blood where his father works at as a laboratory technologist at the Stanford University blood bank.

“I remember going with my father to work as a child and being fascinated by the machines and refrigerators full of blood products,” said Tan. “So, when I was finally old enough, it was an excuse to visit my dad at work. When I moved away from home, the American Red Cross had a blood drive at my school, and I have been donating there ever since. I donate at the Charles R. Drew center in Washington, D.C., and usually when I can get some time away from the hospital. But I just found out there is weekend availability, so hopefully I will be able to donate a little more often.”

Tan says the blood donation process is easy, and you get snacks and drinks afterward.

“When you first donate blood, you are asked a series of questions about important risk factors that may make your blood unsafe to give to others,” said Tan. “Then you get a quick finger poke to determine if you have enough blood to donate—which is probably the most ‘painful’ part of the experience. If you and your blood are safe to donate, then a phlebotomist will take you to a room full of other donors, insert a small needle into your arm, and hook that up to a machine that will collect your blood. If you are there for a while, you can watch DVDs or listen to music. But usually the process isn't very long. Once you're done, you get some snacks and drinks to replenish.”

A memorable experience for Tan is the first time he convinced his cousin to donate blood.

“He gets queasy at the sight of blood, so it took me months to get him to finally agree,” said Tan. “After that, I think it is safe to say he has overcome his fear of blood.” 

When asked what Tan is most proud of by donating blood, he acknowledges that blood donations can save lives.

“When I donate blood, I think about my family and if they were to need blood one day,” said Tan. “Someone in my position can literally save their life, and so it is a privilege to be able to offer that to someone else's loved one with my blood donation.”

You can find upcoming blood drives at:

Friday, July 14, 2017

My Red Cross Story: Norma & Bill

Written by: Mallory Rabon, volunteer

How quickly an ordinary day can turn upside down. It had been like any other, and there was nothing irregular to mark the night as peculiar. Norma had fallen asleep on the couch in the den, her books lying unread beside her, and Bill was asleep in the bedroom. Being a light sleeper, Norma startled awake around 1 a.m. to an odd noise coming from outside. She moved from the den to investigate, and in her half-awake state, she could barely register what she was witnessing – flames on the back patio. Bill and Norma’s night quickly turned into a nightmare as they rushed to evacuate their home and watched their house burn from the street. As neighbors came outside to keep them company, a Red Cross volunteer named Martha arrived on the scene. She was an unexpected comfort to the devastated couple, and she brought a sense of calm to the horrible situation. Martha provided more than kindness and compassion when she brought Bill and Norma a bag full of shampoo, clothes, toiletries, and a gift card – necessities that are so-often taken for granted until they are gone.

In the days that followed, Norma and Bill struggled to move forward. They are grateful for Martha’s help, and though being displaced is difficult, they were very appreciative of the Red Cross’ assistance. Unfortunately, most of the house was destroyed, and as Norma so aptly put it, “the fire did $100,000 of damage and the water to put it out did $200,000.” The home is barely salvageable, but they were able to recover some of their belongings to be cleaned and refurbished. Thankfully, Norma and Bill had temporary housing on the same block, which was a perfect location to ensure that their “Hill’s kitty feeding station” was still in business and that their two cats could still be properly fed. Norma says that they are “encouraging one another and keeping a good profile.” She went on to say that they are not going to stay in a place of sadness, and they want to keep a joyful spirit.

Through the help of their wonderful neighbors, friends, Red Cross volunteers like Martha, and many more, they feel an overwhelming sense of support that helps them to stay positive. Though the fire was unexpected, the unanticipated aid and encouragement from the surrounding community certainly made Norma and Bill feel that they are not alone during a challenging and stressful time.

You can help by taking action to prevent home fires!



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My Red Cross Story: Mary Nelms

Written by: Rebecca Churchill, volunteer

Mary Nelms was a freshman at the College of William and Mary in 1982, experiencing life away from home to attend college. One night after she and some friends were out late, they woke up to the sound of a fire alarm, and the Resident Advisor (RA) banging on doors, demanding they get up and get out. There was a little smoke and confusion but every student made it outside and stood nearby waiting for the “all clear” that did not come. The dormitory went up in flames as a result of an electrical fire. As the firefighters began to soak the buildings, Mary began to realize that she had nothing, except for what she had on.

“It's amazing that 135 students walked out of that building and were saved, starting with the RA’s to the Fire Department evacuating us. And the Red Cross was there setting up tables in the campus center to provide support and basic necessities,” Mary said. As confused students waited to hear what to do next, Red Cross volunteers assembled at 1 a.m. to bring help and hope. “The Red Cross was there to bridge the gap,” Mary said, “I was a fire refugee. It was a disaster that I never would have anticipated, and we had the support that the Red Cross provided. Thank God.” 

Many years later, Mary still gets choked up when she talks about it. She has since integrated Red Cross preparedness into her and her family’s life. “What if there was no Red Cross? I remember they were there like it was yesterday, giving out clothes, information and food. It’s something that happened 34 years ago, but you never forget it.”


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Marion Ekokobe

Marion Ekokobe has been volunteering as a Blood Donor Ambassador multiple times every week since April 2016. In that short time, Marion has clocked in more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service, mostly between the Dr. Charles R. Drew Donor Center in Washington, DC and the Rockville Donor Center.

Fellow volunteers and donor center managers alike have recognized Marion’s dedication to her volunteer assignments. She is praised for her clean and organized workspaces as well as her “excellent customer service relationship with both staff and donors.”

Marion is from Cameroon in West Africa. In her professional life, she has worked administering kidney dialysis treatments. Currently, she is a massage therapist and esthetician and is working on her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine. Marion came to the Red Cross in order to acclimate herself more to the medical field.

“Traveling and meeting people” are Marion’s favorite aspects about volunteering as a Blood Donor Ambassador. In addition to volunteering at American Red Cross blood drives, Marion also volunteers for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Her free time is occupied with homework, watching movies, creating projects for her business and networking.

Please join us in congratulating Marion Ekokobe - Volunteer of the Month for July 2017!

You can help us save a life! Donate blood today. Visit  or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Disaster Response: Jet Crash

Written by: Melanie Benson, volunteer

As a new blogger for the Red Cross, I have shared information from our local Red Cross about preparedness for a variety of events and threats.  When you peruse the posts, you will find Red Cross tips and services for seasonal and weather safety, home fire safety and how we can best care for our pets, all alongside stories from our valuable volunteers who make these programs possible.  However, regardless of how prepared we make ourselves, accidents and emergencies still occur.

Earlier this year, a fighter jet crashed due to mechanical issues minutes after taking off from Joint Base Andrews.  Fortunately, both the pilot and the residents of the impacted neighborhood nearby remained safe.  The event caused more than 20 homes to temporarily evacuate and shut down traffic and access to the surrounding area.  While emergency responders from the local police, fire department and military base took action to ensure the community’s safety from potential threats from the wreckage and concerns about power lines, the Red Cross Disaster Response team from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties arrived on site.  

Candice Covin, a Disaster Program Manager with the Red Cross, was on her way to the chapter office when she received the call for assistance.  Within 90 minutes, Candice had assembled her team of eight responders for what would result to be a ten-hour operation.  The Red Cross offered support to the emergency responders by setting up a canteen to ensure that food and beverages were available during the long shifts.

During our interview, Candice, who formerly served in the Armed Forces herself, remarked what a unique experience it was to support the military in this capacity.  The neighborhood, especially the children, took note of the Red Cross presence on the scene as well.  This provided the opportunity for Candice and her team to offer further outreach about the Red Cross’ programs and efforts, not only in these emergency situations, but also in providing information and education in other areas of safety and preparedness. 

Learn more about how you can get involved in local volunteer opportunities

Learn more about how the Red Cross provides Disaster Relief Services