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.

After a house fire, rebuilding memories -- one T-shirt at a time

Written by Adrienne Mitchell, volunteer

On Tuesday, May 14, Deborah Strom was making dinner at her home in in Manassas, Virginia.

She was just about to call sons Eric, 15, and Ryan, 14, down to dinner when the smoke detector went off. There was a fire on the second floor.

Deborah called 911. Her husband, Ross, grabbed a garden hose and tried unsuccessfully to put out the flames.

Minutes later, they were standing in the driveway, watching as firefighters rolled out their hoses. One fell on his back as he ran backwards, battling to save their home.

They watched through the window, hearts breaking, as Eric’s pet -- a bearded dragon lizard -- died, trapped in its glass tank.

“The smoke was billowing everywhere,” says Deborah. After a while, “I had to step behind the fire trucks so I couldn’t watch,” she adds. 

By the time the flames were extinguished, Eric’s room was destroyed, and there was smoke and water damage throughout the second floor.

It’s a scene that’s repeated all too often. Every eight minutes in America, the Red Cross responds to a house fire.

Two Red Cross volunteers arrived at around nine o’clock that evening, about three hours after the fire broke out.

It was getting dark. A neighbor offered to let the Stroms meet with the volunteers in their home across the street.

They wouldn’t be able to spend the night in their own home, so the volunteers delivered toiletry bags and blankets, and asked if they needed help finding a place to stay.

They also talked about some things Deborah says she might not have thought of, like putting cable service on hold and arranging for the school bus to pick the kids up from a hotel.

It will be months before the Stroms are able to sleep in their own beds again. Now living in a hotel, they await the results of the fire investigation, and take stock of their losses.

One of the most precious things the fire took was Eric’s collection of old T-shirts. While not valuable financially, they’re irreplaceable because of the memories they hold.

A military family, the Stroms have moved three times in the past decade. The collection included one shirt from each of the schools Eric has attended and several more, a few dozen in all.

Deborah intended to make a memory quilt with them as she had done for her older son, Andrew. “It’s nice to have a large stack of them to pick out colors and designs,” she says.

She’s working on replacing them; some of the schools are sending new ones. And she’ll have one more to add to the collection -- a Red Cross T-shirt is on its way to the family.

It will join the replacement shirts in Eric’s quilt. It will be “kind of cool to put it in the quilt when I make it,” says Deborah. “It represents the T-shirts we lost,” she says.

As she works to move on from her loss, Deborah has this advice for people who may know someone affected by a house fire. “Everyone keeps asking what we need. But, living in a hotel, we don’t want a lot of stuff,” she says.

She suggests gift cards. They don’t take up a lot of space, and the family can use them to buy what they need.

Another welcome gift: an invitation to dinner, or a home-cooked meal like the one that one of her employees brought in to work for her. After weeks of eating in restaurants, Deborah says her family would really enjoy some home cooking.

“A year from now, she says, we’re all going to be fine, but the next few months are going to be difficult.” Until then, she says, she’s learning to accept help from people, and “take things one day at a time.”

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Red Cross Volunteer Alex Prog is “Here to Serve”

Twenty-five years young and full of incredible energy, Alex Prog, is on his first deployment as a Red Cross Volunteer. When the call came to assist people in Houston, Texas, whose homes have been destroyed by floodwaters from the torrential, record-breaking, spring storms, Alex did not hesitate. He stepped forward, took two weeks off from his job, and signed on as a driver of a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).
Alex is so excited about the opportunity to help he literally bounces as he interacts with fellow volunteers and goes about his job. “I’m here to serve…being here gives me a sense of purpose…It feels like I’m doing something with my life,” he enthused. 
On this day Alex, along with his partner, Red Cross Volunteer Chris Schuler from Nashville, Tennessee, were cruising the streets of the Willow Meadows and Willow Bend areas of Houston in a Red Cross ERV, distributing water, food, and snacks to people busy carting cherished possessions, now saturated by waters filled with a toxic brew of chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and who knows what else, from their homes. “We will be back with a meal for dinner” and “what else do you need?” were their constant refrains.
“Should we be wearing gloves? My hands have been burning after handling this stuff,” asked one resident. Another indicated an interest in obtaining cleaning supplies. Alex took their addresses and careful notes to report back to his supervisor at the Disaster Operations Center so that Red Cross cleanup kits, containing gloves and cleaning supplies could be delivered. 
When not deployed, Alex is a student at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, pursuing a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. He holds the Bachelor of Science Degree in the same subject from the University of Michigan. 
“What can I say, I’m a geek.” said Alex. “During high school I set up an Internet server in the basement of my mother’s house and was a member of my high school robotics club and the marching band.” 
But when Alex moved to Maryland in 2012 he broadened his interests by looking for opportunities to help others. “I really wanted to do something meaningful. First, I volunteered for a food bank, but I couldn’t stand just sorting cans….I wanted to interact with people,” he declared. 
Then he found the Red Cross: “There’s something addictive about responding to disasters…. Back home I’m on call as a DAT [Disaster Action Team] Lead one week out of every month and volunteer as a team member at other times. I get calls in the middle of the night to respond to home fires…. I’ve been to a whole bunch of fires. I hope it will be the worst day of people’s lives and that things get better. Some fire clients are very proactive, getting on with the things they need to do. Others are withdrawn, sitting on the sidelines. Those are the ones I try to make sure I notice,” Alex declaimed. 
“I like the Red Cross because it serves everyone. It’s that principle of neutrality. That’s a big thing…. Other organizations often have a second agenda, but the Red Cross is just there to provide help when it’s needed,” Alex concluded. 
You can join Alex in helping the residents of Texas and Oklahoma, many of whom have had their homes and lives devastated by this spring’s outbreak of tornadoes and flooding, by making a financial contribution to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Just go to www.redcross.org , call 800-REDCROSS, or text “redcross” to 90999 for a one-time $10.00 donation.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Erwin Stierle – Executive Director for Loudoun County – talks about the National Capital Region’s impact…

American Red Cross in Loudoun and Prince William Counties - what exactly do we do?  

Part 1 of a multi-part series

Written by: Erwin Stierle, Executive Director for Loudoun County

It's not surprising that so many people I talk with aren't familiar with everything we do locally.  As a national organization, we are known primarily for two things:  large scale disaster response and blood drives.  At least that's the preponderance of opinion I hear when out in the community.  It's likely because of how visible the big disasters are.  As I write this, Texas is dealing with massive flooding that turned fatal and injured dozens this Memorial Day weekend.  The emotional trauma for those who've lost their homes will touch thousands.  This is what's visible through news outlets and social media, at the national level.  But, did you know we're a very hyper-local nonprofit as well?

I ask that because the devastation isn't any less when just one family loses their home in a local house fire or local flooding.  And home fires happen in Loudoun and Prince William neighborhoods more than once a week.  Over our last full 12-month reporting period for these counties, we responded to just under 100 incidents and supported over 250 families consisting of over 650 people and giving them nearly 1,000 relief supplies for their immediate needs.

The volunteers handing out the relief supplies and comfort kits are also providing comfort and reassurance during a time of great need and stress for the families involved.  Our team has specially trained volunteers to handle a variety of specific needs.  For example, we have specialists who can handle situations when children with special needs are involved.  We ensure any lost medication is replaced immediately by coordinating with doctors’ offices and pharmacies.  We provide longer term care in terms of psychological needs that develop because of the trauma that is suffered.

None of this gets covered on the local news.  It won't make national news.  But the disaster suffered by that local family, their neighbors, their friends and their extended families will result in the same type of loss and emotional trauma that is prevalent in "the big" disasters.

I hope this gives you a glimpse of just one aspect of what we do in the National Capital Region every day.  Next week, I’ll focus on our Preparedness efforts within our schools 
and our community in general.  Please send me any questions or if you or your company want to get involved somehow with helping the Red Cross deliver on its mission in your community.