Tuesday, October 16, 2018

My Red Cross Story: Lily King

By Rose Ellen O'Connor, Volunteer

Lily King needed a social service project (known as a Tzedakah Project) for her Bat Mitzvah. She’d been studying the story of Noah’s Arc and the big flood and that gave her an idea. She would reach out to flood and disaster victims across the country.

She had put together personal-care kits for disaster victims through her Girl Scout troop, but decided to work with the Red Cross this time. Lily, 12, with help from her family, managed to collect donated items to fill 300 “comfort kits,” matching the record for the most collected in a single project.

“It makes me feel wonderful that I can help so many disaster victims and make sure they will have the basic essentials as they are going through a hard time,” Lily says.

Lily started her project at the beginning of 2018 and was finishing up in late September.

“She really wanted to dedicate her time to helping disaster victims since there are so many natural disasters and floods all throughout the U.S., Lily’s mom, Linda, says. “It means a lot to her to be able to work with the Red Cross and help victims.”

Red Cross comfort kits are given out during floods, natural disasters, home fires, you name it. Each kit includes a razor and shaving gel, a toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, travel-size body wash, travel-size hand lotion, travel/full-size shampoo, travel/full-size deodorant, facial tissues, wash cloths and a small plush toy for a small child or pet.

Lily and her mom, Linda, started out by going to grocery stores to solicit items for the comfort kits, but only a few donated. Lily’s father, Josh, decided to build an Amazon “Wish List” with exactly the items she needed, similar to a bridal or baby shower registry. Like magic, donations quickly poured in through the mail.

“Our friends were so kind and generous to donate to this amazing cause,” Linda says. “We had such an overwhelming response.”

Lily was thrilled.

“I was actually surprised by how much we got because I had heard that 300 comfort kits were the most they’ve ever gotten, so I was really happy when we received so many donations,” Lily says.

The project became a family affair. Her mother, father and brothers Zachary, 10, and Chase, 7, all worked to put the kits together. Even baby brother Brody, 3, chipped in.

“He doesn’t work as fast as us,” Lily says. “He’ll grab something and hand it to us to help us put it in.”

Weekends became a special time when the family worked together on Lily’s project.

“It makes us all feel good,” Lily says. “It was fun to work together as a family to help others.”

Lily and her family live in Rockville, Maryland. In late September, they had just received the last of their donations and were finishing up putting together the kits. Her Bat Mitzvah was this past weekend on Oct. 13 at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville. She’ll turn 13 this month and says she would like to volunteer again for the Red Cross when she’s older.

“It sounds like an awesome thing to do,” she says. “And I’ll get to help so many people.”

Monday, October 8, 2018

National Fire Prevention Week: Red Cross Safety Tips

By Carly Flumer, Volunteer

Alert! Alert! It’s Fire Prevention Week, and the Red Cross is here to bring you the seven best safety tips to prepare for a fire.

1. Install the right number of smoke alarms and make sure to replace the batteries at least once a year.

2. Teach young children what smoke alarms sound like and what to do if they hear one.

3. Make sure that everyone in your family knows how to escape from every room in your house and designate a meeting spot outside.

4. Develop a plan to communicate with your family members to know how and who to contact in case one gets lost.

5. Practice escaping from your home. A plan is best when practiced, especially when it’s been proven that families only have a mere 2 minutes to get out quickly!

6. Make sure everyone, especially young children, know how to dial 9-1-1 and speak with the police and/or fire department.

7. Teach each family member the STOP, DROP, and ROLL TECHNIQUE if their clothes should catch on fire.

For more information:

Friday, September 21, 2018

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Karin Markle

How Volunteering with the Red Cross Helped Me Improve My English and Develop My Career

Written by: Rosalind SE Carney, Volunteer

Karin Markle moved to the US from Bremerhaven, Germany in the early 1990s. Soon after her arrival, she started volunteering with the Red Cross at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. In the Mother-Baby Unit, she helped mothers bathe their newborns, change diapers, make formula, and helped provide discharge instructions. Karin also volunteered in the Family Practice unit, dealing with paperwork. Karin was not confident with her level of English, but she was surrounded by kind and supportive colleagues who never made her feel self-conscious. She never felt like she was a volunteer; she felt part of the team.

During her time at the Family Practice Unit, Karin was able to leave her child in the daycare unit at Fort Belvoir. Unfortunately, once this benefit was eliminated, Karin was worried that she could not continue her volunteer work with the Red Cross. Fortunately, one of the doctors valued Karin’s work so much that he organized daycare for her daughter so that she could continue in the role. Karin was thrilled that he had so much trust in her.

Karin recalls working late one evening to complete an assignment another doctor in the unit had assigned her. She stayed several extra hours into the night to finish the assignment she was given. This effort and rapid turn-around of the assignment did not go unnoticed by the doctor, who thanked her for staying late. Karin knew that although she did not receive financial compensation for her work, she was truly valued. In fact, Karin was recognized as a Red Cross Volunteer of the Month in 1996.

Throughout her interactions with these colleagues, Karin gained more self-esteem and confidence in her English-speaking abilities and also learned medical terminology. Karin stopped volunteering when she started training as a Medical Administrative Assistant. Some of her colleagues celebrated her graduation with her; even recalling that time brings tears to her eyes. Karin currently works as an EMT in a hospital.

She recently starting re-connecting with the Red Cross and hopes to volunteer again soon.

When asked what message she has for someone considering volunteering with the Red Cross, Karin says, “I don’t think my words are powerful enough to express this message. But, if you are looking to do great work with great people, go to the Red Cross. The Red Cross gives you experience, and they really help you. You are not only helping individual people, but your local community as a whole."

It reminded Karin of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”

Karin remembers her time with the Red Cross as the best experience, she went to sleep at night knowing she had done a good job, and that was a wonderful feeling.

The Red Cross currently has over 100 volunteer openings in the National Captital Region, covering all aspects of Red Cross services. Learn more about Red Cross Volunteer opportunities here: https://www.redcross.org/local/washington-dc/volunteer.html.

Monday, September 10, 2018

My Red Cross Story: Judy Murphy

By Rose Ellen O'Connor, Volunteer

Arthritis in her knees and a hip forces Judy Murphy to walk with a cane, but it doesn’t stop her from dashing to the site of disasters, sometimes as often as three times in 24 hours. At 62, Judy, a retired school teacher who lives with her two dogs in Woodbridge, Virginia, is driven by a desire to be useful and a Christian faith that encourages her to help others. She is on-call around the clock for the American Red Cross in Prince William County, Virginia, to help those affected by home fires, floods and other catastrophes.

“It’s all about still finding ways to be able to be useful as a volunteer. You can do this at any age,” Judy says. “I like to help people. I like to know that I’m giving help that’s really needed, that I’m serving a useful purpose.”

A few years back when arthritis struck, Judy started bringing two fold-up canvas chairs to disaster sites because she could no longer stand for long periods of time or get up from the curb once she sat down. It worked out well because disaster clients could sit down next to Judy and collect themselves. Other volunteers followed Judy’s lead and started bringing chairs.

Judy is also certified to drive ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles), which provides water, coffee, tea and snacks to the disaster site, as well as other supplies, including blankets, and “comfort kits” of toiletries. She started having trouble getting in and out of the cargo area of the ERV and bought a short stool to help herself get in and out of the vehicle.

“There are always work-arounds,” Judy says.

Judy is a Disaster Action Team Lead. It is not uncommon for her to be at one disaster and be asked to go directly to another disaster as soon as she can. She’s a late-night person, she says. She may have gone to bed at 3 a.m., unwinding from a demanding day, and get called out again at 4 a.m.

“I have to lie there for about five minutes pulling my thoughts together and convincing myself that I’m really getting out of bed, and then I get out of bed, and then once I brush my teeth and start putting my clothes on, I’m good to go,” she says. “There’s something about the fact that someone is experiencing what may be the worst day of his or her life, someone needs assistance right now, someone is outside their home looking at it in disbelief. That gives me the energy to go.”

When she gets back home she always unwinds in the same comfortable chair, watching television with her “go-to” comfort drink, a McDonald’s caramel frappe. Sometimes she’s so exhausted, she sleeps in the chair until she gets up the next day.

At the scene of disaster, Judy tries to bring calm, kind and a listening ear. In the worst-case scenario, when people lose family members in a fire, they are often in shock. She asks them if they’d like to sit down and gives them a blanket, even in warm weather, because they can be chilled from shock. She decides what to do next by what feels right. Sometimes she asks if she can give them a hug and if they say yes, she puts an arm around their shoulders. She tells them she’s sorry and can’t imagine what they’re going through. Then she just sits with them. Sometimes they want to talk; sometimes they don’t. Often, their eyes are glazed over or dart from object to object. Eventually, she tries to get them to focus on the practical - making sure they have lodging for the next few days and money for food or clothes.

“I try to speak to them in a calm manner that conveys the idea that something is under control,” Judy says. “While their life is spinning out of control, there is something that they can latch onto that is under control.”

Judy says sometimes people find it easier to grieve for a pet lost in a fire than for a loved one because their guard is down a little more. They’re not thinking of funerals and all the plans that have to be made. The pet has died and the owner is thinking of what that animal went through, not understanding what was happening. Judy tells pet owners that she has two dogs and has lost a pet, but can’t imagine what it would be like to lose one under these circumstances. She tells them she’s sorry and asks if she can give them a hug.

“And I just let them have a few minutes,” Judy says. “If they want to talk a little bit about the pet, how long they’ve had the pet, I let them talk. That’s all you can do. You listen and try to say things that are sympathetic but sincere, not saccharine, not phony.”

Judy got her start in the Red Cross the summer after ninth grade. Her father, an Army officer, was stationed in Dachau, outside of Munich, Germany, and her mother was a Red Cross volunteer. She suggested that Judy volunteer at the Army hospital in Munich.

“My mom was my inspiration,” Judy says. “I knew that volunteerism was just a part of her.”

Judy told a few of her friends about the volunteer opportunity and they joined her. She volunteered in the pediatric clinic, where she started out pulling patients’ records when they came in for an appointment and getting babies’ height, weight and temperature. Eventually, she learned to take vital signs, such as blood pressure. By the next summer, the family had been re-stationed to Stuttgart, Germany, and Judy volunteered at the Army hospital there.

“It was a great experience because I had such a sense of responsibility and it felt really good.”

Judy has continued to work on and off for Red Cross throughout her life. Her family returned to the states when Judy was in high school. In the summer, Judy volunteered with the blood mobile, passing out cookies and juice, broth or hot chocolate to blood donors. She was trained to spot signs that a donor was about to pass out and to call for medical assistance.

Among many volunteer stints, Judy was a receptionist in the Fairfax and Loudoun offices of Red Cross, did community outreach two days a week at Quantico Marine Base, and worked with Restoring Family Links, a Red Cross endeavor to unite families separated by conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian crises. She still occasionally does community outreach at Quantico and Ft. Belvoir.

Judy first got involved in disaster relief when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, not long after she’d retired from her teaching job on disability. Scores of volunteers were training to deploy to the Gulf Coast, but Judy didn’t want to go because she didn’t want to leave her dogs in a kennel that long. She reasoned that with all the volunteers responding to Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross would need help responding to local disasters. Judy then joined the Disaster Action Team in Loudoun County.

She mostly observed her first time responding to a house fire in Loudoun County. The residents of the house spoke very little English. Judy spoke some Spanish and was able to help translate.
Judy left the Disaster Action Team in Loudoun County after serving for several years and joined the Prince William County  team in 2010. Her first call came at around midnight for a single-family home with one man who lived alone. It was winter and bitterly cold. The temperature was in the low 20s. The call lasted two hours.

“I just remember being extremely cold especially my feet but we stood there,” Judy says. “The water from the fire engines had created ice all over the cul-de-sac. We couldn’t get out of there until they came and salted the roads.”

Judy’s unpredictable, demanding life no longer affects her miniature poodle Missy and mixed miniature poodle Andy. They used to get excited when Judy was called out on a disaster in the middle of the night.

“They have learned that I’m going to leave and I’m going to come back,” Judy says. “At first, they wondered what in the world was going on but now it doesn’t even phase them.”

Interested in joining our team as a Disaster Action Volunteer, visit https://www.redcross.org/local/washington-dc/volunteer.html.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Get RedCross Ready for National Preparedness Month!

By Carly Flumer, Volunteer

National Preparedness Month, recognized each September, provides an opportunity to remind us that we all must prepare ourselves and our families now and throughout the year. This is an iniative recognized nationwide through a number of organizations.

With September being National Preparedness Month, there’s no better time to make sure you are prepared for an emergency like the present. While becoming prepared can seem like quite the effort and take a lot of time, it can actually be a fun bonding experience for the entire family.

The first step is compiling an emergency kit. The Red Cross provides survival kits with the proper supplies you may need in case of an emergency or natural disaster. However, you can also build your own! You should have the following in your kit:

  • Water (at least one gallon per person per day)
  • Food, such as non-perishable and easy-to-prepare items
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Copies of personal documents
  • Family and emergency contact information

To see the whole list, visit https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html.

The next step is to make a plan. Discuss with your family how to prepare and respond to different types of emergencies that are most likely to happen, including fires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Designate responsibilities to each family member making sure each one knows their part in keeping everyone safe. Finally, practice your plan! You can find free templates of disaster plans here: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/make-a-plan.html.

Finally, be informed. Learn about the different types of emergencies and disasters that may occur in your area and how local authorities plan to notify you. Know what actions to take to protect yourself and your family, and create emergency contact cards for all household members. Get your Emergency contact card template here: https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/National/m4240194_ECCard.pdf

Happy preparing!

Friday, August 17, 2018

My Red Cross VolunTEEN story: Charles Lewis

By Charles Lewis, VolunTEEN

Over the summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to participate in the Red Cross VolunTEEN Program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The VolunTEEN Program lets teenagers from across the DMV volunteer in different clinics at Walter Reed.

I learned about the VolunTEEN Program through my mother’s friend, whose daughter participated during the summer of 2017. I asked her about her experience at Walter Reed and she said that she loved it and had a great time. Her positive response was one of the major factors that played into my decision to apply. I had considered becoming a doctor before I even heard about the program, and so I thought that participating would help provide clarity in my future as this program would expose me to the work environment of a hospital.

The application process started in February of this year, and it required a 500-word essay and one or two letters of recommendation from a teacher, coach, or mentor. I was notified that I got into the program during the middle of May, and I was ecstatic that I would be able to spend my summer doing something really meaningful and beneficial.

Orientation took place the last week of June, where all the VolunTEEN's received a tour of the Red Cross Office, obtained badges and name tags, learned more about how the Red Cross supports the hospital and received information on what department we were assigned to. We also received an in-depth training on patient privacy from one of the hospitals Privacy Officers.

I was assigned to the Pediatric Sedation Unit (PSU), where I work two days a week. While I’m there, I clean beds, fill patient folders, and assist with organization in the storage area. My favorite thing to do in PSU is watch procedures. When my shift coincides with a procedure, I’m allowed to go into the operating room and watch. Thankfully, none of the procedures have been too gory, which is a plus because I do not tolerate blood well at all, which isn’t ideal for someone who wants to be a doctor. The doctors are always so happy to see kids watching their procedures, and will sometimes stop to show us stuff. Speaking of great staff, the nurses who work in PSU are amazing. They’re so friendly and nice and they’ve been super informative about the general operations of the hospital.

When I’m not working in PSU, I’m usually helping out in the Red Cross Office. I usually re-stock the storeroom, take calls, or deliver items requested by patients throughout the hospital. The best part about working in the office is definitely taking the Kids Cart. The Kids Cart is a cart which gets filled up with games, toys and boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, and is taken around to all the pediatric sections of the hospital, where kids and their parents can take games and toys and enjoy some cookies. Seeing the kids’ faces as they see all the games and toys, and the variety of Girl Scout Cookies roll by, is amazing and super rewarding because it confirms that what I’m doing is really important and beneficial. Something else that is confirmed by the Kids Cart is that Trefoils (in the blue box) are indeed superior to all other forms of Girl Scout Cookies because they disappear off of the cart at a speed that would make you think that teleportation has already been invented.

The final thing that takes place in the VolunTEEN Program are Medical Awareness for Teens (MAT) programs. These programs took place throughout the course of the summer and gave the VolunTEENs an inside look at specific practices in the hospital. We would go to different parts of the hospital and see presentations given to us by doctors in different departments.

The first MAT program was about prosthetics and dentistry at Walter Reed. I learned about the process of creating different types of prosthetics, and even heard stories of people who had received prosthetics. We got to see different prosthetic body parts that were made for wounded warriors, including eyes, noses, ears, hands, and whole halves of faces. The stories of the wounded warriors who got prosthetics was very intriguing and inspiring. After the prosthetics section, two dentists came over and talked to us about dentistry in the military and the path they each took to become military dentists.

The second MAT program was about physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT). We learned about the differences and similarities between the two, and how each therapy type goes about providing support to patients. In my opinion, physical therapy is the “fun therapy” while occupational therapy is the “interesting therapy”. That’s not to say that OT would never be fun or that PT isn’t interesting, but they both have different strong points. While we learned about PT, we took part in some therapeutic relay races where two teams competed to see who could do the form of therapy properly and the quickest. We put rubber bands around our legs and attempted to walk along the sidewalk outside, however for some, more time was spent trying to stand back up then actually walking. We also tried to stand on an unstable rubber circle contraption and throw a ball back and forth, but for some people that was just as unsuccessful as the first race.

The final part of PT was going to see the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) lab, which essentially is a huge virtual reality game that helps patients in their recovery. They have a skiing simulation, a hiking simulation, a hit-sharks-with-a-boat simulation. Overall, it was a super cool experience, which really displays how advances in technology can be used for medicinal purposes. While OT didn’t have any virtual reality contraptions or children falling over, it did have a really interesting way of providing therapy. There was a kitchen in OT, where patients will go and learn how to cook and become familiar with a home environment, which is really important. Additionally, depending on where the patient was injured, different board games would be played with the patient. For example if the patient had trouble pinching his/her finger and thumb together, they would play Jenga where you are forced to make a pinching motion to move the blocks. Overall, both forms of therapy were interesting and cool, and it was great that I got to see how they work.

The final MAT program was working with ultrasounds, forensics, and the morgue. Which took place in the Uniformed Services University (USU). I learned how to use an ultrasound, which I found to be the best part of the tour, and got to practice on my fellow VolunTEENs. After that, we watched a power-point presentation about forensic pathology and learned about different types, forms and manners of death. We were then able to identify which form or manner is present based on marks on the body. The final part of the MAT program was the morgue in the basement. We split into groups and looked at bodies that have been dissected to see what the body really looks like inside. That was by far the most interesting part of the whole VolunTEEN Program because I got to see the complexities and intricacies of the body.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
The VolunTEEN program has been an amazing and memorable experience for me, and I am dreading the day the program ends. All the people at Walter Reed are so friendly and welcoming that you really feel like you are part of a community of fantastic people who want to give back to their country. The VolunTEEN program has shown me how much volunteering can help the lives of many people and I am definitely going to pursue more volunteer opportunities in the future.

To learn more about our Service to the Armed Forces program, visit: https://www.redcross.org/local/washington-dc/about-us/our-work/service-to-the-armed-forces.html

Friday, August 10, 2018

100th Anniversary of the Red Cross Gray Ladies

By Divya Mathur, Volunteer

In times of war and distress, a Service Member longs for the comfort of home. Red Cross volunteers have aided these soldiers in need for 137 years, as did the Red Cross Hospital and Recreation Corps, who have served the community for a century.

Founded in 1918, the Red Cross Hospital and Recreation Corps consisted of mostly female volunteers who provided non-medical care to injured soldiers during the ravaging World War I. Whether the soldiers were physically or emotionally injured, the Recreation Corps supported our fighting troops.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, demand for these volunteers significantly increased, expanding the Corps’ reach to stretch across hospitals all over the country. To better serve those in need, volunteers not only assisted military members, but civilians as well. Schools started Junior Red Cross programs, giving our youth an opportunity to support American troops. Eventually, the Corps became the largest of the uniformed Red Cross volunteer services.

The number of volunteers peaked at almost 50,000 during World War II, with more people serving their community than ever. Their services included reading to patients, communicating with patients’ families through letters, teaching patients new skills, picking up supplies, and staffing the front desk of hospital recreation rooms. The volunteers also provided emotional support efforts to soldiers and civilians, while keeping morale high and proudly wearing their gray uniforms.

The color of their uniforms led soldiers to lovingly coin the name "Gray Ladies" to describe the volunteers. The Corps’ name was officially changed to the Gray Ladies service in 1947, after the end of World War II. Some members even volunteered in American hospitals overseas, spreading the Gray Ladies’ service to even more American troops.

After the mid-1960’s the Gray Ladies’ numbers dwindled. That led the Red Cross to restructure their programs, resulting in the standardization of the “Blue Vests”, so well-known not just to the U.S. Military and families but to all.

This year, 2018, marks the centennial anniversary of these effervescent and compassionate Gray Ladies. Their volunteer work serves as a foundation for the Red Cross mission and represents the positive impact that the Red Cross organization continues to have on the community.

References (MLA Format):
Morris, Joan. “Joan's World: Learning about Gray Ladies.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 24 Nov. 2010, www.mercurynews.com/2010/11/24/joans-world-learning-about-gray-ladies-rope-necklaces/.
“Ranae's Swedish-Chicago Heritage.” Mystery Photo of Great Aunt Ruth, swedishchicagoheritage.blogspot.com/2016/01/mystery-photo-of-great-aunt-ruth.html.
“Red Cross Retrospective - The Gray Lady Service.” American Red Cross, www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Retrospective-The-Gray-Lady-Service.
“Red Cross Veteran Recalls Gray Lady Service.” American Red Cross, www.redcross.org/news/article/sc/columbia/Red-Cross-Veteran-Recalls-Gray-Lady-Service.