Friday, March 17, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Letha Atwater

Written by: Rebecca Churchill, volunteer

The work that volunteers do to support the mission of the Red Cross is essential. Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Letha Atwater, is one such volunteer. Letha serves in two capacities – as a volunteer in the Client Services Department and as the Red Cross Veterans Affairs Volunteer Services (VAVS) Lead. Having uncles who served in World War II and the Vietnam War, and a brother in the Marines, it is no surprise that she felt a special connection to working with members of the military and the veteran community. She is soft spoken and passionate about how the Red Cross helps so many of those who serve in the armed forces, veterans and their families.

At any given time, Client Services receives a dozen active military cases each week as part of the Red Cross’ Hero Care Network. As a caseworker, she determines how best to respond to each one. There are elements of military life that are beyond a civilian’s experience. Letha remembers a particularly moving case where a father of three military sons was in the hospital when his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer and was severely ill. He needed to reach his sons at once and deliver this heart-breaking news. The Red Cross was able to find the soldiers deployed around the world, bring them home, and provide wrap-around services for the family, including monetary support and counseling, to help them through their time of need.

Letha is no stranger to medicine or hospitals; she was a young resident in Colorado when she started doing rotations in the veteran’s hospital. She would later leave medicine in order to devote more time to her children and family but said, “I had developed a passion for interacting with veterans in a medical setting… and (with the Red Cross) everything came full circle.”

Letha’s work as the Volunteer Lead with VAVS demands great energy and commitment, as she is the go-between the Red Cross and the Washington DC Veterans Medical Hospital. She organizes outreach events to connect veterans with health care and other services they need. One collaboration, the Winter Haven Homeless Veterans Stand-down, is now in its 22nd year in Washington, DC. The event provides goods and services to some 800 veterans, some of whom are persons at risk, with personal care items, clothing, medical services, assistance with benefits, and clothing items. The event is designed to be a touchpoint opportunity to make contact with existing clients and hopefully bring other veterans to the hospital. Another outreach program is specifically for female veterans. The program focuses on wellness for female veterans and offers a unique opportunity for them to connect with one another, as well as get access to health checkups, services, and even a little dining and dancing. Letha notes that these programs are designed to connect with veterans and to create relationships between them and the hospital, health care providers, other veterans, and service organizations.

“I am forever thankful for the Red Cross for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to do what I do,” she said.

Her dedication and commitment to the well-being of service members and veterans has not gone unnoticed. Letha was recently recognized by VA Hospital Director Brian Hawkins and VA Secretary nominee David Shulkin for outstanding support to the DC VA Medical Center. She is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Neuropsychology and Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Ursula Allen

Written by: Melanie Benson, volunteer

Ursula Allen is no stranger to the value and impact of service to the community. Over her 15-year tenure as the Director of the Adventurer Club children’s group at the Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church (Metro) in Hyattsville, Maryland, she has led a variety of neighborhood outreach events.

After learning about opportunities with the Red Cross through fellow church leaders, Metro's first Red Cross event, a Community Safety Day, took place on February 18 of this year. Safety Day was full of events, not only for Ursula's youth group, but also for their families and church neighbors. Kids between the ages of 4-9 years old learned about fire safety and got to explore a fire truck up close. After learning and practicing how to exit a building, the Adventurers received their Fire Safety training award.

The Adventurers, along with older kids, also learned tips and tools to prepare for emergencies through the Red Cross Pillowcase Project. While encouraging kids' creativity by decorating their pillowcases, the Project taught the kids to stay safe in an emergency and to feel empowered through preparedness. Students were encouraged to share what they learned with family and friends, and to bring their new skills and pillowcase kits home.

While the children were learning safety skills, the adults also had opportunities to learn CPR training and first aid basics. Many in Metro's congregation set out, donning Red Cross vests, to install smoke detectors in neighborhood homes as part of the Red Cross' nationwide initiative to save lives, reduce injuries, and cut down on losses from home fires. Ursula emphasized the importance of this effort in advancing Metro's focus on ministry within the community. She shared an example of how Safety Day had a positive ripple effect. During the smoke detector installation sessions, she met an elderly gentleman who was on dialysis. Ursula has since returned to visit him, bringing warm meals, and introducing him to other church members.

Ursula sees the Community Safety Day as a resounding success with 65 participants, and many requests from parishioners to do it again. She notes that during Safety Day, her team was only able to reach about a quarter of the neighborhood, indicating how much more outreach is needed just in their immediate environs. She urges others to not shy away from the possibility of hosting or participating in such events, because by educating people and strengthening ties within their immediate neighborhood, communities become stronger, safer, and more self-reliant.

If you are interested in hosting a community outreach event, visit us here!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer & Donor Story: Andy Heymann

Written by: Rebecca Churchill, volunteer

Andy Heymann is a passionate Red Cross volunteer, blood donor, and career Army veteran. He currently works for the Smithsonian Institution and the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), which is a workplace charity program that facilitates charitable giving to select non-profit organizations, including the Red Cross.
Andy has been deployed all over the world, and it is easier to ask what parts of the world he has yet to see. As a soldier, he has been at the epicenter of international conflicts and has seen the devastation that war has on people, communities, and services. He also witnessed the action and involvement of the Red Cross within the Armed Forces. Andy recently stood up at his CFC fair and announced that the Red Cross was his lifetime charity of choice, and encouraged others to sign up for paycheck deductions designated to the Red Cross, potentially raising thousands of dollars for the organization. When asked how he came to have such a commitment to the Red Cross, Andy shared his story.
In the summer of 1979, he was a young soldier at special training camp in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when he got a call that his father had been hospitalized. It was July 4th weekend and all the banks were closed – this was before ATM machines, and he had to leave immediately. The Red Cross responded with an emergency grant that financed his flight home to be with his family during their bereavement at his father’s passing and funeral.
“It is amazing to me that the Red Cross is always on the scene. They are first responders in every sense and in my desperate time, they made it possible for me to be with my family.”
Andy’s mission is to get more people to make the Red Cross their charity of choice to help support the ongoing work of the Red Cross, so they can be there in times of disaster, suffering, and need. “This is an organization that time after time comes through for people in their worst moments,” he said. And focusing on fundraising for the future of the Red Cross is how Andy is now paying it forward.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lifesaving Home Fire Campaign

Written by: Melanie Benson, volunteer

Earthquakes.  Tornadoes.  Hurricanes.  Every year the Red Cross and its volunteers respond to nearly 66,000 disasters.  You may be surprised, however, to learn that the majority of Red Cross disaster responders are not deployed to natural weather events, but to home fires.

On average, seven people die every day in the U.S. from home fires. Thirty six people suffer injuries as a result of home fires, and property damage results cost over $7 billion. In homes where there are no smoke detectors, the mortality rate is over 50%. In response to these shocking statistics, the Red Cross and its partners have initiated a Fire Safety Campaign that seeks to reduce death and injury from home fires by 25% by 2020.

Since 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign has made progress: 159 lives have been saved and over 702,060 smoke detectors have been installed.  Yet, work remains to meet the Red Cross goal.

Get prepared at home: Families may have as little as two minutes to escape after a fire starts.  By maintaining smoke detectors as an early warning device, and establishing an escape plan, families can be prepared.  Check out other top fire safety tips for your home and family here.

Teach our kids: Children under the age of five are twice as likely to die in a home fire.  Taking sensible precautions, such as keeping matches and lighters out of reach, and teaching children how to escape from a fire will help keep the most vulnerable family members safe.  Tips for teaching fire safety for kids can be found here.

The Red Cross also sponsors the Pillowcase Project to teach preparedness and coping skills in dealing with a variety of emergency situations. To request a presentation for your classroom or youth group, visit us here.

Reach the community: One of the largest Red Cross Fire Safety initiatives is the smoke detector installation project.  Working with fire departments and other partners, volunteers deploy as teams into neighborhoods to install free 10-year smoke alarms and replace smoke alarm batteries.  For those who have been waiting for a way to volunteer with the Red Cross, there is no experience required to join this campaign!  The Red Cross provides brief training before teams canvas communities with the mission of educating people on fire safety and reaching out to those who need assistance in the installation of smoke detectors. Smoke Detector Installation days are ongoing and spread across our Capital region.  Sign up and get involved to save lives!

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Sara El Saied

Inspiring Youth Volunteerism

By Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

Volunteer: Sara El Saied
Resides: Springfield, Virginia
Profession: Business Development Coordinator, Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics, and Neonatal Nurses
Length of Volunteer Service: 2 years, and continuing

What inspired you to volunteer for the American Red Cross?
I think what inspired me to volunteer for the American Red Cross is its mission. I have always been a witness to seeing how different people are impacted from suffering, whether it is from disasters to homelessness. I asked myself, “What is it that I can do to make a change or a difference.” A friend of mine was volunteering for the American Red Cross and inspired me to get involved. So, I applied to be a community volunteer leader. At the time, the American Red Cross at the National Capital Region was looking to recruit and fill a position for a youth program officer volunteer to support youth volunteers in Fairfax County, so this became my focus.

What do you do as a volunteer? Where?
I started volunteering by supporting the youth program in Fairfax County, connecting with local high schools and helping the schools to start an American Red Cross club, where there are continuous opportunities for youth to participate in community service events such as fire safety canvassing to hosting a blood drive to making disaster care kits. After a year and half or so supporting youth program in Fairfax, I was recruited to be the American Red Cross regional youth lead for the National Capital Region under the direction of Jessica Adams. Most high schools have different clubs and students are required to do community service for graduation. My goal is to identify and work with the students in schools to volunteer for the American Red Cross so they can continue to support their community throughout their lives. By becoming a youth volunteer for the American Red Cross, a student as a club member or officer has the resources to make a positive impact in saving lives in their community.

Why is it important to volunteer?
Last year, at the annual meeting for American Red Cross in the National Capital Region, Joe Madison said, “The difference between a moment and movement is sacrifice.” His words truly embodied why it is important to give back to your community. By volunteering, you have an opportunity to make a change in someone’s life.  And with the American Red Cross, there are plenty of opportunities to be a helping hand.

What are some memorable experience you have about volunteering for ARC? How have you made a difference?
Going on my first fire safety canvassing with high school students was memorable. I watched the students conquer their own fears, knocking on somebody’s door, providing fire safety information, and helping to get fire alarms installed.  It was amazing to see the students have a camaraderie with people of different ages and backgrounds that they might not regularly encounter. I was also invited to represent the American Red Cross at a National Youth Forum conference as part of a round table. I met two inspirational young students—one from Maryland and one from San Francisco making differences in their communities. One was working with a local homeless shelter and the other student, 11 years old, authored a book about what it is like to be a child whose father is incarcerated. It was a therapeutic way to help the child deal with depression after her father went to jail. The story of these kids making a difference not only inspired me but it empowered me by seeing how they were taking something negative and helping others.

What are you most proud of regarding your volunteer work for ARC?
I think what I am most proud of is how I have evolved not by the things I have done, but by being empowered constantly by the stories of many volunteers who selflessly serve others and seeing first-hand how they are making a difference in every person they touch. It has changed and recharged my duty to give as a millennial. There are so many people out there who want to help. I feel that I have found a second home through the American Red Cross and it has been empowering.

Monday, February 27, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Eric Baranick

Eric Baranick, the Community Volunteer Leader in Montgomery County, MD, may just be finishing his first year in this role, but he is no stranger to the American Red Cross and its extensive outreach and impact.

Eric Baranick was a graduate student in Public Health at George Washington University when Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in October 1998. The hurricane left a devastating trail. An estimated 11,000 lives were lost, hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed, and there was an estimated $5 billion dollars in damage to infrastructure. Already familiar with the role of the Red Cross in disaster relief, Baranick decided to join the hurricane response efforts as a Health Delegate. On Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, Eric was a member of a small team implementing Red Cross programs including disease reduction and public health campaigns to reach impacted indigenous communities.

Baranick’s work with the Red Cross would extend far beyond his tour in Nicaragua. Over the next 15 years, he and his family would relocate to five posts around the world – Armenia, India, El Salvador, Peru and Panama. The work accomplished and experience gained during each tour was unique. In Armenia, Baranick worked closely alongside the local Red Cross team to reduce maternal and child mortality. In India, Baranick was again working to implement Red Cross programs, but this time on a much larger scale. His team reached hundreds of thousands with health campaigns covering reproductive health, polio vaccinations, dengue fever prevention, and the importance of hand washing to fight the spread of disease. Attuned to community culture, the Red Cross health awareness campaign created ads for 250,000 spare tire covers that were commonly found on nearly every motor bike to reach their audience.

Following his time in India, Baranick would find himself back in Latin America, serving in a management capacity for the Red Cross teams in El Salvador, Panama, and Peru. Reflecting on his tours, Eric finds successes, challenges, and memories unique to each community and project. He highlights a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report evaluating the Red Cross’ impact during his initial tour in Nicaragua. The report found that the actions of the Red Cross improved the quality of water and sanitation systems, increased the number of wells built, and significantly decreased the spread of diarrheal diseases.

Eric shares an account from his time in Peru during which a strong community church leader was able to utilize Red Cross strategies to develop a work plan, fundraise, and ultimately rebuild his church and congregation. Baranick notes how gratifying it was to witness a community pull together and to expand upon their work and incorporate it into their own vision for recovery and future projects. He points to Panama as one of his most memorable assignments, returning to the warm climate, speaking Spanish, and immersing himself in Latin American culture. His time in Panama also allowed him to reconnect and reengage with past Red Cross affiliates to continue to build networks and relationships.

Eric left his official capacity at the Red Cross in June 2015. Driven by his continued belief in the goals and ideals of the organization, he sought another avenue to remain involved. In March 2016, he took on his current role as Community Volunteer Lead for Montgomery County.  Turning his focus to Maryland’s community, Baranick has been involved with the Home Fire Campaign, emergency relief efforts, and other local events and meetings.

What advice would Eric share with current or potential Red Cross volunteers? 

“Take advantage of the opportunity and make the most of it. You can make the volunteer role as large or limited as you want. Giving back to the community is extremely heartwarming. Go where you’re needed, and as long as you’re flexible, you’ll find opportunity at the Red Cross.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Spirit of Caring—the American Red Cross Partnership with AvalonBay Communities

Company Donates $1 Million Plus—CPR Classes for Employees; Blood Donation Drives; Life-Saving Equipment Purchases; Home Fire Campaign Volunteers

By Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

The American Red Cross prevents and eliminates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors, says its mission statement.

To have a spirit of caring, genuine kindness and concern for others, is a core value of AvalonBay Communities, an equity REIT, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, and in the business of developing, redeveloping, acquiring and managing apartment communities in leading metropolitan areas nationwide.

When the two organizations form a partnership, the end goal is clear—building strong communities—which is the theme of the AvalonBay Communities’ strategic philanthropy program that was launched in 2015 when company executives made the first contribution of $250,000 toward a four-year, $1 million commitment to support the American Red Cross.

“This partnership is a model for the American Red Cross,” says Denise Miller, American Red Cross Executive Director, Fairfax, Virginia, who serves as the national liaison to AvalonBay Communities. “I get asked by my colleagues, ‘Why does this partnership work?’ It’s the corporate culture of this company and the people who work for it. Also, for the American Red Cross, no money, no volunteers, means no mission. Why we can be there to help alleviate human suffering during disasters is because of the generosity of donations from partners like AvalonBay Communities. They have donated a lot money and employee volunteers for our mission, and we are grateful. We want to thank AvalonBay Communities for all they do for us and for allowing their employees to give back to the community.”

AvalonBay Communities provides its employees nationwide with Red Cross CPR training, purchases life-saving equipment from Red Cross, sponsors on-site blood donations, and allows its employees to volunteer on company time.

In 2016, employees from AvalonBay Communities donated 1,017 pints of blood; 232 were trained in Adult First Aid/CPR/AED; and more than $260,000 was donated to the Red Cross, not including the cost of training and equipment.

“Each pint of blood potentially saves 3 lives, which means the employees of AvalonBay Communities contributed to potentially saving 3,051 lives—that is amazing,” said Miller. “Also, being certified to save the lives of your employees, your residents, and your families is a valuable asset.”

Miller encouraged the employees to keep up the great work and to also consider becoming more involved in the American Red Cross’s nationwide Home Fire Campaign, where local partners and volunteers go to at-risk neighborhoods and install free smoke alarms, free batteries, and supply fire prevention information.

“We also work with military and veteran hospitals that need volunteers,” said Miller. “We provide comfort carts to the hospital. When our volunteers go to talk to the patients and families, they bring the comfort cart which is stocked with everything from puzzles and books to snacks.”

The Arlington location of AvalonBay communities is hosting a blood drive for its employees on March 1 and many are already signed up. The nationwide corporate goal this year is to donate 1100 pints of blood.

“AvalonBay has a long-standing value of a Spirit of Caring, and our partnership with the Red Cross makes this value visible,” said Tim Naughton, AvalonBay Communities Chairman and CEO. “We are proud to support the mission of the Red Cross.”

Mark Delisi, Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility, for AvalonBay Communities, said the partnership with the American Red Cross is built on mutual respect and passion for building strong communities.

“We are committed to creating a better way to live, for our residents, our employees, our shareholders, and our partners,” said Delisi. “Our commitment to Corporate Responsibility is an ongoing journey. We are thankful to the American Red Cross for being a perfect partner to help us achieve our goal, and to Denise Miller in particular, for being an exceptional liaison, always responsive, enthusiastically supporting our efforts to make a difference for our communities nationwide.”