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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Red Cross Story: Art Shaw

Fundraiser and Volunteer—Providing Vital Service to the Red Cross Mission

Written by: Clarice Nassif Ransom, volunteer

Employee and Volunteer: Art Shaw

Resides: Sterling, Virginia

Length of Service: 2 years as employee/15 years as volunteer

Title: Partnership Officer, American Red Cross

Meet Art Shaw. By day, Art is a partnership officer for the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region, a role in which he helps to raise funds, a vitally important function for the humanitarian organization that relies on the generosity of donors and the power of volunteers to alleviate human suffering during emergencies.

When Art is not working, he is volunteering his time to the Red Cross, donating blood platelets, helping to respond to disasters such as fires and floods, and assisting with large events like the recent Red Tee Golf Tournament.

“I first started giving blood in college,” said Art. “Later, when I was donating blood near where I worked in downtown D.C. for Marriott, the Red Cross nurse asked me if I ever thought about giving platelets and explained to me the importance of platelets to saving lives. That’s when I started giving my platelets – about 15 years ago.”

Art said the process of giving platelets takes about two hours and he has needles in both arms. The blood is withdrawn, the platelets are extracted and then the blood is put back into a person’s body.

“You go home with the same amount of blood you came with—minus the platelets, which regenerate quickly,” said Art, who donates platelets about 20 times a year. “My platelets have been linked to helping many others. One person I helped in particular is a child leukemia victim at Johns Hopkins in Maryland—my blood platelets helped keep him alive. It feels good to help others, and it does not cost you anything but time. So why not do it?”

As a member of the Red Cross Volunteer Disaster Action Team, Art helps victims of house fires, floods like the ones that occurred last year in South Carolina, and with teams installing free smoke alarms and providing fire safety information to local communities.

“It is really important to be there for disaster victims and to give them the reassurance that they are going to be OK,” said Art. “There are people who just lost everything in a house fire, it’s 2:30 a.m., and they are devastated. As a Red Cross volunteer, we can be there to comfort them and to provide them with resources, such as a hotel room and food, to help them begin to rebuild their lives, and that is rewarding.”

When the recent Women’s March ended, a group of about 30 Canadian women were stranded at RFK Stadium due to a bus breakdown after everyone else vacated, according to Art, who said the Red Cross was the only organization left to assist these women by providing a tent shelter, food and coffee. 

“Our motto is, ‘We will help you until you are OK,’” said Art, who was one of the Red Cross volunteers onsite that day and evening until all the women were able to leave, the last bus departing around 3:00 a.m. the morning after the march.

One of the Canadian attendees was so thankful to the American Red Cross that she wrote a personal note to the team and vowed a donation. An excerpt from her note said, “We did appreciate the help as we were exhausted from the long bus journey the night before and the excitement of the wonderful day… The Red Cross helped everyone to get going again and we all got safely back to Canada.”

As a partnership officer, Art communicates with many local companies, sharing the value of donating resources, as well as hosting volunteer venues such as on-site blood donation centers. One of Art’s most memorable exchanges was when he attended a blood drive at a company. A retired, elderly volunteer told Art that the reason he volunteers is that when he was born in the 1940’s, dialysis was not used, and had a blood disease in which he received about 1,000 pints of blood at the Children’s Hospital. That elderly volunteer attributes being alive as a result of the generosity of blood donors, as many of his peers with the same disease did not make it, and he told Art that is why he still volunteers. Art was touched by this story.

“Volunteering helps me to tell the Red Cross story to donors, who can hear the conviction in my voice, as to why it is important to support our organization,” said Art. “I am telling the truth when I say I helped save someone’s life by working and volunteering for the American Red Cross—I have donated life-saving blood and platelets; I have comforted victims of disasters; I have provided food, shelter and clothing after disaster victims have lost everything. I am living the expectations I am asking for from my donors.”

Art said he will forever volunteer for the Red Cross.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Join the Home Fire Campaign

Written by: Dongjun (Rick) Yoo, volunteer

Your help is needed to reduce death and injury from home fires by 25% by 2020.

Launched in 2014, the Home Fire Campaign organizes volunteers to canvas high-risk neighborhoods and install free smoke alarms. Volunteers and community partners travel from house to house and ask if the residents have properly working smoke alarms. The residents are then given the choice to have the volunteers immediately install new smoke alarms or ask for a future appointment. Volunteers then record the homes and areas they have canvassed, then report back to team leaders. Since its inception, the national Home Fire Campaign has saved 235 lives and installed 791,627 smoke alarms.

As a Red Cross Volunteer, I joined the Home Fire Campaign to fulfill my student community service requirement. My first shift was not easy, but with teamwork it felt good. All volunteers were trained to speak with residents, educate them on the importance of smoke alarms and about the House Fire Campaign in general. It was important to be on time, which was at 8 AM in the morning! At 9 AM, we headed out to our assigned neighborhoods to start checking smoke alarms. Working in teams of 2-3 volunteers, we used basic tools and quickly installed the alarms. A team leader supervised volunteers, showed us how to work efficiently with fellow peers and helped to record our progress.

The Home Fire Campaign is a valuable experience to both residents and volunteers. No experience is necessary, so almost anyone can get involved to help yourself and your community. For more information and for upcoming installation events visit our local website.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Spring Storms

Written by: Melanie Benson

Growing up, we had a weather radio that sat in our laundry room.  Even at a young age, during the spring and summer months we knew what to do when the alarm sounded – check the warning and if we heard our location, head to the basement.  My parents had a 'fort' set up underneath the basement stairs.  As kids, it seemed like a fun adventure to 'camp out' in our fort with flashlights while waiting for the storm to pass.  As an adult, I realize how lucky we were to have parents who practiced preparation and taught us how to be prepared.
In the National Capital Region, we face three specific weather threats during the spring season – thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes.  Severe weather may occur without warning.  In the moment, our families and loved ones must be ready to act.  In order to be prepared, we must be educated about these weather events and plan our responses before we are face to face with a storm.  To help you best prepare for and respond to these emergencies, the Red Cross offers specific planning and actions:

  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately.
  • If you are driving, pull off the roadway and park. Stay in the car with the windows closed and turn on the emergency flashers. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside of the vehicle.
  • If you are inside, unplug appliances and avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances. Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other purpose.
  • If you are caught outside and cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground, water, tall, isolated trees and metal objects such as fences or bleachers. Picnic shelters, dugouts and sheds are not safe.
  • Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. When a flood or flash flood warning is issued for your area, head for higher ground and stay there.
  • Stay away from floodwaters (especially children).
  • If you come upon a flooded road while driving, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.
  • Know your community’s warning system.
  • Pick a place where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. It could be your basement or, if there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom, or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered.  If you are in a high-rise building and don’t have enough time to go to the lowest floor, pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.
  • Move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.  Remove all dead and damaged tree branches.
All of these weather events can suddenly arise. Weather radios may no longer be in vogue, but you can stay up-to-date with the Red Cross App

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Dongjun (Rick) Yoo

Written by: Dongjun (Rick) Yoo, volunteer

I am Yoo Dongjun, or Rick, and I want to share how the American Red Cross changed my academic career and my life. I primarily joined the Red Cross because one of my friends happened to enjoy volunteering for charity organizations. I started off as a Blood Donor Ambassador in Boston, MA, for one shift every month, then I worked as the food pantry volunteer. In March 2017, I worked in Arlington, VA as the Home Fire Campaign Volunteer. Many of these positions require working with people, carrying emergency response supplies to specific locations, or greeting others in blood drives. Experiences such as these can certainly help in building a better profile, but the Red Cross has helped me more than just bolstering my resume.

The Red Cross has helped me overcome personal obstacles, and I think it’s significant to share my story with others. The Red Cross gives volunteers numerous rewards and perks for hard work, and community service hours as credit. This makes volunteers feel that they are a significant part of the workplace in helping out those in need. This has left me re-interpreting who I am and what I am truly capable of. I feel in control over my schedules and daily routine, and volunteering has made me able to overcome the obstacles I have had to face as a college student: from depression from challenging academic courses to spending much time with spending time alone. Red Cross Volunteering supports hundreds of thousands of lives and they include anybody, no matter who they are or what age.

Coming into my twenties, I have struggled with depression and isolation. I may have been studious and diligent, but I felt that I had to do something beyond academics. Playing video-games and drinking soda in my dormitory was not the healthiest option or very fulfilling. One of my peers chose to apply for some Red Cross volunteer positions, so I decided to apply for it also. Not only it helped me build my resume, but it provided excellent opportunities to do field work and actively go out and change the community without expectation of reciprocity. Volunteering not only helped me set up much better goals and schedules, but also gave me a better sense of what I am capable of and provided me with less “alone-time.”

I like the fact that working with the Red Cross can be scheduled to my liking, whether weekly or monthly. I have taken at least 2 shifts as the Home Fire Campaign Volunteer in South East, DC. Normally, the shift starts at 8 AM in the morning and ends in the afternoon. Our team then has to walk outside the streets to inspect the neighborhood and identify clients to support. Primarily, we check their smoke detectors and make sure that they work properly, or install new ones. The entire activity makes me feel much healthier, not because I’m walking around but because I socialize with others I have never met and I work as part of a group to make a contribution to the community. The fact that I undertake a field work to help others without return has helped me grow physically and emotionally more than I could have ever anticipated.

Overall, there are three things I have been given by working with the Red Cross. I have gained a sense of what I should do in my life with the Red Cross, great friends and rewards for my volunteerism, and assistance with my professional career. This has helped me be more focused as a student and moving forward into a career path. I highly recommend volunteering for the Red Cross and working for charity organizations because you get so much more than fulfilling community service hours by helping out those in need.

Friday, May 5, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Mallory Rabon

Written by: Mallory Rabon, volunteer

Sometimes, the desire to volunteer and give back to your community can be daunting because it is difficult to know where to begin. As a high school senior in Raleigh, North Carolina, I knew that I wanted to become involved in something bigger than myself; that extended beyond my high school bubble. As a member of various school service organizations, I wanted to contribute to an organization with a wider reach.

That’s when I thought of the American Red Cross. Years before, I had participated in the Red Cross Babysitting and Child Care Training Course, and advertised myself as a “certified” babysitter. That certification made me feel much more confident during my weekly child care jobs and I gained valuable knowledge and practice working with young children. Knowing that the American Red Cross offered a variety of programs in my community, I started to research other programs and got CPR certified. The more interested I became, the more I saw the Red Cross presence in my immediate community. The Red Cross made it so easy to become involved--they were actually coming to my school’s backdoor -- this time through blood services.

Honestly, I was nervous about giving blood (as I think most people are during their first time). Having a needle stuck into my arm was not my idea of “fun,” but the impact of those few moments of discomfort was worth it. Did you know that you could save up to 3 lives by giving blood? I did not. And that forever changed the previously scary imagery of donating into an amazing and relatively convenient experience that makes an instant impact. Understanding the need for blood was not the only reason why my experience was so positive; the Red Cross staff was extremely accommodating and kind. I was feeling quite faint, and the staff was so attentive and put my nerves to rest. I got some snacks and fluids to revive me, and I felt very safe and well cared for. Despite feeling a bit sheepish about my weak stomach, my overall experience was one that I can look back on with fondness, and will be donating again soon.

Becoming involved with the Red Cross does not have to be complicated. And whether you want to give blood, earn your EMT certification, get involved in disaster relief, or support our military and their families, there are many ways for you to make an impact. As everyday citizens, we can make a difference, and the American Red Cross makes it easy for you to do so. Become a part of something bigger than yourself and your immediate social circle. Speaking for myself, the Red Cross has widened my horizons and enabled me to affect others’ lives and to take advantage of amazing volunteer opportunities in my community. Now living in Washington D.C, I am thrilled to be a volunteer for an organization that positively influences so many lives every day.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Stefanie Kline

Devoted to Helping Others for Life

Written by: Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

Volunteer: Stefanie Kline, Fairfax, VA

Profession: House Management Assistant/Usher Supervisor for George Mason University Center for the Arts and a Project Assistant for the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative

Length of Volunteer Service: 2 years and going strong

Q: What inspired you to volunteer for the American Red Cross? Why is it important to volunteer?

A: LIFE! When I can contribute in some way to someone else, I feel elated. I cannot think of anything better—that makes me happier—than knowing I have been a force for good, and a comfort for someone in need. My own experience with injury and trauma has made my priorities clear: wanting to lead a good life, help people, and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

I once lived in a remote part of Virginia, and on the way to work one day, I was involved in a severe car accident, to the extent that I was unconscious and have no memory of what happened. According to police investigation, it is thought I swerved to avoid hitting something, lost control of the car, and smashed into a tree; embedding the car into it. Three strangers saved me: a local gym teacher and two neighbors. The gym teacher with his CPR training led the other two in how to keep me breathing until medical professionals arrived, and the fire department cut the top off my car. These heroes stayed with me through the extraction from the car and were responsible for saving my life. Much later, one of the officers told me he never had the chance to meet a survivor from an accident like mine, because people don’t usually survive. I am alive because someone knew what to do, got involved, and stayed by me.

I am getting better at accepting my own physical limitations. I have a titanium rod in my leg, some plates in my face, and deal with varying degrees of pain in my back and hip daily, making disaster responses tough, but I keep going. I feel I am well-equipped to assist people coping with traumatic incidents partially because of my own experience, and I can empathize and support others recovering from disasters.

Q: What are your special skills that you use to support The Red Cross?

A: Community service has been a part of my life since I was little; I was a Girl Scout for twelve years. As a young girl, my Rabbi shared with me the Jewish value that the reward for living a good life is knowing you lived a good life. This has resonated with me since my accident, and I make every effort to live a life that feels rewarding in and of itself, in addition to introducing others to this concept.

I got my Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology and a Master’s Degree specializing in forensic anthropology (identifying human skeletal remains by establishing biological profiles). I want to take part in helping people recover from traumatic experiences, and to work to prevent large-scale atrocities like war crimes and genocide. I got really interested in studying disaster response in college after learning about the impact, loss of life, and devastation of Hurricane Katrina. When I moved back to the East Coast from California, after graduate school, I wanted to find ways to be more involved and help my local community. My mother had worked in Blood Research and Development for the American Red Cross for 36 years, and had recently retired. She was interested in seeing another side of the Red Cross, so we decided to focus on volunteering for disaster services and signed up on the same day!

Q: What is it like volunteering with your mom?

A: We excel in different areas of the disaster response team, which is mutually beneficial. Initially, she was not as eager to get up in the middle of the night to respond to a disaster; while I thrived on it. There was only one house fire that we both responded to, and it was awkward at first because we were the only two there, and I was the lead based on experience and authority to issue financial assistance. However, our common goal was to help those in need, and were were able to use our training and be successful in supporting the victims. Now my mom focuses more on sheltering and mass care, while I am responsible for other components of response and relief.

Q: What do you do as a volunteer? Can you describe what you do?

A: I started off as a Disaster Action Team responder, and I did some community outreach work where I was needed. I also volunteered to be on GO-teams for big events. The GO-teams are the volunteers you see roving around during occasions such as the Marine Corps Marathon or the recent inauguration of the President, and they are there to ensure public safety. I also volunteer to assist with presentations on building preparedness skills in communities, as well as staffing for larger operations. I am a government liaison when the Red Cross needs to help staff a local Emergency Operation Center, and I am the disaster workforce engagement administrative assistant for Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria.

Q: What are some memorable experiences you have about volunteering for ARC? How have you made a difference?

A: One of my strongest memories is from my very first Disaster Action Team call: a hotel fire in Alexandria, Virginia. Part of the hotel collapsed. Fortunately, no one was injured but, in addition to the numerous families who were staying at the hotel, there was a group of about 100 high school ROTC students from New York. The ROTC group ran up and down the hall making sure other hotel patrons got out. They did not all have time to change their clothes or put on shoes. I was part of the initial two-person response team that arrived around 5:00 a.m., and ended up assisting with client casework and providing mass care. We went to the store to make sure the kids had food and clothes, including toiletries and shoes. We also made sure they were fully equipped with water and snacks for their long bus ride back.  That was my "Welcome to the Red Cross" moment. It was a 15-hour response and inspired me to do so much more.

Q: What are you most proud of regarding your volunteer work for ARC?

A: I don’t think of it as being “proud,” but grateful for the amazing people I have met. I am proud to know so many committed volunteers who just want to help others in need. I think probably one of my most powerful contributions I have made to my team is bringing positive energy to meetings and classes. I have been told my enthusiasm can be contagious, and there is nothing I love more than smiling. I am glad I have worked with so many different groups within the Red Cross. I have gained really valuable experiences from each one.

Q: Is there anything I forgot to ask you that you would like to add?

A: Doris Crawford, another Red Cross volunteer, continually motivates me to keep on volunteering. She is our lead disaster responder. She trains responders left and right and goes on just about every single call. Doris is the most inspiring person I have ever met – she is committed to volunteering in any situation, no matter how inconvenient or what time it is. Her commitment and devotion have encouraged me to push myself to do more with the American Red Cross.

Check out more videos of Stefanie Kline on YouTube here and here