The Hero Care Network Never Sleeps

by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

The voice on the line was barely audible when JoAnne Barsenas picked up the phone. In between sobs, the caller identified herself as the wife of a recently deployed sailor. She had only been married for a few months. She was all alone for the first time in her life. She was barely nineteen. She was pregnant. And she wanted her husband to come home.

JoAnne knew two things as she took a deep breath and moved to a comfortable chair. The first was that this young woman’s husband was not coming home. The second was that it would take some time to calm her and reassure her that everything would work out.

“I was on the phone with her for almost three hours,” recalls JoAnne. “She was scared and alone, away from her family and friends. But we did eventually work everything out. I set her up with a Navy Family Ombudsman, who can be a key resource, particularly during deployments. I was really glad to hear back from her a few weeks later when she called to let me know how well she was doing.”

So what, you may ask, does this have to do with the Red Cross? Well, JoAnne is a volunteer with the American Red Cross Hero Care Network. Hero Care provides emergency communications and critical services to military members, veterans and their families all over the world – 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These Red Crossers are a critical link for service families, providing confidential assistance and connecting those in need with local, state and national resources.

“When you work in a Red Cross shelter, you meet and help people face to face. With Services to Armed Forces, we have to learn to hug them over the phone.”

Hailing from a military family herself – father, brother, husband, and son – JoAnne is a perfect fit for Hero Care. “I worked for the Navy for 30 years, monitoring and guiding spouses and children in the home care program,” she said. “My dad lost his leg fighting in WWII and our family received a lot of help from the VA. When I retired, I joined Hero Care so I could continue to help and to give back for the help we received.”

Hero Care casework is all done by phone. The national office screens the calls and forwards the information to the closest regional office. About 90% of the calls are for a death in the family, others are for a critically ill family member. The Red Cross is the only organization that the military allows to verify the emergency – through a doctor, hospital or the coroner. The verified information is then sent to the member’s commanding officer, who has the final decision on whether the member will receive leave to come home.

Sometimes though, according to JoAnne, there is no life and death emergency. She’ll pick up the phone and find that the caller just needs someone to talk to. “When you work in a Red Cross shelter, you meet and help people face to face. With Services to Armed Forces, we have to learn to hug them over the phone.”

Working out of the Red Cross office on the base in Port Hueneme, JoAnne and the crew there provide a wide range of services for active military members. In addition to responding to emergency needs for food, clothing, and shelter, they provide referrals to counseling services (e.g., financial, legal, mental health), respite care for caregivers, and other resources that meet the unique needs of local military members. They also support a critical care program for veterans – helping them get medical care at a VA facility, providing information on veterans’ cemeteries and burial benefits, and assisting in preparing and developing applicants’ claims for veterans’ benefits.

While her role with Red Cross Hero Care is rewarding, JoAnne admits that it does take its toll emotionally. “My favorite is when there’s a birth. I get to call and give the congratulations. But the sickness and death are hard. Sometimes I have to put the phone down because I’m crying too.”

“Being in the military is one of the hardest jobs,” she continues. “It’s really tough when families are separated by deployments. Even when they are together, they are moving every three years and having to start over again. Volunteering with the Hero Care Network is one of the best things I’ve ever done. People just need to know that there is someone who cares.”

The Red Cross provides Services to Armed Forces at home and overseas. This photo was taken by Maj. Darrell Melrose at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

If you are someone with strong listening skills and the ability to work with culturally diverse populations, you can help provide a critical link for families during emergency situations. Click here for more information on becoming a Red Cross Services to Armed Forces volunteer.

For information on the new Hero Care app that puts Red Cross services at the fingertips of military and veteran communities, click here.

¿En Qué Puedo Ayudarle?

Helping the Red Cross Help the Community

By Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

Volunteering with the Mass Care team in 2013, David Dees was the only Spanish speaking worker at a Red Cross emergency shelter set up for victims displaced by a structure fire in Oxnard.

“I was completely overloaded,” David recalls. “The fire had destroyed nine structures and we had about 75 people in need of assistance. For most of them, Spanish was the only language they could understand.”

Following that incident, David knew exactly what he had to do. He decided that he would use his wealth of experience teaching Spanish in schools and to first responders to help his local Red Cross chapter better serve the community.

Since 1996, David has been teaching a program that he and his late wife Collette designed to help Ventura County sheriff’s deputies communicate with non-English speakers in emergency situations. Then in 2005, David published the first of his “Quick Spanish” packages – this one for law enforcement personnel. Next was “Quick Spanish for Emergency Responders” – geared towards firefighters and paramedics.

“It’s a humbling experience,” said David. “I believe our program has saved the lives of police officers and good citizens, and helped to put the bad guys in jail. Like everything in life, it’s my contribution.”

Over two decades, the Dees team taught hundreds of deputies, and then firefighters, to bridge the communications gap with the community’s Spanish speaking population. He figured he could tailor this information into a training program for Red Cross volunteers working with the DAT and Mass Care teams.

David developed a curriculum that includes basic vocabulary, along with key words and phrases that the workforce is likely to encounter. The course is taught in two levels, with 16 hours of instruction for each level.

Although the “Shelter Dormitory Registration” form is in a bi-lingual format, the class participates in exercises that help to better understand the questions and answers required to complete this important document. And using scenarios that the Disaster Action Team might encounter, the class developed a Spanish language questionnaire to gather the information needed to best assist families in need.

“I keep coming back every time David teaches this class,” said Trish, a Health Services team member who is just one of the more than 100 chapter volunteers who have completed the course. “David is a very considerate teacher and his patience has been a big help to me. And he has an amazing resume! He’s lived and taught in Spain and in Central America. We’re lucky to have him here for us.”

David has been working non-stop for the last four months. In addition to teaching the Red Cross classes, he is putting the finishing touches on the 2nd edition of the McGraw-Hill Quick Spanish for Law Enforcement coming out in May. All of the content has been upgraded and he has included more scenarios that provide practical phraseology to help get the job done.

¡Que Bueno David! Muchas gracias por todo.

To access the American Red Cross website in Spanish, click here. For more information on David Dees and his Spanish language programs, click here.

Coronavirus: Safety and Tips for You

The American Red Cross is closely monitoring the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), as well as following the latest guidance from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC).

We know this is a stressful time and people want to know what they can do right now to protect themselves and their families. That is why the Red Cross is highlighting some important health and safety preparedness steps that people in Central California and across the U.S. can take in response to coronavirus concerns.

Limit the Spread of Germs and Prevent Infection

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom and before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Disinfect commonly touched surfaces in the home and workplace. Surfaces like doorknobs and light switches are typically used frequently by multiple people, so disinfecting can help prevent the spreading of germs.

Also, make sure to stay home if you are not feeling well and try to avoid close contact with people who are sick. This can help prevent the spread of any respiratory infection.

Get Your Household Ready

  • Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of your prescription medications and have other health supplies on hand such as: couch and cold medicines, pain relivers, and fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.
  • Have a supply of food and household staples like laundry detergent and bathroom items prepared
  • Create a plan on how you will handle your workplace or children’s school closing from a possible outbreak.

According to the CDC, patients with COVID-19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Call your healthcare professional if you develop symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have the disease or if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of the disease.

Up-to-Date Information

For the latest information, please visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/covid19. Additional health and safety tips can be found by following your local Red Cross social media or by contacting your county health officials.

Writer, Motivational Speaker, and Red Cross Volunteer – Meet J.D. Slajchert

by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

I immediately spotted J.D. as I approached the coffee shop for our meet up – he kind of sticks out from the crowd. I mean he’s literally a whole head taller than everybody else. I also noticed that he was looking down – just like everyone else sitting at the tables out in front of the shop – but he wasn’t staring at his phone. As I got closer, I could see that he was furiously writing on a pad of lined paper.

“Hey J.D.,” I said, interrupting his concentration.

“Hi Dave,” he said as he looked up with a broad smile. Even though we had worked together at the Red Cross Shelter of Hope event just a few weeks prior, he popped out of his seat and gave me a firm handshake.

“What’s with the pencil and paper?” I asked as I sat down across from him. “You’re a millennial. You’re supposed to be working on your cellphone or a laptop at the very least.”

J.D.’s smile continued to grow as he explained how he’s old school when it comes to his writing, and prefers a pencil and paper over any electronic device. He told me that he handwrites all his notes and first drafts. He even handwrote all 350 pages of the original draft of his novel MoonFlower.

“I think technology can be a distraction,” he mused. “There can be a lot of good to social media but if used incorrectly, it can inhibit the natural interaction between people.”

MoonFlower is his semi-autobiographical story of a college basketball player who must co-parent his chronically ill younger sister. The novel’s debut was interrupted by the Woolsey fire in 2018, and the destruction of J.D.’s family home in that fire.

“After evacuating, I was sitting there with my mom watching the news and we saw our actual house go up in flames.”

“After evacuating, I was sitting there with my mom watching the news and we saw our actual house go up in flames. My mom just kept shaking me, saying ‘J.D., that’s our house,’” J.D. recalls. “I tried to calm her down but it was extremely difficult for both of us. It was one of the lowest points of my life.”

Despite his personal tragedy, J.D. was impressed by the hard work he saw performed by Red Cross volunteers during the disaster. He knew firsthand how a disaster could impact a family and he saw how the Red Cross helped to alleviate that suffering. Even after seeing his own house go up in flames, he decided to donate the proceeds from the sale of the book to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief fund.

That charitable act did not go unnoticed. Tony Briggs, from the Red Cross Central California Region, met with J.D. and was inspired by the young man’s enthusiasm. Tony invited him to travel the region as a Red Cross Ambassador, imparting his motivational themes across the state. You might remember J.D. at one of the Volunteer Appreciation dinners last year, speaking about how the loss of his best friend inspired him to change his lifestyle and learn to appreciate how both love and loss shape our everyday lives.

A milestone from these speaking engagements occurred at the Bakersfield event last year. “An older gentleman got up to receive the Clara Barton Award,” J.D. related. “In a quiet, hoarse voice he accepted the award in the most humble of ways. He then proceeded to say how much he appreciated all the other Red Cross volunteers that he worked with, never once mentioning himself. I later learned that he had been diagnosed with cancer and given just two years to live. He had spent the next two years volunteering for the Red Cross – what an inspiring story that was for me!”

That inspiration was the motivation for his desire to become more active as a Red Cross volunteer. J.D. says that he would love to learn Mass Care or Disaster Assessment, and maybe even travel to the East Coast to help during the next hurricane season. But, at least for now, there are a lot of other projects that he is working on.

As a director for the LucStrong Foundation, J.D. handles outreach for families with children stricken with Sickle Cell Disease. The foundation is named for his young friend, Luc Bodden, who succumbed to the disease. J.D. has also just finished a screenplay based on the real-life drama of he and Luc.

J.D. tries to incorporate all of these life experiences into his Red Cross presentations. “Having known someone like Luc, who lost his life, and writing a story about it all, I try to put things into perspective for my audiences. Losing your home might feel like the worst thing possible, but if you’re healthy and can wake up every day and put a smile on your face, then maybe you’re really one of the lucky ones.”

So, whether you read his book, watch his movie or bump into him at the next Red Cross event, J.D. Slajchert is sure to make a big impression.

J.D. Slajchert speaks with Channel 11’s Joe Buttitta about his involvement with the American Red Cross in the year following the Woolsey fire.

Life and Loss, One Volunteer’s Journey of Sharing Her Heart for Service

Sometimes, you’re simply at the right place at the right time. For American Red Cross volunteer Jeannie Wilson, it was the moment that she pulled into the parking lot of her local Red Cross chapter in January 2017. It wasn’t the trip she was expecting to make, but after more than 13 years of watching her son suffer from an incurable disease, it is the path that brought her here.


American Red Cross volunteer
Jeannie Wilson and her son.

“You never expect to bury your children before you,” Wilson shared softly. “It seems so long to me, but to retell it seems so short. It was a long 13 years of him being sick.”

Traveling to all the top medical institutions throughout California, Jeannie was sleeping in hospital rooms and her van to be alongside her son, all while running a successful church with her husband. Her life consisted of daily commutes that brought hours of travel to care for her son. Dropping everything she was doing to be with him, each of the 18 times he was placed on life support.

Jeannie recalls the last trip she took, “My son fought such a hard fight and those last days were beyond what any mother could do and our only hope was in God,” she said. “He let me know he was hurting. His heart was stopping. I began to tell him that it was okay for him to go.” Doctors once again rushed in to resuscitate him, but this time Jeannie told doctors to let him go. His time had finally come… he was at peace.

She spent the year following her son’s passing pushing through the pain and filling the emptiness. Jeannie’s priority was to stay busy. A few short months after losing her son, her brother passed away. Jeannie was defeated. She was done.

While running errands one day, she passed a sign for her local Red Cross chapter and all of the sudden without even thinking she was turning into the parking lot. She says it was akin to being on autopilot.  She parked her car without thinking, got out and walked right into the chapter where she was greeted by a friendly Red Cross smile. The question that came to her was simply, “Do you need volunteers?”

“That literally saved my life,” Wilson said. “I would have never thought of the Red Cross. I haven’t left and I’m not going anywhere. This is probably the best medicine that you can ever get. We’re all going to go through something at a certain time in our life. For me this was mine. It was worth every minute.”

Today, in her role at the Red Cross, Jeannie is a regional lead for Disaster Spiritual Care and a trainer for the Be Red Cross Ready program. As an advocate in the community, she is passionate for helping senior citizens. Whether it’s going to meetings at senior centers throughout her neighborhood or meeting with them at community events, Jeannie shares a warm smile and purposeful preparedness education. Growing up on a farm, Jeannie was always taught the importance of giving back to others.

“We all face emergencies and we have all been through something,” Wilson said. “Put yourself in the place of someone that is in need. What do you have or what can you help them with financially? We give financial assistance to help families get the resources they need, not the resources we think they need. We tend to think that people can use our hand me downs, but they need financial assistance, a comforting voice and someone to talk to about their emotions.”

After being called to assist as on-scene support for large home fires throughout Central California, Jeannie knows first-hand the devastation home fires can cause after watching her parent’s home burn. She often reflects on the Red Cross and how they came to help, not knowing that it was one of the primary roles of the Red Cross.

“This is my story and I’m never leaving.”

“You never know what tomorrow is going to bring,” Wilson said. “Even with obstacles, you can overcome. The Red Cross means a lot to me, it really does. A passion that might be hard for others to understand, but because of the life I have had, being a volunteer really gives you that power to feel, understand, and hear from those who are suffering.”

How you can help cancer patients: Give Blood to Give Time

FACT: Cancer patients use nearly one-quarter of the blood supply – more than patients fighting any other disease. And there simply aren’t enough people donating regularly to meet the need.

That’s why the American Red Cross and American Cancer Society have teamed up to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you could help cancer patients receive vital treatment and access to programs and services they need.

Blood donations can give patients time.

In 2007, Arthur Bourget, then 40 years old, received a life-changing medical diagnosis: He had leukemia, a type of blood cancer. Between July 2007 and December 2009, Arthur was hospitalized for more than 150 days and received 28 blood transfusions and 34 platelet transfusions.

When loved ones would ask how they could help, Arthur’s reply was simple: “Give blood so that people like myself can have more time with their family and people that you don’t know will be allowed to spend time with their families.”

Those transfusions helped give Arthur strength to keep fighting. Today he is in remission and grateful for every precious moment with his wife and daughter.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of volunteer blood donors, I would not be here today,” says Arthur. “Because of the blood supply, because of the American Red Cross, I’ve had 10 years with my daughter that I wouldn’t have had.”

Cancer takes so much, but you can help.

You might not be able to change a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but you can help those going through it. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you’re helping to give patients and their families time, resources and the hope they need to fight back. Visit Give Blood to Give Time to learn more.

How you can help cancer patients: Give Blood to Give Time

FACT: Cancer patients use nearly one-quarter of the blood supply – more than patients fighting any other disease. And there simply aren’t enough people donating regularly to meet the need.

That’s why the American Red Cross and American Cancer Society have teamed up to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you could help cancer patients receive vital treatment and access to programs and services they need.

Blood donations can give patients time.

In 2007, Arthur Bourget, then 40 years old, received a life-changing medical diagnosis: He had leukemia, a type of blood cancer. Between July 2007 and December 2009, Arthur was hospitalized for more than 150 days and received 28 blood transfusions and 34 platelet transfusions.

When loved ones would ask how they could help, Arthur’s reply was simple: “Give blood so that people like myself can have more time with their family and people that you don’t know will be allowed to spend time with their families.”

Those transfusions helped give Arthur strength to keep fighting. Today he is in remission and grateful for every precious moment with his wife and daughter.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of volunteer blood donors, I would not be here today,” says Arthur. “Because of the blood supply, because of the American Red Cross, I’ve had 10 years with my daughter that I wouldn’t have had.”

Cancer takes so much, but you can help.

You might not be able to change a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but you can help those going through it. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you’re helping to give patients and their families time, resources and the hope they need to fight back. Visit Give Blood to Give Time to learn more.

Celebrating Black History Month at the Red Cross

February is Black History Month and we are honoring the men and women who played  a pivotal role in shaping the American Red Cross. If it were not for these pioneers, the Red Cross would not be where it is today. 

undefined Frederick Douglass was a leading spokesman of African Americans in the 1800s and a friend of Clara Barton. He was there to support her in her efforts to gain U.S. acceptance as a member of the global Red Cross network. Most notably, as serving as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia, Douglass signed the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross when they were submitted to municipal authorities. These articles legally documented the creation of the Red Cross. 

undefined Gwen T. Jackson was a dedicated volunteer leader throughout decades. Beginning as a volunteer in 1961, Jackson worked her way up to being the first African American to be appointed as the National Chairman of Volunteers for the American Red Cross in 1989. While serving with the Red Cross, Jackson provided assistance during major disasters, support during the Persian Gulf War, and provided a blueprint for future growth of volunteerism for the Red Cross. After serving on the American Red Cross Board of Governors in the 1990s, Jackson was awarded the Cynthia Wedel Award for her 50 years of dedication and volunteer leadership. This award is given to outstanding Red Cross volunteers. Jackson currently holds an appointment as Chair Emeritus of the American Red Cross Milwaukee Chapter. 

undefined Steve Bullock began his career with the Red Cross in 1962, working as a caseworker. His work took him throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Twenty years later he became the Chief Executive Officer and Chapter Manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter. In 1999, Bullock was named acting president of the national agency in Washington D.C. after the recommendation of resigning president, Elizabeth Dole. As president, Bullock and his team brought 60,000 pounds of relief supplies to Macedonia to aid nearly 140,000 ethic Albanian refugees driven from their homes in Kosovo. 

Without these trailblazers, the Red Cross would not be the organization we know and love today. We want to recognize these pioneers and their efforts for the Red Cross and the communities they served.