Home

It’s two in the morning and you’re on a flight home.  You’ve been overseas for eight months, and were unsure if you would ever actually see it again.  The feeling that overcomes you isn’t what you would expect it to be though.  Happiness…Joy…excitement.  These are the typical emotions that you would expect to feel when returning back to the place that was once your place of comfort. Home.

For many veterans there is an abrupt end to the extended duration of time spent on deployment.  Organized duties and missions completed with a cohesive unit suddenly come to a screeching halt, and you are thrust back into civilian life once again.  Airmen bring back their military issued rucksack full of gear which has seen months and miles of resolute but lonely duty, but they also bring back their mental baggage full of tough experiences and painful moments locked deep in a vault that was created to harden the mind to perform their duty.  Straddling the line between military life and civilian life while trying to exist part-time in both worlds is the challenge.

Last month The American Red Cross – Central California Region held a workshop in collaboration with the Department of Defense called the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program.  The event hosted the men and women of the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing based in Fresno, California.  The event provided marriage counseling, Veterans affairs information on education and training benefits, domestic violence and suicide awareness and prevention.  It also provided vital information regarding depression, brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorders.

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The Red Cross augmented the schedule with a mid-day “Reconnection Workshop” where the nearly 250 attendees were put into groups of 20 led by an American Red Cross mental health professional who helped guide them through a carefully targeted training module.  The module titled “Communicating Clearly” gave the participants a fresh perspective on how to enhance their communication skills, and be more successful in their relations at both home and work.  The implementation of these “Reconnection” workshops is a key aspect in helping to reconnect our service members with family and successfully re-engage them to civilian life.

As a special addition to the day’s schedule, the Red Cross also provided a companion skill building activity for the children of the attending Service members.  While their parents were learning valuable communication skills in the “Reconnection Workshop”, the children were engaged in the interactive “Pillowcase Project”.  The Red Cross emergency preparedness program helps to educate and increase awareness regarding natural hazards.  The “Pillowcase Project”, sponsored by Disney, is an interactive activity where each child received a pre-printed pillowcase with Disney characters that they get to decorate and take home to use as their personal preparedness kit.

At the end of the day families left for home better outfitted to deal effectively with the special challenges a military family faces that are often impacted greater by a tough deployment.  Deployment can be hard not only on the deployed, but the family that they leave behind.

It’s eight in the morning and your flight has landed. You’ve retrieved your luggage from the baggage claim, and as you start to walk towards the entrance you hear someone shout your name.  You turn to see the bright shining faces of your loved ones, and that is when you remember.  This is HOME.

-Ryan Henry Jackson                                                                                                       Communications Coordinator

When It Rains It Pours

When it rains it pours, and it has certainly been pouring in California this winter. Massive amounts of rainfall in the Golden State has caused flooding, landslides, sink holes, road closures, power outages, and mass evacuations. All of this has led to a major Red Cross response effort, with volunteers from around the nation pouring into our state to provide relief.

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Last Sunday night nearly 200,000 residents were told that the Oroville Dam Spillway failure was imminent, and they had only an hour to leave home. Within just a few hours, the Red Cross Gold Country Region managed to set up multiple emergency shelters to house thousands of residents fleeing the threat of the dam.

By Monday afternoon, 12 local Central California Red Crossers were on their way to the operational headquarters in Sacramento to help provide relief and comfort. Their support ranged from shelter staff, public information officers, and Emergency Response Vehicle drivers.

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Meanwhile, more rain was on the way and all eyes were on the atmospheric river slowly churning over the Pacific Ocean. The Central California Region quickly teamed up with the neighboring regions and Red Cross National Headquarters to formulate a plan for supporting multiple communities that would be impacted by this new storm all at once.

Friday night, our local Red Cross activated five emergency shelters for families looking to avoid the storm’s wrath. Many more shelters were placed on standby just in case. Red Cross volunteers worked through the night, making sure that anyone who needed assistance was supported.

Get Red Cross Ready

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Photo: Marko Kokic, American Red Cross

The winter weather still isn’t over. With more rain on the way, it’s more important than ever to make sure that your family is ready for disasters big and small. There are three simple steps that everyone can take to help make a difference: get a kit, make a plan, be informed.

Follow a few flood safety tips to prepare for and respond to flooding in your area:

  • Keep your car gas tanks full, so that in the event of an evacuation, you can get quickly to safety.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for possible flood warning and reports of flooding in progress or other critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
  • When a flood or flash flood warning is issued, head for higher ground and stay there.
  • Turn around, don’t drown! If water is flowing above ankle level, stop, turn around, and go another way.
  • Keep children out of the water which can be swift moving or contaminated.

Download the Emergency App
You can download the FREE Red Cross Emergency App to have safety information available on your mobile device, including open shelter locations, emergency weather alerts, and flood safety information. Red Cross apps are available in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.

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The Red Cross will always be there for our community in times of disaster. But by following a few simple steps to make sure your family is ready, you’re helping us to build a stronger, more resilient Central California – come rain or shine.

Jessica Piffero
Regional Director of Communications

The Red Cross is the Place I Get to be Myself

“I’ve been told I’m a “Preparedness Fanatic,” laughs Holly Green a Red Cross Volunteer in Bakersfield, California. “And, that’s okay, because at the Red Cross, I get to be myself!”

Holly Green enjoys helping her community prepare
Red Cross volunteer Holly Green stands in front of an Emergency Response Vehicle during the Home Fire Campaign MLK Day of Service event in Bakersfield.

Holly volunteers for the Red Cross Central California Region and has been a Red Cross Volunteer since Hurricane Katrina.  But she’s not the first in her family to feel the call to serve.

“My mother was a volunteer with the Red Cross back when I was little and we were stationed in Germany. She worked out of the Wiesbaden office, and did casework, so I guess you can say I followed in her footsteps.”  Holly explains that during Desert Storm, her mother’s hard work was instrumental in getting over 500 Red Cross Grants to soldiers coming home.

“I love working with the Red Cross, just as my mother did.” explains Holly.  “This job makes my soul feel alive and no matter how tired we are, the people we help are what make it all worthwhile.”

Holly stays busy as a caseworker, pitching in with office duties at her local chapter, and sharing her enthusiasm and talent at special events such as the Pillowcase Project and Be Red Cross Ready Presentations. Her latest effort was assisting her team in the installation of smoke alarms in her home town as part of the MLK Day of Service effort this January.  “This was an amazing project! I love installing these alarms and sitting with a family to help them prepare for a fire or other disaster, because I know we are saving lives.”

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Holly and her husband Aaron team up with Kern County Fire Department Explorer Gabriel Gomez and Red Cross Public Affairs volunteer Michele Maki to install free smoke alarms in Bakersfield homes.

Holly encourages others to volunteer too. “We get the opportunity to meet people in our own community and hearing how thankful they are for what we are doing. That makes my heart so happy!” And, as Holly said, if you care about others and want to help other prepare and prevent disasters, the Red Cross is a place where you “get to be yourself”!

For more information on how you can volunteer, please go to www.RedCross.org.

Michele Maki
Red Cross Volunteer

Since our local chapters were first chartered in 1917, the Red Cross has been here for the last 100 years when people in Central California needed us most.  Your Red Cross story of the past can be a part of our centennial celebration. Do you have your own Red Cross story to share? Click here to submit it directly online! 

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A Family Tradition: Two Generations of Red Cross Service

This month is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and I would like to share a World War II Red Cross Story that involves my Mom.  It includes cities that are now in the Central California Region, and also highlights AAA partnership with Red Cross.

My Mom passed away in 2004 and I was recently going through a file and found the card and letter among her important papers (birth certificate, passport, etc.), so evidently it was something that was very dear to her.  The picture came from her picture album.

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This display of Audrey’s service now hangs in the new Red Cross satellite office in Oakhurst, CA

My mother Audrey grew up in San Francisco, her parents had married soon after experiencing the 1906 Earthquake. When World War II began, my mother, Audrey Stewart was finishing her Master’s Degree in Education at Stanford University in Palo Alto.  Men were heading off to war and many schools were in need of teachers. Audrey was immediately recruited to be a teacher in Santa Maria.

In February 1942, Audrey became a driver for the Santa Maria Red Cross (now Red Cross of the Pacific Coast.  I believe most of her duties were taking Plane Spotters to their locations along the coastal hills. For those of us who grew up on the west coast, our parents would tell us that after Pearl Harbor, there was a real fear that the Japanese might invade cities along the coast.  Volunteers manned observation posts along the coast with the purpose of identifying enemy aircraft in time to prevent future attacks.

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Now a volunteer herself, Hilary is proud of the special Red Cross connection to her mother.

Interestingly, I attended a Ready, Set, Respond! Disaster Preparedness Program at the AAA offices in 2013 in Fresno.  I was one of the attendees that later became a volunteer!

Hilary Swartz
Red Cross Volunteer

Hilary is a volunteer for Red Cross of the Central Valley, teaching lifesaving CPR/First Aid courses and providing relief as a disaster responder.

Since our local chapters were chartered in 1917, the Red Cross has been here for the last 100 years when people in Central California needed us most.  Your Red Cross story of the past can be a part of our centennial celebration. Do you have your own Red Cross story to share? Click here to submit it directly online! 135604-central-ca-region-centennial-logo-final-1

Four Ways to Holiday Safety

139711-holiday-campaign-social_1200x1200_hopeIt was Christmas Eve at my Grandmother’s house. Tummies were full of holiday treats, stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the family was gathered at the kitchen table playing cards. That’s when my Dad smelled the smoke.

“Is something burning?” he asked. Everyone looked up from their cards with concern and started sniffing the air. It did smell like smoke. Dad got up from his seat and followed the scent into the living room. That’s when we heard him shout, “Get some water!”

Everyone jumped up from their seats and rushed to the living room to see what was causing the distress. There, on the table, was my grandmother’s carefully placed nativity set fully engulfed in flames.

Just days before she had so delicately placed the wooden figurines on a bed of angel hair and thoughtfully surrounded it with candles. But it didn’t take much – just a flame catching the slightest wisp of angel hair – to cause the fire to start.139711-Holiday-Campaign-Social_1200x1200_Shelter.jpg

Thankfully we were all home, awake, and able to quickly put the fire out. There was minimal damage, except for the nativity set itself, and we were able to laugh about it for the rest of the holiday and for years to come. But that’s not the case for many families during the holiday season.

With the holidays comes a whole host of safety hazards that often result in disaster. Last year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the Red Cross Central California Region responded to help  373 families affected by fires, providing relief and comfort to those that  had lost everything.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can help us reduce that number this year. Here’s how.

Get Red Cross Ready

Following a few Red Cross fire safety tips goes a long way to stopping preventable tragedies. Holiday mishaps can happen to anyone, including you and me. So put the odds in your favor by being extra cautious.

This video shows just how quickly a Christmas tree can go up in flames:

Don’t let this be your home this winter. Place Christmas trees, candles, and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.

Always unplug the tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.

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Smoke alarms save lives. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

Find even more holiday fire safety tips from the Red Cross here.

Be a Social Butterfly

Share your favorite tips with your social networks. Share this blog post on social media along with your own holiday hazard story to illustrate the importance of fire safety. Social media users are far more likely to listen to a plea of safety from their own friends and family. So share the love!

Give With Meaning

Make a donation to your local Red Cross and #GiveWithMeaning this year. Stuck on gift ideas for that person who has everything? A gift to the Red Cross in their honor helps to educate families on the importance of fire safety and installs free smoke alarms in local neighborhoods. Plus it provides your loved one with a unique holiday present that they’ll remember for a lifetime.

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Find out how your gift helps those in need.

Sign up to Help

On January 14, 2017, we’re hosting three different Home Fire Campaign events in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Oxnard. We’re looking for passionate citizens like you to help build stronger communities by installing free smoke alarms. You don’t have to be an existing Red Cross volunteer to help! Visit redcross.org/cencalhfc to sign up and learn more.

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Photo Credit: Eddie Zamora, American Red Cross

If we all just commit to one of these four opportunities for fire safety, our beautiful Central California community will be a much stronger, more resilient place!

From all of us at the Red Cross, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Jessica Piffero
Regional Director of Communications

A One Year Anniversary, A Devastating Loss, A Treasure Found, And Gratitude

Local volunteer Michele Maki is currently on deployment in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as part of the Red Cross response to the deadly wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands. Here is one of many heartbreaking stories Michele has experienced on her journey so far.

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Red Cross volunteer Michele Maki comforts Gatlinburg resident Brian Myers as he surveys his destroyed property. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

“We bought this home……one year ago-yesterday….. just one year….”, his voice trails off. Brian Myers, young husband and father of two, struggles to maintain his composure after arriving and viewing the ashes of what was once his family’s home.

“It’s gone now….all of it.” Myers pauses a moment, and choking back tears continues, “But we got out. All of us, and we’re safe.”

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Brian Myers walks through what remains of his Gatlinburg home after it was destroyed by wildfire. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

Myers is the general manager of the Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Five days ago, he had been watching the press conference about the local fire on the television at work.

“It was the afternoon and everything was okay in our neighborhood, but within 30 or 40 minutes, that all changed. I ran home. My wife and I grabbed our kids and pets, piled them into the car and fled. It all happened just so fast!”

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The wildfire destroyed Brian’s Gatlinburg home, melting the slide on his children’s swing-set. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

Myers pauses in his conversation starts walking around the rubble of his property, very slowly, kicking aside charred debris and ashes, then suddenly stops. He stoops down and finds a ceramic mug in the ashes. He wipes the ash away and cradles this treasure as tenderly as if he were holding the most fragile flower. He then looks over to what is left of the swing-set belonging to his 4 year old daughter and 12 year old son. The heat from the fire has melted the plastic slide.

It’s a painful reminder of how he and his family’s lives have changed since that afternoon. The holidays are upon us, and one wonders how this family will cope. But Myers instead, thinks of others in his community and adds, “We got ou and we’re all safe. I’m so thankful for that. But there are folks in worse shape than us, and they need a lot of help right now. Thank you to the American Red Cross and to everyone who’s helping us, truly. Thank you.

Michele Maki
Red Cross Volunteer


Assisting people affected by the wildfires is the latest relief response in what has been a very busy year for the Red Cross, which responded to 15 large disasters across the country this year, 50 percent more than in 2015. More than 24,000 Red Cross disaster volunteers from all over the country provided the following this year:

  • More than 200,000 overnight stays in more than 600 shelters
  • Served more than 3.6 million meals and snacks with the help of partners
  • Distributed more than 1.8 million relief items to people affected by these disasters.

This holiday season you can #GiveWithMeaning to provide relief to people affected by disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, floods and countless other crises by making a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small across the United States. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Red Cross Workshops Support Local Military Families

To any outsider, the beige hotel ballroom full of people and round banquet tables probably looked like any other conference. But what was happening inside was remarkable.

20161105-reconnection-workshop-cang-fresno-1On this particular day, dozens of local military families were receiving life changing resources to help them cope with deployment. It was all part of a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event, an effort to promote the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families, and communities, by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle. This event was held specifically for California Army National Guard troops that had just returned from a yearlong deployment in Kuwait. Many of them are also veterans of previous deployments, including Iraq.

“With multiple deployments and the untold stresses of the war zone, these soldiers have faced many challenges and yet now face the distinct challenge of simply returning home,” said Marcella Franklin, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Manager.

The American Red Cross plays a large role at these events, hosting programs called Reconnection Workshops. On this particular day, Red Cross volunteers from around the country came together in the Central California Region to host the Communicating Clearly Reconnection Workshop.

“It’s difficult to be away from family and friends for extended periods of time. These people are gone for nine months to a year, so that’s a real separation,” said lead facilitator Tonya Nakashima.

Often, families find themselves feeling like strangers after months of separation. The means of communication at home are often different than those used during deployment. The Communicating Clearly workshop helps participants improve their communication skills to better manage the post-deployment period.

“Family dynamics often change during the soldier’s absence, with partners assuming new roles and responsibilities, children who have grown and matured, and new routines and schedules established,” said Franklin.

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Highly trained Red Cross volunteers from around the nation came to the Central California Region to lead the Reconnection Workshop

The Red Cross Reconnection Workshops, which are free and confidential, focus on individual and small group discussion that enhances the likelihood of positive reconnections among family members and others in the community, and the successful re-engagement of service members and veterans in civilian life.

Reconnection Workshops are just one part of the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program. Just last month alone, the local Red Cross helped send 80 emergency communication messages for services members to commands around the world, participated in two stand down events to support homeless veterans, and many more activities to support military families.

Supporting military families is one of the oldest traditions of the American Red Cross. The organization was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton after she witnessed firsthand the need to care for soldiers during the Civil War. Today, the Red Cross is one of the only military non-profits that supports service members from the day they enlist through their time as a veteran.

Learn more about Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs and find an upcoming event near you by visiting yellowribbon.mil.