Honoring Our Volunteers

This week, April 15 – 21, 2018 is National Volunteer Week, and we’re taking the time to celebrate and honor the incredible volunteers that make our Red Cross work possible. Last month we celebrated the occasion early, with Volunteer Appreciation dinners throughout the region. At each event, we invited volunteers to write down their favorite Red Cross moments, memories, and stories.

Photo 1
Volunteer stories on display at a local office.

This Volunteer Week, we’re letting local volunteers tell these incredible stories in their own words. The following are excerpts from some of our favorite shared stories.

California Wildfires 2017
Ashley, age 18 months, and her mother Crystal find shelter and comfort from the local Red Cross during last December’s Thomas Fire. Photo: Dermot Tatlow, American Red Cross

“When I was a child I stayed in a Red Cross shelter in Northern California. It was during Christmas and I wanted to help the other kids have something to do. I bought coloring books and colored. I always thought it would be great to help others, and here I am more than 30 years later serving my community in a disaster relief shelter during the Christmas season! The seed planted so very long ago was actually a spark that I kept alive in my heart and I am inspired to keep the tradition going.”

“It’s the most professional group of volunteers I’ve ever worked with! Everyone is so dedicated to the effort and will do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

“It’s an amazing organization of humanitarians. Red Crossers are some of the kindest, brightest, most caring folks around and it is an honor to be in the midst of such wonderful people.”

IMG_2554
Local Red Cross volunteers partner with the Kern County Fire Department to install free smoke alarms in Kern River Valley homes. Photo: Craig Hayes, American Red Cross

“I truly enjoyed the opportunity to work with Red Cross family members from around the region during our recent responses. Everyone has been so welcoming and there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for accomplishing our mission.”

“My first official Red Cross event was the past January Sound the Alarm event. I was able to go into homes and connect with the families. I was so happy and proud because the people we met were very skeptical of me, but by the end of the visit I felt a bond. And knowing the small task of installing a smoke alarm could do so much for them.”

“It’s great to put something directly into the hands of someone who needs it. One of these times was at the stand down when we gave out comfort kits and backpacks. I almost cried when the vets thanked us for our service!”

26937394_10155236696662606_578686548_o
Local volunteers tidy up the Red Cross shelter during the January Montecito debris flow in Santa Barbara County. Photo: Ghassan El-Andari, American Red Cross

“In 2017 Visalia Fire had a 3-alarm apartment fire where I was the Battalion Chief in charge of Operations, and then went home to get my Red Cross Disaster Action Team supplies to assist six families that were displaced.”

“I love the sense of community. I’m proud to be part of an organization that helps the community with no strings attached.”

“I had no idea how much the Red Cross does during disasters. It has been a beautiful, eye-opening experience.”

“The Red Cross was giving a helping hand in more ways than I had ever imagined. My biggest surprise is that I seem to be getting back more than I’m giving… the Red Cross has been a tremendous blessing in my life.”

“Seeing neighbors helping neighbors all across the country. The Red Cross brings out the best in all of us.”

“When I was 17 I was involved in a fatal car accident. I lost a lot of blood, and wouldn’t be here today without the help of a blood donor. When I met Jim McGee, and he gave me the full Red Cross story and all the organization does including blood drives, I knew it was a place where I could pour passion and enthusiasm. I am here to help the way I was helped.”

Photo 1
Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteers distribute “Valentines for Vets” and other goodies on Valentine’s Day at the Fresno VA Hospital. Photo courtesy Sarah Brown Monroe, American Red Cross

 “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the Red Cross. My Dad was in the US Army at the Battle of the Bulge and was captured by Germans. He was starving. He was a little guy, 5’6” and 145 pounds. He was only 90 pounds when he escaped. Prior to that, the Red Cross sent a box of food for the prisoners each month. If it wasn’t for those boxes of food, he would have died of starvation.”

 “I joined the Red Cross at 13 with my mother, and the first time I deployed it was with my mother! My sister is now a Disaster Action Team volunteer in San Diego County. Red Cross is family in every sense of the word.”

Volunteers make of more than 90% of the Red Cross workforce. The work we do every day to serve our communities would not be possible without their compassion and dedication. Learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer; visit redcross.org/volunteer today.

26227238288_0c3bd643de_k
Find out what it’s like to be a Red Cross volunteer. Join us on Saturday, April 28 to Sound the Alarm and #EndHomeFires in Bakersfield, Fresno, or Santa Barbara. New volunteers are welcome and day-of training provided. Visit soundthealarm.org to learn more.

These quotes have been edited for clarity and grammar.

Advertisements

Get Prepared California! Auction

Auction-Graphic.pngWith an unprecedented amount of large-scale natural disasters over that last several months, many striking right here in California, we’re even more grateful for our volunteers, donors and partners. This incredible level of response demonstrates the need for preparedness and what it means to have a kit, make a plan and be informed. And, while we are fortunate that we did not have to respond to a major California earthquake through all of this, being prepared for an earthquake of any size should always remain a top item on all of our lists.

One long-time Red Cross partner, the California Earthquake Authority,  places a high priority on educating California homeowners and renters about how to stay safe during an earthquake, and how to reduce the risk of earthquake damage and loss. One of the programs they promote, the Brace & Bolt Retrofit, stands to benefit qualifying California residents with critical financial assistance in preparing for earthquakes.

For qualified persons, the Brace & Bolt Retrofit will cover up to 50% of the cost of retrofitting a California home for earthquakes. More specifically, expenses cover the bolting of a home to its foundation to keep it from sliding off during an earthquake, and a subsequent bracing of the house’s supports. CEA’s program also provides homeowners with a list of qualified retrofit contractors.

But, that not all. Each year, CEA plays an instrumental role in the Great California Shake Out and, every year since 2012 they have shown their commitment to Red Cross emergency preparedness and disaster relief by hosting the Get Prepared California! Auction.

This year, the auction runs from April 2nd to April 30th and, as in the past, it will raise funds to help support American Red Cross disaster relief and preparedness efforts—right here in California.

The money raised will help us distribute blankets, provide hot meals at shelters or out in communities affected by a disaster via our Emergency Response Vehicles and, offer hygiene items to people who may have lost everything.

Thanks to the generous support of bidders and the efforts of CEA and iHeartMedia, after six years, the funds raised to date by the annual auction have exceed $1 million dollars—with more than $171,000 being raised during the 2017 auction, alone.

Check out just a few of the incredible prizes you can win at this year’s auction:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Please, join our local Red Cross in helping to make this year’s auction a great success. Visit the official Get Prepared California! Auction webpage beginning April 2 to bid and please, share this link with your friends, family and loved ones.

Youth Volunteers Raise Money for Disaster Relief

On a bright and sunny Saturday, March 31st at Oak Canyon Community Park in Ventura County, CA, I had the honor of joining local Red Cross event-base volunteers Anurag Karra (North Hollywood Highly Gifted Magnet High School), Sriram Potluri (Oak Park High School), and Aneesh Ankareddy (Oak Park High School) for a 5K Walk-a-Thon.

MFblog1

The youth-led event benefited American Red Cross Disaster Relief as a local community response to the Thomas Fire in December 2017-January 2018.  After what I considered very little back-and-forth on getting the event organized, these young men pulled off a high quality fundraising event that was successful from various points of view, including number of participants, food and refreshments, and money raised for the Red Cross. Anurag, Sriram, and Aneesh even expressed a desire to hold a similar 5K Walk-a-Thon event next year, or they even may lead a smoke alarm installation event in Ventura County!

MFblog4

Did you know? 25% of Red Cross volunteers are age 24 years or younger. Being young is no barrier to being able to help people in need, in your community and around the world! Youth volunteers and Red Cross Clubs throughout the region play a vital role in serving the Red Cross and our community. They raise funds for everything from local disaster relief to the international Measles Initiative, as well as educate their local communities on emergency preparedness. These dedicated Red Crossers learn lifelong skills through their volunteerism, and provide important services to our most vulnerable communities.

mfblog3.jpg

Learn more about youth volunteer opportunities in your local Red Cross chapter. Inspired by these teens’ philanthropy? Consider making a donation or let us know your fundraising ideas in the comments!

Morris Franklin
Regional Philanthropy Officer
Pacific Coast and Ventura County chapters

Out of the Ashes Rises the Phoenix

A series of personal items are laid out on a bed. It looks like typical scene of someone packing for an overnight trip; there is a bag, a change of clothes, and a laptop. But this is not a typical suitcase.

clothes-on-her-back

Look closer and you’ll realize that a pair of tan slip on shoes are written on with a black marker:

Fire Shoes 12-4-17

These are the only personal items that Dawn Reily was able to grab at a moment’s notice when the Thomas Fire forced her family to evacuate last December. With her parents, her daughter Jade, and 18 animals to also evacuate, these items are all Dawn was able to grab for herself in the minutes before fleeing their home. These everyday items are now cherished possessions from the disaster that destroyed her Ventura Skyline home on December 4, 2017.

California Wildfires 2017
Dec. 8, 2017 – Red Cross volunteers walk through the shelter at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Photo: Dermot Tatlow, American Red Cross

As the Thomas Fire approached her home, Dawn knew right away where to take her family: the Red Cross shelter at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Once they arrived at the shelter, they were greeted by Red Cross volunteers who provided cots and a safe place for her family to sleep. Dawn, a former Humane Society employee, immediately went to work through the night helping set up the animal shelter next door and supporting other families as they came to the shelter with their pets.

The next morning Dawn looked up at the hillside in the direction of her home and knew it was gone. She wrote on Facebook that day, “Our mind wanders about what you will miss that you didn’t take out of the house and between what you are grateful to still. Jade just said, ‘If someone asks me what I miss, I’d say the whole thing. The feeling of being home.’ I agree.”

On Wednesday, December 6, Dawn went to see the remains of their home for the first time. As an artist, Dawn not only lost her home, but her livelihood. Decades of work and sketchbooks were reduced to ash.

“We came around the corner and completely lost it with anger, fear, and every emotion you can think of,” said Dawn, “We were walking around our house, my daughter was crying about losing her ballet shoes.”

friends-helping
Dawn’s friends help sift through the remains of her Ventura Skyline home after the Thomas Fire.

Once the initial shock of the fire wore off, Dawn and her family began the long and painful road to recovery. But they had support from their loved ones, the community, and organizations like the Red Cross and United Way. They found out about the Red Cross Service Center that had opened at the Ventura County Credit Union and went to see what resources would be available.

“It was awesome,” said Dawn, “Jade got a Mickey Mouse doll, there were refreshment there,” said Dawn, “You just don’t even think. It’s so hard to process. People ask what you need and you just need everything.”

“Having a place to talk and get information and be surprised at the fact that you’re eligible for assistance is so helpful. You’re at a loss for what to do and how to start. It’s overwhelming. To have someone know what the next steps are and what to do is a godsend,” she said.

Donations made to the Red Cross and United Way in the aftermath of the fire allowed these organizations to provide critical financial assistance to families like Dawn’s as they began to recover. With these funds, Dawn was able to purchase new art supplies to revive her business and start generating income, and purchase other important resources for their family.

California Wildfires 2017
A Red Cross volunteer meets one-on-one with a resident impacted by the Thomas Fire. Photo: Dermot Tatlow, American Red Cross

“Everybody that has helped us, we called them our angels. All these angels came forward to help,” said Dawn.

Despite losing almost everything but the clothes on her back, Dawn is now giving back to the community that supported her. She is working on a poster that represents the strength and resilience of the Ventura County community.

“We live in such a beautiful, strong community and we will rebuild and we will be stronger for it,” said Dawn, “Part of my healing process is by teaching and being open, talking about it, and if someone can gain strength by my experience, then I’ve done my job.”

Wilson-Reilly-Family-from-GoFundMe
Wilson-Reily Family Photo: Dawn, her parents, and daughter Jade pose for a photo.

She plans to donate the proceeds from the poster sales back to the organizations she felt gave so much to her: the Red Cross, United Way, Food Share, and Project Understanding.

“Out of the ashes rises the phoenix. It’s like rebirth,” said Dawn, “I feel like a different person.”

Giving Day is Wednesday, March 28.

The Red Cross is asking everyone to support families like Dawn’s who are impacted by disasters on Giving Day – Wednesday, March 28. Your donation can #Help1Family and provide hope and urgent relief such as food, blankets and other essentials to people who need it most. Giving Day is a 24-hour fundraising campaign supporting the work of the Red Cross, helping people across the country in need of emergency assistance. Donate now by visiting redcross.org/givingday, or by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10.

Local Volunteer Honored with National Red Cross Award

Local volunteer Judy Stahl was honored with the national Humanitarian Services award at Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. last month.

National Awards and Recognition Dinner 2018
From left to right: Gail McGovern, American Red Cross President; Judy Stahl, Red Cross volunteer award winner; Sherri Brown, President of Humanitarian Services

Judy has been a proud Red Crosser for 9 years, most recently serving as a volunteer leader for the Pacific Division. From the event ceremony program:

“Judy Stahl is a leader. She is strategic, committed, loyal, collaborative, smart, and inspiring. Judy is solution-based and she drives results for critical business initiatives. Judy takes thorough ownership of projects. She does all of this with selflessness and inspiring passion for the mission.”

Last year Judy served as interim for two leadership employee positions, saving the organization thousands of dollars in wages and lost production. She led six regions in the Pacific Division to exceed their volunteer engagement targets. She also took charge of major projects in work order and facilities management. Her work saw major improvements by decreasing late fees, retaining partnerships, and saving employee work time.

“Judy performed these tasks with a sense of urgency and grace, keeping Humanitarian Senior Leadership informed of project status along the way.”

In an organization that’s more than 90% led by volunteers, behind-the-scenes volunteers like Judy are critical to ensuring that the organization functions so that the Red Cross mission can continue. Every day these volunteers are working tirelessly in operations, finance, human resources, volunteer services, and more. That’s why this Red Cross Month, we’re proud to honor Judy Stahl as a national Red Cross Humanitarian Services award winner! Congrats, Judy!

6 Tips to Beat the Flu Season Blues

flu-couch.jpg

Flu season is among us and has hit full force this season. The flu virus is always changing, but that doesn’t mean your healthy habits should be. Several people are affected every year due to the flu, but there are simple ways to prevent it from spreading and keep yourself from getting sick.

flu-season

 TIPS

  1. Hard to do if you’re a people person, but keep your distance from those around you that are sick.
  2. Wash your hands! Germs are everywhere and in almost everything we touch. Keeping hand sanitizer and wipes are also super helpful for on the go.flu-symptoms-facebook-red
  3. Keep your hands away from your face. It’s a habit many of us have without knowing it, but germs can easily spread this way.
  4. Clean those smart devices! Your phone, laptop, Fitbit… We touch these items too many times to count throughout the day.  Clean off those surface germs to help prevent getting sick.
  5. Nutrition! Eat healthy and drink plenty of water.
  6. Relieve your stress, in whichever way works best for you.

If we all commit to following these simple steps, we might be able to keep our neighbors, loved ones, and community a little bit safer this flu season.

Get more health and safety tips and tricks in the palm of your hand. Download the Red Cross First Aid App for smartphones and tablets. With videos, interactive quizzes, and simple step-by-step advice it’s never been easier to learn first aid!

Elisa Ladaw
Red Cross Volunteer

Santa Barbara Volunteer Becomes ‘Part of the Solution’

Updated January 28, 2018

Gayle Labrana, a teacher and former Peace Corps volunteer, felt inspired to lend a hand after recent fires and an unprecedented mudslide devastated her hometown.

After her daughter was evacuated from her home during the Thomas Fire in early December, Gayle sought a way to give back to the community. She reached out to the Red Cross after watching a call for help on the local news.

“Seeing there was something I can do got me away from the TV and on my way to being part of the solution,” Gayle said during a break from a weekend-long training session in Santa Barbara.

Gayle Labrana
Gayle Labrana attends training at the Red Cross Pacific Coast office in Santa Barbara.

Gayle jumped into volunteering wherever she was needed. Just days after becoming a volunteer, she helped at an evacuee shelter for three days. She then took training to become a Red Cross caseworker, an instrumental member of the recovery team, and Home Fire Campaign volunteer.

In just a few weeks, she has given over 40 hours of her time and is excited to get more involved.

“Meeting people from all aspects of life balances us all out [in this time of need],” she shares. “I am more thankful after this experience.”

Gayle is particularly interested in learning about community planning and preparedness.

“I feel protected and prepared to help out. As a community, we can endure anything that comes up.”

Over the last three weeks, the Pacific Coast Chapter has seen a tremendous outpouring of volunteer support. Nearly 300 new volunteers have participated in orientation, training and/or completed a shift.

For more information on volunteer opportunities, contact volunteer.centralca@redcross.org.

Story and Photo by Jocelyn Hillard, Red Cross public affairs