To Thank Our Heroes

As many of you know, I am at the end of my second term, and I have had a chance to meet some amazing people. I have created partnerships with all the “Office of Education” for our region. I have introduced the American Red Cross to different organizations and had the opportunity to educate a lot of parents and children, but there is one group I have had the opportunity to work with, that I have to recognize.

Our local fire fighters have done so much to help not just me, but to help our Central Valley AmeriCorps and preparedness team.  In my two terms, I have worked with our fire departments on events such as: Team Firestopper, Wild Firestopper, Kid Firestopper, MLK Day of Service, and our Home Fire Campaign. Anytime I, or anyone on the team, have called on the fire departments, without hesitation, they have been there to help us. One might say, “Helping others is what they do.” And yes, helping others is what they do, but sometimes it’s so easy to overlook all they do that isn’t publicized.

chris nelson
Chris Nelson

When working on my Kid Firestopper program last year, I sat down with some fire fighters from Fresno and Merced, and asked for some of their input. I took some of the questions the children were asking me and received their answers. Now, I could have looked up the answers, but I wanted to give the children answers from the fire fighters. I felt it made more of an impact on them.

During Team Firestopper, the fire fighters were there to help us canvass and also gave us the facility to host our seminars. For HFC, they came out with their Explorers, Hot Shots, and a couple of engines to help install smoke detectors; one station even giving us carbon monoxide detectors to install. So big deal, a partnership with the Red Cross is almost expected, but many of the fire fighters who came to help did so because they appreciated our help. That’s huge for me to see and hear from them.

Blood donation for Captn. Dern
Veronica donating blood

Before I began serving the American Red Cross, I had already established a respect for our fire fighters, but during these past two terms, that respect has grown. It has grown so much that I felt the need to give back in some way, but I didn’t know how. An opportunity presented itself last February when during a training exercise Fire Fighter Paramedic Chris Nelson, from Selma Fire, fell off a 45 ft. ladder. This accident left him needing several surgeries, and ultimately leaving him paralyzed. Due to the numerous surgeries, blood donation events were hosted in Fresno to help. I’m terrified of needles, but there I was donating blood for the first time to a fire fighter I had not, nor have, met. I did this for two reasons; he was a close friend to my close friend Captain Sean Johnson, and he was a man who would have helped us had we asked. During this event, I watched as brother fire fighters banded together to help another fire fighter, a brother. After experiencing this, I promised Captain Johnson, anytime any of his brothers needed help, I would do what I could. A prayer every time an engine would zoomed by, advocacy for fire fighter rights, and yes even another pint of blood was what I had to offer. Maybe it sounds extreme, but considering all a fire fighter offers any of us, at any given time, it was the least I could do.

Capt. Sean Johnson
Capt. Sean Johnson

On March 29th of this year, another brother came to need the communities help. Captain Pete Dern, of the Fresno Fire Department, fell through the roof of a house that was on fire. He was ventilating the roof of the garage when he stepped forward through the roof into a fiery pit. He was rescued by his crew, but not before he received burns from 60-70 per cent of his body. Capt. Dern has, since March 29th, undergone countless surgeries, and has an entire nation routing for his recovery and hosting blood drives. So there I went again, still hating needles, to donate for one of our own, a local fire fighter. As I arrived to the blood drive, there lining the parking lot were fire crews that I had the pleasure of working with during these past two terms. Each fire fighter took the time to thank me, and those in line, for coming out and helping Capt. Dern.  They were thanking us, but what I don’t think they realized was, we were there to thank them (or at least I was.) This man, with his accident, has a nation wishing and praying for his recovery, and expressing their gratitude for the risks fire fighters go through every day.

Pete Dern
Capt. Pete Dern

As a moment of complete honesty, I joined AmeriCorps and agreed to serve the Red Cross for one huge reason; the opportunity to work with the Fire Department. I don’t believe I have the guts to become a fire fighter, but I have the heart to help them. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank our fire fighters, not just those in the Central Valley, but all fire brothers across the nation. Thank you for stepping into the fire for someone or something (pets) that may have been trapped inside. Thank you for doing your job and for never asking for thanks in return. Thank you for being our heroes! So for Captain Sean Johnson, Captain Pete Dern, and Fire Fighter Paramedic Chris Nelson, this little sister thanks you for being my heroes!

Veronica Lases,
AmeriCorps NPRC 2014-2015
Latino Community Preparedness Coordinator
American Red Cross Central California Region

Saving Lives in Merced: The Home Fire Campaign

The day was April 18, 2015 in Merced, CA. Alyssa Aviles watched as American Red Cross volunteers came into the National Guard facility ready to install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide into the Merced homes. Each person had a smile on their face and was anxious to get started on the project at hand.

Alyssa is not a regular Red Cross volunteer. In fact, she is a Fresno State student, who is working on a service learning project for her marketing class along with two classmates. She and her group members found that Red Cross’s values were in line with their own views and were eager to help out in Home Fire Campaign.

Alyssa and her classmates were put on teams and set out for the day.  She soon learned that asking people to open up their homes was no easy task. Alyssa said, “Some people think this was too good to be true, which is why they are reluctant to let us into their homes.”

IMG_0007Even though Alyssa’s team experienced some resistance, there were quite a few homeowners that allowed the volunteers to enter their homes.  Alyssa’s team approached a home where the homeowner only looked at the vests and shirts of the volunteers and knew Red Cross was there to help in some way. She gladly called out to the volunteers and said in a high-spirited voice, “Come on in, don’t be afraid!” The team then explained to the homeowner about the free smoke alarm and the woman was even more welcoming. She said, “It’s wonderful, Red Cross is generous for doing this for me. Thank you.”

There were a lot more homes just like this who were just overjoyed with the fact that Red Cross was able to not only giving away free smoke alarms but were also installing them on the spot. One homeowner said, “It feels good that you’re out here, my father died in a home fire, shows the people care.”20150418_140153

Alyssa asked one homeowner, who was without a smoke alarm for 47 years, if she was ever afraid of a home fire and the homeowner said, “Lately, I’ve been kind of leery about it, I have a fire place, and sometimes I wonder things happen, and I kept praying hoping nothing happens.”

Alyssa also had a few things to say about the day, “I’ve never been a part of something that would benefit families and possibly save them from any future fires. I feel with this campaign I am making a difference and that makes me proud to be a part of the American Red Cross team” She went on to say, “Red Cross really cares for people in need, I never knew that so many people lived without smoke alarms or didn’t know what a carbon monoxide alarm is. Red Cross can not only install these alarms, but educate the people in case of a fire, and that is what I consider priceless.”

Alyssa Aviles,

Community Ambassador Volunteer and Fresno State Student

Day in the Life: Fundraising, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

The sun was setting over the Bakersfield skyline as guests started to arrive at the airplane hangar for the annual Kern County Real Heroes event. It was the perfect celebration to end a day full of wonderful volunteer services throughout the Central California Region. The 1940’s big band music was playing, drinks were flowing, and the party goers were anxiously bidding on silent auction items.

heroes1Lisa Laine stood at the event entrance to greet guests with her Board Member pin proudly displayed on her evening’s attire. As a Red Cross board member representing Chevron and a volunteer, Lisa and her colleagues have spent the last several months helping plan and organize the evening’s event.

Fundraising volunteers like Lisa play a crucial role in securing resources for Red Cross services like disaster relief and preparedness education. Sometimes that means assisting with event logistics like securing sponsors, collecting donated silent auction items, or helping with venue logistics. Other times it simply means representing the Red Cross in their community or educating local businesses on how their contributions can help make their town safer and more resilient.

“This event, although coordinated by the American Red Cross, is an excellent example of local businesses in Kern County working together to give back to the communities in which we live and operate,” said Lisa, “I’ve enjoyed talking about this event with local businesses and members of Chevron’s leadership team in effort to gain their support through volunteering or financial commitments.  The Real Heroes Event represents a significant portion of the Kern County Chapter’s fundraising efforts which are given back to the members of the community in need.”heroes2

The airplane hangar was full now – a sold out event! Lisa began to make to her rounds, greeting guests and thanking donors who had contributed to the evening’s festivities.

“The best aspect of volunteering is the opportunity to partner with people from different parts of the world with different experiences, all sharing a common value – humanitarianism,” said Lisa, “The ultimate goal is to prevent human suffering; however when emergencies do happen, the power of people pulling together to alleviate human suffering is truly remarkable.”

The music came to a stop. Lisa wrapped up her conversation and found her seat; the ceremony was about to begin.

Fundraising volunteers like Lisa Laine are part of the more than 90% volunteer workforce that provides humanitarian services in the Central California Region. The Red Cross thanks and honors these selfless and compassionate every day heroes during National Volunteer Week, April 12-18.

As the evening’s festivities came to a close, Red Cross volunteers stood ready for what the next day may bring. 24 hours a day, seven day a week, volunteers are providing hope and comfort to people in need throughout Central California.

Day in the Life: Service the Armed Forces, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Carol-SAF3It was dinner time at the Ventura Veterans Home when Carol Rogers arrived. As a Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer, she often visits with local veterans both at the home and out in the community. Carol sat down at a table and began to chat with the residents about their outing next Wednesday.

“Wednesdays are reserved for offsite outings. We go to so many interesting places such as museums, car shows, ball games, swap meets, race tracks, missions, casinos, luncheons, historical locations, art galleries, and harbors,” said Carol, “I assist the veterans getting on and off the bus, support the vision impaired and help with any other physical need, sometimes just keeping the veteran company.”

On other days like today Carol often visits with the residents at the home to lift their spirits or simply be someone to talk to over a warm meal.

Carol-SAF1Carol’s husband Jim is a Viet Nam veteran, so she was instantly drawn to the SAF program when she signed up to volunteer. Together they serve as Red Cross representatives for the annual Veterans Stand Down in July where veterans get much deserved assistance with hygiene, dental work, legal assistance, and more.

But the SAF program doesn’t just support veterans. From the moment service members enlist, the Red Cross is there to support active duty military and their families. From resiliency training to linking military families during emergencies and to supporting wounded warriors, the Red Cross is dedicated to supporting all levels of military service.

Carol-SAF2SAF volunteers like Carol and Jim often visit local military bases for deployments and homecomings, to be a friendly face and warm hug for service members.

“Simpson was on the working crew until his unit deployed,” said Carol, “When he left I told him I would see him on the tarmac in 6 months when he returned. He said I wouldn’t remember who he was by then. When he returned he came up behind me at the Welcome Home and said, ‘Hi, bet you don’t remember me!’ while covering his name on his shirt. I said, ‘Bet I do! Hi Simpson, welcome home.’ He gave me the biggest hug with tears in his eyes.”

SAF volunteers like Carol Rogers are part of the more than 90% volunteer workforce that provides humanitarian services in the Central California Region. The Red Cross thanks and honors these selfless and compassionate every day heroes during National Volunteer Week, April 12-18. Click here to learn more about the “Day in the Life of a Volunteer” series.

Day in the Life: Pillowcase Project, 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

The Pillowcase Project, New York 2013“Get out! Stay out! Call 9-1-1!”

The elementary school students shouted the phrase in unison at Katie Kellum as she stood in the front of their classroom. A big smile broke out across her face as she realized her presentation was resonating with her audience of little preparedness experts.

“It was awesome to see that they not only remembered a very important part of the presentation, but their enthusiasm and readiness to repeat back what they learned,” said Katie.

Katie is one of many volunteer youth educators with the Red Cross, and today she was teaching a Pillowcase Project presentation to elementary students in an after school program. The Pillowcase Project, presented by Disney, is a preparedness education program for children in grades 3 – 5, which teaches students about personal and family preparedness, local hazards, and basic coping skills.

Katie-Pillowcase“Initially, I was drawn to the mission of the Red Cross,” said Katie, “I was recruited by one of my clinical instructors while in the second semester of Nursing school. I jumped at the chance to be a part of the organization, and began helping set up shelters for relief during evacuations as a result of forest fires. I later got involved with the Pillowcase Project as a method of educating school aged children about home fire prevention.”

Katie had the class take out their Preparedness Workbooks and turn to page 6. She explained that this is where they can practice and share what they learned about emergency preparedness with everyone at home. They could work with a grownup to draw a home fire escape map that shows two ways out of every room in their home, and a meeting place outside.

“My favorite part of volunteering is being able to interact with kids, teach them some valuable information that they can share, and have a significant role in preventing home fires and preparing the kids for the possibility of any kind of disaster,” said Katie.

Then it was time for the best part of the presentation: the pillowcases! Katie pulled out her own pillowcase and showed the students The Pillowcase Project, New York 2013examples of items to include in a kit. They worked as a class to determine which items are most important for their own kits. Now it was time for them to decorate their own pillowcases to take home.

Volunteer educators like Katie are part of the more than 90% volunteer workforce that provides humanitarian service in the Central California Region. The Red Cross thanks and honors these selfless and compassionate every day heroes during National Volunteer Week, April 12 – 18. Click here to learn more about the “Day in the Life of a Volunteer” series.

Day in the Life: Front Desk Squad, 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The afternoon sun was beating down on the asphalt as Heather McDowell walked across the parking lot towards the Camarillo Red Cross office. She entered the building and was greeted warmly by the volunteer in the reception area. It was time for a shift change, and it was Heather’s turn to assist at the front desk.

Many people know Red Cross volunteers for their disaster relief efforts, but may not realize the thousands of volunteer hours that are put in every year behind the scenes. Front desk volunteers play an integral role in the day to day operations at local Red Cross offices around the world.

Heather-FrontDesk2Heather joined her volunteer colleague behind the front desk and got the run down the office happenings for the day: expected visitors, current local disasters, and any new administrative tasks that need to be completed.

Heather has cared for people her entire life, working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for the elderly with cognitive memory problems.

“After retiring, I had a strong desire to help individuals in need during crisis situations,” said Heather.

Just then the phone rang; Heather picked it up and warmly greeted the caller. It was an elderly woman who had lost her home in a fire and was looking for assistance. Heather instantly made the caller her top priority, offering words of comfort, collecting resources and contacts to make the woman’s recovery plan as easy as possible.

“A caseworker was immediately assigned and although I’m not sure what the final outcome was, I know we were able to step in and help her and her family through this very difficult and painful time,” said Heather, “One of the most excellent virtues that I like so much about the American Red Cross is their compassion, caring, consideration for others and friendliness – every person!”

Volunteers like Heather McDowell are part of the more than 90% volunteer workforce that provides humanitarian services in the Central California Region. The Red Cross thanks and honors these selfless and compassionate every day heroes during National Volunteer Week, April 12 – 18. Click here to learn more about the “Day in the Life of a Volunteer” series.

Day in the Life: Home Fire Campaign, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

It was just after lunch when Megin Hughes pulled into her local Red Cross office. She and a team of other volunteers were going to spend the afternoon installing free smoke alarms in homes in a nearby neighborhood.

It had only been a couple weeks since a fire had burned through a local apartment complex, displacing multiple families that relied on Red Cross disaster assistance. Now the preparedness volunteers were going door to door to install smoke alarms and empower families to make smart decisions in times of emergency.Megin-HFC2

“I enjoy interacting with clients and making my community prepared,” said Megin, “Installing smoke alarms in houses is a great service the Red Cross is providing. Not only does the Red Cross replace batteries and smoke alarms, but with the help of AmeriCorps they provide an evacuation plan for the family. I am grateful that I can be a part of an organization like the Red Cross, and provide service to the community I represent.”

Megin and the team headed into the warehouse and did a quick inventory. They grabbed their smoke alarms, info sheets, batteries, drills, and vests and headed out.

When the team reached the first home, Megin knocked on the door. She explained to the homeowner that they were with the Red Cross and providing a free service to the community. Once the resident understood, he eagerly invited them in. He didn’t have a working smoke alarm and was grateful for their program.

Megin and the resident walked through the home and determined the best place to put the alarm. While Megin finished the installation, another team member worked with the family to teach them best practices for maintaining the alarm and mapped out what escape routes to take in the event of a fire.

“I was drawn to the Red Cross because I saw them provide assistance during the Earthquake in Northridge many years ago,” said Megin, “Ever since then, the image of Red Cross has been placed in my head and I want to be part of an organization that provides assistance to those in need.”Home Fire Preparedness Campaign

Megin and the team shook hands with the resident and moved on to the next home.

Megin Hughes is part of the more than 90% volunteer workforce that provides humanitarian service in the Central California Region. The Red Cross thanks and honors these selfless and compassionate every day heroes during National Volunteer Week, April 12 – 18. Click here to learn more about the “Day in the Life of a Volunteer” series.