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 Additional health and safety tips can be found by following your local Red Cross social media or by contacting your county health officials.