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.”
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.
The Stand-Down was started in 1988 by Vietnam veterans, for Vietnam veterans, because when they came home they had no place to go and it has grown to what it is now.
The Central Valley Veterans’ Stand-Down (CVVSD) celebrated its 27th year in September. The event is held annually for four days during the third week in September. Numerous services at one location are available and overnight facilities are provided for our homeless veterans including three meals per day, showers, new clothing, personal hygiene bags, sleeping bags, etc.
The event is a collaboration of numerous governmental agencies at all levels. Non-profit organizations, active service members and veteran organizations and private businesses are available to assist all veterans, active service members and their families, homeless or not. The Red Cross is proud to play an active role at this event every year.
The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program goes all the way back to the establishment of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton in May of 1881. Not only did Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield,” risk her life tending to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, she wrote letters for them to send to their family and strengthened their morale.
Today’s American Red Cross workers proudly carry on this tradition through the SAF program, and they function as a critical line of communication among the U.S Armed Forces and their families.
The Central Valley Stand-Down, which was hosted Sept. 19th through the 21st, actually started with a stand-up on Monday Sept. 18th, where specific needs for female veterans are met. Sara Brown-Monroe, Red Cross volunteer, said “They come in, they register and we have a social services set up for them including: Red Cross, Veteran Affairs (VA), local women services, military sexual trauma, different kinds of flu shots and a female guest speaker.”
The stand-up is an empowering event where women get resources to encourage them in their family life and in dealing with the transition back to society after their active duty service.
This year was the 27th year of the Central Valley stand-down and the 4th stand-up for the women veterans. “It’s great to be of service to the veterans of any nature of whatever they need. Whether it’s homeless or female veterans they’re there to be served,” said Brown-Monroe.
Female veterans also received a Red Cross reusable shopping bag and feminine products, and were provided a free lunch. After the stand-up for female veterans has ended the stand-down begins the following day on the 19th.
There are more than 80 different service providers onsite throughout the event that offer essential services to local veterans, including: the DMV, the prosecutor’s and public defender’s office and a judge.
“We had about 80 services here inside the building. You know if you needed it, it was there,” said John Schuler, Director of the stand-down and Vice President of CVV.
“We do our court out here. The onsite judge is about giving these guys a hand-up. The judge finds a way to work with them to get them up on their feet and get some pride,” said Schuler.
The judge addresses legal issues that might be a hindrance from getting housing services and getting records cleared. There are other services like San Joaquin Valley Veterans, Counselors and the Red Cross helps with supportive services.
For two full days the veterans can come and take advantage of the services and their legal services so they don’t leave without getting their legal and housing services to avoid being homeless.
Bill Gonzalez from Central Valley Veterans (CVV) was one of the organizers for the event. Gonzalez expressed his feelings about a trend amongst younger veterans that now attend the annual event.
“A lot of younger veterans that are being discharged and are unaware of the available services,” said Gonzalez, “My feeling is it’s hard for them to come back into reality after doing their tours: one, two, three, five tours. It’s hard to come back and get into society again because they have been trained to do things so long the other way and working with them and listening to them trying to help them get their benefits and let them know they do have a problem and they do need the help going to the vet’ center talking to a counselor to get back into this society.”
Gonzalez knows firsthand how important these services are for veterans.
“I didn’t think I had a problem. I had a problem I got myself semi-straight. I went through my counseling. I’ve been going through counseling for the last 14 years. I still go through my combat counseling,” said Gonzalez, “I’m helping the vets and helping my other brothers, the younger ones, to get them established back in life in this society.”
While the stand-down itself is only a few days every year, the work leading up to it is a year-round process with volunteers like Gonzalez coordinating donations, organizations, and community partners. Often times, other local veterans in the community are the first to help.
“We are looking and looking, every day, throughout the year, for other organizations to help us out. I have a lot of companies here in town that I get my produce from that they donate; and they’re vets too, they understand,” said Gonzalez, “A purple heart recipient Korean War vet’ donates the paper products.”
Schuler also added that support for local veterans is a year round process.
“We support veterans every day. We support veterans through emergency electric bills and help pay deposits for rents,” Schuler said, “What we do is work with the homeless veterans and we help get them into a house through housing.”
The CVV helps the veterans by aiding them in the process of getting the resources that are available and not actually giving them the resources. “The motto of our organization has always been ‘A hand-up not a hand-out,’” Schuler said.
“That’s what this about, this is a recovery based program,” Schuler said.
“But Red Cross has always been on-board with us. I can’t say enough about Red Cross. We work with Red Cross all year ‘round. We help them, they help us. Even with all the fires whatever you can do and if you ever need us Red Cross knows how to get a hold of us,” Schuler said.
“I want to thank the Red Cross nurses that volunteered out here all week to run our medical. They ran the medical all week and it was awesome,” Schuler said.
“The Monday before is always crazy. The Tuesday always crazy setting everything up but the Red Cross, I ask them to be there Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. and there they were,” Schuler said.
“And they set up the medical and ran my medical for me the whole time that is a huge help. That’s a huge part of it handling the meds and taking care of things, so Kudos,” Schuler said.
The Medical unit that helped is a First Aid station that is known as “MASH 8900”.
Gina Bustamante, Regional Nurse Lead for the American Red Cross said that the nurses, EMT’s, and nursing students spent 185 volunteer hours in the MASH 8900 over four days.
The MASH was open from 6 am to 10 pm. Veterans came to the unit for blood pressure and blood sugar checks. Some veterans also came in to discuss his or her health, medication, seek medical attention, and/ or share stories.
The volunteers also help put together comfort kits for the men, women, and children that stayed on-site for the duration of the stand-down.
Carlos Anderson was the second in command of the CVV at this year’s stand-down. His hope is that more of the community can see the tremendous need that exists for local veterans.
“I’d like to see more of the community come out and meet some of these vets. Some of them are still homeless. We have a Purple Heart recipient sleeping on the streets and at the end of the day some are being dropped off on a corner somewhere because they don’t have a place to live and this is their getaway,” said Anderson.
“It’s great for a kid to see someone who served in Vietnam. We had a Korean vet out here and we had a 90 something year old that came out and visited for one day that fought in the Korean War. That’s great for the community to see it’s not just the homeless thing this is for everybody to get a chance to meet those individuals too,” said Anderson, “What’s really important to me is if more and more Fresno county people came out.”
Stanley Stinson, a Supply Sergeant with CVV, expressed his gratitude towards the Red Cross and the community for their participation at the annual event.
“We appreciate what Red Cross does for us. These are veterans here that don’t know how to come and ask no one else for help. This the one time of the year where they are trying to show that they need some help,” said Stinson.
“Over the last three years we’ve had less funding and less donations you know a dollar here, a dollar there. But these are our veterans that are afraid to ask because they get turned down. So when they come out here we try to give them something to let them know they haven’t been forgotten,” said Stinson.
It is truly sad when a person could risk so much and receive so little. These Vets should never be homeless, hungry and or thirsty once they return back to theirs and our country.
The CVV and all the other organizations should be commended for taking their time and personal resources to make the vets feel appreciated and not forgotten.
After fighting for this country and the freedom non-vets enjoy so much it is hard to believe that non-vets would be reluctant to help homeless vets on the streets.
These vets risked their life to protect and ensure that American citizens are able to have a sense of comfort. The least a non-vet can do is help when homeless vets ask for a little financial help.
Learn more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program and find out how you can help. Visit redcross.org/saf.
As we continue to look back on 100 amazing years of service from the American Red Cross Central California Region the word “selfless” has made an appearance multiple times. The definition of “selfless” as explained by the Modern Language Association is described as, having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc. In my time working at the Red Cross, and being a part of this team I have witnessed this on countless occasions. From our volunteers, to our Disaster Corps members, to our executive front. Selflessness has remained a true staple in the core of the message and identity.
Some of the duties of our wonderful volunteers tend to go untold due to the constant need for disaster relief, lifesaving blood donations, international services, training and certification, etcetera, but I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with a volunteer that embodies the definition of selflessness. Prior to meeting Virginia Bradley (Ginny) I had no idea what a Donut Dollie was. I had been told that they were Red Cross volunteers that served in the Vietnam war. Once I sat down with Ginny and heard her story I knew it was one that needed to be told.
When you think of volunteering the thought of bullets whizzing past your head, and losing friends in the process is something that never comes to mind, well at least for me it didn’t. Then I met Ginny and I understood exactly what this team that we have at the Red Cross truly is. She described to me her experience of being in Vietnam for a year with the purpose of helping our soldiers keep their moral high in times that seemed like they may be your last. A ride back to camp in a helicopter with a friend whose light had been extinguished, and all you can hear are the blades of the helicopter thumping.
“I would definitely do it again, but war is not fun”, Ginny stated as she thought back to her time spent in Vietnam. “I gained a much better understanding of war and the people that lived through war. I met a soldier that was on his third tour, and was afraid he’d kill someone if he went home. We were there to remind them that there was life after the war, but some men and women never got over the experience. On one trip back to base in a helicopter, the pilot told us something had gone wrong, and that we were probably going to crash. I thought to myself that my family was ok, and I had lived a good life if this was the end.”
Along with the dark there were also many things that Ginny said helped strengthen the light. The many games that were played and bonds that were made between soldiers and volunteers. The long talks of home over a cold beverage, and the beautiful sights of cities such as Saigon and Khe Sanh. From the beautiful tile pools that had been left by the French to the adopted dogs that became companions. Vietnam had made a lasting impression not only on those that were serving their country, but also those that were not only there for their country, but on behalf of humanity.
April 1970. Firebase Jamie, Vietnam. US troops at this remote firebase take time out from their duties for informal games staged by American Red Cross recreation workers Gayle Kuhn (left), Jubar Road, Stone Mountain, Georgia, and Barbara Crippen, 143 Marsh Avenue, Youngsville, Pennsylvania. There are more than 90 Red Cross recreation workers assigned to Red Cross centers and clubmobile units in Southeast Asia. Photo by James Caccavo/American Red Cross
November 1969. Tuy Hoa, Vietnam.”Toting equipment bag labeled ‘the Age of Aquarius,’ American Red Cross recreation workers Mary Gin Kennedy (left), Lewiston, Idaho, and Sharon Bernardi, Rt. 5, McAlester, Oklahoma, leave helicopter and head for outlying unit where they will present an informal recreation program. They are two of 110 Red Cross girls bringing recreation activities to U.S. troops in Southeast Asia.” Photo by by James Caccavo/American Red Cross.
November 1969. Tuy Hoa, Vietnam. SRAO Rec Center staff. From left to right: Dolly Hasselwander, Sharon Bernardi, Mary Gin Kennedy, and Sandy Rhoten. Photo by James E. Caccavo/American Red Cross
June 1968. Qui Nhon, South Vietnam. PROBLEMS HANDLED HERE . If a patient at the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon has a problem, he calls it to the attention of Red Cross hospital worker Evelyn Hardison. Here she is consulted by SP4 Irwin Cohen, who comes from San Francisco. Red Cross staffers provide sick and wounded servicemen at the 67th with non-medical personal attention and casework services, such as arranging emergency communications between a wounded man and his worried family at home. Photo by Mark Stevens/American Red Cross
December 1970. Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam. Red Cross worker Christine Foerster, 21, of 1545 Hialeah St., Orlando, Florida, tosses ditty bag up to C-119 pilot Capt. Bert H. Blanton (Rosewell, New Mexico). Photo by John E. Hendrickson/American Red Cross
Through all the gunfire, tears, monsoons, and snakes Ginny never lost her smile. To this day, she continues to instill in her students the compassion and bravery she took with her to Vietnam the day she flew out from Fairfield, California. It’s not easy to give up a year of your life so effortlessly, and at that to be separated from your family and friends to be placed in a foreign country. This is something that only a special group could be capable of. For that I am truly thankful for our troops and the courageous task that they take on. I am especially thankful for Ginny and the other Donut Dollies for their selfless service that should make all Red Crossers proud to don the Red Cross symbol.
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.
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.
“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 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.”
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”!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
On 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.
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.