Life and Loss, One Volunteer’s Journey of Sharing Her Heart for Service

Sometimes, you’re simply at the right place at the right time. For American Red Cross volunteer Jeannie Wilson, it was the moment that she pulled into the parking lot of her local Red Cross chapter in January 2017. It wasn’t the trip she was expecting to make, but after more than 13 years of watching her son suffer from an incurable disease, it is the path that brought her here.


American Red Cross volunteer
Jeannie Wilson and her son.

“You never expect to bury your children before you,” Wilson shared softly. “It seems so long to me, but to retell it seems so short. It was a long 13 years of him being sick.”

Traveling to all the top medical institutions throughout California, Jeannie was sleeping in hospital rooms and her van to be alongside her son, all while running a successful church with her husband. Her life consisted of daily commutes that brought hours of travel to care for her son. Dropping everything she was doing to be with him, each of the 18 times he was placed on life support.

Jeannie recalls the last trip she took, “My son fought such a hard fight and those last days were beyond what any mother could do and our only hope was in God,” she said. “He let me know he was hurting. His heart was stopping. I began to tell him that it was okay for him to go.” Doctors once again rushed in to resuscitate him, but this time Jeannie told doctors to let him go. His time had finally come… he was at peace.

She spent the year following her son’s passing pushing through the pain and filling the emptiness. Jeannie’s priority was to stay busy. A few short months after losing her son, her brother passed away. Jeannie was defeated. She was done.

While running errands one day, she passed a sign for her local Red Cross chapter and all of the sudden without even thinking she was turning into the parking lot. She says it was akin to being on autopilot.  She parked her car without thinking, got out and walked right into the chapter where she was greeted by a friendly Red Cross smile. The question that came to her was simply, “Do you need volunteers?”

“That literally saved my life,” Wilson said. “I would have never thought of the Red Cross. I haven’t left and I’m not going anywhere. This is probably the best medicine that you can ever get. We’re all going to go through something at a certain time in our life. For me this was mine. It was worth every minute.”

Today, in her role at the Red Cross, Jeannie is a regional lead for Disaster Spiritual Care and a trainer for the Be Red Cross Ready program. As an advocate in the community, she is passionate for helping senior citizens. Whether it’s going to meetings at senior centers throughout her neighborhood or meeting with them at community events, Jeannie shares a warm smile and purposeful preparedness education. Growing up on a farm, Jeannie was always taught the importance of giving back to others.

“We all face emergencies and we have all been through something,” Wilson said. “Put yourself in the place of someone that is in need. What do you have or what can you help them with financially? We give financial assistance to help families get the resources they need, not the resources we think they need. We tend to think that people can use our hand me downs, but they need financial assistance, a comforting voice and someone to talk to about their emotions.”

After being called to assist as on-scene support for large home fires throughout Central California, Jeannie knows first-hand the devastation home fires can cause after watching her parent’s home burn. She often reflects on the Red Cross and how they came to help, not knowing that it was one of the primary roles of the Red Cross.

“This is my story and I’m never leaving.”

“You never know what tomorrow is going to bring,” Wilson said. “Even with obstacles, you can overcome. The Red Cross means a lot to me, it really does. A passion that might be hard for others to understand, but because of the life I have had, being a volunteer really gives you that power to feel, understand, and hear from those who are suffering.”

Celebrating Black History Month at the Red Cross

February is Black History Month and we are honoring the men and women who played  a pivotal role in shaping the American Red Cross. If it were not for these pioneers, the Red Cross would not be where it is today. 

undefined Frederick Douglass was a leading spokesman of African Americans in the 1800s and a friend of Clara Barton. He was there to support her in her efforts to gain U.S. acceptance as a member of the global Red Cross network. Most notably, as serving as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia, Douglass signed the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross when they were submitted to municipal authorities. These articles legally documented the creation of the Red Cross. 

undefined Gwen T. Jackson was a dedicated volunteer leader throughout decades. Beginning as a volunteer in 1961, Jackson worked her way up to being the first African American to be appointed as the National Chairman of Volunteers for the American Red Cross in 1989. While serving with the Red Cross, Jackson provided assistance during major disasters, support during the Persian Gulf War, and provided a blueprint for future growth of volunteerism for the Red Cross. After serving on the American Red Cross Board of Governors in the 1990s, Jackson was awarded the Cynthia Wedel Award for her 50 years of dedication and volunteer leadership. This award is given to outstanding Red Cross volunteers. Jackson currently holds an appointment as Chair Emeritus of the American Red Cross Milwaukee Chapter. 

undefined Steve Bullock began his career with the Red Cross in 1962, working as a caseworker. His work took him throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Twenty years later he became the Chief Executive Officer and Chapter Manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter. In 1999, Bullock was named acting president of the national agency in Washington D.C. after the recommendation of resigning president, Elizabeth Dole. As president, Bullock and his team brought 60,000 pounds of relief supplies to Macedonia to aid nearly 140,000 ethic Albanian refugees driven from their homes in Kosovo. 

Without these trailblazers, the Red Cross would not be the organization we know and love today. We want to recognize these pioneers and their efforts for the Red Cross and the communities they served.

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!

“You Won’t Find a Bigger Fan of the Red Cross Than Me.”

SBJenniferPhotoBlogHannah Troy of Montecito has stayed in two Red Cross shelters during two separate natural disasters that struck over a five-week period. She was evacuated twice during the Thomas Fire, the largest in California’s history. During her first mandatory evacuation she spent two days at the Red Cross shelter on the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus, and later stayed with a friend for 12 days over the holidays. 

Her return home proved to be brief when she woke up to the sound of heavy rain and a mudslide evacuation alert on her phone at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 9. She ran out to where her minivan had been parked, but it was no longer there. Her brother-in-law’s car was also swept away. The road clearly wasn’t safe to drive, so she went back inside her home and waited with her sister and brother-in-law, with whom she lives.

When they had learned the day before that their home was in a voluntary evacuation area, Hannah had packed her car with a bag with clothes and supplies for a few days in case they needed to evacuate again. Those belongings were gone in a wave of mud.

After being rescued from her home, Hannah was relieved to see the Red Cross shelter open at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC). Having trudged through thick mud with her family and dogs, she was glad to have a hot shower and fresh clothes because she couldn’t carry many belongings with her through the mud.

You won’t find a bigger fan of the Red Cross than me,” she said.

The Red Cross has been providing shelter and other services for people impacted by the mudslides.

The area of mandatory evacuation expanded to clear the area for recovery efforts and more than 29,000 people were ordered to leave for what might be another week. People who arrived at the shelter were offered food, a place to sleep, mental health services, help reaching loved ones and access to hot showers and clean clothes.

Hannah stayed at the SBCC Red Cross Shelter with her dogs Lulu and Gabriel for a week, while she planned her next steps for a long-term recovery. She praised the Red Cross volunteers as giving her a sense of security after going through two natural disasters.

“There are all these amazing people and I feel safe,” said Hannah with her arms extended pointing toward Red Cross volunteers. “I just feel like this is the smartest place for me to be right now.”

Earlier this week, Hannah decided to stay with her aunt, but she promised to keep in touch with people she had gotten to know at the shelter.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Red Cross, visit http://www.redcross.org. You can also donate to the Red Cross at the same website, by calling 1-800-REDCROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Byline: Jennifer Haake, American Red Cross Pacific Coast Chapter

1/18/18: American Red Cross Update

RED CROSS TRANSITIONS SHELTER RESIDENTS

TO RECOVERY PLANS

Santa Barbara, Calif., January 18, 2017 — In partnership with local relief organizations and government agencies, the American Red Cross of the Pacific Coast transitioned the San Marcos High School shelter to standby at 6:00 a.m. Thursday morning. Red Cross caseworkers met with each shelter resident to offer them a recovery plan and additional recovery resources.

The Red Cross and its partner agencies are committed to making sure that everyone impacted by this disaster is offered a safe place to go. For those whose home address has been verified by CAL FIRE as in the impacted area, a short-term lodging solution has been made available by community partners as part of their larger community recovery plan.

Red Cross emergency shelters are designed to meet the immediate, short-term needs of impacted residents until long-term efforts can get underway. As the Santa Barbara community begins to recover from this disaster, the Red Cross is meeting one-on-one with any affected residents and providing an individualized recovery plan.

Caseworkers from the Red Cross are available to meet with the public at the Local Assistance Center at Calvary Chapel of Santa Barbara, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, Santa Barbara, CA 93103. Additionally, Red Cross crisis counselors are available to meet the emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of those feeling the impacts of this disaster. Red Cross Emergency Vehicles and volunteers also continue to distribute relief supplies such as clean drinking water and snacks at the US Post Office, 2245 Lillie Ave., Summerland, CA 93067.

 About the American Red Cross Central California Region

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. The American Red Cross Central California Region provides services to the ten counties across Central California that is home to more than 4 million people. For more information, please visit http://www.redcross.org.

 

Over 800 Community Members Become Red Cross Volunteers During Thomas Fire

The outpouring of support from the Santa Barbara and Ventura communities has been incredible. The Red Cross helps to mobilize local residents who want to help their neighbors after a disaster, including the Thomas Fire.  When needed, community volunteers can expand the reach of trained Red Crossers by helping to hand out relief supplies or perform other tasks.

As of December 23, 2017, the Red Cross registered 1871 local community volunteers, with 834 community members attending an orientation and working a shift at one of our shelter locations.

I had the pleasure of meeting several people from the area who signed up to volunteer during the Thomas Fire. Despite all of their differences, they all felt a calling to help their neighbors.

Ben Pallan originally set out to volunteer with the casework team. When he found out there was a need for sheltering, he signed up to work two shifts at the shelter in Santa Barbara. “I wanted to do anything I could to help out, and Red Cross was the way to go.”

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Pictured is Fred Samuel, Sean Whipple, Ben Pallan, and Kam Kobeissi.

Sean Whipple, a senior at Humboldt University spent his Christmas vacation feeding residents at the shelter. “My mom lives in Ojai and had to evacuate. I wanted to help others going through the same thing she did. I really felt connected to this”.

Susie DiMauro from Santa Barbara works at a local nonprofit, spent her day at the shelter taking down cots and other random tasks. “I had a good time. It was good to help out,” she said.

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Mom and daughter duo volunteered at the Red Cross shelter at UC Santa Barbara.

As some of the lucky few that did not have evacuate in Santa Barbara, Deborah Danielson and her 15-year-old daughter Nicole, still felt the impact on their community. They attended an orientation at our Red Cross chapter in Camarillo, and then volunteered at the Red Cross shelter at UC Santa Barbara on its last day of operation. Along with many other new volunteers, they helped clean up the Recreation Center, which included cleaning cots and restocking Red Cross trailers so they would be ready for the next disaster.

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Pictured from left to right, Nicole Danielson, Ben Pallan, Deborah Danielson, Susie DiMauro, and Sean Whipple. Together they helped serve lunch, restock trailers, and disinfect cots.

“Our community truly came together when we needed it the most. Our volunteers made sacrifices to help ensure their friends and neighbors had shelter during this difficult period. The words ‘thank you’ don’t even begin to describe how much we appreciate their efforts,” said Kimberly Coley, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast and Ventura County Chapters. Thanks to these new Red Crossers and their efforts, the local Red Cross will be prepared to respond to the next disaster.

To sign up to become a volunteer, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up today. There are several ways you can volunteer to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters with the Red Cross.

Taylor Poisall
Red Cross Communications