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.


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!


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.


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.


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.”

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-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, 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 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.



  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

Story and Photo by Jocelyn Hillard, Red Cross public affairs

American Red Cross continues to serve residents affected by Montecito Mudslide

Updated January 29, 2018

The Red Cross is continuing to provide supplies at multiple sites through the day with updated times, 9am-3pm daily.

Distribution points include 1) US Post Office, 2245 Lillie Ave., Summerland, CA 93067 and 2) Montecito Fire Station #2, 2300 Sycamore Canyon Rd., Montecito, CA 93108.


Updated January 27, 2018

If impacted by the Montecito Mudslide, call 805.669.6638 for an appointment with a Red Cross caseworker who can help you navigate the road to recovery.

Si fue afectado por el deslizamiento de tierra, llame 805.669.6638 para una cita con un trabajador de la #CruzRoja.


Santa Barbara, Calif., January 24, 2018 — The American Red Cross of the Pacific Coast is continuing to provide support to hundreds of residents impacted by the Montecito mudslide. The Red Cross, working with its partner agencies, is committed to making sure that everyone impacted by this disaster is offered resources and a plan for long-term recovery.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Red Cross is providing financial assistance to qualified residents impacted by the mudslide. Those who live in the evacuation zones are encouraged to meet with the Red Cross at the Local Assistance Center to determine if they qualify for financial assistance. Those who have already met with a caseworker should return to the Local Assistance Center for updated information. Those who do not qualify for financial assistance will receive other Red Cross services including access to referrals, snacks and water, clothing vouchers, and health, mental health and spiritual care services.

Caseworkers 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. The center is open weekdays 11 am-6:30 pm and Saturday 10 am-2 pm. The center is expected to be open until February 3.

Additionally, Red Cross nurses and crisis counselors are available to meet the medical, emotional and spiritual needs of those feeling the impacts of this disaster.

As repopulation continues, the Red Cross will visit neighborhoods to distribute relief supplies, including drinking water and clean up supplies.

Residents may also pick up supplies at multiple sites daily from 8 am-8 pm. Distribution points include 1) US Post Office, 2245 Lillie Ave., Summerland, CA 93067 and 2) Montecito Fire Station #2, 2300 Sycamore Canyon Rd., Montecito, CA 93108.

As of Wednesday, January 24, 2018, the Red Cross has served more than 7,250 meals and snacks, distributed nearly 3,400 comfort and clean up items and provided more than 1,400 health- and mental health-related contacts.

Photo library

Local Resident Explores “What Now?” After Devastating Mudslide

As Jeff Harms speaks about his home renovations, his face lights up.

“It was an ugly peach color,” he laughs. “People would ask me about it.”

Jeff has spent the last few years making his charming two-bedroom house a home with his husband, Joel, and cat, Jackson.

As a local landscape architect, Jeff has an eye for natural beauty. The tremendous joy he has for his home pales in comparison to his pride for the beautiful Coastal California landscape.

“[It was] tucked away in a wooded oasis along a creek, surrounded by indigenous trees,” he explains with passion. ”The creek created a soothing melody of sounds in the night and the rhythmic croaking of the frogs calmed me to sleep.”

But now the place he once called home is destroyed. His beautiful landscape now a memory.

Jeff is one of over 100 Montecito residents whose home was destroyed in the torrential rain and mudslide earlier this month. Jeff was out of town when the storm hit and was devastated when he heard the news. His top concern was the safety of his community, an integrated town of friends and family. He wanted to make sure his friends knew he was safe, and that they too were accounted for.

The first thing Jeff did was list himself as safe on American Red Cross’ Safe and Well, a site for people in disaster areas to register their status and let their loved ones know they’re all right.

“You never know who is worried for you,” Jeff says, as he shares his condolences for those who had been affected.

Jeff and Cindy LAC
Jeff shares his story with Cindy Huge at the Local Assistance Center.           Photo Credit: Jocelyn Hillard

With an unremitting feeling of lost connection, Jeff made a visit to the Local Assistance Center in Santa Barbara. Connecting over 30 agencies, including the Red Cross, the center serves as a hub for information and resources for those affected.

Jeff came looking for an answer to the question on everyone’s mind – what now?

As Jeff shares photos of his home, you can see the devastation in his face. His once beautiful home and landscape has been swept away in the mudslide. It’s unrecognizable. But still, he’s not concerned about himself. He wants to know that others are safe – the coffee shop barista he saw in the morning, the regular server at his favorite restaurant to name a few.

In the aftermath of this historic storm, Jeff and so many simply miss their sense of home, their sense of community.  The Red Cross is doing our part to provide support to people like Jeff and his neighbors. Those who have been affected can go to the Local Assistance Center to work with a multitude of agencies that are ready to help the community get on the road to recovery.

The Local Assistance Center is open until February 3, 2018 at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, 1 N Calle Cesar Chavez, Santa Barbara, 93103 during the hours of 11 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., Monday –  Friday, and 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday. The center will be closed on Sunday.

Additional information is available at or by contacting (805) 687-1331.



The remains of Jeff’s property after the disastrous mudslide earlier this month. Photos provided by Jeff Harms.

Story by Jocelyn Hillard and Cindy Huge, Red Cross public affairs