Monday, January 16, 2017

In Case You Missed It - Jan 16

Red Cross supporting first responders at a 5-Alarm Bronx warehouse fire. (Photo: Francisco Resto)
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 121 adults and 48 children following 57 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  • Jan 3, 5, 6, 9: Red Cross blood drive: 2 to 7pm: 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.
  • Jan 16 and 21: #GetAlarmedNYC is coming to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to help make the community safer one home at a time. On MLK Day, we will be taking appointments and then on Saturday, we will be installing smoke alarms in the community. Volunteer to help out, or sign up to get a free smoke alarm installed in your home.
  • Jan 28: Want to become a part of the Red Cross Movement and help change the world one community at a time? Register to attend our volunteer orientation and learn about the many ways you can impact your community and make new friends by volunteering with the American Red Cross. 
  • Feb 6: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Class is a free workshop that explores the history of the Movement from its inception with the ICRC in 1863 all the way to the three components of the Movement today. Register today!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In Case You Missed It - Jan 9

Long Island Red Crossers going out to install free smoke alarms on a chilly morning.
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 138 adults and children following 41 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  • Jan 11, 16: Red Cross blood drive: 2 to 7pm: 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.
  • Jan 21: #GetAlarmedNYC is coming to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to help make the community safer one home at a time. Volunteer to help out, or sign up to get a free smoke alarm installed in your home.
  • Jan 28: Want to become a part of the Red Cross Movement and change the world one community at a time? Register for a FREE orientation and learn about the many ways you can impact your community and make new friends by volunteering with the American Red Cross.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

In Case You Missed It - Jan 2


Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 142 adults and 59 children following 58 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  •  Jan 3, 5, 6, 9: Red Cross blood drive: 2 to 7pm: 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.

International Services: Restoring Family Links

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross

There is nothing more heartbreaking than when someone has lost track of a family member and does not know where they are, if he or she is dead or alive, healthy or sick. Psychologists say that not knowing, not having any resolution one way or the other about the condition of a family member, is often worse than learning of someone’s death. In death, there is at least an ending, a resolution, closure. Not knowing is a continuous mental burden that can weigh heavily on an individual for a lifetime.

Globally, the Red Cross Red Crescent network, of which the American Red Cross is a member, has worked for more than 130 years to help the world’s most vulnerable. As part of its Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, the International Services Department of the American Red Cross offers worldwide tracing services to family members who have lost track of each other as a result of humanitarian crises such as armed conflict, natural disasters and other factors. For families of displaced persons, these services provide hope and a way to restore contact with loved ones.

One of the most active regions in the country for Restoring Family Links is the Greater New York Region. Typically, the Greater New York regional office handles 150 to 200 new cases annually for people seeking connections with lost family members throughout the world. To initiate a case, a person will contact the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or the Red Cross/Red Crescent office in their area and submit an official tracing inquiry. The tracing inquiry provides all detailed information available on the person being sought. The information includes basic details such as full name, gender, date of birth, last known residence, profession, etc. as well as information on the reason for the lost connection (i.e. war, natural disaster, international migration, etc.), date of last contact and any other relevant information that could help in a search, such as photos, birth certificate, maps, etc.

The tracing inquiry is then forwarded to the American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, D.C. where it is evaluated and sent on to a local chapter caseworker for follow up. Depending on the situation, there are numerous ways a caseworker can seek to locate someone including the following:
  • Phone or write a letter to the person if that information is available in the Tracing Inquiry
  • Visit the last known address of the individual and inquire if he or she is known there
  • Conduct an Internet search and check the White Pages
  • Search through social networking websites
  • Check with refugee resettlement agencies
  • Contact local ethnic or refugee organizations
  • Check with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Check with places of worship and professional associations
  • Check obituaries and cemetery records
If searches are not successful in the U.S. or abroad, it is possible to utilize media to search for a missing individual. With the approval of American Red Cross Headquarters, a Red Cross chapter may utilize targeted media outreach to locate a sought person.

For the cases that are initiated in the U.S., the procedure is similar. An inquirer would open a Red Cross tracing case in New York, for example, which would then be submitted to the American Red Cross Headquarters where it is evaluated and sent on to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or the Red Cross/Red Crescent society in the relevant country for follow up. A caseworker in the local office abroad would then search for the person using whatever methods necessary.

In addition to tracing inquiries, the RFL program also provides other services including Red Cross Messages, Health and Welfare Inquiries, International Disaster Inquiries and Holocaust and WWII Tracing and Documentation services.

Red Cross Messages are used to send written messages between separated family members. These are used when the sender knows the location of their family member but no means of communication are available. These messages are often used by individuals in refugee camps or detention centers.

Health and Welfare Inquiries are used to assist particularly vulnerable individuals, including the elderly or ill, minor children and mentally or physically handicapped people to reestablish communication with family members. For these cases, the immediate loss of communication is not due to armed conflict or natural disaster, but rather due to a family emergency or vulnerability.

International Disaster Inquiries are used to assist family members who have lost communication as a result of a sudden, large-scale international disaster. Availability of service depends on the capacity of the Red Cross or Red Crescent national society in the affected country where the disaster occurs.

Holocaust and WWII Tracing and Documentation services aim to provide information about the fate of family members who were victims of the Holocaust, or were separated by WWII and its aftermath. Such information can help reconnect families, and assist individuals in securing clarification of internment in concentration and forced labor camps. This service often relies on collaboration between several Red Cross societies and the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The latter houses one of the largest Holocaust archives worldwide (about 30 million documents) and works in close relationship with the Global Red Cross to provide documents to beneficiaries.

A good example of a recent successful search for a missing family member comes from the Chicago and North Illinois Red Cross Region. Last summer, a man named Jemel who was staying in a Kenyan refugee camp, sought Red Cross help in finding his missing uncle, Daniel, an Ethiopian man whose last known address was somewhere in the Chicago area. Katie, a new RFL caseworker was assigned to deliver a Red Cross Message to Daniel.

Working with her RFL Program Manager, Michelle, Katie reviewed all the case data and tried to locate Daniel but was unsuccessful. The phone number in the case file proved to be inactive; Google searches led to a dead end; a year-old Twitter account was no help; even visits to his last known residence came up cold.

Finally, Katie and Michelle decided to reach out to Chicago’s Ethiopian community for help. They began visiting Ethiopian restaurants in Chicago, but no one recognized Daniel’s name or photo. They even tried the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago with no success.

It was not until Katie and Michelle visited the Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant that their luck changed. The owner of the restaurant said he knew almost everyone from Ethiopia in Chicago and was confident he could find Daniel. Sure enough, the restaurant owner located Daniel and two weeks later Daniel phoned the Red Cross office and spoke to Katie who set up a meeting with him. He was thrilled to learn that his nephew, Jemel, was alive and safe after so many years of separation. The two men are now reconnected and back in communication with their families.

Ethiopian Restaurant Owner and Katie, Red Cross RFL Caseworker
Needless to say, keeping track of all the details involved in the worldwide tracing services of the Red Cross is an enormous task. In order to manage this task, the American Red Cross has developed its own proprietary Restoring Family Links Case Management System. This is a web-based system that enables RFL caseworkers to see, create, update and monitor information for all their chapter’s cases. Caseworkers can use the system to attach letters, photos, maps or other documents for their cases. In addition to maintaining information on tracing services, the system also permits caseworkers to send and receive Red Cross Messages, Health and Welfare Inquiries and International Disaster Inquiries.

In the Greater New York Region, the Restoring Family Links Program is managed by Sara Onvani. Sara assumed her current position this past April, and is also a former International Services volunteer herself (Boston Chapter). Sara holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a Master’s degree in Laboratory Medicine from University of Toronto. Prior to joining the Red Cross, she served as a consultant on health-related international development projects and spent several years performing medical research. 

Sara Onvani, Regional Program Specialist, 
International Services Department of Greater New York 
Sara says, “ever since Clara Barton established the American Red Cross more than 130 years ago, the Red Cross has been there globally for those affected by disasters, war and humanitarian crises of every kind. Restoring Family Links and its worldwide tracing function is but one of the many services we provide. There is no greater feeling than bringing together family members who have been separated for years or bringing closure to people who have been carrying the heavy burden of not knowing what happened to their loved ones. I go home every night feeling a sense of satisfaction that I have contributed in some way to help relieve the pain and suffering of someone in need. There is no greater feeling than that!”

To learn more about International Services and Restoring Family Links, contact us at Redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies, call us at 202-303-1600 or visit our blog at Restoring FamilyLinksBlog.com.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Best of 2016: Red Cross NY's 7 Most-Read Blog Posts of the Year


By Niamh McDonnell, American Red Cross

From Pokémon Go safety tips to first-person testimonials from our volunteers and employees on the ground providing relief, here on the Greater New York Red Cross blog we captured dozens of stories in 2016. As the year comes to a close, we are looking back at some of these memorable moments by sharing our seven most-read posts of these past 12 months.

#7- Q & A with Flight 1549 Volunteer - Dottie Brier

The American Red Cross was thrilled to be featured in scenes in the Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ feature film SULLY which premiered this past September. Among those who supported the Red Cross response to the landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River and who also reenacted that role in the movie SULLY was Dottie Brier. In this Q and A, Dottie talks about what it meant for her to represent the Red Cross on the silver screen.


#6- A Visit From the President of the Swedish Red Cross

Back in May, the President of the Swedish Red Cross, Anna Carlstedt, stopped by our Regional HQ to talk to staff and learn about our programs in Greater NY. As part of her trip, Anna also had the honor to help light the Empire State Building red and white for Red Cross Month. In this blog Q and A and video, Anna talks about her organization's response to the European refugee crisis and the global impact of Red Cross volunteers.

Red Crossers watch New York City's most epic skyscraper shine red and white in honor of Red Cross Month.
#5- 2016 American Red Cross Gala to Celebrate Extraordinary Acts of Compassion and Courage

This year’s “American Red Cross Gala: Heroes Among Us” was truly incredible. The Greater New York Region honored an esteemed group of heroes and humanitarians, all of whom exemplify the selflessness spirit of the Red Cross:

  • WNBA player Tina Charles created Hopey’s Heart Foundation to help bring defibrillators to organizations across the country; 
  • The Tribeca Film Festival founders helped reinvigorate New York City in the wake of 9/11; 
  • Firefighter Craig Roeder entered a burning building twice while off duty to save a family and their pet; 
  • Three Pulse Nightclub staffers were honored for their bravery and resilience during the horrific shooting in Orlando last June;
  • JP Morgan Chase is a longstanding supporter of our mission.

#4- New York Red Cross Supports Louisiana Relief Efforts

Back in August of this year, Louisiana was hit with historic flooding leading to the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy. Providing relief to those who need it most is at the core of the Red Cross mission, so it did not take long before volunteers from across our region to travel to Louisiana and help. This blog post recaps some of the photos and testimonials from the ground.

LI Red Cross Health services volunteer Mary Farrell (L) currently in Baton Rouge,
stands alongside fellow volunteers from Tennessee, Las Vegas and Pennsylvania.
#3- My First “Ride-Along”

In this post, volunteer Stan Frank shares the story of his first ride-along during which he accompanies Red Cross volunteers on a response shift in NYC. The detailed account of Stan’s experience provides great insight into how we respond to emergencies every day.    

Donna Bascom and Jean Cappello are two of the volunteers Stan features in the story. 
#2- 5 Red Cross Tips for Staying Safe While Playing Pokémon Go
Remember how crazy everyone went this past summer over Pokémon Go? Whether you’ve moved on or have continued to be an avid trainer, this piece will bring back summer memories. And to those of you who really do have to “catch ‘em all,” you do not want to miss out on these safety tips.
Stay behind the yellow line! No Pokémon is worth your life.
After the horrific events that took place at Pulse Nightclub this past June, our Greater New York Regional CEO Josh Lockwood traveled to Orlando to join the Red Cross response to this tragedy. In this piece, Josh shares his experience with us, an account that speaks volumes to the resiliency, positivity and selflessness that can come out of such an unthinkable event.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In Case You Missed It - Dec 12

Youth Council Leaders of the Red Cross Clubs. (Photo: Brett Whysel)
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 124 adults and 54 children following 42 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities (see below).

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Opportunities
  • Dec 14, 21, 22, 23: Red Cross blood drive: 2 to 7pm: 520 West 49th Street, Manhattan. Schedule an appointment to donate today.

Friday, December 9, 2016

After Fire, Brooklyn Woman Decides to Give Back

By Michael de Vulpillieres and Niamh McDonnell, American Red Cross

October 18, 2016 had been an evening like any other for Donna Atkinson but in the blink of an eye her life was turned upside down by a home fire. Yet in the face of adversity, her own resolve along with some help from the Red Cross allowed her to move forward.


Donna had been watching TV in her studio apartment when she stepped out into the hallway where she noticed the smell of smoke. She realized there was something burning upstairs and quickly ran to warn her neighbors of the fire, saving their lives in the process. Once she realized everyone was OK and made her way to safety outside, Donna was confronted with the reality of what just happened.

“I lost everything that I worked hard to buy. The bed burnt to the spring,” she cried. “I’m happy that I’m alive…but you still lose your personal things and wonder ‘How are you going to get by?’ It’s sad.”

Originally from Jamaica, Atkinson moved to the United States by herself a year ago and in her short time in New York City she worked hard to build a life for herself here. She had only been in her Canarsie home for six months when disaster took everything from her.

“[After the fire] I was balling and asking ‘Where am I going to stay, what am I going to do?’… I tried calling my dad; nobody’s answering,” she recalled. “I just kept balling. And then he [a first responder] said to me, ‘the Red Cross is going to come.’ I guess that’s where a little hope came in.”

As soon as the Red Cross arrived on scene, a volunteer offered reassurance and provided her with emergency housing at a nearby hotel for two nights and some financial assistance to buy basic necessities like food and clothing. Atkinson recalled that the money “felt like a million dollars” and that overall the Red Cross was “a ray of sunshine” for her during these difficult moments.

After experiencing the Red Cross mission firsthand, Donna realized that she too could be a part of it. As someone with a natural inclination to help others, she plans to become a Red Cross volunteer so that she can help give people that same sense of hope that she received.

“I want to give back to the Red Cross cause they have helped me…I want to be where I can just physically help people,” she said. “I want to volunteer, to help, to make somebody else have a glimpse of hope.”



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