Monday, June 27, 2016

In Case You Missed It - June 27

Army Captain Model and his family, who was able to be home in time for
the birth of his daughter with help from the Red Cross.
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 93 adults and 35 children following 44 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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Long Island Volunteer Helps in Texas After Flooding

by Kate Walpole, American Red Cross

Dennis Patrikios has been a volunteer at the Red Cross on Long Island for more than ten years. A few weeks ago Dennis deployed to Texas in response to the unprecedented flooding throughout the state. In our conversation with Dennis, he discusses his role in Austin and what it means for him to go on a deployment.



Can you talk about your role at the Red Cross?
I basically do whatever they need me to do. In a nutshell, I am a Shelter Manager and Supervisor, I'm a Disaster Action Team Captain, I’m an Emergency Response Vehicle driver, I teach CPR and First-Aid, I respond to local fires and disasters, I teach disaster classes and I do the installation of smoke alarms. I’m retired so they call me to do a lot.

Have you ever deployed outside of the Region for the Red Cross? If so, where?
I was in Galveston, Texas on my first deployment in 2008 for Hurricane Ike where I was part of the Emergency Response Vehicle team and did fixed and mobile feeding. A tropical storm [Isaac in 2012] brought me to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Kendal, Louisiana. It’s happened to me twice that people we meet who are seeking help have actually become volunteers in their area – one in state and one out of state – because they saw what we did and they saw what it was all about. Before I actually left, they had gotten the paperwork and signed up.

What was your role in Austin, Texas?
This time was different because I worked in the Operations Center in the Sheltering Division to get shelters set up and staffed. I’ve always been a Shelter Manager so this was my first time in the Operations Center.
My supervisor was a really good guy out of that chapter. He taught me a lot. I think all Shelter Managers should spend a day in the Operations Center for no other reason than to see how the other side of the table works.

What compelled you to deploy to Texas?
It’s what compels all Red Cross people to do what they do – they want to help. I got a call from the chapter asking if I was available, I said sure and I went to Texas. It’s a calling; something we all feel compelled to do. We sign up to do this job. We’re trained to see and do mostly everything we need to do on a job. There’s a need and we do it. The days are long, they’re tiring and they’re exhilarating because you know you’re doing the right thing to help somebody.
I think everybody should try to do it at least once, to go on a deployment, if you have the time and the opportunity arises. The people that you meet on a deployment, not just the staffers from the Red Cross but the people that are hurting, the people that need our help, are actually thrilled that we’re there. The thing they find amazing is that we leave our homes and go for a period of time to help out. That just fascinates them.

To see Dennis on the ground in Texas and learn more about the Red Cross response efforts there, click here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

In Case You Missed It- June 20

Red Cross Workforce Engagement and Volunteer Service Teams Volunteering for #GetAlarmedNYC 

Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 34 adults and 10 children following 32 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

Red Crossers Respond to Orlando: Roxy and Jack

Since the tragic events unfolded in Orlando one week ago, the American Red Cross has been supporting first responders, impacted families and community members. While Red Crossers commonly seek to respond when they see neighbors in need, the massacre in Orlando has resonated in a different way with the LGBT and Latino communities within our mission. We spoke with Jack Hermann and Roxy Santiago about their experiences.

Jack is a long time mental-health volunteer for the Red Cross. He got involved on a whim while working at the University of Rochester in New York after taking a disaster mental-health class in 1993. Shortly after completing the course, he was deployed to the Northridge Earthquakes in California. Since then, he has deployed numerous times, including to the TWA 800 plane crash, Hurricane George and September 11. A licensed counselor, Jack served as a mental-health lead for the Red Cross in Rochester, NY and now, in Washington, D.C., he is the Regional Volunteer Manager for Disaster Mental Health at NHQ.

Roxy was born in Puerto Rico and lives in Thorton Park in Orlando, “not far from the fabulous Red Cross office.” She is a business owner and a volunteer with the Central Florida Red Cross. She says she volunteers in order “to give back. It’s in my heart.” After volunteering with the Human Rights Campaign and the Hispanic Caucus, she came to the Red Cross because she “wanted something that fulfilled another section of my soul, which was about helping everyone.”

Roxy personally knows the owner of the Pulse nightclub as well as lots of the bartenders who work there. She actually learned of the tragedy on Facebook from a friend who happens to be a bartender at Pulse. “I thought that [post is] strange, what is that about? I wondered what had happened, was she in an accident?” she recalled. “As I looked for more info, I realized this was not about a car accident or anything else. It was more than that.”

Roxy immediately jumped into action last Sunday and reached out to board members she knew well at The Center.

“Because of all the people I know and all the different foundations that I volunteer for, I would probably be needed most there to provide my input for people in the community and get the help we need as far,” she said.

Roxy helped to connect the Red Cross’ team of mental health and spiritual professional volunteers with the counselors at The Center.

Jack’s first day as a counselor was spent in the Family Assistance Center, where first responders and community-based organizations gathered to support the families as they are notified of the status of their loved ones. Jack said the room was filled with emotion as families had to reconcile hope with reality.

Jack witnessed the very strong LBGT community in Orlando and said the outpouring of support is extraordinary. “Groups are coming together in partnerships for the first time, looking at each other as people versus sexual preferences,” he said.

Roxy also has been struck by the unity of the Orlando community.

“I’ve been at The Center and the donations I’ve seen from Amazon.com and food being delivered from Chilli’s and Chick-fil-a (which has not been known to be good to the LGBT community),” she said. “It’s just amazing to see all of this stuff coming in…Trader Joe’s…things are just flying in and we are working together to get them out.”

Jack is working closely with the City of Orlando, the Orange County Department of Mental Health and the Victims Unit of the FBI in a three-prong approach to identify the services and the structure the community will need in the days, months and years to come.

Jack explained that although communities prepare, this is not something you can be ever be totally ready for so building partnerships and drawing on the Red Cross expertise is essential. “The goal is to leave relationships and partnerships stronger.”

When asked how we can help Jack said, “Knowing people want to help, is help in its own right.” He added, “Reach out to the communities around you – the LBGT community, the Latino communities – and let them know you are there for them.”

Roxy added, “I want to say thank you. If you can’t be here in Orlando, just remember there are people, LGBT people, Hispanic people, in your own community. Every now and then just go and give them a hug and tell them you’re there. That’s the message we really want to send out: to start loving each other.”

Thank you to Jack and to Roxy and to all of our volunteers and partners for your commitment to the mission of the Red Cross and to the Orlando community.


The Eastern New York Red Cross Helps NYC Get Alarmed!

by Kate Walpole, American Red Cross

Our #GetAlarmedNYC team got a bit of help from our neighbors to the North last week. On Sunday June 12 staff from the Northeast NY Region traveled to NYC to support our Home Fire Safety Campaign.

Hundreds of free smoke alarms were installed by a team that consisted of seven volunteers and AmeriCorps members our neighboring Region as part of our initiative that aims to install up to 100,000 free combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors by 2017.

(L to R): Ann Byrne, Thomas Becker, Meghan Yost, Jenner Alarcon,
Jane Wenham, Julianna Shei (missing Paul Charon).
On Monday the group teamed up with local volunteers from Staten Island to install a total of 124 smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. The following two days, they went to Brooklyn to fulfill installation requests and appointments providing 42 families with free devices and fire safety education. 96 alarms were installed on Tuesday and 88 alarms were installed on Wednesday. On their last day with the Red Cross in Greater New York, these volunteers were recognized at the Greater NY Region’s all staff meeting for their support and commitment to the Red Cross mission and the #GetAlarmedNYC program.

“I do this program up in Eastern New York as well…it was awesome to come down here and to do installs for a couple of days,” said Disaster Preparedness volunteer and AmeriCorps member in Eastern New York, Meghan Yost. “We helped a lot of people in a short amount of time. It was great to speak to people who really need these alarms. I saw a lot of homes that didn’t have any smoke alarms at all. It really makes me happy to be able to help a population that could really face a tragedy when it comes to home fires. Overall it was a great experience working with the volunteers as well. Everyone really seems to be working towards reducing home fire deaths. I had a lot of fun and would love to come back again!”

“Going throughout the boroughs really made me feel like a part of this fire safety mission,” said Jane Wenham, Health Services volunteer in Eastern New York.

Spurred by the tragic deaths of seven children in a fire in Midwood, #GetAlarmedNYC targets communities in all five boroughs and has grown to become the largest smoke detector giveaway and installation program in the U.S.

To learn more about #GetAlarmedNYC, including how to schedule a free combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector installation and how to volunteer with the Red Cross, please visit www.RedCross.org/GetAlarmedNYC.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Long Island Father, Grandfather Deploys to Orlando

by Kate Walpole, American Red Cross

Tom Hlenski is a longtime volunteer who instills the Red Cross mission in his family and serves as a role model for helping others who are suffering. Working alongside the Red Cross following the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, Tom had a gut feeling he would join the Red Cross someday but it wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina that he first became a volunteer. With a doctorate in social work, Tom practices on Long Island and has dedicated much of his free time to the Red Cross for past 11 years. As a Disaster Mental Health volunteer, Tom utilizes his professional expertise to help others during deployments outside the region and right here in his own backyard.

Following last Sunday's horrific shooting, Tom answered the call and traveled to Central Florida to support the Red Cross response. Thursday evening (coincidentally his birthday), we spoke to Tom about the power of comfort, support and togetherness amidst tragedy.


What are you and the Red Cross doing to support Orlando?
A number of us came to the Family Assistance Center to provide disaster mental health services. I worked the dog team in Buffalo [following 2009 plane crash] and had seen an opportunity where people get more relaxed with a dog and can begin to talk about their experience, their story, their narrative and what may have happened. Here, I’m embedded with a team from Therapy Dog International meaning they’ve accepted me as a partner. I recommend places I think would be good for them to visit where we would make contact with people who have been affected. These dogs are highly trained and highly vetted. Their calming effect has been incredible. It’s like the door opener. I see the how the whole mood of the place changes; it’s invigorating. More often than not it’s a very predictable narrative – “I just want to hug him” or “he’s just like my dog” – then they tell you about their dogs and show you pictures. That’s also the beginning of me talking to them. It’s such an easy way to get into that conversation of how they are impacted. So we make a visit and I do my disaster mental health work shaking hands, welcoming people, making assessments and determining if we need more disaster mental health people there.

What other groups of people are you helping?
In essence, the Red Cross helps anyone who has been touched by this tragedy. For example, the Family Assistance Center has attendants who greet you, some being security. They work day in and day out and feel a part of the stress the town is experiencing. Even though they’re remotely involved, they are a group we would ask about how they’re holding up. That gives an example of our reach and the different people we reach out to, not just those at the epicenter but also those on the borders. Within that framework, we are also talking to the workers and staff. When we visited the 911 call room, some of the workers were able to talk about their experiences (or not talk about them) but were able to cry, thank us for the visit and thank us for being there given it was such an emotional night for them. We look for who might be impacted so we can reach out to them. We tell them about the Red Cross – that we’re there and they can call us. We don’t provide long term therapy, but we can do assessments, have a conversation about resilience and make referrals if needed.

How do you take care of yourself on such an emotionally charged deployment?
I’m moving around. I’m mixing up locations so it’s not as intense, but it can be. Tomorrow I may be in a place that is extremely intense. So I drink my water, I try to rest, when I’m tired I sit down and I try not to push myself too hard. I have other disaster mental health people surrounding me so I talk to them and we talk to each other. That’s how we help each other. We share, we listen, we support, we hug. I also try to get a good night’s sleep.

What does this response mean to you personally?
Everyone can relate to how helpless they feel when something like this happens. Locally there are people who bake a lot and bring it to a site to feel like there is something they can do. It’s a horrible time when you feel so terribly helpless. I felt that helplessness and I knew I wanted to go [to Orlando]. I had known it was coming up for me and had talked to my wife about possibly deploying at the end of this year. She said she also wanted to go because she’s disaster mental health volunteer too and she supported that I wanted to go. I made a call to say I was ready and put my hat in there if they needed people to deploy. To be here at a time like is important for me. I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday. I’m just happy to be here and happy to serve.
Another thing that makes this so special is my wife is in the Red Cross, my daughter is in the Red Cross, my niece is in the Red Cross and my granddaughter is in the Red Cross. What my grandchildren see me, my wife and their mother do at the Red Cross is something else that feels great; they can see what we can do and what they can do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reaching Out to Orlando

A few hours after watching the horrific events unfold this past Sunday, our Regional CEO Josh Lockwood boarded a plane for Orlando to support the Red Cross response. For the next several days, Josh will assist regional Red Cross leadership in Central Florida and dozens of volunteers (including several from our region) as they work to provide comfort, compassion and love to a community in shock. Yesterday, we took a few moments to talk to Josh about his deployment.  


Are you currently at the Central Florida Red Cross Headquarters in Orlando? Can you talk about your initial impressions since arriving?
Yes, I’m here at the local Red Cross right now. I first want to offer my deepest sympathies to this community and my heartfelt condolences to all who’ve lost loved ones. Being in the family assistance center and being confronted with people who had lost loved ones, all you feel is compassion and empathy. We just wish so much that these folks didn’t have to go through what they’re going through. I’ve also been blown away by the outpouring of love and generosity here as well as the sense of resiliency.

Can you talk about Sunday morning and the process of making yourself available to deploy?
Like so many people, I saw the event unfolding and I was in disbelief. I felt a combination of shock and outrage and sadness that such a massacre would take place. We always, as Red Crossers, have an impulse to want to do something and to help. As a gay man I personally felt an added desire to contribute in a meaningful way. And I was recently asked to be the national sponsor of the LGBT employee and volunteer group at the Red Cross and I now lead this group. It’s such a horrible event and I felt that, given my roles at the Red Cross, I needed to be a part of the response in Orlando. I immediately reached out to my counterparts down here [in Orlando] and to national Red Cross leadership and said I wanted to go. I left for Florida Sunday afternoon. Prior to leaving, my husband and I sat down with our six year old son and explained why I was traveling to Florida and why it was important that I do this.

Can you talk about when you first started working with the Red Cross team in Orlando?
I was connecting with people on the ground before I left, while I was in the airport and during my flight. I got to Orlando at 1 AM on Monday. A few hours after arriving, I went to the family assistance center to thank the mental-health volunteers who had been working all night and all day to support families grappling with this news. This included many large, close-knit, Latino families with extended families who were being informed one by one, that their loved ones were deceased.

Red Crossers, primarily local mental-health volunteers, were supporting these families. I felt good that I was able to provide some thanks and care to them.

Can you talk more about the volunteers on the ground?
There’s a large contingent of LGBT Red Crossers who immediately said that this is personal, who have had a desire and a need to be here at this particular moment. I accompanied many of these volunteers to one of the vigils Monday night and there are going to be more every single night. There’s a feeling of camaraderie and loss and a real sense of mission at a basic humanitarian level but also a camaraderie with the LGBT community at this moment in our nation’s history. There are also a lot of Latino employees and volunteers from the Orlando area and beyond, given that most of the victims of the massacre are Latino.

There are a lot of dynamics at play, some of these young men and women were not out to their families. There are family members realizing their child is an LGBT young person only through their death. To serve these families, Red Cross is partnering with the GLBT Center of Central Florida (The Center) where we are sending mental health volunteers. We developed co-branded signage for families who may feel more comfortable seeing the Red Cross as a traditional place to seek support at this particular moment. We are proud to volunteer with The Center and other organizations like Zebra Coalition, Equality Florida, Children’s Disaster Services and the Orlando Chamber of Commerce to serve the needs right now.

What is important for New Yorkers to know about the Red Cross work in Orlando?
We at the Red Cross are striving every minute, of every day to meet unmet needs as quickly as possible. We’re doing that by offering services directly, by working with any number of incredible nonprofit and governmental partners. We are working 24/7 to make sure these survivors and families of people who were slaughtered are receiving anything they need that might help them in small and large ways in real time. In an operation like this, it’s about speed and compassion to make sure people are getting what they need, how they need it and from the appropriate person they need to receive it from.

What do you tell people who ask how they can help?
There are a number of things people can do to help at this particular time: they can give financially to one of the funds that has been set up by other organizations; they can learn first aid skills so wherever they are they would feel empowered to act; they can raise their voices in opposition to violence.

After 9/11 many people were shocked by such a terrible thing and felt the need to do something whether it was directly related to that event or just to be a person who had a stake in bettering people’s live around them. One hope I have is that all of us feel motivated to make the world a better place after this life-changing tragedy.

Anything else you want to add?
From social media, to phone calls and emails, so many people have offered words of gratitude or thanks. I really do feel humbled that when something so horrible like this happens, at a time when so many of us want to do something, I feel fortunate to be in a role where I could almost immediately start to have an impact and be productive in trying to help people in this horrible moment. 

Following Sandy, 17,000 people came to New York to help. I felt compelled to do the same when called upon. Prior to leaving, I felt supported with really positive New York energy. I feel so much support and love from Red Crossers and from people outside the Red Cross in New York and I’m certainly trying to do my best. I’m channeling this energy here in Orlando.


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