Friday, May 6, 2016

Red Cross Salutes Teachers: Tara Graham-Turner


It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when everyone should stop to thank our educators for all they do to build strong communities. The American Red Cross in Greater New York is proud to count many wonderful teachers among our dedicated volunteers. This week, we want to spotlight their amazing commitment, compassion and talent. 


Tara Graham-Turner
Tara has been a teacher for 13 years. She decided to volunteer with the American Red Cross Metro New York North chapter after Superstorm Sandy. Tara is a Disaster Action Team (DAT) responder, a member of a shelter team, and also helps with administrative tasks like entering data into the client assistance system (CAS 2.0).

Q: What inspired you to be a teacher? 
A: I met my best friend, Kim Reed, in middle school. She invited me to see her mother's kindergarten classroom. The minute I stepped into Mrs. Reed’s room I knew I wanted to teach.

Q: If you wanted to share one thing about teaching with us what would it be? 
A: Whatever grade you teach make sure that you leave room for the social emotional needs of your kids. A child is going to struggle to attend to a math lesson if they are upset over something that happened on the playground.

Q: What made you decide to volunteer with the Red Cross? 
My family and I stayed in a shelter during Hurricane Sandy. We were treated with unconditional love and kindness. After our stay I felt passionate about becoming a volunteer.

Q: What characteristics do you think a teacher and a Red Cross volunteer have in common? 
A: Teachers and Red Cross volunteers want what’s best for the people they are working with. As a teacher I get to know my students and move them along academically. I see to their needs emotionally. As a volunteer you get to be out in the community when the community needs you most. Teachers and a volunteers lend an ear and support to people in need. A student may need instructional support. A client needs support with next steps. Both roles, teacher and volunteering need patience and compassion.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Red Cross visit www.redcross.org/gnyvolunteer 

Read more teacher profiles at: http://changinglivesstorybook.blogspot.com/

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Red Cross Salutes Teachers: Elaine Biller

It's National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when everyone should stop to thank our educators for all they do to build strong communities. The American Red Cross in Greater New York is proud to count many wonderful teachers among our dedicated volunteers. This week, we want to spotlight their amazing commitment, compassion and talent. 

Elaine Biller
Elaine received the 2016 Community Preparedness Award. 
Elaine began her teaching career with the Red Cross, as a 16 year old Red Cross trained lifeguard and swim instructor. She then taught swimming at a residential camp for developmentally disabled children and adults. What started as a summer job, led to an amazing and richly rewarding career that continues over 30 years later. Elaine says, “Thank Goodness I look and feel younger than I am!”

Q: What inspired you to be a teacher?
A: Being a teacher is a calling. I cannot imagine doing anything but teaching. It is very rewarding to be so connected to children. As a High School teacher for Sciences and Special Education, I am involved in helping all children achieve their potential. Many of my students could not graduate without intervention so helping a student earn a diploma and enter either a college or go on to a career is a privilege. 

Q: If you wanted to share one thing about teaching with us what would it be?
A: Teachers change lives – that is a fact that can be undervalued in our country. If you are reading this, thank a teacher. Like all professions, some excel more than others, some teachers will teach better than others, but it is an honorable profession that makes lasting differences in the lives of others.

Q: What made you decide to volunteer with the Red Cross?
A: I wrote a blog post about what made me decide to join the Red Cross. The Red Cross has always been in my life. I learned to swim with the Red Cross, became a water safety instructor through the Red Cross, [I] started my career because of these certifications. When September 11 happened, I went to Ground Zero. I basically grew up in Tower 2 [at the World Trade Center] as my father worked there. I was drawn to a non-Red Cross citizen Bulk Distribution site on the West Side Highway. At the time I was a marathon runner. When the police needed batteries up at Ground Zero, the site had them but no way to bring them to the forefront as officers could not leave their posts. I volunteered to run them up. I did this several times. Through the devastation I could not comprehend what happened to the towers. The only stand out for me, the only sign of something I could recognize as familiar and comforting on scene was the Red Cross on the trucks, which I later learned to be ERV’s (Emergency Response Vehicles). It was then I made the decision to volunteer. I did not formally volunteer until my children were older (they were learning to swim with the Red Cross), but the seed had been planted that day.

Q: Which Red Cross service activities do you participate in?
A: LOL, this is the Red Cross... as a volunteer you learn to say YES! We are here for the commitment so when asked, you do it. If you don't know how, you learn it! You join, and participate in as many events, trainings, and meetings as you can. I currently serve as the Long Island Lead for Citizen Preparedness, Disaster Instructor, Disaster Action Team, Shelter Manager, Disaster Assessment Team, Local Mass Care Disaster Operations Center, ERV Team/Driver/Instructor, Logistics, Bulk Distribution, Public Affairs, Media Relations, and have been seen emptying a garbage can or two!

Q: What characteristics do you think a teacher and a Red Cross volunteer have in common?
A: I love this question! I was working as a Bulk Distribution Manger in Mastic Beach during Super Storm Sandy. A representative from the Governor’s office was on site for a hand-off a tractor trailer of supplies from Albany to the Red Cross for distribution. The National Guard was on scene, 100+ volunteers and clients, mental health professionals, the media... it was like a little city! In it, everyone was working in small groups, on different projects, handling different tasks. I was directing the National Guardsman where to offload supplies, keeping groups working, client services meeting the needs of clients, when the Governor’s Appointee asked me, “What do you do for a living?” The National Guardsman laughed and said, “I can tell you... she’s a teacher! No one but the military or a teacher can get people this organized and moving!” To this day, that makes me laugh!

Being a teacher requires you to think quickly, find the strengths in others, help people work cooperatively and in an organized manner. It asks you to be patient and empathetic, and to multi-task! You have to be able to communicate your needs, follow objectives and work toward a goal. Being a teacher helps to reflect on whether or not you are being productive, if everyone on your team understands the goal we are working toward, and how to make quick changes if we are not. You have to be able to speak with others, listen and laugh! Most importantly, you have to want to help others. 

To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Red Cross visit www.redcross.org/gnyvolunteer 

Read more teacher profiles at: http://changinglivesstorybook.blogspot.com 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reflections of a Seasoned Disaster Responder

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross

"To victims there is no such thing as a small disaster." That's Phil Cogan's mantra as a Red Cross Volunteer.

Phil joined the American Red Cross Greater New York Chapter in 2014 as Lead Disaster Responder and Public Affairs Team Member. As a volunteer with comprehensive hands-on experience in every aspect of disaster response, he has been an indispensable member of the Greater New York Chapter.

A California native, Phil earned a B.A. in Communications from UCLA where he was General Manager and News Director of the campus radio station. While at UCLA he also worked in the newsroom of KNX-CBS News Radio which later led to subsequent employment at several West Coast radio and TV stations.

After graduating from UCLA, Phil went on to earn a Master’s degree in Communications from the University of Washington. During college breaks, he honed his skills in crisis communications while working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on numerous U.S. disasters. Subsequently, Phil served with FEMA for 23 years, the last five of which as Deputy Director for Public Affairs, while simultaneously working as Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Navy. He also applied his crisis management expertise at the U.S. Export/Import Bank and Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.

After the 9-11 attacks in 2001, Phil rejoined FEMA where he served as Public Affairs Lead for Urban Search and Rescue Operations at Ground Zero. In that position he developed and implemented media plans and worked closely with national and international print, broadcast and still photo news media and the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to cover the renewal work being done at Ground Zero.

Asked what he thinks new responders should keep in mind and what seasoned responders already know, Phil said:

“When a major disaster such as a hurricane, flood or multi-alarm fire strikes, we all know the tragedy it represents for hundreds and perhaps thousands of helpless residents. But major disasters do not occur every day. What does occur every day…in fact 7 to 10 times daily in the New York area…are ‘smaller’ events such as home fires that are just as tragic to its victims. A ‘small’ home fire can still put residents out onto the street; it can still disrupt their lives; it can still harm or kill their pets; it can still traumatize them and their children. To victims, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ disaster. All disasters are major disasters.”

To sign up to be a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in someone’s life, visit: www.redcross.org/gnyvolunteer

My First “Ride-Along”

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross

Although I have been volunteering with the Red Cross for five months, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I was invited for my first “Ride-Along”, especially since I was advised to wear long pants and sturdy boots…but I would soon find out. I chose to go out on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift on a Tuesday morning.

I arrived early at the staging area on the second floor of the New York Chapter Offices and was greeted by Harry Davila, Response Manager, who introduced me to the two seasoned responders with whom I would “ride along” that day, Jean Cappello and Donna Bascom. Jean has been a volunteer responder for about ten years and Donna has more than three-years experience. They often work as a team one or two days a week as responders who help residents after local disasters.


Donna Bascom and Jean Cappello are seasoned responders who often work as a team. 
They keep the Emergency Communications Center advised of their findings at the scene.

After being outfitted with a “Go-Bag”, a Red Cross vest, jacket and helmet, Jean reviewed a PowerPoint presentation with me on the responsibilities of a Response Team and the do’s and don’ts for responders. Then we waited.

At 11 a.m. we got a call from the Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of a fire in a residential neighborhood of Queens. The ECC had verified the incident and assigned it an Incident Number, which would be used in all reports and communications.

Jean, Donna and I immediately grabbed our gear and went to the basement parking area where we selected a Red Cross van and headed out to Queens. The van had been pre-loaded with basic supplies such as Red Cross blankets, clean-up kits, water and snacks. Guided by our GPS system, Jean drove while Donna alerted the ECC we were on our way. Meanwhile, the ECC informed us that the fire had been elevated to a two-alarm fire.

Because of heavy traffic in Manhattan, it took us about 50 minutes to reach the fire scene in Queens. When we arrived in the middle-class residential neighborhood, the scene was chaotic. We saw about a dozen fire engines and half-a-dozen police cars, all with their red lights flashing. Residents of the burned buildings and neighbors were lined up on one side of the street. You could smell smoke in the air. Firemen and police officers were everywhere. By this time, the fire had been extinguished and the Fire Battalion Chief was inspecting the damage. Meanwhile, Jean and Donna kept in communication with the ECC and began filling out the necessary paperwork.


At first glance the house where the fire began appeared to have little damage.

Three 2-story houses had been affected by the fire. The house on the right side only suffered minor smoke damage. At first glance, the middle house where the fire began and the adjacent house on its left appeared to have minimal damage, but when the Battalion Chief gave us the OK to enter and assess the damage, it was much worse than it appeared. The inside and rear of both houses had been completely destroyed and were totally uninhabitable. Water on the first floor was an inch deep and ceilings and walls were either gone or barely standing. Clothing and personal items were strewn everywhere.


Donna assessed the damage and entered it into her iPad.

The inside and rear of both houses had been completely destroyed and were totally uninhabitable.

We were told by neighbors that six or seven members of an extended family lived in the middle house where the fire began. Jean and Donna tried several times to speak with the family to get more information and offer assistance if needed but they did not want to speak with us. Jean did, however, leave a sticker on the front door with the Red Cross phone number and the case number if the family decided to ask for help.


Six or seven members of an extended family lived in the house where the fire began.

We were able to speak with the owner of the adjacent house who said she did not need housing assistance. She was given a Client Assistance Card (CAC), which the responders are able to load with money for food and/or clothing purchases, depending on the number of people in the displaced family. We also provided information on seeing a Client Services caseworker at the Red Cross New York Headquarters. Our caseworkers help displaced residents make connections with the different NYC agencies such as the NYC Housing Authority.

After spending about three hours at the fire scene, we returned to the New York Chapter staging area to wait for the next call.

My “Ride-Along” proved to be an eye opening experience. It showed me what an invaluable service our volunteer responders provide to victims of fires or other incidents 5 to 20 times every day.

If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, sign up to become a Red Cross Volunteer. Visit: www.redcross.org/gnyvolunteer

Red Cross Salutes Teachers: Debora Bausenwein

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when everyone should stop to thank our educators for all they do to build strong communities. The American Red Cross in Greater New York is proud to count many wonderful teachers among our dedicated volunteers. This week, we want to spotlight their amazing commitment, compassion and talent. 

Debora Bausenwein
Debora has been a teacher for 28 years and first got involved with the Red Cross in high school, when she joined her Red Cross Club. Currently, Debora is a volunteer with the Metro New York North Chapter and serves on the Disaster Action Team and as as a Mass Care - Shelter Manager and Feeding Lead for Sullivan County during disasters. She is a member of the Mass Care Leadership Team and also works closely with the Biomedical Services team, arranging, sponsoring, and working at local blood drives. Deb represents the Red Cross at many community events, where she hands out preparedness material. Recently, she has helped with Home Fire Preparedness installations of free smoke detectors.

Q: What inspired you to be a teacher?
A: I always thought I would be a teacher. In 6th grade I thought I'd be a math teacher. In 9th grade I thought I'd be a music teacher. When my son was diagnosed with a disability, I wanted to learn more about what his education would be like. So, I went into elementary and special education.

Q: If you wanted to share one thing about teaching with us what would it be?
A: To be a good teacher, you have to care about your students like they are one of your own. You have to be gentle yet firm, always consistent with all of them, say what you mean and mean what you say. They biggest thing is don't be afraid to let them know you care about each one of them.

Q: What made you decide to volunteer with the Red Cross?
A: I was introduced to Red Cross in high school. I joined the Red Cross Club in the early 1970s. Later, the Red Cross helped my family get in touch with my sister serving in Italy to let her know my father passes away. When I had the opportunity to start a club at school, I met with the local Red Cross leader, Betty Popovich, and began working with her as the advisor to the club and getting instructor training. I wanted to help the community and teach the middle school students the importance of volunteering and giving back to the community.

Q: What characteristics do you think a teacher and a Red Cross volunteer have in common?
A: The common characteristics are caring about people, having compassion, being empathetic, supportive, helpful, organized, and concern for individuals, groups, and the community.

To learn more about volunteering with the Red Cross visit www.redcross.org/gnyvolunteer 

Read more teacher profiles at: http://changinglivesstorybook.blogspot.com/


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Visit From the President of the Swedish Red Cross

By Caroline Hroncich and Peter Belfiore
American Red Cross

As part of a recent visit to the United States, Anna Carlstedt, President of the Swedish Red Cross used the trip as an opportunity to connect with her American Red Cross colleagues in New York and Washington D.C. During her time in New York, she was fortunate enough to witness the Empire State Building lighting for Red Cross Month, and we were fortunate enough to get a chance to speak with her and learn a few things about the Swedish Red Cross.



What type of role does the Red Cross play in supporting the refugees entering Sweden?
During the autumn there came several thousands of refugees each week to our main central [train] stations. We received them together with the police and the migration authorities so they felt safe when they saw our symbol coming off the train after an extremely difficult journey. They were relieved to see not only the police and the migration authorities but also the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement. We provided first aid water and food, together with other organizations, psych-social support and a lot of information because what we realized was that a lot of refugees after this very difficult journey coming from war in Syria, very often they were afraid of authorities, afraid to even go through the procedure of seeking asylum and we could comfort them and say, "you don't need to be afraid of the authorities in Sweden. They're going to help you out and you can feel safe."
What are some things that you would say connect Red Cross volunteers around the world?
I came back from Syria three weeks ago and when I met Red Cross volunteers there. They said even though they are working in very difficult conditions, they always feel that they can make a difference for another human being. No matter how difficult it may be, it’s never hopeless. Perhaps we cannot always help everybody, but everybody can do something. The pride a volunteer takes in helping another human being and feeling that you’re part of something global, that is very beautiful.


What are some of your impressions of the American Red Cross in Greater New York?


I’m incredibly impressed by the number of volunteers, the staff, and the emergency response and blood donation programs. I was also very impressed by what the Red Cross of Greater New York is doing every day to respond to local emergencies. It’s all part of the Red Cross Movement! Around the world, the Red Cross has the same goals, and this kind of exchange is very important for our organization.


What will it mean for you to see the Empire State Building lit up for the Red Cross movement?
I think it’s a very symbolic gesture. It’s recognition of all that the Red Cross is doing. I’m very grateful and very proud the community recognizes the Red Cross in this way. It’s also very humbling. The Empire State Building is a symbol of the world and it will really mean something.


Do you have a message from Sweden to the American Red Cross of Greater New York volunteers?

Thank you for all of the great work you are doing. Being here in New York, I really feel that we are all one Red Cross/Red Crescent movement.






In Case You Missed It - May 2

Eight members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) head to Houston, TX
to support the Red Cross response to historic flooding.
Over the last 7 days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 136 adults and 57 children following 55 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
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