Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We love you guys.

The night after the Blizzard of 2010, Frank Favilla and his wife Aabye-Gayle heard a commotion outside their apartment and realized their building on Judge Street in Queens was on fire. They fled, wearing just sneakers, pajamas and overcoats, then watched for almost an hour in the frigid cold as a 5-alarm blaze ripped through the building. Although their unit was not burnt, it suffered enormous damage as firefighters broke windows and walls in order to reach the burning apartment above them.

The next day, the couple, who had spent the night at the home of a family member, followed the advice of an uncle of Frank’s who has worked for the Red Crossthey returned to their apartment and registered with the organization. “My uncle said we could get our immediate needs for food, clothing and possibly shelter met,” said Frank. “And that if we had any questions, we could ask the Red Cross.”

In fact, Frank and Aabye-Gayle had many questions, among them, “What help is available?” “Whom should we call?” “Where should we go?” and “What documentation must we bring with us?”

“Our caseworker told us what next steps to take and who to speak to,” said Aabye-Gayle. “And that anyone who had questions should call her and she would speak on our behalf.” The couple, who received emergency funds for food, said they were very pleased with the Red Cross.

“We love you guys,” said Aabye-Gayle, who trained at the Red Cross in CPR and AED this past summer. “I didn’t know what specific crises you guys addressed, but that you help when people are displaced.” Frank added, “It’s comforting to know that there’s not a question we can’t ask when we need help.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Red Cross is the best there is in New York.

L to R: Ana Arrendel, Rances Gantier and Carmen Morales
The moment Carmen Morales smelled smoke the afternoon of December 21, she and her 18-year-old son José raced out of their ninth floor Bronx apartment. But because the smoke was billowing through their stairwell, firefighters met them a few floors below and sent the pair back to their apartment, to wait, very scared, for half an hour, until the firefighters returned to lead them outside.

When they emerged from the building, “The Red Cross was right there,” said Carmen. “They put us into a warm bus and gave us something to eat and drink, then took us to a community center.” At the center, Carmen and Jose were provided with more hot food and beverages, as well as emotional support and emergency housing at a local hotel.

Ana Arrendel, another Grand Concourse tenant, was at her job as a hairdresser, right across the street from the building, when she was alerted to the fire. Distraught, she immediately called her son Rances, who was teaching a class of pre-K students at a nearby school. Rances came home as soon as he could. He and his mother were also taken by bus to the community center, where they too, received emergency Red Cross assistance.

The two mothers and sons, who had not known each other before the fire, met at Chapter headquarters in Manhattan the next day, where Red Cross client caseworkers provided them with further services, along with referrals to other agencies that could help meet their longer-term needs.

“The Red Cross is the best there is in New York,” said Ana.“They gave me hospitality I wasn’t expecting.” When things get back to normal, she said, she plans to take up a collection for the Red Cross so that the organization can help others who find themselves in the same situation. Carmen added, “I’m very thankful to the Red Cross.”

Ana Arrendel, Rances Gantier and Carmen Morales, Bronx, NY

Monday, December 20, 2010

You help families to stay together.

L to R: Paula McCullough, granddaughter Lauren, and daughter Contina
Paula McCullough never imagined that she would need the services of the Red Cross, until she and her family—three daughters and five grandchildren—found themselves outside their Staten Island apartment at 4:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, watching their building burn. Their third floor apartment was deemed uninhabitable due to the damage caused by the fire, which started on their terrace, possibly from an electrical short. That’s when the Greater NY Red Cross stepped in to help.

“It never dawned on us that we would need the Red Cross until the FDNY told us that they had called them,” Paula said. Since they were unable to grab necessities from their apartment in time, the Red Cross provided the McCullough family with emergency food and clothing assistance at the scene of the fire.

“The Red Cross took the burden off of our shoulders,” said Paula. She added that when Red Cross relief workers said they would provide the family with housing assistance, she realized the McCulloughs would have to move and start over. Paula said she was grateful that the entire family was able to remain together in Red Cross arranged housing. “When I get back on my feet,” she said, “I am going to donate because I know that you help families to stay together.”

Paula McCullough, Staten Island

Monday, December 13, 2010

We are so happy to help children who have lost their homes…

Jackie Cruz and some of her students from PS1. (Photo: John Cruz)
As his children outgrew their books, John Cruz, Greater NY Red Cross Senior Supervisor, Response, realized that other children might greatly benefit from them—kids he saw each day at the Chapter’s Client Services Department who had lost everything in a home fire. So John donated those books to the Chapter. Soon, he noticed that children who visited Client Services with their parents were taking the books home. “I thought that was wonderful,” he said. “Of course, that meant that more books were needed.”

John’s wife Jackie, an art teacher at Brooklyn’s P.S. 1 the Bergen School, came to the rescue. Jackie had wanted to involve her students in a project that would help other children; a book drive to benefit the Greater NY Red Cross seemed perfect. Jackie’s students collected more than 200 new and gently used children’s books—so many that John drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle to P.S. 1 to haul the books back to the Chapter.

Red Cross overnight disaster responders then added to the collection, and Greater NY AmeriCorps volunteers put together bookcases. By October, The Cruz Library, with more than 300 books for children ages three years to teens, officially opened in Chapter’s Client Services area.

Children affected by disasters, primarily home fires, who accompany their parents to Chapter Headquarters to meet with client caseworkers, can now pick up a good book that will help to take their minds off of a difficult situation. They are encouraged to take home any book they wish.

“We are so happy to help children who have lost their homes to a fire or other disaster,” said John. “We hope they will take full advantage of this terrific new resource.”

John and Jackie Cruz, Brooklyn

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why I Run for the Red Cross

Photo by Syncere Zakee
Chris Busbee, unofficial coach of Team Red Cross, talks about his ING NYC Marathon experience this past November.

How many marathons have you participated in?
Thirty-seven; this was my 14th NYC Marathon.

Why do you run marathons?
Marathons are one of the few things that you get more out of it then you put in. They are the ultimate test of courage, character, dedication, perseverance, willpower. A marathon truly tells you “who you are.” My life has changed for the better because of the people that I’ve met by running for others and for charities. Running marathons makes you feel young. I’m running towards something and contributing to something at the same time.

Why run with Team Red Cross?
The Red Cross mission and brand is so unique. Red Cross is like a great work of art; we don’t notice it’s there are all the time, but we would notice if it were absent. What’s more, how can you not want to provide basic services to those who need it most? The organization’s mission represents a kindness and service to your fellow man that truly encapsulates the meaning in life. I’m proud to tell people to donate to the Red Cross.

What is your relationship with Patrick Durkin, a NY Red Cross Board member, and with Clay Sell, who came from Texas, as you did, to run in this race?
These are my friends who I am drawn to. I get so much out of my relationship with Durkin. We have a great bond. We met in Paris on a ridiculous biking tour of the Alps. I work with Clay and love challenging him, so I twisted his arm into coming to NYC and running this marathon with me.

Describe your experience crossing the finish line.
It was a weird mix of pleasure, joy and relief. I tell everyone that the last two miles of the marathon are the best two miles I run all year. It’s hard to sift through all of the pain and everything that’s going through your body, but it’s really joy and relief. It was emotional when I crossed with Shay Grinfield because it was his first marathon.

What was it like being a leader for Team Red Cross?
I felt like I was truly helping people by sharing my personal experience. I read this great quote that I’d like to share with you:

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle—when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."

I like this quote because it reminds me that it doesn’t matter if I’m in first place or in last place—all that matters is that I run. We’re running for the people of New York—the people whose lives have been altered because of a disaster. We run because when we do the American Red Cross is able to give them food and blankets, and provide a safe, temporary place for them to sleep free of charge. It’s not just the Red Cross’ one hundred year-old mission, it’s our team’s as well.

What advice do you have for first time marathon runners?
Running the NYC Marathon will change your life, and not in a small way. It’s impossible to describe what strengths and confidence you will get from successfully running this. It’s unfathomable for a first-time marathon runner to understand until they are in it. It’s a privilege to be surrounded by so many passionate people on that starting line—to know that there is more to life than the normal routine.

Chris Busbee, Boerne, Texas

Monday, December 6, 2010

“I never expected so much help in so little time.”

Walter and Diane Gomez and daughter Laura
As they were preparing for bed one Sunday night, Walter Gomez and his wife Diana smelled something burning. Ducking onto the balcony of their second floor Queens apartment, Walter was chilled to see smoke pouring from the apartment above. He quickly called 911, and told Diana to grab their daughter Laura and get out of the apartment. As his family raced downstairs to safety, Walter raced upstairs to the top floor apartment, which was enveloped in thick smoke. There he was met by another neighbor carrying a fire extinguisher who began to try to damp down the flames. (The people who lived in the fire apartment had already fled the building.)

Soon, Walter and his neighbor heard sirens and knew that firefighters would arrive shortly. Before they ran outside, they made one final check to make sure everyone had made it out of the building okay. Walter, a veteran of the first Gulf War who works in Operations at JPMorgan Chase, credits his attempts to save the third floor apartment to his U.S. Army service. “Instead of running out, we did what came naturally to us,” he said of himself and his neighbor, whom he called “a very proactive individual.”

Once the fire was extinguished, Red Cross responders at the scene started the Gomez family back on the road to recovery. “They went into the building with us and assessed the damage,” said Walter. “They explained what services they offered and provided us with food and financial assistance on the spot.”

At New York Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan a few days later, Walter and his family received further emergency services, including referrals to other agencies and arrangements for counseling. “You know that the Red Cross is there,” he said, “but you don’t know how much of a difference they make until you really need them. I’m surprised and overwhelmed. I never expected so much help in so little time.”

Walter, Diane and Laura Gomez, Glendale, NY

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"The Red Cross is literally a lifesaving organization."

On Thanksgiving Day, Deborah Stevens of Manhattan was visiting her older daughter in Ohio. She had come down with an upper respiratory infection and was asleep when she heard phones begin to ring. Her younger daughter, who was also out of town, in Atlanta, and her neighbors in Manhattan were calling to tell her that her apartment was on fire. “My apartment?” she said to her friends. “But nobody’s there!”

Sadly, Deborah’s apartment, where she had lived since 1982, did indeed suffer what the Fire Department told her was probably an electrical fire, and the damage was too extensive for Deborah to return home. Her neighbors, who had gone up to her apartment to make sure she was alright, saw the contact card left by the NY Red Cross and gave her the number to call.

The next week, as soon as Deborah returned to New York, she met with a client caseworker. “What I appreciated most,” said Deborah, who is staying with her sister-in-law, “was the way my caseworker made me feel—safe, and a little bit more relaxed. The uncertainty and nervousness I felt was alleviated.” The NY Red Cross also provided Deborah with a stipend for food, a MetroCard, and information about other agencies that could help her with housing and other services.

“The Red Cross is literally a lifesaving organization,” said Deborah. “It collects all these broken lives and it gives back a sense of confidence, security, hope and normalcy. It’s wonderful to know that everything is going to be all right."

Deborah Stevens, Manhattan

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You help people right away—no “ifs,” no “buts,” no “tomorrow”

Denise Wilson (left), Sarah Greenidge (middle) & Mark Greenidge (right)
Denise Wilson lit the stove as she was preparing dinner for her family in their West Harlem apartment, and “it just blew,” setting fire to her hair. After patting out the flames burning her hair, she grabbed her grandson and 9-year-old daughter and ran out. She called the fire department, ran back in and banged on her neighbors’ doors to warn them.

The blaze destroyed her top-floor apartment. “There was no more kitchen,” says Denise. “They broke all the windows and made holes in the roof—we could see airplanes flying across.” She reports that Red Cross relief workers came to the building right away, while she was at the hospital being checked for smoke inhalation. By the time she was released the Red Cross had made arrangements for emergency housing for her entire family of ten, as well as assistance for food and clothing.

Denise and her husband, Mark Greenidge, like almost all victims of fires to which the Red Cross responds, knew only that when a flood, earthquake or other big disaster happens, the Red Cross is always there. When she and her family came to NY Red Cross Chapter headquarters the day after the fire, they were amazed by the amount of help and caring offered by the organization. “They gave us food and they looked out for the kids,” said Denise. “I hadn’t eaten, I was really upset, and the Red Cross caseworker talked to me about how important it was to care of myself. She went and got me something to eat. I was grateful for that.”

What impressed Mark was that the Red Cross had no hesitation about helping. “You come and help people right away—no “ifs,” no “buts,” no “tomorrow,” no “next week”—right away,” he said. Denise added, “You guys helped immediately and didn’t look at us like we just wanted handouts. I am very grateful for that as well.”

Denise Wilson and Mark Greenidge from New York, NY

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

American Red Cross CEO & President Gail McGovern on CNBC



American Red Cross CEO & President Gail McGovern discusses how new technologies are changing not only how but who is making charitable contributions around the world. See below for the full version of the program "Executive Vision: Leadership in Action."

Monday, October 18, 2010

"I didn't know the Red Cross did so much."

Anita Cruz and her son Adrian
Anita Cruz and her 22-year-old son, Adrian, were about to sit down to dinner in their Bronx apartment when some of the lights went out. Then, they noticed a strange smell. After checking the electrical outlets and finding nothing, they saw smoke above a skylight in the hallway, alerted the neighbors and called 911.

Firefighters soon arrived, but also had difficulty finding the source of the smoke. To do so, they used chainsaws to break open the roof and ceiling of the apartment’s rooms (Anita and Adrian lived on the top floor). They finally discovered that the smoke had come from faulty electrical fixture in the kitchen ceiling. “In the end,” Anita said, “everything was destroyed,” making the apartment where she had lived for 27 years “unlivable.”

The Red Cross arrived at the scene to help, offering to arrange temporary housing for Anita, who decided to stay with her brother. But they referred Anita to different agencies and gave her valuable information about her legal rights as a tenant. She was grateful for all the “little details” she hadn’t know about, which helped to ease her difficult situation. The Red Cross also gave Anita and Adrian emergency financial assistance for food and clothing.

Anita said, “I think the Red Cross is great. I had not personally seen them in action until now. I’ve seen them in action when it comes to big disasters, but not smaller ones. I didn’t know how much they can help. Now that I do, I will definitely tell others.”

Anita Cruz from Bronx, NY

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"There's nothing that compares to what it feels like to help people."

As a recent psychology graduate looking for something fulfilling to do before embarking on graduate school adventures, I found the idea of working in the Disaster Response department of the NY Red Cross through the AmeriCorps program uniquely exciting. Although from the job description, interviews, trainings and such, I had some idea of what I was in for, no words or textbook descriptions can fully relay what one can experience in this program.

AmeriCorps members working in Red Cross Disaster Response take several weeks of training with the goal of becoming a "Full Responder"—someone authorized to respond to local emergencies and provide assistance without the aid of a trainer/partner. Throughout the training, but especially in the beginning, I was a bit intimidated by what I saw as the huge, extremely important responsibility given to each responder.

I tried to focus on working the computer program that's used, the proper lingo, and other intricacies of Red Cross standard protocol. These technical/mechanical things would sometimes make me so nervous I felt as if I was back in college during finals week; they started to distract me from the bigger truth that I tell anyone who asks me: "Why are you doing this?" The answer is: "To help people."

On my first disaster response, seeing what a client goes through, I remember thinking how very real everything suddenly became. In this instance, the Red Cross was helping a young woman whose home had been destroyed in a fire. The woman lived alone in NY; her family lived in another state. I immediately felt for her; at one time I had been in this exact situation. I snapped out of it and remembered to try to not make this about me, or relate to people so personally. Studying psychology, I learned that if I were to relate to every sad instance I come across, with no healthy boundary, I would go home crying every day.

As the client surveyed her destroyed belongings, her tears, angst, and shock were not only understandable, but likely inevitable. At one point, the responder I was training with, Diane (who is one of my favorite people at the Red Cross), was explaining to the client what assistance the Red Cross could offer her. I compare the feeling I got to watching a movie you know will make you cry, yet, you watch anyway.

The responder spoke to the client with objectivity, balanced with genuine warmth, giving this young woman the strength and clarity she needed during this difficult time. The client wasn't the only person comforted; I felt grateful to witness this exchange, and comforted to see Red Cross responders humbly helping their fellow human beings. As they went down the list of things to do, I brought over some water and a couple snacks. When they were finished speaking, the young woman looked at me and said "Thank you so much. It's nice to know people actually do this."

That moment was the first of many to follow when I realized how vital it is to remember my ultimate goal in these response calls. Sure, it's important to study and know the rules and protocol to be followed. But there's nothing that compares to what it feels like to help people. I remind myself of this each time I start a response shift. I anticipate many more stories to come that reflect this truth.

–Cynthia Martinez, AmeriCorps NPRC Member

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brooklyn Tornado Story: "The Red Cross gave me a sense of relief"

Phyllis Ebanks (Photo: Anita Salzberg)
As Phyllis Ebanks and Sherry Dowling, who lived on different floors of the same apartment building on Quincy Street in Brooklyn, made their way home on the evening of September 16th, they had no idea that their building had just been hit by a tornado.

They each arrived home sometime after 7 pm, only to be greeted by the chaotic sight of blown-out windows, fire trucks lining the street, yellow police tape cordoning off the building and the sounds of despair. Neighbors soon explained to them that they were struck by a freak storm. “The roofs from the buildings next to ours had blown onto the top of our building, caving in the ceiling of the room where I sleep!” Phyllis recalled.

Due to possible structural damage, she and Sherry soon were told that all tenants from their building were barred from entering, that it could take weeks for that situation to change. Neither knew what they were going to do. After learning that the Red Cross might be able to assist, the women separately made their way to the New York Red Cross Chapter headquarters in Manhattan, hoping for real help.




“The Red Cross gave me a sense of relief,” said Phyllis. “Desperate for information, I poured out questions like crazy and not once did the Red Cross people tell me that I’d have to wait for the answers. They helped me with money for food and put me in a hotel right away; they didn’t leave me wondering where I was going to stay.”

“I love the Red Cross,” said Sherry, who received emergency housing, a stipend for food, and referrals to city agencies for further services. “If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t know my next step—what I was going to eat, where I was going to sleep. They really helped a lot.”

Phyllis Ebanks and Sherry Dowling from Brooklyn, NY

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NY Giants Ramses Barden Gets Trained in CPR

New York Giants Wide Receiver Ramses Barden understands the importance of knowing CPR and how it can save lives.



Get trained in CPR and First Aid today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Working with the Red Cross has given me more empathy and more understanding."

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, Bob McGrath was working with a colleague at a small PR firm in downtown Manhattan. From one of their offices they could see the smoke, but not the buildings themselves. The TV in their offices was tuned to CNBC, and all too soon, they understood the gravity of the situation.

Like many New Yorkers, Bob urgently wanted to be able to help in some way. He called one of his firm’s clients, St. Clare’s Hospital and Health Center on West 51st Street in Manhattan. Did they need help with public affairs? They did, and, by 11:30 am, Bob was at St. Clare’s, which was set up as an overflow for triage from the World Trade Center. He spent the next two days carrying out the public information function for the hospital, speaking with the media and with family members searching for loved ones who had been at the Trade Center the morning of 9/11.

Bob, who had been a member of the Red Cross marketing advisory council since 1998, then received a call from American Red Cross in Greater New York’s Chief Information Officer, Mark Edelman. The Chapter’s public affairs staff had been working 24/7 handling media inquires, and Mark needed another person on board. Since there was less for Bob to do at St. Clare’s because of the small number of casualties, he came to the NY Red Cross on Friday.

Bob divided his time at the Red Cross between its headquarters (then located on Amsterdam Avenue and West 66th Street), a Red Cross tent set up on the West Side Highway just north of the World Trade Center, and the City’s Family Assistance Center near the Chelsea Piers. He responded to media inquiries and arranged for interviews with Red Cross personnel and others. At the Family Assistance Center he worked with the general public, explaining where they could get further help.

The following Monday, when Wall Street reopened for business, Bob played an important role in helping the Red Cross staff to navigate police checkpoints in order to set up aid stations in lower Manhattan. That day, Red Cross mental-health staff from across the country greeted and provided support to commuters throughout the Financial District. “They didn’t know the city, they didn’t know all the accents, but they knew how to give people support,” said Bob. “When people came out of the subways they saw Red Cross folks with water and pamphlets, literally ready to hug and to talk.”

Working with the Red Cross after 9/11 spurred Bob to become more involved with the Greater NY Red Cross. Nine years later, he is one of the Chapter’s most active public affairs volunteers. “I felt blessed to be a part of the NY Red Cross on September 11th,” said Bob. “This organization has helped thousands of people get on the road to recovery in the aftermath of unimaginable devastation, loss and pain, and my volunteer work with the Red Cross has made me a stronger, more patient, more empathic New Yorker.”

Bob McGrath from New York, NY

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

One Fire, Two Dramatic Red Cross Stories

Niketut Koriastuti (left), Cliff Haryanto (right) and Baby Matthew (bottom)
(Photo: Mary Beth Aberlin)
It began around 5:30 a.m., in the garage of a difficult-to-reach three-story building abutting the Long Island Expressway in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens.

Niketut Koriastuti thought she’d been dreaming when she heard loud noises next door. Realizing that something was terribly wrong, she woke her husband, Cliff Haryanto, who opened the door of their second-floor apartment onto a hallway filled with billowing smoke. The apartment had no fires escape, fire alarms or extinguishers, and with no other way out, the couple decided to evacuate through a window. Cliff hung down from the window’s edge and yelled for his wife to pass him two-year-old Matthew. Clinging to the ledge by one arm, Cliff cradled Matthew in the other until he was able to safely drop him down to a neighbor waiting below. Then Cliff jumped, injuring both arms.

Niketut reports feeling panicked, “I forgot my glasses. There was no time. I couldn’t see anything—it was dark and there was so much smoke.” Cliff told her to jump to him so he could break her fall. But in the dark she missed him and sprained her ankle.

The family was taken for treatment to North Shore Hospital. It was there that two Red Cross responders came to offer them assistance. The responders took the family back to the fire scene to retrieve documents and then to a hotel where Red Cross had arranged temporary housing for them. Cliff and Niketut had never dealt with the Red Cross and were surprised to see them at the hospital.“We got very, very much help from the Red Cross,” says Niketut.

Kartika and Evan Langston (Photo: Mary Beth Aberlin)
Evan Langston and his wife, Kartika, lived one floor above Cliff and Niketut. Evan woke up because he smelled smoke. “I sat up in bed and I was, like ‘Babe, get up! There’s a fire.’” He opened the apartment door, saw smoke and slammed the door shut. “It all happened so fast,” says Evan. “I ran around the apartment and tripped and cut my foot. When I came back my wife was trying to jump out the window. Her feet were out the window and she was sitting there ready to jump. I yelled, ‘Tika, what are you doing? You can’t jump.’ We live on the third floor; she could get really hurt.

“So I grabbed her around her stomach and I pulled her back in.” Evan ripped a blanket off the bed and threw it in the shower to wet it. He put the wet blanket over their heads and they slowly descended the pitch-black, smoke-filled stairway to the building’s entrance. Seconds later, the stairwell burst into flames.

Evan’s stepfather had told the couple that the Red Cross could help them, and a social worker at the hospital to which they were taken called the Chapter for assistance. After finding them in the hospital, Red Cross workers took the couple back to the destroyed building to pick up essential documents, arranged for temporary housing for them, and gave them an emergency stipend to buy food and clothing. They also arranged for medication and a replacement machine to treat Evan’s asthma—his had melted in the fire.

This was not the first time Evan’s family had been involved with the Red Cross. His brother, Jonathan, an artist in Portland, Oregon, and a friend used first aid skills learned at the Red Cross to help a man who was seriously injured while mountain biking in the woods in Oregon. They were honored for helping to save the man’s life at a Red Cross “Breakfast of Champions” held in March 2009.



For their parts, Evan and Kartika are grateful for the assistance they received. Evan says, “Thank you, Red Cross, for all your help. You really saved us.” To which Kartika adds, “Without the Red Cross we would have had no place to go.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pakistan Floods Deployment - First Day in Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

It is the fist day in country, but actually the second day of the deployment really.

The first day of the mission actually started last week already, the moment we were told that an American ERU was going to join the relief operation and that we were on the list. From that moment on, we started to get briefed and educate and prepare ourselves on the disaster, on the country and its particularities. Those days are dedicated on getting our lives ready, personal and professional, including shots, vaccinations, following updates more closely, etc...It is also comforting to know that former friends and colleagues for previous deployments are waiting for us on the ground. Although I have never been in Pakistan yet, it is not terra incognita..

Yet, last Friday was spent in Washington at Headquarters for briefings, operational, security, logistics, equipment, gear, etc. Departure from Dulles Airport Friday night at 11:00pm and got us to Islamabad Snuday morning at 3:30 in the morning.

First hours to get ourselves situated and after a few hours of sleep, security and operational briefing with Federation operational leadership. As team leader, I am sensing the importance of representing the American Red Cross and of its role and expectations within the Movement.

The learning curve might steep already, but will likely become steeper in the next few days (meeting with Pakistan Red Crescent leadership tomorrow).

For more information about the Pakistan National Red Crescent Society, follow this link: http://www.prcs.org.pk/history.html

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: You're Never Alone

Kay Wilkins, the CEO of American Red Cross in Southeast Louisiana Chapter, talks about what it was like when Hurricane Katrina struck.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Video: Remembering Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later

Hear from those on the frontlines with the Red Cross 5 years ago about how their lives have been changed by Hurricane Katrina and how this event was a "game changer" for the Red Cross.



Help the American Red Cross prepare for the nearly 70,000 disasters it responds to each year across the country, including almost 3,000 here in Greater New York by making a donation.

Monday, August 9, 2010

NY Red Cross Assists 28 after Fire on White Plains Road

After a 3-alarm fire tore through a row of stores on White Plains Road around 11 p.m. on August 8, the NY Red Cross was on the scene to provide humanitarian assistance to the people living above the stores who were displaced by the blaze. NY Chapter relief workers registered 20 adults and 8 children for Red Cross services and provided 4 households (17 adults and 8 children) with emergency housing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"I wanted to give our caseworker a hug."

When she smelled smoke in her fourth-floor Brooklyn apartment on the afternoon of July 6, Robin Lott called the fire department. “They came and checked the circuit breakers and felt the walls. They said the walls were cold, and left,” said Robin, who then decided to run out to the store. When she returned twenty minutes later her daughter said, “The walls are crackling!” The smell of smoke was stronger now, and Robin and her four children could see smoke rising through the rooms. After the returning firefighters discovered a fire in the incinerator shaft, Robin and her kids ran downstairs to safety. 

Robin, a seasonal worker for the NYC Parks and Recreation Department who had just been laid off, was distraught at losing the apartment where her family had lived for 15 years. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she said. “And I didn’t have anybody to walk me through it. Then the Red Cross came.” Red Cross relief workers arranged emergency housing for Robin and her family and gave them money for replacement food and clothing. “The Red Cross was so good to us,” said Robin. “They took good care of us—I wanted to give our caseworker a hug.”

Robin Lott from Brooklyn, NY

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

“I didn’t know how much you do.”

It was four in the morning when a fire broke out in the four-family house on Staten Island where Shannon Barback rented an apartment with her three children. Shannon, the kids, and her boyfriend, Nick, were awakened by two teenage girls who saw smoke as they were passing by, banged on the door and yelled, “Fire! Get out, get out!” Nick opened the bathroom door, saw flames, slammed the door shut and ran to get Shannon and the kids, pulling them down the stairs and across the street.

“The Red Cross was there really quickly,” said Shannon. “They gave us water and coffee. We had no shoes; and they gave us shoes. They told us to come to headquarters for further services. I had no idea of all the services you provide.” At the office, the Red Cross gave the family emergency funds to buy food and clothing, MetroCards and referrals for housing and for counseling for the kids.

Shannon, who just graduated from nursing school, says that she and her kids will stay at her mom’s for now. Long term, she’s planning to take the State nursing boards, get a job, make some money and get back on her feet. And she’s very grateful to the Red Cross. “You guys do a lot,” she said. “I didn’t know how much you do. I appreciate everything; you’ve been very caring.”

Shannon Barback from Staten Island

Friday, July 30, 2010

"I have a knowledge that I'll be able to tap into if I ever need to."

Craig Stout and 14 of his co-workers from a Manhattan branding company attended a NY Red Cross CPR/ First Aid class on July 28, 2010. Craig became interested in learning lifesaving skills after his two-year-old son nearly choked on a piece of food. Being prepared for the worst makes Craig feel empowered; he’s also glad that his company values disaster readiness.



Craig Stout from Maplewood, NJ

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"I never ride alone. I’ve always got a group watching over me.”


Few NY Red Cross staff members cut a more dashing figure when arriving at work than Charlie Wells on the days when he glides into the Chapter’s parking lot astride his dark purple Harley Davidson. A motorcycle rider since he was 16, Charlie has had this particular bike for the last five years. “It’s kind of like a tribute to the brothers—the firefighters and paramedics who were killed on 9/11,” he said. “I have a couple of tribute plaques on the bike in commemoration. So I never ride alone. I’ve always got a group watching over me.”

Charlie joined the NY Red Cross as Disaster Response director for New York City in January 2008 after spending 30 years with New York City’s Emergency Medical Service/New York Fire Department. His experience dealing with emergencies is long and deep. Born and bred in Queens, he worked as an EMT after high school and then joined the New York City EMS in 1977. There he rose through the ranks, responding as a paramedic captain to the 1993 bombing in the World Trade Center. In April 1995 he went to Oklahoma City as part of New York City’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force after the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building left 168 people dead and close to 700 injured. That same year, in September, he deployed to the Caribbean after two hurricanes caused extensive damage to several of the islands.

On 9/11, Charlie worked downtown as a chief in charge of an EMS operation after the World Trade Center was attacked. His brother-in-law, Bobby, a FDNY lieutenant, died that morning. “That was a very life-altering change, because it turns out we were in the same building—the Marriott Hotel,” said Charlie. “I didn’t know that on 9/11.” As the South Tower began to collapse, the triage team that Charlie was leading ran toward the Marriot through a side entrance off Liberty Street. Though trapped in debris, his team managed to dig out. “When we found Bobby three months later, I realized that we had been working 50 feet away from each other.”

So directing emergency responses is nothing unusual for Charlie Wells, which was a good thing—since his first day on the job at the Red Cross involved a building vacate in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that left some 80 unhappy people shut out of their homes. “It’s not as if I got here and got a little mentoring first, as if I walked in the door on the first day and sat at a desk for a couple of weeks learning the job,” he said. “I got thrown into it right at the very beginning.” And the large-scale responses continued with two crane collapses in Manhattan in March and May of that first year on the job.

Of course, before starting his new job, Charlie had seen the Red Cross in action “thousands of times” at fires. And, while he knew people were being helped, he never knew the details about how they were being helped. In Charlie’s position as NY Red Cross director of response for New York City, he’s back at fire scenes again. “It’s kind of brought me around full circle in my career,” he said. “As an EMS Chief, I always saw the firemen telling people, ‘stand to the side, don’t get too close, it’s too dangerous.’ Now it’s ‘Hi, I’m Charlie Wells from the Red Cross. I’m here to help you.’ The firemen are helping you by putting the fire out. And the Red Cross is going to help you get through this after the fire is out.”

Charles Wells from Baldwin, NY

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Red Cross is assisting me in any which way possible."

Fourth of July 2010 turned out to be no holiday for John Peters and his family. The morning of Independence Day, a fire broke out in the church below their apartment located in the Saint Albans section of Queens. As smoke from the fire engulfed their home, John, his wife and their nine-year-old son used the fire escape to evacuate the building.

While his wife and son were taken to the hospital for evaluation, John remained at the scene and met an American Red Cross responder. “They offered me housing and everything, somewhere to stay for the night because I had nowhere to stay for the three-day-weekend,” he explained. His wife and son later joined him at the hotel. The Red Cross responder also took John to Chapter headquarters to meet with a caseworker who would help his family get back on their feet after the fire.

John is grateful for the help he has received from the organization. He said, “I am in a situation and the Red Cross is there to help me, assisting in any which way possible.” Although he was familiar with the work the Red Cross does on the local level, John said he was surprised at the extent of that help.

John Peters, Saint Albans, Queens

"There is no doubt about it. I have the best job in the world."

National Red Cross CEO and President, Gail McGovern, shares her thoughts on what it was like to throw out the first pitch at a Yankee game.
"There is no doubt about it. I have the best job in the world because when I wake up in the morning I’m helping people every day. It is an incredible privilege to be in that position. It’s also such an emotional roller coaster. I’ve seen victims of disasters and the heartbreak of what that is like – it causes such personal sorrow. It’s not only devastating but truly indescribable.
On the other hand, every once in a while, because I’m with the Red Cross, I get to do something that is just delicious. I got a call from our New York chapter and somehow, someway, they worked with the New York Yankees and asked them if they would sponsor Red Cross day. Not only did the Yankees say yes but they put our text message up on their jumbotron and they talked about our mission. They had a presentation on how to be prepared for a disaster and I was asked if I’d be interested in throwing the first ceremonial pitch."
 Read the full story here: http://redcrosschat.org/2010/07/19/throwing-the-first-pitch/

Monday, July 12, 2010

In It For The Feeling

National Redcross.org profiles a local family of volunteers from Greater New York chapter, the Rundles.
Four generations of the Rundle family volunteer for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. (l-r) Eva Ospina; Irving Rundle; Skye Rundle; Dennis Rundle; Damaris Rundle.Irving Rundle pulls the pillow over his head to block out the ringing phone. His wife, Damaris, answers.

Irving hears her ask for an address and he knows someone in the community in which he was born has suffered a disaster and is in need of Red Cross services. He closes his eyes and waits for his wife to nudge him.

Four generations of the Rundle family volunteer for the American Red Cross in Greater New York.

When the nudge comes, Irving throws the pillow aside, gets out of bed and dresses. He puts on his watch, noticing that it is 12:15 a.m.

This is the second home fire in less than a week. In the yard a family of five stands near the ashes of what used to be their home, in shock, with nothing left but the nightclothes they are wearing.

The Red Cross arrives at the site with toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, shampoo and other toiletries for the family. There are stuffed bears for the two youngest kids to hug.

A Red Crosser talks with the parents about the situation and the steps that need to be taken to begin the recovery process. Then the Red Cross drives the family to a hotel where they can sleep and eat for the next few days.
Read the full story here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

5-Alarm Fire in Rego Park, Queens

Red Cross teams of responders were on the scene of two five-alarm fires that occurred on July 7, a day of record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures. The two fires affected residents of 248 apartments in two different Queens apartment buildings.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

“The Red Cross came in as my knight in shining armor.”


Charmion Tamar and his wife had lived in their basement apartment in Brooklyn for three years, since before either of their two young daughters were born. Charmion, a cook and restaurant manager who is currently between jobs, described it as a pleasant space, with a nice kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, as well as access to the building’s backyard. He and his family were not aware that their basement home was an illegally converted apartment.

One day, after the landlord had locked one of the apartment’s exits, Charmion called the fire department to resolve the issue. Upon arrival, FDNY told him they had to bring in a building inspector. To the Tamar family’s shock the inspector declared the dwelling “unsafe” and told them that they were no longer allowed to remain in the home; they had to find somewhere else to live, immediately.

“The Red Cross came in as my knight in shining armor,” Charmion said. “They arrived before the Building Department.” The Red Cross transported the family to a hotel where they could stay for a few days, gave them a MetroCard to travel around the city and emergency funds for food. Charmion and one-month-old Layla came to Red Cross headquarters days later to speak with a caseworker. “Our caseworker gave us hope that we’d be able to have a place to sleep for the weekend and assistance finding something more permanent,” said Charmion. “It’s a blessing.”

Charmion said that he was familiar with the work the Red Cross does during large-scale disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but he was unaware that the organization assisted local victims of smaller disasters. “For me personally,” he said, “this little thing with being kicked out; my entire world is destroyed. I’m just glad that there’s someone that people in my situation can turn to.”

Charmion is so grateful for the Red Cross’ help that he hopes to be able to return the favor one day. “I would be glad to help the organization in any way I can,” he said.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ramses Barden's Day at the NY Red Cross

New York Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden spends a day at the Red Cross learning what it means to be a disaster responder.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Whatever questions I needed answered, they answered."


Angela Phillips was in the shower when she noticed a strange smell that got stronger and stronger. She got out to check the hallway and everything seemed fine, until she noticed smoke coming up through the floor. She grabbed some clothes and her one-and-a-half-year-old son and ran down the stairs of the house they shared with another family in Springfield Gardens, Queens. She heard children screaming in the downstairs apartment.

Once they got far enough down the block, Angela turned around to see her home in flames. Angela’s husband and stepdaughter also lived in the house, but neither were home at the time. According to Angela, the fire was directly underneath her stepdaughter’s bedroom, so it was lucky that she hadn’t been there. Two of the downstairs’ neighbor’s children were not so fortunate; sadly, they perished in the blaze.

Angela and her son, Kyler, were rushed to Jamaica Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. The Red Cross met them there. “They came within the hour,” Angela said, “they started explaining to me how they could help us right then and there. I didn’t know what I was going to do and they came and gave us the emergency money and a place to stay for a few days so I could at least relax and take everything in.”

Angela, a pharmacy technician, was familiar with the Red Cross. Just last year, Chapter responders came to the aid of her father and stepmother, when their Manhattan home was lost to a fire. She appreciates everything the Red Cross is doing to help her and her family move on with their lives. “Everybody was just nice. Whatever questions I needed answered, they answered them for me. They told me about other programs that can help us get back on our feet.”

Angela Phillips, Springfield Gardens, Queens

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"They set a wonderful example for other businesses to follow."

Empire BlueCross BlueShield is a most deserving recipient of the 2010 Corporate Community Partnership Award, which is given to an organization that has helped the American Red Cross in Greater New York to help other others through exemplary action including employee volunteerism and support of Chapter programs and activities.

Empire BlueCross BlueShield has had a multiyear, multilevel partnership with the NY Red Cross that began in 2005 when more than 20 of their employees established a Response Call Team after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The team spent many hours from September through December in the NY Red Cross National Disaster Call Center, assisting callers who had been affected by the 2005 hurricanes. Katrina also prompted 40 Empire BlueCross BlueShield employees to take disaster training courses in mass care/feeding. Since then, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and its parent company, WellPoint, has continued to help the Chapter provide support and relief services to New Yorkers affected by emergencies and disasters.

Last year WellPoint selected the NY Red Cross as one of three New York City nonprofit organizations where its employees could choose to volunteer on their annual “Community Service Day.” Empire employees came to NY Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan, where they reorganized the Chapter’s mass-care room (the storage area for food and beverage supplies), cleaned disaster-response vests, conducted an inventory and added new supplies to the Chapter’s health and mental-health disaster kits. Some volunteers also worked on creating and painting a trio of murals depicting the humanitarian services of the Red Cross on a wall outside of the headquarters building. The costs of all supplies and materials were generously donated by the WellPoint Foundation. Additionally, Wellpoint has encouraged Empire employees throughout New York State to support the American Red Cross through their annual workplace giving campaigns, resulting in significant financial assistance.

For its part, Empire BlueCross BlueShield has conducted annual awareness and personal emergency preparedness training as a part of its annual Associates Workplace Giving Campaign for its 2,500 employees throughout the New York City metro area and New York State. Since 2009, staff members at the company’s Brooklyn and Middletown, NY operations centers have taken Red Cross disaster training and established their own Ready When The Time Comes disaster reserve team of 30-plus employees.

Mark Wagar, Empire BlueCross BlueShield President, who joined the NY Red Cross Board of Trustees in 2008, said, “Especially during difficult economic times, it is important for community leaders and businesses to recognize the importance of the organizations that help people when they need it most. I’m proud to serve with the American Red Cross in Greater New York and to support its mission of helping people prepare for and respond to disasters.”

Mr. Wager has been instrumental in obtaining a grant from the WellPoint Foundation to support NY Red Cross disaster health and mental-health services. Empire BlueCross BlueShield also provides philanthropic funding to the Chapter through sponsorship of the annual Red Cross Ball and the Great Things Every Day breakfast.

David Gibbs, New York Red Cross Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations, said, “The support, encouragement and leadership of Empire BlueCross BlueShield/Wellpoint has been ongoing for more than five years. They have been strong advocates of the importance of supporting the Red Cross by encouraging others in the health-care industry to join them in meaningful partnerships with the Chapter. Their continuing relationship with the New York Red Cross encompasses employee volunteerism, community service, philanthropy and disaster preparedness. They set a wonderful example for other businesses to follow.”

Empire BlueCross BlueShield is the recipient of the  2010 Corporate Community Partnership Award

“Richard is the embodiment of exemplary voluntary service.”


Richard Gallis is no stranger when it comes to garnering NY Red Cross awards, having won the Volunteer Support Services Award in 2009 and the First Year Award in 2005. This year he is the winner of the most prestigious award granted to a volunteer by the Greater New York Chapter—the Clara Barton award. This award recognizes a truly exceptional volunteer, one who “has served for a minimum of five years and has made an outstanding contribution to the success of a particular service area or project activity, or who has served in multiple capacities and maintained service excellence.”

As volunteer partner to Assistant Director of Disaster Training Joshua Martenson, Richard has become what Josh calls “the keeper of Disaster Training Records at the American Red Cross in Greater New York.” Chief Response Officer Bob Imbornoni simply labels Richard “Mister Training.”

At least several days each week Richard puts his formidable skills as a data manager and computer programmer, practiced for decades at Chase Manhattan Bank, to work. He efficiently, accurately and in a timely manner enters training records to the profiles of all NY Red Cross volunteers on the Chapter’s “My Red Cross” volunteer Web site. Additionally, he produces and mails the coveted wallet-size completion certificates to trainees. Rose Marie Fajardo, assistant director of response in the NY Red Cross–Rockland office, explains how Richard’s reconciling and updating the training records of Rockland/Putnam volunteers has not only “contributed to morale but actually encouraged many volunteers to continue working with the Red Cross and become leaders in this work.”

But Richard does far more that just data entry and certificate production. Since the Chapter’s implementation of a new Volunteer Management System in 2008, he has used his programming background to troubleshoot glitches and worked with IT to correct them. “It is because of his desire to create a system that actually works for staff that many improvements have been made to it, whether obvious to the end user or not,” says Martenson, who adds, “Richard’s work often goes unnoticed because it takes place in the background, but it is essential.”

Richard also regularly takes shifts in the Call Center before returning to what he calls his “day-to-day” work in Disaster Training. He has also acted as a disaster relief worker and qualified as a Chapter shelter manager, a role he’s played in several NY Red Cross shelter exercises.

Given that his colleagues at the NY Red Cross cite him for his “personable demeanor, knowledge, professionalism and devotion to his work,” for being “always pleasant, kind and gentle” and “the embodiment of exemplary voluntary service,” it is no surprise that Richard Gallis is following his prior award with the Clara Barton award, the Chapter’s most prestigious.

Richard Gallis from Manhattan, NY is the recipient of the 2010 Clara Barton Award

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"She touches every segment of the community."


Kathleen Preston is one of two volunteers at the NY Red Cross receiving citations this year as “emerging leaders.” This new award recognizes people who have shown strong leadership qualities early in their tenure at the Chapter and who are viewed as good role models for other volunteers.

Kathleen’s knowledge of and involvement in all things Red Cross began in 2005 when she became a Disaster Action Team member in Rockland County, where she’s lived for 20 years, “after and because of Hurricane Katrina.” Hurricane response turned out to be part of her destiny at the Red Cross. In August 2008 Kathleen received an e-mail from the NY Red Cross that began, “Have you ever wished you could spend more time with the Red Cross?” She did so wish and within weeks joined the AmeriCorps program. As a member of that program, Kathleen signed on to support Red Cross Disaster Planning and Response in Rockland County, serving in all aspects of Disaster Services, including disaster response, planning and preparedness, logistics, client services, staffing, training, recruitment and emergency communications.

A little over a week later she found herself working in the kitchen of the Red Cross mega-shelter in Louisiana “and spending more time with the Red Cross than I ever imagined I would,” said Kathleen. It was her first deployment and her most intense volunteer experience as she worked to help feed 3,000 people who fled Hurricane Gustav in early September 2008. “I’m glad that it was my first deployment; it made my other deployments seem much easier,” she said.

Now, should you ever end up in a Red Cross shelter of any size, Kathleen is the type of volunteer you would want to encounter. She has taken all the available training to become a qualified shelter manager and has deployed to work in shelters set up after local disasters in New York, as well as conducted disaster assessment in North Dakota and Virginia. And she is working to add “Disaster Kitchen Supervisor” to her can-do list.

Another of Kathleen’s strengths lies in nurturing cooperation between Rockland town and county government officials and the Red Cross. As Local Disaster Coordinator for the Town of Clarkstown and a qualified Red Cross Emergency Operations Center Government Liaison Officer, she brings innovation and improved communications between the NY Red Cross and the local municipalities.

Kathleen has taken a leadership role in helping to manage almost every aspect of the Red Cross Volunteer Orientation/Fulfilling Our Mission program at the Rockland area office. “Hers is one of the first faces of the Red Cross new volunteers encounter and the impression she makes as a caring and committed volunteer speaks volumes to new recruits,” says Mary Ellen Douglas, NY Red Cross Assistant Director–Response for Putnam/West Point. “She patiently guides all new volunteers, even those daunted by computers, to navigate the My Red Cross volunteer management system, which makes a big difference in successful staffing, whether day-to-day or for a larger operation.”

Mary Ellen adds, “Kathleen’s presence in the Rockland area office of the NY Red Cross lends a sense of calm and good humor. She touches every segment of the community through outreach, research, communication, sharing ideas, teaching and direct service, building the Chapter’s capacity every day by her participation in so many areas.”

Kathleen Preston from Nyack, NY is the co-recipient of the 2010 Emerging Leader Award

Demi Lovato delivers letters written by local kids to Chile

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Her kindness and compassion are an example for all of us."


This year two volunteers at the NY Red Cross are receiving citations as "emerging leaders," a new award that recognizes people who have shown strong leadership qualities early in their tenure at the Chapter and who are viewed as exemplary role models for other volunteers.

For Mary O'Shaughnessy, one of the winners, that description fits like a glove. Born, bred and still living in Manhattan, she joined the Red Cross in 2007 and trained to work as a disaster responder. As she gained experience, Mary quickly rose in the responder ranks, taking a leadership role in training and mentoring many disaster response volunteers. She also heads her own Disaster Action Team, or DAT, which is on call to respond from Chapter headquarters every other Saturday.

Volunteer Rebecca Callahan, who has worked with Mary for almost four years, explains the leadership qualities she sees in Mary: "She is able to stay impartial and attempts to bring out the best in volunteers while making sure they have the tools and the skills necessary to meet the needs of clients in a range of disaster situations." Rebecca says that Mary is terrific at maintaining the morale of her disaster responders, attending to their training needs and giving them positive reinforcement, "even after the most challenging situations."

It isn't just her organizational and training skills that make Mary such a valuable volunteer. "Her spirit is infectious," says disaster-response volunteer Jack Gwaltney. "Her kindness and compassion are an example for all of us when dealing with clients."

By day, Mary is a manager of legal services for a nonprofit law firm that aids low-income women in need of legal representation in marital and family cases. She does database management and statistical reporting, as well as soliciting non-attorney volunteer help. Mary regrets that due to her job requirements she's been unable to deploy on two-week-long national disaster relief responses. To compensate, she does more at Chapter headquarters: serving as a Call Center agent when possible and training as a public affairs representative, a government liaison and a "Ready New York" preparedness program presenter.

"I really like responding to fellow New Yorkers on the regular basis that I do," says Mary. "I have made great friends, witnessed great kindness and strength in adversity, and grown tremendously through my Red Cross volunteering."

Mary O'Shaughnessy from Manhattan, NY is the co-recipient of the 2010 Emerging Leader Award

"They teach people about how to cope with stress and provide crisis intervention."

The NY Red Cross Chapter’s Disaster Mental Health Leadership Team is the recipient of 2010 Leadership Award. The work of the team’s nine volunteer members—Jill Bellison, Patricia Berliner, Dottie Brier, Linda Certo, Michael Cronin, Athena Drews, Eileen Dwyer, Fred Mazor and Mary Tramontin—is being recognized for its profound impact on the Chapter’s mission.

Red Cross mental-health volunteers are one of the cornerstones of the organization’s relief efforts. Recognizing how vital immediate counseling is to people experiencing disaster trauma, these workers provide on-the-spot emergency mental-health support, not just to people affected by disaster, but also to first responders and to Red Cross staff assigned to disaster relief operations. They’ve been there to support morale, lend an empathetic ear and offer counseling after fatal fires, airplane crashes, crane collapses, ice storms, hurricanes, floods and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They teach people about how to cope with stress and provide crisis intervention and appropriate referral services when necessary.

The Greater New York Chapter’s Mental Health Leadership Team had its genesis 15 years ago, when a small group of mental-health professionals in New York City developed a disaster mental-health program at the NY Red Cross modeled on one initiated by the National Red Cross two years earlier. Made up of clinical social workers and psychologists, this NY leadership team grew in volunteer membership over the next few years and was responsible for all aspects of the mental-health counseling until 2001, when a position for a staff mental-health professional was established.

Over time, “the compassionate leadership of these volunteers was reflected by the manner in which the mental-health program became integrated into Chapter activities and by the acceptance of the idea that a mental-health support model was helpful,” says Diane Ryan, NY Red Cross Director of Disaster Mental Health.

Amazingly, many of the team’s members have served for over a decade, including three of the team’s founding members—Patricia Berliner, Dottie Brier and Mary Tramontin—ensuring a 15-year span of consistency and quality service. The team continues to assist by collaborating on protocols; ensuring quality of client care; mentoring new volunteers at exercises and disaster sites; instructing disaster courses which have trained hundreds of additional mental-health volunteers; teaching Psychological First Aid to our regular volunteers; representing the Chapter at local, national and international mental health venues; sharing on-call responsibilities and covering for the director in her absence.

Recipents of the 2010 Leadership Award:
Jill Bellison from Manhattan, NY
Patricia Berliner from Queens, NY
Dottie Brier from Manhattan, NY
Linda Certo from Orange County, NY
Michael Cronin from Manhattan, NY
Athena Drews from Orange County, NY
Eileen Dwyer from Queens, NY
Fred Mazor from Bronx, NY
Mary Tramontin from Manhattan, NY

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Mary Beth is a true Red Cross champion."



Retired science-magazine editor Mary Beth Aberlin arrived at the Chapter’s annual “Great Things Every Day Fundraising Breakfast” in 2008 expecting to write a check. What she didn’t expect was how overwhelmed she would be by the personal stories shared by people whose lives had been changed—and even saved—because of the NY Red Cross. She soon offered to volunteer as a writer/editor in the Marketing and Public Relations department to help spread the word “about how the Red Cross helps New Yorkers every day––365 days a year.”

Two years later, Mary Beth has been awarded the Chapter’s Support Services Award for her outstanding work supporting the Marketing and Public Relations team. Like the Red Cross, she is always there to help, and at a minimum, works two full days every week with the Marketing/PR team where she shares her writing and editing skills. Her expertise is put to good use in so many ways, including researching and writing stories for the NY Red Cross Web site that cover every facet of the organization, editing everything from brochures to the complete overhaul of Web site copy that accompanied the Chapter’s relaunch of nyredcross.org in September 2009 and creating photo journals based on “ride-alongs” she has done with the disaster response team.

Additionally, she works with the Client Services Group to capture the poignant stories of the people we help every day in Greater New York. She is a major contributor, as both a writer and editor, to the Chapter’s “Changing Lives” storybook, the blog platform for individuals to share stories of how their lives have been touched by the NY Red Cross. Through “Changing Lives,” the public at large is able to gain a deeper understanding of the Chapter’s humanitarian work and the impact it has on all those we touch––clients, donors, students of CPR, First Aid and other courses, volunteers and employees. Mary Beth’s latest challenge involves the development of a NY Red Cross style manual encompassing a set of standards for language use, including grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting that will be used as a reference guide by the Marketing and PR team.

As a tireless advocate for the Chapter, Mary Beth’s passion for the Red Cross goes beyond the borders of the Marketing and Public Relations Department. She continues to attend the annual fundraising breakfast, and brings friends with her so that they can gain a better understanding and appreciation for why the Red Cross is so near and dear to her heart. After participating in a disaster “ride-along” Mary Beth decided to became a mass care worker, and has taken the training necessary to accomplish this goal. “Mary Beth “Red Crosses” New York in so many meaningful ways, and this additional level of volunteer engagement is a true testament to her dedication and commitment to our mission and changing lives in the community,” said Marianne Darlak, Senior Director, Marketing and Public Relations.

“Mary Beth is a true champion of the mission and principles of the Red Cross, both here at the Chapter and in her personal life,” added Anita Salzberg, Senior Coordinator, Marketing and Public Relations. “She is well deserving of this award.”

Mary Beth Aberlin from Brooklyn,NY is the recipient of the 2010 Support Services Award

Friday, June 11, 2010

"These translators are giving elements of their history, heritage, family, intellect, and wisdom.”

Robert Kennedy famously said, “Some men look at things the way they are and ask, “Why?” I dream of things that are not and ask, “Why not?” The thirteen volunteers of the American Red Cross in Greater New York’s Health & Safety Services Translation Team being honored with the 2010 Innovation Award looked at “things that are not,” asked, “Why not?” then made things happen—things that have had both a local and a global impact.

The team came into being in 2008, when Tiffany & Co., the New York jewelry firm, decided to implement the NY Red Cross’s Pandemic Preparedness program at all of its overseas facilities. Team members Jenny Chun, Clarissa Espinosa, Mario Fontenla, Shuhung Hong, Marsa Kindl-Omuse, Monica Mei, Elizabeth Musso, Diep Ngyuen, Carlos Rodríguez, Nancy Soto, Corina Stonebanks, Norika Takatsuka and Lily Too immediately set about translating the NY Chapter’s pandemic preparedness Instructor’s Manual and PowerPoint slide presentation into nine languages: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese. At about 100 pages for each course, that added up to many hours of work, which was completed in 2009.

After the translated materials arrived in the different countries, Web X conference courses for instructors using the translated manuals were held from the Chapter’s headquarters in Manhattan. Members of the translation team sat in to help out with any language problems, often doing so at night to account for time differences. These New York Red Cross classes have now been taught in China, Central and South America, Europe, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. And the team continues to translate material. Most recently, the “Be Red Cross Ready” preparedness program has been translated into Japanese.

The translation was an “extracurricular Red Cross activity,” said Health & Human Safety Account Executive Matt Conley, who oversaw the project. “Some of the volunteers did the work at home and had other family members vet it.

“These translators are giving elements of their history, heritage, family, intellect, and wisdom,” he continued. “They are creating something that will aid people in their homeland or the land of their ancestors.”

By greatly increasing the number of people who are touched by the Red Cross because they can teach and learn in their own language, the translation team truly has not only made the Greater New York Chapter more relevant to the community that we serve, it has spread the word about the importance of preparedness around the country—and the globe.

Recipients of the Innovation Award
Shuhung Hong from Queens, NY
Lily Too from Queens, NY
Corina Stonebanks from Manhattan, NY
Marsa Kindl-Omuse from Brooklyn, NY
Monica Mei from Bronx, NY
Noriko Takatsuka from Woodside, NY
Jenny Chun from Manhattan, NY
Diep Nguyen from Brooklyn, NY
Mario Fontenla from Flushing, NY
Carlos Rodriguez from Fairfield County, CT
Clarissa Espinosa from Flushing, NY
Nancy Soto from Brooklyn, NY
Elizabeth Musso from Paramus, NJ

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

“Bob almost single-handedly coordinates the New York National Disaster Call Center.”

Red Cross volunteer Robert Lirtzman is the 2010 recipient of the Community Services Award which recognizes an exceptional volunteer or team of volunteers who have served for at least one year within areas such as community outreach, the emergency communications center and international training services. “Bob almost single-handedly coordinates the New York National Disaster Call Center,” said Chief Response Officer Bob Imbornoni.

This center is activated after large-scale national disasters as part of the national hotline of the American Red Cross to provide information and assistance to people who call 866-GET-INFO, the American Red Cross 24/7 information number. It ensures that individuals in need will always be able to hear a compassionate voice when they call the Red Cross looking for help. While running the Call Center is a job that is not particularly visible, “things can get very busy and sometimes pretty frantic,” said Disaster Mental Health volunteer Diana Brown.

A native New Yorker and retired high school science teacher, Bob began volunteering at the NY Red Cross in 1977 as a CPR instructor. He started working in the Call Center (aka the Response Center Network) when it was first set up at the Chapter in 2005. For Bob it was definitely a baptism by wind and water. The hurricane season in the Atlantic that year was the most active in recorded history with three major hurricanes—Katrina, Rita and Wilma—affecting some 1.2 million families on the US mainland in a period of two months. The newly inaugurated Call Center handled approximately 19,000 calls in 9 weeks; it was open 7 days a week, approximately 16 hours a day. Bob attributes the success of the Call Center to “the dedication, professionalism and hard work of the volunteers and employees who serve as call agents or provide on-site mental health support.”

Red Cross people with whom he works cited Bob for his almost-constant presence, his patience and his sensitivity to a caller’s need to speak with a mental-health counselor: “Bob encourages us to keep talking to these faceless clients who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away and who may be upset, angry, crying—it doesn’t matter—we keep talking to them until we calm them down and until they know they’ve been helped,” said Diana.

“He makes clear that we are to be caring and patient no matter how upset the caller is,” she continued, “nonjudgmental about their level of upset, and ready to get them needed services. He recognizes our role as representing the larger Red Cross in this country and in the world.”

Bob also trains CPR and first aid instructors, and teaches CPR and first aid classes and basic disaster services. He supports Disaster Training, works with the Chapter’s amateur radio group, and coordinates with National headquarters to organize the Welfare Information activities so important for initiating contacts between family members and loved ones in disaster-affected areas. He is truly deserving of the Community Services Award.

Robert Lirtzman from Bronx, NY is the recipient of the Community Services Award
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