Red Cross Volunteers Salute and Serve Veterans Every Day

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For nearly 100 years, Americans have paused on Nov. 11 to honor those who serve our country in the armed forces. For the American Red Cross, every day is Veterans Day.

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) is a robust division within the Red Cross, dedicated to putting service men and women in contact with resources they or their families need while deployed or at home. Here in North Carolina, the Charlotte Metro chapter has helped 256 service members and 403 family members already this year.

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To summarize what the Red Cross does, SAF Regional Officer David Laws uses the acronym “COVER,” which stands for Casework, Outreach, Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital, Engage Volunteers and Resiliency.

He explains it this way: “Casework consists of volunteers working together with veterans to assist them in finding jobs, financial resources and support. Outreach ensures we, as the Red Cross, make ourselves known to the veterans and the families of veterans before they need our services. This way, we can already be on their list of people to call when they are in need. The Outreach component also helps support our Stand Down events.

“The VA Hospital section provides visitations, game nights and comfort to veterans in hospice care. Engaging and recognizing our volunteers is a big part of not only SAF but the entire Red Cross. Without our volunteers, the relief work we do when disaster strikes and the comfort we provide to our veterans would not be possible.

”And Resiliency is in the form of classes we offer to help people renew as families. Sessions for adults focus on coping with deployment, caregiving for veterans, communicating about anger, stress and depression, and caring for children and their needs during this time. Courses for children focus on communication and the lifestyle of a child with parents in the armed forces.”

This emphasis on service to the armed forces stretches back to the founding of the American Red Cross. During the Civil War, Clara Barton saw firsthand the needs of wounded and homesick soldiers on the battlefield and in Europe, she discovered an organization – the International Red Cross – that was meeting those needs. Barton came home to found the American Red Cross with the express purpose of supplying medical treatment, food and shelter to our troops as well as to victims of disaster.

During World War I, the Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the Allied forces. It also became the official intermediary between our troops and their families. Since WWI, the Red Cross has played a vital role in every wartime conflict, including WWII, Korea, Vietnam and more recent conflicts in the Middle East.

Red Cross begins its service to individual servicemen and women at Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), where inductees and their families are reminded that if needed, the Red Cross is here to help in any way we can. Trained volunteers collect contact information so the Red Cross can follow up with the service member’s family, providing information about how the Red Cross can help, and making sure they are adjusting to the deployment as it can be an emotional time for all involved.

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If a family member of an active service member passes away, the Red Cross is authorized to process a request for compassionate leave. Visits home can also be requested for an illness or births of immediate family.

In addition, the Red Cross helps get grants and loans to active duty military and veterans. The Red Cross also takes part in “Stand Down” events across North Carolina where homeless veterans can access doctors, dentists, showers, comfort kits and food.

 

With her background in the Department of Defense, SAF Regional Volunteer Lead Judith Ross says it’s humbling to witness what veterans go through post-deployment. “You gain a certain respect, seeing firsthand what they’re dealing with. Being in the military is a lifetime commitment and being able to help them is important.”

The Red Cross is also a part of the national No Veteran Dies Alone campaign. Red Cross volunteers donate time to ensure no veteran passes away in hospice without friendly faces nearby. Our regional volunteers travel to the VA Hospital in Salisbury, N.C., to visit veterans in hospice care. The Red Cross also provides transportation to and from doctor appointments for veterans.

Whether you are a veteran, know someone who is a veteran, or you are a child of a veteran, the Red Cross offers assistance and support. Please take time this Veterans Day to thank a veteran for their service.

Interested in putting your thanks into action for veterans in your community? Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find more ways to help through your local Red Cross!

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Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.

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Superstorm Sandy still vivid in Red Cross volunteer’s memory bank

Joe Corvino has many stories from his years as an American Red Cross disaster volunteer, but foremost among them are his experiences in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, five years ago.

Corvino arrived in New York three days before Sandy made landfall to help set up shelters. He assisted with 4 shelters total, including one in an elementary school for some 300 storm evacuees.

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Shelter Joe Corvino helped set up in a school gymnasium.

He recalls masses of people needing a safe place to stay. “They piled (people) in on large dump trucks, fire trucks – you name it – they brought them in. I remember young children being very scared to death, and rightfully so.” Two children in the neighborhood where Joe was working died when a tree struck the house they were in.

As a trained disaster responder, Corvino knew that children in the shelter needed something to distract them from the chaos and anxiety. He found a supply of empty soda bottles, lined them up down a hallway and let the children use a soccer ball to play a form of bowling. Each “bowler” received a Red Cross stuffed animal as a prize for participating.

Corvino also worked in distribution, driving every day by bus to the Red Cross headquarters in Jersey City, N.J., loading up with supplies, and then driving the loaded trucks to Breezy Point, N.Y., where scores of houses were destroyed by fires fueled from a broken gas main. “Trees were falling around me,” Corvino recalls. “I was closing the big doors to the school that blew open when a transformer and a tree literally fell right behind me, maybe 75 feet (from me).”

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Joe Corvino standing next to the tree that hit a transformer outside a Red Cross shelter.

Corvino has a photo that, for him, represents the power of that epic storm:  a two-story house that had been ripped apart by storm surges, and was, miraculously, still standing by the interior kitchen walls.

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Devastating damage to a home standing only due to its interior walls.

“I’ve lived on this earth for 67 years, and I can tell you, that was probably the worst thing I’ve ever lived through,” he says.

Superstorm Sandy was also a learning experience for the veteran volunteer. “I learned that you see the worst and the best in people in times of crisis,” he says. “I also realized how life can change in a heartbeat. It changes in a New York second for some people.”

Corvino‘s own experience with the Red Cross occurred just as suddenly, when he was eight years old: His home burned to the ground and the Red Cross stepped in to help his family pick up the pieces.

“I saw how the people reached out with the Red Cross, and that stuck in my mind,” Corvino said. “Through the years, I saw the Red Cross on TV like everybody else, and I saw how much they worked.”   (Because of that,) I have worked religiously with them for the past 18 years.”

Despite his extensive experiences, Corvino is adamant about staying humble. “As for me, I’m no one special,” he says. “I love helping my fellow man, and I get more out of the people, I think, than I give them. Even though people tell you ‘thank you’ over and over again, they thank you with their heart.”

Corvino was one of some 17,000 Red Cross disaster workers – 90 percent of the volunteers – who responded to the needs of millions of people impacted by Superstorm Sandy. The Red Cross provided 74,000 overnight stays in safe shelters and more than 17 million meals and snacks, as well as health and mental health services and cleanup supplies.

In the wake of the storm, Red Crossers visited heavily damaged communities and neighborhoods, delivering food, blankets, health care, emotional support and critical relief supplies. And when the immediate needs of the response eventually receded, the Red Cross continued to help people recover, working with local governments and other nonprofits to ensure that Red Cross assistance was going where it was needed most.

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Just some of the devastation from Superstorm Sandy.

Want to know how you can get involved? Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can help members of your community today.

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Authored by Sam LaRose, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.

Hospital Patients Rely on Lifesaving Blood Every Day – But How Does it Get There?

The American Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of our nation’s blood to hospitals where patients are in desperate need. Most of us are familiar with Red Cross blood drives, but the donation is just the beginning of the journey. Once it is tested and properly stored, we then have to deliver the donated blood, plasma or platelets to those who need it, when they need it. Our volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists provide this essential service.

Patients with serious medical conditions – including accident and burn victims, heart surgery patients, organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease – may all need blood or blood products at any time. Volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists answer the call: driving donations from blood drives to our labs, and from storage facilities to hospitals throughout the region.

Each shift is about 4 hours, and our volunteers embrace the opportunity. Some enjoy the quiet time behind the wheel. Others look forward to the welcome they receive when they bring their precious cargo to its destination. Those who volunteer as a Transportation Specialist should feel the glow of knowing they might have helped save a life that day.Blog-Hospital Image

For the past year, Jim Orlakis has volunteered as a Biomedical Transportation Specialist for the Charlotte Metro Chapter of the American Red Cross. Jim understands firsthand how important our work is, sharing “in my youth I was a beneficiary of the blood services function of the Red Cross.  While I used to donate blood regularly, I am now unable to so. The next best thing I can do is to help the Red Cross Blood Services as a volunteer Transportation Specialist for hospital deliveries.”

Our region has several openings for volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists. The requirements include being a licensed driver with a clean driving record for at least 3 years. You also need to be able to lift boxes weighing up to 45 pounds. To view the complete job description and apply for this volunteer position:

 

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Finding My Voice in the Toughest of Times – A Day in Puerto Rico

By Alli Trask, Executive Director Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter of the American Red Cross

I want to tell you about today. Even though it feels utterly impossible, even though I know it absolutely is utterly impossible. I want to tell you about pulling up to a simple house in a badly damaged area we would discover had no electricity or running water. An orphanage. I wish I could tell you the way it felt when barefoot, curious little boys of different heights and ages, tossled hair and dirty clothes, came running down the wide stairs, gathering around us, amazed gazes fixed on the big white truck and its strange chaperones. I heard “Cruz Roja” over and over, and giant hands may as well have reached through my ribcage and ripped my heart right out of my chest. In my head, as if I was just realizing it all over again, I screamed “Yes! I am the Red Cross!,” and then laughed so I wouldn’t cry; my dream, not so long ago come true, had now brought me here to see those sweet little faces and maybe give them hope and a little relief, no matter how small.

We were the Red Cross today, my team and I. Hector, with his amazing, compassionate spirit, had immediately picked up one of the boys. There is no explaining this magnetic, almost magical man; early on it was clear he should be with the people, one on one, talking and more importantly listening to them. He draws you in and sees you, engages you. He cares endlessly and you feel it instantly. This small boy was no different, and the others naturally gathered around Hector, excited to chat with the man in the red vest who wanted to know all about them and bring them gifts.

We had bottled water and snacks, such simple but now extravagant things that elicited the most beautiful chorus of joy as they clapped and cheered. There wasn’t a dry eye, even though we fought hard to hold it together (and I, for one, eventually failed miserably). They each excitedly helped carry a box into the house, returning again and again for another. Hector explained to them that, all together, the boxes were very heavy, but that when they each carried a little, and worked together, the load became lighter. He told them this was what they do in Puerto Rico; he told them they come together as one to share in the load and help each other out.

It nearly broke me in the best and worst way, and then one of them excitedly called to me, “English?”, and I found my voice again and said “Yes, what’s your name?” Luis–whose name and big, mischievous eyes I will never forget; los ojos son las ventanas de nuestras almas. He held out a small orange plastic tiger and asked what it was called. When I told him, he repeated it several times and grinned, obviously proud to add this new word to his impressive vocabulary. What things could, will this little soul overcome and do to change our world?

For what felt like forever, I could only stand and marvel at them, at life, at my incredible and undeserved fortune in being here to witness and be a part of what will always be one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever known. The man there gathered the children and told them that even and especially in hard times, the best of us comes out, and that this is what they were being shown today. He prayed with them, expressing thanks for what they do have and showing them by example to see the good and appreciate the gifts, even in the worst of times.

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Wall at the orphanage

And suddenly, Luis was back, hugging me before I knew it, and then another boy, and another, and I wished my arms were wider and my heart somehow bigger to hold the breadth and depth of so very much. As we were leaving, opening the car doors, one little boy climbed right into the back of the car and scooted to the middle. It was adorable and hilarious and gut-wrenching. Rafael kindly talked him out the other side and suddenly, he was back to mine and right back in the middle, so precious and trusting. Such innocence.

What is the end? It is not in the telling, was not us driving away. They were there with us in the still quiet that filled the car, the emotion that was palpable. They are here with us now. As Borges asked of water, so it is with these children’s names. We need not even ask. No faltes a mis labios en el postrer momento; the names of these children will be present to our lips in our last moment.

A Day in Puerto Rico

By Alli Trask, Executive Director Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter of the American Red Cross

Here’s my update – Oct. 15, 2017. This will not be beautiful. I am filthy and exhausted, with few brain cells functioning and no muscles at all! But I could not be happier.

I have an amazing team. There are 4 of us. Rafael, born and raised here, joined the Army at 25 and retires in 6 years. He sings in a salsa band. Hector, born and raised here, was a rescue diver (among many other things), and now lives in D.C., not too far from where Rafael lives; they had to come all the way to Puerto Rico to meet. Hector has actually seen Rafael’s band in a club they both frequent. And Eric joined us today. He is with the Peace Corps group we brought in, and did his service in the Dominican Republic 20 years ago. He started an IT company after, sold it 5 years ago, and retired. Starting tomorrow, he will be doing our Survey 1-2-3. I’m trying to convince them all to move to the Asheville-Mountain Area.

Yesterday, we managed to get a car assigned to us. Rafael and Hector know the whole island, so lack of gps is not a problem. Today, I negotiated a laptop, cell phone, satellite phone, and hot spot. One should never underestimate the power of relationships. And I don’t know that any relationships are more worthwhile than those with our volunteers. They are the very best of all of us. It cannot be said enough. What they are going through to be here and deliver our mission requires a level of dedication, compassion, and tenacity I can’t even put into words.

We go out into the 3 most affected zones, where we’ve had trouble getting and there is much opportunity to connect with and help residents.  We spend the morning giving out bulk goods (bottled water, tarps, fruit/veg/staples boxes, granola bars, hand sanitizer, sandwich crackers, and whatever else gets thrown on the truck any given day. This is pretty much my new favorite thing: it’s the simplest, most direct, and aside from health and mental health services, most important thing we can do for them. Today, while we were unloading the truck, many of the people there to receive help volunteered. We had two lines, sending boxes and supplies down both, one person to another, and two ladies

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In Naranjito, Puerto Rico, Asheville-Mountain Area Red Cross executive director, Alli Trask, (in truck on left) and new friend and teammate, Hector Ruiz Pacheco (in truck on right) distribute tarps, water, snacks, hand sanitizer and other items to families in need.

started a competition. So Hector and I (safely) raced to get our side of the pallets out first. I’m proud to have won every time except the last. To be fair, Hector had the knife and had to cut the wrap off the pallets each time, so I sort of cheated. It was so much more exciting and fun than it should have been; it was one more small way to laugh and come together, cheering each other on, even while surrounded by trees stripped bare and ripped from the ground, lives and homes ravaged, their roofs and second stories severely damaged or missing altogether. There is no power or water in these areas, and news travels quickly by word of mouth where we are each day. Everyone who wasn’t helping unload and organize stood patiently in line, talking with neighbors and family, sometimes crying but mostly laughing. I love Puerto Ricans. They are, simply, amazing. As they went through, they were constantly checking on those around them, volunteering to step out of line and help others carry their things to cars or offering rides to those who had walked.

While we do that, we also work our way through the line registering for Safe and Well, documenting general services requests, emergency welfare inquiries, and mental health and health services requests. One woman was visibly weak and upset and several ladies helped her over to me to explain her situation. Hector was able to get her information and it turns out she had been out of her medications for several days. She needed insulin, mental health medications, and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  She was the first of 6 emergent cases we were able to document and deliver to health services when we returned to HQ. They are sending a team out tomorrow.

We typically finish distribution/collection by 1 p.m. The rest of the afternoon we devote entirely to reunification. For emergency and general inquiries, I am able to open cases and respond to and close most of them while we’re out, then enter them into the system when I return to HQ or the shelter in the evening. This saves the Reunification team at HQ a lot of work and gets people the help they need much, much faster. I can’t tell you how happy this makes us.

I feel super lucky to be here, but also to be here with the particular experience and skill set I bring. I never knew that all that casework, Disaster Action Team and Disaster Workforce Engagement Team experience with the Red Cross, and all the things I learned from the shelter all those years would ever come together and be much more than a patchwork quilt of random experience. But Hector and Rafael, both devoted to helping their friends and families here (and EVERYONE is friends/family here) bring passion, knowledge and experience of the island, culture, and language, and Eric is passionate about service and covering our team’s Survey requirement. Combined with my experience and knowledge of the Red Cross, we are able to do so much more than we otherwise would have been—together.  And that is absolutely how things work here. It’s all about community.

Versatility and Flexibility

Volunteer Spotlight: Jerry Frappier – Disaster Services Tech volunteer

In 2003, Jerry Frappier was building house additions and ultralight airplanes. “I felt the urge to volunteer and the wife said ‘go, go volunteer!’” Frappier had only been a part of the Red Cross for a year when Hurricane Charley hit the southeastern states in August 2004. Frappier was Red Cross ready to provide disaster relief. While Frappier was not sure what task he would be assigned, it was soon decided for him. When a nurse at the shelter learned what Frappiers’ background was, she wasted no time introducing him to the right people, and that is when Disaster Services Technology found Jerry Frappier.

Disaster Services Technology (DST) is responsible for setting up the equipment necessary for communication operations to continue in the event of a disaster. “We move to the [affected] area, and set up satellite dishes, servers, internet, printers, fax machines, and anywhere from 60-200 computers,” said Frappier. When Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina, the Red Cross had an apparent need for DST volunteers like Frappier. “They [Red Cross] called and asked ‘wanna lead DST for Matthew?’” Frappier laughed. “I took it, and went to Goldsboro to set up.” The original shelter in Goldsboro, NC was eventually flooded by the hurricane and the team was unable to return to it. They eventually found another place in Goldsboro where Frappier helped set up communications to continue Head Shottheir operations.

A moment that stands out for Frappier came during August 2005. “I was deployed for a second time with Hurricane Katrina [relief]. I was deployed first in Montgomery, Alabama and then again to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When I arrived at the shelter and told them I was DST they said ‘oh thank goodness you’re here’ and that has stuck with me.”

When asked for one thing the Red Cross has taught him, Frappier responded, “versatility and flexibility. As an example, one time I walked into a situation and was presented with three different models of a computer which I had never seen before.” Red Crossers are known for adapting to changing or unforeseen circumstances. Frappier adapted as quickly as he could and applied what he knew to what he did not know to achieve the needed outcome.

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to help with disaster relief on a local and national level. Click here to find out about opportunities to volunteer in your area: http://rdcrss.org/2u4KKZg

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Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.

 

35 Years of Red Cross… and more to come!

Volunteer Spotlight: Joyce Blackmon – volunteer for 35 years.

Joyce Blackmon, a Rutherford county native, who worked as a kindergarten teacher for 7 ½ years before she retired in 1982, began her American Red Cross journey in March that same year. Blackmon’s journey has now spanned 35 years changing roles between an educator, a Level 4 Mass Care Officer and an Administrative Assistant in Mass Care. When asked how she came to be a Red Cross volunteer she said, “I had never thought about it [volunteering], but I was able to quit working and after two months of cleaning house my husband said, ‘would you like to be a volunteer with the Red Cross?,’ and that’s what I did.”

In 1985, she started out as an Administrative Assistant in Mass Care teaching volunteers and providing an orientation in the field to those who had been deployed. Throughout that year, Blackmon evolved as a volunteer into a Level 4 Mass Care Officer and then a Mass Care Chief. Included in her duties were registering clients, making them comfortable, and arranging feeding. Blackmon also kept the books for the operation by keeping count of the number of shelters, number of people in the shelters, number of meals served, and number of snacks served. She recalls her duties during a deployment: “While we were deployed for Hurricane Andrew, there was a neighborhood clinic down the street feeding people. But they didn’t have paper towels and paper plates. We did have those things [at the shelter] and they came to us asking. My supervisor said yes, anything that was an in-kind gift. So I kept a record of that as well.” Blackmon has taught disaster training at the Gaston County Chapter as well as the Charlotte Metro Chapter, where she also volunteers in the blood center.

Disasters, especially natural ones, tend to be unavoidable. Blackmon has answered almost 60 calls to deployment. Blackmon described the deployment experience varies from not knowing what’s going to happen to knowing what’s going to happen. “Your weather channel is telling about the hurricane that’s coming; we have a map and they would tell us what the coordinates were and we would mark it [the hurricane]. You knew you were probably going to get deployed.” Our volunteers are always Red Cross ready with their laundry done and bags packed to spring into action when duty calls. Blackmon was no different.

When asked about a lasting impression from a deployment, Blackmon mostly recalls the faces of the affected: “The face of an older woman looking where the fire had come joyce imagethrough and took the barn, leaving just a shell of a tractor. You could just see ‘there’s all of my memories.’ The house was gone, all the pictures, everything.”

While the Red Cross definitely appreciates Blackmon for her many years of service, Blackmon appreciates the Red Cross for teaching her patience and that she can play a major role in helping people. Blackmon continues to serve the Red Cross weekly and encourages her friends to do the same. It is volunteers like Blackmon who have dedicated their lives to the Red Cross that keep its values and mission alive.

Are you interested in volunteering at your local Red Cross? Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more about how you and others can get involved.

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Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.