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

17-10-15 Naranjito
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


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.



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

Get CPR certified!

Have you ever thought about becoming CPR-certified? Does your job require you to get certified? The American Red Cross can help you become a licensed and certified CPR practitioner.

In order to get certified, you simply need to complete a few short hours of training. If you opt to take the online version of the class, it takes even less time to finish. Regardless of which route you decide to take, you will be fully CPR-certified at the end of your training.

“[Methods of signing up for training] can be found in two places. They can be found at RedCross.org under ‘Take a Class,’ or you can contact 1-800-REDCROSS and a customer service agent will be able to assist you in getting registered,” says Spencer Kimbro. Kimbro is a Training Specialist with American Red Cross Preparedness Health and Safety Services, or PHSS.

There are multiple types of classes offered by PHSS, including Adult Pediatrics/First Aid, and Adult-AED First- Aid. In addition, PHSS offers a Blended course featuring mainly online content, minimizing time spent in the classroom.

The Red Cross also offers a Babysitting course, which gives young teenagers the knowledge of how to provide care for younger children. Kimbro argues that it prepares teenagers for business environments by teaching responsibility through childcare and relationship and financial management. Often, this certification leads to a teen’s first experience with employment.

In the Adult/Pediatrics First-Aid course, students learn the signs to look for when determining how to handle a medical situation, as well as the proper time and circumstances to safely administer care. Students also learn the type of care necessary to handle different situations.

It is important to note that all of these classes are held at many Red Cross locations across the state of North Carolina. The Red Cross can even accommodate organizations wishing to hold private training sessions. Those interested should call 1-800-733-2767. Instructors can conduct the training on-site or at a local chapter or off-site location. Please keep in mind there is an in-class minimum for this option.

If you are interested in taking CPR training and becoming certified in CPR, visit http://rdcrss.org/2yrUAnh for more information in your area!



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

Volunteer Spotlight: Vonnie DuRant – deployed Hurricane Matthew 9/28/2016

As a young child, Vonnie DuRant loved to read about Clara Barton in her small, rural school library. Even with no local American Red Cross office near her home, and her family being preoccupied with trying to make ends meet, volunteering was always a constant thought in the back of DuRant’s mind. After working in a long career as an audio-visual information specialist with the U.S. Army, DuRant decided it was finally the opportune time for another type of service.

DuRant has worn several different hats while working as a Red Cross volunteer, including Distribution of Emergency Supplies (DES) Manager, Shelter Manager, Mass Care Lead, Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) Driver, a Safe and Well Reunification Associate, member of The Disaster Workforce Management Team and a member of the first ever Volunteer Leadership Conference. Over the last five years, she has operated as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) responder, smoke alarm installer, office administrator, and volunteer partner. She has been deployed with the Red Cross a total of sixteen times.

A key part of DuRant’s history of serving with the Red Cross includes her time working in disaster relief for Hurricane Matthew. Her work at that time entailed being deployed to the Wilmington, Goldsboro and surrounding counties of North Carolina as a warehouse supervisor and DES lead for 28 days. DES is a department that specializes in making sure Red Cross responders have the proper training and safety equipment to transport and distribute large quantities of supplies under adverse weather conditions and long hours.

As DES lead, DuRant worked with community partners, emergency management, churches, and other civic organizations to facilitate the distribution of emergency supplies to the entire community. “You can’t imagine how delivering shovels, rakes, Vonnie Duranttarps, water, and meals can make such a difference to clients,” said DuRant. “It is one of the most rewarding feelings a volunteer can experience.”

DuRant recalls that during Hurricane Matthew, residents’ emotions were raw and unrestrained. “I met residents in our shelters that just needed guidance, a starting point, [or] someone to listen,” Durant reflects. “A small gesture of introducing them to a case worker, medical staff or shelter volunteer who could be that starting point on their way to recovery.”

Durant credits the impact she has made on the lives of others as motivation to continue her service to the community. “The emotional relief I see in faces and knowing I helped in a small way toward a new beginning is worth all the time and effort I have contributed,” she said.

The Red Cross is continuously looking for volunteers who can dedicate their time to their community. To learn what opportunities are available to you, visit redcross.org/volunteer.



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

Making the Conversation Easier

Volunteer Spotlight: Mercedes Nunez – Farm Pond Lane shelter 7/17/2017

Mercedes Nunez has dedicated her life to helping individuals and their families. Nunez was born in the Dominican Republic but was raised in New York where she worked as a correctional officer supervising juvenile, male and female inmates for twenty years. She then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where she is a Family Advocate at a local high school. In addition to joining the American Red Cross this summer, Nunez also went on a mission trip to Mexico where she spent time translating for children at an orphanage as well as the mission workers.

Two months ago today, Nunez was deployed locally to assist the displaced families from the Farm Pond Lane apartment fire in Charlotte, N.C. She helped the families by translating their needs to Red Cross volunteers as well as helping to convey Red Cross inquiries to the families. When asked about her reason for volunteering, Nunez said, “I know when you don’t speak the language it can be hard. You know, being a child of immigrant parents I know how hard it can be to get help and to communicate with folks. When I saw the email to help I said ‘sure!’”

To some, Spanish is just Spanish. But Nunez explained how different dialects can affect the conversation: “It’s Spanish but I have picked up a lot of Mexican, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Colombian [dialects]. It’s Spanish but with a twist. The Spanish they teach you in school is different than what you speak.” When you look at two dialects side by side, they could use two different words to describe the same thing. When you do not understand the dialect, it can make understanding the conversation very difficult.

Farm Pond Lane’s shelter was Nunez’ first experience as a Red Cross volunteer. Her knowledge of two languages, as well as the various dialects, helped her to assist the families struggling through the events of their disaster in the best way. “I was already familiar with Crisis Ministry, I was familiar with the information [needed] on the forms,” Nunez explained. It was heartwarming for Nunez to see the faces of the impacted “light image1up” with comfort and relief when they realized the person they were asking for help could communicate with them. “It creates a sense of comfort,” Nunez added.

When asked about an individual who left a lasting impression at the shelter, Nunez shared the story of a man who had helped his young children jump out of a second story window to save them [during the fire] and had then jumped out himself. It paints a haunting visual for Nunez who lives on a second floor herself.

Nunez is looking forward to continuing her Red Cross journey potentially with more translating and Disaster Action Team (DAT) membership. Her skills as a bilingual translator will make her assistance as a Red Cross volunteer invaluable. When asked about her reasons for joining the Red Cross as a volunteer, Nunez responded, “I just wanted to help people.”

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers who can help with sheltering, feeding or translating. If you are interested in learning how you can help, visit redcross.org/volunteer.




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

A Glimpse of Hope

Volunteer Spotlight: Annie Bynum – deployed 9/11/2001

On September 11, 2001, millions of American lives were changed forever as four American planes were hijacked, two of which flew directly into the World Trade Center’s North and South towers. Thousands of Red Cross volunteers and employees from all over the country flew and drove to New York City to help overwhelmed law enforcement and displaced civilians. One of those who responded to the call was Annie Bynum, a volunteer for the Red Cross.

Bynum’s work in New York began with driving the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). “As I was driving the ERV,” Bynum recalls, “we were out providing meals and snacks to [our] team members: those that were working on the line, and police departments, and whoever needed food or a snack.”

Bynum described the scenes where she worked as a “war zone.” She worked long and strenuous days in downtown New York. “It was really a twelve-hour day process. We just kept going and going and never stopped,” she said.

Bynum’s unit also worked to provide meals for those who were working amongst the chaos and destruction, as well as the victims. In addition, her unit helped to find and assist those who needed medical attention.

“Client caseworkers, Mental Health, [there were] just so many different functions. Mass care was needed, there were shelters set up, and there were a variety of functions that were going on.”

As well as her job assisting with meals, she also worked alongside Mental Health employees during a process known as “sifting” for about two weeks. The process of sifting involved Bynum looking through the ruins and debris for personal items such as watches, jewelry, and other types of clothing. Even grimmer was the task of finding human flesh and body parts.

Another important part of her job while in New York was helping those who had lost family and friends try to cope with the pain of losing a loved one. Bynum that the overall mission when it came to reaching out to the community was to comfort them while they were dealing with their losses, whether it be the losses of family, jobs, friends, or homes. She remembers crying along with those who lost their family or their home during the attacks.

“I knew that there was nothing that I could really do but comfort them. I would give them a glimpse of hope. We all would talk with them and hug them… We cried with them while we were trying to comfort them. There were tears from our eyes because we could feel that hurt and the pain from the family members… We also let them know that they weren’t alone.”

Fortunately, the Red Cross was also able to help these families begin to put their lives back together by providing the families most affected by 9/11 with monetary assistance for food and clothing. The Red Cross was also able to afford the funeral costs for the families of those killed in the tragedy.

Among the many different experiences that Bynum had serving in the aftermath of 9/11, one of the most important ones was a connection she made with a girl named Lisa, a native New Yorker who lived downtown. During the second plane’s collision into the Twin Towers, Lisa attempted to capture photographs of the event while making sure that she was out of harm’s way. She gave a copy of one of the pictures that she had made to Annie, which helped to solidify a strong friendship that endured for years following the tragedy.

“My memories of the American Red Cross… I will never forget the great job that we did. Each and every one of us had something different to do, and we all tried our very best at thumbnail_20170824_111313.jpgdoing it. Hopefully, we accomplished our mission.”

While Bynum’s memories of the work that she did remain positive and cheerful, she still loathes the circumstances that created the need for work. “I hope and pray, [that] never, ever [again] in my lifetime that I be deployed to an assignment like 9/11.”

Bynum had served alongside the Red Cross since 1997. Regarding her experiences with the organization, she stated, “I have truly enjoyed my quality of service.”

The Red Cross is always looking for a few good volunteers. To learn what opportunities there are and how you can get involved, visit redcross.org/volunteer.


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