Monthly Archives: September 2019

By: AJ Suero

One of the most fulfilling aspects of serving at the American Red Cross is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of total strangers. This is never more true than when our volunteers and staff deploy to a disaster relief operation. 

Recording a Hurricane Dorian update from Daytona Beach, FL

Back in late August, I traveled to Florida and North Carolina to assist in preparedness and relief efforts for Hurricane Dorian. As a story producer for the Red Cross’s Public Affairs team, I worked with a videographer to tell the story of what was going on in the hours leading up to, during, and after the passage of this deadly storm. We spoke with locals, tourists, and officials, all of whom where glad to see that the Red Cross was there to help. In Florida, we helped spread the word about the importance of emergency preparedness planning. “I had such a sense of relief when I saw your team out here,” said one Melbourne resident. 

Our public affairs team in Melbourne FL 
Left to right:  Regional Communications Manager Bill Fortune (Denver, CO) , me,  Communications Volunteer Cindy Huge, Blood Services Communicator Cynthia De La Torre (Las Vegas, NV) , National Media Relations Director Anthony Tornetta

In addition to my role in the making of videos, I also helped our team of spokespeople with interviews. Many media outlets wanted to get a sense of what was happening and how the Red Cross was helping. As we entered shelters and traveled from county to county, I was so overwhelmed to see so many dedicated volunteers across the region who were serving in shelters and at community centers. I felt an instant kinship with these amazing Red Crossers, people who had traveled from places near and far. It is incredibly gratifying to be reminded that there are compassionate people in the world—people who are willing to literally run toward danger to help those in need.

By: Nicole Foulke

Perched in her American Red Cross Philadelphia office chair, surrounded by charts and instructional binders of her own making, Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Judy Burns, greets new visitors like old friends. “Eric [a volunteer] once got the best meatball recipe on a call!” she said, encouragingly, to a new volunteer.

With her gregarious nature, Judy could befriend anyone.

As both the Service to the Armed Forces Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead and its Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, Judy is an indispensable part of the program that itself can be dated back to the establishment of the American Red Cross. She is pure determination, even when she does not feel her best, on the days when her multiple sclerosis involves use of a wheelchair or keeps her homebound.

Judy, who has traded her own struggles for a life devoted to positivity, began at a young age to volunteer: “I think it was really fortunate that I’ve had seizures since I was born and got sick as a teenager; it made me stay in touch with the world and know it was not all about me,” she said.

Judy, whose no-nonsense workwear today is suitable for office hours, as well as for running into a burning building and saving a stranded cat (one of her many anecdotes), is a wealth of technical knowledge and familiarity with the community.

“Because of the personal relationships she has, she is able to connect the right people and organizations when it counts to really maximize possibilities,” said her supervisor, William Rodebaugh III, SAF Director for Eastern Pennsylvania.

Although Judy was born into a military family, it  wasn’t until her brother was injured in service in Somalia did she realize that military families have special needs. She began to volunteer for military family organizations and found her way to the Red Cross.

Each year on her birthday in September (Happy Birthday Judy!), Burns chooses a charity to focus her energy on in addition to the American Red Cross. This year, Judy is supporting the Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute (MSAWI), whose namesake was the son of her friends who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008, as it collects used cell phones to benefit the Cell Phones for Soldiers program. MSAWI is an authorized depository center for the program, which recycles any cell phone (the SIM card should be removed before donating) and uses the funds to purchase pre-paid calling cards for deployed soldiers to call home. (Anyone interested in learning how they can donate a cell phone can contact Judy via email at

At the Red Cross, Judy is also spearheading an experiment in Service to the Armed Forces volunteer training; she created a pilot and Eastern Pennsylvania is the only region in the country that trains new volunteers with mock phone interviews and onboarding before allowing them to make calls, waiting for the standard computer training courses until later in the process.

A Pennsylvania native, Judy has volunteered with the Red Cross in the Eastern Pennsylvania for five years, always with the purpose of landing in a position where she could help the military community. A spot opened in 2018 and she began to work with mental health caseworkers and community partners to help those in need.

Judy was later promoted to Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead, coordinating workshops in numerous states, and received the additional title of Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, which means she is responsible for recruiting, training, and onboarding volunteers for the Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Network, an emergency communications network for military families in crises.

Embodying the what it means to be a volunteer serving their community, Judy says she is just grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

“The feeling that I could be empowered as a vital part of this mission, and I hope that those opportunities continue both for me and for those that I have noticed are as passionate as me about SAF.”

Interested in volunteering for the Service to the Armed Forces division of the Red Cross? Check out this link:

By: Sophie Kluthe

Every day our team is amazed by the generosity of our community, from the big corporations we partner with to the individual citizen who may only have $10 to give. But this week, one donation in particular arrived with a letter containing a story that touched our hearts. With the permission of the sender, Barbara McConaghey, we decided to share the story behind the financial contribution. 

It read:

“I am enclosing a donation check for $350, the proceeds I received from a birthday promotion I did in August. I am a distributor of health and wellness products, and for one week, anyone who purchased these products received cash back. The proceeds of these sales would be donated to the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.”

But the generosity didn’t end there. As it turns out, McConaghey was carrying out a legacy of giving back to the community that first began a generation before her.

Robert L. Benner, photo courtesy Barbara McConaghey

“My late father, Robert L. Benner, was the Fire Chief in Whitehall Township. Up until his passing in March 2016, he always said that no matter what the disaster, the Red Cross was there to assist. So I felt my need to give back and I would like this money to help anyone who needs it in a time of disaster. This is in memorial to him, my father. He always gave his time and dedication to the community he served in, and he became an icon here in the Lehigh Valley.”

If you’re from that area, you probably know the name Robert Benner; it’s knit into the fabric of Whitehall Township. Benner served the township for almost five decades. A fire training center is dedicated in his name, and his passing brought the entire community together in mourning. The township later named a road in his memory

To learn that Robert Benner’s daughter, Barbara McConaghey, chose the American Red Cross to donate to in honor of this great man humbles us and fills us with gratitude. Thank you, Barbara, for supporting disaster prevention and relief in your community, and for sharing your story with us. 

The letter from Barbara McConaughey

By: Nadine Banks

You’re home watching TV when an emergency alert blares on the screen: Local authorities are recommending evacuation due to an impending emergency. What’s your next move?

Some may meet this scenario with panic. You however, know exactly what to do: You grab your supplies and execute your well-rehearsed disaster plan.  

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, and the American Red Cross is uniquely qualified to prepare you for the unexpected, whether it’s a home fire, flash flood, or something else. By definition, an emergency is unforeseen—nobody thinks the worst will happen to them. That’s the kind of thinking that can lead to panic. You can take three easy, but critical, action steps to get your household ready for emergencies:

1.Build a kit – Build an easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you if you have to evacuate. Include items such as water, non-perishable food, a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery powered radio, first aid kit and medications.

2. Make a plan – Talk with members of your household about what to do during emergencies. Plan what to do in case you are separated and choose two places to meet—one right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency such as a fire, and another outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home.

3. Be informed. o Know what kinds of emergency situations may occur where you live, where you work, and where you go to school. Get trained in First Aid and CPR/AED skills so you’ll know what to do in an emergency if help is delayed. Don’t forget your pets, plan for them too. To learn more about how to get your family prepared, visit, or download one of our free apps by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store.

Everyone in your household should participate in emergency planning and help build the kit; also, inform family and friends outside the home of your plans. And don’t forget your pets! Keep a list of pet-friendly places to stay and have their food and supplies ready to go.

The Red Cross offers a wealth of information and resources to help you prepare for disaster; just visit In addition to info on CPR and AED training, you can access free apps such as Emergency (which offers over 35 customizable weather and emergency alerts), Monster Guard (which teaches kids ages 7 to 11 about staying safe in an emergency), and First Aid (which has step-by-step instructions on dealing with common first aid emergencies).

Disasters may also affect blood drives and blood supplies, which can be critical in the hours and days after an event, so visit, download the Blood Donor app, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to schedule a blood donation.