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Monthly Archives: April 2020

By: Sophie Kluthe

Kay Rossi has been on so many national disaster response missions, she’s lost count. An American Red Cross volunteer since 2009, she’s used to packing her bag and flying across the country to help those impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, floods… you name it. 

That’s why, when the call came to help people in South Carolina who had been displaced by tornadoes, she signed right up. Except this time, she didn’t pack a bag, because she isn’t actually going anywhere. 

During a global pandemic, things have to be done a little differently in order to reduce the spread of illness. While local disaster responders are on the ground, using gloves, masks and social distancing to distribute supplies and provide assistance like meal deliveries to people (who are being housed in hotel rooms instead of congregate shelters), most of the out-of-state-support roles are being done by volunteers working at home, like Rossi. 

“This is my first virtual deployment, which has been a great experience,” Rossi said.  

On April 13, more than two dozen tornadoes, some of them deadly, touched down across South Carolina alone. “They were hit pretty bad down there,” she said. 

Rossi is using video chats, emails, phone calls and texting to lead a team providing financial assistance, and referrals to other sources of help to people impacted by the tornadoes. 

Normally, many of the people a volunteer needs answers from are physically there with them. Rossi said that being spread out makes everything a little more tedious and take a little bit longer. Despite all this, though, she said the coronavirus situation is what made her want to take the assignment even more. 

“I actually think it’s more important to volunteer now with this pandemic. I felt so helpless just sitting here. This is probably more meaningful because these people are dealing with the coronavirus, losing their homes, and living at a hotel all in in the midst of a stay at home order. I wanted to help them because while we’re staying safe in our homes, they’re looking for a place to live.” 

A global pandemic, widespread stay at home orders and a nation of people navigating through a stressful time doesn’t mean disasters are going to take a break. In fact, some estimate this to be the deadliest tornado season in years. But whether it’s tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding or the all too common home fire, the Red Cross will find a way to be there for those who need it. Something Kay Rossi knew right off the bat. 

 “I knew that the Red Cross would be there to help and would find a way to get it done,” she said.  

By: Sophie Kluthe

Despite having to navigate these very stressful and uncertain times created by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that remains constant is the work at the American Red Cross. We’re still here to deliver our lifesaving mission during this public health crisis because emergencies don’t stop, like a building collapse that happened this recently in Philadelphia, displacing several families.  

Because of the contagiousness of the Coronavirus, we’ve had to change several procedures for the safety of the people we serve, as well as our workforce. In most cases, we’re using technology to support disaster responses virtually. In person or not, our mission remains the same; to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.  

Recently, our disaster workers were called about a building collapse that had left six families without a place to live. This, as you know, is on top of what is an already extremely stressful time for families everywhere trying to stay home and make ends meet. 

Normally, a team would respond to the scene and connect with those displaced, giving them an opportunity to assess damage and determine what assistance would best jumpstart the recovery process. Most of this must now be done now using smart devices and video chat apps. And that’s exactly what happened after a residential building in Philadelphia collapsed.

Volunteer Heidi Dampman coordinated the Red Cross response from home as soon as she got the call for help. Even though the loss of the in-person connection makes every step a bit more tedious, Dampman said it’s worth working through to make sure families receive help.  

“We’ve got to keep going on and taking care of people. We can’t just stop. They need our assistance. We care, and it’s hard to see someone go through this,” Dampman said.  

Heidi Dampman wears a facemask as she stops by the Red Cross House to assist.

Mary Noll, a volunteer who was working on the cases from her own home, said she is still, “Getting used to the new process of virtual disaster response,” but that it won’t stop her from continuing to help those in need. 

Mary Noll adjusts to volunteering in disaster recovery from home, with a smile

Two disaster team members volunteered to be runners, which means donning a protective face mask, gloves, and dropping off any assistance or paperwork at the scene, while observing social distancing protocol. In all, the disaster team provided emergency recovery assistance to six families, totaling 10 people who had been displaced by the building collapse. 

Pandemic or not, we are committed to caring for our communities and those displaced by disaster. But we can’t do it alone. Financial support is critical and is used to equip and train volunteers and staff during this outbreak to safely provide food, shelter and comfort to people affected by disasters of all types. It’s also being used to invest in technology and training to make sure we can provide counseling, financial assistance and other relief services virtually when possible. 

Because emergencies don’t stop, and neither do we.   

By: Susan West

A month ago, life was humming along. Your work was going well, the kids were killin’ it in school, and you’d just scored Eagles concert tickets. But as Don Henley warned you, in a New York minute everything can change. And that’s what happened.  

Now, as a result of pandemic circumstances beyond your control, you may be feeling emotionally whiplashed. Your comfortable routine, from your morning commute to your weekly karaoke night, has gone “poof.” The kids are underfoot and cranky. Maybe you’re financially insecure. Or you’re alone and out of work, staring at blank day after blank day. No sports, no movies, no happy hour.

We’re all in a state of mourning over our dashed plans. We’re all disappointed, fearful, and worried about an uncertain future. So ignore those rosy happy-family stories and do what you can to focus on your own mental health and that of your family. Here are a few tips:

FIND THE FACTS

Facts fight fear. Focus on accurate, reliable information from trusted sources like the CDC (cdc.gov/covid19), American Red Cross (redcross.org/coronavirus), and legacy media. And don’t forget your local paper, which may have news that’s relevant to you and your neighbors. Steer clear of social media accounts and news outlets that promote fear or rumors.

MAINTAIN ROUTINES

Get up, make your bed, and have breakfast at the same time every day; keep the eating, sleeping, home schooling, and recreation on a schedule. This is especially important for children, because routines can ease stress and make their world predictable and secure. They’ll understand expectations—and you’ll keep the household chaos at bay for everyone’s sake.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS

Virus news is inescapable, and kids may react fearfully to accounts of illness and death, perhaps worrying that their loved ones will get sick. Try to limit their exposure to the news, but also sit them down and encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings. Reassure them about their safety in a way they can understand. They’ll have questions; answer honestly. Then send them out to play! Be creative and think of fun activities that will occupy their time.

CONNECT WITH OTHERS

Everybody is home, so now’s the time to reach out through phone calls and video chats. Volunteer, buy groceries for a neighbor, or just check in (virtually) on someone who’s living alone. Remember, we help ourselves by helping others, so offer your support in whatever small way you can.

SET DOABLE GOALS…

Let’s face it, this shut-in stage might last a while. Think about setting modest goals for yourself in one (or more) of these four “C” areas: Create, Connect, Complete (a project), and Care for yourself. For example, create something tasty to eat. Send one email a day. Clean a closet.  Paint your nails. (DIY haircut? Maybe…not.) If you still can’t get off the couch, read on:

…BUT GO EASY ON YOURSELF

Haven’t started those online French lessons yet? Relax. Lose the guilt and take a bath. Watch funny animal videos on YouTube. Hold a mental image of your best possible future. Make a list of your personal strengths and visualize them as a sword-proof shield. Anxious? Breathe deeply. Forget the marathon training. For now, anyway. That said…

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY

Eat healthy, hydrate, and get your rest. Go outside to exercise—it’s allowed, as long as you stay at least six feet from others. Use your walk time to make phone calls. See? You’re connecting with others and also caring for yourself.

TALK IT OUT

“These are unprecedented times,” says Red Cross disaster mental health specialist Louise Olsheski. “This has given us a chance to slow down a bit and breathe from our usual hustle and bustle.” She adds that mental health volunteers serve Red Crossers as well as disaster clients: “Feel free to reach out to your friendly DMHer if a listening ear will help.”

RECOGNIZE TROUBLE

Temporary stress reactions—fear, anger, frustration, and anxiety—are common. Some people coping with stressful events feel better after a few days, while others find that their anxiety persists. If the feelings and reactions listed below sound all too familiar and you just can’t shake them, it’s never a bad idea to seek out a supportive professional who can guide you back to an even keel.

-Crying spells or bursts of anger

-Difficulty eating

-Difficulty sleeping

-Losing interest in things

-More physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches

-Fatigue

-Feeling guilty, helpless, or hopeless

-Avoiding family and friends

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

We’ll get through this. We’re in it together.

By: Matthew Breidenstein, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager 

Raquel Almodovar is someone who is dedicated to serving those displaced by disaster both locally, and across the country. As a member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), Raquel Almodovar is one of the most dedicated responders in Berks County.

As someone who is fluent in Spanish, Raquel helps her fellow DAT members by helping translate for the people we serve. The city of Reading has a large Hispanic and Latino population, and it is because of Raquel that we are able serve these communities effectively when disaster strikes. 

As a member of the Home Fire Campaign team, Raquel routinely checks our Spanish Alarm Hotline and sets up appointments for us to provide home fire education and install lifesaving smoke alarms. As a formal advisor to the Wilson Red Cross club, Raquel has invited high school students to volunteer to hang door hangers prior to our home fire campaigns to help spread the word. Many of these students also participate in local home fire campaign installation events. It is instrumental to the organization that we ensure youth are invited and encouraged to get involved with the Red Cross and Raquel has been a leader in the Tri-County chapter in this area. 

Raquel’s skills and talents have also proven useful at large scale disasters all over the country. Since last September, Raquel as deployed three times to assist those affected by Hurricane Dorian, Tropical Storm Imelda and the Earthquakes in Puerto Rico, often dropping everything going on in her personal life, to serve people displaced by disaster.  

Raquel discusses her deployment to Puerto Rico

Raquel is valuable dedicated member of the team who is a joy to work alongside with and we are grateful to have her on the team! 

Thank you, Raquel!  

 At the Red Cross, 90 percent of the work is done by volunteers, and many of those volunteers show a commitment who’s passion and dedication are unmatched. Debbie Leister has shown her commitment to the Red Cross year after year during her more than 14 years volunteering at the Tri-County Chapter in Reading two days a week, every week.    

Debbie is known in the Reading chapter as someone who is always pleasant, compassionate and friendly when she is working with veterans, which is an incredibly meaningful, and important role the chapter plays in the area. As part of her duties, Debbie receives calls from veterans who need to schedule a ride to the Lebanon VA Medical Center. 

Debbie also conducts follow up calls, confirming pick up schedules and details. Apart from the day to day duties, Debbie also oversees overall performance. Once a year, she conducts a satisfaction survey with all of the veterans that have used the service.  On top of those duties, her colleagues say Debbie is always willing to help with any other tasks when needed.    

“Debbie is a pleasure to have in the Tri-County Chapter.  Thank you for all you do to serve the American Red Cross and the veterans we help!” said Sherry Bingaman, Red Cross Operations Specialist.  We can’t wait to keep working with Debbie in the years to come!    

By: William T. Rodebaugh III ISD and SAF Regional Director 

Some people can just hit the ground running, and we’re lucky to have welcomed Mary Harper, freshly retired from her longtime career in public service, onto our Red Cross Service to Armed Forces team. In six short months, Mary has made a huge impact.  

Mary not only responds to fire calls, but she also works diligently as a member of the region’s Diversity Committee, and she is also the Senior Volunteer Partner and Resiliency Lead for our Regional SAF Program. In her capacity within SAF she has organized the distribution of over 4,000 veteran hygiene kits, executed eight Resiliency events, including helping homeless veterans in transition as well as National Guard families prepping for deployment.   

Mary also helps train new volunteers and is quickly mastering Red Cross systems and programs through her commitment to training and become part of the team. 

Mary Harper at the 2019 Philadelphia Veterans Parade

 For all of those reasons, I felt that Mary Harper needed to be recognized for her many contributions and dedication to the Red Cross Family. 

Thank you, Mary!  

By: Sean McGarry

Cathy Jensen is one of those volunteers people fight over, because everyone wants her on their team. Her place in the organization has grown exponentially since she joined several years ago, starting at the chapter level and rising through the ranks to the regional and even divisional levels.  

Cathy poses with her husband, Paul, who also volunteers for the Red Cross.

Cathy puts her skills to work in Disaster Spiritual Care, providing care and comfort to people immediately following a disaster. As the Spiritual Care Lead, Cathy built a team from the ground up and it shines as a model for the entire Red Cross. Cathy responds to disasters both locally and nationally, and has deployed to major events including fires, floods and hurricanes.  

Along with this disaster work, Cathy also volunteers to help those serving in the Armed Forces, she reunites families separated by tragedy, and innovates new initiatives in engaging our volunteer workforce.  

She does all this while making anyone’s day a little better after even a brief conversation, be it about work or just life. The Red Cross is lucky to have someone like Cathy giving her time to deliver the mission. 

To sum it up, Cathy Jensen is a ray of sunshine in dark times, or any time.