Thursday, December 27, 2012

Telluride community comes together for kids & disaster relief

By Neal Elinoff, Western Colorado Blogger

A little over a week ago, one of my colleagues at work suggested that we have a Holiday party in our jewelry store and invite the community to bring an unwrapped toy as a price for entry. We'd have one of his former buddies from the Marines get us a spiffy new recruit fresh out of boot camp to accept the toys and bring them to the Marines' last flight out for their annual US Toys for Tots Christmas program.  We decided to make it our first, annual community Holiday party.

Telluride is isolated, remote and has only one toy store, which closes early. We needed another charity that would be a good match for people who want to write a check instead of bringing a toy. Naturally, as the Western Colorado blogger for the Red Cross, the American Red Cross became our cash beneficiary.

With tourists finally arriving after a sleepy start to our ski season, Saturday, December 22nd would be our target date.

We put ads in the newspapers. Put up a banner. Passed out flyers at the hotels and the ski clubs. We arranged for a wonderful acoustical string duet and the best Thai restaurant in America to cater it.

We partied from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. We collected boxes of toys and over $1,200 in cash and checks for the American Red Cross.

It was a very good night. Disadvantaged children everywhere will be remembered with new toys. The American Red Cross was remembered in our community for their contribution to Service members and victims of disasters.

Thank you to everyone in the Telluride community who helped make this first-ever event a success.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A message of thanks and hope from our CEO

I'd like to take a moment to reflect during these closing days of 2012, as we gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays.

Our Colorado community and our country have endured so much this year - from the Lower North Fork Fire and Waldo Canyon to Superstorm Sandy, from Aurora to New Town, and all the heart-wrenching moments in between.

Whether an act of nature or an act of man, it can be difficult to fathom the depth of loss. We don’t pretend to have the answers as to why such things happen, but we can tell you this: time and time again, we have seen that when disaster strikes and darkness descends, good people come together to extend compassion and aid to those affected most dearly.

While the lives lost cannot be revived and the homes and treasures lost can never be fully recovered, as a community and nation we have experienced first-hand the outpouring of kindness that human beings are capable of – the type of selfless giving that helps dispel despair and bring hope that, yes, together we can triumph over tragedy.

For the American Red Cross, tens of thousands of people in Colorado and across our country gave generously to help when fires destroyed livelihoods in our home state, and again when Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast.
   Hundreds of volunteers in communities all over Colorado gave their time to answer the call for help, working 12- to 16-hour days for weeks at a time to help bring food, shelter, emotional support and basic health services to victims.
   More than 2,000 of your fellow Colorado residents give their time on a regular basis rendering acts of kindness in response to the small disasters that occur daily and helping us train people to prevent and respond to emergencies like heart attacks and home fires. Many other not-for-profit organizations can say similar things this year and nearly every year.

Despite all the difficulties we’ve faced in 2012, I’m convinced now more than ever that people are inherently good, and collectively the good overcomes.
   For every dollar that you have donated to any non-profit, thank you; your gifts have directly helped people in need.
   For every hour you have volunteered, thank you; your time has not only accomplished good work, but has helped build faith in humanity.
   And for every tear you have shed and prayer you have said, thank you; your compassion is the spirit that empowers us all to take action when faced with the worst, and to rebuild with hope for a better tomorrow.

Wishing you all peace and kindness during this season of giving,
Gino Greco,
Regional CEO, Red Cross Mile High Region

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Be Prepared For The Apocalypse (Or Anything Slightly More Realistic)

Ok, let’s face it: in all likelihood, the world will not end, nor will any other global catastrophe strike on December 21st (see evidence provided by NASA or presented by The History Channel from the oldest-known Mayan calendar). But the buzz around this “event” does present a great opportunity to discuss preparedness. We at the Red Cross love to be prepared, and we love it when Coloradans - and anyone else, for that matter - are prepared, too.

Take the alleged-impending-doom this coming Friday, for example. Denverites, do you have an escape plan in case of an alien invasion of the Denver metro area? Have you discussed where to meet with family members in case of any emergency requiring an evacuation?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Winter Driving Tips All the Experts Agree On

With widespread snow predicted for Colorado, the American Red Cross, AAA, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) have collaborated to incorporate each agency’s expertise into a comprehensive list of winter driving advice for motorists.

The agencies recommend the following:
1. Compile a Winter Safety Kit. A Winter Safety Kit will help you be prepared in the event that your vehicle becomes disabled, you're caught in traffic for extended amounts of time, or you are stranded. The items suggested below can be purchased at most grocery and superstores for around $50.

Monday, December 17, 2012

One MHRC Volunteer Tells Her Call Center Story

In response to the overwhelming destruction of Hurricane Sandy, the Mile High chapter operated an overflow call center to field calls from affected areas. The eight-day effort, made possible by 42 volunteers working 126 shifts, helped hundreds in the area hardest hit by the hurricane find resources for food, shelter, healthcare providers and other urgently-needed services. One of our own bloggers, Mary Hastings, took a shift on the call center. Here is her story of giving hope and help to hurricane victims over a thousand miles away.

When I crawled out of bed that morning, I followed my normal routine to get ready, which included watching the news for the latest developments on the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. I could barely fathom what it would be like to lose everything the way so many had during this catastrophic event. Like so many, I wanted to do something to help. Fortunately, the American Red Cross gave me that opportunity.  
The overflow call center helped individuals seeking healthcare, food and shelter resources in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

I volunteered at the Mile High Call Center in Denver the first afternoon the national office had asked us to open to handle the tremendous overflow of calls from people needing help in New Jersey and New York. Initially there was a deluge of calls and with each call I answered I was moved by how grateful people were just to hear a calm, friendly voice on the other end. Lives had been turned upside down and people were desperately searching for food, shelter and clothing.

We had calls from people trying to get to shelters, from others trying to feed families and others frantic to help the elderly. One caller was crying because she was unable to drive anywhere to get her five children (including an infant) to safety; she was recovering from major surgery at home and no one could get to her to help.

A Mile High Red Cross volunteer at the overflow call center

We did our best to direct people to shelters and other resources, but what struck me most were the number of “thank you” and “GOD bless you” messages I heard. Through all of the chaos, people knew we cared and that made the experience very meaningful for me.

When I crawled back into bed that night, I knew how fortunate I was to lie down in a bed and pull the flannel sheets over my shoulders. An overwhelming peace came over me because, thanks to the American Red Cross, I was able to do something to help.

These are a few of our favorite things - Holiday Mail edition

Coloradans sent in a whopping 19,512 cards as part of the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, in which the Red Cross and its partners collect holiday greetings from the public and distribute them to veterans, military families and active-duty service members at hospitals and installations around the world.

We screen and sort the cards first to make sure they're safe for the recipients, and so we'd like to take a moment to share just a few of the cards that made us laugh, smile, or get a little teary-eyed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Level 3 Communications Employees Provide Over 13,000 Holiday Cards For Military

Level 3 Communications printed special holiday cards and distributed them to Level 3 offices all over North America in order to participate in the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, in which the public sends a touch of home to members of the military and veterans. What Level 3 got back was an astonishing response, with more than 13,000 cards signed and returned to the Red Cross.

During a special event on Dec. 12, 2012, Level 3 Communications employees in Broomfield rolled up their sleeves and assisted with the second stage of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program: sorting through thousands of holiday cards the Red Cross received from the public so that Red Cross messengers can deliver them to the appropriate recipients starting the week of Dec. 17. The cards contain messages of hope, thanks and holiday greetings to the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. The cards will be delivered to active military stationed abroad and in the U.S., as well as to military reserves, veterans and their families.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Four Keys to Keeping your Furry Family Members Safe During the Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time for humans and animals alike, so here are some tips help keep your pets safe.

Many people consider pets to be part of the family – in fact, the majority of Americans give their dogs or cats presents during the holidays, according to several online polls. One gift the Red Cross urges pet lovers to consider giving this year is the gift of life: learn pet first aid and CPR to help your furry family member should emergency strike.

Spots are still open at the next Dog and Cat First Aid training in Denver, 6-10 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 19. Check it out and register here: 

Dog and Cat First Aid Guides are also available for purchase at  -- and the Red Cross is offering a 20% holiday discount on all class registrations and Red Cross store purchases through January 31, 2013. Use code HOLIDAY0113 at checkout.

  • During snowstorms dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost, so never let them off of their leash.
  • According to the ASPCA, more dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
  • During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
  • Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.

Decorating for the holidays is an enjoyable time for families and including your furry companions can be fun yet dangerous.
  • Steer clear of toxic plants and dangerous decorations. Pets can choke on items like tinsel, bells and small ornaments.
  • Candles can pose a fire hazard and can easily be tipped over by pets or cause burns. Consider using non-flammable decorations to create your holiday glow.
There's more to worry about than gaining a few extra pounds when it comes to pets and holiday foods:
  • Try to keep your pets’ exercise and eating habits as close to normal as possible.
  • Chocolate is toxic to pets, and hard candies can pose a choking hazard. Make sure to store holiday treats in a pet-proof container or location.
  • When cooking, always keep pets (and children) at least 3 feet away from flammable surfaces like stove tops to prevent the risk of fire or injury.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thank you for supporting us on Colorado Gives Day!

Coloradans donate $83,464 to Red Cross on Colorado Gives Day

Coloradans demonstrated their generosity and their support for local Red Cross services by donating more than $80,000 to local Red Cross chapters in a 24-hour period for Colorado Gives Day on Dec. 4, 2012.

Colorado Gives Day is a statewide initiative to inspire and unite donors to “give where they live” through online philanthropy. The Mile High Region of the Red Cross was one of more than 1,000 non-profits participating in this year’s event. Hundreds of donors gave to the Red Cross Mile High Region for a total of $83,464. To put it into perspective, this generous dollar amount could help the Red Cross:
  • Assist 167 local families that have been affected by a disaster or
  • Install 75 AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) or
  • Train 1,660 people in lifesaving skills like CPR.
“It was a really successful day for the American Red Cross Mile High Region, and we are grateful to all of our donors statewide for supporting our Colorado efforts,” said Jules Kelty, Senior Director Donor Relations. “Colorado Gives Day encourages us to ‘Give where you live,’ and these gifts will truly help the Red Cross help individuals and families in our local communities.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Red Cross responds to 2 wildfires in northern Colorado

Dec. 3, 2012 - The Red Cross mobilized resources and operated a shelter and an evacuation center in response to two separate wildfires Friday through early Monday morning.

Red Cross workers opened a shelter at Estes Park High School early Saturday morning, Dec. 1, to provide a safe place for residents evacuating from the Fern Lake fire. About 50 residents had checked in to the shelter by 9 a.m. that morning. Red Cross workers staffed the shelter overnight Saturday, but no evacuees chose to stay overnight at the shelter. As some evacuations were lifted, the Red Cross closed the shelter after serving lunch on Sunday, leaving supplies and a team on standby in case the situation changed.

Around 4 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, Red Cross volunteers opened an evacuation center in the Livermore Community Church for residents evacuating from a fire in the Red Feathers Lake area. Fortunately, firefighters were able to make progress on the fire – a structure fire that turned into a wildfire – and evacuations were lifted around 5 a.m.

If There Are Reports of a Wildfire in Your Area:

• Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

• Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.

• Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.

• Confine pets to one room so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.

• Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.

• Listen and watch for air quality reports and health warnings about smoke.

• Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.

• Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.

• When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.

• If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider's advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.

Find more information about wildfire safety, response and recovery at or by downloading the free Red Cross Wildfire App for iPhones and Android platforms. You can download the app from your Google Play or Apple store by searching the term "Red Cross."

In Larimer County go to to register for free emergency notifications if there is an evacuation notice issued in your area.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Scores of Coloradans Contribute to Sandy Relief Efforts

Since Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast on Oct. 29, more than 70 American Red Cross workers from Colorado have deployed to assist with Red Cross relief efforts, and more deploy each week as the Red Cross continues its massive outreach to affected residents.

As of Nov. 28, Colorado has deployed 73 total workers – with 30 workers still deployed on the East Coast. Volunteers have accounted for 90 percent of the local Red Cross workers deployed, and seven local employees also deployed – several who spent Thanksgiving working side-by-side with their Red Cross colleagues.

Colorado workers are fulfilling a wide range of Red Cross duties as they contribute to the largest Red Cross disaster response in five years. Volunteers have delivered front-line basic needs by driving through affected neighborhoods to deliver hot meals, setting up fixed feeding sites, staffing shelters to provide a warm, safe refuge, and distributing massive quantities of recovery supplies like clean-up kits, blankets, gloves and batteries. Local volunteers have also met one-on-one with affected residents to meet their physical and emotional needs, including six volunteers who are serving in disaster mental health.

Don Hughes and Peggy Gray are two of many volunteers who supported sheltering.

Don Hughes-worked in the Bronx, New York. “By the time we left, the clients were pretty sad to see us go,” Don said. He said he was particularly impressed by the size of the Red Cross operation as well as the attitudes and hard work of his fellow volunteers.

“I'm always impressed by how much gets done through the Red Cross," he said. He added, "One nice thing about the Red Cross is the people are there because they want to be there.”

Peggy served at a shelter that had more than 200 overnight residents at its height, ranging in age from children to a 99-year-old.

“This was my first deployment out of state, and I think one of the things that really impressed me the most-- not having a lot of experience-- was that everyone had their role to play, and really pitched in,” Peggy said. “I was very impressed. Everything went very smoothly.”

Read stories about the Red Cross response to Sandy and the work our volunteers are accomplishing by visiting

Earn extra money this holiday season by becoming a certified Red Cross babysitter/caregiver

Tomorrow is December 1st! It's almost hard to believe, but it's here. This time of year is probably one of the busiest, especially for parents: there are holiday parties to attend, after-school concerts and activities, and of course the need to do some "Santa" shopping sans-kiddos. With all the running around that most families will do from now until New Year's, the opportunities for competent babysitters definitely should be picking up. Combine that with the fact that most young people will have some time off from school, it's a great time to make some extra spending money by picking up some new gigs.

I myself babysat from about the age of 10 until I was 16, and had a few regulars. I've done anything from a late New Year's Eve night to an "au pair" week at the beach with the family, being an extra helping hand with the three little ones. (That's me in the collage to the right, with some of "my" kids, ages 6, 3 and 1 and the time, circa 1995.) Even though I was young, the parents felt comfortable with me, especially because I took the Red Cross Babysitting course (held at our local YWCA) where I learned everything from basic First Aid/child CPR to house fire safety and everything in between. (I even still vividly remember the video on how to contain a fire by shutting doors and stuffing towels/blankets underneath them!)

Designed especially for young people (ages 11 to 15), the Red Cross Caregiving & Babysitting course prepares you to become a safe and competent babysitter - and of course, shows parents that you take this responsibility seriously. You'll gain practical knowledge such as feeding and diapering infants, and confidence in your skills through videos, hands-on activities and class discussions. You can also sign up for a course which also includes Pediatric First Aid/CPR to earn these certifications as well.

I highly recommend going through the training if you're considering babysitting as a side job - you'll be more comfortable and prepared, plus, you can make the case for that extra dollar or two an hour that you'll well deserve for being the best babysitter possible! Learn more about these and our other training courses at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Colorado Gives Day is Dec. 4!

Black Friday sales have come and gone, Small Business Saturday has had its moment and the frenetic clicking of Cyber Monday has subsided. But there’s good news for those wishing to give philanthropically this year (or those who still have some stubbornly hard-to-shop-for folks on their list): Colorado Gives Day is just around the corner. Colorado Gives Day, Dec. 4, is a statewide initiative to inspire and unite donors to “give where they live” through online philanthropy.

During Colorado Gives Day, donors may make gifts (as little as $10) in their own names or as a gift in someone else’s name using The 24-hour event also includes non-profit trivia games (through Nov. 30) and a $300,000 incentive fund provided by event sponsor First Bank to further leverage donations received. In addition to providing bandwidth and incentives for the event, the Community First Foundation also covers the credit card fees for donations, ensuring that 100% of monies received benefit the organizations involved.

The Mile High Region of the Red Cross is one of more than 1,000 non-profits participating in this year’s event. During Colorado Gives Day in 2011, the Mile High Region received more than $100,000 in donations from its supporters, ranging in size from $10 to $10,000. This year, the Red Cross hopes to raise at least $100,000. Every gift helps us reach that goal.

You can make your gift on Dec. 4, or you can log on now to schedule your gift to occur on Dec. 4. For more information and to donate, visit

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The best thing to be thankful for, and a great gift idea

By Patricia Billinger

Jody Connally had reason to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: He is alive, thanks to his two teenaged children.

A year ago on Thanksgiving Day, Connally was changing the oil on his truck with his then-17-year-old son, Matthew, when Connally collapsed of sudden cardiac arrest. Matt ran to the house and told their mom to call 911, then pulled his dad from under the car and began CPR. His sister, Kate, who was 14 at the time, came to his side to help. Kate had learned CPR through a Red Cross babysitting course, and she performed rescue breaths while Matthew continued compressions.

“I had passed away,” Jody said. “The doctors told me I experienced sudden cardiac death.”

But his children’s efforts helped bring him back to life. Their use of CPR kept vital blood and oxygen flowing to his brain until emergency responders could arrive and transport him to the hospital.

“My kids really rose to the occasion. I love them more than anything,” Connally said.

Here at the Red Cross, we are thankful for all the everyday heroes like Matt and Kate Connally, who have used skills to save a life. We’re also thankful for the dozens of local volunteers who help to teach our CPR, First Aid and AED courses here in Colorado.

As we head into the holiday season, we ask you to consider giving the ultimate gift this year: the gift of life. Learn how to perform CPR and use an AED, or give a loved one the gift of training. The Red Cross is offering 20% off all courses through 1/31/12 if you use the coupon code HOLIDAY0113 when you book a class online or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

7 Kitchen Tips for A Safe Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is all about food and family – turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and family time. However, preparing holiday goodies can lead to disaster: The kitchen is the setting of more fires than any other room in the house, and cooking is the leading cause of fires in the home.

Here are seven safety steps to use while preparing the Thanksgiving feast.  
  1. Start with this most important rule: Never leave cooking food unattended – stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave even for a short period of time, turn off the stove. 
  2. Enforce a “kid-free zone” and make children stay at least three feet away from cooking applicances.
  3. Keep anything that can catch fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains – away from the stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  4. Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  5. Purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen.
  6. Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.
  7. Install a smoke alarm near the kitchen, on each level of the home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms. Replace all batteries at least once a year.
Another helpful step is to download the Red Cross First Aid app. Available for iPhone and Android devices, the app gives instant access to information to handle the most common first aid emergencies.
House fires are the worst disaster threat to families in the United States. To learn how to prevent a fire in the home and how to keep members of the household safe, download The Red Cross Fire Prevention and Safety Checklist.You can also watch the video news story below for additional tips and information.

We wish you a happy, healthy, safe Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Toast to Give Thanks Like No Other

Giving Thanks Event Welcomes Donors
By Mary Jacoby Hastings

Brown Palace Hotel lobby, Denver, CO  (photos by Mary Jacoby Hastings)
On Veterans Day, November 11, 2012, donors in the American Red Cross Giving Thanks program gathered at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado to pay tribute to active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and veterans worldwide. SAF Giving Program members are among the most valuable Red Cross partners. They receive the highest level of recognition in channels that reach military members and the general public. When companies and foundations join the SAF Giving Program, they stand beside us in caring for and thanking military heroes and their families.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Best Topic for Conversation Over The Holiday Dinner Table

November and December bring lots of occasions for get-togethers with family and friends.  These occasions are the perfect time to chat about disaster preparedness and discuss preparedness plans.

“What? Why? Isn’t that a bit of a downer?”

Sure, disasters aren’t the most light-hearted of discussions. But here are 3 Top Reasons to Bring up Disaster Preparedness Around your Holiday Dinner Table:
  1. These are the people – family and close friends – you’re most likely to turn to and rely on if a disaster upsets your life, and vice versa. 
  2. You’re celebrating and being thankful - what better time to acknowledge all the daily comforts that we have and think about what steps you’d need to take to protect  yourself and to make your life as comfortable as realistically possible during disaster times?
  3. It’s safer and less divisive than talking politics or bringing up old family feuds.
Here’s a simple fact: it takes a community to survive a disaster. Even people who are well-prepared need a place to go if a disaster has destroyed their home, and we all must contribute to making sure we assist neighbors, family and friends who are elderly, disabled, or face other challenges.

Top 3 Questions to Ask Around the Holiday Dinner Table:
  1. Where will you go if you have to evacuate your home? Your entire city? All evacuation plans should include a nearby meet-up place as well an alternative location that is not likely to be affected by the flood, wildfire, tornado or other disaster in your neighborhood.
  2. How will we get a hold of each other if a disaster happens? What if phones are down? Communications is an essential part of your emergency planning. You may not have time to grab your cell phone, you may have lost it, the battery may be dead, or cell phone (and sometimes landline) service may be out completely during a disaster. Picking a meet-up place is one simple solution so that you will know where to find your loved ones if you have to evacuate. Also, select an out-of-area contact that you can call with updates. That friend or family member can serve as the hub to deliver updates to other people inquiring about you. Discuss who is going to serve as this hub during your dinner conversation.
  3. What plans have we made for loved ones with special needs, pets or other people we care for? Make sure that if Aunt Sally is your emergency place to stay, she isn’t deathly allergic to Fido! And if she is, figure out where you can take your furry family members. Go through this process for anyone you have responsibility for or who has special needs like medication, mobility issues, etc. Also, think about friends who live alone and don’t have family in town, and encourage them to participate in planning!

I’d love to hear your comments below on how it goes :)

Mile High Region Volunteer Came to Run, Stayed to Help in NYC

Runner and social worker Erin Wertheimer had only completed her beginning classes as a Red Cross volunteer when she found herself in the midst of the chaos Hurricane Sandy wrought in New York. A licensed clinical social worker and new Red Cross volunteer, Erin was in New York City for the marathon and found herself questioning whether a marathon was what New York really needed at the time. “We were feeling a lot of guilt, just like, how can we go running through these neighborhoods where everyone has lost power, and they have nothing?” she said.

When the race was cancelled, Erin banded with other runners who were in town for the race, and put her energy towards helping those in need. Upon entering some of the communities, she found that although the shelters she encountered were well- stocked with food, water and clothing, mental health services were in high demand. As a result, Erin spent time in the hard-hit Staten Island area, offering her skills and background as a social worker to those navigating the psychological trauma of the disaster.

Erin is a recent Red Cross volunteer who has been in practice for seven years as a mental health professional and is currently working at Aurora Mental Health. Among the victims she helped in Staten Island was a woman weathered the storm in her home, where she’d lived for 20 years. “She just refused to leave her house,” Erin said, “which is totally understandable, but really, nobody could live there. It was completely damaged.” As a social worker, Erin was able to assist the woman, who was also trying to find a lost pet amid the wreckage. “She wasn’t as bad as I was expecting,” she said, “but you could tell there was a lot of shock and trauma that she went through.”

Erin observed that mental health services are still desperately needed in areas affected by the hurricane. That is one of the needs Red Cross teams are working to address, as trained mental health workers hit the streets alongside Safe and Well workers and caseworkers, going door-to-door to check on residents. It takes time, and a lot of footwork. “These people are walking around experiencing these horrific events, there’s such a need,” Erin said.

Erin says she is hoping to contribute her services again as soon as her formal volunteer training is complete – to hopefully deploy as part of a formal Red Cross disaster mental health team.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Crossing" Paths: an Impromptu HS Reunion

To be honest, Dear Reader, the original thought of interviewing Chris DuPuy had nothing to do with this headline.  That’s because Mr. DuPuy, a 57 year old Montrose resident who moved here 20 years ago recognized me, actually my name tag, at a Red Cross training session in Grand Junction last year. 

After a few moments staring at each others name tags and in each others face,  we realized that we went to the same high school in Denver and after a year has passed, I thought I’d call him up and say, “I’d like to write a little story about how our lives have crossed paths again after so many years.  Could I write this piece?  We’re different people who went off on different paths and after 40 years, converging at Red Cross and reconnecting.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Meet Your Bloggers: Neal Elinoff (Western Colo. Chapter)

Hi everybody,

My name is Neal Elinoff and I live in Telluride. 

Here is a little info about me. I have 4 grown children living in NY, Chicago and San Diego and together with my wife of 10 years, Karla, we've recently adopted three abandoned sisters from Honduras; Emili (9), Karlita (12) and Dayan (13).  We've been caring for them for almost two years in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and moved them this past spring to the Island of Roatan for safety (Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world) and a better school.  Dona Minerva, an “abuelita” (grandmotherly nanny) lives with them, cooks for them and makes sure they do their homework because we've not been able to get their visas, yet.  To imagine what it was like for them in Tegucigalpa, they lived behind razor wire and steel gates, leaving their little home only to get on a bullet-proof mini-bus for school 5 days a week. This is no way for children to grow up, but it was a lot better than their orphanage, the description of which could be another blog story of its own. (Disclosure: my wife’s half-brother was the father to these three girls before the state of Honduras took them into the state orphanage.)

Karla and I own a small retail store in Telluride that sells higher-end jewelry and fine art, and we also have a couple of rental condos that we rent out to tourists and visitors.  All of this keeps us busy year ‘round.
I grew up in Denver, studied Statistics at CU, went to Medical School in Grenada, lived in Houston where I started my first family and also Neal’s Ice Cream & Neal’s Cookies stores, lived in Chicago where I invented a counter-top commercial coffee roaster, and finally opened a restaurant in Silverthorne before moving to Telluride in 1995 and getting into the gallery business.

Except for 12 years in Houston and Chicago, I've lived nearly all my life in Colorado and for the last 18 years, I've been in Telluride.

Before moving to Telluride, I enjoyed fundraising for non-profits and still intend to get back into that, especially since finding out that the Red Cross is 100% donor funded.  Explaining to people, even strangers, the ethical need to do something for others who are less fortunate is what gives me the foundation for volunteering, myself. In later blogs, I’d like to write about ethics; what it is and how it affects happiness for both self and others.  Indeed, it is the very foundation we use for volunteering and can be explained rationally, even for atheists and agnostics. In the meantime, look for my monthly posts covering Western and Southwest Colorado. I hope you’ll join me in making our region the most effective volunteers and fundraisers in the nation.

Restoring Family Links Helps Reconnect Separated Loved Ones

Mary Jacoby Hastings
Through its Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, the Red Cross helps thousands of people around the world in their search for loved ones separated by war or disaster. The separation could be the result of an extreme natural disaster or war somewhere in the world, some kind of major event that severs normal communication between immediate family members.

In an ongoing case, Michele, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo now living in Colorado, contacted the Mile High Region of the American Red Cross in Denver when he learned about the program in August 2012. A widower, Michele had been separated from his three children by war and was desperate to find his family, the family he had not been able to contact for five difficult years.

He began the paperwork process with Tim Bothe, manager of International Services in Colorado. The National office of the American Red Cross completed the screening process then put the search into motion. Typically the International Red Cross (ICRC) and other international societies conduct the actual search overseas.
Michele Lubembela

Within two months, Michele’s three children, the youngest of which is five years old, were located in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe. The two older children wrote letters to their father, which were then personally delivered to Michele by American Red Cross staff.  Michele reciprocated with letters to his children, letters which are now on their way to Zimbabwe.

The American Red Cross will continue to facilitate the process of delivering messages between Colorado and Zimbabwe. If a reunification becomes a possibility, the American Red Cross will provide referrals to help the family connect with the appropriate agencies.

“War affects everyone involved; the humanitarian work we do transcends religious, ethnic and geographic boundaries to provide assistance to the families that need it most,” says Lisa Ghali, a caseworker with the American Red Cross.

Thanks to the many volunteers and staff who dedicate countless hours, the Red Cross is able to successfully resolve 74 percent of the cases it receives through the Restoring Family Links program.

For more information on how the Red Cross reconnects families or to receive help in locating a loved one through this service please visit

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pikes Peak Volunteer Receives Top Red Cross Honor

Pikes Peak region volunteer Debby MacSwain laughs when she says she never expected to win the Harriman award for excellence in volunteerism. But her 45 years of service to The American Red Cross are serious business. And as a result of her wide-ranging and dedicated efforts, she did receive the Harriman award, the Red Cross’ highest honor for volunteer service, this year. “I’d look every year to see who won [the award], and I wouldn’t ever give a second thought to ever winning it,” she said. “I wouldn’t even think to try to get it; it always went to other people who had done a lot more.”

It is hard to think of many ways Debby could have done more for the Red Cross during her exceptional and enduring volunteer career. Debby began volunteering for the Red Cross as a recent college graduate in the late 1960s. She jumped into the deep end with her first volunteer assignment in Vietnam as a “Donut Dollie.” Following her deployment to Vietnam, Debby dedicated the next four and a half decades of her life to the Red Cross, primarily in service to the Armed Forces. Though her engagement with the Red Cross has ranged from water safety to global deployments, Debby’s recent projects have included work on a memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring Red Cross volunteers who have passed away, and working with the Legacy Program to recognize volunteers who have worked in combat zones.

This year's Harriman award was given at a ceremony at Red Cross Headquarters in Washington DC on Oct. 24. The ceremony also honored North Carolina volunteer Elaine Lyerly and actor, director and activist Sean Penn for his work in Haiti. Debby said she didn’t introduce herself to Mr. Penn, but that the entire experience did make her “feel like a star for one night.”

Debby MacSwain at the Harriman Award ceremony, center, with friends Julie Berger (left) and Jackie Walters (right)
Despite her decades of volunteer service, Debby is still humbled by the experience of receiving the award. “It’s more than an honor,” she said. Read more about Debby and her award here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pics: Fruita "Truck N Treat" event

On Saturday, Oct. 27, about 1,000 children from the Western Slope got a chance to explore a Red Cross Mobile Feeding Vehicle, learn about preventing the most common disaster and sign a thank-you banner to veterans and active military.

The Red Cross was one of about 50 community participants in the “Truck N Treat” event in Fruita on Saturday. Red Cross workers handed out candy and also provided helpful information about preventing home fires – the most common disaster to which the Red Cross responds.

As part of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces programming, there was also a giant “thank-you” banner for visitors to sign their messages of appreciation to veterans and active members of the military; the banner is an annual Red Cross tradition in Colorado and is displayed on Veterans Day and during military events to showcase public messages of support.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pikes Peak Chapter: Red Cross Provides Comfort and Hot Chocolate To Families Affected by the Wetmore Wildfire

Residents whose homes were taken by the Wetmore wildfire were allowed to view their property Thursday morning. Custer County provided transportation for more than 20 people to enter the burn area to witness the destruction that occurred when the wildfire raged through their properties.

Red Cross volunteers brought hot chocolate and coffee to help warm the residence on a cold Thursday morning. Grief and Trauma volunteers were also available and went along with the residence into the burn area. Red Cross volunteer Tracy Barber was one of those counselors that went along with the residents.

"The mood was somber and it was difficult for some to see what had happened", Tracey said, "however all were grateful for the opportunity to see things firsthand."

Those residence will not be able to start the cleanup effort until fire in the burn area stabilizes which could be several days. Volunteers from the Pikes Peak Area Chapter will be doing bulk distribution of clean up supplies at the Custer County Disaster Assistance Center this weekend.

Story written by Red Cross volunteer Bill Fortune. Photos by Red Cross volunteer Matthew Martinez.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The ABCs of Trick or Treat Safety

Have a fun and safe time trick or treating this Halloween!  Parents, you can do double duty with this week's preparedness and safety post:

Work on your kids' ABC's while going over some Halloween safety before doing your annual candy-hunting next week.  While costumes, masks, pranks and fun are all part of Halloween, there are some great tips here for keeping your holiday fun and festive.  Courtesy of the CDC website.

Alphabet letter S Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.
Alphabet letter A Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
Alphabet letter F Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you.
Alphabet letter E Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat.
Alphabet letter H Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you. Always WALK and don't run from house to house.
Alphabet letter A Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it before bedtime to prevent possible skin and eye irritation.
Alphabet letter L Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.
Alphabet letter L Lower your risk for serious eye injury by not wearing decorative contact lenses.
Alphabet letter O Only walk on sidewalks whenever possible, or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.
Alphabet letter W Wear well-fitting masks, costumes, and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips, and falls.
Alphabet letter E Eat only factory-wrapped treats. Avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers.
Alphabet letter E Enter homes only if you're with a trusted adult. Only visit well-lit houses. Don't stop at dark houses. Never accept rides from strangers.
Alphabet letter N Never walk near lit candles or luminaries. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In October, A Focus on Home Fire Prevention

About every nine minutes, the Red Cross responds to a fire. Here in Colorado, we respond to about one home fire a day, on average.

Although home fires are the most common disaster year-round, we typically see an uptick in home fires with the first cold snap – so in October we commemorate National Fire Prevention Week. But whether it’s a designated week or not, it’s always a good time to get yourself prepared for a possible home fire. The theme this year is “Have Two Ways Out,” which means just that: you should have two ways out of your home in case of a fire. And that means you should develop a plan that includes at least two ways out of each room in your house. And with all planning, it’s important to practice that plan, preferably twice a year. If there is a fire, it’s important to follow your escape plan, get and stay outside, and to call 9-1-1.

When I was younger, my parents, my sister and I mapped ways out of our house pretty regularly. One year, my sister and I were supposed to climb out a window to a lower ledge and then jump down, where my dad would catch us. An unfortunate timing incident ended in my dad’s glasses breaking into two pieces and hours of uncontrollable laughter. So planning for a home fire can be more than just an important family activity, it can also be quality family time (with or without broken glasses).

We’d encourage you to take the time this month to map your way out and talk to your family about your escape plan. And while you’re at it, please consider the below safety tips to make sure your house is free of some of the most common fire dangers:

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the house and inside bedrooms.
  • Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year. Test each alarm monthly by pushing the test button.
Find more tips and tools for making your household emergency plan at

Friday, October 19, 2012

New Wildfire App Brings American Red Cross Safety Information to Mobile Devices

“Blaze Tracker” features give users warning, alerts and fire information for locations of their choice

Estes Park, Colo., Oct. 19, 2012 — As Red Cross workers in Colorado are keeping an eye on three wildfires that could threaten populated areas, the American Red Cross has released its official Wildfire App for nationwide use. The app puts lifesaving information right in the hands of people who live in or who visit wildfire prone areas.

This free app—available in English or Spanish—is the fourth in a series created by the American Red Cross, the nation’s leader in emergency preparedness, for use on both iPhone and Android platforms. The Wildfire App comes after the highly successful First Aid, Hurricane and Earthquake Apps, which have more than 1.2 million users.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Flu Season & Staying Healthy

It's October - we've had our first official dusting of snow in Denver, football season is well underway, baseball is in playoff mode...all the things that mean fall is officially here and winter is around the corner. This weekend I spent time preparing my house for cold weather (well, to be 100% accurate, my husband did). Things to check off the list included:
  • blowing our our sprinklers
  • splitting firewood
  • covering up the swamp cooler
  • putting away the grill
  • cleaning out the summer flowerbeds
The list goes on and on! I'm sure a lot of you are doing the same things these days.  I don't know about you, but I absolutely adore this time of year. The stores are full of fall flowers, pumpkins...and one other thing you may want to add to your list of fall-preparation "to-do's", if you haven't already: getting you and your family members flu shots. They're incredibly easy and affordable to get -- your employer may even give them out for free -- but they will save you from a miserable and potentially dangerous bout with this nasty virus.

According to the CDC: "Everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine this season. It’s especially important for some people to get vaccinated. Those people include the following:
  • People who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu
    • This includes
      • People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
      • Pregnant women.
      • People 65 years and older.
  • People who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications
    • This includes household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease."

A full list of health and age factors, people at a high risk for complication from the flu is available on the CDC website. Check off one of the most important fall to-do's soon!

Holiday Mail for Heroes a Huge Morale Booster

Mary Jacoby Hastings
Prepare to spread holiday cheer to our Armed Forces through the Holiday Mail for Heroes program now in progress through December 7, 2012. This annual tradition gives everyone an opportunity to express appreciation to those who have chosen to serve their country at home and abroad.

Each year the American Red Cross collects cards between October and early December to distribute at military installations, veterans hospitals, and other locations. The cards and personal messages, sent by tens of thousands of Americans, are a huge morale booster.

Imagine the smiles these cards bring to the faces of troops so far from home around the holidays and to those recovering in military hospitals, particularly when family cannot be near.

There are several ways you can prepare a card to send to our troops through the American Red Cross in time for the holidays:
1.     sign a  card and take it to an organized signing event
2.     create an original card or have a child create a card to take to a card signing event
3.     volunteer at an upcoming card-making/signing event
4.     organize a card-signing event with a local organization, such as your place of employment, church or school
5.     incorporate the project with another upcoming event, such as a holiday fair
6.     volunteer to assist in preparing cards for distribution

Throughout the year, you can also make a difference with a monetary gift to help military families through the Red Cross. Your donation can help change a military family’s life. Simply visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

For a heartwarming look at how much this gestures means to our Armed Forces, view actual video at: or visit the  Holiday Mail for Heroes YouTube playlist.  

Card Guidelines:
Every card received will be screened for hazardous materials by Pitney Bowes and then reviewed by Red Cross volunteers working around the country. Please observe the following guidelines to ensure a quick reviewing process:
·        Ensure that all cards are signed.
·        Use generic salutations such as “Dear Service Member.” Cards addressed to specific individuals cannot be delivered through this program.
·        Only cards are being accepted. Do not send or include letters.
·        Do not include email or home addresses on the cards: the program is not meant to foster pen pal relationships.
·        Do not include inserts of any kind, including photos: these items will be removed during the reviewing process.
·        Please refrain from choosing cards with glitter or using loose glitter as it can aggravate health issues of ill and injured warriors.
·        If you are mailing a large quantity of cards, please bundle them and place them in large mailing envelopes or flat rate postal shipping boxes. Each card does not need its own envelope, as envelopes will be removed from all cards before distribution.

All holiday greetings should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Story About the American Dream

Maru Del Real-Gwin
Maru Del Real-Gwin has an American Dream. But to her, the American dream isn’t about a big house, a new car, or a flatscreen TV. For Maru, the dream is about taking the opportunities and resources this nation offers and using them to help those in times of need.

Maru grew up in Mexico, and had some experience with the Mexican Red Cross before moving to Texas 17 years ago. After volunteering at a Dallas shelter during Hurricane Katrina, Maru decided to teach herself English to be a better advocate for clients who did not have English skills. Maru spent hours at the local library learning the language, driven to speak for those who had no voice. Since her time in Dallas, Maru has been deployed to disaster sites around the country, and has traveled to Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. to do the important work that takes place after initial on-site disaster responses.

Maru says she feels especially suited to care for clients who have lost everything.  Her experience as a new American, with limited English skills and a fixed income, gave her a point of empathy with clients in areas affected by disaster.  She talks about barely scraping by while teaching herself the language and volunteering her time to the American Red Cross. Her bilingual skills and sheer determination have allowed Maru to rise through the ranks of volunteers at the Red Cross, but in speaking with her, it becomes clear that no matter how little she’s ever had, she’s always found a way to give of herself to those in need.

"My dream is to help," she says, smilng. "That's all I want to do.” 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mile High Region Adopts Volunteer Connection Tool

For everyone seeking something online, there is usually a service to find it. Through the magic of the Web search, millions of Americans have found jobs, cars, even soul-mates uniquely suited to them. And now, thanks to a new system donated by Grainger, the American Red Cross has launched an interactive tool for new and existing Red Cross volunteers to find the perfect opportunity for every individual looking for a way to serve their community.

Volunteer Connection, launched in 16 Red Cross pilot chapters earlier this year, is an interactive, engaging, nationwide tool that offers advanced search capabilities and consolidated volunteer data to match potential and existing volunteers with opportunities that maximize their skills, availability, and unique interests. Volunteer Connection enables volunteers to more actively engage in their volunteer experience – sharing their stories, communicating with fellow volunteers, uploading photos, scheduling themselves for shifts and more.

The Mile High Region launched its Volunteer Connection site on Oct. 2. With this new site, Mile High Region volunteers can now run comprehensive searches for opportunities and to complete preliminary recruitment and background-check tasks in one online location. The database also incorporates features that track training and scheduling data, which will allow volunteers to offer their time as they are available and log completed training courses in their online records. Meanwhile, on the back-end of the database, Red Cross volunteer coordinators have gained access to a comprehensive list of available, qualified volunteers with specific skills and training to call upon as the need arises.

Here's a YouTube video that runs down the basics of Volunteer Connection, and shows how both volunteers and Red Cross volunteer coordinators will benefit from this powerful tool.

Interested in trying it out? Visit the Volunteer section of and click on the application link (if you’re not yet a Red Cross volunteer) or the Volunteer Connection link (if you’re an existing Red Cross volunteer).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What the Presidential Debates can teach us about preparedness

by Patricia Billinger, Communications Director
Denver is host to the first Presidential debate of 2012, and the town is abuzz with talk about the debate and preparations for it.
The news has been warning us for days about road closures – in particular a large stretch of I-25 – being implemented in relation to the debate.  My husband and I both planned ahead and biked to work today in order to avoid being ensnared in the ensuing traffic. Local schools and hospitals made contingency plans to work around closures, and some local businesses implemented work-from-home or flexible work hours to help employees ensure the debate didn’t cause a debacle in their commutes.
I’m curious: What preparations and changes to your daily habits did you make in response to the knowledge that a major part of our city would be essentially shut down?
And I’m even more curious to know whether people took more precautions and gave more forethought to this temporary disruption to their lives than they do to the less tangible but more impactful threats of disasters.
There’s a major difference between the two: we knew the debate was coming, and we could plan ahead for it. With most Colorado disasters, you don’t get that luxury of time. Nevertheless, we can apply the same sort of planning and forethought to reduce the discomfort and inconveniences we may experience when disaster strikes.
We can plan our alternate routes: Imagine that our route home (or our route to the kids’ school, or the route out of our neighborhood) is going to be closed – not by a Presidential road block, but by fire, flood, downed trees or power lines.  How would we get to safety? Where would we go?
We can work on business preparedness and contingency plans so that we know our employees can continue to fulfill our company’s essential functions, whether or not they can make it in to the office.  Do we have the resources, plans and communications in place to keep operating?
We can tune in and find out ahead of time what the best sources for information are, so that we know what’s going on and how it will affect us. We don’t want to be the driver stuck in traffic on I-25 today with no clue that any of this was happening because we haven’t checked any source of local news in five days – and we certainly don’t want to be the person caught in danger’s way because we were unplugged from the critical sources of information that can pre-warn us with lifesaving information before or during disaster. Do we know how we would find out about evacuations, impending danger and emergency precautions during a wildfire, flood, man-made threat, tornado or other disaster?
I challenge readers to have your own debate tonight or tomorrow. Ask your household members the questions above and challenge each other with changing scenarios. Identify the weaknesses in your preparedness plans…and then commit to making plans and setting up the resources to address those weaknesses. And if you need some help, has tons of resources and ideas.
Because the need to be prepared before disaster strikes is not debatable.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Donors See Their Gifts at Work at Wildfire Stewardship Events

While the devastating wildfires across the state inspired many to donate funds to the Red Cross, many donors may not know the whole story of how the Red Cross uses their gifts in response to such unprecedented disasters. Many of us know the basics of disaster response (blankets, food, water and other necessities), but the Red Cross' response to this year's fires involved much more. Two events in September honored donors who made this response possible, and offered an inside look at how donor gifts were put to good use.

Eric Corliss, who served as the Red Cross job director for the Red Cross Colorado wildfires disaster relief operation this summer, gave a presentation at the Denver event, held Sept. 25 at the Brown Palace. Corliss detailed the wide range of assistance provided by the Red Cross throughout this year's wildfire season. From sifters (for use in ashes, to find whatever items a house fire has left behind) to services that provide evacuated children with toys and other comforts from home, the Red Cross efforts at fire-affected areas went well beyond meeting the basic needs of food and shelter.

Corliss also presented at a similar informational event in Fort Collins, hosted by New Belgium Brewery.  At this event, held a short distance from where disaster response efforts were focused during the High Park fire, Eric's presentation was joined by testimonies from a resident who lost his home during the wildfires and by volunteer Adam Rae, who told what it was like to volunteer during such a major response.

Donors in attendance at the Denver event included Joann Alam and Marion Wells, who made the trip to Denver from Parachute for the evening. Wells stated that she is a regular donor to The Red Cross, citing a family history with the organization. Karen Suhaka, a Denverite, was inspired by the wildfires to make a larger gift than usual. "I'm usually a $10 per tragedy kind of girl," she said. "But when it's close to home, it's different."

Also included in the program were these two videos from clients involved in the Red Cross wildfire response. The first tells the story of Patti and Jerry Ellman, who continued to volunteer while evacuated, and the second is a testimonial from Waldo Canyon evacuee and Denver Bronco Ben Garland.