Monday, October 28, 2013

Increased Risk of House Fires in Nearing Winter Months

April Blanton’s Aurora home caught fire on July 25; it was one of the fires The American Red Cross responds to every eight minutes.

“It was definitely one of those things you just don’t think about,” Blanton said, “You never think you’re going to lose your house to a fire.”

James Adams’ Centennial apartment building caught fire earlier this month, landing him in the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there are almost 365,000 residential fires reported in the U.S. every year. These fires cause more than $6 billion in property loss. Though this number has decreased as a result of increased fire safety awareness, 2,400 Americans still die in house fires each year.

Many of these fires can be prevented by taking simple precautions. As we near the winter months, homeowners should be cautious of space heaters, as they can easily become a fire hazard. Candles and fireplaces are also warm reminders of the winter season that can quickly turn deadly.

The American Red Cross recommends keeping items that can easily catch fire at least three feet from any sources of heat. Smokers should never smoke in bed and portable heaters should be turned off when leaving the room or going to sleep. 

Smoke detectors should be installed on every level of the house and outside each sleeping area. Detectors should be installed either on the ceiling or high on the wall and batteries should be changed every year. The American Red Cross recommends smoke detectors be checked regularly and replaced every ten years.

Though fires can be prevented by taking precautionary steps, some causes, such as a faulty transformer in the Blanton house, can be hard to predict. April stresses the importance of renter’s insurance, something she feels is “affordable and a necessity” after losing everything she owned.

The American Red Cross was able to provide April Blanton and her family a hotel for several days following the fire as well as food vouchers and a small sum of money to purchase necessities.

Less than 24 hours after the apartment fire, Adams said he wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross—he wanted to give back. The disaster relief personnel assisting Adams was incredibly touched, reporting the man still smelled of smoke when he made this pledge.

To learn more about house fires and how to prevent them, visit

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Local Middle East Expert Draws Largest-Ever Crowd for October Lunch and Learn

A lunch hour may not seem like enough time to accomplish much. Between noon and one, we can run an errand, squeeze in a quick workout, maybe make a rushed trip to the bank. But thanks to the Red Cross Lunch and Learn lecture series, a lunch hour is just enough time to take in an informative, in-depth talk on global areas of particular humanitarian concern. This month’s lecture featured a discussion of the situation in Syria by Dr. Nader Hashemi, a University of Denver professor and a local expert on the Middle East.

Dr. Nader Hashemi, DU professor and Middle East scholar
According to Tim Bothe, International Services lead for the Colorado & Wyoming Region and organizer for the Lunch and Learn series, the Syria talk drew the largest crowd yet for this year’s lectures. Previous talks have focused on other regions where the Red Cross provides humanitarian services, including Columbia and Guatemala.

Dr. Hashemi, who has authored several books on the Middle East, Islam and political movements in the region, chose to speak at the event after being approached by DU research assistant and Red Cross volunteer Yadira Rodriguez-Bernal. Although he has appeared on international media outlets like Al Jazeera and the BBC, as well as at numerous academic events, Dr. Hashemi said it was a personal privilege to speak at a Red Cross event. ”I have a huge soft spot for the American Red Cross and the work they’ve done in the past through today,” Hashemi said.”I was happy to lend my support to an organization that I support and admire. That made this event special.”

Dr. Hashemi said that the audience for his talk was engaged and curious, asking questions to the point where the time scheduled for the event ran out. “There was a lot of interest,” he said. “There was a lot of fruitful discussion.”

For Dr. Hashemi, the Lunch and Learn lecture was an opportunity to offer those interested a deeper understanding of the events in Syria, and offered a forum for discussion in which all sides of the issue could be considered. “[Talks like this] help provide expert opinion on a subject that is in the news, and people have a general familiarity with, but they don’t have a sense of the specifics,” he said. “Bringing in a speaker with some expertise in the subject helps deepen and expand the knowledge base. It’s an opportunity as well for some interaction.”

Lunch and Learn events are free and open to the public. Attendees must RSVP to the event, but for some events, Webex or Skype may be used to remotely connect to the conversation. Presentations are given at the Red Cross facility at 444 Sherman St. For more information, log into Volunteer Connection or keep an eye out for updates on the Red Cross Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Highlight on our Partners: Tzu Chi "Compassion and Relief"

by Dick McGee
Major disasters exceed the scope of any one agency or organization to fulfill all the needs in an affected community.

Recognizing this reality and the vital role that local businesses and organizations play in the recovery of their communities, the American Red Cross maintains a continuous relationship with a large number of community partners. Each has something unique and valuable to bring to the total effort. To capitalize on the synergistic effect of cooperative partnering, the Red Cross actively supports the work of all groups who prove over and over again that, in disaster relief, the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

One such Red Cross partner is the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, a nonprofit, nongovernmental humanitarian organization, which operates out of nine regional service areas in the United States. Very few Americans have ever heard of this organization, unless they have been disaster victims, and have been fortunate to receive their services., This is because, according to the Tzu Chi founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen, “Buddhism teaches people to do good deeds without seeking recognition.” According to a basic tenant of Tzu Chi, compassionate disaster relief means “expressing kindness to all sentient beings, and taking their suffering as our own.”

In disaster relief, Tzu Chi performs this obligation by delivering cash and emergency supplies directly into the hands of disaster survivors. The principles that guide their relief work are gratitude, respect and love. That’s why Tzu Chi volunteers present cash and supplies to victims with both hands, a smile and a bow, or hug.

Founded in the small town of Hualien on the East coast of Taiwan in 1966, Tzu Chi now has 10 million volunteers and donors in more than 50 countries worldwide. Their four major missions include charity, medicine, education and humanistic culture. Disaster relief became a way of fulfilling these missions after Dharma Master Cheng Yen first sent volunteers into the Formosa Strait in the summer of 1991 to support survivors of the severe Yangtze River flood that devastated Eastern China. Working out of 80 offices in the United States, over 100,000 volunteers have served side-by-side with the Red Cross in the wake of 9/11, on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, and on the streets of Port-au-Prince after the Haitian earthquake. They were a major presence in New York and New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

And they came to the Colorado Flood area to extend their special brand of love and compassion. The words Tzu Chi mean “compassion and relief.”

About 20 Tzu Chi volunteers from Los Angeles came to Greeley and Lyons on Saturday, October 19, to deliver disaster aid. Consistent with their guiding principles, Tzu Chi specifically chose the Greeley area because of the large population of flood survivors who may be underserved by virtue of not qualifying for many of the usual governmental services.

Read one Red Cross volunteer's touching experience that day here:

"Hoy Por Mi, Manana Por Ti" - An Example of Paying it Forward

by Claudia Giannetti, a Red Cross Mile High Chapter Volunteer
On Saturday, October 19, I was part of fellowship of people coming together to provide, as well as to receive, support in light of the recent Colorado floods. 

I am a Red Cross volunteer and I have been working with the disaster response and recovery operations centers since the devastating floods swept through our beautiful state of Colorado mid-September.  Thousands of people suffered incredible destruction. Yet, as it happens in crisis situations people come forth to offer assistance, breaching lines of economic status, religious belief and ethnic makeup. 

The Tzu Chi Foundation, which literally means “Compassionate Relief” and is a Buddhist, non-governmental international humanitarian organization that visited Greeley, Colorado this past weekend to provide additional aid to support some of  those greatly affected by the flood waters in an area of Weld County.  Buddhists, Christians, and perhaps other religious beliefs... Latinos, U.S. Citizens, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and other ethnic backgrounds...came together under the roof of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Greeley, sharing emotions and compassion to help alleviate hardship for those currently in need. 

I went to the meeting to assist with the English/Spanish interpretation.  I was deeply touched by the experience.

As part of the intake process, the Tzu Chi volunteer gave each client two additional gifts - a small “piggy bank” and a fleece scarf.  The piggy bank symbolizes that by saving a few cents a day, the person who received the help may one day help out another person in need. Indeed, this is how the Tzu Chi members are able to gather funding for the aid they provide in the community! The fleece scarf, besides providing warmth, was made out of two recycled plastic water bottles, teaching us the importance of recycling garbage for a repurpose use such as this. 

There is a perfect saying in my native Spanish language that symbolizes the overall message of that day: "Hoy por mi, mañana por tí" – Today for me, tomorrow for you.  Today, we are here for you, but tomorrow, you may be called to assist another in need. 

What a great way to spend my Saturday morning, in fellowship with people I may never cross paths again, but an experience that left a path of sunshine in my heart.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Red Cross CPR Training Saves Young Lives

When Troy Steadman and his friend, Daniel Bertram, decided to spend the evening of September 7, 2013, at Cherry Creek Reservoir, neither could have guessed they would be responsible for saving the lives of two young boys.

The boys, both 5 years old, were playing in the reservoir when one reportedly went under. The other boy began to drown himself while attempting to save his friend.

“We were about knee-high deep in the water when we heard a woman screaming in panic and running into the water,” Steadman said.

When the men saw two bodies floating in the water, Bertram immediately made moves to bring the boys to the shore where Steadman was waiting, ready to perform the life-saving technique he teaches to nearly 150 people each year.

Troy Steadman has been an Authorized Provider of Red Cross health and safety courses with the Bureau of Reclamation for four years, where he teaches Red Cross CPR classes. He emphasizes the importance of his own Red Cross CPR training in his ability to save the boys’ lives. Although not all other certification classes teach respiration in conjunction with chest compressions, the Red Cross certification courses do include respiration, and Steadman is confident it was the artificial respiration that successfully saved the boys’ lives.

“With each breath, water came out of each boy’s mouth.” Steadman said.

Rich Mandevill, an airline pilot and officer of the Air Force Academy, was the third respondent to the situation and was able to resuscitate one boy while Steadman worked on the other. All three men were presented with Life Saving Medals by the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office on October 1, 2013.
It was the first time he had used his CPR knowledge in a real-life situation, Steadman said, “and it will probably — hopefully —be the last time [he’ll] have to use it.”

Meet Your Bloggers: Kaitlin Sullivan

A Minnesota native, I graduated from UMN with a degree in Strategic Communication. After working in advertising as a copywriter for the past few years, I’m making the transition into my journalism career. There are few things I enjoy in life more that writing, except, of course, dogs.

I spent last spring in Brazil and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit seven countries in the past four years.  Seeing the world is what I plan to do for the rest of my life, thus I am shaping my career goals around it. I plan to attend graduate school to pursue a masters in international journalism. I want to spend my life telling the stories of people who have never been asked to tell their story before.

I moved to Colorado because of a job, but it is the mountains, the outdoor culture, and the sunny winters that convinced me to stay.  As a blogger, I look forward to getting to know the niche communities that make up my new home. Writing for the American Red Cross will give me the opportunity to tell the stories of Colorado locals, maybe some who have never been asked to share their story before.

Kaitlin in Thailand on her first trip abroad.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Get Prepared for Earthquakes with the Great ShakeOut

 Story by Rochelle Ball

Throughout elementary school, we all had the phrase “stop, drop and roll” engrained in our heads as the motto for home fire safety, but have you ever heard “drop, cover and hold on”?
While home fires are the most common disaster that the American Red Cross responds too, there are many other disasters that individuals should be prepared for – one of those being earthquakes. Yes, earthquakes.
While not too common in the Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado has experienced a few notable earthquakes, the largest being a 6.6 out of 10 magnitude on the Richter scale in November 1882. More recently, two 5.3 earthquakes have been recorded, one in August 1967, and the other in August 2011.
Colorado Earthquake Map through 2008, courtesy of the Colorado Geological Survey

Being able to act at a moment’s notice is essential in case of an earthquake. Earthquakes aren’t something you can forecast, so they catch many people off-guard when they strike. It’s a good idea to be prepared – not just for the rare case of an earthquake in Colorado, but also in case one strikes when you are traveling in a more earthquake-prone area.
On October 17 at 10:17 a.m., the American Red Cross invites you to prepare for an earthquake by participating in the Great American ShakeOut drill.
Recently, standards have changed for what you should do in case of an earthquake. Popular assumptions surrounding earthquake safety include seeking refuge in a doorway, running outside, or the so-called “triangle of life” which refers to estimates about the direction in which debris collapses. These assumptions are false, and earthquake safety is much more simple.
In case of an earthquake, the safest thing to do is drop, cover, and hold on. DROP to the ground (before the earthquake drops you), take COVER under a sturdy desk or table, and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. These steps are simple, and practicing could save your life, whether you’re in Colorado for the next unexpected quake, or you’re in California for “the big one”.
If you’d like to participate in Thursday’s drill, visit and register yourself or your business.
Just as you committed “stop, drop and roll” to memory as a child, commit “drop, cover and hold on” as well to better prepare yourself and your family.

It's Never Too Late to Get Prepared

by Patricia Billinger

The best time to prepare for the worst is before a disaster or emergency strikes.
The next best time to get prepared? Immediately after a disaster has happened, when the importance of preparedness is still fresh in our minds.

As part of its ongoing mission to help people prepare for and prevent disasters and emergencies, the American Red Cross of Colorado is offering free preparedness trainings in several locations.

The workshops train attendees about tangible steps they can take to prepare for and mitigate the effects of a disaster – steps that can help them bounce back more easily should a disaster strike their home or neighborhood.

“We offer preparedness trainings year-round to help save lives and reduce the impacts of disaster, and we highly encourage Coloradans to sign up today,” said George Sullivan, Director of Preparedness and Resilience for the American Red Cross of Colorado. “We know that in the immediate aftermath of disasters, people are more likely to take action to get prepared, and we hope that Coloradans will act on this natural inclination to take steps to safeguard themselves and their communities.”

According to a 2012 Red Cross survey of Colorado residents, 43 percent of people who had taken steps to prepare themselves did so after hearing about a disaster in another community, and 21 percent took preparedness actions after experiencing a disaster in their own community.

“It’s not too late to get prepared – and it’s certainly never too early to start preparing for the next disaster or emergency,” Sullivan added.

To browse upcoming classes and sign up for a free training, visit

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Prepared Pair!

Nick and Tiffany Renz received some items for their disaster
kit as a first anniversary gift following a
Disaster Preparedness Class on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Story by Don Underwood

Tiffany Renz knew the right gift to husband Nick for their first wedding anniversary would have to do with being prepared.

So she surprised him Saturday, Oct. 12 with a class on disaster readiness being done by the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross.

“He loves being prepared. …On road trips, we go over different scenarios,” Tiffany said.

Still, Nick wasn’t prepared for the gift and was surprised when they walked into the Disaster Preparedness Class being held at Faith Ministries Church Intl. in Lakewood. The Denver couple learned about disaster kits and guidelines for dealing with emergencies from Red Cross volunteers Claudia Giannetti and Bill Davis.

“It’s good to be prepared. … and to be able to help people,” Nick said after the class. He is training for his emergency medical technician (EMT) test in November and is planning to become a firefighter.

Nick’s desire to be prepared included packing some unusual items for their trip to Cancun a year ago. Tiffany found a multi-purpose tool and water purification tablets in their luggage to be checked – and they made it through customs with little trouble, she recalls.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Avoid Common Zombie-Movie Mistakes with Good Preparedness Strategies!

Story by Cassie Schoon

We’ve all shouted (or wanted to shout) at the screen of a b-rate horror movie when a character makes an obviously bad choice. Don’t go up the stairs! Don’t open that door! Don’t get in that car! But many of the bad decisions in zombie movies and TV shows can also be thought of as examples of bad (or nonexistent) preparedness planning. As a celebration of this year’s World Zombie Day, we’re using a few of these tropes as teachable moments for good preparedness habits and practices.

Instead of: Going it alone
Have a: Plan to meet up and a way to inform others of your whereabouts
Although a character’s dramatic split from the core post-apocalypse group provides for stirring narrative in a film or a TV show, it usually ends badly. A good preparedness strategy includes a plan to communicate and regroup with family and friends during a disaster. Any good preparedness plan should also include two places for you and your family to meet: just outside the home for sudden disasters, like a house fire, and outside the neighborhood, for disasters that may involve evacuations. If you should get separated, the Red Cross provides communication platforms like Safe and Well, available online and by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, to help those separated from loved ones get back with their group.

Instead of: Getting caught empty-handed
Have a: Preparedness kit specialized for your family and area
It never fails- the zombies find a way into an area the characters think is a safe zone, and everyone runs off with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Again, this is poor planning. The Red Cross offers many helpful guidelines for survival kits that should be on-hand as well as kits that can be taken with you in an evacuation situation. But it is important to consider the specific needs of your family and the additional contingencies that your local environment may present when building your own kit.

Instead of: Getting infected
Have a: Good understanding of your risk for illnesses like the flu, and get vaccinated if necessary
Zombie movie characters seem to have a real knack for finding themselves in situations where they’re vulnerable to infection. While the transmission of flu may not be quite as dynamic as the contraction of whatever virus that causes transformation into the flesh-eating undead, a good preparedness plan should include considerations for staying healthy in the case of any pandemic. A wealth of tips for avoiding infectious disease can be found at the Web site for the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

And finally, instead of panicking, be prepared. A preparedness plan and keeping a well-stocked survival kit not only offer resources in the event of a disaster; they offer peace-of-mind. And in any uncertain situation, whether it involves floods or reanimated corpses, that may be the most important supply to keep on hand.

Colorado FriendShip Works With Red Cross To Handle Clothing Donations

Story and photo by Sherri Odell

During a disaster, one question that’s always asked of the American Red Cross is whether it takes donated clothing.

The Red Cross is unable to accept clothing because we don’t have the resources to collect, sort, clean, store and distribute clothing – and often, clothing taken to sites like shelters piles up.

Instead, the Red Cross works with community partner agencies that already specialize in handling clothing and household goods. We refer clothing donations to those agencies, and likewise our caseworkers connect people in need to those agencies to receive clothing for free.

Sometimes, we also find a convenient solution by having those partners co-locate at service delivery sites. At the Disaster Assistance Center in Longmont, Colorado FriendShip, a volunteer organization that provides emergency clothing, had set up to assist those affected by disasters. Their desk was a few short steps away from the Red Cross  - which makes it easy for those bringing the clothing.

“We realize that the Red Cross is not set up to handle clothing donations. This is something that we can do to help assist the Red Cross,” said Liz Friedenson, executive director of Colorado FriendShip.

During the recent flooding in Longmont, her organization has been serving an average of 100 families per day, who are welcome to take everything from infant clothing to maternity clothing, in just about every size imaginable.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Neighbor Helping Neighbor with the American Red Cross

Story and photos by Jordan Scott

Volunteer Alison Shaffer holds onto 5 month old Azaria and
looks on as Azaria's parents pick up relief supplies at Our
Lady of Peace Parish.
It was more rain than she had ever seen. Coming down in torrents, the rain pounded the town of Eaton as it did much of the rest of Colorado. Fortunately, for Alison Shaffer, her home was out of danger from rising waters.

As the storms continued, waters quickly reached historic levels. Soon mud and debris broke free of the riverbanks and carved new paths as they came crashing through neighborhoods that could never have expected such devastation.

With images of washed out homes and neighborhoods filling the nightly news, and knowing so many lives had been changed forever, Alison wanted to do something. She wanted to help.

As soon as the skies cleared, Alison drove south to the town of Greeley and found the American Red Cross distributing food and supplies to impacted residents at one of many Disaster Assistance Centers that had been set up near the flood zones.

“I offered my help and within 24 hours I was with a team out in these neighborhoods trying to help the people who had lost everything,” she said.

Volunteers Susan Liva (left) and Alison Shaffer provide
assistance during Red Cross outreach at Our Lady of Peace
Parish in Greeley, CO. Alison joined the Red Cross following
the devastating September floods. Susan is fluent in English
and Spanish and came to this outreach event to serve as an
interpreter. She signed up as a Red Cross volunteer that day!
And help she has. From providing food and water, to connecting residents with recovery services, to handing out clean up supplies, Alison has accomplished quite a lot in her short time as a Red Cross volunteer.

“This is incredible. You really don’t realize how much is involved until you’re in the middle of it.”

Most recently, Alison found herself at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Greeley where dozens of Red Cross volunteers spent the day providing truckloads of relief supplies to the local affected population. As parents came through to pick up goods and load vehicles, Alison spent time keeping their children entertained with crayons and coloring materials.

With the kids happy and families stocked up with needed materials, Alison took a moment to reflect on what this experience has meant to her.

“It’s so great to see this kind of help here, it’s amazing. I’ve met so many incredible people and will come away with so many lifelong friends.”

Special Vehicle Helps Those Who Are Helping

Story by Allan Mayfield, photos by Sherri Odell

Red Cross volunteer Robert Faye from
Arkansas stands inside his MERV - mechanical
emergency response vehicle - and talks about
how he keeps the emergency response vehicles,
or ERVs, operating during disaster response
In a disaster, it’s common to see American Red Cross emergency response vehicles, or ERVs, driving through hard hit areas bringing food, cleaning supplies and hope to those in need.

But when an ERV breaks down, who is there to help the helpers?

That‘s where Red Cross volunteers Robert Faye and Junior Flora step in. They are a team from Arkansas that drives a MERV – mechanical emergency response vehicle. Whether it’s a bent latch, broken rear view mirror or dead battery, Robert and Junior do their best to get the ERV up and running.

They are in Colorado to support the more than two dozen ERVS dispatched from around the country to help with the recent flooding. From the outside, the vehicle looks like any of the red-and-white ERVs. However, when the rear double doors swing open, it’s a different world inside one of the four such vehicles the Red Cross has in the country.

Instead of being rigged for carrying containers filled with food and assorted supplies, there are two walls of mechanics cases and drawers, along with several solid work surfaces. A MERV carries the full complement of basic mechanic's hand and power tools, along with hundreds of different replacement parts.  Less common parts can be ordered and on hand the next day, often getting the disabled ERV up and running before noon.

Filling out paperwork is Red Cross volunteer Junior
Flora of Arkansas, who is a member of the team
which keeps the emergency response vehicles, or
ERVs, repaired and running.
There are some regular issues that a MERV mechanic faces.  For example, an ERV based in the south may not be ready for the cold, harsh winters of New York and New Jersey while an ERV from New England might find the hot summer of the southern states less than inviting. For longer deployments, the MERV team works with Red Cross Fleet Services and local vendors to provide whatever service an ERV may need to return home safely and efficiently.

With some two dozen deployments under his belt during his eight years as a volunteer, Robert has done a variety of activities, including client case work and financial services. When asked what he likes about being a Red Cross volunteer, Robert said, "It gives me great satisfaction to support someone in the bleakest of situations during a disaster and provide a little help."

Junior agrees: "Putting a smile on someone's face during their hard times makes the weeks on a Red Cross disaster response more than worthwhile. Clients can't thank us enough for helping; we might be the only people they have seen since disaster struck. I just love to help,” he said.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Red Cross Delivers Aid in Milliken

Story and photo by DICK McGEE
American Red Cross,
We want to say Thank You for all that you are doing for our community, and for the sacrifices that you’ve made by being away from your families to take care of us. We so appreciate all of you. Again, thank you so, so much.
Marie, and her neighbors           

Mel and Zeb              
Drew and Ralph         

Deb and Ray

John Keesling of Muncie, Ind., proudly displays the
thank you card.
Thus read a lovingly written thank you note delivered to the American Red Cross volunteers at the Disaster Assistance Center in Milliken. The note was delivered to John Keesling and has become his proud personal possession. “John agreed to make a copy of it, but he won’t let it out of his hands,” Marlene Martindale laughs as she related the story at the Northern Colorado Headquarters of the American Red Cross Disaster Recovery Operation. “That note has become his prize possession.” 

“That’s right,” says John. “I’m going to frame it and have it displayed in our Chapter Headquarters back home in Muncie, Indiana.”

It all began soon after the Bulk Distribution site was established in Milliken. A lady, known only as Marie, came to the site to pick up a comfort kit and clean-up supplies. She was so happy to have what the Red Cross was offering that she took it right home and told her neighbors what was available for them in the parking lot of the Town Hall.

But, as the story goes, some of her neighbors were unfamiliar with the role the Red Cross plays in disaster recovery, and to them it felt a bit too much like welfare. Undaunted, Marie went back to the distribution site again. The explanation of her neighbors’ reticence, together with her obvious appearance of honesty, was enough for the Red Cross volunteers to give Marie a second helping of clean-up supplies and she promptly delivered them to one of her neighbors.

As the word spread around the neighborhood, more and more neighbors came to the Red Cross site for their comfort and clean-up kits. Another lady had been away from home when the flood waters hit, so Marie went back a third time and picked up another share of supplies to place on the front door step when she returned home.

As they all worked together toward recovery, these nine people made a plan. They prepared a big plate of muffins and other homemade food, and presented it, along with the thank you card, to the Red Cross volunteers. 

Using Play Time to Help Children Cope with Trauma of Disaster


Disaster relief services are not just for grown-ups.  So, the American Red Cross is meeting the big challenge of providing services to children.

 From toddlers to teens, children are among the several thousand persons who are still receiving assistance from the Red Cross, FEMA and other community agencies nearly three weeks after the Colorado floods.   Children suffer the loss of their safety and their possessions just like their parents do. Plus, they cannot verbalize their inner-most thoughts and feelings the way adults do.

 Aware of this critical situation, the Red Cross has contracted with the Church of the Brethren Children’s Disaster Services, headquartered in New Windsor, Md., to support the needs of youngsters in disaster areas. A team of six trained and certified Children’s Disaster Service workers was deployed to set up a therapeutic play room at the Disaster Assistance Center (DAC) in the Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont.

 “We will stay here as long as we are needed,” promises Patty Henry, the team leader. “As long as there is one child who benefits from spending time in our play room, there is work for us to do.”
Their concept of therapeutic child play has some unique features. For example, the children aren’t allowed to bring their own toys to the play room. Instead, these workers depend totally on creative play that allows the kids to put their own spin on the disaster. Coloring books aren’t allowed because only original, creative drawings enable children to put themselves and their unique emotions on paper.

Henry, who has 23 years as a teacher in early childhood education, explains one example of what a child encounters in the playroom. A favorite toy is a puzzle in which large wooden pieces can be inserted on a backboard to recreate a familiar scene. The puzzle is introduced to a child as a pile of pieces, broken and strewn around the table like the chaotic debris they witnessed at home as the waters receded. As they work with the pieces, fitting them back together properly to reconstruct what was damaged, children gain some control over their environment.

“After rebuilding that puzzle two or three times, a child becomes visibly more relaxed and cheerful,” Henry observes. 

The goal is to enable these children to cleanse their young psyches of memories and fears that could become emotional toxins in their lives.

“Children come and play with us while their parents are making the rounds to apply for the services they need here at the DAC. When you help a child, you help the entire family. Mothers are able to leave their children in our care, while they handle things that require their full attention. We are a respite service as well as a play therapy service,” Henry explains.

The American Red Cross strives to assist all disaster victims, and the partnership with Children’s Disaster Services enables the Red Cross to address the emotional needs of the most innocent of a disaster’s victims.

A Girl, a Volunteer and Veterinarians Help Lost Dogs Get Home after the Flood

Photos and story by Brett Roberts and Dick McGee

Among the many complications that result from a natural disaster is that people become separated from other people and the things that are dear to them - things essential to their recovery. The American Red Cross helps address that problem by reuniting families through its Safe and Well program, as well as through the compassionate work of Red Cross volunteers in the field.

Tiki with the veterinarians who helped
locate the dogs' owner

 In Milliken this week, lives were reconnected by Tiki Dellamora, an observant Red Cross worker from Santa Cruz, CA, who was delivering comfort kits and clean-up kits to flood impacted residents at a fixed distribution site. A few days earlier, a young child had tearfully approached Tiki, asking if anyone had seen her lost dog.  This attracted Tiki’s attention so strongly that she began keeping a watchful eye out for any dog that might resemble the child’s description of her pet.

Then on Monday morning, Tiki spotted 12-year-old Claudia Jones walking three dogs down the street toward the distribution site. She stopped Claudia to inquire about the dogs, and learned that Claudia found them in her front yard. They were hungry and seemed very eager for human companionship.

Knowing they must be lost, Claudia put a leash on each dog, and set out on a quest to find the owner.
Tiki decided that the best resource for solving this problem would be a local veterinarian who might be able to identify the dogs, So, Tiki, Claudia and her three charges went straight to the Milliken Animal Clinic, where they found Chaundra Decker, a Veterinary Assistant to Dr. Michaelle Hobler. Chaundra was quickly able to determine that one of the animals had an implanted microchip that identified its owner. The ethics of professional confidentiality prevented the clinic from disclosing this information, other than to a law enforcement officer. At last Susan Fister, the dogs’ owner, was called at her workplace, and they arranged a joyous reunion on Tuesday.
Claudia with the dogs' owner.

 “I live alone, and have no children,” Susan sobbed through her happy tears over the telephone. “I have been so worried about my babies, and so afraid they were not being cared for. They are my only companionship. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

 Claudia was delighted that she had achieved a successful reunion. Susan was ecstatic to have her dogs back. For Tiki Dellamora, it was “all in a day’s work. At the Red Cross we specialize in helping people recover the joy in their lives after a natural disaster,” she said proudly. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hiking Help in to Jamestown: an Unforgettable Experience

What started out to be a routine service activity for Martha Iskyan, an American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health counselor, turned into the most unforgettable adventure of her life.

Jamestown is a small Colorado community of 85 homes, 40 of which were destroyed by the flooding. The Town Hall in Jamestown was turned into a Red Cross Emergency Aid Station, from which a wide variety of services are being distributed to flood victims.

This is where Martha, and one of her Mental Health colleagues, loaded back packs with supplies, and set off walking up the mountain to visit families cut off from the town when the local road was washed out by the raging river as it cut a new channel through the area.
In addition to the heavily laden back packs, each was carrying two Red Cross 15-pound clean-up kit buckets.

For more than three-quarters of a mile, these two volunteers, with the aid of a local man as their guide, picked their way across the rocks of the old river bed, over and under limbs and trunks of fallen trees, until they finally reached a small group of homes where stranded residents were waiting for the recovery services they had heard were on the way.

 It was then just a climb up the old river bank on a step ladder to the residents, who welcomed them with tears in her eyes.

Red Cross crisis counselors often spend half of their time with clients by pitching in and helping them with clean-up chores, all the while displaying the genuine warmth and empathy which helps a person deal with their unhappy reality without denying their feelings.

While Martha and her client were sorting through the debris, the client inquired about where she was from.

“Normally, I just say Phoenix,” Martha said, “because no one has ever heard of the small suburb where I actually live. This time I just told her I was from Arizona.”

When the woman pressed for specifics, Martha told her she lived in small town called Fountain Hills.
On hearing this, the client grabbed Martha in a big bear hug, and hung on. Through her sobbing voice and flowing tears, she related the following story: “My mother and father founded that town back in 1970,” she said. “They were the first residents to move in there. My mother developed the town library, and worked in it for 30 years.”

Forty-three years later, Fountain Hills is now a community of 22,000 people, and the client wanted to know all about how it looks today.

 “I told her about the giant fountain in the middle of town, that she had never seen, and she was absolutely thrilled to learn about it,” Martha explained. “She told me both of her parents were buried in the cemetery at the Presbyterian Church, and I promised her I would place flowers at their grave sites as soon as I get home.”

A Unique Need in Greeley: Delivering Help in Burmese

When Red Cross disaster responder Dana Bischke was given a somewhat unusual request to find a Burmese language translator during the Colorado Floods, she wasted no time reaching out to many various sources to try and find an expert in the field. 

Dana  and her husband Gene, volunteers from the West Dakota Chapter in North Dakota, are typically deployed after disasters to drive mobile feeding trucks through affected communities to distribute food and clean-up supplies. 

However, for the Colorado floods, Dana was assigned to the in-kind donations team.  Typically during a disaster, the in-kind donations team may be asked to procure donations from various organizations and businesses,  ranging from forklifts to food depending on what is needed for that specific relief operation.

The Burmese language translator request came through to Dana and her team via Health Services Manager Linda Arnold, a Red Cross volunteer from the Eastern Wisconsin Chapter.   Arnold and her team realized that they were unable to communicate basic flood safety tips with members of the Burmese population in Greeley.

 “Flood waters are dangerous and we really needed to be able to share important resources about disease risks and sewage exposure to this population,” said Arnold.  “We didn’t have a way to translate the flyers into Burmese, so we reached out to the in-kind donation team to see if they could possibly track down a specialized translator to donate their services.”

Dana spent several days contacting various sources around the country who continued referring her to different agencies.  Undeterred, she was finally able to find a translator in Colorado who was willing to donate her services to help with the flood relief effort.

"It’s very rewarding to know that you’ve helped a group people to be safe and taken care of,” she said.  “That’s what the Red Cross does, we take care of people.” 

Call Center Volunteer Connects 10 Families Separated by Colorado Floods

Few things are better than being reunited with loved ones after a long separation, especially when that separation was prompted by disaster.

Just ask Squeak Birgy, who has been among several at the American Red Cross Call Center fielding  numerous inquires about the Colorado floods.

The Red Cross established the call center shortly after the floods struck to help those affected by the floods. There have been thousands of calls to the center, covering myriad issues from what Red Cross services are available to where various donations might be made.

Often the calls are from people looking for a friend or relative whom they haven’t heard from since the flooding. That’s when Squeak, a Red Cross volunteer from Newberry, Mich., gets into the picture.

In multiple instances, a call has come in from someone desperate to find a loved one who has not been located. In every instance, the individual had made personal efforts to find their loved one or friend without success and now they were turning to the Red Cross for help.

Squeak spends a good portion of her daily shift chasing down leads. First, she sees if the person being sought has registered with the Red Cross Safe and Well program. Failing that, she turns to law enforcement and other resources in the area.

In one case she was able to reunite a person in Texas with a relative who had been airlifted from his home by helicopter and dropped off at a safe location; the paperwork with his whereabouts listed had been mislaid, but Squeak was able to locate him.

By the end of September, Squeak had reunited 10 people who were missing with their and friends and relatives.

Leonard Garyson, a Red Cross volunteer who oversees the call center,  quickly admits that he’s in awe of her abilities, adding that it’s something he couldn’t have done.

 “Her compassion is outstanding. She has a caring heart and she puts a lot of effort into utilizing the resources she has come up with,” said Garyson, of Grand Rapids, Mich. “I can’t say we could have connected the families that we have if it hadn’t been for Squeak.”

After years of working as a clothing store manager and raising a family, Squeak and her husband retired to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She then began volunteering at a youth center, a women’s shelter and food bank. A friend suggested she try the Red Cross and she like being able to help people.

“It’s the best feeling in the world helping. Laughing and crying with people is so special,” she said.

How a Psychologist and an EMT Are Helping Flood Survivors in Lyons

American Red Cross volunteer Connie Tooley is a retired psychologist who came to Colorado to help those recovering from the flooding.

Soon after arriving from Bargersville, Ind., Connie joined the team at a  Red Cross Emergency Aid Station in Lyons. She talked to residents about what they had been through in the town and noted a common theme among the people of looking ahead.

 "Almost everyone, no matter how bad their situation, ends up talking about the future, about moving forward, about recovery. It is wonderful to experience the incredible resiliency of the human spirit,” she said.

Typically, an Emergency Aid Station is set up in an area  with at least one mental health care volunteer and a health services person such as a nurse or paramedic.

Also in Lyons with Connie was Michael Dixon, of Camarillo, Calif., an AmeriCorps volunteer and EMT. It’s a standard part of AmeriCorps training for an individual to work with a partner organization, such as the Red Cross, on a national disaster response.

In California, Michael's primary AmeriCorps job is to identify and contract with sites that could be used for sheltering, feeding or storage in a disaster. But in Lyons, his work was in health care and his EMT training came into play.

He provided advice to residents on how to stay safe and healthy as they return to clean up their homes and community. He also provided basic first aid to those working in their homes, including one resident who injured her ankle and another with a cut finger.

Floodwaters often carry disease bacteria from sewage, chemicals from flooded barns, businesses and homes and even snakes seeking dry ground. There’s also the problem of mold in homes that were flooded.

“It is important to wear protective gloves, boots and clothing; wash one's hands before eating; and be careful where one steps,” he said. “We recommend that everyone wear a proper face mask to avoid breathing the mold spores."

Asked how he liked his work with the Red Cross, Michael said, “In the future, I will definitely volunteer directly with the Red Cross. The Red Cross provides a great opportunity for working directly with people impacted by a disaster."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Brain Surgeon Working With His Heart

Photo and story by Thomas Stredwick

Dr. Bipin Shah is a retired neurosurgeon and American Red Cross
health services volunteer from Rochester, N.Y. He is lending
his expertise at one of many disaster assistance centers
positioned throughout Colorado following recent storms
that left many homeless and in need.
You don't have to be a brain surgeon to volunteer with the American Red Cross, but it helps if you are one. Dr. Bipin Shah is a retired neurosurgeon and Red Cross health services volunteer from Rochester, N.Y. He is lending his expertise at one of many disaster assistance centers positioned throughout Colorado following recent storms that left many homeless and in need. He spends his time helping displaced residents retrieve prescription medications, new eyeglasses and imparting critical health-related information.

Shah’s story with the Red Cross began three years ago, inspired by a commitment made to his daughter as she graduated from Georgetown University.

“My daughter told me that she would volunteer with Teach for America at the beginning of her career, if I would volunteer at the end of mine,” he said.

Growing up in India in a family of 12, Shah came to the United States in 1971 with $8 in his pocket and went on to develop a thriving practice after years of hard work.

“I became very successful by many people’s standards, but I realized that it was time to give back to others because I had been so fortunate,” said Shah. “I wanted to leave when I was at the peak of my career and could do the most good.”

His last three years have been devoted to the Red Cross on local and national disasters like the floods in Colorado. His tireless sacrifice serves as a reminder of the breadth and depth of Red Cross volunteers united by a common thread of humanitarianism.

Don't let Dr. Shah’s credentials intimidate you; let them inspire you to take action in your backyard today. Learn how you can become involved in your local community by visiting