Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Behind-The-Scenes Volunteers Who Give Life to Red Cross Disaster Relief

Story by Jessica Murison; photos by Roger Bram. 
The American Red Cross relies on hundreds of trained and skilled volunteers to provide critical assistance during emergencies. Volunteers on the front lines perform humanitarian tasks like handing out food and supplies, setting up cots, caring for evacuees' needs at a shelter, and driving through affected neighborhoods to deliver supplies and assess local needs. These services are essential to ensuring that those affected by disaster are cared for.
Logistics volunteers make sure Red Cross volunteers on the ground
have the information and resources they need - the right thing
in the right quantity at the right time and right place. 

Yet, it is the work of the volunteers behind the scenes that makes it possible for the blankets, cots, food, and supplies to arrive at the correct place and time.

The logistics team of the American Red Cross is the web of veins through which the American Red Cross operates. Without their efforts to create and manage the channels in which supplies are delivered, the entire American Red Cross operation would be without life. Pumping the necessary information and resources -- from what type of disaster relief is needed to who is going where with what -- these volunteers create a flow of information and supplies, acting as the lifeline for each disaster response. 

In order to develop skills and encourage more involvement in this quiet superhero team, the Red Cross conducted a three-day Logistics training institute Jan. 22-24 for volunteers from throughout the Red Cross Southwest and Rocky Mountain division. Gathered in Laramie, Wyoming, the 25 participants studied the role and responsibilities in a Red Cross disaster operation: in kind donations, operations, supply chain, life and safety asset protection, warehouse management, procurement, and transportation. After completion of the training, these 25 individuals are now able to assist in all logistical aspects of a disaster response, making them part of the existing web of lifelines within the American Red Cross logistics chain.

More than 30 volunteers completed the Logistics Institute
Jan. 22-24 in Laramie, WY.
"Logistics volunteers are the building blocks of the disaster response team, unsung heroes, providing lifesaving services to the men and women across the region, and nationwide," said Troy Staples, Regional Disaster Workforce Manager. "You may not see their faces out on the front lines, but believe me: they are touching the lives of people affected by disasters and making an enormous difference with their hard work, dedication and compassion."

If you are someone you know is interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross Logistical Team, please contact Troy Staples at

Arvada Volunteer Answers the Christmas Call for Help

by Patricia Billinger
Just four days before Christmas, Guy Forti got the call: the Red Cross needed him. Heavy rains and flooding in Oregon and southwest Washington had forced the evacuation of hundreds of people. The Red Cross had responded with shelters, food and assistance. Now, more than two weeks into the operation, they needed reinforcements.

Volunteer Guy Forti
“The poor people in Oregon and Washington had opened 11 shelters and had been operating them for 18-19 days without a day off. They needed help,” Guy recalled. The response covered 21 counties and already involved many of the local volunteer workforce. Add to that the impending holiday, and Red Cross disaster response organizers had to expand the scope of their search for volunteers all the way to Colorado – to volunteers including Guy.

“I got a call asking: Guy, would you be willing to go out and work in a shelter outside of Portland?  And I said, oh my goodness, I’ll have to get back with you on that. So I called my wife, she was at work. She says, our Christmas is set with the kids and everybody,” Guy said. His eyes welled up with tears as he remembered what happened next. “Deb says, You do what you do best. She’s a big supporter of what I do.” With a shrug, he concluded: “I came down to the chapter and did my paperwork.”

Flooding affected homes in Oregon and Washington;
mudslides and unstable ground forced additional evacuations.
The next day, Guy was on a plane to serve as a shelter worker in Oregon City, Oregon. Most of the families at the shelter were impoverished residents of  Section 8 apartment buildings that had been evacuated as the land beneath them began to slough off in the heavy rains. Red Cross caseworkers were meeting with clients to help them navigate plans to transition out of the shelter into something more permanent and to connect them with assistance and resources to help them begin their recovery, but it was slow going.

 “They don’t have anything. For something like this to happen to them, they just stared like deer in the headlights. They had no idea how to find a place to live with no money,” Guy said.
He noted that the stress of disaster, trauma and uncertainty was exacerbated by the emotional pull of the holidays. Red Cross disaster mental health workers met with residents one-on-one to help them cope. Meanwhile, the rest of the Red Cross workers at the shelter, along with members of the local community, mounted a special effort to brighten spirits in the shelter.

The Red Cross and community partners
brought in a Christmas Tree and presents
for the children in the shelter.
“For kids staying in a shelter – any shelter I’ve been in – it’s more like a camp for them. They don’t realize the burden of their mothers and fathers. These families already had so little. So the Red Cross, the community and other agencies got together to make sure they got to have Christmas,” Guy said. They brought in two Christmas trees, secured new gifts for the children, wrapped them and placed them under the trees.

“We loaded those trees with all kinds of wrapped gifts. On Christmas morning, they got up and opened gifts – there was paper flying all over!”  A local “pancake man” dressed up as an elf, handed out paper plates, and flipped pancakes to the waiting children as they squealed and caught them on their plates.

Guy did find a moment during the day to call his wife. His children knew he was deployed and had encouraged his choice. “They’re all starting to understand that this is pretty neat,” he explained.

“I spent Christmas celebrating Christmas with the people in the shelter,” Guy said. “I treated it as another Disaster Relief Operation. I couldn’t let the time of year affect my work. Everybody in the shelter, we were tired from working 12 hour days, so to have such a wonderful Christmas for the kids….” Guy choked up and shook his head, eyes misty. He didn’t need to finish his thought: it meant a lot to him, and touched him in a way that there were no words to describe.

Are you looking for a meaningful way to give back? Consider becoming a trained Red Cross volunteer. You’ll start by responding to everyday disasters right in your local community. Find out more and sign up at 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When starting from scratch, every little thing helps

by Patricia Billinger
When you go on a trip for a week or more, how many bags do you pack? A carry-on? One suitcase? Two?

What if you knew you were packing to travel to a distant land thousands of miles away, never to return home again? Imagine arriving in a foreign country with only what you could fit in one suitcase -- and having to start your life from scratch, including finding a job, enrolling your children in school, and taking care of daily tasks like cooking and caring for your family.

That is the reality facing many refugees who arrive in Colorado to be resettled after having fled violence, armed conflict or persecution in their homelands.

"There’s not one stereotypical refugee; some people come here after living in refugee camps for 20 years, where they didn’t have much and weren’t able to work, while others arrive from places like Baghdad, where they may have had a nice house, a job and cars. But the majority of clients come with one or two suitcases filled with all of their belongings – mostly clothing and their most precious possessions,” said Jaime Koehler Blanchard, Community Program Supervisor for Lutheran Family Services in the Refugee and Asylee Program.
Refugees arrive without the basics; the Red Cross is helping to
provide necessities like sheets, pillows, towels - and teddy bears.

Lutheran Family Services (LFS) is one of two agencies that take the lead on resettling refugees in Colorado. LFS workers make sure refugees arriving in Colorado have an apartment rented and equipped with basic furnishing, help the refugees find employment, and assist them as they integrate into their new culture. Koehler Blanchard said the organization anticipates helping about 850 refugees resettle in Colorado this year – or about 70 per month. Some – but not all – receive a one-time Federal stipend intended to help pay for some of the most basic essentials required for starting from scratch: deposit, first month’s rent, some furnishings. Equipping a home with what we consider the most basic of household necessities can quickly add up: mattresses, furniture, pots and pans, cooking utensils, silverware, toiletries, towels, cleaning supplies. And in Colorado’s high-priced housing market, refugees need to save what little they can in order to tide them over while seeking employment.
A Lutheran Family Services worker loads supplies for
refugee welcome kits from the Red Cross

That’s why LFS seeks donated goods to cover most of those needs – and why the Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming Region’s International Services program stepped in to lend a hand. For three years, the Red Cross has been providing mattresses and new household goods to help welcome refugees to their new home. The Red Cross recently received a grant from The Melvin and Elaine Wolf Foundation enabling it to expand and improve these “housewarming baskets” for refugees. Thanks to the grant, the Red Cross purchased new pots, pans, silverware, dishes, cooking utensils, mattresses and blankets for 124 refugee welcome kits. LFS will distribute the housewarming kits to refugee families resettling in Colorado.

Enough supplies for 124 refugee welcome kits stacked and ready at the Red Cross.
Supplies include pots, pans, silverware, dishes, cooking utensils, mattresses and blankets  
“They help defray the cost a little bit for each client so that they can use that money to go towards rent; it gives them more of a financial cushion until they secure a job,” Koehler Blanchard said. She noted that the pots and pans are helpful because LFS doesn’t receive many donations of pots and pans from the public – “people keep their pots and pans for years, so we would otherwise have to buy pots and pans, and it ends up costing a lot of money,” she explained.
Welcome kits include silverware, plates, cookware and more.
The Red Cross has also continued to provide mattresses, which Koehler Blanchard said are especially helpful because LFS has to be very cautious about condition when accepting used mattresses. A new twin box and mattress set typically costs the organization at least $170. “As far as we can stretch their dollar by providing them with donated goods instead of having to purchase it new, that extends the money they have to pay rent,” she said.

Find out more about the ways the Red Cross and Lutheran Family Services alleviate the suffering of people impacted by war, conflict and persecution:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dedicated Space Honors Legacy of Long-Time Red Crosser

By MaryBeth Lawson
Mary Peterson embodied the humanity that is the American Red Cross. Thanks to a generous donation from her family, we had the pleasure of honoring Mary’s commitment to the American Red Cross and debut the Mary Peterson Education Lounge the weekend of Jan. 22.

A plaque shows Mary Peterson at work in the '80s.
A named space in our Colorado & Wyoming Regional Headquarters in Denver, the Mary Peterson Education Lounge is surrounded by other notable Colorado Philanthropists – like the Daniels Fund and Anschutz Family –  who committed to build a future for the Red Cross.

The Mary Peterson Education Lounge is part of the Colorado & Wyoming Century Center, an interactive, educational space that was renovated in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Red Cross in Colorado. The Century Center is a place where elements of education, current events, history and recognition intermingle with meeting rooms to help the Red Cross better train volunteers, engage the community and respond to disasters. The Mary Peterson Education Lounge, a space occupied by couches and coffee tables, aspires to be a place of collaboration, community and education.

Mary’s first interaction with the Red Cross was as a candy striper while in high school in Jackson, Michigan. She went on to receive her diploma from Radcliffe College and her nursing degree from Massachusetts General Hospital. It was then that she met and married her husband Peter and had two children, Eric and Lisa. Once Mary’s children were old enough, Mary returned to nursing, became a Red Cross volunteer and taught CPR and First Aid classes as part of the Preparedness and Health and Safety program. A few years later Mary was hired on full-time as a nurse for the American Red Cross.

A view of the Mary Peterson Education Lounge
In addition to deploying to at least one disaster, Mary’s employment as a nurse with the Red Cross touched countless lives through her innovative education and prevention efforts. During the AIDS Epidemic of the 1980s, Mary pioneered a Red Cross education initiative, teaching classes to at-risk populations about proper prevention and care. In addition to her innovative and admirable work with HIV/AIDS education, Mary led the charge and helped organize the Channel 9 Health Fair. A longtime volunteer and employee of the American Red Cross of Colorado, Mary left her mark on the organization. She was awarded the Manager’s Award for Employee Excellence in 1989 to recognize her impact.

A recurring theme during the ceremony dedicating the Mary Peterson Education Lounge was that Mary was committed to doing the right thing. The Red Cross is also guided by doing the right thing. Those guiding values are called the Fundamental Principles, and while both aspirational and operational, they steer the work of Red Cross workers around the world. Come check out the Mary Peterson Education Lounge and be inspired, collaborate and innovate with those around you.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Honoring a legacy: Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming Volunteers help neighbors this MLK Day

By Leila Roche and Bill Fortune
Life's most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of his legacy, over 150 volunteers from Colorado and Wyoming gave their time to help their neighbors this 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Together, they visited nearly 300 homes and installed more than 500 smoke alarms for their neighbors.
Volunteer Kathy Sharkey explains home fire safety with
Daisy Payton of Widefield. Photo by Joe Coleman,
American Red Cross

The effort was part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which aims to reduce home fire injuries and deaths by 25 percent over five years. Each day, seven people die and 36 suffer injuries from home fires on average, and an estimated $7 billion in property damage occurs each year due to them.

As part of the campaign, the Red Cross joins with local fire departments, community groups and businesses to canvas neighborhoods, teach people about fire safety and install free smoke alarms in high-risk areas.

On Saturday, Jan. 16, Red Cross volunteers and partners from PCL Construction and Federal Heights Fire Department canvassed homes in Federal Heights; another group of volunteers visited homes in Boulder.

On Monday, Jan. 18, multiple teams of Red Cross volunteers worked a "day on" in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. in communities across the two state region, visiting homes Leadville, Salida,
Security-Widefield, Woodland Park and Fort Collins. On the same day, teams in Wyoming installed smoke detectors at the Wind River Indian Reservation, partnering with the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone tribes.
Harvey Spoonhunter from Northern Arapaho Emergency
management talks fire safety to a family on the Wind
River Indian Reservation. Photo by Pat Kondas,
American Red Cross
Thank you to all of our partners who helped install smoke detectors and to educate people about the importance of fire safety:
  • PCL Construction
  • Federal Heights Fire Department
  • Poudre Fire Authority
  • The Lauren Project
  • Northern Arapaho Emergency Management
  • Eastern Shoshone Emergency Management
  • Eastern Shoshone Public Health
  • Catholic Charities of Central Colorado
  • U.S. Army-Fort Carson
  • Rocky Ford Fire Department
  • Leadville – Lake County Fire Rescue
  • Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity
Local restaurants also joined the partnership with their support to help feed our volunteers.

  • Rocky Ford Food Market
  • Leadville Subway
  • The Breadboard in Riverton Wyoming
  • Firehouse Subs in Fort Collins
Get Involved
Volunteers go door-to-door in Federal Heights. Photo by
Eric Jones, American Red Cross

To learn how you can join the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign as a volunteer, visit

Additional Resources

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Holocaust Survivor Estelle Nadel to Speak at International Services Lunch and Learn

Estelle Nadel, Holocaust survivor
Estelle Nadel was only 10 years old when she and her brother escaped Nazi captivity through a tiny window in their jail cell. For the next two years, she hid in a Polish attic, later coming to America in 1947. By the time she arrived in the United States at the age of 15, her mother, father, older brother and older sister had all been killed in the Holocaust. For Estelle, surviving the Holocaust was a matter of faith. Speaking about her experiences is a matter of truth. And, in her spare time, expressing herself through song is a matter of personal escape.

Nadel now lives in Westminster.

Although Nadel now speaks publicly about her experience in the Holocaust, she kept her stories to herself for decades after leaving Poland. It took the request of a daughter-in-law, a teacher, to break her silence and speak to a class full of strangers about her experience. Since then, she has spoken to countless audiences about the Holocaust. But for Nadel, the speaking never gets easier.

“It took me many, many years to be able to talk about it,” she said. “I’ve talked now, hundreds of times, and things have not changed. I still cry every time. I relive the whole scenario.”

Despite the difficulty, Nadel says that she feels called to speak. As a witness to the Holocaust’s horrors, she feels that it’s her duty to rebuke those who deny that it happened.

“There’s very few survivors left, and a lot of them don’t want to talk about it. I want the world to know that there was a Holocaust.” she said. “There is so much denial, that every time I get a chance to tell my story, I feel like I’m fulfilling something, for something that people are denying.”

Asked what advice she’d offer those currently displaced by war, violence and humanitarian crisis, Nadel said to simply hold on, and never give up.

“I’d tell them, never to give up hope,” she said. “You do reach that point in your life, after a time, where it feels like there’s no hope, but you just keep plugging along, and hoping, and praying that your life will change. And I’ve encouraged people to never give up hope.”

Faith and hope were how Nadel herself got through the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust. For Nadel, a strong faith in God saw her through the darkest times of her life.

“I prayed to God all the time as a little girl. That’s what kept me going,” she said.

Nadel will share her story at the Lunch and Learn event, which will also include a presentation about the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and how its partnership with the International Tracing System (ITS) helps Holocaust survivors connect with family members and locate missing ancestors. Since its inception in 2007, the ITS has grown to include millions of documents, including grave locations, prisoner cards, deportation information, displaced persons applications and more. Dr. Diane Afoumado from the USHMM will be on hand to provide detail on the ITS database. The Lunch and Learn event will be held at noon Wednesday, January 20. To RSVP for January’s Lunch and Learn event, click here. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Preparing for the Worst with Deep Freeze '16 Exercise

Story by Leila Roche

On Saturday morning, Jan. 9, a U.S. Army Guard Reserve soldier burst through the doors of the Tent at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the Red Cross of Southeastern Colorado Springs had set up a shelter. “Help! Please, help me!” cried the woman he was half carrying – her arm draped around his shoulder and his arm around her waist to help her walk.

But she wasn’t injured. And the soldier departed with a smile and a wave.

This was all part of Deep Freeze ’16 – an exercise to simulate a blizzard. More than 30 organizations participated and 400 people volunteered in the simulation throughout Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

For those of us living in Colorado Springs and the surrounding county, we know all too well the very real and distinct possibility of conditions going from normal to disastrous. Ensuring we can be there for our community members when they need it most requires many moving parts working together – something that is better done with practice.
Red Cross volunteer Rose Knight (r) helps Cathy 
Hanchett register at the mock shelter in the New
 Life Church Tent in Colorado Springs. Hanchett 
was chilled near the shelter door so Rose's husband 
Bob gave her a Red cross blanket. 
 (p/c Joe Coleman/American Red Cross)

In this case, the simulation assumed blizzard conditions – freezing temperatures, high wind speeds, blinding snow and 10-foot snow drifts. Residents lost power and heat, and drivers – both local and traveling – were stranded on roads and the interstate. As a result the county, city and state agencies received a barrage of emergency calls. How do we triage the calls? How do we ensure there isn’t a duplication of effort? Where do we take people? How do we feed them? What about their pets? How do we communicate if channels are overloaded? These – and many more – were the questions that needed to be answered.

Volunteers played stranded victims, each with their own role. Some needed to be taken to the hospital to be treated. Others just needed shelter – somewhere safe to wait out the storm. As part of the simulation, Red Cross setup a mock shelter at New Life Church. More than 30 volunteers were on-site to participate in training. Three main stations were set up for volunteers to tour after being brought to the shelter: registration, food and dormitory.

Soldiers who were part of the Colorado National Guard transported victims from their locations to the shelter, where they were checked-in by Red Cross volunteers and given food, water and blankets. Our three cot styles – normal, bariatric and medical – were also set up to give volunteers and idea of what kind of sleeping arrangements they would have available, as well.
Red Cross volunteers Roger Bram (l) and 
Bob Knight move a cot into position at 
the mock shelter in the New Life Church Tent in
 Colorado Springs. (p/c Joe Coleman/American Red Cross)

Also on site was a Pikes Peak Amateur Emergency Service volunteer, who used digital messaging to communication between the Red Cross and the El Paso Office of Emergency Management. At the end of the event, the Salvation Army brought volunteers – both Red Cross and exercise volunteers – food

The exercise not only gave Red Cross and all participating organizations an opportunity to practice existing procedures and identify areas of improvement prior to a storm, but also gave residents experience on what services are available to them and what to do. It’s by working together and preparing for a time of need, that we can ensure we are there when the need is greatest.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Events

Six million Jews were persecuted and murdered during the Holocaust, representing two-thirds of the entire European Jewish population. Millions more who were also deemed undesirable were killed, including Roma, gay men and lesbians, and people with disabilities.

To commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the American Red Cross will be hosting a few
events in the coming weeks.

International Humanitarian Law Film Series - “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” 

The International Humanitarian Law Film Series uses the power of film to educate and advocate about international humanitarian law. “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is told through the eyes of two young boys; one the son of a Nazi commander, the other a Jewish inmate. Following the film, their story will serve as a backdrop for a greater discussion.

  • January 14, 2016 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.  
  • Red Cross – 444 Sherman St., Denver 
  • RSVP

Lunch & Learn - Never Again: International Holocaust Remembrance 

Join us as we hear from Holocaust survivor Estelle Nadel and Diane Afoumado of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Estelle Nadel was born Enia Feld in Boreck, Poland. At the age of six, the Nazis invaded her village and murdered many of her family members. For years, she and her family hid to stay alive, often relying on the help of strangers for support. At the age of 12, she resettled in the United States and was adopted by the Nadel family. Estelle and her husband Fred currently reside in Westminster, Colo.

Families continue to be separated as a result of WWII and many survivors look to the Red Cross and the International Tracing Service, located in Bad Arolsen, Germany, to locate missing loved ones and find documentation of their relative’s war-time experiences. The International Tracing Service archive was established to help reunite separated family members and to trace those missing. Millions of pages of documentation captured during the war by the Allies were placed in this archive. The International Committee of the Red Cross administered the archive until 2013 when it was transferred to the German Federal Archives. The Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as the United States’ repository for the International Tracing Service collection.

 Dr. Diane F. Afoumado is chief of the Research and Reference Branch at the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She will share information on how the museum uses the International Tracing Service collection to help survivors, their families, and families of victims.

  • January 20, 2016 from 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.  
  • At the Red Cross – 444 Sherman St., Denver 
  • RSVP