Finding Purpose: 7-year Red Cross volunteer speaks about her experiences

by Michael de Vulpillieres, American Red Cross

As 2017 comes to the close we are featuring a few our (nearly 3000) Massachusetts Red Cross volunteers who have worked tirelessly these past 12 months to help carry out our mission locally and across the country.

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Earlier this week, we caught up with Lisa Contee, longtime Red Cross volunteer from Everett, Massachusetts who shared with us a bit about her work and the impact the organization has people’s lives, including her own.

What brought you to the Red Cross?

I joined after the Haiti earthquake. I saw everything on TV and it really touched me. I was at a point in my life where I felt like it was time for me to give back.

Initially, I came to the Red Cross to keep my First Aid and CPR certifications up to date. While I was in that course, we were almost done and someone came into the room and said the Red Cross was holding a class for, I think it was, Intro to Disaster Response, and invited anyone interested to attend. I did not know anything about what the Red Cross did locally so I went to learn and by the time the class was over, I was sold!

What have been some of your roles at the Red Cross?

I started off immediately in Casework. I went to my first fire within a couple of weeks. I knew I wanted to do Disaster Response. Since I joined I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do! I’m the regional lead for CDE [Community Disaster Education]. I love that: events, presentations, parades. I’m a Disaster Volunteer Instructor, which I just adore, and I got a lot of opportunities to do that after these past hurricanes because we did a lot of work getting trained to deploy. I’m also in Logistics.

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Can you talk more about your work helping people after local disasters?

I’m a DAT [Disaster Action Team] supervisor. I love it. There’s no feeling like arriving at a scene where people have just lost everything and don’t know what to do. There’s no manual for a house fire. Nobody knows what to do when they are put out in the middle of the night, in the middle of a snow storm, with just their pajamas on and they have no idea what to do next. We get to pull up and say, ‘we’ve been through this a number of times, hundreds of times, and we are going to take care of you.’ And they have just such relief on their faces because we get to say, ‘we are going to help you right now with what needs to be done right at this minute.’

How many on-call shifts do you take a week?

I take two, back-to-back shifts Tuesday nights [through Wednesday morning] a week.  6 p.m. to midnight and then midnight to 6 a.m. And then random shifts here and there when needed.

What is it like to get a call in the middle of the night?

It’s just adrenaline. As soon as that phone rings I jump up, get the info, get dressed, brush my teeth and head out. I don’t sleep the same when I’m on call but I’m not tired when I get woken up.

What does the Red Cross represent to you?

The Red Cross really came into my life at very important time for me. I really needed that sense of purpose. To me the Red Cross represents helping, healing and kindness.

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Gratitude to our Volunteers and Supporters

American Red Cross trustee head shotsDuring this season of hope and gratitude I want to offer my heartfelt thanks, on behalf of the Massachusetts Red Cross Board of Directors and our dedicated employees, to those who help carry out our mission:

Our volunteers stand ready to help at a moment’s notice to provide care for their neighbors at critical moments, like following Wednesday’s tragic North End fire. And when needed, they travel far from home to support communities devastated by disasters. Since August, 300+ Massachusetts Red Cross volunteers have put their lives on hold to help following hurricanes, wildfires and other national tragedies.

Our partners share with us a common purpose that helps connect more individuals with critical humanitarian support here in Boston and around the country.  One example of this teamwork is our Home Fire Campaign that has allowed for the installation of thousands of free smoke detectors in Massachusetts homes thanks to the collaboration of fire departments, community organizations and corporations.

Our blood donors give the gift of life and our financial supporters allow the Red Cross to prepare for and respond to emergencies 24/7.

To all of them and to anyone committed to making their communities safer and more prepared, THANK YOU!

Sincerely,

John W. Stadtler
Chair, Board of Directors, American Red Cross of Massachusetts
Partner, PwC Financial Services Industry

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A New Headquarters Unearths Treasures from the Past

A Living History of Red Cross Volunteerism

written by – Martine Costello, Red Cross Volunteer
imagery by – Sasha Goldberg, Red Cross Volunteer 

Decades of work by Red Cross volunteers came to life recently as the organization prepared to move its Massachusetts regional headquarters from Cambridge to Medford.

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Volunteers in the process of packing unearthed thousands of old photos, scrapbooks, personal letters, vintage uniforms and dozens of other memorabilia that have found their way to museums and archives all over the country.

The newly discovered boxes form a rich living history of the thousands of volunteers in the region who gave from the heart for projects spanning blood drives and disaster recovery missions to first aid training and fire scene rescues. In an age of 140-character tweets and 24-hour cable news, the trove of material that filled a wing of several rooms of the Red Cross offices was a nostalgic look-back of a simpler, though no less generous, time of giving.  Some of the items date back to the 19th century, spanning World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, the Great Molasses Flood in Boston and many other key points of history.

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“Germans Licked West of the Rhine,” read one banner headline from a newspaper dated February 28, 1945.  There was a note from a Vietnam soldier dated Dec. 22, 1968, thanking the unidentified Red Cross volunteer who sent him a holiday care package.  “It is somewhat difficult for me to say what it means to know that there are people other than one’s own family who care for GIs,” he wrote in neat script.  A package from home, he said, is often the one thing that makes a difference in a man’s will to live during times of war.

There was an article from the Red Cross News, dated July 1918, about a successful program to knit 90,000 pairs of socks for American soldiers fighting in Europe during World War I. “More knitters needed,” it said. There was a scrapbook from Hurricane Camille in 1969. Annual reports, bound in red leather with gold trim, dating from 1905-1974. Wartime ration books, carefully folded American flags, monogrammed silver tea services. There were pins and patches and dozens of uniforms in heavy wool and brass buttons, each with its own distinctive hat. There were books about the Geneva Convention, first aid training and disaster response. There was a needlepoint sampler, hand-stitched, dated 1918.

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The black and white photos, spanning more than 100 years, were perhaps the most vivid reminder of a bygone era. They were in cardboard boxes and leather-bound albums, taped into worn scrapbooks and framed under glass. There were men in fedoras and nurses in starched white uniforms; blood drive publicity photos; volunteers wearing boutonnieres receiving awards for their service; second graders collecting Red Cross subscriptions, dated Jan. 2, 1941.  There was a smiling Clara Barton, the Civil War nurse who founded the Red Cross in 1881, seated in a rocker.  Some of the larger photos were stacked on tables and leaned up against the walls: a framed panoramic photo of a banquet from the American Red Cross’s 21st National Convention in Philadelphia, June 18-21, 1946.

“Every time you opened a box something new and fascinating would pop out,” said Sasha Goldberg, the Red Cross volunteer who carefully cataloged and photographed all of the items. “There are so many fascinating stories and we were able to find homes for everything so all of it could be properly displayed.”

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Goldberg’s work took most of the summer leading up to the Red Cross’ move in late September.

Many of the items featuring Barton made their way to the Clara Barton Birthplace Museum in North Oxford.  These included plates and cups with the Red Cross logo; three stained glass Red Cross panels; a pamphlet outlining services to the armed forces and veterans from 1881-1981; a report of New York and New England hurricanes and floods from 1938; assorted magazines and books from 1916-1939.

Goldberg put together a special box of memorabilia from V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered in World War II.  Most of these items came from a longtime volunteer of the American Motor Corps, a group of intrepid women who transported wounded troops and supplies. The Motor Corps women, dressed in their trademark knee-high boots, have been an institution during both of the world wars as well as during the 1918 flu pandemic.  In World War II alone, approximately 45,000 women of the Motor Corps logged more than 61 million miles, often using their own vehicles.1  Local Motor Corps women also helped out during the Molasses Flood of January 1919 in Boston’s North End, when a storage tank burst. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured as 2.3 million gallons of molasses streamed down the streets.

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There was also dozens of old books about swimming, first aid and water safety, some dating back to the 19th century, which made their way to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.  The Framingham History Center took home treasure, as did several Red Cross regional offices, the Tewksbury Public Health Museum and historical societies in Natick, Quincy and Weymouth.

Sara Goldberg (no relation to Sasha), an archivist with Historic Newton, collected several binders of photos, newspaper clippings and typewritten material about the Newton chapter of the Red Cross. Of particular note, she discovered details about the Junior Auxiliary, founded by Newton students in December 1917, which sewed clothing and bandages for soldiers in World War I. Other volunteers sewed rag doll toys for French children in need. “It helps us to understand Newton’s role in the larger events the Red Cross was involved in,” Goldberg said of the recovered treasure.

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Lily Mysona, local history librarian at the Malden Public Library, took home five boxes of material, including one dedicated to Malden chapter memorabilia, one on the Motor Corps, black and white photos and a dozen old uniforms that could date back to the 1920s and 1930s.

Both Goldberg and Mysona are still poring through the material, weeks later.

“I love history,” Mysona said. “Sometimes it’s the stories about the individuals who draw you in. You see how people lived their lives, and what they gave back.”

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  1. “Volunteer for Red Cross Motor Corps”. Virtual Museum of Public Service School of Public Affairs and Administration Rutgers University-Newark. Retrieved 23 December 2015.

Links to photographs of historical items:

Photographs from a display at the Volunteer Appreciation Day in Cambridge: https://www.flickr.com/gp/60784495@N07/1xmPso

General Items:   https://www.flickr.com/gp/44966885@N00/zv7800

Selections from Malden’s items:  https://flic.kr/s/aHsm29HEwU

Selections from Newton’s collection: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm6L93qN

MA Volunteers to the Rescue (to Maine)

Tropical Storm Philippe’s near-hurricane force winds and flash flooding wreaked havoc up and down the Northeast on Sunday night, shutting off the lights for the more than one million people who lost electricity. Almost 4 million people lost power alone in Maine. So while the Red Cross Regional teams in neighboring states were able to handle the demand for assistance, the Pine Tree State’s Red Cross called in for reinforcements.

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Four of our Massachusetts volunteers answered the call, and gathered at our headquarters in Medford to collect their assignments (and bus tickets!).

Andrew Enos, back from deployments to Texas and Florida, Deborah McGah, just back from Florida and Richard Figueiredo, barely rested from his deployment to Puerto Rico and Judy Scarafile all cheerfully volunteered to support our shelters out of the operation HQ in Topsham, Maine. Here they are, jumping at the chance to help their neighbors (and sample some lobster chowder during their off hours). This is a testament to how volunteering can not only be selfless, but also satisfying and even fun.

 

And they’re off to the bus station!

 

If you’d like to know how to get involved, go to our volunteer intake page.

 

 

An Impression that Sparked 20 years of Volunteerism

by Susan Gilbert, American Red Cross of Massachusetts volunteer

One day in the late 1990s, Tangley Lloyd was listening to the radio while on vacation on Cape Cod. A Red Cross volunteer working in disaster relief was being interviewed.  Part-way through the interview, the Red Cross volunteer’s beeper went off and almost before the segment was over, he was on a plane heading to the disaster site. Tangley thought herself, “This is great! This is what I want to do!”

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Enthusiastic volunteer

After Tangley returned home, she signed up to volunteer. As a licensed therapist and social worker, her mental health background proved an excellent fit for the Red Cross. As a Disaster Mental Health volunteer, Tangley’s mission is to be supportive to clients. She and her team help them “get back up and running,” restoring them to their level of pre-disaster functioning, offering plenty of community resources as needed and available.

Superior service

Tangley’s first assignment was in 1998, helping out in Oklahoma after it was ravaged by their largest-ever tornado. This experience was very special to Tangley because she met Red Cross volunteers from all over the country. Some even came in wheelchairs and crutches, yet everyone had a job to do (e.g., computer work) and were a huge asset to the relief effort.

“I was there for two weeks and loved every minute of it. It opened my world to see the generosity of the American people. I see these massive group efforts at every disaster, big and small. People give above and beyond what they can. It’s amazing.”

Over Labor Day 2016, Tangley went to Baton Rouge as part of an Integrated Condolence Care Team. Many people had moved to Baton Rouge from Katrina after they had lost everything, including loved ones. “I listened to someone for 2 ½ hours who’d lost her grandma. It was hard but we were the best of the best, and I’m proud to be a part of the Red Cross.”

Special meaning

Supporting the Red Cross has special meaning for Tangley. Her father, who she never knew, was killed over Guam in World War II during a special Navy mission in June 1944, and his body was never found. Also, Tangley’s uncle served as a pilot in Korea, who became missing in action in 1952.

Tangley recently attended a Red Cross “Service to the Armed Forces” event: the inauguration of a memorial statue at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. This emotional experience made her feel that “things had come full circle” with her family’s sacrifices, adding that, “My life is now moving toward getting more involved with the Red Cross.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) contacts the families of MIA, POW, and KIA soldiers. Tangley also attended a local meeting with her daughter for MIA families. This, too, was emotional for Tangley. “It was the first time I’d really talked about this with those who’d experienced the same thing.”

At the meeting, experts explained how in searching for bodies they look for bones and matching DNA samples. Tangley learned that reconnaissance missions in Guam recover approximately one person per year, and that a rice paddy farmer had seen her father’s plane go down in low tide, with only fuselage showing, so there was no chance for survivors.

“The DOD has done such an incredible service. I never knew there was a vehicle for this. The people are amazing; everyone is very respectful and appreciative. And they’re apolitical, which is fantastic.”

Labor of love

In addition to providing relief to disaster victims, Tangley supports Red Cross staff. Many volunteers become tired, especially if they’ve just come from another disaster in another state.

“I love volunteering with the Red Cross, and plan to be a part of it as long as I can. As long as I can still hear, which is key as a mental health professional, I know I’ll be able to help people. It’s very rewarding, and close to my heart. The Red Cross means a lot to me, and there’s a place for everybody.”

Experiencing Harvey through the eyes of a volunteer

Red Cross volunteer Heather Shampine, Senior Project Manager of Emergency Planning with National Grid, spent two weeks in Texas responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Heather wrote a two-part blog entry for the American Red Cross describing what it’s like to respond to a massive disaster, how she made new friends from across the Red Cross, and what it’s like to experience life-changing events while helping people profoundly affected by the flood waters brought by Hurricane Harvey. 

September 15, 2017:

As I penned the story of the first half of my Houston rco_blog_img_havexperience, I was working at the George R. Brown Convention Center, set up as a then 2,000-bed shelter. About midway through my Texas deployment, after emailing a few leads to inquire if they needed additional help in other areas, I was able to move into the damage assessment role. This task required us to deploy in 2 or 3-person teams from the Red Cross HQ in Houston out to the various affected outlying communities to assess the degree of damage the flooding had done to homes. This provided the first real, up-close view of the devastating effects of Harvey. I was immediately overwhelmed at the sight of street upon street lined with piles of debris. The entire contents of homes – beds, clothes, stuffed animals, furniture, photos, carpets, and heirlooms- were laid out for a huge dump truck and claw to pick up. Unfortunately, the debris had a very distinct odor much like the city dump or a trash truck. That smell was everywhere. It was very sad to see people who were already very impoverished who had so little to begin with, who had now lost everything, not knowing what they would do next. On the other end, I also saw a neighborhood of homes that were new, large, and likely very expensive, all destroyed. There were people who opined they were “not so bad off as they had the money” to recover. One couple we encountered proved that assumption to be so very untrue. They had just bought their three-year-old house and had used their life savings to do so. The husband, nearly in tears, reminisced about how happy they were in their home, that at Christmas time it would still be in shambles. They were heartbroken. Hugs were given that day.

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In as much as the scenes I encountered neighborhood after neighbored were sad, as I had at the shelter, I saw many examples of the resiliency and the fantastic attitude the people of Houston and Eastern Texas had. It blew me away and recharged me over and over again. So many people just refused to be down, said they’d get through it somehow, and many leaned on their faith to get them by and move them forward.

Just before I left Houston to come back home (and I was very homesick by then!) I bought a coffee cup and magnet at the airport to remember Houston by. But, what I will always remember and what will stick with me, is the incredible spirit of the people I met – that of my fellow Red Cross volunteers, but mostly of the courageous, kind, and tough people that Harvey just couldn’t keep down.

Using corporate disaster knowledge to ease human suffering in flood ravaged Texas

Red Cross volunteer Heather Shampine, Senior Project Manager of Emergency Planning with National Grid, spent two weeks in Texas responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Heather wrote a two-part blog entry for the American Red Cross describing what it’s like to respond to a massive disaster, how she made new friends from across the Red Cross, and what it’s like to experience life-changing events while helping people profoundly affected by the flood waters brought by Hurricane Harvey. 

September 6, 2017:

In the nearly three years I have been inrco_blog_img_natgrid Emergency Planning at National Grid, I have learned a great deal about what it means to plan, prepare and that an effective response to emergencies can make the difference to our customers. Those lessons inspired me to pursue my Masters in Emergency Management. While I have experience with responding to utility emergencies and have an academic understanding of disasters and their impact on people, I really do not have much in the way of field experience.

The Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) seemed to be a solution to that need. On any given day, the DAT teams in Massachusetts respond and assist victims of house fires with basic comfort needs, supplies, recovery information, and simple, caring comfort. They also provide those services for major disasters like floods, wildfires, hurricanes and more, all over the United States and even internationally.

I signed up online to volunteer for DAT, and very quickly I was in the database, vetted and ready to get trained and get started locally. Instead, I received a call-to action for Massachusetts volunteers for Hurricane Harvey a few days later, and found out I could ask to be deployed after some basic training was completed. After a check on remaining vacation days, checking in with my managers and understanding how it might impact my school schedule, (and securing pet sitters!), I was on my way!

On September 1st, I arrived at the Austin Convention Center, the command post for the relief efforts in that district. It was interesting to see that the command post looked and operated very much like a National Grid emergency operations center. As volunteers arrived from cities and towns across the country, we were asked to report to the staff shelter to await our local assignments.

The staff shelters, this one located in a local church, are just like the shelters set-up and manned for the disaster victims, with limited space and just the essentials. As the shelter need grew and the need to quickly prepare for more volunteers grew, I jumped in to assist the staff in building cots and getting ready for what would be just under 200 volunteers for that night. After a less-than-cozy night’s sleep, we all readied to move on to where we were needed most.

I was assigned to a Houston bus and I volunteered to be the “bus boss,” shepherding the volunteers to their designated location, and essentially just ensuring the same number got off as got on. As we traveled, the need to keep Houston HQ informed of our status and expected arrival time was crucial as well as working with them to virtually check in the 54 volunteers on “the Austin bus.” Being bus boss had its perks as I was able to get to know more of the volunteers and had a bit of fun on the way.

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Arrival in Houston had us checking in straight away to a hotel (that was a surprise!) to await our final assignments. Coordinating thousands of volunteers is an enormous, time-consuming task. I found that “standing by” was a frustrating reality as I and my fellow Red Crossers were are all super anxious to help.

On Sunday, the Austin bus volunteers who were not already pulled for various assignments across southern Texas were assigned to shelter care at the George R. Brown Convention Center, which as of this writing housed approximately 2,000 clients (down from 10,000). A shelter tour and instructions to report that evening for a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift was exciting but also daunting as many had not slept to prepare for 9+ days of the graveyard shift! But, you quickly remind yourself it’s a small sacrifice to help the traumatized, displaced folks of Houston and the outlying areas who likely now have no home to return to and are sleeping on cots with thousands of other people.

As of today, Wednesday the 6th, approximately 1,600 people remain at GRB where my role has been to register them into the shelter, provide information such as their dorm assignment, meal times, what services are available, and where they can get clothing, and supplies. I have met some great people who now know me by name and who are thankful for the Red Cross and the countless volunteers who are giving their time and comfort. I’ve even met a few four-legged evacuees as GRB has a dorm for folks who were able to bring their pets or animals. That has included dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, a pig, a snake or two, and we’ve heard a squirrel! Friends for Life staffs a section in the pet family dorm everyday providing food, crates, toys, bedding, and veterinary services.

The shelter clients’ stories are heartbreaking and we see so many individuals and families that are completely devastated by something they never thought would happen to them. But, I’ve also been incredibly impressed by how people staying at the shelter have stepped up and helped strangers there with everything from pushing them in wheelchairs, to getting them food, and simply providing comfort. It’s truly inspiring.

Sometime in the next few days I will be reporting to a new assignment at Houston HQ to assist in Red Cross damage assessment. I am super excited to learn more about another way in which I can help in this disaster and use some of my National Grid skills and training. I am so grateful for my colleagues in Emergency Planning, and especially my VP, Mike McCallan, for supporting me in this unforgettable opportunity to serve.

As in storm duty, it’s easy to get lost in what day it is, become exhausted from the shift and the work, to interact with stressed out and sometimes angry folks you’re helping, and to miss home. In the end, for me and the other volunteers, it’s temporary; for the Texans impacted by this unprecedented disaster, the effects are long-lasting. So, we step up and do what we can to say yes to the call and make a difference.

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