The Power of Volunteerism

– Below is a written testimonial we received from a disaster victim –

I want to thank the Red Cross for yourrco_blog_img_reading incredibly swift response to the fire at the Old Reading Schoolhouse, in Reading, Mass., Thursday, June 1st.  You and your team were remarkable!

One of your volunteer members, Bonnie Lou, provided something to me that seemingly was impossible; she gave me the gift of hope, a priceless gift that I didn’t think could be given.

Upon arriving at the scene, I witnessed complete chaos and bedlam, as well as a fire – the likes of which I’d never seen (100 fire fighters fought the blaze; 10+ hours to extinguish the fire; the largest fire in the history of Reading, Mass.).

I just needed to get to my two cats.  Shortly after 2 p.m., a fire fighter brought one of my cats to me, my Baby Girl, Wesson.

Through all of the commotion, everyone desperately trying to make sure all people and pets were out of the building, Bonnie somehow reached me and knew I was frantic; an emotion I’d never experienced.

Bonnie was at my side and did everything for me, as if she’d known me my whole life.  My family and friends were with me and did their best to comfort me.  But it was all about the kitties and somehow she knew it…. Bonnie had an animal carrier within a minute and together we put my Wesson in.  Oh, she didn’t stop.  She then found a quiet, cool place in the Red Cross vehicle for me to soothe Wesson.  Bonnie kept going.  She instructed me to take deep breathes, she had an ice cold water in my hand, and she controlled the entire situation around me.

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I kept asking, “Who are You?” and she kept answering, “I’m Bonnie”.  My question was so much deeper…… who just sent this angel from Heaven to Sanborn Street at the most desperate moment of my life?

8 p.m. – The fire still roaring, an alarm was sent out for fire fighters to evacuate the building!  The building was no longer safe.  They would continue to fight the fire, but only from the outside of the building.  People tried to prepare me for the worst scenario.  But not Bonnie.  She kept me breathing and believing.

By 11 p.m., we were told to leave.  The Fire Chief advised us that nobody would be allowed back into the building throughout the night and it would be guarded so that nobody entered. Bonnie kept hope and promised many prayers and I knew she meant it.

At 1:10 p.m., 24 hours after the fire started, I was allowed into the building with a fire fighter, a hard hat, boots and gloves to try to locate my Smith.  And at 1:11 p.m., I had my Smith.

On Monday morning, the Town of Reading set up multiple resources at the Pleasant Street Center for Old Reading Schoolhouse tenants to attend.  When I entered, I saw the bright light of Bonnie’s smile, and heard her voice, “Kattthhhhhhyyyyy, did you get Smiiitttthhhhhhh?”

Did I just hear that right?  She remembered both our names? And when I shouted that I had them both, she cried tears of joy with me.  Again I ask, “Who is this person?”

I am so blessed for the support and kindness of Bonnie and am honored to write this to you on her behalf.  I will strive each day to give comfort to others in honor of Bonnie.

With much respect, thanks and gratitude,
Kathy Gee

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When disasters inspire volunteerism

by Susan Gilbert, American Red Cross of Massachusetts volunteer

Before joining the American Red Cross,rco_blog_img_contee Lisa Contee had never been a volunteer. Volunteerism was brought forward in her mind when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010.

Lisa had what she calls her “Haiti baby” that January, watching on television as members of the Red Cross assisted those most in need in what was one of the worst disasters in in recent history.

Lisa subsequently went to the Red Cross, got her CPR certification and attended a free disaster services class. The introductory class showed potential volunteers how the missions of the Red Cross help people here in Massachusetts during both small and large disasters.

Lisa was hooked. The work the Red Cross does locally was eye opening and exactly what she was interested in doing – lending that helping hand. Immediately after the training, Lisa went to the Cambridge office determined to get a position at the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. Lisa recalls that she “wouldn’t leave until they were down and ready to have me.”

To start, Lisa joined a Disaster Action Team. These teams are made up of volunteers who go out, boots on the ground, and help the clients of disasters – fires, floods, storms – anything that leaves people displaced.

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In 2014 when the Home Fire Campaign was announced, Lisa was one of the first volunteers to receive training to help install free smoke alarms in people’s homes.  She was quickly promoted to supervisor, and today is the lead and mentor to other volunteers interested in both DAT and the Home Fire Campaign.

Aside from DAT and Home Fire Campaign work, Lisa trained and was certified to drive and operate relief operations from Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles. Commonly known as ERVs, these mobile disaster relief and food trucks serve those in need in the hardest hit areas.

Lisa was deployed to the New York City area to support relief operations during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She enjoyed the hard work and long hours doing and said “it was the hardest physical work” she has ever done.

In March 2017, Lisa went to an early morning fire where a building had collapsed. The collapse displace more than 45 people. The fire started in one unit and spread to several other units, affecting the entire building with either fire or smoke damage. The Red Cross took care of 11 families and worked with the management company to find hotel space for the displaced residents.

Lisa says that moments like these are why she stays with the Red Cross. “People helping out people is all we need.”

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New adventures await volunteers

Phyllis Vincent has been volunteering rco_blog_img_datever since she served in the Peace Corps after college. She joined the American Red Cross in 2010, then found even more time to give when she retired.

Phyllis’s earliest assignments with the Red Cross involved heading to the scene of house fires where she “helped people, found a “good team of people, and got to work.”

Her most memorable Red Cross moment was a fire in Attleboro, Mass., when 22 families needed help. Only three volunteers showed up to help. Phyllis said the experience was intense and lasted eight hours. They worked until the early morning, serving food and making sure that each person had a place to stay.

Several years ago, more than 100 people lost power during a large storm in Fall River and by this time, Phyllis had risen through the ranks to become a supervisor. The task at hand was so large and she knew her team had to come together to protect and serve these people. To her surprise, the community came together well enough to help not only each other, but the Red Cross team as well. It’s moments like this that give Phyllis the steam to keep coming back.

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Phyllis volunteers because she had always felt the need to help people, and because not enough people do it. “I just enjoy helping people, it makes me feel good, and I like to work with dedicated people. That is what the American Red Cross is, a bunch of dedicated people wanting to help others.” Although her family and friends do not understand, she soldiers on, telling them that volunteering is not a hobby, but a lifestyle.

After five years in disaster services, Phyllis decided to try something less likely to get her out of bed in the middle of the night. So she started working in biomedical transportation, transporting blood from drives in Massachusetts to the Biomedical Center in Dedham. She said, “It’s a lot of driving, but it helps people and that’s all that matters.”

Speaking again about her disaster work, Phyllis was once deployed to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. She recalled how shocked she was to see water above the traffic lights and houses filled with mud. But what impressed her was the idea that people had lost everything, yet were still determined to get back to life. Phyllis said it is moments like these that kept her coming back to the volunteering world.

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Boston Marathon 2017: All in a Day’s Work

by Jeff Hall, American Red Cross of Massachusetts

With the 121st running of the Bostonrco_blog_img_marathon2 Marathon in the books, we can pause for a moment and reflect on our success. Our charity running team “Team Red Cross” reached a momentous fundraising goal, collectively raising more than $530,000. A veritable squadron of medically trained volunteers treated more than 1,000 runners. The Red Cross disaster team staffed a number of governmental Emergency Operations Centers and “course disruption centers” to prepare for an unforeseen emergency. And while all of these volunteer efforts were on display, a house fire in Boston required the deployment of a Red Cross “Disaster Action Team” to assist a displaced family.

This enormous accomplishment for the 2017 Boston Marathon began last year, just a few months after the 2016 race. Our two volunteer leads, Stephanie Walsh and Paul Kastner, analyzed the positive and negative aspects of last year’s efforts, and charted the course for 2017.

The Boston Athletic Association, the organization that stages the Marathon, modifies the requirements slightly every year. It was then up to Stephanie and Paul to adjust our plans and training requirements for each of the nearly 500 medical tent volunteers.

In September 2016, the minimum fundraising goal for each Team Red Cross member was increased to $6,500 from $5,000. With this goal, the hundreds of applicants to the Team Red Cross charity team were then whittled down to the 60 bibs given to the Red Cross by the BAA. Some runners had posted qualifying times and were independently accepted in the 2017 race, but decided to run on the Red Cross charity team to raise money to help those in need here in Massachusetts.

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On the day of the Marathon, volunteers and runners gathered to receive their final words of motivation from Red Crossers before the race. Team Read Cross, now totaling 63 runners, made their way from downtown Boston to Hopkinton for the start of the Marathon.

Meanwhile in Wellesley, medical tent volunteers and support staff gathered at Babson College for breakfast, final preparations, their documentation kits and the much-coveted BAA-branded jacket. The medical stations supply basics such as petroleum jelly for chaffing, up to intravenous fluids for runners in more serious conditions. The medical stations act as mini-emergency rooms, where volunteers who work as EMTs or nurses during regular hours treat injuries and illnesses while sending the more urgent cases to area hospitals. With little shade and temperatures in the low 70s, medical tent volunteers were kept busy this year treating some of the 30,000 runners.

Once the race started, at around 9:30 a.m., medical volunteers started to see their first customers as wave after wave of runners left Hopkinton.

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Most of Team Red Cross began in Hopkinton in Wave 4, at about 11:30 a.m. The 63 runners made their way past Heartbreak Hill and into Boston’s Copley Square, where thousands of spectators greeted them. The American Red Cross partnered with Webster Bank this year to host runners and their families during and after the race. One by one, runners made their way into the Boylston Street Webster Bank location, the Team Red Cross Headquarters, to the sounds of cheers and congratulations from family and friends.

Although our medical volunteers would enjoy a Marathon where no runners require their assistance, they were called upon by numerous runners, some suffering from heat exhaustion, some from hypothermia. Over the course of nearly 12 hours, medical volunteers assisted more than 1,000 runners.

Many thanks out to all our volunteers and runners who gave of themselves to help make the 2017 Boston Marathon a tremendous success for the American Red Cross. For the corps of volunteers committed to the work of that American Red Cross of Massachusetts, it was all in a day’s work.

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Retirement and a whole new beginning

When a life is spent serving and protectingrco_blog_img_kmca your fellow citizens, retirement can leave a void that was once filled up with the simple idea of helping people.

After a 25-year career as a Massachusetts State trooper, Keith McAuliffe was finally home to shovel snow instead of out patrolling slippery roads across the state. When hurricanes stormed into coastal cities across the Northeast, he no longer had to answer the call for volunteers to deploy for weeks away from home.

It didn’t take long for Keith to realize helping people wasn’t just part of his job, it was his true self.

“I always looked at my law enforcement career as more helping people, and the Red Cross gave me a way to continue that on a local level. It’s exactly what I was looking for,” said Keith.

With his new-found free time, Keith signed up as a volunteer with the Mass Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. As Keith worked his way through the different trainings required to become a member of a Disaster Action Team (DAT), he started to gain a better understanding of Red Cross mission and the different activities designed to achieve that mission.

“I always thought of the Red Cross as blood donation and big disasters around the country and around the world,” said Keith. Having just retired from a position that had him often away from home in the worst conditions, he wasn’t looking to go all over the country on deployments. “I was surprised when I started going to the trainings and they talked about the local stuff they do.”

Keith began responding to home fires as part of a Boston Metro DAT team, finding that staying local and helping his neighbors piqued his interest. “This is what I’m looking for. It’ll keep me busy and I can continue helping people, and do it on my terms, on my time without being overwhelmed with it every day,” said Keith. He later added, “Once you get into the work, you want to do it every day.”

It’s been nearly three years since Keith joined the American Red Cross. Now he works primarily behind the scenes, updating documentation and building and distributing the Disaster Morning Report. He works with Red Cross paid staff to make sure home fire response documentation is entered correctly, ensuring the smooth delivery of services to those affected by local disasters such as home fires.

Keith also takes pride in training new volunteers, helping them understand how they fit into the Red Cross and can achieve fulfillment from their work.

“The feeling you get when you’re out helping people who are at one of the lowest points in their lives, that feeling of good that you get makes your feel better as a volunteer. Knowing that you’re helping people who are at the point of taking those first steps after a home fire, it renews the good feeling you get as a volunteer.”

Keith knows everyone comes to the Red Cross for his/her own reasons. But the humanitarian spirit lives within every mission of the Red Cross, and it’s that spirit that draws in so many volunteers who are there, night and day, to bring comfort to those in need.hfc quincy

 

Local volunteer works to reunite families

Every volunteer is drawn to an rco_blog_img_edorganization for a different reason. However it is the desire to help their fellow humans that binds Red Cross volunteers together around the world.

Eduardo Sagarnaga came to the Red Cross about four years ago. He, like many other Metro area volunteers, felt compelled to help their fellow citizens in the Boston area after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

When the American Red Cross announced a new program in 2014, aimed at reducing the number of people in the United States killed in home fires, Eduardo was one of first volunteers to engage in the Metro area. Eduardo worked to adapt the program’s materials for use in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, first focusing on Chelsea.

Eduardo continues as member of the Metro area’s Disaster Action Team, responding to home fires around Boston and other outlying communities.

Eduardo now splits his DAT volunteering time with International Services, working with coordinators in Cambridge as well as Washington D.C., to help reunited families through the Reconnecting Family Links program.

“We have a liaison with the International Red Cross, and we’re helping people find members of their family who have gone missing,” said Eduardo. Currently he’s working with a Guatemalan family who has a son who tried to immigrate to the United States and who hasn’t been heard from since 2008.

“It’s a tough job because it’s hard to find people who have gone missing,” said Eduardo, who knows sometimes even bad news can give closure to families in search of hope. “Sometimes we are successful, sometimes not, but we keep on doing what we do to help these people going through difficult times.”

Armed conflict, international disasters and migration leave millions of people around the globe in urgent need of humanitarian assistance every year. In turn, violence, natural disaster, forced migration or other humanitarian emergency can cause families to be scattered to places unknown. Through its worldwide network of volunteers, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent helps find out what happened to the sister who disappeared after boarding a boat in Viet Nam, the wife whose husband was presumed dead in Uganda, or the American family of a Pole whose father fled to the U.S. during WWII. Ed 1

Eduardo’s role in providing this free and confidential “tracing service” is invaluable. His volunteer work gives hope to families looking for loved ones and supports Massachusetts residents affected by local disasters. By volunteering with Disaster Services and International Services, Eduardo makes a difference here and abroad.

RC volunteer recalls the exhilaration of volunteering during blizzard of ’78

Red Cross volunteer recalls what the storm was like in Boston

Social media helps us connect and reconnect with Red Crossers. The communications team was monitoring Facebook and discovered a volunteer from many years ago posting about his experience with the Red Cross.

 – In the mid 70s + I was privileged to be a part of Mass Bay. A group of us would do the Arlington parade in the morning then come over to help with 1st aid along the marathon course. Remember, in those days OEMS was not what it is now!! 20 years of memories at many events and disasters. A growing up experience I will always be proud of!! – Jack Duncan

We invited Jack to talk about his Red Cross experience for our blog.

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For many years I have referred back to my daysblizzard-personal with the American Red Cross as a volunteer on the Mass Bay Disaster Team. I started around 1974, continuing in Boston until the mid-1980s when I moved to New Hampshire. Because of physical issues, I never joined the field team but I did work with the then Director, representing the team by sitting in on planning committees for disaster and hazardous materials plans.

The communications team asked me what impact the Red Cross had on me? Well, lack of sleep was likely the biggest. That period was a very busy period in time with many early morning fire responses.

But the Blizzard of ’78 had an enormous impact on me and stands out among all of my experiences as “my Red Cross story.” I was 24-years old and a student at Bridgewater State University (then College). I was majoring in Earth Sciences and we had been watching the development of the storm. A good friend, Donald Walker, was in charge of the Mass Bay Disaster Team and helped me arrange an overnight stay at the National Weather Service (NWS) at Logan Airport to fill my role as the Meteorology liaison where I would be focused 100 percent on tracking the storm.  I spent the night working with senior Meteorologist Tom Fair, and I can say I learned more in that one night than in years at college.

As there were no online radar systems at the time, all we had to work with was satellite feeds over a very large Radioteletype plotter. I will never forget the 2 a.m. feed we received that showed the low had developed into an ‘eye’. When I left the following morning, Tom gave me that printout and his non-public forecast.  Thanks to National Weather Service (NWS), the Red Cross team was able to stay a step ahead in the game and positioned multiple teams across the Mass Bay area before it even snowed! My best friend to this day, Ben Gedaminski and I set up multiple meteorology measuring devices on the roof of our former site. (Yes, I admit, I had a blast going up to the roof to take readings during the storm — still the same geek to this day!)

blizard-3Once the storm ended the reality of what hit us was beyond belief. Since Emergency vehicles were the only ones allowed on the streets (thank you Governor Dukakis), Ben and I were able to travel to our homes in a Red Cross vehicle to West Roxbury to grab a week’s worth of clothing and extra gear. We made it to his house with little trouble but my mom and family lived on the highest hill in Boston and the city plow could not make it up that hill. On arrival we had to climb six-to-eight feet snow drifts to get there.  (We brought my mother milk and dry milk to weather the storm.)

On returning to Boston proper we now had the next job: Build a helipad!! We truly thought our leader, Don Walker, had lost it but he went out on the street and negotiated a very large front end loader. After clearing the space, the Boston Fire Department came and hosed down all of the snow walls so the helicopters would not get caught in a snow blind condition when they landed.  While this was occurring Ben and I, along with other volunteers, pulled a large four-point lighting system together and ran it off our large wheeled emergency generator. Don Walker pulled off a miracle with his team and created a pad large enough for 4 military choppers.

One of the critical needs was food soBOSTON BLIZZZRD we needed to get to our supplier off route 128 in Needham.  I was the only one who knew how to get there so I was quickly assigned to a National Guard helicopter. It was amazing watching other National Guard teams rescue people off their roofs because in that area the snow was well over the first floor. Shelters were opened quickly by other Red Cross volunteers and staff.  All of this activity went on for seven days, working in shelters, getting food to those stranded and pretty much doing anything and everything.  All of us Red Cross workers slept where we could and averaged about three hours of sleep per night. When all was finally said and done, the storm was nicknamed the “Blizzard of Love” because except for a few minor incidents it was the love and human resilience that got us all through the winter of 1978.

You asked what impact the Red Cross had on me. To this day there are two things that stick with me.  The first is that all of the inventing and creativity we had with communications during the storm operation lit a radio bug in me; I get to tinker here at work where I am in charge of the New Hampshire Parks communication system.  The second is another skill I brought to New Hampshire with me!  The knowledge gained through years of working with the NWS helped me land a “Weather Forecaster” position with a radio station here in New Hampshire, where I worked for seven years.  It seems I’ve come full circle as I continue to provide severe storm updates for the New Hampshire Parks Service and with Facebook.

All in all, my Disaster Team and First Aid team experience with the Red Cross will stay with me forever!

Jack Duncan, former volunteer, Mass Bay and New Hampshire Red Cross

 – Jack continues to run a Facebook page called Concord NH Weather