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

2 Volunteers save life of runner in Hopkinton

Three Red Cross volunteers wererco_blog_img_cpr honored July 26 at the Regional Headquarters for their lifesaving work as Red Cross volunteers.

Interim CEO Chad Priest took time out to present commendations to William Marengo, Don Dooner and Louis Couillard, Red Cross volunteers here in Massachusetts.

The fire chief in Hopkinton, Mass., sent a letter to Volunteer Services praising the work of Red Cross volunteers and the important work they do daily across the Commonwealth.

Below is the text of Chief Stephen Slamen’s letter.

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Dear Ms. Flynn Jebb,

I am writing you in regards to exemplary actions that were provided by your staff in Hopkinton on June 17, 2017. While our crews were working a medical detail in support of a 5K road race, we witnessed extraordinary actions of your members in the response and care to a runner that had fallen due to a medical condition. On arrival of our crews, we found William Marengo and Don Dooner actively involved in providing lifesaving medical care to the patient. My paramedics reported that they found quality CPR being performed on arrival and as a result they were able to successfully convert the patient’s lethal rhythm back to normal. As of this date, I understand that the patient is making great progress in his recovery and I hope to update you with more complete news in the future.

My interactions with your Red Cross group was both professional and impressive. Your staff clearly understood their skills and worked well together as a team. It is my pleasure and honor to report to you that you have quite a talented team and we really appreciated their service in Hopkinton on June 17, 2017. In addition, I would like to recommend that you consider them all for a letter of commendation, they truly deserve it.

I spoke with Lou the team leader and informed him that I would act on this once I realized the patient’s outcome. If I hear more positive news from the patient I will see if we can honor your group here in Hopkinton with the patients consent and/or involvement. The members that I was able to identify and look to honor were team leader; Louis Couillard, William Marengo, Kelsey Sullivan and Don Dooner.

Sincerely,

Stephen T. Slaman

Fire Chief, Hopkinton Fire Department

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How the Red Cross CNA Program Changed Denise’s Life

 

Denise’s story is not yourrco_blog_img_moses average tale about overcoming adversity. Her story begins as a child growing up among seven siblings, all raised by parents caught in a cycle of substance abuse. Bounced from foster home to foster home, Denise set her mind to finding a job that would allow her to rely on no one but herself, and so she dropped out of high school, found a menial job but then soon after found herself pregnant. Her childhood quickly fading away and then pregnant with her second child, Denise realized that in order to create a better life for herself and her family, she would need to go back to school.

Denise first encountered the American Red Cross as a young girl when her family suffered the devastating loss of their Boston home in a fire. The Red Cross was there to provide financial assistance and lodging for the nine members of her family, leaving them incredibly grateful to have received help when it was needed most.

When thinking about her new life to come, her Red Cross experience came to mind, and so she inquired about a career in health care and the American Red Cross Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) Program.

“CNA pays very well, you get as many hours as you want, and you can go anywhere and always have a job. That can change anyone’s life.”

While taking night classes towards her CNA certification with the Red Cross in Lawrence, she simultaneously completed her GED. Going to two schools at once consumed all of her time. The time it took to get from her home to her classes was her biggest hurdle because Denise is legally blind and unable to drive. She didn’t let transportation limitations stop her from accomplishing her dreams and instead walked to and from classes. As if this wasn’t enough of an obstacle, Denise also has a learning disability. Classes were difficult for her and she did not pick things up as quickly as her classmates but she studied hard and never gave up. “Nothing can stop me,” she said. Denise graduated from the Red Cross CNA program in 2016 and passed the state exam on the first try.

When talking about the Red Cross CNA program, Denise boasts that “the class was very disciplined. The way they teach you is very close to how it is in real life.” After, the instructors continue to call and check up on her, not because they have to, but because they care.

“They call to check and see if you have a job and if you don’t they ask how they can help. They really care.”

Immediately upon graduation, Denise was offered three positions. She now works two jobs and walks 20 miles a day to get there, five hours of walking a day. Denise leaves for work an hour before she needs to so she can stop and talk to all her neighbors along the way. She has become so attached to her clients that sometimes she will go spend time with them on her day off. “It’s not about the money, I like the fact that I can interact with the patients.”

Denise received employee of the year her first year on the job. One would think Denise’s struggle should end here. Unfortunately, Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after she got her first job. While undergoing treatment, Denise managed to continue to walk to work. She never took a day off when she wasn’t in the hospital and never let the cancer stop her.

“It’s not about me, it’s about my patients. I am there for them.”

While working as a home health aide in the Lowell area, Denise stays in touch with her instructors, occasionally having lunch with them and talking about future plans. “I’m going back to school next year to continue my education to become a licensed practical nurse,” she states eagerly. “And my former instructors keep encouraging me.” She promised her kids that she would one day become a nurse and she is dedicated to continue her education until she gets there. For now, Denise is paying for her sister to take the Red Cross CNA classes so that she can follow the same path to success that Denise did.

Sign Up For Certified Nurse Assistant Training

 

Grateful to Serve

Welcome to our new American Red Cross of Massachusetts Regional blog…

Welcome to our new American Red Cross of Massachusetts Regional blog, where we hope to open a window into how much good we do here at the Red Cross and how, each and every day (and night), we help people on what will most likely become the worst day of their lives.

So I went to WordPress today and set up a blog. I mined my daily experiences for little anecdotes, but the overarching theme that kept popping up for me was how grateful I am to be surrounded by such a wonderful, committed and hilarious group of teammates across the Commonwealth. These are the people – both paid and volunteer, who load supplies on our vehicles, draft and redraft planning spreadsheets, and give hugs and hope to families who have lost everything in a house fire at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Then it occurred to me: the Red Cross Family is about giving of themselves.  Sometimes a shoulder to cry on is enough, and we’ve had our fair share of those who make use of ours. Other times, we give food, mental health support, a warm place to sleep. It’s the hope that things will get better that inevitably seems to do an outsized amount of good.

Here’s an interesting statistic: our region deployed a total of 27 volunteers to the Southern States date to assist with the Hurricane Matthew response.  Thirteen of them are still there, sleeping on uncomfortable cots in group shelters eating their meals ladled out of sanitized rubber tubs known in the “trade” as Cambros. That’s thirteen sleep deprived people working 12 hour shifts six days a week with limited access to greens, drowning in coffee and far away from the comforts of home. It takes about a week to detox from these deployments.

Kathleen Connors, a woman from Ontario who went to North Carolina on vacation and returned as a Red Cross volunteer, said about her experience: “it’s great to see the looks on their faces when we say we have toilet paper…”

Sounds glamorous, right?

Actually, what it is is life-changing. Yes, for the people whose lives have been shattered, but also for all of the thousands of people who regularly give whatever they can to help improve the situation of others.  For some, it’s the time it takes to pour a cup of coffee. For others, it’s manning the telephones so that members of our community in need know someone cares. We have volunteers who coordinate teams to rush to fire scenes so that families burned out of their homes have a place to sleep that night. We have volunteers helping military families get through terminal illness, death, or the more general stressors of daily life. For the majority of us, it’s what’s in our hearts that compels us to step up, get up or just show up for the simple end of making a positive difference in others’ lives. Helping feels good. If you don’t believe us, believe the people in this video montage who needed our help the most:

So on this day of thanksgiving, and as you read these forthcoming features about our people and our work, we invite you to consider what you might do to make the world a better place. If you’re looking for ideas, we can certainly help. Get a preview of how you can join our family by going to http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.