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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Giving Back, a Way of Life

by Martine Costello, Red Cross volunteer

* Armed Services Day is May 20th.

Jean Marsilli was a new collegerco_blog_img_afd graduate in 1970 looking to support the troops when she volunteered to go to Vietnam to be an American Red Cross “Donut Dolly.” From the DMZ to the Mekong Delta she traveled by chopper deep into the jungle to remote fire bases to cheer up the soldiers with games, snacks and warm smiles.  She would sometimes see napalm burning in the distance when she landed, surrounded by snipers, as the rotors kicked up the hem of her blue Red Cross dress.

The retired teacher and grandmother is still an active Red Cross volunteer.  She distributed food to flood-stricken homeowners on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy in 2013, and worked at an emergency shelter in Baton Rouge after a catastrophic flood in 2016, putting in 12-hour shifts “with 300 of my new best friends.”

At 68, she never seems to get tired of helping, and today drives a bus to help homeless people get around. She remains ready to travel if misfortune strikes.

What keeps her going? Giving back.

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“We all had our own reasons for going to Vietnam,” she says. “I went because the guys were going and I thought it was important to be there. I volunteer today because I’ve always done it. It’s not something we should do – it’s something we have to do. We have to help each other. It’s an obligation like voting.”

The Vietnam years remain vivid to her. Unlike the USO shows that the late comedian Bob Hope used to do, flying in and out for a whirlwind tour, the Donut Dollies remained in-country. They traveled to remote mountaintops with a 1-acre patch of cleared jungle. The only other visible landmarks were guns and sandbags. The cheeky pilots would keep the rotors going as the dollies would exit the chopper, sending their skirts up in the air in the style of the iconic Marilyn Monroe photo. “I sent home for some colored underwear,” she says with a laugh. But the mood would turn serious when there was word of Viet Cong in the area and the chopper would have to use its long-range gun.  The dollies would put their fingers in their ears until the firing stopped.

“We were morale boosters,” she says simply, shrugging off the danger. “I have always tried to lead my life by helping, and I have tried to instill that in my children and my grandchildren. I try to help people who need it the most. It’s the right thing to do.”

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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

 

Helping our military members here and around the world

The original mission of the Red Crossrco_blog_img_dion started in the 1800’s with services that helped military members and their families. Clara Barton assisted our armed forces both during and after the Civil War.

That same spirit continues today the American Red Cross dedicated Service to Armed Forces program. Today Red Cross volunteers across the United States and around the world are ready to help service members and their families cope with deployments, assist them with critical community and financial services and provide comfort to veterans in crisis.

Allison Dion from Paxton, Mass., has volunteered with the Red Cross for more than a year, focusing on the work we do serving military families and veterans.

“I first attended an event gift wrapping hats and scarves for the Warmer Winters program to support the local veteran population during the cold months,” said Allison. “I wanted to give back during the holidays, and while at the event, I was informed of some volunteer opportunities which sparked my interest.”

The American Red Cross military and veteran services are aimed at preventing, preparing for and responding to the unique challenges that arise as a result of the deployment cycle and beyond. Local Red Cross offices provide holistic casework and coordination of resources to clients with specific needs. This key Red Cross service ranges from responding to emergency needs for food, clothing, and shelter to referrals to counseling services (e.g., financial, legal, mental health), respite care for caregivers, and other resources that meet the unique needs of local military members, veterans and their families. Through partnerships with key community partners, Red Cross caseworkers identify clients’ needs, connect them to the most appropriate Red Cross and community resources and ensure follow through.

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“The Service to the Armed Forces program was brought to my attention, and being from a military family myself, I thought this could be a unique way to learn first hand about the various ways the Red Cross is involved with the military community,” said Allison.

The SAF program also offers both pre-deployment and post-deployment programs and resources for the military and their families. Red Cross volunteers use their experience in casework services to help prepare military members and their families for the transition back home after deployment. Volunteers assist with financial paperwork and other services which might seem overwhelming during the transition of pre-or-post deployment.

“As a volunteer with the Service to the Armed Forces, I have the privilege of helping to serve military families,” said Allison. “When talking with a service member’s family, I have heard the sincerity in their voice as they personally thank and express gratitude to the Red Cross for supporting them during a difficult time.  It is incredibly rewarding to play a small part in helping to make a positive impact during a family’s time of need.”

If you would like to volunteer with the Service to Armed Forces program, please go to redcross.org/ma to sign up. There are many opportunities available to help your local community both nearby and around the world.

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