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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Saving Lives in Real Time

by Visvajit Sriramrajan, American Red Cross Volunteer

Swift, dedicated, and tireless: theserco_blog_img_hfcare what the Red Cross workers are in a nutshell, and a recent incident in Lawrence proved that their training and quick decision-making skills were enough to save lives. On April 20th, Disaster Program Manager, Deb Duxbury and volunteer Justin O’Mahoney arrived at a home on Howard street for an appointment to install smoke alarms and CO detectors. When they arrived the two began to do a safety check, walking through the home looking for fire hazards and other potential risks.

“The normal process is for the resident to guide us around their house or apartment,” explained Justin. “We check existing smoke alarms to see if they are installed correctly and functioning properly. We then also determine the needs of the residence, install the detectors accordingly, show the residents how to change batteries, and give a preventive brief along with additional Red Cross fire educational leaflets,” he added.

But this time was a bit different.

After completing their work on the first floor, Deb and Justin headed down into the basement. And that’s when they noticed the distinct odor of gas.

The landlord, who was with them, explained that she had smelled gas for a few weeks, but hadn’t bothered to do anything about it. “No smoke or carbon dioxide detectors were installed in the basement of the home,” noted Deb. “Justin and I saw this as an immediate red flag.”

Smelling gas in a home is never something to take lightly. Some clients don’t quite grasp the seriousness of it. “What could go wrong?”, they ask, without realizing that it could mean the difference between life and death. Deb, however, immediately recognized the risk, phoning the fire department and asking the client to evacuate the building. The children and two adults waited in the driveway of the home with Deb and Justin until emergency personnel arrived. The children’s eyes lit up as fire engines pulled into the driveway in almost no time.

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After inspecting the home, Captain Jim Flynn of the Lawrence Fire Department determined there was a notable gas leak, which was subsequently fixed by a local gas company contractor. The resident who lives in the home thanked Deb and Justin for saving the lives of the family that lives there, while the fire department and the gas company both thanked them for the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign that put them in the right place just in the nick of time.

From April 1 to May 3, 2017 the American Red Cross has made more than 240 homes safer in Lawrence through smoke and carbon dioxide detector installations.

  • Note – At a Home Fire Campaign installation in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston May 6, Red Cross volunteers and a member of the Boston Fire Department noted a stove leaking unburned natural gas into a home. The two elderly residents were not aware of the toxic leak. The Boston Fire Department official was able to stop the leak and through the home fire prevention training given during the visit, the homeowner was made aware of silent danger carbon monoxide can be.

The Food Pantry Must Go On

by Visvajit Sriramrajan, American Red Cross volunteer

Thursday, April 6, 2017 was a fairlyrco_blog_img_foodpant busy day at the American Red Cross Food Program distribution, much as it is on any distribution day. But what wasn’t usual was a small accident that occurred that day: a loose piece of ceiling cement fell to the ground and grazed two people: a client and a staff member. Both were taken to the hospital, and thankfully, neither suffered any serious injuries. But in the interim hours, Red Cross staff was shaken, both by the unexpected accident and by the prospect that the Food Pantry would need to stay closed until further notice. According to Food and Nutrition Director, David Andre, the Food Pantry serves hundreds of people each week, providing basic quality foodstuffs to people struggling to make ends meet.

Both shaken and determined, Andre said, “We are the Red Cross —when a disaster strikes, the Red Cross does not close down for repairs.” He continued, “Far too many people rely on us to be open on schedule, and so closing our program for repairs is not a solution.”

While the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief team immediately began offering mental health support to the client and the staff in the pantry during the time of the incident, Andre was scrambling to find a way for the Saturday food distribution – just two days away – to move forward. After dozens of phone calls and back and forth with the city inspectors, the distribution went on as scheduled. But not in the building, which was still under inspection by city engineers. Instead, the pantry went off  as planned in an outdoor market at Clifford Playground, a relatively large park behind the original building.

The event was incredibly successful: forty-five enthusiastic volunteers served an approximated 31,000 pounds of food to 656 families across the Boston area. Thousands upon thousands of food bags were assembled, food receptacles were efficiently wheeled to the park, and intake and distribution areas were neatly set up, all a safe distance away from the repair work being done in the warehouse.

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The Red Cross’ Boston pantry is considered one of the largest pantries in the city of Boston in both the amount of food provided and number of families served. In 2016, the pantry distributed over 1.8 million meals to 122,550 individuals. The majority of the food was fresh produce. About 9,400 families use the pantry during the year.

Although the unfortunate accident that transpired on April 6 caused injuries and building damage, it galvanized the staff and volunteers of the Red Cross of Massachusetts Food Pantry. And thanks to a special permit issued by the City of Boston, the Red Cross was able to stage its food distribution out of the Clifford Playground throughout the month of April.

Through the sacrifice and dedication of the organization’s volunteers, and particularly the pantry staff of Peter Hubbard, Sharon Curry, Bill Hill, and Suresh Mijar, the show must and will (and did) go on.

Hospital Patients Rely on Lifesaving Blood Every Day – But How Does it Get There?

Volunteerism is an enormousrco_blog_img_biodriver part of what makes communities powerful and resilient. The American Red Cross organizes volunteers to bring services to the American people in times of urgent need, not only during disasters, but every day in our local community.

Volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists are real heroes working behind the scenes to deliver life-saving blood products where they are most needed.

The American Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of our nation’s blood to hospitals where patients are in desperate need. Most of us are familiar with Red Cross blood drives, but the donation is just the beginning of the journey. Once it is tested and properly stored, we then have to deliver the donated blood, plasma or platelets to those who need it, when they need it. Our volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists provide this essential service.

Patients with serious medical conditions – including accident and burn victims, heart surgery patients, organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease – may all need blood or blood products at any time. Volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists answer the call: driving donations from blood drives to our labs, and from storage facilities to hospitals throughout the region.

Each shift is about four hours, and our volunteers embrace the opportunity. Some enjoy the quiet time behind the wheel. Others look forward to the welcome they receive when they bring their precious cargo to its destination. Those who volunteer as a Transportation Specialist should feel the glow of knowing they might have helped save a life that day.

Our region has several openings for volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialists. The requirements include being a licensed driver with a clean driving record for at least three years. You also need to be able to lift boxes weighing up to 45 pounds.

To view the complete job description and apply for this volunteer position, please click to http://www.tinyurl.com/biodriver

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