By: Nicole Foulke

Perched in her American Red Cross Philadelphia office chair, surrounded by charts and instructional binders of her own making, Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Judy Burns, greets new visitors like old friends. “Eric [a volunteer] once got the best meatball recipe on a call!” she said, encouragingly, to a new volunteer.

With her gregarious nature, Judy could befriend anyone.

As both the Service to the Armed Forces Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead and its Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, Judy is an indispensable part of the program that itself can be dated back to the establishment of the American Red Cross. She is pure determination, even when she does not feel her best, on the days when her multiple sclerosis involves use of a wheelchair or keeps her homebound.

Judy, who has traded her own struggles for a life devoted to positivity, began at a young age to volunteer: “I think it was really fortunate that I’ve had seizures since I was born and got sick as a teenager; it made me stay in touch with the world and know it was not all about me,” she said.

Judy, whose no-nonsense workwear today is suitable for office hours, as well as for running into a burning building and saving a stranded cat (one of her many anecdotes), is a wealth of technical knowledge and familiarity with the community.

“Because of the personal relationships she has, she is able to connect the right people and organizations when it counts to really maximize possibilities,” said her supervisor, William Rodebaugh III, SAF Director for Eastern Pennsylvania.

Although Judy was born into a military family, it  wasn’t until her brother was injured in service in Somalia did she realize that military families have special needs. She began to volunteer for military family organizations and found her way to the Red Cross.

Each year on her birthday in September (Happy Birthday Judy!), Burns chooses a charity to focus her energy on in addition to the American Red Cross. This year, Judy is supporting the Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute (MSAWI), whose namesake was the son of her friends who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008, as it collects used cell phones to benefit the Cell Phones for Soldiers program. MSAWI is an authorized depository center for the program, which recycles any cell phone (the SIM card should be removed before donating) and uses the funds to purchase pre-paid calling cards for deployed soldiers to call home. (Anyone interested in learning how they can donate a cell phone can contact Judy via email at judy.burns@redcross.org.)

At the Red Cross, Judy is also spearheading an experiment in Service to the Armed Forces volunteer training; she created a pilot and Eastern Pennsylvania is the only region in the country that trains new volunteers with mock phone interviews and onboarding before allowing them to make calls, waiting for the standard computer training courses until later in the process.

A Pennsylvania native, Judy has volunteered with the Red Cross in the Eastern Pennsylvania for five years, always with the purpose of landing in a position where she could help the military community. A spot opened in 2018 and she began to work with mental health caseworkers and community partners to help those in need.

Judy was later promoted to Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead, coordinating workshops in numerous states, and received the additional title of Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, which means she is responsible for recruiting, training, and onboarding volunteers for the Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Network, an emergency communications network for military families in crises.

Embodying the what it means to be a volunteer serving their community, Judy says she is just grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

“The feeling that I could be empowered as a vital part of this mission, and I hope that those opportunities continue both for me and for those that I have noticed are as passionate as me about SAF.”

Interested in volunteering for the Service to the Armed Forces division of the Red Cross? Check out this link: https://www.redcross.org/local/pennsylvania/eastern-pennsylvania/volunteer.html

By: Sophie Kluthe

Every day our team is amazed by the generosity of our community, from the big corporations we partner with to the individual citizen who may only have $10 to give. But this week, one donation in particular arrived with a letter containing a story that touched our hearts. With the permission of the sender, Barbara McConaghey, we decided to share the story behind the financial contribution. 

It read:

“I am enclosing a donation check for $350, the proceeds I received from a birthday promotion I did in August. I am a distributor of health and wellness products, and for one week, anyone who purchased these products received cash back. The proceeds of these sales would be donated to the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.”

But the generosity didn’t end there. As it turns out, McConaghey was carrying out a legacy of giving back to the community that first began a generation before her.

Robert L. Benner, photo courtesy Barbara McConaghey

“My late father, Robert L. Benner, was the Fire Chief in Whitehall Township. Up until his passing in March 2016, he always said that no matter what the disaster, the Red Cross was there to assist. So I felt my need to give back and I would like this money to help anyone who needs it in a time of disaster. This is in memorial to him, my father. He always gave his time and dedication to the community he served in, and he became an icon here in the Lehigh Valley.”

If you’re from that area, you probably know the name Robert Benner; it’s knit into the fabric of Whitehall Township. Benner served the township for almost five decades. A fire training center is dedicated in his name, and his passing brought the entire community together in mourning. The township later named a road in his memory

To learn that Robert Benner’s daughter, Barbara McConaghey, chose the American Red Cross to donate to in honor of this great man humbles us and fills us with gratitude. Thank you, Barbara, for supporting disaster prevention and relief in your community, and for sharing your story with us. 

The letter from Barbara McConaughey

By: Nadine Banks

You’re home watching TV when an emergency alert blares on the screen: Local authorities are recommending evacuation due to an impending emergency. What’s your next move?

Some may meet this scenario with panic. You however, know exactly what to do: You grab your supplies and execute your well-rehearsed disaster plan.  

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, and the American Red Cross is uniquely qualified to prepare you for the unexpected, whether it’s a home fire, flash flood, or something else. By definition, an emergency is unforeseen—nobody thinks the worst will happen to them. That’s the kind of thinking that can lead to panic. You can take three easy, but critical, action steps to get your household ready for emergencies:

1.Build a kit – Build an easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you if you have to evacuate. Include items such as water, non-perishable food, a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery powered radio, first aid kit and medications.

2. Make a plan – Talk with members of your household about what to do during emergencies. Plan what to do in case you are separated and choose two places to meet—one right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency such as a fire, and another outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home.

3. Be informed. o Know what kinds of emergency situations may occur where you live, where you work, and where you go to school. Get trained in First Aid and CPR/AED skills so you’ll know what to do in an emergency if help is delayed. Don’t forget your pets, plan for them too. To learn more about how to get your family prepared, visit redcross.org, or download one of our free apps by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store.

Everyone in your household should participate in emergency planning and help build the kit; also, inform family and friends outside the home of your plans. And don’t forget your pets! Keep a list of pet-friendly places to stay and have their food and supplies ready to go.

The Red Cross offers a wealth of information and resources to help you prepare for disaster; just visit redcross.org. In addition to info on CPR and AED training, you can access free apps such as Emergency (which offers over 35 customizable weather and emergency alerts), Monster Guard (which teaches kids ages 7 to 11 about staying safe in an emergency), and First Aid (which has step-by-step instructions on dealing with common first aid emergencies).

Disasters may also affect blood drives and blood supplies, which can be critical in the hours and days after an event, so visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the Blood Donor app, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to schedule a blood donation.  

The school bells will be ringing soon as summer vacation ends and the nation’s students head back to class. The American Red Cross offers these steps to help make the trip back to the classroom a safe one.

StayWell PHSS stock photography. Lay Responder Training Market Segment: Grade School Teacher.

GETTING TO SCHOOL SAFELY

  1. If your student rides a bus to school, they should plan to get to their bus stop early and stand away from the curb while waiting for the bus to arrive.
  2. Students should board the bus only after it has come to a complete stop and the driver or attendant has instructed them to get on. They should only board their bus, never an alternate one.
  3. All students should stay in clear view of the bus driver and never walk behind the bus.
  4. Cross the street at the corner, obeying traffic signals and staying in the crosswalk.
  5. Never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.
  6. If children ride in a car to get to school, they should always wear a seat belt. Younger children should use car seats or booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits properly (typically for children ages 8-12 and over 4’9”), and ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.
  7. If a teenager is going to drive to school, parents should mandate that they use seat belts. Drivers should not use their cell phone to text or make calls and avoid eating or drinking while driving.
  8. Some students ride their bike to school. They should always wear a helmet and ride on the right in the same direction as the traffic is going.
  9. When children are walking to school, they should only cross the street at an intersection, and use a route along which the school has placed crossing guards.
  10. Parents should walk young children to school, along with children taking new routes or attending new schools, at least for the first week to ensure they know how to get there safely. Arrange for the kids to walk to school with a friend or classmate.

SCHOOL IN SESSION, SLOW DOWN!

Drivers should be aware that children are out walking or biking to school and slow down, especially in residential areas and school zones. Motorists should know what the yellow and red bus signals mean. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is getting ready to stop and motorists should slow down and be prepared to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign indicate the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off.

Motorists must stop when they are behind a bus, meeting the bus or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped. Motorists following or traveling alongside a school bus must also stop until the red lights have stopped flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn, and all children have reached safety. This includes two and four-lane highways. If physical barriers such as grassy medians, guide rails or concrete median barriers separate oncoming traffic from the bus, motorists in the opposing lanes may proceed without stopping. Do not proceed until all the children have reached a place of safety.

KEEP LITTLE ONES SAFE

  • Keeping all students safe is the primary concern for everyone, but there are special steps for parents of younger kids and those going to school for the first time:
  • Make sure the child knows their phone number, address, how to get in touch with their parents at work, how to get in touch with another trusted adult and how to dial 9-1-1.
  • Teach children not to talk to strangers or accept rides from someone they don’t know.

PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES

Know what the emergency plan is at your child’s school in case a disaster or an unforeseen event occurs. Develop a family emergency plan so everyone will know who to contact and where to go if something happens while children are at school and parents are at work. Details are available at redcross.org/prepare.

The Red Cross First Aid App provides instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies whether it be before, during or after school. Download the app for free by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store or at redcross.org/apps. Learn and practice First Aid and CPR/AED skills by taking a course (redcross.org/takeaclass) so you can help save a life.

By: Lynn Cohen, Senior Volunteer Engagement Specialist

As we head into the school year, we will not only rely on our working-age volunteers, but also on the student volunteers who make up the 17 active Red Cross Clubs in the Eastern Pennsylvania Region. And this year, they’re better trained than ever.  

Earlier this month, the Lehigh Valley Bucks Chapter in Allentown hosted the first-ever Red Cross Club Officer Training, which included a whole day of activities for 23 student attendees, two coordinators and two advisers from 10 high schools and colleges. A Red Cross Club is a group that provides students with opportunities to make a difference by addressing their community’s greatest needs and developing leadership skills. Red Cross Clubs empower their members with knowledge and life-saving skills to help their school and community respond to emergencies. 

Several staff assisted and presented at the training, including Guy Triano, the Eastern Pennsylvania CEO, who wanted to make sure he shared with our youth how important they are to our mission. The objective of the training was to provide attendees with the tools they will need to move forward with starting a new club or enhancing their current club.  We wanted them to be aware of the tools and resources available to support and navigate their clubs through a successful academic year.  

Kristine Macatantan is the president of the Northeast High School Red Cross Club and said, “This training opened my eyes for a new hope that Red Cross at Northeast will flourish into a long legacy of success in volunteering that I am glad to be a part of. My team and I have learned more ways to engage our club members, gain new ones, and make the school more of a community!”  

Later in the day the group practiced a Ready Relay (imagine the Amazing Race), to help clubs learn how to use this activity as a fundraiser, while teaching attendees about the Red Cross.  At the end of the Relay, clubs were asked to perform an 8-line Rap about the Red Cross.  Last but not least, Bryan Solis and Cody Tran, Chair and Vice Chair of the National Youth Council, respectively, skyped in from California to share their Red Cross stories and shared club resources for the clubs and youth in general. 

“At the training, I learned many things about the Red Cross that I didn’t know before, such as all the different ways one can contribute to helping the Red Cross. I also got a sense of how to lead my group, and organize matters accordingly,” said Ayah Ibrahim, president of the newly formed Pleasant Valley High School Red Cross Club. 

Interested in starting a Red Cross Club? Check out more information at this link: http://redcrossyouth.org/college/how-to-start-a-red-cross-club-2/ 

By: Kathy Huston and Sophie Kluthe

Today marks the last day of work for a man who has dedicated more than a quarter century to the American Red Cross, often moving around at great personal sacrifice to carry out the organization’s mission. The American Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania would like to offer a collective ‘thank you’ to Gregory L. Smith, for taking us on as the final leg of your Red Cross career! 

Smith’s Red Cross journey actually began as a volunteer, which is telling of his devotion to service and community. It was during that time in the early 1990s that Smith got hooked and joined the team as a paid employee. Smith has held a number of titles during his years of service, including Disaster Cycle Service supervisor, manager and director in Northern California, Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia, and at the national headquarters, where he also served as the VP of Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Programs. 

Smith has seen his fair share of major disasters over the decades, too. From deployments to major disaster relief operations across the country, including the North Ridge earthquake, hurricanes Fran, Ike, Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Matthew and Florence, and tornados in Moore, Oklahoma and Joplin, Missouri, to being on the scene for the relief efforts that followed the 9/11 attacks in New York City.   

Ending up as the Regional Disaster Program Officer for the Eastern Pennsylvania Region, Smith served as the lead employee for preparedness, readiness, response and recovery for all 17 counties. He’s ending his tenure as a well-respected leader, as is evidenced by what those closest to him have to say.  

“The impact Gregory had on the EPA Disaster Cycle Services team goes far beyond his leadership in pulling together a fractured team in FY18 and setting us on the path that resulted in our amazing success in terms of numeric goals in FY19. His willingness to share his experience, to mentor each and every member of the team, to provide development opportunities whenever possible, and his daily reminders to live the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross will be his true legacy in Eastern Pennsylvania. We are all the richer for having known and learned from him and we will miss him. On a personal note, it was an honor and a privilege to serve as his Number One,” said Senior Disaster Program Manager, and Smith’s right-hand man, Mike Kiley-Zufelt. 

When asked on how he was reflecting on his years served, Smith summed it up like this, “I really just want to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to serve and support the Red Cross humanitarian mission for these past 27 years.” 

Hopefully after he moves across the country and has some down time he’ll go back to his roots. Because you know, 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce is made up of volunteers! 

Gregory, the entire Eastern PA team is wishing you the best of luck in retirement!  

Red Crossers celebrate Smith’s tenure at a surprise retirement party at the Allentown Chapter.

By: Sam Antenucci

In 2018, I moved to Philadelphia by myself for college. I’m from a small town in New Mexico, so the transition was a culture shock, to say the least. But then I made my first blood donation and decided to get involved with the Red Cross. I was nervous, partly due to my needle phobia, but the Red Cross volunteers walked me through that donation and I had a very rewarding experience. That’s when I decided to volunteer with the Red Cross and see what more I could do to help others.  

Being in college did not leave me with the most flexible schedule. I often had to juggle my time studying for classes and labs. But after I received the call from the Red Cross about my volunteering profile, the staff worked with me and my schedule. They took me on as a writer and blogger for their social media pages, and I was incredibly excited! My studies are in the STEM curriculum, so I didn’t have as many chances to write as I would have liked. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to continue with one of my favorite hobbies.  

Volunteering (far right) during one of the Sound the Alarm events in Philadelphia this past spring.

Working with the Red Cross has opened more doors for me than I could have imagined. I was not only able to continue writing but also given the opportunity to go out into the Philly community and make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve installed fire alarms around the city for Sound the Alarm events, interviewed amazing volunteers to share their stories about deploying for hurricane disaster relief, and got to help as a call relief agent for Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria. The Red Cross has welcomed me to participate in its many different Philadelphia projects. As I continue to volunteer, I urge anyone who has some free time, no matter how much or little, to get involved with the Red Cross as well. 

Are you interested to see why volunteer opportunities await you at the American Red Cross? If so, check out https://www.redcross.org/local/pennsylvania/eastern-pennsylvania/volunteer.html.