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When you work for the Red Cross you learn very quickly to be ready for anything. That was my first lesson when I started here; it just happened to be the same day Superstorm Sandy struck our region.

Most folks when they start a new position have some idea of how their first day will go. I had no idea what to expect since this was not only my first day on the job but my first time dealing with a hurricane. Being from Texas I was well versed in what to do in a tornado but hurricanes were out of my league.

In spite of my apprehension, I knew that this storm was an “all-hands-on-deck” situation and I didn’t want to let anyone down my first day on the job. On the morning of October 29, 2012 I found myself driving very slowly and carefully to our offices in Philadelphia.

Once there I discovered that a lot of the staff had decided to stay at the chapter overnight. Preparations for Sandy had been made several days in advance throughout our region and I was astounded at the level of preparation and dedication everyone showed. Without hesitation my colleagues were ready to face whatever Sandy was going to throw at them and I was so inspired.

rco_blog_img_SEPACotsThroughout that day and the weeks and months after Sandy I continued to be amazed and honored to work with such incredible individuals. The workers of the American Red Cross are persistent and hard-working. Whatever the need they roll up their sleeves until the job is done. My first day on the job was the best orientation I could have had. I saw first-hand the importance of what we do. We represent the very best of what the American people are capable of when our sleeves are up, our hearts are open, and we’re all in.

Now, one year later, I’m still in awe of what we were able to accomplish that day and what we continue to do every day. Whether it’s Sandy or the 3-5 fires that happen almost nightly in this region the Red Cross is there and I’m glad I’m a part of it.

Michelle Wigianto is major gifts associate for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania,
who began as a volunteer. Her first day as a paid employee was the day Sandy struck.

Back in October of last year, I had just moved into a new role at American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania when I heard about a hurricane approaching the East Coast. When it became clear that the “superstorm” would impact the Philadelphia area, I remember frantically sending out emails to friends, family, and Red Cross partners urging them to take the storm seriously and make preparations. (The Red Cross offers a wealth of great preparedness information  – that I was able to share.) I also went about readying my own home – making sure I had all the necessary disaster supplies and bringing outside furniture indoors.

rco_blog_img_SandyPhonebank

On Sunday evening, Oct. 28, I participated in a Red Cross phone bank on NBC 10, answering calls from viewers seeking information about shelter locations, storm precautions, and much more. It felt great to take part in this effort with our volunteers and to help our region prepare.

I remember that the weather was worsening when I drove home from NBC’s studio that night. On the day Sandy struck, Oct. 29, I went into work to participate in disaster update meetings. Our development team came up with plans for reaching out to donors, but we were also called on to assist with shelters in all five counties we serve. (I previously served as a government liaison at an office of emergency management during Hurricane Irene.)

My sister, home from work, was calling me all day telling me that the weather was getting worse and I should really get home. My boyfriend came to pick me up because he was so concerned about me driving in the dangerous conditions. Many roads were closed by that point, so we drove very slowly and carefully on highways in order to get home. When we arrived, I began to see the heartbreaking images of devastation up and down the East Coast. Shortly after, we lost power. Fortunately, my house had a generator that powered key lights, systems, and appliances, but it was very dark, very few outlets functioned, and there was no Internet or cable.

I brought my disaster kit and flashlight with me to bed that night. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t immediately determine the damage inflicted on my area of Montgomery County. I tried to venture out, and I discovered that roads were blocked by downed trees and power lines. I worked from home and made phone calls all day to Red Cross partners asking if they were ok and requesting support.

I was able to return to work the next day (even though my home’s power would be out for the next week), and that’s when the true Sandy chaos began for me. Our department was inundated with people wanting to help. The absolute best thing about working for the American Red Cross is seeing the way Americans open up their hearts — and wallets — during our country’s darkest hours. It is remarkable and so heartening. The only down side is that our department consists of only about 15 people to handle thousands of calls, emails, gifts, events, etc.

My main role during the Sandy response was helping with the huge influx of third party fundraisers. It was absolutely amazing to hear from so many schools, businesses, retailers, and community groups that wanted to hold events to benefit Red Cross Disaster Relief. Working out the details of these events, coordinating marketing materials and volunteers to attend, counting the funds raised (sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of change), and attending thank you presentations was exhausting but incredible.

These events lasted for months. Even though Sandy occurred at the end of October, we felt like we were still in the throes of it in February. Then came the weeks when our entire department had to stop what we were doing to catch up on data processing and gift entry in order to distribute delayed tax acknowledgment letters and deliver overdue “thank yous.” In times of disaster, it is impossible to not fall behind and we are never able to personally thank as many people as we’d like, but we tried our hardest!

Working for the development department here in Southeastern Pennsylvania during the Red Cross’ response to Superstorm Sandy was an experience I’ll never forget. It was challenging but also very rewarding. I was proud to work for the Red Cross, an organization that did such a great job of not only preparing people for the storm but also responding to emergency needs and getting those affected on the road to recovery (as it continues to do). Also, I will always remember the outpouring of support from our region. It is indescribably inspiring to see such compassion in a world that often seems so dark and full of destruction. Never more than during Superstorm Sandy did generous Red Cross donors and volunteers bring hope.

Victoria Genuardi is a major gifts officer for Chester County and has worked for the Red Cross for about two and a half years. 

Mindy PinkusSubmitted by Disaster Volunteer, Mindy Pinkus

Super Storm Sandy arrived for me actually a few days prior to the storm. I was busy preparing my family for the brunt of the storm. I knew that I would not be home with my family during for the storm. I knew that I would be busy doing something for the Red Cross. I had know idea what that busy was, I just knew what that I would be busy, in fact very busy.

The phone rang and the caller ID announced that SEPA was calling.  So, I picked up the phone and Leo Pratte, Director of Emergency Services was on the other end. He proceeded to ask if I would accept the managers position for Disaster Assessment (DA) for the Chapter. He told me to be prepared to leave, and that I would be staying at HQ for the duration and aftermath of the storm.

Wow, was I excited and extremely nervous at the same to time. Leo told me be at Chapter Sunday morning before the storm hit on Monday. So, I ran around like crazy buying this and that. I needed to know that my family was  prepared for the storm so that I could feel good about leaving my loved ones at home without me. Ok SEPA… ready or not here I come. After all, I had prepared myself for this, taking class after class and having had the knowledge and practical experience from my many many National Deployments!

Sunday arrived and off to Chapter I go… When I got to Chapter I found out who the other Managers were and realized that I was the only Manager at HQ that was a volunteer. OMG, now I was officially was shaking in my boots. After a pep talk to myself I stepped up and started to develop a plan of action. I said to myself, “Wow, I think I can do this.” I then had the realization I can do this and that I will do this. I was off and running…

I recruited teams, developed my plan of action, and delegated responsibilities. I very quickly trained my DA teams and sent them out to hit the streets to find and record the damage. They worked diligently at the task and did a wonderful job! I was so proud of my teams. Without them the damage could not have been documented!!! Thank you, teams…

I worked very long hours, slept at chapter on a cot, spent many nights sleeping at the Red Cross House, typed reports and sent my DA Teams out to hit the streets of our five counties.

I was so thankful for Leo having the confidence in me and allowing me the privilege of leading a team of wonderful volunteers. They gave their time and left their families to volunteer with SEPA andserve their communities. This was an amazing experience for me and one that I will not forget. Thank you, Leo and thank you Red Cross for the opportunity to serve!

This month there is an exciting opportunity for Red Cross employees, volunteers and partners in the disaster response field! On October 25-29, 2013, the Pennsylvania Disaster Training Institute will offer training courses which teach life-changing leadership skills. The trainings are FREE and will also emphasize management skills and practices.

On Friday, October 25,2013, I look forward to taking the Assisting Animals on a Residential Disaster scene, the Red Paw Pilot Program. Red Paw is an organization that I have been wanting to get involved with since learning about them a few months ago.

“The Red Paw Emergency Relief Team is an emergency services, nonprofit organization that works in conjunction with the American Red Cross, SEPA Chapter and other public and private disaster relief, social service, and animal welfare organizations to provide emergency transport, shelter, and veterinary care to animals involved in residential fires and other disasters”.- Red Paw

The Red Paw Pilot Program is a three-part workshop from 9:00a.m.-3:00p.m. Part One of the workshop will emphasize pet preparedness as a part of the Preparedness component of the Red Cross Disaster Cycle. Part Two is where participants will learn the steps to take on a disaster scene response, including the assessment of animals and how to provide assistance during and after the response. Part two will also will feature a hands-on presentation with live animals! Part Three will focus on the development of the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team. Additionally, participants will learn how to start an organization that provides assistance to pets during a disaster, and includes potential obstacles and information on how to move forward if your local Red Cross chapter is not in a position to help support a fully formed organization.

There are many more amazing courses to take part in. Hurry and sign up before all courses are full!

The Disaster Training Institute will take place at American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter and the Red Cross House

To Check out the Disaster Institute Training Courses please click here

To Register for Courses at the Disaster Institute please click here

As AmeriCorps National Preparedness & Response Corps (NPRC) members, we have had the opportunity to take a variety of American Red Cross training courses over the past few months. These trainings have given us the tools needed to prepare and respond to local and national disasters, and have helped us become a part of the Red Cross SEPA team!

One of my favorite trainings so far, was learning Client Casework. During this day long training session, we were able to learn how to properly carry out client services-skills we can apply to both local and national disasters.  Our team was able to conduct practice interviews, assess client needs and determine the appropriate assistance. This training was especially helpful to me during my first rotation at the Red Cross House. While at Red Cross House, I was able to implement client services at a local level by helping families get back on their feet following a disaster.

Becoming certified in driving and using the equipment on the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) was another exciting AmeriCorps NPRC training. The Emergency Response Vehicles help the Red Cross respond to local and national disasters ranging from house fires to hurricanes. Learning how to properly operate and drive an ERV is an important part of being a Red Cross disaster volunteer. These vehicles are essential to disaster relief operations. ERVs are used to provide mobile or stationary feedings, distribute items, and, as necessary, perform casework and transfer supplies. To prepare us for safe ERV driving, we all completed an online defensive driving course before taking the road test. Members also learned how to safely handle and serve food that will be delivered to clients through an online training. I look forward to perhaps one day operating the ERV on a national deployment. We all passed the road test!

Our team also became CPR & First Aid certified through the American Red Cross. In addition to the classroom trainings, AmeriCorps NPRC members have the opportunity to sign up individually for American Red Cross trainings in areas we may wish to specialize in when responding to national disasters. I look forward to taking more training courses that will advance me in Client Casework, as I enjoy carrying out client services. Joining the Red Cross SEPA team has been an exciting opportunity and I look forward to taking more trainings in preparedness and response at the upcoming Pennsylvania Disaster Training Institute on October 25th-29th.

Pictured: (Left) Megan Wood and (Right) Jingwen Li taking the CPR Certification Test

               Pictured: (L) Megan Wood and (R) Jingwen Li taking the CPR Certification test