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By: Elizabeth McLaren

Agnes Han, a senior at Downingtown East High School, knows a thing or two about initiative. With aspirations to become a physician, Han wondered what she could do about the lack of high school clubs available to her that focused on health and wellness.

So she created her own, founding Downingtown East’s Red Cross Club during her junior year to explore her passions and “to get myself and others more involved in helping others medically.”Agnes Han 1

Her vision produced results. “We started with about five people, but over the course of year, it grew to around 25 people,” Han says. “Officers do most of the work. Our teacher advisor, Mrs. Resnek, helps us when we need it and lets us know when we can hold meetings. Other than that, the students pretty much run the show.”

Han currently serves as club president, and is part of a five-member team of officers including fellow students Jordan Guistwhite as vice president, Megan Osterstag as treasurer, Ian Goodstein as secretary and Kate Dippolito as head of fundraising.

The next order of club business for Han was volunteer training for Red Cross Blood Services with the Tri-County Chapter. She became a Blood Donor Ambassador. “A lot of it was fairly straightforward and things I could learn on the job. I met once or twice with Blood Services to review safety protocols and such,” she says.

Han started doing registration at blood drives after she completed training. “The first thing donors see is us – registration – and it’s my job to get them all signed in and ready to go with a smile on their face,” she adds.

Her first blood drive was also her most memorable. “It was the WMMR blood drive that Preston and Steve hosted. I remember feeling at ease and not at all awkward because all of the other volunteers were so friendly. The one volunteer who I got a chance to talk to a little bit, loved mascots and chased around the man in the Blood Drop costume, wanting to take a picture. She was hilarious,” Han recalls.

With college applications on her agenda these days, Han recognizes that both the Red Cross Club and her volunteer role have helped prepare her for the future. “The Red Cross has shown me the joy in helping others through medicine and I’m glad I joined because I was able to learn a lot about the process of giving blood and the mechanics behind the different types of blood,” she says.

The idea of the club continuing after she graduates is something Han loves. For now, Han said that she and the Red Cross Club members are busy setting up a fundraiser for hurricane relief. They are also hoping to host a blood drive in the spring.

Han has a bit of Red Cross volunteer inspiration of her own, too. She adds, “Get involved early and become an active volunteer! Help out with whatever you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions!”

The people who serve our armed forces are very essential to the safety and protection of the freedom, inalienable rights, and security of our great nation. However, sacrifice for the good of the nation for many soldiers is often one to their own well-being.

15155385434_d93a849b45_m While enduring the horrors of war and living a life estranged from that of a civilian, many develop and suffer from PTSD and lose touch with life outside of war and duty. Furthermore, there are many veterans who still suffer these ills developed from heeding the call to duty. Therefore, it is important that those serving or who have once served be honored today for their selflessness. Veterans Day should not be merely looked upon as just another bank holiday but as a celebration to those who give up their sanity, health, and former existence for the sake of maintaining our freedom.

Through its volunteer work and services given to veterans and soldiers, the Red Cross does just that. The Red Cross provides Reconnection Workshops which help post-deployed soldiers reconnect with their families and reintegrate into civilian life through the help of mental-health professionals. Also, it offers a Coping with Deployment course used to help families of the deployed cope with the departure of their loved ones.

Locally, the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania recently held a Veterans Day Ceremony at the 23rd Street Armory in Philadelphia. American Red Cross Divisional Disaster Executive and retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, Scott Graham delivered the keynote address honoring all who served in the United States Military. Lt Col Graham said that, while serving in Iraq, he was grateful for a Red Cross Emergency Communication about the passing of his mother in law. In his last tour of duty, he served with several superior officers who were also in Vietnam. He told a story of returning to a celebratory homecoming and how much that meant to his superiors, who had returned from Vietnam to silence and shame.15584753497_2da892a9c8_o

After the ceremony, Red Cross employees, volunteers and members of the Girard Academic Music Program Red Cross Club distributed, 200 “Totes of Hope”(See Photos)to four local veteran’s service organizations that support homeless veterans in the Philadelphia area: Support Homeless Veterans, The Veterans Group, Safe Haven and Project Home. The totes contained items like toothbrushes, soap, dental floss, band aids, t-shirts, socks, rain ponchos and pocket tissues. In addition, there was information about essential support programs offered by local agencies.

It is programs such as these that demonstrate the Red Cross initiative to remember those who have fought and suffered on the country’s behalf. Knowing that such programs exist for these dedicated men and women makes me very proud to serve as a volunteer for the Red Cross.

— Submitted by Communications Volunteer Betty Thomas

pleaseantville-halloween-5Looking back on the events two years ago when Superstorm Sandy was covering the almost the entire eastern Atlantic Ocean, I remember feeling astonished that the storm would actually turn toward the coast and make landfall in New Jersey. Hurricanes come north, of course, but not often and not with such threatening power. Were we ready? I suspected we weren’t, because how could we be? We tend to be “ready” for events we have already experienced. Sandy was unprecedented. Still, it was incredibly comforting to be a volunteer for the Red Cross. These were the folks who knew how to prepare and they were on the job.

I wrote, soon after the storm, about a friend who had texted me “Thank goodness for the Red Cross.”  Yes, indeed, for so many reasons. Here’s the rest of my 2012 blog post:

“What a week it’s been. Our job is to take care of the important stuff: shelter, food, comfort, survival. Currently, the Red Cross is sheltering close to 9,000 people in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. Wow. . . Locally, close to 200 people (196) and 19 pets stayed the night in local SEPA Red Cross shelters in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia Counties.

When I was in our offices last Thursday, I peeked in on a meeting of disaster preparedness personnel on the potential for a large hurricane to incapacitate the East Coast early the following week. At that point, the encounter between Sandy and the coast of New Jersey was still purely hypothetical and only one model was suggesting the storm would not turn safely out to sea. Even so, our staff was taking the situation seriously and beginning to make the preparations necessary to provide support and shelter should the worst case scenario occur. Thank goodness they did.

Needless to say, we’ve been moderately busy since then. At the height of the storm, we were ready with 14 shelters set up in five counties. We hosted a phone bank to answer storm related questions at a local television station. Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, a Hurricane App and several media appearances by our CEO, Judge Renée Hughes, shared vital information with the citizens of Southeastern, Pennsylvania. We helped people prepare and they did. We encouraged them to “shelter in place” by staying home, staying off the streets and letting our public officials do their jobs. People listened and we made it through this.

For those forced to evacuate, we provided warmth with blankets, food, shelter and the companionship of volunteers and others in the same situation. We take comfort seriously and believe it helps everyone weather the storm. And with comfort in mind, we are proud to say that Halloween celebrations went ahead for several of our younger shelter residents at a shelter in Pleasantville, NJ. “

I remember feeling so moved by these Halloween festivities. It’s so important to help children feel a sense of normalcy when their entire world has been disrupted. I was proud to be a Red Cross volunteer on that day, and I still am.

Did you know every year on May 8th we celebrate World Red Cross Day? I am sure many of you, like me before I was a volunteer with the American Red Cross, have never heard of World Red Cross Day. Below are some facts to give you a better understanding of what World Red Cross Day is, how it came about and why it is so important.

What is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day?

It is an annual celebration of the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The seven principals are HUMANITY, IMPARTIALITY, NEUTRALITY, INDEPENDENCE, VOLUNTARY SERVICE, UNITY, and UNIVERSALITY. Each year about 97 million members and volunteers of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are honored on this day making it the largest humanitarian network of relief worldwide serving over 170 countries.

Why is it celebrated on May 8th?

May 8th is the birthday Henri Dunant who founded the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 1863 in the Geneva, Switzerland.

Henri Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant (May 8, 1828 –October  30, 1910), also known as Henry Dunant, was a Swiss businessman and social activist. In 1901 he received the first Nobel Peace Prize, along with Frederic Passay, for his role in founding the International Red Cross Movement and initiating the Geneva Convention. In 1903 Dunant was given an honorary doctorate by the medical faculty of the University of Heidelberg.

He died on October 30th 1910, and his final words were “Where has humanity gone”? The former nursing home in Heiden, Switzerland where Durant died is now the Henry Dunant Museum. In Geneva, there are numerous streets, squares, and schools named after him. The Henry Dunant Medal is awarded every two years by the standing commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is its highest decoration.

How did Henri come up with the idea to start the International Red Cross?

During a business trip in 1859, he witnessed the aftermath of a battle in Solferino, Italy. He recorded his memories and experiences in the book A Memory of Solferino .  In 1862, 1,600 copies of the book were published and printed at Dunant’s own expense.  Dunant’s experiences at Solferino inspired the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863. In his book, he described the battle, its costs, and the chaotic circumstances afterwards.  After the war, he visited with wounded soldiers and was shocked by the lack of facilities, personnel, and medical aid available to help them. He abandoned the original intent of his trip and spent his time helping with the treatment and care for the wounded soldiers.

 What is International Red Cross and Red Crescent  Movement ?

It is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide. The International Red Cross Movement was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The movement consists of several distinct organizations that are legally independent from each other, but are united within the movement through common basic principles, objectives, symbols, statutes and governing organizations.Red cross day

 When was the first World Red Cross Day celebrated?

It was first celebrated as the Red Cross Day on May 8th 1948. Later, it was officially named as the “World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day” in 1984.

When was the International Committee of the Red Cross Founded?

Their first meeting was held on February 17, 1863 which is considered the founding date.

What is the theme for 2014?

World Red Cross Day theme of 2014 was “Together for Humanity”

How can you celebrate World Red Cross Day

You can celebrate World Red Cross Day and World Red Crescent Day in a variety of ways:

  • Learn more about the Red Cross
  • Support Red Cross programs and efforts
  • Send a donation to the Red Cross
  • Donate blood today
  • Become a Red Cross volunteer
  • Thank Red Cross volunteers for their service

— Posted by Jennifer Ingram, SEPA Red Cross Communications Volunteer

I didn’t really start using Twitter until being deployed with the Red Cross to the Boston Marathon disaster a year ago. I was never a fan. Now, it’s not only part of my day but a large part of my response to disasters.

rco_blog_img_PETEWINE This weekend I was a #DigiVol (Digitally Deployed Volunteer) for the @Redcross (American Red Cross). We were 1,200 miles away from the disaster zone, but still helping to make a difference. It was a short but wild adventure.

As tornadoes and thunderstorms bore down on the Midwest, our job was to take to social media and promote preparedness and safety. Our intention was to engage people to help calm and guide them.

For my shift, I was handed the keys to @RedcrossNETexas (The Official Twitter of NE Texas and SW Arkansas) and sent out on my mission. Watching weather radar, media outlets, and other posts from tornado chasers, I promoted the Red Cross Tornado App and gave tips on how to prepare and respond to the storm. My partners for the day, @Telesara (Sara Smith) and @Mindy_Hart (Mindy Hart) were also from Philadelphia.

I went for quite a spin around the block with the account. Hashtags — symbols placed in front of a word to help Twitter organize different topics — were flying. Some were obvious… #helpme, #scared, #missing, #disaster, and some were not. For example, #NoRotation came to designate clouds not moving in a twisting funnel.

We engaged scared people by telling them it was alright to be scared and guiding them on what to do next. All the while, we watched the destruction start to hit national news. It’s a very scary, hopeless feeling. You just want to do more. At the end of the shift, Sara and I guided a young middle school student on how to find her uncle amidst a destroyed town using #safeandwell, the Red Cross database to help let loved ones know you are okay.

Later, I was listening to a storm chaser on a radio feed talking to the National Weather Service (NWS) in RDCC Terminal (1280x721)Little Rock, AR. He was with a pastor from the Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, AR. They were opening a shelter there to provide immediate cover for victims who had just lost their homes. Another round of bad weather was on the way. The phones were down and they couldn’t get in touch with the Red Cross. They needed our help. The NWS wasn’t able to get in touch with Red Cross yet either.

I told Sara what I’d heard. She said she saw the Red Cross communicator near Conway online. I gave her all the information, and we relayed it to Arkansas from Philly. A few minutes later, a Handheld Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) with our team in Arkansas was on the air advising people in Conway that they’d gotten the message and were sending them Red Cross teams and supplies. We had made a difference to immediate disaster victims from 1,200 miles away.

Now, a day later, the Digital Volunteers of @RedCrossPhilly are still watching over the people of the Midwest. We stand ready, waiting to respond, to help them recover, using the best communications methods at our disposal.

In person, at the scene of the disaster, or in the virtual world of cyberspace, our mission remains the same: Help alleviate the suffering of victims of disaster.

Posted by Volunteer @PWine_1_1 (Peter Wine)

One way the American Red Cross supports veterans in our community is by funding a horse therapy program at Thorncroft Equestrian Center in Malvern, PA. Through a partnership with the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, veterans living in their Community Living Center can learn to ride horses. The program was originally funded by a grant from the Defense Department (as seen on this story on 6 ABC), but once it ran out, the American Red Cross took on sole funding of this valuable therapy.

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The benefits to horse therapy are immense for the four veterans that participate once a week. Alex, Ray, John, and Bob have a wide range of health conditions and medical limitations, and most are confined to a wheelchair. Recreational therapist, Ellen Barnes, says “one of the biggest benefits is that the veterans feel so loved by the volunteers at Thorncroft and their commitment to their learning.” An increase in balance and confidence are substantial benefits as well. Horse therapy can also be considered a form of exercise, working mostly on their core and their endurance, which is something the veterans don’t get the chance to do since they spend most of their days alone in their rooms.

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Ray, who is a Vietnam Era vet, has severe physical and medial limitations and originally couldn’t make it even 5 minutes on the horse, but now he can’t wait to ride. He goes the full 30 minutes, and even rides with his hands off the saddle.  At 94, Alex, a World War II veteran, is legally blind and in a wheelchair, yet rides the horse with ease and with a smile spread across his face. According to Ellen, “this is something the veterans look forward to every week,” and it is definitely apparent when watching them ride. Not only does the horse therapy provide physical treatment, but also emotional support as well, which is important to the veterans’ welfare. It gives them a chance to connect with others and is a release from their health limitations.

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For these men, coming to Thorncroft has sincerely improved their lives and their well-being. It gives the veterans something to look forward to and the American Red Cross sees the benefits of this program and is proud to support it.

m19074810_Volunteer-AppTake heed, everyone! The American Red Cross has a new App for your mobile devices, and it is awesome in its power and scope. On July 18, 2013, the Team Red Cross App will be available for download at your friendly neighborhood App store, and, if you are serious about helping your fellow humans, you should download it immediately.

Although, I’m sort of old school when it comes to social networking stuff (when I was a whippersnapper, the internet was for guys in thick glasses sitting by enormous mainframes), I am really impressed by potential for the Team Red Cross App to harness the power of volunteers. Recently, when tornadoes hit south of Oklahoma City, thousands of local residents contacted the Red Cross to ask how they could help. In the future, people in the area of a serious disaster will be able to download the Team Red Cross App onto their devices and use it to learn exactly how they can help. The app will provide short orientations for those who are willing to help stock warehouses, move supplies, set up cots, serve food in shelters and otherwise support those who were driven from their homes by a disaster. In addition, the app will link volunteers to other opportunities to serve elsewhere or in the future and inform volunteers about First Aid classes they could take to expand their skill base.

Sounds good, right? Well, here’s why this app is a fantastic development. It will allow users to share their involvement with the Red Cross through their own social networks and thereby act as ambassadors for Red Cross volunteerism in their communities. We know that people are influenced by the activities and interests of their friends, and if a person you care about passes on information about how easy it is to volunteer, you may be moved to do their same. Users will be able to earn badges on the app as they learn more and do more for others. And it’s from this pool of committed people that the American Red Cross will be able to recruit long term volunteers, encourage blood donations in high need areas, and even give people the opportunity to donate money. Even if they can’t volunteer, app users will be able to share preparedness information and content with those affected by a disastrous event.

Finally, it will give the media, which is often inundated with requests for how individuals can help in the wake of a serious event, a place to send people for information. Over one fifth of Americans have already used an American Red Cross App (for hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes) on their mobile device. In our busy lives, we are not always near a television or radio, but many of us own a smartphone or tablet from which we can access the information we need to prepare ourselves and to help others.apps-in-emergencies-infographic1

So please, go to the App Store immediately and download the Team Red Cross App. It’s free! Tell your friends. Help spread the word. Be an ambassador for the most efficient way to fight disaster since the invention of the water hose.  The Red Cross needs you.