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Red Cross Volunteer Spotlight

Michael McCall Highlight

michael mccall

1-Can you briefly describe your volunteer role as a Disaster Dispatch with Red Cross, and the primary responsibilities of that role?

I act as a communication link; my primary goal is to connect individuals impacted by fires, floods, and natural disasters with Red Cross First Responders. I gather pertinent details regarding each client’s unique situation, and then relay this information to the appropriate local Red Cross team members.

Unfortunately, there is disconnect with the public regarding our mission, and the specific services that we provide so I often receive calls that are out of our purview. That being said, my second responsibility is to act as a human services referral system. I recommend emergency shelters, food banks and utility assistance programs when needed. We endeavor to help all callers, no matter what their reason for calling.

2-How long have you been a disaster dispatcher?

I’ve been a volunteer for the Red Cross since August of 2012. I’m currently volunteering approximately 15-20 hours per week.

3-What made you volunteer for the Red Cross?

I’ve volunteered practically my entire life. First as a Special Olympics Basketball Coach and then as Firefighter. I believe it’s important to give back to your community. I prefer getting my hands dirty versus writing a check, it’s all about sweat equity in my opinion. I was originally attracted to Red Cross because I liked the idea of deployment during an emergency crisis. However, my volunteer path took me in a different direction. During an introductory tour of the building during orientation, I was exposed to our emergency communications department. I was impressed right away and thought that this is something that I good be good at. Its five years later and I haven’t looked back. I love what I do and making a difference in the lives of our clients and the community.

4-What are things you have learned since volunteering for the Red Cross which you didn’t know before?

I always held the ARC in high regard, but since volunteering, what blows me away every day is the passion and commitment of my fellow team members.

5-What is your favorite part of volunteering?

Helping people is the best part of volunteering. Being able to tell someone, don’t worry, we’re going to get you and your family the help you need is an amazing feeling.

6-What is your least favorite part of volunteering?

If you asked me a year ago, I would have told you our technology, specifically our hardware and software. However, in the last 12 months, we’ve gone through several upgrades starting with a new software program, RC View, to new computers. Though there is still room for improvement, we’ve come a long way just in just one year.

7-How would you encourage someone considering a volunteer position to get information on the position?

I often suggest potential volunteers request informational interviews with a current volunteer or manager. I also urge new volunteers to be patient. The Red Cross takes pride in ensuring all new volunteers are vetted and properly screened. The application process takes time. This is done to guarantee the safety of our clients. First start with the on-line application process is very easy to navigate.

8-Can you describe a particular dispatch situation which influenced you most and why?

I signed up to work Christmas Eve last year and I kept receiving calls from parents that didn’t have any money to buy their children gifts. Not wanting to turn them away empty handed, I searched on-line for any local toy drive giveaways. Unfortunately, in many cases I was coming up empty. The last call of the day, was no different, the mother told me that she was desperate to find a way to buy her little girl something to open the next day and it was at this point I realized that I had a $50 Visa Gift Card that I received for my birthday from my sister just a week before was in my wallet. I told the caller that if she could make to the office that she could have the gift card. 30 minutes later the mother and daughter were at our front door. The mother was so thankful and appreciative. The smile on their faces was the best gift I could ever have received.

 

Written by: Lisa Tomarelli

Volunteer Spotlight

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!”

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On Tuesday, December 2, 2014 people from around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. Giving Tuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. We have a day for giving thanks, two days for getting deals, and on #GivingTuesday charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students will come together to give something more.

timeThe American Red Cross relies on the generosity of those looking to give back to our humanitarian mission. From providing disaster relief, to responding to local emergencies, to educating communities on lifesaving preparedness and training, to supporting our military and their families, our work is only made possible by donors and volunteers.

This #GivingTuesday choose to give your time, your money or your blood to the American Red Cross.

The 2014 American Red Cross Holiday Gift Catalog provides a list of gifts that support our military, ease urgent needs, and help spread global compassion. Gift prices start at $15.00, which will provide fire safety training and the installation of one fire alarm to help keep families safe and prepared. Gift prices range all the way to $1,000.00, providing a full day of emergency shelter for 20 people, which includes three meals, two blankets, one cot, snacks and personal hygiene supplies. Free gifts are included with donation while supplies last. For a complete list of gifts, please click here.unselfie movement

In addition to making a financial donation, volunteering your time is another way to contribute to #GivingTuesday. Getting involved is an easy way to give back to your local community this holiday season. To join the team of volunteers delivering care and compassion to those in need everyday, please click here. And don’t forget that the American Red Cross supplies more than 40% of the nation’s blood supply, so we are always in need of more donations. You can sign up to make a blood donation or host a virtual blood drive right on our website.FAB_give_blood

Now here’s the best part. Throughout the day on #GivingTuesday the American Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania will be following along on social media as you tweet, post, like, and share how you are contributing to #GivingTuesday. You can take a photo, video, or post an #UNSelfie of your #GivingTuesday activities to join in the worldwide movement. We look forward to seeing the global impact of everyone’s contributions and activities on #GivingTuesday and hearing all about #WhyIGive.

 

-Submitted by Jessica Webb, Communications Volunteer

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.

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By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross Volunteer and Villanova student

As a senior in college, I have come to think of this time in my life as a stepping-stone between childhood and adulthood. You are given freedom, but are not yet required to be completely independent. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our universities to provide us with essentials. Personally, I did not realize how much I relied on my school until Superstorm Sandy hit.

Until Sandy, I had never thought about what I would do in the face of a disaster at college. I have distinct memories of my 19-year-old self, perched atop my bunk bed, listening to rain pound the window. The lights flickered frequently, threatening to die; all I had to eat was a bag of tortilla chips. I was completely unprepared. The school lost power, the dining hall could not be kept open, and my friends and I found ourselves confined to our dorm rooms while the storm raged around us. After talking to my friends who attend other universities, I realized this was not an uncommon experience.

While universities are equipped to deal with disasters, it is equally as important for students to prepare. During my junior year, a major snowstorm hit, leaving me (I was now living in an on-campus apartment) without power. Being without light meant there was a mad rush to purchase battery-powered lamps, leaving many students without alternative options to light their apartments. I lost most of my refrigerated food. The school urged everyone to go home, but since I did not live a convenient distance, that was not an option. A few of my friends considered going to a nearby hotel for the night.

rco_blog_img_CollegePrepAs a freshman, I laughed at my parents when they insisted I keep things like a flashlight in my dorm room. Now I realize how truly important those things are. Keeping items like a flashlight, extra batteries and a small portable lamp in your dorm are essential when it comes to emergency preparedness. Even food is important to keep in your room, just in case the dining halls are unable to serve you. My experience has definitely taught me that as we go about our busy college lives it’s important to stop for a second and think about if we are truly prepared.

— Cross-posted from the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Blog

 

 

 

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Although I’ve only been interning with the Red Cross Communications team for several weeks, I have already gained an entirely new perspective on both this community and providing assistance to those in need. The future of the Red Cross is dependent on volunteers who recognize the importance of this organization and then donate their efforts towards fulfilling its mission.

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During my time at the Red Cross, I have had the opportunity to assist outside of the office. One day, I hope to be part of the Disaster Action team and respond to local disasters. So far, the closest that I have come to disaster response is participating in Red Cross Fire Safety Walkthroughs. During Fire Safety Walkthroughs, Red Cross workers distribute fire safety materials, such as educational materials as well as a 9-volt battery for smoke detectors. The educational material comes in multiple languages and provides individuals with information on how to prevent a fire, making an escape plan and pet fire safety.  In the past several weeks, I’ve participated in Fire Safety Walkthroughs in the two communities surrounding the fatal fires at Gesner Street and North Sixth Street. When fire suddenly destroys homes and claims the lives of community members, the scene is always very sensitive.  It has been difficult to see the tremendous toll these disasters have on communities. As we made our way up and down the streets, I did my best to be respectful to people’s properties, especially the homes where the fires occurred.

Gesner St Fire picture of Laurel

When I am in the office, I work with both internal and external means of communication to keep the general public as well as Red Cross employees and volunteers informed about what is going on in the community and the office. I really value working beside and learning from my manager, Sara, and the rest of the Communications department. Our many responsibilities have so much purpose, which causes me to constantly look forward to my time here. This branch of the Red Cross employs many friendly and intelligent people. I’ve received nothing but a warm welcome to this team. The Red Cross never stops responding, so as long as I’m here I’m sure I will be kept busy by providing the community with the information they need to stay informed and safe.

~submitted by Laurel, a high school intern for the communications department

If you are interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross, click here.