By: Cait Waxler 

You may not be thinking about swimming now that winter is approaching, but the American Red Cross is. On a hot summer day in Philadelphia, a public pool is one of the few places you’d want to be to cool off; but not everyone has the skills they need to master the water. Adding to that challenge, municipal pools across the area struggled with an increase in the number of lifeguards they were required to have on duty, which lead to shortages. So a few industry movers and shakers put their heads together to start a dialogue about it.  

Some of the panelists chat leading up to the start of the Aquatics Symposium in September

In September, in an effort to build collaborative awareness about drowning rates and the current lifeguard shortage, experts met at the Red Cross Chapter in Philadelphia. This event was co-chaired by Cait Waxler, Aquatics Executive with the American Red Cross for Philadelphia and New Jersey, and Dr. Angela Beale-Tawfeeq, Red Cross Scientific Advisory Member, Board Member of Diversity in Aquatics and Department Chair at Rowan University.  

Cait Waxler of the American Red Cross addresses the room at the September Aquatics Symposium

A panelist of experts in aquatics and community development included: Dr. Angela Beale-Tawfeeq; Amy Pitman, educator and head swim team coach at Girls High; Bianca del Rio Director of the Netter Center’s University-Assisted Community Schools at the University of Pennsylvania and former PDR swimmer; Brannon Johnson head coach and owner of BLJ Community Rowing; Megan Ferraro, Executive Director of the ZAC Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to water safety and drowning prevention education, awareness and prevention; Noah White, kinesiology adjunct professor for aquatics at Temple University; and Robert E. Miller, attorney by day and water safety advocate/lifeguard by night.  

The panelist engaged with around 20 community members with ties to the aquatics field, including lifeguards, swim instructors, administrator, plus representatives coming from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, local charter schools, and local non-profits such as TeamUp Philly.  It didn’t take long for the conversation to flow. Dialogue revolved around everything from developing youth safety skills in and around the water, potential job opportunities/leadership skills, International Water Safety Day on May 15th, partnerships, water awareness (how water isn’t even needed to start the conversation), Diversity in Aquatics (how they are as an organization and how to get involved) and more! 

With drowning being the leading cause of death for children in the United States and African-American children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of white children in the same age range, conversation around this complex topic have just begun. The group plans to meet again in a few months (in conjunction with an aquatics job fair) to continue the conversation and have more partners involved. For more information on the event or to get involved, contact Cait Waxler at cait.waxler@redcross.org or 215-260-7657. 

With highs in the 90s this week it might not feel like fall, but make no mistake; the 2019-2020 flu season is here and it’s time to get your influenza vaccine now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), millions of people in this country get sick with flu every year, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and, unfortunately, tens of thousands die. The best way to help avoid getting influenza is to get vaccinated every year.

While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and most times peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May. It takes about two weeks after receiving your vaccine for the antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body so it’s important to get your vaccine now.

The CDC recommends that everyone be vaccinated by the end of October. Children 6 months through 8 years of age who need 2 doses should receive their first dose as soon as possible after vaccine becomes available to allow the second dose (which must be administered at least 4 weeks later) to be received by the end of October.

AT HIGH RISK FOR FLU:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Children younger than 2 years old – although all children younger than 5 years old are considered at high risk for serious flu complications, the highest risk is for those younger than 2 years old, with the highest hospitalization and death rates among infants younger than 6 months old.
  • Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

The CDC also reports people with the following health and age factors are also at an increased risk of getting serious complications from the flu:

  • Asthma
  • Neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions
  • Blood disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • People who are obese with a body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher
  • People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications.
  • People with a weakened immune system due to disease or medications

Flu vaccine is available now in many locations such as your doctor’s office, pharmacies, grocery stores and health departments.Your vaccine will help protect you throughout the 2019-2020 flu season.

DO I HAVE THE FLU? The common signs of influenza are high fever, severe body aches, headache, being extremely tired, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose and vomiting and/or diarrhea (which is more common in children). If you think you have the flu, call your health care provider. Seek immediate care if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fast breathing, trouble breathing or bluish skin color.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen (adults).
  • Confusion or sudden dizziness.
  • Not drinking enough fluids, not being able to eat, or severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
  • Not waking up, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held or not interacting (children).
  • Fever with a rash (children).
  • No tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal (children).

YOU CAN HELP STOP THE FLU FROM SPREADING

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

More information about how to help keep you and your loved ones protected from the flu is available on this website and in the free Red Cross First Aid App. See all the Red Cross apps at redcross.org/mobileapps.

By: AJ Suero

One of the most fulfilling aspects of serving at the American Red Cross is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of total strangers. This is never more true than when our volunteers and staff deploy to a disaster relief operation. 

Recording a Hurricane Dorian update from Daytona Beach, FL

Back in late August, I traveled to Florida and North Carolina to assist in preparedness and relief efforts for Hurricane Dorian. As a story producer for the Red Cross’s Public Affairs team, I worked with a videographer to tell the story of what was going on in the hours leading up to, during, and after the passage of this deadly storm. We spoke with locals, tourists, and officials, all of whom where glad to see that the Red Cross was there to help. In Florida, we helped spread the word about the importance of emergency preparedness planning. “I had such a sense of relief when I saw your team out here,” said one Melbourne resident. 

Our public affairs team in Melbourne FL 
Left to right:  Regional Communications Manager Bill Fortune (Denver, CO) , me,  Communications Volunteer Cindy Huge, Blood Services Communicator Cynthia De La Torre (Las Vegas, NV) , National Media Relations Director Anthony Tornetta

In addition to my role in the making of videos, I also helped our team of spokespeople with interviews. Many media outlets wanted to get a sense of what was happening and how the Red Cross was helping. As we entered shelters and traveled from county to county, I was so overwhelmed to see so many dedicated volunteers across the region who were serving in shelters and at community centers. I felt an instant kinship with these amazing Red Crossers, people who had traveled from places near and far. It is incredibly gratifying to be reminded that there are compassionate people in the world—people who are willing to literally run toward danger to help those in need.

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.