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I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Our year of service is quickly coming to a close and we are already in our last rotations. I will be finishing out my year with the communications department, but I would like to use this blog post to reflect on my rotation at Red Cross House.  Going in I knew very little about what my days would look like.  I knew the statistics, but what I didn't know was all the work that goes on over there. The caseworkers spend many hours helping residents who are staying at Red Cross House following a disaster find assistance and residents spend many hours searching for a new place to live. Anyone who has looked for an apartment or house knows how stressful the process is, but imagine adding that to the stress of just having lost your home and belongings. When families first enter Red Cross House it is not uncommon for them to be overwhelmed. They have a daunting journey ahead of them. Soon, typically the day after they enter, they will sit down with their caseworker.  The trained caseworkers go over what the family lost, what their recovery plans are, and what the next steps should be.  After this first meeting you often can see that the family is visibly more relaxed, because they now at least have an idea of what to do to get back into a home.  The road ahead is still difficult, but they have a sense of control again.

Residents also take classes while staying at Red Cross House.  Some classes offer practical knowledge, such as fire safety and financial literacy, while other activities are ways for the residents to have fun and decompress, such as yoga class or getting a free haircut. None of these classes would happen without our volunteers and financial supporters. In fact, Red Cross House would not run smoothly without the many volunteers who help at the front desk, serve lunch, teach classes, and offer counseling services, or the financial support to help keep the place looking nice.

One of the things about Red Cross House that stands out to me the most is how quickly residents form bonds with each other. After all, no one understands what you're going through better than the people staying down the hall. It was not uncommon to see people sit down at lunch together and start talking about what had brought them to the house.  Soon you would see them checking in on each other, and sometimes even helping each other look for a new place to live. I believe that the sense of community is one of the first things that helps people on their road to recovery, because they are reminded that they are not alone, and they see others who were in the same place as them moving back into a home.

Working at Red Cross House showed me how resilient the people of Philadelphia are.  All of the residents staying there were going through a very challenging period, but they all continued to move forward and do what needed to be done to get them back into a forever home. ​In the meantime, Red Cross House stands ready to act as home whenever needed. Learn more about Red Cross House. - Submitted by Megan Wood, AmeriCorps NPRC Member

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Careers should be chosen by interests instead of salaries.  Although income is a determining factor when deciding on what career to go into, ultimately, I feel that most important factor when deciding on which career to follow is if you truly enjoy the work.  For me, the only way I can see myself enjoying my career is if it gives me the opportunity to directly help others and the American Red Cross has allowed me to do this during my time with them as an AmeriCorps National Preparedness and Response Corps member.

As an AmeriCorps NPRC member, our main responsibility is to go on disaster responses throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and provide assistance to families that are affected.  For Southeastern Pennsylvania, most of the disasters we respond to are fires and we usually approach the disaster right after it occurs.  When I encounter clients, they’re usually distraught and scared for what their future holds, but after speaking with them and providing them assistance, I quickly see their emotions change from relief and joy.  It’s this change in emotion that motivates me to get up every morning and commute over an hour to come into work.  Working with those affected by disasters is a rewarding experience and makes my time with American Red Cross truly meaningful.

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Thanksgiving week marked the end of my rotation working in preparedness education as an AmeriCorps member.  Working that rotation was a friendly reminder for why I wanted to follow a career in medicine.  What really pushed me towards medicine was that medicine gives me the opportunity to interact with such a diverse group of people, and I encountered this during my time in the preparedness education rotation.

While working in preparedness education, I was given the opportunity to travel throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania to present the various courses Red Cross offers at schools and community centers.  Some classes I taught were about fire safety, others were about disaster preparedness, and my favorite one was teaching a hygiene class to kindergartners.

What I enjoyed most about teaching classes was the diversity of the participants.  I find that the diversity brought an element of surprise to teaching because I never knew the people I’d encounter when walking into a classroom.  This made each day of work exciting because I knew I would have the opportunity to meet new people.

Although it was my job to be teaching others, I often found myself learning skills that I hope to take advantage of when I go into the medical field.  Working in preparedness education has really improved my ability to teach others and has also greatly improved my public speaking.  It has also taught me the importance of being able to adapt to different situations; I often found myself drifting away from my script to better explain the course.

I hope my time working in preparedness education had a positive impact on Southeastern Pennsylvania.  It is sad to be leaving that department, but I am excited knowing that the other departments have just as much to offer!

On October 29, 2013, I had the pleasure of participating in yet another amazing American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania event! Volunteers and staff came to CBS 3 studios to participate in a Thank-A-Thon phone bank. This event was held on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, with the purpose of showing appreciation to those who donated to Sandy relief efforts.

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I arrived at CBS 3 a little before 12:00p.m., and was able to start making phone calls after a little training and some practice. Many of the calls I made in the beginning of the Thank-A-Thon were voice messages, as many people were at work. Towards the end of the afternoon and into the evening, more people were beginning to answer. The people I was able to reach were happy to hear from the American Red Cross.  Donors were appreciative of the call and glad to be recognized for their generosity.  By the end of the evening, over 3,500 people were called and thanked for their donations and support! It was a lot of hard work and took many volunteers, but was worth it to be able to thank so many generous supporters. Please check out the Red Cross One Year Sandy Report, where you can see how the donations have been spent as well as the amazing response and recovery efforts made by the Red Cross.

You can also check out this video of us at work (You may see me in the background).

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

Does your home have a working fire alarm?  Do you have an escape plan in the event of a fire?  Did you remember to turn off the stove?

Growing up in the suburbs near Trenton, New Jersey, I found questions like this a nuisance because fires in my area were a rare event.   It was not until I began school at Temple University that I started to appreciate why my school engraved fire safety tips into our minds.  During my years at Temple, I would often hear a sound unfamiliar to me when I lived in the suburbs; the sound of a fire truck siren.  To my surprise, it was not uncommon to see a fire truck racing down Broad Street three, four times a week.  Now, working at the Red Cross as an AmeriCorps NPRC member, I’ve seen first-hand the effects of fires on the people of Philadelphia and the importance of fire safety.

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September was National Preparedness Month, and one of the things we all need to prepare for is fires.  Fire is an unforgiving chemical process that will continue to spread and be fatal if not accounted for.  Of the 74,000 disasters Red Cross responded to this past year, 93 percent of them were fire related.  In fact, fire kills more Americans each year then all the natural disasters combined.  As National Fire Safety Month begins, it is essential for everyone to take steps to help protect their homes and the people they care about.

Common house hold items are often a source of fire; anything from the stove in the kitchen to the space heater used to warm up the house during those cold winter nights are all potential fire hazards.  Even things we cannot see like the wiring behind the wall can cause fires.  It is important to learn more about these items in order to prevent fires from occurring.

The most important way to help save lives in the event of a fire is that first alert to a problem.  This is why it is essential to install and maintain all smoke alarms throughout the house.  Smoke alarms can help notify people a fire is occurring and help them escape before the fire spreads to all available exits in the house. The next thing you must do is have and practice your escape plan. In fact, the Red Cross recommends having at least two ways out of every room in your house.  At Temple, that meant investing in a fire ladder for myself. My second way out was through a third story window, so I had a ladder ready, just in case.

Preparing and planning for fires can protect what you love most.  Please take the time to visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire to learn more about fires in order to prevent them and prepare for them in the event that a fire does occur in your home.