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April 6th – April 12th, 2014 is National Volunteer Week. We asked some of our volunteers why they volunteer for the Red Cross. Below is just sampling of some of their answers.

 

Carol Aldridge

9 years of service

Emergency Services

“I had seen so much that had happened at Katrina that it really pulled at my heartstrings.”

 

Carol Barnett    

22 years of service

Emergency Services

“The best part about the Red Cross is the people you work with and all the diversity.”

 

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Stan Dunn accepting an award during the 2013 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Celebration of Volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Dunn

12 years of service

Emergency Services

“(During 9/11) We were so impressed by what the Red Cross was doing, when we came home we decided we would volunteer for the Red Cross.”

 

Heath Morris    

5 years of service

Red Cross House

“I wanted something to do after leaving the Treasury Department. It (Red Cross House) is a good facility and helps people in need.

 

Anthony Robinson, pictured with our CEO, receiving an award at the 2013 Celebration of Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Robinson

2 years of service

Volunteer Administration

“Here I feel as though I can actually do some good and help people. I had some health issues and I decided I needed to get out of hte house. It’s really worked out for me.”

 

Tom Reithof

30+ years of service

Emergency Services

“I kind of thought it was fun. Before (volunteering for the Red Cross) I worked as an engineer and physicist that never dealt with human beings. I started learning about human beings.”

 

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

Alice Taylor, at a desk in Volunteer Administration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Taylor  

11 years of service

Blood Services and Volunteer Administration

“I enjoy doing it. It keeps me out of trouble.”

 

Jen Tso      

4 months of service

Financial Development

“Everyone is super excited about the work that they do, so it’s a great environment to be part of.”

 

 

From left to right; Carol Barnet, at the Regional Disaster Coordination Center, David Yu, at the 2014 Red Ball, Jen Tso at her desk

David Yu

1 year of service

Disaster Action Team and Disaster Services Technology

“I get to meet a lot of different people. I love the fact that we are so diverse and that we can actually coordinate as one. That also amazes me.

 

rco_blog_img_BenFranklin

Not this Ben Franklin…

In the era of digital cameras, smartphones with 13 megapixel cameras that fit into your pocket, and everything being done remotely with a few strokes of a keyboard, you wouldn’t think getting a picture of a huge bridge would be all that difficult.

Well, you’d be wrong.

I preface this by saying this is absolutely no one’s fault. Everyone who helped with this did everything they could to facilitate. Every request I made was granted. But sometimes for a variety of reasons, even the smallest, simplest tasks, can wind up being a challenge.

Every March for Red Cross Month, I request the Delaware River Port Authority to light the Ben Franklin Bridge red to honor the work of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers. And DRPA always happily obliges by setting aside most days for the bridge to be red. (excluding March 17th when the bridge is green and a few other days here and there.)

Ben Franklin Bridge lit up on a normal evening. (Courtesy Jingoli.com)

This year was no exception. But I hit snags at just about every turn. First, there was some sort of construction on the bridge involving PATCO which made programming the light display on the bridge hit and miss. Some nights, the lights would work. Some nights they wouldn’t. Sadly, on the nights I dispatched a photographer to snap a photo, were nights the bridge wasn’t red.

I also called on my friends in the media to take beauty shots of the bridge lit in red during their news and weather casts. But without hard and fast dates and times, it’s difficult to ensure the bridge would ever make air.

Which brings me to last night (3/31), the last night of Red Cross Month and the last opportunity to get a photo of the bridge lit red.

I’m a lucky person. I work for the Red Cross so when I ask for a favor, people will go out of their way to try and help. The folks at DRPA exchanged emails with me and made phone calls off hours and over the weekend to make sure the bridge was red Monday night, March 31st, so I could get that photo, raise awareness about the great work the Red Cross does, and in a very real way, generate an extra sense of pride among our thousands of volunteers.

So I sent out the call one last time for volunteers to head to the bridge at dark to take pictures. (Not easy to do after 3 or 4 wild goose chases.) But as I mentioned earlier, people want to help the Red Cross. And bless their hearts, several people grabbed their iPhones and cameras to get the perfect shot. They even drove to Camden to get different angles.

At first, only a small part of the bridge was red and I began to get a huge sense of dread. Did I really do all this and ask others to do this AGAIN, for a few lights? I was feverishly texting back and forth with the volunteers in the area, asking who had the best angle. Could they see the red?

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Ben Franklin Bridge at 8:15pm on 3/31/14. Credit: Janice Winston

I’m sure I came off sounding like a crazed lunatic, obsessed with getting a photo of a bridge. But the volunteers didn’t complain. They have an overwhelming ability to be understanding. They have compassion, even for a guy who just wants a photo. They wanted to come through not for me, but for the Red Cross and their fellow volunteers.

And come through they did. It wasn’t until 11:30pm that all the volunteers were making their way home after chasing red lights on a bridge for four hours.  But the day after, I have plenty of great shots of the bridge lit in all its glorious red.

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Credit: Bob Schmidt

 

And because DRPA came through for us, 6ABC’s Cecily Tynan gave the Red Cross a very nice shoutout during her weather cast.

 

It wasn’t easy, but mission accomplished, much like a disaster response. Rarely are they ever easy or go exactly according to plan. But Red Cross volunteers are adaptable, flexible, and understanding. They are compassionate. So even though in this case, Red Cross volunteers weren’t helping a family burned out their home by a fire or feeding a child at a shelter because a massive ice storm knocked out power to their home (although at the same time, other volunteers were responding to two fires in Philadelphia), they helped make a difference. They helped share their pride in the Red Cross with others as the photos are placed on Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc. They may have prompted someone to donate $25 to the Red Cross or better yet, volunteer.

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Credit: Michelle Alton

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Ben Franklin Bridge with Red Cross vehicle. Credit: Michelle Alton

 

The willingness of volunteers to help is what makes the Red Cross run. So when you look at these photos, think of the volunteers who made them possible and be confident that when disaster strikes, the dedication and care volunteers give to getting a photo pales in comparison to the dedication and care they give to people in their moment of greatest need.

Want to see MORE photos of Ben Franklin decked in Red? Click here for the full set on Flickr.

 

Peticon

Today (January 16, 2014)  is a very exciting day for the American Red Cross. It launched its Pet First Aid App for iPhone and Android. It is particularly exciting for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania because the content and information in the app was provided by Dr. Debbie Mandell, an emergency room veterinarian at the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia. Dr. Mandell also serves as a pet advisor to the American Red Cross.

In order to launch the app, the Red Cross held what’s called a Satellite Media Tour at a studio in Philadelphia, featuring Dr. Mandell, a Red Cross national spokesperson, two pet first-aid CPR manikins, and Mana, the best behaved dog ever known to attend a media event. Basically, TV and radio stations across the country did interviews with them, one after the other.

emergency pet app info

I got to work on this project because of my position with the Red Cross here in Philadelphia. We did site surveys at Penn Vet’s ER, but we couldn’t logistically work out a way to showcase pet emergency care; the unpredictability of a pet emergency room could make for great TV or awful TV. We couldn’t take the chance on the latter.

laura and dr. mandell

Dr. Debbie Mandell (L) of Penn Vet and Laura Howe of the American Red Cross, and Mana the dog, during media interviews about Red Cross Pet First-Aid app.

So for about six hours this morning, Dr. Mandell, the spokesperson, and Mana sat in a studio saying the same things over and over about the Pet First-Aid app. They explained for what seemed like a thousand times, the app’s many features, did pet CRP demonstrations, and showed what items should be in every family’s pet first-aid kit.

One thing in particular stands out to me from the series of interviews this morning. Dr. Mandell really did a geat job emphasizing the dangers in your home that you may not be aware of. She mentioned certain plants and flowers are toxic to cats and dogs. I had no idea. The Red Cross Pet First-Aid app identifies those plants for you and what to do if your pet eats or licks any of those plants.

My two dogs died a few years ago, so I don’t have any pets, but I can still use the app. It is useful for me to help potential Red Cross clients with pets, who need a place to go after a fire or flood, find nearby pet friendly hotels. Often, concern about what to do with their pets prevents people from evacuating. This app helps alleviate those concerns. Jen Leary, who runs the local pet disaster rescue organization Red Paw, downloaded the app and says the pet friendly hotel and vet locator portion of the Red Cross app is a “game changer” for her volunteers in the field.

But if you have a pet, you definitely need to consider downloading it. The 99 cents seems like a small price to pay for an app that has so many great, potentially lifesaving features. Plus the 99 cents goes to support all Red Cross services, including disaster relief. To do that go to redcross.org/mobileapps or search Red Cross on iTunes or Google Play. And help ensure you’re prepared to care for you pets like any other member of your family.

Cat CPRlean-know-what's-normal-dog

Welcome to Giving Tuesday. I’m not a big fan of made up stuff so people can have a cool hashtag, but you can’t really argue with a day to recognize and draw attention to wonderful charitable organizations doing amazing work.

In deciding to write about our Red Cross blankets in honor of Giving Tuesday, I was motivated by one thing, the airing last night of the beloved holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

CharlieBrownChristmas

Scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas

That episode is a timeless classic I watch every year. There are so many great moments, but what always sticks out to me is the part where Linus and Charlie Brown are joined by the rest of the gang to decorate the pathetic tree Charlie picked out. Who can’t relate to the symbolism of that scene?

Now that I work for the Red Cross, I am particularly struck by how they use the blanket to secure the base of the tree to keep it from falling over. I never really thought much of it before. That’s not the case anymore. Now I think about the impact blankets have, symbolically and more importantly, practically.

For the Red Cross, the care we give to people who have suffered a disaster almost always begins with the blanket. In its most basic and utilitarian form, the blanket keeps people (and sometimes pets) warm. Red Cross blankets provide warmth to an elderly woman forced from her home by a hurricane on a chilly October day, to families in the dead of night as they watch their home burn to the ground, to passengers floating on an airplane wing in the middle of a river on a Fall afternoon, and to commuters who suddenly find themselves standing by a mangled train that ran off the tracks in a tragic accident. Feeling warmer is a small but vital step to recovery.

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Woman enjoys a friendly moment at the Red Cross shelter at Palisades High School in Bucks County after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

Yeadon Fire
Families gather after their apartment building in Yeadon, Delaware County, is destroyed by fire. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

 

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11 year old Ahmet keeps warm after a fire destroyed his home in Upper Merion Twp., Montgomery County. Credit: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

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Dozens of passengers wait to be rescued from downed jetliner in what is known as the Miracle on the Hudson Credit: AP

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A passenger is taken away on a stretcher after being rescued in the Miracle on the Hudson. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

Passengers try to keep warm after their commuter train derailed in the Bronx. Credit: American Red Cross New York

kitty blanket

A kitten rescued from a house that caught fire in Philadelphia. Credit: Red Paw Emergency Relief

As the person whose job it is to help protect and promote the image and reputation of the American Red Cross, I often comment that the blanket is the best PR the Red Cross could ever get. The sight of a person wrapped in a Red Cross blanket at a disaster scene pretty much sums up in as powerful a way as possible what the Red Cross does and what the Red Cross is all about.

While the Red Cross provides far more than blankets to those affected by disaster, the blanket is usually the most immediate physical and emotional need the Red Cross meets. Each blanket costs about $6. And PR aside, it’s the best $6 the Red Cross could ever spend. So on this Giving Tuesday, think about Charlie Brown and the blanket that helped make that sad tree beautiful. Then think about the Red Cross blanket and how much comfort, hope, and recovery $6 can buy.

REDCROSS COLORADO

This Sunday, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles play the Denver Broncos. And believe it not, that has created somewhat of a quandary for me. Normally, it’s a no-brainer as to where my loyalties would lie. I’m a lifelong Eagles fan. (It took years of therapy to make that admission BTW.) But being in the disaster business, and working for the Red Cross in particular, it’s not that cut and dry — to the point where I’m actually asking myself, what should my rooting interest be?

I have nothing against the Broncos. I really like Peyton Manning and I like seeing him succeed. Colorado is beautiful. I don’t get to visit it to go skiing nearly enough.  I also have some wonderful Red Cross colleagues in Colorado. But this is the Eagles and if they have any hope of making the playoffs, they need to pull off an upset. So here’s my quandary.

Anyone who has been keeping up with the news, knows Denver and the state of Colorado have been through a lot this summer (and the last year for that matter.) (KUSA-TV story via USA Today). The past few weeks I’ve seen incredible footage of homes being wiped away by flooding, all on the heels of terrible wildfires the past two summers. I’ve read and heard the stories of families who lost their homes to wildfires last summer, just to see them get washed away by flooding this summer. My colleagues in Colorado have friends and neighbors who were directly affected. My heart breaks for the thousands of people who must start over.

Now I realize a football game won’t fix any of that. I realize that it is, in fact, just a game. But history has shown us that sports can play a big role in healing cities and communities affected by tragedy. Think of the impact sports had on New York City (and the country) after 9/11. Who wasn’t pulling for the Yankees in that World Series? Just a few short years after Katrina, no one could deny the positive impact the Saints winning the Super Bowl had on the city’s psyche and economy. After Sandy, the Giants helped NY and NJ mentally recover, at least for a few hours every week. Everyone was a Red Sox and Bruins fan in the weeks following the Boston Marathon bombing. Rooting against those teams was almost sacrilege.

Which brings me back to this Sunday’s Eagles game against the Broncos. If the Eagles were playing the Cowboys, I admit, it may be a different story. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to root for the Cowboys, no matter the circumstance. That’s just a fact of life of someone from Philadelphia. But Denver is a different story.


REDCROSS

So what should I do? Let my lifelong love of the Eagles trump my genuine wish for the Broncos, in a small way, help the people of Denver feel better? Or toss my lifelong loyalty aside, this once, and root for a Broncos victory?

Ultimately, I turned to my Red Cross colleagues in Colorado for the answer. I saw through their tweets, photos, videos, and stories that demonstrated very clearly that the people of Colorado “got this.” With the help of agencies like the Red Cross and their fellow citizens, Coloradans are showing an unbelievable and inspiring resilience. Their ability to absorb what has happened and vow to overcome it, with no complaint, is remarkable.

Just like folks in New York, New Orleans, and Boston, Coloradans showed me that they don’t need me to root for their football team in order to feel loved and supported. Adversity brings out the best in us. It  brings out our selflessness. It brings out our love. It brings out our humanity. Those qualities make us winners and Colorado has plenty of all of them.

Go Eagles.

Being superstitious is part of human nature. I think we’re all born somewhat superstitious – some far more than others. If you walk on sidewalks with your head down so as not to step on a crack or you never take the elevator to the 13th floor, in my book, you qualify as someone who is really superstitious.

Baseball players are more superstitious than most. My favorite baseball superstition is when a pitcher is working on a no-hitter late in the game and the announcers are not permitted to say the phrase “no-hitter” while broadcasting for fear that saying it will lead to a player getting a hit. Now that’s hardcore superstition. As silly as it may seem for a broadcaster to ignore the biggest story line of a game, I totally get it and support it.

I don’t have that many superstitions overall. But probably my craziest and most ridiculous is my superstition about Foursquare, the social network where you “check-in” at places so others can see where you are. Well guess what, I always check-in as I’m leaving because, granted it’s VERY UNLIKELY, in case there’s someone looking to assassinate me, they’ll always be one step behind me.

If you defy a superstition, people worry you could “jinx” something.  Basically, cause something bad to happen.  With that in mind, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that people at the Red Cross have lots of superstitions. But there’s one in particular I want to highlight. It comes to mind because of what the last few days have been like for us here at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Wednesday morning 7/24 I recall being in the elevator at our headquarters in Center City with two other people. In the normal routine of asking “How’s it going,” someone used the Q word. Let me tell you, that is a major NO-NO around here.  I’m afraid to even use the word in this blog. (Think Shhh! And you’ll know what the word is.) Almost everyone knows not to use that word. And anyone who doesn’t and mistakenly does use it, is quickly wrapped in gauze and tape from head to toe and made to watch Red Cross training videos from the 1950s on a loop for hours in a small room. (Trust me, I speak from experience, after that, people never make that mistake again.) The damage, however, was already done. It was now only a matter of time.

Just hours after that conversation in the elevator, a fire ripped through a home in Chester, Delaware County. Three children were killed. All fires are horrible, but when three children die, it takes the horror to a new level.  The Red Cross has been at the scene multiple times and meeting with family and members of the community ever since to help as well as promoting fire safety. Incidents like that really take not only a physical toll, but an emotional one as well.

LevittownARCPhillyarrivesonscene_073013Two days later, a massive 4-alarm fire broke out at an apartment complex in Levittown, Bucks County.  More than two dozen Red Cross volunteers and staffers worked most of the night and into the wee hours of the morning helping dozens of people displaced. We were out there again the entire following day helping people with food, clothing, lodging, prescriptions, and other essentials. It was a long and busy 18 hours.

Back of Collapsed houseThen on Monday 7/29, as the Red Cross was participating in an event related to the Levittown fire, a house exploded in South Philly. Several surrounding homes collapsed and an entire neighborhood had to be evacuated. The Red Cross once again had to mobilize quickly to assist dozens of people. We set up an evacuation center, met with more than 50 displaced residents, and helped any way we could. Many of the people that helped in Levittown and Chester also helped in South Philly.

Outside of a hurricane or major weather incident, we don’t see this many high-level disasters during an entire summer, much less over 4 days. It was almost an entire summer’s worth of disasters in less than a week.

Can I blame the use of the Q word during that elevator ride? Yes, I can. I have no factual basis for that conclusion. But this is superstition we’re talking about. It’s bigger than facts. It’s bigger than reason.

In a way the Red Cross is its own worst superstition enemy. That’s because in addition to responding to disasters, we help people prepare for them. We hold workshops, we create mobile phone apps, and we hand out preparedness information every chance we get. We cover you before and after. So if you really think about, if you believe in superstition, preparing for disasters is akin to “asking for it.” Maybe, but that’s the chance we’re willing to take.

All kidding aside, we know unfortunately disasters happen. They are never convenient. They’re rarely ever predictable. We cannot control when they strike, but we can control what we do to get ready. Superstitious or not, you must take the threat of disaster seriously.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to also knock on wood.

American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chief Communications Officer Dave Schrader spent a week assisting with the national Red Cross response in Arizona. Here are videos detailing just a fraction of what the Red Cross is doing to help a community deal with a disaster and tragedy all at once.
These videos are also featured on The American Red Cross Disaster Online Newsroom.

Red Cross to Provide Shelter to Firefighters Attending Yarnell Memorial

Red Cross Cares for People and Their Pets

Red Cross Response is 2-Pronged