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Written by Marquee Brown

Many people do not know the proper procedures for managing a crisis, which can result in injuries or death. The Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania sponsors Camp Save-A-Life each summer to teach kids ages 10 to 14 the proper way to handle disasters. The camp runs for seven weeks with a new group of campers every week. Participants become certified in CPR and First Aid while having fun and making new friends.

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The children were shy upon arrival the first day. That was short lived once the counselors started group games to get the campers comfortable. By lunchtime, the kids were formed into groups and conversing as though they’ve known each other for years. The camp counselors were engaged and passionate as well. Many have been leading the camp for years. When asked why they kept returning, every answer was the same- for the children, they enjoy watching them develop skills and get involved in activities. Each counselor had a story about the emotional impact of seeing kids take on new responsibilities.

The camp creates a fun and competitive environment by dividing the kids into groups of six, with relevant names like lightning, hurricane, fire, tornado, flood and earthquake. They even have a student of the week who receives a disaster preparedness backpack full of emergency tools on the last day of the program.

IMG_1502On the first day, the children were introduced to firemen of the Philadelphia Fire Department and taught how to use the hose on a fire truck. They are reminded to have an escape plan in case of fire at home.

Over the course of the week, the children were taught different kinds of disaster preparedness. Lesson modules included Military 101, Conflict Resolution, CPR, Disaster Preparedness, and First Aid. According to a study by the US Department of Homeland Security, sixty percent of Americans have not practiced what to do in the event of a disaster. The American Heart Association found that less than twenty percent of Americans are equipped to perform CPR in emergency situations. One can only imagine the number of injuries and lives that could be saved if everyone was properly informed. Camp Save-a-Life spreads this knowledge to youth who can take the lead in informing their friends and families.

For the camper, their parents and the camp counselors, being a part of the Save-a-Life program is an experience that is both fun and practical.

By: Elizabeth McLaren

One phone call can determine the entire course of Red Cross DAT Responder Elizabeth Stinson’s day. As part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Stinson knows her circumstances can change in an instant, just as they did on November 16, 2017. News of a five-alarm fire with possible injuries and fatalities at the Barclay Friends Senior Center in West Chester jarred her awake.

“I had fallen asleep on my couch,” Stinson said. “I got the call, got myself together and went.”

Stinson was on the scene of the Barclay fire for over 12 hours, supporting other local emergency responders and Barclay facility staff who were transporting clients to nearby senior and assisted living centers, and reuniting clients with family members. The relief efforts on the ground involved many moving parts. Stinson saw first-hand how small details can matter the most. “It was all about compassionate care. One of the volunteers went out to buy applesauce so patients could take their medicine.”

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Of the experiences Stinson has witnessed during her 419 hours logged as a DAT Responder, and close to 1,300 hours on call, the Barclay fire continues to stick with her. “It was the most rewarding experience I had with the Red Cross. I had no idea going into it how large the fire was or the type of people impacted. When I saw the clientele, we wanted to just keep them warm.”

Stinson helps with Red Cross workforce engagement on the days when she’s not involved with disaster response. She coordinates with Volunteer Services to introduce interested Red Cross volunteers to the many responsibilities of DAT Responders. Stinson helps with Red Cross initiatives such as the Home Fire Campaign and the Pillow Case Project, working towards community engagement for volunteers. She is also part of the committee organizing the Red Cross Disaster Institute offering classes to train DAT Responders. With her many efforts, she keeps one main approach in mind, both for herself and for potential volunteers.

“There’s no typical day at the Red Cross. Every day is different. I think that’s what I like about it. Each day is a new and unique set of challenges. Sometimes it’s routine like updating data and records, but it’s always different.”

Stinson believes that this variety adds value not only to her role, but also to her daily life. “Every experience is something to add to your toolkit. They’re all learning experiences. It’s [about] being a better human being. You get out there and you realize not everyone’s as fortunate as you.”

Red Cross Volunteer Spotlight

Michael McCall Highlight

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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

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.

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.