Needed: Health and Mental Health Professionals to Volunteer

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross Volunteer

Home fires, floods, hurricanes, wildfires. When American Red Cross volunteers respond to these disasters, they offer shelter, food and compassion — as well as health and mental health attention.

The public generally doesn’t see the health and mental health services. For the most part, they don’t show up in coverage of urgent disaster responses. But they’re critical in the first hours and days of helping victims cope with their new reality.

Lost medications, destroyed medical equipment, missed doctor’s appointments, emerging conditions such as COVID or the flu. These are all pressing needs that trained medical professionals know how to meet. And they can administer first aid for victims as well as disaster workers.

Meanwhile, licensed mental health professionals address the emotional side of a disaster, triaging who needs a few sessions with a skilled listener and who needs to be referred to local mental health resources for extended care.

Faced with an almost unprecedented number of natural and human-caused disasters, the Red Cross has launched a targeted recruitment drive: Be One, Bring One. The goal is to enlist volunteers from the medical and mental health fields. Trisha Horvath, RN MSN, from Kirtland, Ohio, is one of the leaders of this drive.

Trisha Horvath, Red Cross Volunteer, RN MSN, from Kirtland, Ohio

“I think all nurses are humanitarians,” Trisha said. “That’s why they do what they do, to alleviate suffering.”

The reality is, the vast majority of licensed medical and mental health professionals don’t have flexibility in their work schedules to volunteer for disaster response, much as they might like to, she said.

So Trisha is helping the Red Cross “think outside the box.” They’re emphasizing the opportunities for virtual “deployments” and the rewards to volunteers in the form of resilience training and CEUs — not to mention the personal satisfaction of helping people in their most vulnerable situations.

The Red Cross is approaching graduate school students and faculty as well as non-traditional workplaces where health and mental health professionals are found, such as insurance companies. Many of these folks already work virtually, so they know how to engage with people remotely.

Gail Wernick, the Red Cross Northern Ohio regional volunteer services officer, emphasizes that volunteer shift scheduling is flexible for on-call and scheduled commitments. Typically, volunteers are expected to be available, as needed, for two weeks every three months.

Gail Wernick, Red Cross Northern Ohio Regional Volunteer Services Officer

Gail’s goal is to have a roster of 21 trained disaster health volunteers with active and unencumbered licenses: RNs, LPNs, Licensed Vocational Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Advance Practice Nurses, Medical Doctors, Doctors of Osteopathy or Physician Assistants. Tap here for more information or to apply.

Trisha is particularly concerned about what she calls the “dearth of mental health volunteers.” There are currently half of the goal of 17 such volunteers on the Northern Ohio team.

The Be One, Bring One campaign is aimed at currently licensed mental health professionals holding a master’s degree as well as retired mental health professionals who were in good standing when they retired and held a license within five years of onboarding as a Disaster Mental Health volunteer. Tap here for more information and to apply.

“We really appreciate the generosity of our health services and mental health volunteers. Needless to say, when people are struggling to cope with a disaster — – anything from a home fire to a flood or tornado — – immediate health and mental health support can be just as essential as food and shelter,” said Barb Thomas, Northern Ohio regional recovery manager for the Red Cross.

If you’re someone who’d like to help turn tragedy into hope in a rewarding opportunity to share your time and talents, visit redcross.org/volunteer to explore the wide variety of roles you can play, at home or away. And thank you!

The 8-year-old veteran and other tales

Lighthearted anecdotes for National Tell a Joke Day

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

“M-O-U-S-E!” An 8-year-old sang, making the toy I had given him dance on the table. His grandmother, whose apartment was one of several impacted by a fire the previous night, stood next to me. Two other American Red Cross members and I had spent the day in the building, assisting those affected by the disaster.

American Red Cross volunteer Tim Poe at the annual toy giveaway for families that experienced a home fire

As part of our assistance, I asked the grandmother questions that help us find resources for those impacted by a disaster. With each question, the child paused the doll’s dance to tell me how to spell names and something about the person.

“Are you or any member of your family a veteran?” I asked the grandmother. As she shook her head no, the child looked up, wide eyed, and shouted, “I’m a veteran!”

“No, you’re not, dear,” the grandmother said, patting his shoulder.

“Am too!” he shouted. “I don’t even like meat!”

The moment was a delight and much needed by all of us in the room.

In my various roles volunteering with the Red Cross, there have been many such lighthearted, fun moments. Today is National Tell a Joke Day, and while the Red Cross and its services are no joke, fun moments do happen. Here are a few.

American Red Cross volunteer Tim Poe at the annual toy giveaway for families that experienced a home fire

Before the pandemic, I took part in distributing toys for the holiday season for children whose families had been affected by disasters. Several tables were filled with toys, and we would help families pick something out. One child excitedly ran to all the tables, looking, but not selecting anything. He turned to me and asked, “Where are the drones?” The parents, alarmed, standing behind, subtly shook their heads but appeared relieved when I explained we didn’t have anything quite so fancy. After his initial disappointment, he seemed thrilled with a toy truck and crayon set.

One of the many benefits of being a Red Cross volunteer is working alongside unique, caring people with differing perspectives. Stories such as Christy Peters’ grandparents and tattoos emerge from our communications meetings.

This makes it a continuous learning experience, even about communicating. After a particularly strange sequence of events, and a fellow volunteer and I finished up and returned to a Red Cross vehicle. As I searched for words to begin processing the roller-coaster ride we had taken, she summed it up.

“Dude!” she said.

I can be verbose, but sometimes a single word is all that’s needed.

On another call, to an apartment where the fire was fortunately contained to a single unit and no one was hurt, an elderly lady emerged from her apartment, saw us, and stopped. “Mm hmm,” she said, pointing to a door. “That’s the one you want. And tell them never leave a candle burning and go out for a sandwich! Could’ve killed us all!” While to my knowledge the Red Cross has not offered this specific fire prevention tip, it’s good advice.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer

Northern Ohio Region weekend disaster report: May 22-25, 2020

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

May 26, 2020- While many across Northern Ohio were remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country and took time to get out of their homes to enjoy the summer-like temperatures, the American Red Cross of Northern Ohio was responding to local disasters to assist residents in need.

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During Memorial Day weekend, May 22-25, Disaster Action Team members were assisting residents experiencing one of the worst days of their lives. To comply with social distancing guidelines, the Red Cross responded virtually to assist 65 individuals in 9 counties, Ashland, Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lucas, Stark, Summit and Trumbull, and provided more than $10,200 in immediate financial assistance.

“It is so gratifying to know our Disaster Action Team volunteers are ready, willing and able to respond to disasters like home fires, even on weekends and holidays,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer for the Red Cross of Northern Ohio.  “And they have adjusted to the new protocol for responding virtually, so that they are safe and the residents they assist are kept safe.”

To date, the Red Cross of Northern Ohio has responded to 1,039 local disasters, assisted 4,553 individuals and has provided $881,325 in immediate financial assistance.

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Even during this historic, challenging time, the Red Cross continues to respond in times of crisis, thanks to the extraordinarily dedication and compassion of Red Cross volunteers.

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Wherever you are, there’s a role you can play right now with the Red Cross. Visit https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html to find an opportunity near you.

 

Homeless in less than 60 seconds

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer 

March 27, 2020- Editors Note:  Doug Bardwell is a Northeast Ohio volunteer, who was one of the first Red Cross volunteers to respond to Tennessee following the tornadoes in early March– before COVID-19 measures such as social distancing and shelter at home took effect. As disasters do not stop, despite the COVID-19 outbreak, American Red Cross disaster services team members continue to stand at the ready to assist residents in need. For more information, click here

One day after the devastating tornadoes ripped through areas in and around Nashville, TN, I deployed with the Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT) of the American Red Cross.

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Photo by Doug Bardwell

 

Different than typical deployments where volunteers have one job and stay in one location for most of their deployment, our two-man teams job was to visit all the areas affected as quickly as possible. In the case of the Tennessee tornadoes, they touched down multiple times in a line some 89 miles long.

Our task was to document the extent of the damage and provide photos and captions to Red Cross Headquarters, where they would be used to start fundraising efforts for the event. Our immediate challenges were road closures, downed power lines and traffic jams.

The worst of the damage seemed to be in Cookeville, east of Nashville. Almost entire residential developments were wiped off the landscape by what appeared to have been a 500-plus-foot-wide twister. Home foundations and basements were about all left behind. Deaths in this area alone approached 20, as there was less than a one-minute warning for most of these residents. Then, in less than 60 seconds, the tornado passed, leaving lives changed forever.

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Photo by Doug Bardwell

Many told stories of being thrown down their basement steps as the twister hit. In one case of a two-story home, a couple sleeping upstairs watched as their roof was torn off, their outside walls collapsed and they rode their mattress all the way into the basement.

Another fortunate man and his mother survived when his second-floor bedroom came crashing down on his mother who slept below him on the first floor. Luckily, with help from neighbors, he was able to dig her out and get her to the hospital with just a few broken ribs and a broken ankle.

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Photo by Doug Bardwell

At the other end of the spectrum, I spoke with a man who emerged from the rubble of his home to discover the four neighbors to the side of him had perished, as did four people in the home right behind his. It’s hard to make sense of how tragedy happens so randomly.

Being the first Red Crossers on the scene in most of these locations, we passed out bottled water as we met people and learned of their needs. Everyone was happy to hear about remotely served meals that would be coming as they combed through their wreckage trying to salvage family mementos.

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Photo by Doug Bardwell

Many were also surprised that they could go to Red Cross shelters for meals even if they weren’t living there. It felt good being able to spread a little “good news” to these people who hadn’t had much to smile about lately.

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Doug Bardwell (left) is holding a child as he listens and comforts a resident following the tornadoes. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

In one case, all that was needed was spending 10 to 15 minutes holding someones baby so they could chase and round up their six little dogs that had run away during the storm.

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Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

As the days passed, we transitioned to covering those in shelters, often in the most vulnerable areas. There were plenty of people with harrowing stories to tell.

A few days after the event, Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs) were set up where people could come and get mental health, public health, HUD, SBA and FEMA  assistance. It was great to see how our Red Cross mental health workers were such a blessing to those affected by the storm.

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Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

By the end of the week,  it was also heartwarming to see the volunteerism evident around Nashville. Reports indicated that more than 20,000 volunteers offered to help with cleanup efforts through an organization called “Hands On Nashville.” Even in the small community of Cookeville, in just one church alone, there were 3,500 members out helping people sort through debris looking for salvageable items.

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Photo by Doug Bardwell

It was plain to see why Tennessee is called the Volunteer State.

If youd like to volunteer, the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio is in need of blood volunteers and disaster response volunteers. You can sign up here and receive all the training youll need.

In fact, right now, while the nation and world is battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, there is a severe blood shortage. There is an urgent need for eligible and healthy donors to give blood now. To make an appointment to donate blood, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org. Your blood donation can help save injured disaster victims and patients in need during these challenging times.

To see more photos from Doug’s deployment in Tennessee, visit our Flickr page.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster report: March 26-29, 2020

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

March 30, 2020- Everyone in Northeast Ohio is trying to adjust to the new normal following the COVID-19 outbreak, including the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross is known not only for the assistance we provide individuals who suffered from a disaster, but also for the comfort we provide residents, such as a hug, to let them know that everything will be okay. However, in the aftermath of COVID-19, the Red Cross has had to change how they provide assistance to those in need.

Tennessee Tornadoes 2020

Emergencies do not stop, and over the weekend, the Red Cross, with the safety of our disaster team members and the residents we assisted in mind, responded to disasters throughout the region. Comfort was provided, despite the inability to provide a Red Cross hug to those suffering the worst day of their lives.

“Many thanks to our responders who use extra COVID-related precautions to make certain clients receive the help they desperately need. One of those adjustments is not giving the hugs they have given over the years,” said Renee Palagyi , senior program manager. “Social distancing now challenges them to show the compassion and care they feel through their words. And our clients continue to feel the love!”

During the weekend of March 26-29, 2020, the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio responded to local disasters, such as flooding in Cleveland, assisted 23 adults, 13 children and provided more than $7,600 in immediate financial assistance.

COVID-19 Volunteer

 

The Red Cross is looking for individuals to join the Red Cross to continue to respond to disasters in local communities. We also have a wide variety of important volunteer-from-home opportunities available. Find your opportunity to make a positive impact today by visiting redcross.org/volunteer.

 

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster report: March 13-15, 2020

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

March 16, 2020- While residents in Northeast Ohio were taking precautions to remain safe from the coronavirus, members of the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio Disaster Action Team were assisting residents facing the worst day of their lives, as disasters do not adhere to social distancing measures.

During the weekend of March 13-15, the DAT team responded to disasters in four of the five chapters of the Northeast Ohio Region, with disasters occurring in Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Erie, Lake, Richland, Stark and Trumbull counties.

The Red Cross assisted 32 adults, 29 children and provided $12,460 in immediate financial assistance.

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While we all take extraordinary steps to contain the coronavirus, the Red Cross is asking all healthy individuals to donate blood, to help maintain the nation’s blood supply as blood drives across the country continue to be cancelled.

Over the last few days, we have seen blood drive cancellations grow at an alarming rate. Through March 13, about 1,500 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns, resulting in some 46,000 fewer blood donations. We expect that number to rise.

We understand why people may be hesitant to come out for a blood drive, but want to reassure the public that we are taking additional precautions to ensure the safety of our donors and staff.

Monroe Carell Jr Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tennessee 2019

We are checking the temperature of staff and donors before entering a drive to make sure they are healthy. Hand sanitizers are available for use before entering the drive, as well as throughout the donation process. We are also spacing beds, where possible, to follow social distancing practices between blood donors.

Red Cross employees follow strict safety procedures, including wearing gloves and changing them often, wiping down all donor-touched surfaces and equipment and preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub.

A blood shortage could impact patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies, or patients suffering from cancer. One of the most important things you can do to ensure we don’t have another health care crisis on top of the coronavirus is to give blood.

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If you are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets, please make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster report: February 28-March 1, 2020

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

March 2, 2020-  To kickoff March is Red Cross Month, the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio responded to 11 separate local disasters, including several home fires across the region.

California Wildfires 2019

As the calendar changed from February to March, Disaster Action Team members assisted 45 individuals in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties. The Red Cross also provided more than $9,000 in immediate financial assistance.

In 2014, the Red Cross launched the Home Fire Campaign, a nationwide initiative to reduce the number of fire-related deaths by 25 percent. As of the current date, 715 lives have been saved across the country through the Home Fire Campaign, including 15 in Northeast Ohio.

DAT home fire responses Atlanta, Georgia video screenshots 2019

As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the Red Cross will be installing smoke alarms in communities across the country from April 18 to May 3 during an initiative called Sound the Alarm, Save a Life. In just six years, our home visits have accomplished so much, including the installation of more than 2 million smoke alarms.

Watch below to hear Doreen and Lial McCullough story to learn how a smoked alarm saved their lives during a home fire:

For more information on Sound the Alarm and to sign up to volunteer at a smoke alarm installation event near you, visit SoundTheAlarm.org.

March is Red Cross Month

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

February 28, 2020- You’ve probably seen the American Red Cross blood drive signs across town, and you’ve probably passed a Red Cross vehicle or two recently. But did you know that March is Red Cross Month?

The first nationally proclaimed Red Cross Month was the idea of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943. He said, “I request that during that month (March) our people rededicate themselves to the splendid aims and activities of the Red Cross.” It’s been remembered each year since.

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Every day the Red Cross answers the calls from those in need in many ways. Our blood collection unit supplies about 40% of the blood requirements of the United States. Each unit of blood can save as many as three lives.

Our Service to the Armed Forces unit helps military members, veterans and their families in many ways, including making contact military members when there is a family emergency.

Our disaster services team responds to local, national and international emergencies. Regionally, we respond to an average of three home fires every 24 hours.

What most people don’t realize is that the Red Cross is a charitable organization, not a government agency. It depends on volunteers and the generosity of people like you to perform our mission. Another interesting fact is that the Red Cross is part of the world’s largest volunteer network, found in 187 counties.

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WWFDRS?  (What would FDR say?)

His idea was for everyone to adopt the aim and activities of the Red Cross. For some, that might mean a donation if they don’t have time to serve. You can always make a donation here.

But if you really want to make a difference, consider volunteering. It will make a difference in someone else’s life as well as your own. There’s no better feeling than being able to assist someone when they are at their lowest hour.

Volunteer opportunities exist now for many talents. But we are especially in need of people to:

1) Join the Disaster Action Team, which goes out in pairs after a local fire or flood to provide financial and emotional support.

2) Become a Home Fire Campaign volunteer to spend an afternoon assisting with the installation of free smoke alarms in local neighborhoods.

3) Serve as drivers to Transport Blood products from blood drives to our main office and then to hospitals. Clean driving record needed. Vehicles provided.

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There’s no experience needed for any of these positions, and they can be done by the young as well as the young-at-heart. Hours are flexible and all training is provided. Make FDR proud, and consider joining our mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer 

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster report: February 21-23, 2020

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

February 24, 2020- Despite the sunny and warm weather this weekend, local disasters did not take a break.

During this past weekend, the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio assisted 22 individuals and provided more than $4,500 in immediate financial assistance, as well as providing snacks and beverages for first responders.

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One of the incidents that the Red Cross responded to was a massive fire which occurred Sunday night on Hilliard Boulevard in Rocky River.  The fire, which destroyed residental complex which was under construction,  forced some nearby residents to flee their homes because of their proximity to the fire.

Three residents received immediate financial assistance to help them find shelter Sunday night, when they indicated they had no other place to stay.  Red Cross workers plan to continue contacting affected residents to assess their needs and provide appropriate assistance.

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Five volunteers responded to the fire to distribute blankets, water and snacks to the residents who were unable to return to their homes, and to the firefighters from various communities who responded to the fire.

“We could not help people in need without our volunteers,” said Ben Bellucci, disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Greater Cleveland.  “They are vital to our mission, providing comfort and care when people like the folks in Rocky River need emergency assistance.”

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Just as disasters do not discriminate in terms of whose lives they destroy; the Red Cross does not discriminate in terms of whose lives we help rebuild. The Red Cross does not turn away people who need assistance after a disaster. We are committed to helping everyone in need.

As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

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To help the Red Cross provide hope and comfort to individuals in Northeast Ohio experiencing their darkest hours, please visit redcross.org/donate to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

 

Home fire experience prompts East Liverpool resident to become Red Cross volunteer

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

February 20, 2020- Imagine coming home after a day of work or shopping for the upcoming holiday season, only to find that your home is on fire. That was the case for one East Liverpool family, following a fire believed to have been caused by the wood burner.

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As he was driving home from work in Canfield on the evening of Dec. 15, 2017, John Pomeroy noticed he received an unusually high number of text messages and missed calls. Being unable to read the messages as he was driving, he decided to return the calls. That is when he heard the unthinkable.

Before John could ask, his daughter Jocelyn picked up the phone and immediately said, “Dad, the house is on fire. This is not a joke.”

After shopping for gifts with her mother, Jocelyn was the first person to discover the fire. As soon as she opened the front door, all she could see was the home filled with smoke. Confusion and fear set in.

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John and Jocelyn Pomeroy

Once John arrived on the scene, he immediately checked on his family to make sure everyone was safe. Then the gravity of the situation began to sink in and he pondered what to do next, as firefighters extinguished the fire.

Prior to the home fire, John and Jocelyn only thought the American Red Cross assisted with large scale disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. John remembers being amazed by how quickly the Red Cross arrived on the scene and the compassion the Disaster Action Team members showed his family.

One memory Jocelyn has of that evening was being wrapped in a Red Cross blanket, an item she still owns today, and the comfort she received from its warmth and softness.

“It is really helpful to have someone there to help you, give you a blanket and tell you everything will be okay,” said Jocelyn.

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John and Jocelyn with Kristen Gallagher and Karen Conklin

Even though John personally knew Lake to River Chapter Executive Director Karen Conklin and Kristen Gallagher, disaster program specialist, through Ohio high school wrestling, he was comforted by the Red Cross’ commitment to helping his family get back on their feet.

“We are grateful for the Red Cross and all of their hard work to help others in need,” stated John.

While John and his family were fortunate to be able to return to their home following the fire, he never forgot what the Red Cross did for them. John was so inspired by his experience that he signed up to become a Red Cross volunteer during a volunteer information session in East Liverpool.

“Despite so much going through my mind, the Red Cross was there every step of the way,” said John. “As a volunteer, I hope to provide others in need the same comfort and support that we received. I want to help others know everything will be okay.”

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John signing up to become a Red Cross volunteer

Although Jocelyn has to wait until she turns 13, she also is eager to become a Red Cross volunteer. Until then, she is looking forward to the opportunity to apply to be a Summer Youth Corps member this year.

The Red Cross will host informational sessions across Northeast Ohio to help you learn about the many ways you can make a difference as a Red Cross volunteer. Youll hear from current volunteers and have an opportunity to ask questions. Volunteer applications will also be available.

Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga County Volunteer Information Sessions

Saturday, Feb. 29

10-11 a.m.

Red Cross Regional Headquarters

3747 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH

Summit, Portage and Media County Volunteer Information Sessions

Saturday, March 1

10-11 a.m.

Red Cross Akron Office

501 W. Market St., Akron, OH

Can’t make it to a volunteer session, but interested in volunteering? Click here to visit our volunteer page to learn more about volunteering with the Red Cross and to submit a volunteer application.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer