Fond du Lac flooding victims reflect on a memorable Red Cross experience

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

As Red Cross staff and volunteers, we often report on how we help those in need at the time disaster strikes. There is a lot of outside attention “in the moment” of a disaster, even though the work continues for days and weeks after. To provide a more in-depth look at what relief and recovery means to those we’ve served, we had a conversation recently with one Wisconsin family impacted by sudden ice jam flooding in mid-March.

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Lisa Frank, right, and her daughter Amanda pose with a Donald Driver bobblehead, among the handful of keepsakes they were able to grab when evacuating their flooded apartment complex. (Photo: Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross)

Lisa Frank and her adult daughter Amanda were in the bullseye of the spring flooding in Fond du Lac. With their apartment building in danger of rapidly rising water, they reacted to the call of local firefighters to evacuate immediately. Given 10 minutes to grab whatever belongings they most needed, Lisa scrambled around her third floor apartment while Amanda attended to her apartment one floor below.

Within the time allotted they each emerged with a few necessities, including critical medications, a change of clothing, and some items of sentimental value. They made the difficult decision to leave their cats behind, but only after the firefighters assisting with the evacuation made a solemn promise that the cats would remain safe.

Once helped across the flooding parking lot and onto the buses waiting for them, Lisa was able to finally breathe. As her bus pulled out she had a view of the nearby football field and realized it had become a “giant swimming pool.”

“I had never seen anything like this,” she recounted. “ I really thought the world was ending.”

The buses took Lisa, Amanda and others from their apartment building to the nearby community church where Red Cross volunteers had set up shelter. There, the Franks were offered cots for sleeping, snacks, and meals throughout their stay – including a delicious homemade breakfast cooked the next morning by congregants of the church.

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Ice jams were the main culprit in March 2019 flooding that hit homes and families in towns including Waubeka, above, as well as Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Arcadia. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa admits that she didn’t expect to get much sleep given the overwhelming morning as well as medical conditions that caused her discomfort. But by evening, she “curled up on the cot and slept like a million bucks.”

In describing their experience while at the shelter, Lisa remarked that from the moment they arrived, “everything was handled perfectly; so perfectly, it felt like it was a drill.” She believes the quality of support and compassion extended by everyone she met is what helped she and Amanda get through the experience.


The Red Cross works with families in the days and weeks after a disaster to make sure they’ve connected with any resources available to them during the intensive recovery process. If you’d like to get involved in the response or recovery efforts with your neighbors in need, please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer. Take that first step by clicking here.


 

Of biggest concern to Lisa were the medications she needed to control her chronic conditions. She suffers from congestive heart failure, as well as painful rheumatoid arthritis requiring the aid of a walker. While she grabbed her medications from her apartment before evacuating, she had additional prescriptions that were due for a refill. She explained this to the Red Cross volunteers who greeted her upon arrival at the shelter and immediately set about assessing her needs.

“One of the volunteers went out to the pharmacy and picked up a prescription I needed that very day; without it I wouldn’t have been able to function,” said Lisa. “Yet next thing I knew she showed up and handed me the bag with my medication. I don’t know who she is, but I’m still so grateful for what she did.”

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Volunteer Dennis Hildebrand, right, chats with Michele Whittington and her son, Zyler, during their stay at a shelter in Green Bay during March floods. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa shared that her daughter, Amanda, is autistic and suffers from epilepsy and ADHD, which can make traumatic experiences especially challenging. Yet the kindness with which she was treated while in shelter again had a profound effect on Lisa. Thanks to the volunteers’ way of talking to and engaging with Amanda, Lisa felt a sense of pride in how well Amanda acclimated to the situation.

“The amount of kindness the Red Cross showed us is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Lisa. “It was my first time working with the Red Cross, and everyone was simply incredible.”

In total during March flooding, 106 Red Cross volunteers worked with partners to open four shelters, one reception center and one multi-agency resource center; provided comfort and respite for more than 140 people; served more than 1,200 meals and distributed approximately 720 clean-up kits.

The day after the flooding in Fond du Lac, the Franks were cleared to return to their apartments – which included their grateful cats. Their apartments were spared any water damage, although their car, which was parked outside, was deemed a total loss due to water damage. Lisa is currently working to save up enough money to purchase a replacement car. Aside from that inconvenience, life has essentially returned to normal for the Frank family.

When asked to sum up her flooding experience, Lisa says that without the help and support of the Red Cross, she and her daughter could never have handled it as well as they did. She pointed out, with a laugh, that between the bus ride to and from the shelter, the lodging, the meals, and the opportunity to meet others, the experience felt almost like a “vacation” – although a “weird, surreal and unplanned vacation!”

Amanda has a slightly different take on the experience: “It was like a vacation you did not want to take!” Yet both mother and daughter are grateful for all the ways in which the Red Cross helped them navigate a difficult situation.

‘Grateful’ installers, recipients of free smoke alarms and fire escape plans

By Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross

Dora Hogan was singing a grateful tune after a friend in her choir said she could get free smoke alarms installed in her Milwaukee home. American Red Cross volunteers who made the installations were grateful, too.

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American Red Cross volunteer Jordan Davis, right, talks over a home fire escape plan with Dora Hogan, left, & Alisa Jones. 

Hogan, a grandmother living on the west side of the city, said a smoke alarm in her living room had fallen from her ceiling, which made it difficult for her to replace. With family – including her beloved grandchildren – visiting often, Hogan found it essential to reach out to the Red Cross on their standing offer to provide free smoke alarms to those who need them.

Hogan made an appointment for the alarms (click here to find out how) and two Red Cross volunteers came to check out her home fire safety needs. Along with the living room replacement alarm, Red Cross volunteer Jordan Davis found another alarm in one of the bedrooms with a 1997 expiration date. A few additional alarms were in order, too, posted in important spots in the home to give Hogan peace of mind. Davis tested the alarms and, with a beep, everyone knew that the home was a safer place.

“The smoke alarms could save a life, especially with a lot of grandkids here all the time,” said Alisa Jones, Hogan’s daughter, who was present during the installations. “They could be doing anything: cooking, curling irons left on … I’m very grateful that we have the smoke alarms.”

Along with the alarms, Davis sat with Hogan and Jones to review fire safety tips and a fire escape plan. With these plans, in case of a fire, Hogan’s family will know exactly what to do and how to stay safe outside the home.

Sound the Alarm logoIn addition to installing smoke alarms, Davis volunteers on the Milwaukee area Disaster Action Team (DAT), a role that puts him in a place to comfort and help families involved in many local home fires. Davis said smoke alarm and home fire escape plan events like one coming up April 27 in Milwaukee are “crucial” when it comes to family preparedness.

“Responding with DAT in the aftermath of a home fire to provide comfort and resources to community members can be extremely challenging – and especially when one learns just how many residences in Milwaukee do not have working smoke alarms. Installing smoke alarms before a fire occurs, however, truly brings my service experience with the American Red Cross full circle,” Davis said.

If you don’t know if your smoke alarms are working or think you need new ones, please reach out. Red Cross volunteers are always here to help, such as numerous, day-long smoke alarm installation events coming up:

  • April 13 – Chippewa Valley
  • April 27 – Milwaukee
  • April 27 – La Crosse
  • May 4 – Fox Cities
  • May 4 – Janesville

Sign up for your free smoke alarm and home fire escape plan by entering your information at GetASmokeAlarm.org or by texting the word “Alarm” to 844-811-0100.

‘This is happening, this is now’: Wisconsin man credits repeated CPR training with life-saving act

By Zahra Said, American Red Cross

On October 6, 2017, Mark Brudos was having dinner with his family at a Beloit steakhouse to celebrate his brother’s birthday. While enjoying their meal and chatting, Brudos noticed the gentlemen’s wife stand up. She made direct contact with Brudos, asking for someone to help her because her husband is choking and not responding.

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Mark Brudos shares his CPR save story during a recent work event in Milton honoring his act.

Brudos immediately dove into his training from American Red Cross.

First, he cleared the scene, as people panicked around the choking man.

“I said everyone calm down we need space.”

Next, he found people to help, including dialing 9-1-1. Then, Brudos engaged the choking man, whom he realized was not breathing. Brudos started CPR, something he had repeated training on through the Red Cross at this workplace.

“I thought, ‘This is happening, this is now.’ I was just focused.”

Not long after, Brudos was able to get the choking man upright and breathing again. By this time, police and paramedics came to the man’s attention and Brudos let them take over.

Brudos leaned on his training and a bit of adrenaline. But after the professionals tended to the man, now safe and no longer choking, Brudos had time to reflect with his family on the “surreal” experience. Even with all the trainings, it was hard to believe this had happened.

Brudos believed it was his duty to help in this situation.

“On our way out the door, the [choking man’s] wife said thank you. I said, ‘No, that was my job and it was my responsibility to act.’”

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The National Certificate of Merit outlining Brudos’s actions and including a medal.

For his actions, Brudos received the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit, for “selfless and humane action in saving a life.” Brudos was one of a trio of recent Wisconsin recipients of the life-saving honor, the highest a citizen can receive from the Red Cross.

Part of that sense of duty came from an incident about 15 years prior where a stranger saved his father’s life during a sudden health crisis. “Even prior to that I wanted to give back to society for giving me my father. [CPR training] was my way of giving back.”

He wants people to know that as a human being and as a citizen that if he can help, others should get trained to help as well. To that end, Brudos had already scheduled another training for 31 employees after his life-saving event at that Beloit steakhouse.

Brudos credits his company for giving him the opportunity to get educated and prepare him for the incident that he did not know he was ready for. The incident also proved how prepared he was and how great American Red Cross’s training is.

“To validate that I was prepared it is a testament of how good of a training the American Red Cross has.”

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Brudos, center with medal, shares his Red Cross award with co-workers. He credits repeated CPR trainings at his workplace, Charter Nex Films, with his ability to have helped save a life.

Because of his training with American red cross and the experience that he has had with this incident, Brudos believes everyone should get certified.

“It is important to take the certified class and everyone should be trained on this”, said Brudos.

He believes starting early is important and schools should offer the training as well.

“It should be a requirement. It should be a requirement in high school before you get the diploma.”

To sign up for a CPR or other life-saving class near you, click here.

Sudden spring thaw brings flooding, shelters and signs of hope

By Wendy Rociles – American Red Cross

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Fond du Lac crews worked feverishly March 14 to break up ice jams on rivers caused by an sudden temperature spike.

When Jennifer Pena put her five kids to bed in her Fond du Lac apartment on Wednesday, it was just like any other night. The way they woke up Thursday was anything but.

A sudden spring thaw broke up sometimes car-sized sheets of winter ice along the Fond du Lac River, causing an “ice jam” and river overruns into streets, homes and Pena’s apartment building. Her family awoke to emergency officials on A.T.V.s, pounding on doors and evacuating everyone from the building. Pena’s family, in their pajamas and lugging a box of the essentials, plus a few toys for the kids, were among the dozens of people at an American Red Cross reception center and later a shelter set up in Fond du Lac, one of many such sites set up in Wisconsin during this week’s flooding disasters.

Jennifer and Rosalina at FDL reception center March 2019

Jennifer Pena, right, and her daughter Rosalina Robinson color Thursday at an American Red Cross reception center.

Pena and one of her daughters, Rosalina Robinson, colored Thursday afternoon as the mother talked through the paces that brought her from a normal weekday to emergency sheltering.

“It’s been a long morning,” she said. “Right now, with our house, there’s no way to go back inside.”

As of Saturday, March 16, more than 150 people in Wisconsin received care, sheltering, food and other resources from Red Cross volunteers and staff at shelters or sites including Arcadia, Fond du Lac, Lodi, Prairie du Sac, Green Bay and Stevens Point. After a harsh, protracted winter, spring seemed to come overnight in the Badger State. Even so, Red Cross volunteers were able to set up sheltering with partners, provide support for reception centers and distribute clean up kits to emergency managers.


For the latest on statewide shelters and resources, dial 2-1-1. You can find shelter updates, ways to connect with displaced family members, and safety and preparedness tips by downloading the free American Red Cross emergency app.


 

As people processed their ordeal and what may be ahead in the coming days, Karen Leveque was contemplative about her experience. Like many, she recalled a different round of flooding, more than 10 years ago and along this same river in Fond du Lac.

“I’m doing it all again,” Leveque said.

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South and Oak Streets in Fond du Lac were overrun by the nearby river, displaced dozens of people.

As another family, Lisa and Amanda Frank, were informed that they needed to evacuate their apartments early this same morning, they grabbed important things, like medications and identification. They were also able to grab a few smaller items of sentimental value, just in case they couldn’t get back to the apartment soon.

Keeping her upbeat spirit – hope for the best in the early hours of an unknown weather situation – Lisa pointed to a small, sealed container they were able to carry with them out of the flooded apartment building.

“We even brought our dog (ashes) with us!”

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Volunteers from the Wisconsin Red Cross set up a shelter at partner Community Church on Thursday in Fond du Lac. 

By Saturday evening, just about two dozen people remained displaced at shelters in Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Arcadia. Receding waters enabled the Jennifer Pena’s family to return home, as well as Amanda and Lisa Frank. On Twitter, Amanda Frank wrote: “I also want to thank the @RedCrossWIS and Fond du Lac Community Chuch @ccfdl for all they did to make us feel at home. While I wouldn’t want to experience this again, the experience itself was good. You guys had everything we could have asked and hoped for. #ThankYouGreatly

You can always show your support to the Red Cross in three ways: joining as a volunteer; sharing your financial generosity; and giving the gift of blood.

A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

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Walter Donaldson joined 172 veterans Saturday at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

With icy rain and whipping winds outside of the Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee, Walter Donaldson was perfectly content to reminisce on warmer and brighter days, during the 1990s, when he lived in Florida.

Donaldson lived there during and after his service in the Army. He taught high school students and even volunteered for the American Red Cross after a tropical storm. The years since then haven’t always been easy or kind to Donaldson, he said, with a wizened smile and a follow up declaration that he’s doing better now, with a place to stay on the southwest side of Milwaukee and a chance to teach again. On this day, he attributed an upbeat attitude partly to thoughts of Florida during a Midwestern winter, and partly from the clothing, personal items and resources he received at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

“This helps. I’m grateful, all of this helps,” Donaldson said, pointing to clothing and Red Cross bags.

Donaldson joined more than 170 area veterans at the Stand Down rally at The Armory, a bi-annual event that focuses on homeless or at-risk veterans. At Saturday’s Stand Down, veterans had the opportunity to meet with dozens of organizations, including the Red Cross, veterans’ groups and food providers, health professionals and hair stylists, as well as various state and federal agencies. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff from the Red Cross once again provided hygiene items and informational/communication resources for veterans.

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A veteran in prayer during Saturday’s event at The Richards Street Armory.

The event is billed as a “hand up, not a handout” for veterans. Between meals, check-ins and conversation, the rally included call-and-response shout outs to the five branches of the military, patriotic songs and a plea from organizer Stan Kogutkiewicz for vets in the crowd to use the resources in the room.

“Do not leave here until you get going on your problems,” echoed George Martin, one of the event emcees.

For Marvin Britton, that meant taking a stroll through the booths that packed The Armory. Britton’s gold Army ring caught the light as he talked and clutched onto a smooth wooden cane, as he shared straightforward stories of service, of addiction, of sweethearts long gone. Since his service in Vietnam, from 1974-78, life took him to San Diego and La Crosse, with time on and off in Milwaukee. These days, he’s staying in Union Grove at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, from where a group of veterans bused in for the rally.

“I’m fine, now … just trying to stay healthy. Got my backpack, going to the booths after I get some of [those] clothes” from the clothing donation line, he said.

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Veterans received information on ways they can connect with resources and family from the American Red Cross.

Ready to meet Britton, Donaldson and all the veterans were volunteers like Bob Nelson. Nelson joined the small team handing out American Red Cross bags with hygiene items and veterans resources information at the west end of the stout military hall. Nelson’s son is in the Marine Corps, connecting him to a lineage of men who have served in their family. For Bob Nelson – also on the Red Cross disaster action team – meeting and sharing with veterans at the Stand Down rally is a small gesture of gratitude.

“This is something I can do, I can be here,” Nelson said.

For more information on the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down event, click here.

To get involved or find out more on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission for veterans and military service members and their families, click here.

A New Year’s resolution to volunteer leads to a remarkable year of Red Cross action

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

When Lynn Marquardt, of Sturgeon Bay, applied to be an American Red Cross volunteer one year ago in January, she never expected that her New Year’s resolution would send her to two of the most devastating natural disasters of 2018.

Newly retired from her career as a family nurse practitioner, Marquardt was ready to join her husband, Dennis, as a Red Cross volunteer. After signing up and finding an area she found interesting – disaster response – she went through online and in-person trainings.

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Lynn Marquardt, right, and her husband Dennis, both of Sturgeon Bay, serve meals to two people staying at a shelter in Panama City, Fla. in October.

Then, in spring 2018, her first volunteer response: a trailer fire in the middle of the night, in the nearby town of Brussels. She arrived to find a large family, pets included, huddled in a vehicle after fleeing their burning trailer. Seeing the state they were in – barefoot, scared and in shock, but fortunately unharmed – the reality of the ordeal suddenly hit her.

“I realized what it meant to have to leave behind everything in order to escape – your identification, medications, meaningful personal belongings,” Marquardt said.

But the horror of the situation was replaced by the reward she felt in responding to the family’s immediate needs.

It was a privilege for her to explain to the family that the Red Cross would provide them with shelter and help them get funds for certain basic things.

“To see the relief on their faces meant so much,” she said. “I knew this was the start of their healing process.”


Click here to find your place as a volunteer with the American Red Cross this year.


For both Marquardt and her husband, this affirmed their decision to become Red Cross volunteers. A few months later, they had the opportunity to put their compassion and talents toward a disaster with national attention.

Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the residents of North Carolina when the Marquardts received the call in September. They arrived a few days after the storm hit and were assigned to a shelter in the town of Sanford, housing over 300 residents, many with medical needs such as hemodialysis. Once there, Marquardt was tasked with feeding, all from a single-burner stove in the shelter’s small kitchen.

She realized the first thing she needed to do was build trust in those she would be helping. The simple act of offering snacks and drinks to the residents made a difference.

“When they saw what we could offer, it changed the nature of our relationship,” she said. Marquardt also discovered the generosity of the local community as many restaurants donated food.

Over time the shelter’s residents opened up and shared their stories, which for Marquardt “was a beautiful experience, and a real lesson in humanity.” Despite the hard work, long days, and sharing a single shower with hundreds of others, she came away with a true understanding of the importance of cooperation.

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Sand replacement roads and snapped pine trees were typical sights for Lynn Marquardt during her deployment for Hurricane Michael. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers from across the U.S. descended on the area to help those in need.

Only weeks later the call came to travel to Florida and help with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The Marquardts flew into Tallahassee, received their orders, and then drove to Panama City.  This was essentially “ground zero” of the storm and one of the hardest hit cities.

“I remember driving in and seeing the destruction. There were still electrical wires dangling and trees blocking the roads,” recalled Marquardt. “We were in the midst of a disaster that was still going on.”

They were directed to a shelter set up in a school, one of the few schools not destroyed by the hurricane, housing hundreds of people. Assigned again to feeding, Marquardt worked alongside volunteers to provide the residents three meals each day. And again, most memorable for Marquardt was the outpouring of support the shelter received from local community members.

With her first year of volunteering now in the books, will 2019 be as busy for Marquardt? There’s no way to predict, but she does have one particular goal: should a disaster strike that involves the need for an emergency response vehicle (ERV), she’d like to put her recent driver training to the test and get behind the wheel.

newyearnewyouShe also plans to complete training to become a Red Cross supervisor/manager. The supervisors she worked under in her first year of volunteering recommended that she and her husband both pursue this training given the leadership skills they demonstrated.

Looking back on an action-packed year of volunteering, Marquardt remarked that “the mission of the Red Cross – to alleviate human suffering – is what drives and inspires me.” The Red Cross is fortunate that Marquardt made the decision to channel this drive into a new year’s resolution that ultimately helped hundreds of people.

It’s not too late for you to consider making a similar resolution at the start of 2019. Take the first step by filling out the volunteer form here.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Thomas to join American Red Cross as Wisconsin Region CEO, SE Chapter Executive

The American Red Cross today welcomes Mark Thomas as its new Wisconsin Region CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive.

Mark Thomas - headshot Dec 2018Thomas has deep nonprofit and for-profit executive experience, with strengths in sales and operations management, and strategic leadership skills. Thomas has led or participated in fundraising efforts for The American Heart Association, United Performing Arts Fund and The United Way. Most recently, he served as Vice President and COO for the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee.

Thomas said the people and mission of the American Red Cross provide an opportunity to extend his professional expertise and his dedication to Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

“The staff, volunteers, donors and advocates at the Red Cross provide our state with a powerful resource for positive change, from home fire recovery and military support, to safety training, responses to national disasters and ensuring a strong blood supply,” Thomas said. “I am grateful to help lead such a highly regarded organization with a commitment to Milwaukee and Wisconsin that spans more than 100 years.”

His professional background also includes leadership roles at The Milwaukee Business Journal, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A Milwaukee native who lives in Mequon with his family, Thomas has and currently serves on numerous nonprofit boards, and has been recognized on numerous occasions for his contributions to the community.

Patty Flowers, the prior CEO and Chapter Executive, retired recently after eight-and-a-half years of remarkable growth and collaboration across the five chapters and two biomed territories in the state.

For more information on other Wisconsin Red Cross executives and locations, click here.

Thomas officially starts his leadership role effective Dec. 12, 2018.