Three Pillars of Life Help Busy Volunteer Find Balance and Rewards

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross

It’s no accident that Lavina Harjani continues to find the right fit for her to volunteer with the American Red Cross, regardless of significant changes in her life that affect her busy schedule. She’s a consummate volunteer.

Lavina stays extremely busy with her job as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, her family with five children, and community work including as a Dispatch Duty Officer as well as a Disaster Action Team member for the Red Cross. She describes her job, family and community service as the three pillars of a complete, balanced life.

Lavina Harjani invites people to learn about the mission of the American Red Cross during a community event outside Camp Randall Stadium. Submitted photo

“Those are the areas that I prioritize,” she explained. “They influence everything I do.”

Lavina has worked in her full-time career for more than 20 years and volunteered with many organizations during that time prior to joining the Red Cross as a volunteer 10 years ago. As her family has grown over the past few years, she’s made changes to her schedule, but she still regularly volunteers every week.

For years as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer, Lavina has appreciated helping people in stressful situations.

“When I do get called for a Disaster Action event, I get a real rush to be a part of the team,” said Lavina. “I just love helping people and being on hand at a critical time of need. There’s something to being there, face to face. You can really see the relief on their faces when they’re receiving help. It’s really rewarding.”

Lavina explained the day-to-day as a Disaster Action Team member: “On site, we talk to a police officer or firefighter to get some background on what’s going on. Then I ask the client what happened and just listen to them tell their story. We listen, take notes, provide whatever care is needed; food, health services, financial, water, comfort kits. Toys for kids. Footwear. Blankets. It can be overwhelming, so we’re trained to take things one thing at a time and just comfort them. It can be at a Red Cross facility or on a bus in front of their residence.”

As a Dispatch Duty Officer, Lavina helps train others as well as fields calls herself.

“The first thing is to find the right amount of time to devote. Commit to a regular schedule. And when you get a call, it’s of course usually an emergency situation so there’s a lot of stress and anxiety for them. They are in a disaster situation and they’ve typically lost something or someone dear to them. We need to listen and be patient. We need to ‘be their calm’.”

Over the years a growing family has meant that her service levels have evolved as well. But she stresses that regardless of your interests and skills, or how much (or little) time you may have, there’s something that fits for anyone to fulfill their life balance with the community service.

“There are so many opportunities to help, anyone can find the right thing for them.”

A Family Affair

At a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game, the Red Cross collected funds and asked for volunteers to go to the game. Lavina and her husband, Tom Laude, and two of the five children in their family, Sam and Jack Laude, volunteered together. Submitted photo

Lavina volunteers on average 80-to-90 hours a month, while balancing a full-time job that requires her to travel a lot. Her husband Tom is on call 24/7 during his shifts as a volunteer firefighter in Cottage Grove. Tom is retired and formerly served in the Army.

Tom and the kids all donate or volunteer their time. This has been a family affair since the kids were young. As Christmas gifts, the kids give Lavina the gift of donations.

Remember the three pillars that form Lavina’s life balance? They’re like three legs of stool – each as important as the next and they work together equally. Experiences and skills learned from one area help Lavina in the others.

“With the Red Cross I learn ways to deal with folks in disaster situations that help me with my own family. I’ve learned patience, and how to be an active listener, and much more. These are skills that help me at home and at work every single day”.

Let the Red Cross help you fulfill your community service pillar. There are tons of ways for you to be involved. Reach out to the Red Cross to find out about opportunities in your area that can fulfill your particular interests and schedule.

“I had no idea I had sickle cell … until that moment”:  surprise diagnosis shows impact, range of blood disease

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross  

In April 2013, Adrian Jones gave birth to a baby girl and named her Vanessa. Before her pregnancy, Jones was unaware she had a variation of sickle cell disease (SCD). During a prenatal visit, her doctor diagnosed her with hemoglobin sickle C disease (HbSC), a mild form of sickle cell anemia and recommended that she speak to a genetic counselor.

“I had no idea I had sickle cell SC until that moment,” said Jones.  

Jones, left, worried about her own health and about the health of her newborn or any future children. She knew directly the impact of SCD on a family: Jones’s mother was diagnosed with hemoglobin sickle S disease (HbSS), often known as sickle cell anemia.  

Throughout Jones’s lifetime, she remembers her mother’s frequent pain crises, hospitalizations and blood transfusions. Being the eldest of three children, Jones was often asked to help monitor her mother’s condition. She learned early on in life when and how to dial 911. She remembers seeing the pain her mother endured and the many “preparing for the worst” moments while coping with her mother’s health scares. Her mother passed away in June 2019.

Now, Jones deals with her own effects of SCD, including throbbing pain in her joints, especially her back, hips, knees, and ankles. “It feels like my joints are on fire, crushing and throbbing,” Jones said of her pain. Her condition does not require blood transfusions and she is able to rely on self-care to manage the pain. She keeps herself educated about the disease, uses diet supplements and stays hydrated.

(September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. For important health information, resources and ways to get involved in the fight against this cruel disease, click here.)

Despite the differences in sickle cell and treatments, Jones knows blood transfusions are essential for people like her mother struggling with a form of the disease. That’s why she shares her whole family’s story, for awareness and to encourage more Black blood donors. From the Madison area, Jones shares with friends and colleagues another upcoming American Red Cross blood drive hosted by the Urban League of Greater Madison, slated for Sept. 17.

“It takes a village to take care of the community and we are taking care of our community by providing blood,” said Jones. “The first sickle cell blood drive in Madison [in April 2022] was beautiful. The support of the community made me think about how my mom sometimes needed to wait 24 hours for the right type of blood. That event provided blood so no one else would have to wait for it – it provided blood for other sickle cell patients allowing them to get to the next month or year of life.”

More than 100,000 people live with sickle cell disease nationwide, and the majority of patients are of African descent. The disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause extreme pain. When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure. Blood transfusions are often used in treatment, and many individuals who are Black have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their blood donations the most compatible match for helping patients with sickle cell disease. 

Sickle cell blood drives aren’t Jones’s only touchpoint with the mission of the Red Cross. As a child, Jones and her family evacuated from their home due to Hurricane Andrew. Jones’s family sought refuge at a shelter where she witnessed the Red Cross providing comfort, care, blankets, water, food and storm updates. Even though she was quite young, the compassion, hugs, and support given to her as a child by the Red Cross resonated with her deeply. “The thing I remember the most was how the Red Cross helped (me and my friends) find comfort and activities to enjoy before, during and after the storm.”    

In observance of Sickle Cell Awareness Month, donors are encouraged to participate in three local sickle cell blood drives:

Friday, Sept. 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at MLK Library, 310 W. Locust St., Milwaukee – this blood drive is in honor of Demarus, who is a sickle cell warrior.

Friday, Sept. 9 from 1 to 6 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 2600 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee – this blood drive is in honor of Shanice, who is a sickle cell warrior.

Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St., Madison – this blood drive continues to bring awareness to the community by inspiring and promoting the campaign, Joined by Blood.

To help ensure all patients have access to the blood products they count on, diverse donors are urged to make an appointment by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). 

Rufus King grad earns inaugural scholarship in fight against sickle cell

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

To her friends, Alana Fisher is sometimes known as “the Milwaukee optimist.”

The incoming freshman at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee packs her schedule with community service and activities that promote the city she’s called home her whole life, all with her signature infectious positivity.

“I love to get involved, tell people about the interesting things to see. There is always something going on,” said Alana.

Fisher, left, can add another nickname from her burgeoning academic and service involvement: nationally recognized sickle cell fighter.

Fisher, 18, was recently announced as one of the inaugural recipients of a $5,000 scholarship established by the American Red Cross for student leadership in strengthening the blood supply through diverse donors. Fisher led numerous blood drives with the Red Cross at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, including the drives during the 2021-22 school year that brought in more than four-dozen units from diverse donors.

Upon hearing the news of the scholarship from the Red Cross and a teacher in mid-July, Fisher admitted she shed tears. It was a joyous recognition of her hard work to rally her fellow student donors – especially amid a pandemic – as well as cover the sometimes prohibitive costs of secondary education.

“When I called my mom, I was like ‘Oh my god, I’m so happy,’ and she said, ‘You should be proud of yourself,” said Alana, who had also earned a Red Cross Leaders Save Lives scholarship earlier in high school.

The Red Cross Sickle Cell Fighter High School Scholarship goes to students at the top 10 high schools in the U.S. for collecting blood from donors who are Black, supporting the goal of helping sickle cell patients by diversifying the blood supply. The $5,000 to students additionally promotes access to and diversity in higher education. The participating high school also receives $1,000.

Click here to find out more about our Sickle Cell Fighter Scholarships.

Fisher and Rufus King were one of two students/school from the Midwest who ranked in the top 10 for the inaugural scholarships that were announced in July, with other honorees coming from high schools in Ohio, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Fisher, center, with her Rufus King High School peers during a blood drive in 2021.

Among other public health benefits, more diversity in the blood supply from self-identified Black donors can aid people receiving transfusions to deal with excruciating pain caused by sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disproportionately affects people of color.

Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Executive Director, said the efforts at these blood drives by Alana will have a lasting, positive impact for people dealing with the pain of sickle cell disease. She’ll also stand as a role model for Milwaukee high school students who follow in her footsteps. 

“As a Milwaukee Public Schools graduate myself, I could not be prouder of Alana’s national leadership toward earning this important scholarship,” said Thomas. “Her upbeat spirit to bring in many first-time and diverse donors through these school drives shows the very best of our youth in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.”

Outside of college courses this summer, Alana has been plenty busy with weeknight river clean-ups and weekend festival participation, often inviting friends to join her. Although undecided in her college course of studies at the moment, she said she’s leaning toward public health. Along those lines, she’s expected to get involved in the Red Cross blood drives that also happen at her college campus.

For those in high school curious about hosting blood drives, Alana said the scholarship possibilities are part of a bigger return. 

“Getting connected with people you never would’ve known,” she said. “For my future endeavors … having school and Red Cross references, being able to come back to help out my school, it is all helping me figure out my future and my path.”

Make your appointment to donate life-saving blood. Visit RedCrossBlood.org for your spot at an upcoming donation site near you.

Get to know … Sara Horein, Red Cross volunteer, board member & Tiffany Circle leader

Sara Horein is one of those people who exudes the mission of the American Red Cross. She’s a leader in the Madison area on the Chapter Board, and she’s a local and national leader as a member of the Tiffany Circle. She’s traveled the world on behalf of the Measles and Rubella Initiative and recently rolled up her sleeve as a first-time blood donor.

Sara Horein, left, with Gail McGovern, CEO and President of the American Red Cross

With so much involvement, we invited Sara to share her anecdotes and passion in this Q&A. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team and were edited for style and space.

How long have you been involved with the American Red Cross? And what first drew you in?

Sara Horein: I have been a Red Cross volunteer for 11 years. I wanted to pursue my passion of serving those most in need and thought there would be no better place than the American Red Cross. As a kid, I remember watching the news about Princess Diana in a Red Cross vest visiting landmine victims. Her kindness and continuous service with the Red Cross resonated with me.

You’ve volunteered in some impressive roles at the Red Cross. Can you share details and anecdotes on some of your volunteer service locally and internationally?

One of my favorite Red Cross memories is this first time I traveled with the Measles & Rubella Initiative to Kenya where the local government – supported by the American Red Cross and our partners – completed a successful, nine-day vaccination campaign in the East African country. Targeting 19 million children between nine-months and 14-years old, this effort was Kenya’s largest immunization campaign in the Measles & Rubella Initiative’s history.

As an Independent Monitor during the campaign one of my duties was to visit hard-to-reach communities to ensure that we have 100% vaccination coverage. Most of the communities I visited are extremely rural or are on country borders because that’s where it’s most difficult to get vaccines distributed.

Horein in Indonesia with the Measles and Rubella Initiative, which is credited with the prevention of more than 31 million measles-related deaths since 2001.

When a child is vaccinated during the Campaign their left pinkie is marked with indelible ink which lasts about 3 to 5 days. I was in an extremely rural part of Kenyan, with my Red Cross translator, looking for mothers and children when I came upon a woman that stopped me in my tracks. There in front of me was woman working harder than I ever had. Approaching her with my Red Cross translator, we had our vaccine-related question ready, but uncovered so much more.

She willingly informed us that her four daughters had just been vaccinated because of the country-wide vaccination campaign. She called for her daughters to come outside. Proudly, this mother showed us that indelible ink on each of their left little fingers.

It was only then that Chimwala told us her extraordinary story. We learned her husband recently passed away, leaving Chimwala the sole financial provider for her four daughters. Without hesitation, she took on his manual labor job of making bricks out of mud to build homes. As she told us about her life, she stood ankle deep in mud, with the harsh African sun beating down on her weathered skin. Behind her were hundreds of bricks – some in stacks and others in rows drying. I will never forget Chimwala or her story. She reinforced my awesome responsibility and purpose as a Red Cross volunteer.

As an Independent Monitor for the Measles and Rubella Initiative, I have travelled to underserved countries like Kenya, Malawi and Indonesia to ensure the most vulnerable populations are being reached with life-saving vaccines. With the Measles & Rubella Initiative, we provide a lifeline to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The Measles & Rubella Initiative is important because the virus is one of the most infectious diseases known to humans. Eliminating measles outside our borders is critical to ensuring domestic outbreaks in the U.S. are stopped.

To someone who may be unfamiliar with the Tiffany Circle, of which you are a member, can you share how you’d describe this impressive group?

Since our founding by Clara Barton over 140 years ago, the Red Cross has been fortunate to count on women leaders among our volunteers, team members and financial donors.

The Tiffany Circle in Wisconsin during a meeting in August 2022.

The Tiffany Circle is a group of women leaders who combine a passion for the Red Cross mission with the power of their philanthropy to alleviate human suffering. More than 1,200 women across the country are members of Tiffany Circles in various cities, investing their resources, leadership and compassion to support Red Cross programs.

In 16 years, members have raised more than $146 million and volunteered countless hours in support of the Red Cross mission.

Along with your local Tiffany Circle leadership, you’ve stepped up in a national role as well. Can you explain what that entails?
As Co-Chair I lead the implementation of the Tiffany Circle strategic plan while inspiring members to support the mission work of the Red Cross.

Let me share a story with you on one way that I’ve inspired women to give: Before the pandemic, I travelled internationally as Red Cross volunteer. Because of my frequent travel to Asia and Africa I was unable to donate blood. Then with the pandemic my international volunteer role and travel was put on hold. The pandemic forced me to think creatively about how I could continue to safely touch the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross.

Guess what!? I rolled up my sleeve and donated blood for the first time. In two years, I’ve donated blood more than eight times. This makes me feel good because I know blood donations save lives.

I tell this story because I believe through service we learn to lead by our heart and to influence others. And, this is a big part of my role at the Red Cross.

As volunteer leader at the Red Cross, I am proud to be following in the footsteps of a long line of women leaders, from our founder, Clara Barton, to our present-day CEO and President Gail McGovern. Gail inspires me to have the courage to lead with my heart.

What would you say to someone looking to take their first steps toward getting involved at the American Red Cross?

My best advice is to follow your passion and lead with your heart – everything else will fall in place.

“Blood saved my life” local Red Cross employee shares going from blood collector to blood recipient

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Since November 2019, Brian Reignier from Green Bay has worked on the Red Cross Blood Services Team in Northwest Wisconsin. In January 2022, Reignier went from blood collector to blood recipient. 

After an emergency surgery to repair an infected knee replacement, Reignier was released from the hospital. While recovering at home, he experienced post-surgery complications and started to lose a significant amount of blood. When he returned to the hospital, his blood pressure and hemoglobin levels were extremely low putting his life in extreme danger. Reignier required an immediate blood transfusion.

“My doctor said if I would have waited another hour to go back to the hospital, that they would be speaking to family members and not me,” said Reignier. “The blood saved my life.”  

Reignier needed blood during the 2022 blood crisis. Hospital personnel had orders to provide blood, but out of an abundance of caution, and to stretch the blood supply, only two out of the three units were needed. With limited inventory, type O negative blood (the universal blood type) was the only blood available.

Reignier remembers looking at the blood bag hanging on the pole and recognizing it as one that he and his colleagues collect from donors every day and how thankful he is for those donors. 

Reignier is back collecting blood from donors and fulfilling the mission of the Red Cross. He has been associated with the Red Cross since he was 16 years old in the role of a lifeguard and first aid/CPR instructor and, most recently, occasionally volunteering with the disaster action team for home fires. “I’m very proud to be associated with an organization that has had the longevity and reputation that the Red Cross has by helping others,” said Reignier. 

During the summer months, blood and platelet donations often do not keep pace with hospital demand. that’s why the American Red Cross is teaming up WBAY-TV and Star 98 WQLH for the 36th annual Super Donor Days Blood Drive Thursday, June 30 from noon to 6 p.m. and Friday, July 1 from 6 a.m. to noon at Tundra Lodge Resort, 865 Lombardi Ave, Green Bay.

All presenting donors will receive a Red Cross recycled cotton tote bag, a $10 gift card (via email), courtesy of Suburban Propane, while supplies last. Special refreshments and picnic style food will be available.

Appointments are strongly encouraged. Walk ins will be allowed as space permits.

Schedule an appointment to donate blood by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also find ways to make a financial donation or join us as a volunteer at RedCross.org.

Madison blood drive brings groups together to fight sickle cell disease

Story by Nicole Sandler, Photos by Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Walking into the American Red Cross Sickle Cell Awareness blood drive on April 30 at the Urban League of Greater Madison felt somewhat like walking into a party.

Amidst the conference room filled with donation beds, blood collection vials, tubing, needles and expert phlebotomists, there was a sense of connection, community and appreciation. Volunteers from Madison’s local chapters of Black fraternities and sororities helped with tasks such as signing in those who had pre-registered to donate blood and registering those who walked in. Other volunteers cheerfully worked at stations set up with chairs for resting and healthy snacks to replenish the energy of those who had just donated blood. Red Cross balloons and lively music added a festive air, and catch-up conversations and educational opportunities were plentiful.

Martin Lackey of Madison battles sickle cell disease. Sharing his story was key to rally friends and colleagues toward donations at a recent blood drive at the Urban League of Greater Madison.

When Martin Lackey arrived at the blood drive that morning, he was met with many high fives, hugs and smiles. As someone suffering from sickle cell anemia, he was there to provide support and inspiration. With his connections across various Madison organizations, Lackey realized an opportunity to bring together around an issue that has acutely affected local Black friends and family. Martin explained that the first step in the process involved calling his friend Dr. Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, and the man Martin considers his mentor.  

Dr. Anthony in turn helped to coordinate the April 30 blood drive. “As a leader in our community, he has a bigger vision for this challenge,” Lackey said of Dr. Anthony.

Sickle cell anemia is a highly hereditary form of anemia characterized by low hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is the most important protein in red blood cells as it’s responsible for carrying oxygen. Red blood cells with defective hemoglobin contort into sickle, or crescent, shapes, and that is how the disease earned its name. Sickle cells die early, leading to a constant shortage of red blood cells, and when they travel through small blood vessels, because of their abnormal shape, they often get stuck and clog blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems like infection, shortness of breath, acute chest syndrome and stroke. Treatment includes medications, blood transfusions, and in some cases, a bone marrow transplant. Whatever a sickle cell patient’s status or recommended treatment may be, these patients require additional blood throughout their lives.

Martin was diagnosed at a young age with sickle cell anemia, and unfortunately, his diagnosis was not novel for his family – his older sister suffered from the disease as well and eventually died. After growing up in Chicago for the first 12 years of his life, his family moved to Madison where he attended local middle and high schools, and then earned a degree in business management at Madison College. He continues to pursue his passion for real estate and founded his own Realtor agency. He accomplished all of this despite struggling his entire life to manage the symptoms, and the pain, of sickle cell anemia. He describes being in and out of hospitals, and while his current stays are shorter in length, as a child he was hospitalized for months at a time.

Bobby Moore sips juice during his Power Red donation at the Urban League offices in Madison. Moore was inspired to give by those dealing with sickle cell disease, like his friend Martin Lackey.

Now, as an adult at age 45 with “too many years of experience” under his belt, he knows better how to manage the symptoms. He keeps extra oxygen at home and a steady supply of prescription pain medications.

Martin speaks with pride about his six adult children – four of his own and two nephews whom he raised and also counts as his own after his sister passed away. They are the focus of his life and he worries about the trauma they’ve suffered through witnessing their father’s chronic illness. Through it all, his disease has defined him and remains a constant in his family’s life. That is a significant reason why Martin remains motivated to do something about it. By raising awareness of sickle cell anemia and the need for blood donations to keep those with the disease alive, he believes he can help.

In all, this drive in Madison served 21 first-time donors and collected 55 units of blood. Just as important, the event met its goal of raising awareness about a painful, challenging disease. Through these efforts, more research and more engagement around sickle cell anemia can be achieved, and Martin Lackey will continue to inspire us all to do our part.

Click here to learn how the American Red Cross is taking on sickle cell disease with testing, blood supply diversity, scholarships and more.

Annual membership notice for the SE Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red cross

The American Red Cross – Southeast Wisconsin Chapter is inviting all eligible members to join our annual membership meeting at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Membership is open to anyone who has made a monetary contribution, performed volunteer service and/or donated blood to the American Red Cross. The purpose of membership is to promote community understanding, commitment and support of the Red Cross mission and services.

This annual meeting will be led by the Board of Directors of the Southeast Chapter and will include election of officers as well as regular business updates.

This meeting will be held in-person and virtually via Microsoft Teams, out of a continuing abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For an invitation to the meeting or other questions, reach out to Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive Mark Thomas at mark.thomas3@redcross.org or Regional Coordinator Executive Constance Palmer at constance.palmer@redcross.org.

Near-death medical onslaught brings Muskego woman closer to blood that supported recovery

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Two heart attacks, one stroke, stage 5 liver and kidney disease, an official diagnosis of hemolytic anemia brought on by lupus and then considered essentially dead for seven minutes.

For most people having any one of these health events would create a life-changing moment. Shannon Estes experienced them all. The process to come through the other side, alive and well, including numerous blood transfusions – Estes can only see it as “unbelievable.”

During the next course of tests, Estes said she flatlined on the table and was considered dead for seven minutes. She was placed on life support where she remained in a medically induced coma.  

On October 25, 2021, Estes, of Muskego, was getting ready for work when she was struck with an excruciating headache, a tingling sensation down her arm and shortness of breath. A trip to the hospital diagnosed Estes with a heart attack. Her hemoglobin levels were low requiring her to receive a blood transfusion. An ultrasound to determine the blood loss came back as inconclusive and her blood levels continued to decline.  

Estes woke up three days later, on a ventilator with stage 5 liver and kidney disease. During this critical time, she was on continuous dialysis and suffered yet another heart attack plus a stroke. Her life was in jeopardy and the doctors were not optimistic. Her blood levels were still low and now they were faced with many more complications.  

Estes spent three weeks in the ICU and received multiple blood transfusions – many times having to wait 24-to-72 hours for the right match. She was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia, a disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made, brought on by lupus, a disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.  

Receiving Type B positive blood has given Estes another chance to live her life and she is incredibly grateful for blood donors. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” said Estes. “It’s unbelievable to think that a few minutes of someone’s time and a little bit of their blood literally gave me a chance to see my children live their lives.” 

Estes is recovered, back to work and walking about a mile a day. She works at the Muskego Circle Community Center where she hosts local American Red Cross community blood drives throughout the year.  

“Before my personal experience, I have to admit that I never understood how a blood drive could impact so many lives,” said Estes. “Now I’m honored to be able to provide a space for you to do it.” When asked about encouraging others to donate, Estes said, “I’d like them to consider what they’d hope someone would do for their loved ones should they ever be in a situation like mine.” 

The Red Cross of Wisconsin region provides numerous opportunities for eligible blood donors to give blood this summer. That includes two signature drives, each with summer style and giveaways:

  • The 17th annual Milwaukee County Zoo Blood Drive Monday, June 27 through Wednesday, June 29 from 9:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at the zoo’s Peck Center, 10001 W. Bluemound Road, Milwaukee.
  • The 22nd annual Madison Beach Days Blood Drive, Friday, July 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel, 706 John Nolen Drive, Madison.

Appointments are strongly encouraged. Walk-ins will be taken as space allows.

Schedule an appointment to donate blood at an upcoming blood drive by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also find ways to make a financial donation or join us as a volunteer at RedCross.org.

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Kelly Clark

Every few months, we’re highlighting the incredible work toward the mission of the American Red Cross by one of our colleagues in the Wisconsin Region. Hopefully these short profiles provide a little light of positivity and inspiration across all lines of service in our humanitarian mission.

This latest profile is on Kelly Clark, a Regional Philanthropy Officer on our Fund Development team, her latest role in an impressive range of service to people as a Red Crosser. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team, and edited for style and space.

American Red Cross: Tell us about your professional background and your role at the Red Cross.

Kelly Clark: I have been a Red Crosser since 2012. I joined the organization as a volunteer in Colorado Springs, Colo. and the Volunteer Services team quickly threw me in to help with planning a disaster training institute. Since then, every time my husband and I moved to a new place with the U.S. Army, I reached out to the local Red Cross office to offer my help. Sometimes in Disaster Services, sometimes in Service to the Armed Forces.

Kelly Clark, left, with volunteers amid an interview with Armed Forces Network while Clark was a Red Cross Field Office Coordinator at a military base in Germany.

When we moved to overseas in 2015, I became the Field Office Coordinator for the American Red Cross office on the USAG Bavaria military base in Vilseck, Germany, and as the only Red Cross employee on the base, I was affectionally known as the “Red Cross lady.” The next step in my Red Cross career was joining the Chicago team as a Disaster Program Manager, covering disaster preparedness and response in five counties including the city of Chicago.

In March, I joined the Wisconsin Region as a Regional Philanthropy Officer for the Southeast Chapter. In this role I will be working with individual, foundation and corporate donors and partners in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin.

Prior to joining the Red Cross, I majored in German and Russian and European Studies for my undergraduate degree at the University of Bath in England, and I am now in the middle of completing my M.S. in Nonprofit Management from Northeastern University, an online course which is based out of Boston.

The mission of the Red Cross connects us to so many people. Can you share an anecdote about someone whose life was affected by your role or work at the Red Cross?

As the Field Officer Coordinator in Germany I was responsible, among other things, for our volunteer program and developing volunteer leadership. The unique nature of living on a military base overseas as a military spouse means there are very few career opportunities available, at least prior to COVID and virtual work becoming more common. One of our volunteers, Sophie, was in the final stages of getting her R.N. license, but needed practical experience in nursing to be able to complete the requirements for her degree. Short of travelling back to the U.S. and being away from her family she wasn’t sure of a feasible solution. In seeing this need, I built a relationship with the military health clinic on base, eventually allowing Sophie – and a number of other nurses-in-training after her – to volunteer as a nurse in the clinic to fulfil her degree requirements.

How do you explain what you do to people outside the Red Cross?

Since the American Red Cross is so well known there is such an overwhelmingly positive response when people find out I work for the organization that it doesn’t warrant a whole lot of explanation. When I do speak about my role, I explain that I work with partners in the Milwaukee area to raise funds so that the Red Cross can achieve its mission in alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies. I think back to my role as a Disaster Program Manager and handing out Client Assistance Cards to clients after a home fire; Disaster Services wouldn’t be able to do its amazing work without the Fund Development team raising the money. Similarly, the Fund Development team wouldn’t exist without Disaster. It is all interlinked. One Red Cross!

What is your hidden talent? Or a hobby you have that people may not know about?

Clark, center, faces a group of trainees at a “Sound the Alarm” smoke alarm installation event in May in Milwaukee.

My hidden talent is that I can speak multiple languages – I grew up speaking English and Dutch and also speak German and Russian (though it’s rather rusty!). A hobby that isn’t necessarily mine, but I indulge in because it’s certainly my husband’s hobby – board games. We probably have 150 different board games in our collection and love to play!

Has anyone in your immediately circle (family or friends) been helped or trained by the Red Cross? If so, how?

Many of my military spouse friends have been trained by the Red Cross through the Preparedness Health and Safety programs, and have become Red Cross volunteers. As part of my role in Germany, I was the local First Aid/CPR/AED instructor, so not only did my close friends get trained in First Aid/CPR/AED, I convinced many of them to train to become instructors of the course, too! This was another great way for military spouses to build skills and keep their resumes active and up to date while they were stationed with their Army spouses abroad.

What does the Red Cross mean to you?

The Red Cross to me means a community of people who want to change peoples’ lives, one disaster response, training class, or smoke alarm install at the time. I didn’t know that when I walked into the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross in Colorado Springs in 2012 that this would become my lifelong career, but now I couldn’t see it any other way!

What would you say to inspire someone to join the Red Cross – through a training, or as a blood donor, volunteer or supporter?

To inspire someone to join the Red Cross, I would tell them my Red Cross story, and the stories of those individuals and families who I have seen be helped by the Red Cross. From a family who lost their home after a house fire, to elementary school children receiving preparedness education through the Pillowcase Project, and to service members and their families who were reunited after a family emergency … the Red Cross is there for people during some of the hardest moments of their lives.

Hundreds of Wisconsin residents safer after “Sound the Alarm” installation events 

Story & photos by Laura McGuire and Justin Kern, American Red Cross 

Spring once again meant community safety along with the flowers and showers in Wisconsin. 

The American Red Cross “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” home fire safety campaign returned to various cities over the course of three weeks, including an emphasis in Wisconsin on residents in Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Sun Prairie and La Crosse. In a matter of a few hours during select days in May, approximately 300 homes in our state received free smoke alarms, fire escape plans and peace of mind against home fires, the most common disaster people face.  

Wisconsin Region CEO Mark Thomas, at right with megaphone, rallies crowds before the Milwaukee day of home fire safety on May 21, 2022.

Red Cross responses to residential fires have increased over the past two years, with thousands of families in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan displaced or worse. Since 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which includes the spring “Sound the Alarm” events, has documented more than 1,270 lives saved, including families in Janesville and Oshkosh.  

After two years without the full force of the signature Red Cross home fire safety campaign in communities due to the COVID pandemic, there was a sense of gratitude – in being proactive, giving back and joining together.  

“This is a big deal to me,” said Cristina Castillo, who lives with her five family members in their home on Milwaukee’s South Side, where Red Cross volunteers installed multiple alarms and talked through a home fire escape plan. “Thank you for being here and thank you for coming into our home.”  

‘How could I say no to free smoke alarms?’ 

In Wisconsin, home fire safety days began with events in Sun Prairie and La Crosse in the same week.

Over the course of two days, Red Cross volunteers, partners and firefighters brought more than 118 alarms plus escape plans and resources to people at more than 50 homes.  

As the Red Cross volunteer and partner fire safety teams visited Dianne Ames’s home in Sun Prairie, one could not help but notice the Green Bay Packers signage on the walls. But the reason for the visit was not to cheer on the team, but to install smoke alarms, review fire safety tips, create a home escape plan and make her home safer, and of course, keep those Packers items safe as well.   

Crystal and Dianne Ames talk through their fire safety plan with Natalie Courtier, Sun Prairie F.D.

When visiting her local community center earlier this year, Ames was greeted by a Red Cross employee sharing the importance of working smoke alarms and the resources available from this program.  

“How could I say no to free smoke alarms?,” said Dianne Ames about why she decided to sign up for the fire safety visit. “Thank you, this is a great program, and I am happy to get new smoke alarms to keep my house safe.”  

Ames’s is grateful for the program and has taken advantage of free smoke alarms in the past. About eight years ago, the Sun Prairie Fire Department had a safety initiative and installed her previous smoke alarms, which were soon to expire. 

“Many people don’t know that smoke alarms need to be replaced every ten years,” said Natalie Courtier, Community Risk Reduction Officer, Sun Prairie Fire Department, who joined the installation team at Ames’s home. “The batteries in the new smoke alarms we are putting in today will not need to be replaced – they are guaranteed to last for 10 years, but we do encourage you to test them once a month to make sure they are working properly.”  

Within 30 minutes, two new smoke alarms were installed and tested in Ames’s home. Meanwhile, other members of the installation team sat with Ames in her kitchen to review safety tips and create a home fire escape plan for her family.   

“I am blessed with what I have been given and I like meeting new people and helping out where I can,” said Jean Aden, QBE employee and volunteer with this installation team alongside co-workers Greg Puloo.

The volunteer installation team walked out of Ames’s house with a sense of pride knowing they helped to make her home safer and that her beloved Green Bay Packer signage would be safe, too.    

‘A lot more secure’ 

The Cream City has the highest number of fire responses and need in the state, but COVID has kept Red Cross teams and partners from holding wide-scale preparedness events since spring 2019. After a rally for about 100 volunteers, staff and partners at Milwaukee Fire Department Station 12, fire safety teams fanned out predominately on Milwaukee’s South Side, an area of heightened responses. By around lunchtime, teams had visited 162 homes, installing 400 free smoke alarms.  

Cristina Castillo, standing, talks through a plan for her family to safely escape a home fire with Red Cross volunteer Melissa Centgraf during a visit in Milwaukee.

Red Cross volunteers Scott Laurent, Melissa Centgraf and Jeffrey Schouten made about 10 stops on their fire safety appointments in the Lincoln Village neighborhood.  

Cristina and Jesus Castillo lost loved ones in Michigan after a home fire. As teams were installing alarms two doors down at their sister’s home, they realized these same resources could be vital for their home, which includes their mother, their two children and a grandchild. The Castillos invited Laurent, Centgraf and Schouten in, where they installed a handful of alarms and drew out a fire escape plan for the three-story home.  

“Now we have … a plan, like if you hear an alarm going off and how to get out of rooms on this side of the house or that side of the house,” said Cristina Castillo, later adding, “I feel a lot more secure. It’s been in the back of my mind but sometimes you just get so busy … I’m extremely happy you all are here.” 

‘Good and helpful reminders’ 

John Wright said he really didn’t know where all of the smoke alarms were located throughout his two-story, finished-basement home in Fond du Lac.  

“Have at it,” Wright said while inviting a three-person installation team to check out alarm needs in the home, one of nearly 100 scheduled over two days in the city. 

Calie Tasch, Community Risk Reduction Specialist, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue, was the self-described “drill-master” and talked through existing alarms and possible replacements with Red Cross disaster volunteer and intern Laura Knops. Ultimately, two, new alarms were installed near a furnace and a wood-working area.  

Calie Tasch, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue, and Laura Knops install alarms during a stop amid two days of fire safety in Fond du Lac.

At the same time, Sara Dorow, Red Cross Disaster Program Recovery Manager, joined Wright on a kitchen island to talk over cooking tips, an escape map of the home and additional awareness around the common local threat of tornadoes. Wright signed up for the alarms through the local Aging and Disability Resource Center, a partner in outreach for many of the appointments on this day  in Fond du Lac.  

“All of these are good and helpful reminders,” Wright said.  

This home fire safety push is possible because of numerous supporters and partners in our communities. Our spring 2022 partners include: Milwaukee Fire Department, La Crosse Fire Department, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue, Sun Prairie Fire Department, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, Generac, Nicholas Family Foundation, Great Rivers United Way, Brewers Community Foundation, Festival Foods, Mercury Marine, QBE, Aurora Advocate Health, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Aging and Disability Resource Center of Fond du Lac County, City of Fond du Lac Senior Center, Sunshine Place, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Milwaukee, Colonial Club, Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa, Milwaukee Tool, El Rey and Pete’s Fruit Market.  

You can still bring these free fire safety resources from the Red Cross and our partners to your home and family. Sign up at redcross.org/WIsmokealarms or (888) 376-4056.