Hours After Smoke Alarm Installation, Oshkosh Couple Avoids the Worst

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Ross Golly’s hands spelled out words like “smoke,” “scared” and “alarm” in retelling the story of a recent cooking fire at his home. Golly and his wife, Betty, who are both deaf, escaped danger from that grease fire quickly thanks in part to alarms installed that very afternoon by the American Red Cross.

Betty and Ross Golly at home Dec 2019 ONE

Betty and Ross Golly, with their dogs Brownie and Peanut, at their Oshkosh home in December 2019. Smoke alarms from the Red Cross helped them avoid harm and destruction the same day they were installed.

As Ross signed the word “comfort” to share his feeling on the ultimate impact of these alarms, his fingers displayed faint, white scars from another fire six years ago that revealed how bad it could have been.

Gratitude and collaboration
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, a volunteer duo from the Red Cross were out in northeastern Wisconsin following up on appointments to install smoke alarms and work with families on home fire escape plans. The appointments are part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which has brought more than 2 million smoke alarms into homes across the U.S. since 2014. Closer to home, from July 2018 to June 2019, for all of Wisconsin, Red Cross volunteers and partners installed 5,709 alarms at nearly 2,500 homes.

More than alarms, the program has directly led to nearly 700 lives saved nationwide, including a family in Janesville. It’s that chance to help keep families prepared and safe from that most-common disaster of home fires that engaged Red Cross volunteers like Toby Vanden Heuvel and Kurt Hein.

Vanden Heuvel has been a volunteer with the disaster action team since 2007. In that role, he both responds to help families who have suffered a home fire and installs alarms to prevent major fires. Soon after the Green Bay Packers game on Sunday, Dec. 1, Vanden Heuvel and Hein visited the Gollys for their installation appointment, which Ross had made online. The four worked collaboratively to overcome initial communications challenges, and Vanden Heuvel said the installation stood out because of the positivity and gratitude.

Toby Vanden Heuvel in FDL floods winter 2019

Toby Vanden Heuvel volunteers with the disaster team, which includes smoke alarm installations and, as seen here, distribution of flood clean up supplies in Fond du Lac in 2019.

“They were super gracious. And interested, reading through all of the instructions” for the alarms and home fire escape plans, Vanden Heuvel said. “Everyone was helping everyone, in some form or fashion.”

Later that night, Hein received a TTY call from the Gollys. The alarms Hein and Vanden Heuvel installed that day went off just hours later, alerting the Gollys to a kitchen fire and preventing a bigger disaster.

Alarms in use, just hours later
In mid-December, the Gollys shared their story on the fire from their home to the Red Cross, including disaster volunteer Sue Bardonner, fluent in American Sign Language that she learned when her son became deaf due to illness more than 20 years ago.

Hours after the installation of two bed-shakers and other, connected 10-year lithium battery alarms in the Golly home, they all went off. Betty had started to fry chicken in their kitchen. She said she misjudged the heat level and the grease burned up quickly, sparking smoke and small flames. That smoke triggered the shaker alarm under the bedroom bed where Ross was resting, as well as the connected alert lights the couple has rigged throughout the home.

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The charred pan that set off the smoke alarms at the Golly home.

While Betty dashed out the front door to escape the smoke, Ross took a quick check of the fire, then grabbed a fire extinguisher from their garage. He put out the fire without greater incident. But not without a rollercoaster of emotions.

“I felt scared” to have the alarms go off, Ross Golly signed. Still, he said the Red Cross bed-shakers and other alarms make him feel “more comfortable. It helps a lot.”

Ross and Betty Golly are now counted among those who prevented greater catastrophe from a home fire because of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. It’s a catastrophe they know well.

‘Something is wrong, I have to go’
For 31 years, the Gollys have lived in a ranch-style home in Oshkosh. The last few years, they’ve shared the home with their two loving dogs, Brownie and Peanut, who respond to sign language commands – especially when it involves treats. Like any homeowners, Ross and Betty have dealt with risks from accidents or weather. (An emergency broadcast weather radio is always on in the home and is connected to a series of alert lights, just like the smoke alarms, doorbell and telephone. Red Cross volunteers also shared information on common regional extreme weather disasters like flooding during their December visit.)

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Ross with his bandaged hands from a previous home fire.

An emergency incident six years ago at the home still puts the couple in a panic. Ross said he was working in the garage when a small fire broke out and melted a coffee pot. In putting that fire out, Ross hurt his hands, though he was able to get off an emergency text to Betty. She rushed home and said she immediately feared bigger problems for Ross with injuries to his hands, his primary method of communication.

“I got a text and I told my boss something is wrong, I have to go,” she remembered. “I came home and saw him and said, ‘Oh my gosh, go to the E.R.’”

Back to the hospital together, Betty helped Ross to communicate at the E.R. In time, his hands healed, though the scars remain. And they were a reminder when he heard about free smoke alarms and fire escape plans on offer from the Red Cross. As he thought back about the fire that scalded his hands and the more recent one where they avoided big damage, Ross reiterated his appreciation to Red Cross volunteers and for the alarms: “Thank you, we’re happy to have this.”

Do you know someone who could use free smoke alarms installed in their home? Sign up today at GetASmokeAlarm.org. Interested in joining our home fire safety volunteer teams? Take the first step at redcross.org/volunteer.

 

Volunteer profile: wanderlust fuels Wood County resident’s Red Cross service

By Stephanie Burton, American Red Cross

When Diane Scheunemann retired from her 41-year career as a parts inventory specialist for a large heavy truck dealership in Marshfield, she didn’t know what she would do with her time. Pickle ball, curling and softball were a start. But she knew she needed something more.

That’s when she turned to the American Red Cross.

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Diane Scheunemann waits in a convoy of Red Cross emergency response vehicles ready to bring food and other items to families in need after Hurricane Michael. (Submitted photo)

“I asked myself what I like to do,” the long-time Wood County resident said. “I like to volunteer and travel. And, the Red offers both of those opportunities.”

Scheunemann contacted her local chapter and began taking in-person and online courses. Soon, she was preparing for her first deployment working as a pre-disaster mega shelter volunteer in anticipation of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Scheunemann and other Red Cross volunteers staffed a school-based shelter that was locked down while one of the worst hurricanes to hit Miami in decades stalled over the area.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she admitted. “I was in awe of what had to be done.”


You can join our disaster volunteers in a number of ways. Click here for info and to sign up.


What had to be done, Scheunemann soon learned, ranged from driving an emergency response vehicle to sorting through thousands of donations the Red Cross receives after disaster strikes.

A self-described introvert, Scheunemann quickly learned how to best use her skills to make a maximum impact. Her wanderlust led her next to provide aid during and after the 2017 Sonoma County Wildfires. This time, her efforts were focused on canteening, preparing food at mealtimes, loading trucks and cleaning.

“It’s a devastating thing to see these houses and vineyards burned to the ground,” she said. But, she takes comfort in knowing that she can provide so much help during times of such life-altering devastation.

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Scheunemann, center, poses during a break from work helping families impacted by wildfires in California in 2019. (Submitted photo)

Scheunemann also traveled to serve those impacted by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., and to the widespread Paradise Fire in Butte County, Calif.

Scheunemann credits her husband for making her deployments possible. He maintains the home and takes care of their dog while she’s away for each two-week deployment.

Her volunteer experience isn’t limited to deployments. In fact, her Red Cross colleagues describe Scheunemann as a jack-of-all trades. She has also responded to a number of local fires that have displaced families.

When asked about what’s touched her most about her time as a Red Cross volunteer, Scheunemann pointed to the generosity she saw in others, not herself. She recalled a local fire she responded to where, among those affected, were three young children, including a colicky baby. A fire chief also at the scene joined their work to help the family find shelter plus medicine for the baby.

You can put your compassion and talents to use as a volunteer with our disaster action teams. We are always looking for people to join our teams, starting with local homes fires and floods, and, with training and interest, deployed out to national catastrophes. Click here to start your volunteer journey.

 

‘You Don’t Know How Much Better I Feel Now’: Volunteer Kathy Markgraf Calls In with an Update from Puerto Rico

Interview by Justin Kern, American Red Cross / Photos from Puerto Rico by Scott Dalton, American Red Cross

Kathy Markgraf is one of our very special American Red Cross volunteers in Wisconsin. After a successful career shaping the lives of teens as a Spanish teacher, she joined our volunteer teams with a specialty in connecting with Spanish-language families affected by disaster. Markgraf, of Lodi, brings an invaluable mix of compassion and language skills to families experiencing home fires and other tragedies.

Kathy MarkgrafIn mid-January, Markgraf brought her casework skills to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after rounds of earthquakes shook the island. (She also deployed to Puerto Rico twice for similar work after Hurricane Maria.)

On Jan. 22, Markgraf took a moment from her evening to share a sliver of her experiences so far in helping people after the ongoing earthquakes in Puerto Rico. An edited version of her conversation appears below.

Where is your base of operations right now?

San Juan, but Mayaguez is where we stayed last night and we’ve been told we may move to that [western] part of the island in the next couple of days. The [Red Cross] mental health and health services teams are already operating in that area … it’s a lot closer to where things are happening.

Are you familiar with that are from when you went there a few years ago?

Yeah … after Hurricane Maria, the first time [I was deployed] I was based in San Juan and we traveled all over the island. The second time, I was down in Ponce, which is part of the area affected by the earthquake, though not the very center of it … It’s like going full circle for me, because I’m going to so many places I went to before, but they look so much better than they did … after the hurricanes. The one that hit me really hard: it used to be, as you drive out of San Juan toward the south coast, you drive over the mountains and you can see down to the coast to … an area near Santa Isabel where the windmills are set out onto the water and they were never working. A couple of days after we got here, we were driving over the ridge of the mountains and there were about 20 windmills and they were turning. It was cool to see the improvement.

Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

Red Crosser Grace connects Miriam with her cousin, who she has not spoken with in years. Miriam and her husband Jose have been sleeping in a van outside of their home since the earthquakes began. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross – Utuado, Puerto Rico, Jan. 23, 2020

The footprint of this operation is probably considerably smaller than we originally thought. It’s a relatively small area … what is really affecting people is the fear. There are buildings and homes that are damaged close to where the quakes are. But, through a large area of the southern part of the island, you’ll sometimes feel the quakes. There hasn’t been anything big like there was, most of them run … 3.0 to 4.0, but there hasn’t been one over 5.0 for a week or so. But they happen a lot. Maybe 20 times a day.

What has been your experience as a Midwesterner with this particular type of natural disaster?

It’s not something we experience [in Wisconsin]. … I’ve never been in a big one. Here … you’ll be leaning against a railing and it’ll start [shaking] and your knees will wobble a little. They don’t last terribly long but because they’re so common, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who will not sleep in their homes at night, because they’re terrified by it. … There are dozens of informal camps that have opened up. They pitch tents, people drive by at night and sleep in their cars. There are the formal government shelters, in stadiums or basketball courts. There are also base camps that have been set up and some of those are several hundred people at a crack, run by the National Guard. What is cool to see is that, after [Hurricane] Maria, the whole island was devastated, they couldn’t help each other [because of widespread power, communications and travel challenges]. Now, that it’s a part of the island, it’s churches, community groups, people in the communities are getting together and collecting stuff – diapers, cases of water – and over the weekend they were coming in with convoys … of tents and air mattresses or games for the kids at these informal camps …

Mentioning the fear earlier, the people you’re interacting with as part of the Red Cross, how are you helping them to bring resources and alleviate some of that fear?

Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

Mexican Red Cross volunteer offers Tailianis a hug at a makeshift tent camp. The Red Cross has more than 180 trained disaster workers on the island, supporting shelters and helping to care for more vulnerable populations such as the elderly and children. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross – Guánica​, Puerto Rico, Jan. 20, 2020

What my team has been doing, particularly our mental health people and spiritual care people – there are a lot of those volunteers already here in Puerto Rico – they’ve been going place to place, daily. There is a lot of psychological first aid from us and our mental health [workers] are very, very involved. It’s probably one of the greatest needs they have here at this point. … For about the first week, our [casework] team was doing a community assessment, where we drove into all of the affected areas and gradually eliminated areas that didn’t have a lot of need and particularly looked for these small informal camps. We met with community leaders and tried to assess, with an emphasis on elderly who may not being served, maybe people living alone, people who were bed-ridden, trying to locate what kinds of needs there were. We found that communities were checking on people and they could give us a lot of that information. But in the camps we’d go in and talk with them. One day I talked with a guy and he and his wife weren’t staying at the camp, but they came by every day and spent time there. They lived in the neighborhood. We just chatted for maybe five minutes. And when I was leaving he said, ‘You don’t know how much better I feel now.’ I was a caseworker just chatting with him, I wasn’t a [disaster mental health volunteer]. But they have so much confidence in the Red Cross, just seeing us there in our vests and stopping to … see how they’re doing, you can just see it makes them feel better.

What’s your team look like?

There are four of us deployed as Red Cross caseworkers. Two of us are Red Cross staff, one from Indiana and one from California, and two are volunteers, myself and one from Arizona. But beyond that we’ve been working with a lot of the local volunteers [from Cruz Roja Americana Capitulo de Puerto Rico]. In our team … one member was born and raised in Puerto Rico, one is from a Puerto Rican family … and I consider myself pretty bilingual at this point. I studied in college and spent most of my life as a Spanish teacher … at Poynette [High School], just north of Madison. Spanish is what took me to the Red Cross.  I retired and I said, ‘I have spent most of my life using Spanish to touch lives. What do I do now?’ And that took me to the Red Cross.

DISASTER COUNSELING/SUPPORT To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

EARTHQUAKE SAFETY You can find valuable information on how to be safe before, during and after an earthquake here.

RECONNECT WITH LOVED ONES The Red Cross has two easy ways to help people reconnect. The Red Cross Emergency App features an “I’m Safe” button that allows users to post a message to their social accounts to let friends and family know that they are out of harm’s way. The Red Cross also offers the Safe and Well website, safeandwell.org, which is a private and more secure option. It allows people to list their own status by customizing a message for their loved ones or selecting pre-scripted messages.

HOW YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes by texting the word EARTHQUAKES to 90999 to make a $10 donation or indicating this disaster on the donation form on redcross.org, and printing and mailing to your local Red Cross chapter. The Red Cross honors donor intent, and all designated funds will be used to support the affected communities in Puerto Rico through emergency relief, recovery and preparedness efforts.

Milwaukee families dive deep into swim safety program

Story & photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

With each splash of water in the pool, toddlers Raegan and Jaxon Oliphant-Clark added audible “oohs” and “ahhhs.” These were quickly followed by a stream of questions to their mom, Ashton Clark, on when they’d be able to join their older sister, Mackenzie, in the water.

Jaxon Oliphant Clark excited at pool with mom Ashton Clark Centennial JMAC Jan 2020

Jaxon Oliphant-Clark is wowed by watching his older sister, Mackenzie, swim at a pool in Milwaukee. Ashton Clark, left, said she was grateful for the chance to sign up all three of her kids for Saturday lessons offered in a partnership with Milwaukee Recreation and the American Red Cross.

Saturday, January 18 was the first day of swim lessons for the season at James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC), one of four pools in Milwaukee involved in a deepened water safety partnership with the American Red Cross Centennial Campaign.

Ashton Clark assured Raegan and Jaxon that they’d be “in the pool soon,” after their older sister’s more advanced swim lesson, where she accompanied by her father, Trevor Clark, a few other youth swimmers, and an instructor with the Red Cross.

“We want them in the pool, but with three kids it can be hard, it can be expensive” to get everyone into lessons at once, Ashton Clark said. “When [my husband] saw this online, it was a no-brainer.”

The Centennial Campaign is focused on increasing access to swim safety lessons in areas where there are higher-than-average rates of death by drowning. The campaign initially launched in 2014 – marking a century of American Red Cross safe swimming lessons – and has gone on to surpass its initial targets of teaching 50,000 more people how to swim at 50 select cities in the U.S.

Claudia Delgadillo trains floating Aniyah Callaway Centennial JMAC Jan 2020

Milwaukee Recreation instructor Claudia Delgadillo works with Aniyah Callaway, 6, to feel comfortable in the water during a recent lesson at James Madison Academic Campus.

The recent lessons in Milwaukee were the first in the state of Wisconsin under the Centennial Campaign banner, with a target of reducing Milwaukee’s heightened rates of drowning deaths. Milwaukee Recreation, a longtime partner in water safety and instruction, identified four pools in Milwaukee Public Schools where the reduced-price lessons – $5 per person, child or adult – opened the potential for more families to gain life-saving swim capability. In the first few days of registration, program participation nearly quadrupled at those four pools and even additional lessons filled up. (New lessons for all swim programs, including an extension of the Centennial Campaign, will be introduced again by Milwaukee Recreation in spring 2020. Sign up and find out more here.)

Back at JMAC’s pool on Saturday, parents and guardians braved snowy streets from the previous evening’s storm to bring their children to the kick-off of lessons. One refrain among adults was appreciation for the chance to have children learn to swim at a young age, something they didn’t have.

Shay Fike, of Milwaukee, signed up her daughter, Larissa Hudson, 8 (pictured with arms raised, below.) for her first swim lessons last year on the general safety advice of their pediatrician. Fike said she didn’t learn to swim until high school, so she was grateful for daughter “to have the skill” earlier in life.

“You never know when it’ll happen, when you’ll need it,” Fike said.

Larissa Hudson swims Claudia Delgadillo trains Centennial JMAC Jan 2020

Tiffany Ware-Callaway adjusted the red swim cap on the head of her daughter, Aniyah Callaway, 6. As she talked through the importance of feeling safe in the water, Aniyah listened attentively. Then, she fired off a few of her pool favorites.

“I like the slides and jumping in, yelling ‘cannonball!,’” she said before taking in a big gulp of air and bulging out her cheeks.

Click here to find a swimming safety lesson near you.

 

Readiness, Service and a Fire Close to Home: Our First Year Together

By Mark Thomas, Wisconsin Region CEO & Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, American Red Cross

It was December 2018 and, as always with the holidays, it was time for family updates. Checking in with siblings, relatives, loved ones, a roundup on new jobs, relationships, babies and other benchmarks.

From my sister, the update was initially grim: my nephew in Racine had suffered a home fire.

Mark Thomas headshot proThat’s the kind of news that puts so much into perspective. She said he and his girlfriend had gotten out safely. They lost many possessions, including gifts from the holidays. But, as my sister said, they had hope right after the fire, because that’s when they received comfort and help from volunteers at the American Red Cross.

My sister and nephew didn’t even know I had started a new career at the Red Cross. This was just weeks after I had joined. The story from my sister was an unfiltered acknowledgement that fires didn’t just happen to other people. And that hope and help came from the Red Cross for everyone in need, my family included.

Once I had the chance to share about my new role at the Red Cross, I knew from my family’s story that I had come to the right place.

I’m happy to report that my family is back in their place and on solid footing. As for me, I’m now at one year as Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive with the Red Cross. On this anniversary and during a time of year when people are extra reflective, I wanted to revisit a few of the milestone moments from another outstanding year of service by your Red Cross in Wisconsin. I also wanted to share a big lesson I’ve learned and the vision I have for the time ahead.

But back to 2019. As the anecdote I shared at the start shows, our programs and mission became very real in my life right away. Here are a few, high-level bullets of the stand-out moments our Region has been involved with over the past 12 months:

January

  • Received the “Region of the Year” recognition for the fundraising success of my predecessors and present leaders on our fund development team
  • Brought together our Southeast Chapter Board for my first full meeting (special shout-out to board chair Becky Fitzgerald for your leadership and guidance)

February

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With our team at the Milwaukee Stand Down, held at the Armory. 

March

  • Met people displaced by a large-scale apartment fire in Bayside, including a dear friend and a local reporter brave enough to share her story
  • At a shelter from ice jam flooding in Fond du Lac, watched as strangers brought a turkey on their Harley for people who were displaced, and was impressed by all the volunteers who kept spirits high (my teenage daughter was wowed, too, and impressed me by putting on a Red Cross vest and pitching in)

April

  • Welcomed and enthused by our staff at our first, in-person meeting in Madison
  • Those feelings multiplied this same month on an introductory meeting with my national colleagues at the historic Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C.

May

June

July

  • Able to notch success in nearly every way for our fiscal year, which ended in June
  • Completed my first CPR training
  • Worked alongside local and national Red Cross teams at the LULAC Convention in downtown Milwaukee
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Meeting disaster volunteer Ryan Clancy before he headed to help during Hurricane Dorian. Also met a few members of the Milwaukee media, who helped share Ryan’s journey.

August

  • Talked with volunteers as they flew off to the large-scale response to Hurricane Dorian and other flooding and fires – what an impressive machine to help people in desperate need

September

October

  • Grateful to have Greg Novinska take a new role with our biomedical services team, my colleague in everything happening behind the scenes to merge the full power of the Red Cross for people in our state

November

  • Cold weather came early, and with it, the typical spike in home fires … thankfully, our volunteers around the state have once again answered the call for families displaced by this every-day disaster
  • Had important discussions around inclusion and diversity with our talented Wisconsin leadership team, such a vital part of plans to make our organization the best place it can be for everyone

December

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Kids in Milwaukee enjoying swim lessons, with the promise of many more to come thanks to the Centennial Campaign and Milwaukee Rec.

There has been so much from those events and more that have impressed, humbled and energized me about the work we do. From it all, two ideas stand out.

The first is readiness. That word – readiness – means so much more to me, now that I’ve seen us in action. Home fires, floods, staff meetings, volunteer recruitment, fundraising, blood collection, outreach to military families … even as these words are coming together, our teams in Osseo are wrapping up a reception center for people affected by a massive car pile-up. Just before I pulled together these thoughts, one of our long-time and wonderful volunteers, Marge, stopped in and reminded me of the value of openness and being ready to share her passion and ideas for our mission. The countless ways readiness is part of our service at the Red Cross keeps what we do exciting and important.

From that important lesson on readiness, I have a solid foundation on how we build for the days ahead. We have a very strong network across Wisconsin. I am committed to making sure our core service is focused on our customers – including people in need, our volunteers and our supporters – and that it remains inclusive to all. There have been incredible people who have sustained and led this organization for more than 100 years in our state. I will carry that legacy of service. And I aim to make sure every community we serve knows the Red Cross is here to help, the right way. With you, I know we can help our friends, family and neighbors in need for the next 100 years – and beyond.

New National Swim Program at Four Milwaukee Pools Focuses on Affordability and Access to Life-Saving Skills

American Red Cross and Milwaukee Recreation Aquatics partner to create ‘ecosystem of water safety’ for children and adults with Centennial Campaign

[MILWAUKEE, Wisc., Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019] In an expansion of a national multi-year campaign to reduce drownings and increase access to water safety skills, the Milwaukee Recreation Aquatics program through Milwaukee Public Schools has joined the American Red Cross Aquatics Centennial Campaign.

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A student swims in Milwaukee pools during a summer safety lesson.

“We’re partnering with Red Cross aquatics training providers like Milwaukee Recreation Aquatics to create an ecosystem of water safety in communities where there are high numbers of drownings or drowning rates that are higher than the national average,” said Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, American Red Cross. “To families, this means having access to affordable life-saving swim lessons and water safety training in and near their communities.”

The Centennial Campaign will bring $5 swim lessons to resident and non-resident children and adults at four select Milwaukee Recreation school pools in the city:

  • James Madison Academic Campus (8135 W. Florist Ave.)
  • North Division High School (1011 W. Center St.)
  • Milwaukee High School of the Arts (2300 W. Highland Ave.)
  • Vincent High School (7501 W. Granville Road)

“Milwaukee Recreation is proud to be a part of the Centennial Campaign. The partnership will allow the Milwaukee community access to learn-to-swim programs at locations that have historically struggled with both poverty and drowning rates. We are excited to offer affordable, quality swim lessons, water safety education and lifeguard training to more students than we ever have before,” said Nicole Jacobson, Aquatics Supervisor with Milwaukee Recreation.

Registration is open starting Tuesday, Dec. 10 and available through the Milwaukee Recreation website [click here] and by-mail program.

Aquatics Centennial Campaign by the Numbers

The Red Cross campaign began in 2014 in recognition of 100 years of Red Cross swimming safety education. Due to the positive response, the campaign is expanding beyond the initial 50 programs.

Through the end of 2018, national campaign milestones include:

  • 81,288 sets of swim lessons in 93 communities and 197 aquatic facilities in 23 states
  • 839 lifeguards certified and 1,896 junior lifeguards trained
  • 768 Water Safety and Basic Swim instructors certified
  • 12,388 parents and caregivers armed with lifesaving water-safety knowledge and skills

Media contact on Centennial Swim program: Justin Kern (414) 242-6806 Justin.Kern@redcross.org

‘Diminished’ after a home fire, a Kenosha County nurse helps others as she rebuilds

Story by Cooper Adams, American Red Cross

Stephanie Mortenson laid down on her hotel bed, sobbing after finally having the chance to process the previous stressful hours. Losing her house, her car and most of her belongings in a devastating home fire, Mortenson now had to figure out how to start over.

“My life was diminished to a razor and a toothbrush,” Mortenson said.

Mortenson had been having a pretty normal night with her husband, watching their two grandchildren, both toddlers. Around 9 p.m., an explosion came from the garage. Their pickup truck caught on fire. Because there were no smoke alarms in the garage, the fire built before the alarms in the rest of the house detected anything. Fortunately, Mortenson heard the explosion, promptly called 9-1-1 and the family escaped the house.

Mortenson admitted that her family should have had a better escape plan in case of a home fire: “We should have discussed it earlier. We didn’t know where we were going to go, just that we had to get outside.”

Everyone made it out of the house unharmed. Mortenson had brought her grandchildren to her neighbor’s house to keep them safe. Shortly after, the fire department and American Red Cross arrived to check on everyone.

Chin Ng Kenosha installs fall 2019

Chin Ng, volunteer with the American Red Cross, installs a smoke alarm during a home fire safety event in Kenosha. Photo by Cooper Adams.

As someone who describes herself as stubborn, Mortenson was initially hesitant having the Red Cross help her that night. “I thought we didn’t need help,” Mortenson explained. “We’re givers, not takers”. After some friendly persuading, Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer Ben Neal convinced Mortenson to take the first step of accepting a hug.

With Red Cross assistance, Mortenson and her husband are now living in an apartment, with plans to rebuild a new home in the same location as their previous one.

Mortenson’s journey with the Red Cross actually didn’t start with the home fire. Since she was 18, she’s been an advocate for donating blood. She’s donated every chance she’s had since.

Then, about a year and a half ago, she witnessed a horrible car accident involving a truck, leading to severe injuries and even deaths. As a nurse, she sprang into action and helped the passenger struggling for air in the wrecked car, saving her life. For her heroic actions, the Red Cross awarded her with the Brave Hearts award.


Do you know a community hero in southeastern Wisconsin? Click here to nominate them as a Brave Hearts hero.


After her own home fire, Mortenson found a way to be active with the Red Cross that would help others struck by home fires. For National Fire Prevention Week, the Red Cross teamed up with Journey Church and the Kenosha Fire Department to install free smoke alarms throughout Kenosha. Since Mortenson regularly attends Journey Church and remains involved with the Red Cross, she signed up to volunteer.

Mortenson felt moved to help make people safer by recalling the tragic night she had just months before. Mortenson arrived at Journey Church, prepared to go out and make a difference. She stopped when she recognized a familiar face: it was Ben Neal, one of the Red Cross volunteers who helped her the night of her own home fire.

She came up to him and they were able to catch up. Neal asked Mortenson about her grandkids and she replied that they were doing well. She also apologized for being stubborn about receiving help. When asked how she was, Mortenson grew contemplative.

Stephanie

Stephanie Mortenson, left, receives a Brave Hearts community hero award in May from presenter Beth Straka, We Energies. Photo by Front Room Studios.

“We live in a proud fashion,” Mortenson reflected. “People are just going through life, and we need to stop.”

The two continued their conversation until the time came to begin the installations. Mortenson reiterated how grateful she was for Neal and the Red Cross’ assistance that night and the following weeks.

When asked about his experience working with Mortenson, Neal responded that “It was great! I could tell she had a desire to give back and share her story. I began to volunteer so I could give back and help others who are at their lowest.”

After this experience, Mortenson feels as if she’s become a better person. She learned that admitting you need help is not a sign of weakness. She learned how to remove a mask she felt that she was wearing. She learned to be okay with three pairs of jeans instead of a whole closet. Grateful for the help she received, she thanked the Red Cross for providing her with the resources she needed to recover and give again.

You can help families during their moments of need. Join our Disaster Action Team volunteers. Take that first step by clicking here.