Arrowhead Union H.S. student wins Red Cross scholarship   

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jesus “Junny” Hernandez of Delafield helped save lives by hosting an American Red Cross blood drive at his church and earned a $1,000 scholarship as a result of his lifesaving efforts. 

As part of the Red Cross Leaders Save Lives program, the student at Arrowhead Union High School hosted a blood drive at First Congregational Church in Hartland on May 28, which collected 44 blood donations. As a result, Hernandez was eligible to be entered into a drawing for a scholarship and was chosen as a winner. He was also awarded a gift card.  

Hernandez intends to study medicine after graduating high school in 2023. He said organizing this blood drive gave him the chance to “feel empowered” in his community and with his passion for healthcare.

“Please host a blood drive. It is a great way to interact with your community and school while still helping people in need,” he said.

Blood donors from high school and college blood drives account for about 20% of donations given through the Red Cross during the school year. The Leaders Save Lives program encourages community-minded high school and college students to host blood drives to help maintain the blood supply for patients in need of lifesaving transfusions.  

Students can sign up to host Leaders Save Lives blood drives during several seasonal timeframes throughout the year. For more information, visit RedCrossBlood.org/LeadersSaveLives

To make an appointment for a blood donation, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call (800) RED CROSS (733-2767) or download the free American Red Cross Blood Donor app from your app store.

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Bradley Phillips

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 first profile is on 40-year biomedical services Collections Material Coordinator (CMC) Bradley Phillips, who has personal connections with the need for blood products and also knows his way around a dartboard. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team, and edited for style and space.

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

Bradley Phillips: I started my career with the Red Cross back in 1981 in Green Bay as a hospital services courier, working part-time, on-call every other day and weekend. I then transferred to Madison to take a full-time Mobile Unit Assistant (MUA, as the role was known as then) position for about a year-and-a-half until a position back in my hometown of Green Bay opened in the hospital services department.

Upon my return to Green Bay, I filled in for various positions including milk runner (nowadays referred to as courier or blood runner), activity (hospital calls) and periodic MUA work. I performed this miscellaneous work for approximately two years until the one and only Green Bay driver (at that time) unexpectedly went out for medical reasons, their unexpected situation led me to be able to step into my full-time role as an MUA.

While working as an MUA for many years I became an active member of the Local 1558 Union as a Steward until 2012 when I became Vice President. I remained in the role of an MUA until September 2019 when a Collections Material Coordinator (CMC) position opened. During my career, I thoroughly enjoyed being in the MUA position out on the road, I am also very happy in my current role as a CMC.

To people outside the Red Cross, how do you explain your job?

I tell people I prepare and load trucks for blood drives, keep the warehouse fully stocked by ordering and tracking inventory of all supplies as well as equipment, and monitor every blood drive to ensure each vital detail is in place for all mobile operations to run smoothly. I do so much more but one of my biggest roles is being that moral support for the drivers before they leave for their shifts.

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

I am pretty good at throwing darts and enjoy playing darts with friends. By far one of my favorite pastimes is visiting northern Wisconsin, camping [there] with family and friends during the warm months of the year.

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

Yes, my sister-in-law received blood during her pregnancy, and I received convalescent plasma while I was in the hospital fighting COVID-19 related complications.

Another way the American Red Cross has helped my family was when my 4-year-old granddaughter was in the hospital recovering from an accident. My American Red Cross family (co-workers) showed my granddaughter love and support by getting her fun activities like coloring books, toys and stuffed animals to help lift her spirits during her recovery.

What does the Red Cross mean to you?

It means everything! The American Red Cross has been such a huge part of my life for so many years. The American Red Cross gave me a chance to see so many little towns and meet so many people. I might not have ever had the chance to experience these things if it was not for my job traveling on the road throughout the years. You never really work in the same place and everywhere you go you see a new face.

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

The American Red Cross is an interesting, unique, and exciting place to work. The atmosphere, and the people, make the job fun all the while touching so many lives.

“All that matters”: Red Cross supports people across Wisconsin after late-night, widespread tornados and storms

By Justin Kern and Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Jim Zastrow stands in front of the storm and tornado damage at and around his family’s home in Oconomowoc. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

Jim Zastrow didn’t need an official tornado declaration to know the seriousness of the overnight storms. He could make it out in the wood shards from the destroyed barn across the street that were stuck into his own Oconomowoc home’s exterior walls.

For Zastrow, like many people across Wisconsin, daylight on Thursday revealed a bewildering spread of destruction, at homes from Black River Falls and Merrill, to Ripon and Concord. As disaster volunteers Debbie Urbanek and Steve Buck from the American Red Cross brought emergency assistance and clean-up materials to Zastrow and others in western Waukesha County, Zastrow thought about what was most important after a night of hunkering down with his wife and daughter.

“My house is devastated but my family is fine and that’s all that matters,” said Zastrow.

From the evening of July 28 to the early hours of July 29, a line of thunderstorms and now-confirmed tornados raked across Wisconsin, starting with alerts, watches and warnings, then leaving behind a spotty stretch of residential ruin. As of Friday morning, the National Weather Service had confirmed at least five tornados and power was just returning for parts of north-central and northeast Wisconsin. One person was reported killed in a car crash caused by storm debris.

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Steve Buck, left, and Debbie Urbanek brought emergency assistance and clean-up supplies to residents in Waukesha County. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

The Red Cross helped those affected during and afterward in a number of ways, including emergency assistance to residents affected by tornados in New Richmond and Oconomowoc, as well as other storm damage in La Valle, Wisconsin Dells and Omro, plus support with power charging stations and water distribution in Ripon and Pine River. Between people who were displaced temporarily or for a potentially longer timeframe, the Red Cross provided direct assistance to more than 40 people in various parts of the state. At the same time, disaster teams were still supporting families displaced by unrelated home fires in Oshkosh, Milwaukee, Peshtigo and Sheboygan.

Uniquely, more than 15,000 people were in town for a popular aircraft show in Oshkosh, many of them camping and in RVs. So, the Red Cross and partners established an evacuation center before and during the storm at the Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh. From arena seats and in view of the historic Mecca basketball court, families from North Dakota, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri and just up the street rode out a roaring, lightning-packed storm cutting across Winnebago County.

Gary Garske, left, and Kelly Moore, attendees of an aircraft event in Oshkosh, rode out a threatening storm at an evacuation center run by the American Red Cross. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Gary Garske, from Devils Lake, N.D., said he had been attending the E.A.A. AirVenture show since the 1990s, though luckily had never experienced inclement weather beyond rain and wind gusts. His visit this year, accompanied by Kelly Moore, her daughter and the daughter’s friend, included a layover at a Red Cross evacuation center. Garske and Moore had Red Cross blankets draped over their legs to get cozy in the arena seating as the storm howled outside for more than 40 minutes. Moore checked out weather updates on her computer; Olympic swimming on arena TVs served as a welcome distraction for others at the evacuation center.

“This is perfect. I wouldn’t want to be out there in a camper,” said Garske.

You can help people during their darkest hour. Join our disaster volunteers. More than 90 percent of our humanitarian mission happens because of the compassion and dedication of people just like you. Find out more and sign up at redcross.org/DAT.

Red Cross believer shows “good things come in threes”

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Cindy Stiffler has been on both sides of the table when it comes to receiving and giving blood products.

But it’s her passion as an American Red Cross volunteer that brings to mind the quote, “all good things come in threes”.

In 2018, Stiffler was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through her journey with cancer she endured chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries and she required blood and platelets. Once during her recovery, she needed to wait for blood. Thanks to the Red Cross’ advance inventory management system, blood was located in another state and was transported to the hospital for her transfusion.

Cindy Stiffler at a blood drive in Madison. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

Stiffler started giving blood in college and has been a loyal blood donor ever since. Her journey with cancer paused her donations, but now she is donating again. She will reach her 20th donation milestone later this month.

“Donating is a good thing to do,” Stiffler said. “You never know when you’ll be on the other side needing blood. I have O-negative blood and I know how important that is to share with others.”

In 2013, Stiffler started volunteering at Red Cross blood drives and has been volunteering in the Madison area for the last six years. When asked about what drives her passion, she said she respects the mission of the Red Cross and enjoys how easy and meaningful it is to help. She likes volunteering at blood drives because she knows she has a direct impact on someone’s life. 

Stiffler’s passion for the Red Cross started early in life. She remembers seeing the Red Cross at work when a friend’s house caught on fire.

“The Red Cross’ disaster team was on the ground instantly providing my friend’s family with comfort, care and essential needs,” said Stiffler. “It’s a comfort knowing that the Red Cross is always there. It’s good people doing good work.”

The Red Cross is grateful for Cindy Stiffler as she continues to fulfil her passion as a loyal blood donor and volunteer.

Every cancer survivor’s ability to donate blood will be determined on a case by case basis. Eligibility is ultimately determined by the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. For eligibility requirements please visit redcrossblood.org.

Social volunteer Maya Reinfeldt found her way to give back “when nothing was certain”

By Katie Baneck, American Red Cross

All major news outlets share their stories via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, you name it; social media has easily become the go to place for people to get their daily news fix. The American Red Cross of Wisconsin is no different. Head to our Facebook page and you’ll see it’s up to date with upcoming events, current projects, and recent awards.

Sharing current events and good news are just some of the responsibilities of a Wisconsin Red Cross social media volunteer. Perhaps the most crucial responsibility is keeping our social media pages updated in the event of a disaster. Social media is one of the first places people look to when a disaster strikes, and keeping those pages updated with current information can often put the public at ease. Our social media volunteers work hard before, during and after those events to make sure our followers have the most up to date information on how to prepare, react and recover in the event of a disaster.

Maya Reinfeldt (at left), a senior at UW-Madison and Red Cross Social Media Volunteer, recently took the time to share her volunteer experience.

Why did you choose to get involved with the Red Cross?

Maya: “At the start of the [COVID-19] pandemic, I was feeling very frightened and helpless about the state of the world. The idea of volunteering with the Red Cross was very appealing, as it would allow me to do my part in helping others, no matter how small, at a time when nothing was certain.

I was enthusiastic about supporting the Red Cross’ operations and being as productive as I could in aiding others over quarantine.”

What was it about the social media role that was compelling to you?

Maya: “I believe that social media has the power to reach and affect countless people. It can spread valuable, life-saving information, instill hope, share stories, and provide resources. Being a part of this process was an excellent way to involve myself safely in the workings of the Red Cross.”

What are some of the things you’ve been involved with as a social volunteer?

Maya: “I’ve moderated both Wisconsin-based and nationwide questions to the Red Cross, I have shared stories and photos of the work the Wisconsin Red Cross is doing, and I’ve helped to publicize various events.”

How does it make you feel to be involved in this unique way?

Maya: “It makes me feel proud to know that the work I’m doing helps people in need, and helps the Red Cross to succeed in their mission. I also feel relief knowing that I found a way to help and to stay active in the community during the pandemic.”

The social media team provides numerous opportunities, almost entirely from the comfort of your own home. For information on how you can become a social media volunteer with the Red Cross – with local and national responses – reach out to our team at VolunteerWisconsin@redcross.org.

Red Cross blood drive held in memory of Levi Linscheid

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

In October 2019, Highland, Wisconsin native, Levi Linscheid, passed away in an automobile accident at the age of 24. Levi lived his short life with the consistent philosophy of helping others.

He was a dedicated fitness trainer who is remembered for his unmatched kindness to everyone, his commitment to his career and his passion for health. He had a great respect for people and treated everyone equal no matter their walk of life. To know Levi was to be his friend.

The American Red Cross is joining family and friends to host a blood drive in memory of Levi Linscheid on Monday, June 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Broske Center, 1155 N. Second St., 53818 in Platteville and Friday, June 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Saint Anthony Philip Parish, 726 Main St., 53543 in Highland. Appointments are strongly encouraged. (Click here to make an appointment, using the above ZIP codes in your search.)  

In June 2020 an outstanding number of blood donors rolled up a sleeve to support the Linscheid family. Over the two days, 224 lifesaving donations were collected, with 33 of these donations being first-time blood donors.

As more people schedule their vaccination appointments and begin to gear up for a return to some of their favorite summer activities, the Red Cross encourages eligible donors to give blood or platelets and make it a summer full of life for patients in need. While Americans begin to resume normal seasonal activities, the Red Cross is concerned about the impact this may have on blood donor turnout and the blood supply this summer. The need for lifesaving blood transfusions never takes a break. It’s critical to have blood ready to go when every second counts. 

The first blood drive of this series will be held in Platteville, where Levi went to school, lived and worked. The second blood drive will be in Highland, Levi’s hometown. “We’re honored to be a part of this important event in Levi’s memory,” said Barbara Linscheid, Levi’s mother. 

“Hosting a blood drive in his name is a wonderful way to honor Levi and help patients in need,” said Shannon Montgomery, donor recruitment district manager for the American Red Cross Wisconsin Blood Services Region. “This blood drive is truly fitting since Levi was known for loving his community and serving others.”

Make your appointment in Levi’s memory today at RedCrossBlood.org.

Never Too Busy to Save a Life

By Kay Elmsley Weeden, American Red Cross

It’s hard to imagine someone as busy and caring as Bonnie Schuenke. Outside of her work as a Critical Care RN Case Manager covering the Heart Care Unit, Oncology, and ICU at Waukesha Hospital, at home she fosters dogs for several different rescue organizations. Both of these could be a full-time job in itself.

But today finds Bonnie and her husband, Mark (both pictured, at left), masked and reclined on vinyl cots, each of them hooked up to a blood collection bag. They are betting against each other to see which one will finish first. More often than not, Bonnie wins. And why not? She’s been regularly donating blood through the ARC for more than twenty years, and she makes sure her husband goes with her.

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“This is part of what we should be doing to give back. It’s the right thing to do,” she says.

Bonnie knows that blood donation is quick and easy, and almost daily she sees the effect that blood has on the many patients she cares for. She watches how patients transform once they are given a unit of blood.

“They can go from feeling miserable to feeling so much better in a short time.” It’s akin to liquid gold.

On this World Blood Donor Day (June 14), the American Red Cross is taking a moment to recognize all of the remarkable people like Bonnie and Mark, who step up to give. This past year has been especially challenging on so many levels due to COVID. In March 2020, there were widespread cancellations of blood drives. The Red Cross pivoted with more health and safety measures, new and creative sites for drives, and added information for those who donated, like testing for COVID antibodies.

Through it all, the need for blood remained constant, something Bonnie knows first-hand. For someone who works most of her waking hours treating patients, Bonnie and her husband see donating blood not simply as a chance to volunteer, but as the chance to help save a life. And it truly appeals to them that they can track their donation as it’s being processed and know where it has been sent.

This underscores their feeling that their blood donation means something. “Give Blood. Help Save a Life” is a catchphrase the Red Cross has used to encourage donations. And according to Bonnie, “that is the very impact you have when you donate.”

Her advice: Find a buddy, go together and make it fun.

When was the last time you helped to save a life? If you’d like more info on how to donate blood or platelets, or to make an appointment, please go to redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Annual membership notice for the Southeast 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 16, 2021.

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 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 Volunteer Samantha LeBlanc at samantha.leblanc@redcross.org.

Grateful cancer survivor pays it forward after receiving blood and platelets

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Tina Langness is a retired registered nurse and has seen the need for blood and platelets hundreds of times in her career, but she never imagined she would be the one in need.

In 2017, Langness was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through her year-and-a-half journey with cancer she endured chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, and through the ordeal, she required blood and platelets. Cancer free since June 2020, she shared her sense of gratitude for American Red Cross blood and platelet donors.

Langness has a simple message to all blood donors. “I love you! Thank you! You are da bomb,” said Langness. “You saved my life and inspired me to keep going and not give up. Your donations do more for people than you realize. Thank you for being unselfish and for making a difference.”

As a cancer survivor, it’s only natural for Langness to want to give back in the same manner that she was saved. In the fall of 2020, Langness started to donate her high demand Type O positive blood at American Red Cross community blood drives in New Richmond or Hudson, Wis. consistently every 56 days.

To encourage others who may be hesitant to donate Langness says, “I totally get it and I get you. I know it’s scary, it’s human nature to be afraid of the unknown and it is a bit of a commitment, but the feeling of knowing you are doing a really good thing and you are saving lives is absolutely incredible. Someday you, a close friend or a family member may be the one needing blood or platelets. It really can and does make a difference.”

This June, the Red Cross and the American Cancer Society have teamed up to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time and help ensure loved ones have the strength and support they need as they undergo cancer treatment. Patients fighting cancer need more blood than patients with any other disease, using nearly one-quarter of the nation’s blood supply. Individuals can honor their loved ones by making a blood or platelet donation appointment at GiveBloodToGiveTime.org.  

The Red Cross currently has an emergency need for eligible donors in Wisconsin to make an appointment now to give platelets to ensure critical patient needs are met. Platelets, the clotting portion of blood primarily given to cancer patients during treatment, must be transfused within five days of donation and, therefore, are always in great demand. In thanks for helping meet patient needs, all who come to donate through June 13 will receive a limited-edition Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last.  

And Red Cross donors, volunteers and staff will continue to have Langness’s gratitude.

“I’ve always admired the American Red Cross and the volunteers and staff,” said Langness. “We are extremely lucky as a nation to have the services they provide. When disaster strikes, you know they will be there. However, it’s behind the scenes where the Red Cross really ticks and goes unnoticed. It’s really an inspiring organization!”

Every cancer survivor’s ability to donate blood will be determined on a case by case basis. Eligibility is ultimately determined by the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. For eligibility requirements please visit redcrossblood.org.

Make an appointment to help someone like Tina. Click here and find a date and location that fit for you.

Robotic pets provide ‘unique’ support for Wisconsin and Michigan veterans

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Veterans have had challenges with loneliness and isolation exacerbated by the constraints and safety restrictions set in place by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One creative solution? Meet Princess, the robotic cat.

Since spring 2020, the Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross has supplied approximately 17 robotic cats and dogs to facilities that house and care for veterans, including at the Oscar G. Johnson V.A. in Iron Mountain, Michigan, and the Tomah V.A. Medical Center and the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King in Waupaca.

Veteran Susan Vich poses with her fuzzy friend, a robotic pet supplied by the American Red Cross, from her home at the Oscar G. Johnson V.A. in Iron Mountain, Mich. Submitted photo

Heather LaPalm, a Recreation Therapy Assistant at the V.A. in Iron Mountain, has been part of the team to find a match for veterans who may want to take in one of the robotic pets.

“People can’t get out. They feel down and it was a pick-me-up for certain veterans,” LaPalm said. “It really fits for certain people, if they need something to fill that void. It’s been really hard for them, not being able to see other people [during COVID] … so these pets have been important for them.”

The battery-powered pets have soft fur and are programmed for a series of responses, like purring when they are petted or meowing in response to conversation. They’re also light-sensitive – so as not to disrupt sleep – and don’t come with those inevitable living pet needs for meals or house training.

While there is no confusing these tiny robots for their real-life counterparts, they provide a caring touchpoint for veterans at the facility, who have been separated from many of their typical social and personal interactions during the pandemic.

Sometimes they serve as conversation starters, on pets people had in their youth, or can be used to soften the move out of a facility by a friend, as was the case of one recent female veteran who took in a robotic cat for companionship. LaPalm recalls how one veteran, missing his own family’s pets, not to mention his family, found a light-hearted connection with his robotic cat, which he named Princess.

Jack Pemble, a Vietnam War veteran, pets his robotic cat on his bed at the Iron Mountain V.A. Submitted photo

“A lot of them are feeling very lonely. They can’t see their pets or their family. He said, ‘Sometimes I talk to the cat and the cat meows back at me. They’re like a real cat.’ He laughs and smiles when he talks about his cat,” said LaPalm.

Michelle Matuszak, Regional Program Manager, Service to the Armed Forces, shares the difficulty in finding valuable ways to support veterans when they’ve been isolated and unable to host events, including the typical visits and activities with Red Cross volunteers and staff. While the robotic pet program may be a bit unusual, she said feedback from staff V.A.s and veterans homes shows an innovative spirit in providing all that is possible for those who served in the military.

“It’s reassuring that this is something that is benefitting the veterans as well as the staff. It’s been heart-breaking to hear over the past year with COVID, [how] everything is shut down,” Matuszak said. “Figuring out how we can [still] connect with the veterans, connect with the staff, and to hear that the veterans really are building relationships with these robotic pets, it is unique.”

As the pandemic subsides brings the hope that more in-person and typical events and activities would return. But LaPalm and Matuszak both said the battery-powered pups and kitties should stick around after the pandemic because of their proven boost to veterans facing loneliness or isolation.

“There is always the need for social and emotional support. It’s robotic, but it gives you attention back, it gives you an interaction,” LaPalm said. “It’s a key piece of their needs.”

Your support of our Service to the Armed Forces mission makes programs like this possible. Click here for more ways we support veterans, service members and their families and to find out how you can get involved.