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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Army National Guard sendoff includes Red Cross volunteers who can relate

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

Mark Matuszak could see a bit of himself in every family member cheering on, hugging and giving teary goodbyes to their beloved service members at an Army National Guard soldier sendoff last week in Green Bay.

Observe

American Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin Chapter board members Phil Zubella and Sarah Dressel (both at front) joined a sendoff for soldiers recently in Green Bay.

Matuszak’s son, Dan, is a U.S. Army Green Beret. It wasn’t long ago that Dan shipped off to the Philippines for military assignment – leaving Mark and family to carry understandable concern back here in Wisconsin during Dan’s deployment.

Knowing that important yet sometimes difficult role military families hold, Matuszak said he knew the value in joining fellow American Red Cross board members and volunteers in support of approximately 400 soldiers and their families at an event Nov. 29 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

“I can relate to the family and the folks that are here, understand how deployment is going to affect their family,” Matuszak said. “Not seeing [a deployed family member] hurts, but you know they’re doing it for the right reasons and the right cause. It’s a noble cause.”

Matuszak was one of approximately 15 Red Cross board members, volunteers and staff who joined in the warm community sendoff for Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers from the Appleton-based 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team headed out to Afghanistan.

Lineup

A spread of snacks and information for service members and their families provided by the Red Cross.

The Red Cross was one in a group of organizations in attendance to join in the sendoff, as part of its Service to the Armed Forces mission. Red Cross volunteers and board members served coffee, donuts, bananas and string cheese provided by Kwik Trip, along with offering information on resources during and long after the soldiers’ deployment. (Click here to view and share from a collection of Red Cross photos from the event on Facebook.)

Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, Wisconsin Army National Guard, took time in his remarks during the event to recognize the family and friends in attendance, and listed off supported organizations such as the Red Cross.

“We can’t do what we do, this mission, without your support,” Conde said.


Are you looking for a new way to support our military service members and families? On this page you find out how you can play an important role as a volunteer or supporter of our Service to the Armed Forces program.


IMG_0522

Army National Guard leaders received a Wisconsin flag from outgoing Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The Green Bay deployment event was the largest of its kind in recent years.

The event was the largest combined send-off for northeast Wisconsin in recent years. Only about 20 percent of the soldiers had previously deployed. According to a military release, the unit is “comprised of teachers, students, electricians, engineers, computer IT specialists, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, welders, auto mechanics, craftsmen” from across Wisconsin but predominately from the Fox Valley and Green Bay.

For Matuszak, that group also included a co-worker at Great Northern Corporation hired a few years ago, and another co-worker’s son. As a board member volunteering at the event, Matuszak was able to talk with people and families he knew, as well as others with whom he shares a military connection.

“I understand what’s facing them, so it’s humbling for me to watch what they’re about to go through,” he said.

The projected return for the soldiers is late fall of 2019.

Mosaic partnership brings “extra protection” to northwestern Wisconsin homes

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Rebecca Eliasen signed up for cable and phone service at her Barron, Wisconsin home. Her telecommunications installer also brought her peace of mind.

Mosaic Nate Rebecca install in Barron Nov 2018

Rebecca Eliasen, right, chatted with Nate Froehlich as he installed a new smoke alarm in her Barron home.

Nate Froehlich, a service technician with Mosaic Telecom, installed a smoke alarm at Eliasen’s home recently, as part of a trailblazing partnership with the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. Eliasen lives in the home with her boyfriend and her son, and she said she was relieved to be able to have the Mosaic technician check her existing smoke alarms and add one in the basement.

“It’s nice to have the extra protection, the extra safety,” said Eliasen. “You can never have too many, in case you can’t hear it or you’re a heavy sleeper.”

In the partnership, Mosaic technicians have been trained by the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms during scheduled service calls in and around Barron County. Mosaic is the first telco in the U.S. to perform these types of installs with the Red Cross. As of Nov. 15, one month into the partnership, Mosaic technicians had already installed 38 smoke alarms in homes across Barron County. The timing of the partnership is important, too, as winter weather brings with it an increase in home fires.

Barron ARC Mosaic install house

The Mosaic and Red Cross partnership brought more than 30 smoke alarms into northwestern Wisconsin homes in just the first month.

Across Wisconsin, the American Red Cross brings together volunteers, fire departments and corporate partners to install thousands of smoke alarms in homes. Some are done in single-day events, others in sporadic scheduling. It’s part of a nationwide campaign that, since 2014, has directly saved the lives of more than 470 people, including a family from Janesville.

Kyle Kriegl, Chapter Executive for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin – Northwestern Chapter, said the addition of Mosaic’s team “will make great strides toward improving home fire safety and awareness for residents in this part of the state.”

Shanna Roe, Marketing Specialist at Mosaic Telecom, said that it was easy to add the smoke alarms to their work flow when considering the wider aims for the community.

“The decision for Mosaic to partner with the Red Cross in the implementation of this program was simple – we are working together to save lives,” Roe said.

Along with the Mosaic partnership, free smoke alarms and home fire escape plans are available to anyone in need. To sign up, go to GetASmokeAlarm.org.

From Donut Dollie to the Milwaukee VA: Evans marks 50 years of military support

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

As Mary Evans leafed through a box labeled “Vietnam,” she verbally connected the dots along her American Red Cross volunteer contributions, from Memorial Day at the Milwaukee VA in 2018 to her stint as a “Donut Dollie” exactly 50 years ago.

Mary Evans with Donut Dollies pic

Mary Evans, SAF volunteer, holds a snapshot taken in Vietnam during her time as a Donut Dollie.

In the box, amid the color pictures: scenes of Evans with G.I.s in front of Christmas trees covered in tinsel during downtime; a trio of soldiers around Evans, two smiling and one solemn, posed in front of endless barracks. In black-and-white photos: a band rocking out, followed by a shot of Evans, in Red Cross stylized dress, in front of a lineup of military trucks. An illustrated “Pocket Guide to Vietnam” tour book. A laminated Red Cross “Emergency Identification” issued under Evans’s maiden name, de la Forest.

Evans, who lives in Milwaukee with her husband, John, shared the memories from five decades ago in part to keep alive the service of the Donut Dollies, but also in hopes to inspire others to volunteer for service members through the Red Cross.

“The role we had … I think it was incredible,” Evans said. “To all of them, you were like their sister, their mother, their girlfriend. I think we provided a tremendous service in taking their minds off things.”


Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.


Through a Red Cross program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas, American women volunteered to bring refreshments, entertainment and a flash of cheer to military servicemen during the Vietnam War. They were dubbed “Donut Dollies” by service members, a name that stuck, though their goodwill work amid the trauma of war is sometimes misremembered or lost.

Mary Evans with soldiers Donut Dollies

Mary Evans, center, poses with some of the soldiers she worked with in 1968 as an American Red Cross volunteer in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

Evans said she “felt something was missing” in her life in spring 1968. Graduated from college and working at a bank in San Francisco, she wanted to get involved in a positive way in the war that served as a flashpoint for one of the most chaotic years in global history. Compelled to do something for those in military service, Evans called an American Red Cross office in northern California. And, “six weeks later, I was on my way” to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, off the South China Sea.

Evans and the other Dollies would put together 50 minutes of games, activities and entertainment, amid their namesake snacks and refreshments, at about six U.S. Army sites per day, five to six days a week. There was plenty of time for competition in the activities, and conversation throughout their visits. Evans said she felt the enlisted “lifers” were more lonely and appreciative of the lifeline to something outside of war when the Dollies came. They frequently ran into soldiers at a high or low, as she said they often presented their programs immediately before or after soldiers took leave.

In a warzone, Evans hesitated to call their volunteering dangerous. But it was clear they were far from home.

Mary Evans ID card Donut Dollies

A 1968 American Red Cross I.D. for Mary Evans (nee de la Forest). Evans remains active with Service to the Armed Forces volunteering in Wisconsin.

“Jeeps, trucks, choppers … MPs would pick us up and they would drive us back for several miles to our center. There were flares going up across the Bay, but I felt safe almost the whole time,” she said.

When Evans’s father passed away suddenly, her stint in Vietnam ended so that she could come home to help her mother and family. As free time cropped up, she returned to volunteering with the Red Cross at a medical hospital near her home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Although she couldn’t return to Vietnam with the Red Cross as she had hoped, while stateside she was able to stay in touch with fellow Donut Dollies and Army service members as they returned.

Years on and starting her own family, Evans moved to southeast Wisconsin. It wasn’t long before she dialed the local Red Cross to see how she could contribute, once again for those who served. This call brought her to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, where, during Red Cross volunteer activities, she’s been able to get to know Jaime, a former Tuskegee Airman, and Norm, a combat-wounded veteran with a penchant for polka music. In a different way than her Donut Dollies days, these Wednesday mornings at the Milwaukee VA gave her the sense of providing relief and escape for service members.

“It’s not so much looking back at what they did or what we did. We’re mainly thanking them for their service,” she said.

Mary Evans SAF Memorial Day 2018

Mary Evans and her husband, John, at left, shared lunch with veterans and fellow Red Cross volunteers at the Milwaukee VA on Memorial Day 2018.

Evans has slowed down with volunteering in the past year, with time focused on a few family matters. But she did participate with other Red Cross volunteers in the big Memorial Day barbecue at the Milwaukee V.A. in 2018, bringing meals to vets unable to make it outside. And her foundation in giving herself to service members and veterans hasn’t wavered since the ‘60s, said Richard Seymour, Service to the Armed Forces program director, Wisconsin Region.

“Support for veterans and service members are core to the Red Cross mission, and Mary has embodied that mission for five decades,” Seymour said. “Whether on the frontlines in Vietnam or at a community commemoration in Milwaukee, Mary puts her heart into the volunteer work she does with our service members.”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

Wisconsin Red Cross Volunteers Give a Firsthand Account to Devastation, Response to Hurricanes

Story by James Ziech, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

As two deadly hurricanes struck the southeastern United States in September and October, more than 130 Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff from Wisconsin joined the national response.

Brenda Haney DA Hurricane Florence

Brenda Haney, from the Madison area, tallies damage during her deployment to North Carolina. (Photo by June Shakhashiri / American Red Cross)

Below is a snapshot of varied experiences of Wisconsin volunteers – from riding in helicopters to devastated towns to talking with people at shelters who had nowhere else to turn. While some volunteers have been deployed and come back, many more remain in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas as the recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Michael carry on for what will likely be months. (Find out how you can help the Florence recovery here.)

Tena Quackenbush of Black River Falls
Sheltering in North Carolina

Tena has been volunteering with The American Red Cross for about a year now. She was deployed to Houston last year as part of the response to Hurricane Harvey. But this experience in North Carolina was definitely different.

After going to a processing station, Tena and 10 others were flown in by Black Hawk helicopter to a shelter in Cerro Gordo to make relief and serve primarily the residents of Fair Bluff, whose town had been flooded out. Tena said it was rewarding to be able to show compassion and remove fears for those who had lost so much.

“When they learned that the shelter was closing and will have to move to another shelter, I could see the fear welling up in their eyes. We all took them outside as a group and individually for a prayer circle. After we were done, a little girl tugged on my shirt with tears in her eyes and said, ‘That was amazing’. When we left, people kept hugging us and thanking the American Red Cross for what they had done,” Tena said.

(Click here to check out a video of Mimi Maki, of Kewaunee, sharing the spiritual and emotional resources she’s providing in Florida.)

Evelyn Carter in Garland NC for Hurricane Florence Sept 22 2018

Evelyn Carter, from the Eau Claire area, provided mobile food delivery in North Carolina after Florence made landfall. (Photo Daniel Cima / American Red Cross)

Evelyn Carter of Eau Claire
Meals and driving in North Carolina

Evelyn has been volunteering for the American Red Cross for the past year and a half, active in anything from casework with clients and shelter assistance to disaster assessment and driving emergency response vehicles.

When asked to deploy, she immediately agreed. Evelyn and fellow volunteer David McDonald drove an emergency response vehicle (ERV) from the Wausau Red Cross office to Macon, Georgia. From there, they received orders for mobile assistance, which brought Evelyn to Lexington, North Carolina. Evelyn joined a caravan of vehicles to deliver hot meals to remote and disconnected parts of the state.

“It was adventurous and a challenge working with the victims and making sure you met their needs,” she said. “Whether it was one meal or several for their group, it was nice knowing that they can come up to get something to eat for the day. I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but on my last day I had people coming up to me and hugging me and thanking me for all that we have done.”

Shana and deploying vols

Ana Perez, in red hat, reviews paperwork as she and fellow volunteers from southeast Wisconsin prepare for deployment with Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross)

Ana Perez of Sheboygan
Sheltering in North Carolina

Ana has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for past four years. Previously, she had been deployed to the hurricane response in St. Croix and to flooding damage in Kentucky. When she left for this deployment, she and five fellow Red Cross volunteers arrived at a school shelter in Edenton, North Carolina, where they were initially joined by a principal, a sheriff, two cooks and a school janitor to keep 40 people calm before the hurricane made landfall.

“My heart ached for everyone in the shelters, having their lives turned upside down,” she said.

Ana said she came to help but didn’t expect to be taught something in return. She knew one of the elderly clients from a previous shelter. The client did not have anyone else with her, but she did not complain. When Ana was working the registration desk three days in, she was approached by the lady carrying her belongings and told her she had a place to go.

“I will always remember her kindness … the patience and strength she had during this difficult time in her life,” Ana said. “[I] use it as a reminder to not let the circumstances around me control my emotions or peace.”

Terry Buchen of Madison
Logistics in Virginia and North Carolina

Terry has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for 10 years. He had been deployed in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and Georgia. Like many who were deployed recently, he was also able to help during flooding and storms in his own backyard this summer in Wisconsin.

During his deployment this time around, Terry has been responsible for managing a warehouse, loading of trucks and delivering supplies where they are most needed. It appears there is no stopping him either. “To me, you’re helping people and it is a lot of fun,” he said.

“It’s been a rough year”: Compassion and help for residents besieged by storms

Stories and photo by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

Rhonda Pfaff hadn’t finished cleaning out her home, garage and yard from the first flood when the nearby Baraboo River started to rise again.

20180906_132018.jpg

Rhonda Pfaff shares an embrace with Cindy Brown, Red Cross volunteer.

By the time a second August flood submerged her neighborhood in Elroy, Pfaff wondered if the deluge and damage weren’t “the last straw” for her home and others on the street, some already cordoned off with caution tape. Pfaff had moved to the home formerly owned by her great-aunt to care for her beloved father, Gaylord (“I was his shadow”). He passed away in March and much of the rehab work they did – wood work, flooring, landscaping – were left awash and stripped from their single-story, cream colored ranch-style home.

“It’s been a rough year,” Pfaff said, soon after a hug with Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown. “All we have left from the basement are some dishes. You know what? We’re alive. We have our health.”

Pfaff reflected on the destruction in her small Wisconsin town and others across the state hit with record rainfalls, overburdened rivers and more than a dozen tornadoes from mid-August to early September. Red Cross volunteers Cindy Brown and Fayth Harrison went door to door on September 6th in Elroy, its small-town Americana now buttressed with entire living rooms, bedrooms, vehicles and basement possessions on the front curb for disposal.

Harrison and Brown brought Pfaff Red Cross assistance and information on various recovery resources. To Pfaff’s relief, they also brought open hearts.

“You have brightened my day. I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Pfaff said.

20180906_131908

The scene on one Elroy, Wisconsin street in early September.

As grim as the scene in her neighborhood, Pfaff was appreciative that her family was unharmed and had a place to go, in her former home across town. Pfaff’s ex-husband and his family came by to clear out trash and debris. She teased her son, who had been living at her house along with his fiancée, that he was excused from yard maintenance after flood waters carried a metal yard roller hundreds of yards from their property into a marsh.

Pfaff held remarkable humor and warmth as she talked with Red Cross disaster workers, even while she pointed to the high-water mark on the outside of the home that lined up well into her living room.

“I have to laugh because if I cry I’ll fill up that river so damn fast,” Pfaff said.

IMG_20180905_160028

Reedsburg, another hard hit town, continues to deal with standing water from August storms.

Including their time with Pfaff, Brown and Harrison made the rounds with multiple families Thursday in Elroy. Days into a deployment in their own state, the two volunteers they were flagged down on this day by one person in a passing truck, alerted to another person in need of assistance who was working the lunch shift at her downtown diner. Hundreds of residents across the state have received assistance, clean-up supplies, meals and more from Red Cross during response and recovery, now at more than three weeks.

Red Cross continues to reach out to residents across the state in need after these devastating late summer storms, tornadoes and floods. To connect with Red Cross recovery resources, call 888-700-7051 and leave your information. A disaster recovery specialist will call you back as soon as possible.

From an ATV in a soybean field to a Red Cross shelter: one woman’s rescue story during record-breaking storms

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

At first, Janice Huizenga thought she was hunkering down for another summer evening thunderstorm. Janice said she would occasionally peek out of the window of her home in Alto, in Fond du Lac County, on Tuesday as the wind whipped up and the rain started to fall.

Then, a sense of chaos, as the 84-year old saw downed trees, followed by concern, as the power went out at her house and throughout the neighborhood. Janice needed power for medical supplies and to keep an emergency bracelet charged.

IMG_20180829_111138

Janice Huizenga, left, shares her rescue story with Red Cross volunteers, including MaryKay Bishop.

With the storm raging around her home – the same storm that dropped more than a dozen tornadoes and flooded numerous rivers across the state – Janice’s adult children, all without power for the night, located a Red Cross shelter with power and notified local fire officials about their mother’s situation and location. Meanwhile, Janice said tornado sirens blared for a third time that night, something she said she’s never heard.

Janice’s home was now surrounded by broken trees, live wires and rain-soaked earth, so firefighters drove an ATV through a soybean field to reach her backyard. Then, she was brought along a meandering path of barely passable roads to a Red Cross shelter at Brandon High School, one town over.

“I was shocked when the tree was down [in my yard] and the roots were out,” said Janice on Wednesday, next to her cot at the shelter. “Then I saw the power line in the tree and wires pulled out of my house. Then, telephone posts were down and you never see that. Down the street, there were more posts down.”

Janice was one of dozens of people to spend a night or more at eight shelters that have been set up since August 20 by the Red Cross as part of monumental storms that have overflowed rivers and damaged homes and property from Prairie du Chien and La Crosse eastward to Coon Valley, Madison, Waupun and Cedarburg. One fatality has been reported so far in association with the storms, which have included record rainfall, numerous tornadoes and emergency declarations.

Three Red Cross shelters remained open as of August 31 and recovery efforts like clean-up kit distribution and sandbagging were in place as the state braced for more rains in the forecast through Labor Day weekend. (For updates on shelters, dial 2-1-1 or follow the Wisconsin Red Cross Facebook and Twitter pages.)

20180829_103802

A cornfield ravaged by August storms outside of Waupun, Wisconsin.

Back in Brandon, Janice recounted her scary evening with Red Cross volunteers, included MaryKay Bishop. The two bonded during the morning with stories of the storm, but also of family. After one night at the shelter – one of the few places with power anywhere close to her home – Janice had connected with her daughter who had planned to navigate roads still under the aftermath of the storms to take in her mother until power and safety were restored in Alto.

Janice was grateful for the night at the shelter, in the basketball court of Brandon H.S. She had slept some and talked with volunteers about plans for a group lunch.

Pondering the power of the devastating storms across Wisconsin, and of the wide-ranging recovery to come for herself and thousands of other residents, Janice said she felt humbled by a higher power at play.

“Man thinks they can do a lot, but nobody can do what God did with this wind,” she said.

To offer your support to people like Janice impacted by the Wisconsin storms and floods, click here to find out how to volunteer, donate or give blood.