2023 Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast March 9, honors local heroes, event sure to inspire

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Every day at the American Red Cross, we see firsthand the remarkable deeds of everyday heroes. Their stories inspire and remind us to never doubt the impact an individual can make in the lives of others.

The Red Cross of Northwest Wisconsin will honor individuals who have shown courage, dedication and unselfish character by their acts of heroism in our community at the Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast, hosted by Katie Phernetton, WQOW News 18. This year’s award recipients will be honored Thursday, March 9, 2023, at 7:45 a.m. at The Florian Gardens Conference Center, 2340 Lorch Ave., Eau Claire. 

The Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast honors people making an impact through their bravery, dedication, and humanitarian service. This event grew out of a desire to celebrate local members of our communities living our mission – to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The award breakfast also serves as a fundraising event for programs and services provided by the Red Cross of Northwest Wisconsin.

2022 Health Care Heroes – EMTs from Cadott Area Fire & and Chippewa Falls Fire & EMS.  Left to right: Mark Thomas, CEO, American Red Cross of WI, Brittany Walters, Joel Sternitzky, Christine Naberhaus, Chief Rick Sommerfeld, DeWayne Hanson, Michele Eberle, MJ Thomsen, Executive Director, American Red Cross of NW WI

Chosen across a handful of categories, honorees at the Northwest Wisconsin Heroes Breakfast represent those among us who reflect what is best in our communities. For over 20 years, about 150 local heroes have been recognized and we are thrilled to add to that number.

The 2023 Heroes are:

Adult Good Samaritan:                        

  • John Goodman        

Community Hero:

  • Barron County Ice Rescue Group
  • Justin Bernardin
  • Deputy Heather Hughes
  • Nick Johnson
  • Deputy Erik Sedani

From the Heart (Biomedical):          

  • Louie and Barb Muench

Health Care:                                             

  • Chippewa County Department of Public Health

Hero of a Lifetime:                                

  • Ron Larson


  • Chippewa Valley Technical College ~ Give Vets a Smile Program

Youth Good Samaritan:                      

  • Riley Gaetz   

Heroes are nominated by the public and are chosen by an awards selection committee comprised of local community leaders. Honorees are selected based on the degree to which their actions uphold the values of the Red Cross humanitarian mission and leave a lasting and positive impact on the community.

Mayo Clinic Health System is the presenting sponsor of this incredibly special event. Additional event sponsors include WQOW News-18, EZ New Media, Xcel Energy, Ayres & Associates, Associated Bank and In Memory of Dr. Brad Garber – Sponsored by Julie Garber and Family. This year’s individual Heroes sponsors include Global Finishing Solutions, Group Health Cooperative of Eau Claire, Leinenkugels, Royal Credit Union, Scheels, Security Financial Bank and WESTconsin Credit Union. Additional support sponsors include Market & Johnson, Northwestern Bank, OakLeaf Surgical Group, Prevail Bank, Ruder Ware, TTM Technologies, and Dave and Barb Nelson.

To reserve your seat for this event, visit https://NWHeroes.givesmart.com. Reservations for this event are $45 and all proceeds go toward the Red Cross of Northwest Wisconsin.

For more information, email Abigail Stein at abigail.stein@redcross.org or call 414-403-0984.

Share your BIG heart at the Red Cross UW-Madison blood challenge

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Calling all Badger fans. We need your help in a BIG way – donate blood and help save lives with the American Red Cross.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is participating in the Share your BIG Heart Blood Challenge to help boost the blood supply this winter. Universities across the conference will compete to see who can collect the most lifesaving blood during this competition. If you bleed red and white, you can help the Badgers by donating blood at a series of blood drives scheduled Jan. 20 through Feb. 28, 2023.

Last year, conference universities faced off in a similar blood drive competition. During the series of events, approximately 3,000 lifesaving donations were collected. Donations by schools last year include UW-Madison 741 donations, Michigan State 404 donations, Michigan 913 donations and Penn State 924 donations.

This year at least nine universities are participating in the challenge, and about 4,500 donations will be collected. 

We know Badgers can easily place at the top for helping to save lives. Show your school spirit and encourage all to join in this friendly, fun competition.

As a thank-you, all who come to give blood Jan. 20 through Feb. 28 at the UW-Madison campus for the Big Heart Blood Challenge will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a Wisconsin union terrace chair. This offer is non-transferrable. All participating donors who come to give Jan. 1-31 will automatically be entered for a chance to win an exciting trip for two to Super Bowl LVII in Phoenix! Includes travel, hotel, $500 gift card, pre-game activities and more! Terms apply; visit RedCrossBlood.org/SuperBowl. All participating donors who come to give Feb. 1 – 28 will receive a $10 Gift Card by email, thanks to Amazon. And will automatically be entered for a chance to win a trip for two to Clearwater Beach, FL. Includes travel, hotel, gift card and more! Terms: rcblood.org/heart.

A big shout out goes to all sponsors including the UW-Madison Red Cross Club, UW-Madison Libraries, Phi Delta Chi Pharmacy Fraternity, UW-Madison School of Nursing, UW-Madison School of Business and Omega Psi Phi Epsilon Theta. Thank you for your school spirit and for helping to keep blood products on the shelves for patients in need.

The Big Heart Blood Challenge is a chance for students, faculty, staff and alumni to show their school spirit while supporting a great cause. Being an official Badger is about more than just what you learn in the classroom, take an hour to donate blood and help save lives. On Wisconsin!

Those who have not given recently or those who might have never donated before are encouraged to schedule an appointment, however, walk-ins are welcomed.

Upcoming Blood Donation Opportunities:

1/20/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00p.m., Union South, 1308 W Dayton St.

1/23/2023, Noon – 5:00p.m., Memorial Library, 728 State St.          

1/26/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St.         

1/27/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., The Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Avenue 

2/1/2023, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., The Nick, 797 W. Dayton St.       

2/2/2023, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., The Nick, 797 W. Dayton St.       

2/3/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St.           

2/9/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Memorial Union,800 Langdon St.

2/10/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Memorial Union,800 Langdon St.         

2/16/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Union South,1308 W Dayton St.           

2/17/2023, 10:00 a.m.- 3:00 p.m., Union South, 1308 W Dayton St.           

2/21/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., The Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Avenue 

2/22/2023, Noon – 5:00 p.m., The Nick, 797 W Dayton St.  

2/23/2023, 11:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m., Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St.           

2/24/2023, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Union South, 1308 W Dayton St.          

Donors of all blood types – especially type O – are urged to make an appointment to give now. Don’t wait. People across the country depend on the generosity of blood donors. Make an appointment to give blood as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org and using sponsor codes Badgers or Bucky to find an appointment on campus or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

First person: learning a new lifesaving skill for the new year

By Colton Pemble, American Red Cross

No one ever expects to be in a situation where CPR is needed, but such emergencies come without warning. For instance, more than 300,000 people die of sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the American Red Cross.

You can increase the chances of survival for someone in that sudden emergency – whether it’s a loved one or a stranger – by knowing how to properly perform CPR and use an AED.

A participant readies for chest compressions during CPR and AED training recently in the Milwaukee office of the American Red Cross.

I recently had the opportunity to take a CPR, AED and first aid course offered by the Red Cross. Millions of people learn these skills through Red Cross classes or people trained by the Red Cross, including more than 38,000 people last year who were trained in Wisconsin. This was a new skill for me and something I was eager to take advantage of during my internship with the communications department during my studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

For my class, I chose a blended class option, which consisted of both an online and in-person portion, which made it very flexible to schedule. The online portion used a mixture of videos and text to teach how to recognize different medical situations and introduce the techniques to respond to them. I learned a lot more than I expected during this part, and it provided enough foundational information to make me feel very comfortable and prepared to attend the in-person portion of the class. 

For the in-person part, I registered for a morning class in Milwaukee. I was really surprised by how small the class size was, with there being about 10 students. This made it so that the instructor could really make sure everyone was learning and everyone there seemed very eager to learn as well. The instructor was also very engaging and had plenty of stories to tell about her own experiences that made the class more interesting.

Going into the class, I was pretty nervous because it was a skill I had no experience with, in practice or faced with someone experiencing a medical emergency. But by the end of it I was met with a large sense of relief that I would now have skills needed to help someone in crisis. 

Because the online portion was able to cover so much material, the in-person part was able to largely focus on hands-on training. In roughly two hours, the class was able to teach the proper technique for CPR, how to use an AED device, how to respond to someone who is choking as well as some basic first aid skills. There was also plenty of time to practice these skills by attempting to revive some CPR dummies and by using practice AEDs. By the end of the class – about three hours in total, including the virtual portion – I had learned a ton and felt as prepared as I could be to possibly have to use these skills in a real-life situation.

In addition to being potentially lifesaving, Red Cross training may fulfill OSHA standards and other workplace requirements. There are also many options for courses so they can easily fit into busy schedules, as well as many training locations. Many other types of courses are offered, for example, some are specialized for pediatric care or for water safety.

To learn more about Red Cross training or to sign up for a class, visit https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class

Commitment, positivity and problem-solving: Tom Mooney carries mantra into retirement

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

A scan through any major American Red Cross of Wisconsin community event, disaster, blood drive or fundraiser over the past 14 years will show some level of involvement from Tom Mooney.

There’s Tom grilling hundreds of brats for veterans, their families and V.A. staff in Milwaukee. There is he is again as one of the first people on scene to establish a shelter after flooding in Mazomanie. The massive holiday blood drive in Madison, the compression-only CPR table in Wausau and every community hero (and golf outing) event on the calendar in the state … he’s at all of those, too.

Mooney, right, fries brats and burgers to be served to veterans and more at the Milwaukee V.A. on Memorial Day 2018.

Mooney, the Chief Operating Officer for the Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross, recently retired after 14 ceaseless years of leadership, in Madison and across the state. Of course, he doesn’t plan to stop; in Red Cross fashion, he’s already been “promoted” to volunteer, which has kept him as a regular presence. Staff or volunteer, it’s a testament to his infectious ability to lead by example.

“For me it boils down to a few things. There is a lot of change and you have to care and you have to be committed,” said Mooney. “You have to have a good attitude. People look for leaders to have common sense but also keep the ship going in the right direction. Let’s figure out solutions to problems.”

For the past 18 months, he was solely the Chief Operating Officer, and previous roles include CEO of what was then known as the Badger Chapter. He is not shy about listing a Rolodex of names of people he credits with supporting him every step of the way, from the Red Cross to his previous decades in various executive and managerial positions at American Family Insurance. He began there after earning his bachelor’s in business administration, finance and risk management from his beloved UW-Madison.

In school or work, Mooney has been dedicated to helping others. He began donating blood in 1982 – now at more than 10 gallons as a donor – and took his first CPR and first aid courses in college “to get the confidence to act if something were to happen.”

“I felt [I could] help people and not be shy about getting involved if something happened to somebody,” said Mooney. “Realistically, with CPR, if you use it, it’s because it’s impacting a loved one. And with compression-only CPR, almost anybody can do it.”

Never boastful, Mooney is hard-pressed to pick out accomplishments along the way. Certainly, though, he was instrumental in the joint push by the Red Cross and American Heart Association to get compression-only CPR as a mandatory lesson in all schools in Wisconsin. That same program was championed by Dr. Darren Bean, who died tragically in a medical helicopter crash, and became the pilot used nationally by the Red Cross.

“Team Mooney” before heading out to install free smoke alarms in Madison.

Another key aspect of Tom’s leadership at the Red Cross came in collaboration with other local nonprofit and service organization heads. Whether that meant building up boards and supporter networks, or late-night phone calls to see where someone could pitch in, those connections continue to benefit Wisconsin residents.

“If you can help other nonprofits and their executives succeed, our whole community is better off. It’s a partnership,” he said.

And Tom was ever-present in the toughest times. From a fatal explosion in Sun Prairie that required substantial lodging and recovery, to nearly every apartment fire emergency shelter in southwest Wisconsin over the past 14 years, Tom was there –  to set up cots, run to get orange juice for a diabetic client, change a flat tire on a trailer or any other thing that came up. The 2008 floods hold a particular place in his memory, as both the worst recent flooding in our state’s history as well as his first disaster with the Red Cross. He remembers disaster assessments in the village of Rock Springs, where his family had annual reunions, an area with high-water marks at four and five feet through a punished downtown. As waters began to recede, he drove his then-school aged children back through Rock Springs, and they reflected as a family on the impact – and ongoing need of residents.

“It was a teaching moment not just for my kids, but for me, on how devastating a disaster can be,” he said.

Madison born and raised, Mooney said it’s important to use this retirement time for those closest to him, including his wife, Sue, and his three children, Claire, Ryan and Logan. Although, knowing Tom, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him once again combine that passion for community service with his love of his family as they all join to volunteer at an upcoming Red Cross preparedness event or blood drive.

2022 in Review: Standing Out in Remarkable Times

By Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive Director

In what has become a year-end tradition, it’s time to take a look back together at 2022.

I’ve spelled out highlights from each month of this year below. In mulling all we’ve done around the mission of the American Red Cross this past year, there is one word that keeps coming back to me – outstanding.

Here’s why. Throughout this year, myself and our Wisconsin Region have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to receive honors and recognition from both the Red Cross and our partners like the United Way, Donald Driver and more. Awards really do matter, especially when you know they’re backed by committed people and a vital mission.

We’re focused on people and our mission. It’s never easy … but neither are the situations faced by the people we help. In that intense focus, we may not always stop to recognize all we’ve accomplished, even as we’re being recognized by others. With all of that, I want to thank all of you for an outstanding year together in 2022.

As you’ll likely recognize, the word “outstanding” has a second meaning, too – around the work still to be done. So, as you scroll through some of our accomplishments in my short-list below, please take a moment to relish the excellence you’ve brought to someone in need or someone participating in our mission as a volunteer, supporter or blood donor. That same excellence will guide us in all of the good work yet to come.

A blood donor who came out to give in January during our first-ever national blood crisis. Photo by Dan Schillinger / American Red Cross


This year started with a dire situation. The Red Cross issued our first-ever national blood crisis. Collections took a heavy hit from a COVID spike, savage winter weather and the usual dip over the holidays. Once the Red Cross and other blood collectors put out the seriousness in the lack of blood on the shelves – a one-day’s supply in some places – donors stepped up with three of the biggest days of appointments we’ve ever registered. For anyone facing cancer treatments, a difficult childbirth or car accidents, this was absolutely a life-saving response.


I mentioned a few awards at the start of this article. That began in February, with a generous recognition by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. Cory and Michelle Nettles chose me and our efforts at the Red Cross with their annual Linda McFerrin African American Nonprofit Leadership Award. Later this same year, long-time Red Cross supporter and Green Bay Packers legend Donald Driver included me among a host of exceptional community leaders for the annual “Driven to Achieve” service awards. I remain humbled for both of these acknowledgements, and I certainly accept it on behalf of the achievements we all have made at the Red Cross in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin.

From our colleagues, the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross was also recognized for outstanding – there’s that word again – work this past fiscal and calendar year in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, blood collection and distribution, and teamwork. Like the external accolades, this is only possible because of the 365-24/7 compassion and dedication by our dozens of staff and thousands of volunteers.

Miss Antionette blows out the candles on her birthday cake, during a short-term emergency shelter stay after a fire at her apartment building. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Here’s one anecdote to crystallize what I mean: the same week the United Way announced the Linda McFerrin honor, our Milwaukee disaster teams stood up a shelter after a nearby apartment building fire. It wasn’t just the essentials at this shelter. Volunteers realized one resident would be spending her birthday at this emergency shelter. They took what could have been a grim milestone and turned it into a surprise party – cake, balloons and all – for Miss Antionette, our shelter resident (pictured at left). Bringing such dignity and love to someone in their darkest time is the essence of outstanding humanitarianism.


We can give out awards, too! Our fundraiser events recognizing outstanding community heroes returned in-person and better than ever. It started in March, with our Heroes Breakfast in Eau Claire, and extended with a full slate of celebrations in Milwaukee (Brave Hearts – May), Madison (Southwest Wisconsin Annual Golf Outing – June) and Menasha (Northeast Heroes Classic – September). These fun, inspiring events mean so much for our relationships, community-building and capacity to serve in communities across Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan. You better believe I’m looking forward to these events in 2023!


Volunteer recognition has a special place in spring. For an organization where 90 percent of what we do is led by volunteers, this recognition is essential. Over our past fiscal year, more than 2,200 volunteers helped in every capacity to the tune of 118,000 dedicated hours. Whether it’s on this special month or any other day of the year – thank you volunteers!


Following busy large-scale and apartments fires since winter 2020, our preparedness teams and partners were able to return into homes to share free preparedness resources. Hundreds of people received free smoke alarms, home fire escape plans and more in “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” community safety events in May in Milwaukee, Sun Prairie, La Crosse and Fond du Lac. It was especially cool to be joined in Milwaukee by Judy Green, a national fundraising V.P. with the Red Cross who was also a co-chair of the national 2022 “Sound the Alarm” campaign. Families were so grateful for these safety visits, providing peace of mind.


A trio of young swimmers learn the ropes at the YMCA in Kenosha in June as part of the Centennial Campaign. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Who doesn’t love to see kids learning while having fun? In Milwaukee and now in Kenosha, June kicked off affordable swim safety lessons through our Centennial Campaign. I love this push to make many more kids comfortable and safe in the water.


Generac, through its premier role at the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest, provided a unique opportunity for people to support international humanitarian relief. The Waukesha-based company garnered signatures from high-profile music acts on its stage at the annual summer festival, with auction proceeds going toward global Red Cross relief programs and people. Artists contributing signed guitars included The Violent Femmes, Atmosphere and Bob Mould. Our fund development team were so creative in making this special show of generosity truly rock.


How about the dedication of our board and committee members across our communities? Throughout the pandemic, these partners were lockstep with our changing needs to serve people. And as we returned to a new version of normal, they were right there to learn more about the Red Cross and represent us in invigorating ways. There are so many stand-out moments. One of those is the pandemic leadership and now international role of board member Dave Nelson from our Northwest Chapter. Another happened in August, as Southeast Board President John Griffith and North-Central Board President Jay Cricks joined me in Washington, D.C. for a slate of meetings at Red Cross NHQ. For all five of our Wisconsin Region boards, plus all the committee members, I remain enthused by your partnerships in community service.


During Sickle Cell Awareness Month and at other times in the year, Wisconsin stepped up to fight sickle cell disease. The Urban League of Greater Madison rallied two blood drives, Gee’s Clippers in Milwaukee hosted its first drive and Milwaukee student Alana Fisher earned the region’s only scholarship for her efforts to strengthen the blood supply through more diverse donors. Before making my first Power Red donation at the spring Madison Urban League drive, there was a moment that stays with me. Every donor giving blood at that moment was a person of color. And among them was a grandmother, who was taking the time to share what she was doing and why it was important with her granddaughter standing nearby. It was a small but profound interaction.

Volunteers like Scott Adler put their Wisconsin lives on hold as they deployed to help people after large-scale disasters in Kentucky, Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross


In some ways it came later than usual, but the large-scale national disasters were no less fierce. I’m so proud dozens of Wisconsin volunteers and staff were able to help meet this huge need, including deployments to Alaska, Puerto Rico, Kentucky and numerous people to Florida. For everyone back home, it was neat to see an outpouring of support once again, with media partners across most of the state raising funds and awareness for people elsewhere in the U.S. facing monumental devastation. Make no mistake – this recovery is still ongoing, especially after Hurricane Ian. All of this is possible because of you.


Service to veterans, active military and their families never stopped during the pandemic, though 2022 saw the return to many of our military support events. In fiscal year 2022, the Red Cross in Wisconsin and the U.P. opened 3,385 service cases for those who served and their families. Additionally, local teams led more than 1,000 lessons on International Services programs to adults and youth. The week of Veterans Day, one of our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers brought programs to incarcerated veterans as part of her monthly visits to a Wisconsin correctional facility. To hear her passion for veterans in need, no matter where life has taken them, touches on some of the very best of our relief and programming.


Okay, this month is just kicking off and if you know anything about the Red Cross, it’s that we’re flexible for whatever can and will happen. Rather than stretch for a recap or predictions early this final month of the year, I offer you this: join our outstanding mission. If you’re already involved, let’s talk about keeping it going in a way that inspires you. If you’ve never volunteered, given blood, helped a veteran or taken a CPR class, come along with us. There’s a lot of good work left to do, and together we can make so much more happen. 

Wendy Savage says goodbye to the Red Cross  

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Wendy Savage, Executive Director of the North-Central Chapter of the American Red Cross of Wisconsin, will be retiring at the end of 2022. After a 13-year career with the Red Cross, Savage’s unwavering character and dedication will be missed.  

Before joining the Red Cross, Savage, a life-long volunteer, committed herself to giving back and helping others. Early in her career, Savage led fundraising efforts on behalf of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devasted portions of Thailand. Savage was fortunate to visit Thailand and present the gathered local donations to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was at that moment Savage witnessed the sincere appreciation and gratefulness of the Red Cross which paved the path to her future.    

Savage started her Red Cross career in 2010 and she has seen many changes throughout the organization. However, she said one thing remains constant – “You can always trust the Red Cross.”

Savage’s talents are appreciated by many. She has been successful leading teams, volunteers, donors, community partners and board of directors – all while fulfilling the Red Cross mission. She touched many lives throughout the years and helped families recover from disasters and home fires, provided relief for veterans, service members and military families, coordinated blood drives, and assisted with lifesaving training —all fundamental aspects of the American Red Cross mission.

Savage deployed in eight disaster relief operations, most recently last month after Hurricane Ian, and she led a major disaster within the North-Central Chapter of Wisconsin, with offices in Wausau and Stevens Point, and extending into the Northwoods and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her first disaster relief operation, a hurricane, came less than a week into her career resulting in learning the works of the Red Cross quickly. During her first few weeks with the Red Cross, she learned and the importance of adapting to change, which remained true every day through her tenure.

Savage said her Red Cross career has given her an opportunity to do good work and do good things. She sees her career not as a job but a lifestyle. “Disasters can happen at any moment, and you need to be prepared to help. We are seeing more frequent and devastating storms on a large scale, and it is encouraging to see the Red Cross being better prepared, learning to do better, and focusing on the positive, but, most importantly, providing relief to clients faster to help those in need. Sometimes it is not doing anything but just being there for the client with a supportive word or hug,” said Savage.   

Savage used the analogy between the actions delivered in a disaster to the links of a chain. We have anchors on the chain at both ends but each link on the chain can be an action by a particular person. There are no small actions, and everyone’s contribution is appreciated resulting in a collaborative result. People come together from all backgrounds allowing remarkable things to happen. As each link is strung together the chain becomes stronger, providing strength to those that need help.

“When things all come together for the good of the group, miracles happen,” she said.   

When asked about the four words Savage would use to describe the Red Cross she said, “heart, action, intensity and change.” She sees those words in her daily interactions with all employees, volunteers and donors at the Red Cross.  

Her farewell message to others is: “Stay on message, stay on task, stay together, stay connected and stay safe and well.”

Savage said she is not good at saying goodbye but saying goodbye means saying hello to the next chapter in her life. She is excited to spend time with her husband, family and new grandson and is looking forward to a family genealogy project as she travels down a new road in life. 

Finding closure through deployment for Hurricane Fiona

by Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

Dianna Trush, center, pauses for a selfie before another day of bringing resources directly to people in need across the main island of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona.

Dianna Trush, a retired nurse living in Wisconsin, traveled to Puerto Rico as an American Red Cross volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona this past September. Not only did her deployment represent a major opportunity as a new volunteer – it happened to be in the land she calls home.

An early experience with disaster – and relief
Dianna is one of seven children born to her parents, both Puerto Rican. While New York is technically her birthplace, at age 10 she moved to Puerto Rico with her mother and siblings and was raised there until the age of 26. As a young adult she studied nursing, and her supervisor in the I.C.U. encouraged her to go back to the United States for more sophisticated medical training. “I took his advice but I never came back,” she said.

She recalls strong memories of her childhood growing up in Brooklyn. One memory in particular proved to be her first experience with the Red Cross.

“I remember as a family we saw many fires in our neighborhood,” she said. “Then one day we were coming home from school and realized that the building we saw on fire was our building.”

Dianna remembers the Red Cross coming to their rescue, helping them to find a hotel and even providing some funding that allowed them to travel back home to Puerto Rico.

“In the back of my mind I knew then that one day I wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross,” she said.

Dianna removes a dated smoke alarm to be replaced with a new, free alarm from the Red Cross, with fellow volunteer Mariella, in May 2022 at a home in Milwaukee.

Accomplished nurse turned ‘restless’ volunteer
Dianna recently retired after 40 years of nursing that included more than 20 years as a nurse in the Veterans Administration, both in Chicago and Milwaukee. After retiring she spent time traveling while also looking into volunteer opportunities to use her nursing skills.

“I’m a restless soul – I can’t stay still,” she explained.

In September 2021 she applied to join the Red Cross as a disaster health services volunteer. It did not take long before her services were needed. There were a number of fires in the Milwaukee area within months of her start date, and she was able to serve those displaced by the fires.

Our local Disaster Action Teams need people like you to help your neighbors after a disaster. Find out more and sign up at redcross.org/DAT.

She learned quickly that as a native Spanish speaker her bilingual skills were in great need for those affected by disasters from the large Hispanic community in Milwaukee. She even ended up support bilingual communications and marketing in Milwaukee as part of the national “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” home fire preparedness campaign.

Meanwhile, Dianna continued to think about opportunities to deploy as a Red Cross volunteer to help with natural disasters. As a nurse in the V.A. system she had traveled to New Orleans to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina and was eager to again serve in that capacity.

Heaviness back home
It did not take very long for Dianna’s dream to become reality. She reached out when the Red Cross posted a need for volunteers to deploy for Hurricane Fiona, and within two days she was on her way to Puerto Rico.

Dianna’s desire to travel to Puerto Rico in late September, just days after Fiona made landfall, carried many personal threads. For one, her brother and his family live there, and the trauma they endured with Hurricane Maria five years earlier was something Dianna would never forget.

In addition, Dianna herself was living through a traumatic period when Fiona struck, and she was seeking some closure. Six weeks earlier, in early August, Dianna’s father had passed away. While he was living in New York at the time, his burial took place in Puerto Rico, and so Dianna and much of her extended family went there to say goodbye. In a horrifying twist of events, four of her family members were killed in an auto accident while in Puerto Rico for the burial. As Dianna painfully summarizes, she lost five beloved family members in the span of only two weeks.

A few weeks later, Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing death and destruction. Dianna knew she wanted, and needed, to go.

“Between my grief and loss I needed to find a way to normalize, which I knew I could do by helping others,” she said. “I had to find some closure, and this was the best thing I could do for myself.”

‘Comfort’, familiarity and closure
Upon arriving in San Juan – the very first day the airport was re-opened – she drove to the Red Cross headquarters and immediately got to work serving as a translator. Dianna also helped deliver food to hurricane victims in shelters and solar batteries to those who needed light in their homes or a charge for their cell phones.

Wreckage from outside of just one home that Dianna saw on her deployment back to the place she calls home.

“It was very humbling to be there and simply listen to those who needed comfort,” recalled Dianna. Along the way she met many other volunteers, all with equally big hearts. She found it uplifting to work with people from all different places and backgrounds striving to help humanity.

Dianna’s bilingual skills were not the only skills that proved to be valuable. Her team traveled by minivan, filled with food, water and cleaning supplies, and she was often counted on as navigator in a confusing, storm-torn landscape. Because she had learned to drive in Puerto Rico decades before, she knew where and how to drive the treacherous and flooded roads.

Yet everywhere she went during her 10 days of service Dianna was met with gratitude. For example, one day while waiting on a long line to fill the emergency van with gasoline, others around them expressed their sincere appreciation of the work they did as Red Cross volunteers.

She found it humbling, especially in light of everyone’s effort to serve the disaster victims. Even after returning home, Dianna found that “the memories and experiences are still alive in me.”

It’s not hard to imagine Dianna requesting another volunteer deployment again in the near future.

Blood donation is deeply rooted by three generations of blood donors

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

The American Red Cross has a constant need for blood and platelet donations. When anyone steps up to donate lifesaving blood it is truly impressive, but when the action spreads over three generations it’s amazing.

Ed and Joanne Schmidt have been regular blood donors since the 1970’s and they donate blood as often as they can. Ed just surpassed his 25th gallon milestone and Joanne has given close to four gallons. The Schmidt’s three adult children and their spouses roll up a sleeve frequently, and most recently, their granddaughter, Gabrielle, who is a senior in high school, began to donate blood – making it truly a family affair.   

“We have always been motivated to donate blood for our family and friends,” said Joanne Schmidt. Many years ago, her mother had pancreatic cancer and required blood transfusions. “It is such a wonderful thing to be able to give blood. It is very rewarding to give back and it gives you a very warm and satisfying feeling just thinking your blood went to help save another person’s life.”

Every day, volunteer blood and platelet donors across the country are needed to help save lives. Blood donors of all ethnicities and blood types are needed to ensure the right blood product is available at the right time.

“If anyone is ever in doubt of donating blood, they should just think about all the lives they could be helping,” said Schmidt. “It doesn’t take very long and is painless. You should never hesitate to give. The Red Cross is such a wonderful organization that does so much for so many people and families who are in need. This world is such a better place with the help from the Red Cross!”

A blood donation appointment takes about an hour from start to finish, but the actual donation itself only takes about 8 to 10 minutes. In most states, individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. There is no upper age limit for blood donation as long as you are well with no restrictions or limitations to your activities.

Eligible individuals are encouraged to schedule a blood or platelet donation appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 800- RED-CROSS (800-733-2767).

 Pictured left to right – Ed, Gabrielle and Brian Schmidt – family of three generations of blood donors who frequently donates blood at the Red Cross Watertown Community Blood Drive.  

Fond du Lac volunteer brings understanding, resources to incarcerated veterans

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

On and around Veterans Day, the American Red Cross will stand with those who served in any number of parades and recognitions. This support is foundational to our mission, dating back to Clara Barton’s experiences on Civil War battlefields.

Away from the public eye and events for Veterans Day, just as much is happening to make sure veterans, service members and their families have the resources they need.

For Red Cross volunteer Racheal Bergmann, that included a visit this week for her monthly session with 10 or so veterans incarcerated at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution. Inside the walls of a correctional institution, Bergmann said she is able to bring vital, deeply appreciated mental wellness programming to a veteran population whose situation and needs may be overlooked or disregarded.

“There are so many things to look at in terms of why this happens, why they’re incarcerated,” Bergmann said of the veterans who join her sessions at Kettle Moraine. “I feel strongly about the rehabilitation piece. Doing things that are in these programs will help them be successful in the community. It’s why I do it, I want to have people who come out of the prison system who are going to be successful and meaningful contributors to society.”

Bergmann, a Fond du Lac resident, has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than five years, beginning with Disaster Mental Health roles based on her professional and academic background, then transitioning to more participation with veterans from Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) opportunities. Her professional background included casework with inmates at Taycheeda Correctional Institution, and other family members have worked in similar settings in and around her hometown of Waupun. Her daughters have served in the military, one in the Marines, the other in the Air Force. The culmination of this personal and professional experience crystallized a feeling that she could give back to those who served no matter that they were behind bars.

“I think that the general population [outside of jail or prison] and those who aren’t trained or accustomed to military experience, they don’t understand what that is all like. You’re going from one issue of trauma into other issues of trauma, and then into the prison system, where there is more trauma,” she said, later adding, “This is a way … I can serve those who have served.”

Bergmann is one of two Red Cross volunteers who has helped lead these sessions, the other coming under the guidance of long-time SAF and mental health volunteer Curtis Hossman in northwestern Wisconsin at Stanley Correctional Institution. Locally and in other states, the Red Cross has engaged with departments of corrections to identify places and populations where veterans may be able to take advantage of these programs in a safe, meaningful manner. The incarcerated veterans involved in these programs are a small portion of the 3,300 services cases opened last year in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for service members, veterans and military families in need. However, they stand out due to the recognition that all veterans deserve, which is at the heart of the relationship between the Red Cross and the Department of Corrections.

Essentially, these are the same Mind-Body Wellness programs volunteers led in other community sessions with veterans, service members and their families, at anywhere from V.A.s to college campuses to community centers. Bergmann said that in the monthly sessions, the veterans – ranging in ages, military branches and service experiences – are able to attribute more focus to particular areas of the programs. Relaxation exercises, for instance, are a favorite, particularly the moments of meditation. Bergmann noted that mental health resources can be few and far between at correctional institutions. With that insight, she centers lessons on tools these veterans can used while incarcerated – and in building toward positive next steps once they’re released.

“This is another thing that they can do that’s exclusive to them, and they appreciate that piece. In prison, you can’t call a lot of things your own,” she said. “When you have those opportunities, it’s more meaningful.”

For more on the wide range of Service to the Armed Forces programs and volunteer opportunities, visit here.

‘Significant need for the Red Cross’: Wisconsin volunteers share Hurricane Ian relief stories

By Tom Ruse and Colton Pemble, American Red Cross

Homes in Harlem Heights, Fla., were deluged with water which caused widespread damage. The streets are now lined with wet furniture, appliances, and personal items removed from people’s homes. Photo by Jodi Long/American Red Cross

Dozens of Wisconsin-based American Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have deployed to Florida these past few weeks to help people through the deadly, damaging aftermath of Hurricane Ian. They’ve joined hundreds of colleagues from across the country in this extensive response and recovery effort.

As a second wave of deployments is underway to continue to meet the housing, food, health and other essentials needs of Floridians after Ian, we asked for firsthand accounts from a trio of Wisconsin disaster volunteers who have returned from their humanitarian trips.

Ryan Clancy

Ryan Clancy has been deployed to numerous disasters over the past few years, including responses after hurricanes in Louisiana and North Carolina. Often in the past, Ryan has helped with sheltering, or helping with recovery after the disaster has taken place.

Ryan, who is a Milwaukee County supervisor and owns a family play place business with his own family, was deployed as a Red Crosser to Pine Island near Ft Meyers, Fla.

“I’ve done many deployments for the Red Cross. I’ve been to hurricanes all over, as well as disaster events close to home, since around 2015 but I’ve never seen damage to the extent Ian did to Pine Island. It was overwhelming.”

“Just like any disaster, everybody’s affected regardless of income or anything else but many of the folks living on the island were in trailer homes and so obviously they took the brunt of it. It really laid bare for me the significant need for the Red Cross to be there assisting”.

Ryan Clancy holds a box of supplies during distribution to people in the hard hit area in and around Pine Island, Fla. Photo by Joy Squier / American Red Cross

With Hurricane Ian, Ryan was deployed as POP, or Point of Presence. In this situation the focus is more on immediate, crucial needs.

“The Ian deployment taught me to listen more. While we hand out clean up kits, food, water and the like, I simply asked, what do you need, and what do your neighbors need.  So this allowed us to identify the needs of folks who couldn’t necessarily come to us.”

“For example, just by asking about neighbors, we were able to identify a household with a gentleman with severe diabetes and was down to one dose of insulin, so we were able to connect him with a prescription.”

“I’m always happy to help and amazed at what I take away from each deployment; connecting with other volunteers, being able to look at the big picture to see how we should relate to each other to help our communities on times of critical need.”

Monica Liesenfeld

Monica recently returned from her most recent deployment, where she served as a supervisor and mentor to new volunteers at the temporary shelter inside the Hertz Arena. At that time, approximately 645 people displaced by Hurricane Ian were calling the minor league hockey arena home.

Monica described the town outside of the shelter as “a hodgepodge of devastation” – “palm trees were topped off and uprooted. Boats were thrown about on streets or smashed against other boats in the marinas.”

Despite this chaos outside, people were able to find some comfort within the shelter, including warm meals, beds and showers. In a touch of Southern hospitality, Monica added that Blue Bunny was contacted and the company generously provided ice cream bars for everyone in the shelter.

For all the physical items Red Cross is able to support, Monica said human connection is just as essential.

“We are an ear to their sorrow,” she said. “We show empathy and compassion. When asked for, our hugs have no boundaries.”

Diane Scheunemann, right, from Merrill, Wisc., empties a supply truck with David Burns, of Ohio, in Florida during the initial response phase for Hurricane Ian. Photo by Steve Pippenger / American Red Cross

Phillip Maier

Phillip has volunteered with the American Red Cross for four-and-a-half years. Most recently, it was a mission to support people after Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.

Last week, he returned from a two-week deployment which started off with a significant road trip. Phillip drove an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Wisconsin to Orlando. From there he continued to travel across the state in Red Cross vehicles to serve food directly in communities that were hardest hit.

One of the times when he was out on a meal run, a couple approached him and said they were not there for food but just that they “saw the red cross and knew that people were here to help.” Nevertheless, Phillip made sure they were fed.

Our volunteer teams need people like you. You can find a role helping people after disasters near and far. Find out more at redcross.org/volunteer.