Through the Eyes of a Red Crosser

By: Anna Fernández-Gevaert, Regional Communications Director of the American Red Cross of Idaho & Montana

I am at a Red Cross shelter in Browning, MT, sitting around a large collapsible banquet table with a handful of Red Cross volunteers. We are eating baked potatoes and chili off Styrofoam plates, in the middle of a warehouse the size of an airplane hangar. All around us, people are unloading supplies, cleaning, talking, eating and sleeping. A radio is blaring on one end of the hangar and just 20 feet farther away, a Blackfeet boy with a long braid down his back is watching a zombie movie on a 13-inch portable TV.

I look around the table and see tired faces. These Red Crossers have only been here a few days, but the work is hard and the emotions are harder. Volunteering for the Red Cross is never easy, even on a good day. During a disaster like this, when hundreds of evacuees rely on a small group of trained volunteers to meet their immediate needs, it is all hands on deck, each giving their all. It takes a toll.

Gene Wallis smiles his way through a day at the Browning Shelter

Gene Wallis smiles his way through a day at the Browning Shelter

Yet, these people look—happy. Across the table, Gene Wallis, a bon vivant in his seventies from Appleton, WI, with the gift of gab and an impish smile, is holding court. Gene started volunteering with Red Cross 4 years ago and has seen a thing or two. When I ask him what distinguishes this disaster from the others he has seen, his answer is immediate: “The people-–never seen anything like it.”

I ask him what he means. “The Blackfeet people–they are dignified, resilient, they don’t complain. And they are helpful–to us as volunteers and to each other,” he explains. You don’t have to ask them to help—they look around for what is needed and they just do it. It is part of their culture.” He pauses, searching for the right words. “It’s impressive,” he adds.

Joan Richards, a proper-looking lady in her sixties whose face exudes goodness, nods in agreement. “I mentioned that very thing to my supervisor yesterday,” she says. “How impressed I was with this community. I am from Hyannis, MA, and I really did not know anything about the Blackfeet Nation before I arrived at the shelter a few days ago. As soon as I started working here, I noticed how warm and friendly and solicitous the people are in this community.” She leans in, and adds, woman to woman: “Have you noticed how attentive the men are to their children?” I nod, having remarked on that very thing only a few hours earlier. “They also show such respect to their elders,” she says. She adds quietly: “I feel so privileged to have had this experience.”

Nancy McKenney, who sits to my left, adds her own experience as shelter manager. “I needed to do a shelter check, writing down the names of each guest,” she explains. “A group of local women who had been helping us just took over. They knew everyone and got it done in 20 minutes. It would have taken us 2 hours.” Nancy, who is from Pierre, SD, is veteran Red Crosser, the type that has seen it all and takes no prisoners. If she’s impressed, that means something.

I smile to myself and sit back in my chair, looking at the tired faces around me. I marvel at these people, these Red Crossers, who are enthralled with the people they are serving. I wonder if they realize how awestruck I am with them.

Western Wildfires Do Affect Us

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

The United States as a whole is in the midst of one of the worst, and most expensive, wildfire seasons on record. To-date this year, more than 8.5 million acres have burned. In addition to the wildfires currently devastating California, Red Cross disaster workers are assisting with relief efforts for an additional 26 large-scale active wildfires that are currently burning across Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

So far this wildfire season, Red Cross teams across multiple states have operated 52 shelters that saw over 2,400 overnight stays, served nearly 41,000 meals and snacks and distributed nearly 5,000 relief supplies to assist those impacted by raging wildfires. The Red Cross is also working with partners to provide care for evacuated pets and animals.

When disasters hit, the impact is felt far and wide – property is damaged, people are displaced, and lives are upended. But one of the greatest impacts of a disaster is often unseen: the effect on people’s emotional health and mental well-being. Trained Red Cross caseworkers are providing much needed mental health services for individuals and families impacted by these disasters, helping people deal with the intensity of the disaster and connect with additional resources within their community. And as fires continue to burn, Red Cross disaster workers are also looking ahead to coordinate recovery efforts for both individuals and families impacted and displaced by these devastating fires. The Red Cross will continue to work within communities to provide the needed resources to help people respond and recover from wildfires – even after the smoke clears.

Disaster Preparedness

People in the path wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather should download the Red Cross Emergency App for real time access to weather alerts, preparedness information, safety tips and shelter locations. The Emergency App provides expert advice on what to do during floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters. The app also provides lifesaving information on emergency first aid for various situations such as what to do for heart attacks, heat-related emergencies and includes water safety tips. Pre-loaded content ensures that guidance from Red Cross experts is available anytime, anywhere – even without mobile connectivity. The Emergency App is available for free in app stores for smartphones and tablets and can also be found by searching for American Red Cross or by going to

Wildfire Tips

With no end in sight to critical fire weather in the affected states, the Red Cross has safety steps people should follow if they live in an area where a wildfire is possible:

  • If a wildfire threatens, be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
  • Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room or spot so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Click here for additional safety information, including what do to before, during and after a wildfire.

  • To support wildfires and residential fires alike, please consider making a financial contribution at
  • To become a disaster responder like Gene Wallis and Vicki Gurriell, you can start your volunteer application at

Stayin’ Alive with Hands-Only CPR

By: PaKou Lee, Red Cross volunteer and RCYP member

Get CPR Red-y this fall with our Red Cross Young Professionals Group of NEW (RCYP).


Our one year of RCYP is coming up at the end of September and we want to celebrate it with YOU! As part of our mission to Give, Guide and Provide, we are giving back to our community by teaching hands-only CPR!

Please join us on Wednesday, September 30th at the Red Cross Appleton Office! Get trained on how to #SaveALife in only 10 minutes. Enjoy food and drinks with the RCYP members, local volunteers and guests. Learn more about what we do as young professionals in the Northeast WI community and how you can be part of the club! (Don’t be nervous – we’re laid back and fun! I promise!)

Sign up now! Don’t forget to bring a friend! For questions, please contact Jennessa Heiting,
(For a larger view, click on the image).

CPR Red-y

We also want to share with you some of our highlights from our first year!

  • We started with our kick-off party last September and created holiday cards for the Holiday Mail for H11201835_839042179537301_5780583661192536279_neroes campaign in November.
  • We volunteered for Dancing with Our Stars 2015 main event- working backstage for social media and videos, collecting votes and recording the dances.
  • RCYP raised $500 for the Red Cross – we filled out the Best of the Bay results for the Press-Gazette and co-hosted with Current for an networking event.
  • We hosted a Thank-a-Thon- called local sponsors to thanked them for their donations and spread awareness about Giving Day.
  • We also volunteered for the Packers 5k at the water station and recently worked with youths for the Pillowcase Project, guiding children on creating a pillowcase kit for fire safety and needs.
  • RCYP took 2nd place in Current’s Bench Challenge, hosted by the Green Bay Area Habitat Young Professionals. All thanks to Ben and Dan for building the bench and taking a selfie!
  • One of our members, Dan Terrio is a part of the Dancing with Our Stars 2016 campaign and we are ready to show our support!

We hope to see you on the 30th! Don’t forget to bring a friend! For questions, please contact Jennessa Heiting,

RCYP enjoying an outside evening concert, hosted by Heritage Hill.

RCYP enjoying an outside evening concert, hosted by Heritage Hill.

Volunteer of the Month – Larry Griffin

Larry Griffin 2

Congratulations, to Larry Griffin on being named the September 2015 American Red Cross Volunteer of the Month!

When Larry retired in 2012, he along with his wife Pat decided that volunteering for the Red Cross Disaster Cycle Service (DSC) efforts would be worthwhile. Larry stated, “I now realize, more and more, the many facets in which the Red Cross is active, preparing to prevent misfortunes, is as important as responding to disasters, is as important as providing ways to recover from a loss.”

The Red Cross is so thrilled to have volunteers like Larry. “Larry is always not only willing to help but expresses gratitude when called out to a disaster site,” says Jenny Legaspi, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager. As a Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer he shows a high level of commitment. “Larry consistently signs-up for DAT response shifts. Even when not on-call, he is happy to assist with a response whenever he is available,” states Luong Huynh, Red Cross Disaster Program Specialist.

As a Red Cross volunteer, Larry serves as a DAT member, helping people during times of disaster.  “We help people who experience a sudden misfortune due to fire, storm or other unexpected cause,” Larry states. Larry enjoys providing comfort to clients and working professionally with first responders to ensure community members are supported during times of disaster. “He’s the guy that I would want to come and help me!” notes Barbara Behling.

Larry is also making significant contributes to the Red Cross Preparedness Programs while volunteering with the Home Fire Prevention Campaign. This Campaign involves Red Cross volunteers joining with local fire departments and community groups to visit neighborhoods at high risk for fires. Visits include educating people about fire safety, creating safety plans and installing free smoke alarms in homes. View this link to see Larry and other Red Cross DAT team members in action!

“When volunteering with the Home Fire Preparedness Program, Larry has become my go-to Documenter and Reporter Lead. His reporting is accurate and I can always count on him to train new volunteers in the role,” Luong Huynh DPS.  Over the last six months, Larry devotion has been evident as he has now volunteered at five separate Home Fire Preparedness events and helped to install sixty-four smoke alarms in homes. “I take satisfaction in possibly preventing a house fire and saving a life,” Larry state

Larry’s humble response when asked of this honor was simple, “Really my efforts have not been any greater than that of other Red Cross members. Anyone who becomes involved with the Red Cross will feel the same way!” Thank you, Larry, for making a real difference in your community and the Red Cross!

Join us! Volunteer like Larry and help your neighbors recover from disasters like home fires by becoming a Red Cross volunteer. Contact the Red Cross to get trained.

To learn more, visit or contact the office of Volunteer Resources at

You Still Have Time to #ChooseYourDay and Donate Blood!

By: Patty Flowers, CEO of Wisconsin American Red Cross

As summer begins to wind down, consider making time to donate blood or platelets with the Red Cross. #ChooseYourDay to help save lives and make an appointment this Labor Day weekend. All presenting donors who give blood between September 5-7 will receive a limited-edition t-shirt, while supplies last! Patty’s story shows how you can make a difference in the lives of hospital patients and their families with this free and lifesaving gift.

“You want me in the delivery room with you?” I exclaimed!  Of course, it took me just two seconds to say ‘yes’ to my daughter when she was getting ready to deliver her first child at age 39. This little boy was our miracle baby as she had been told she most likely would never be able to become pregnant. As I’ve heard so many times before, once the stress of getting pregnant goes away, often a little one joins us. True for our family and I was so honored to be asked to be a part of this miracle that was unfolding before us.

On July 22, 2015, I was sitting with her at the registration desk at the hospital and then back in the labor and delivery department when the nurse asked if she would accept blood transfusions if needed. The question actually took me off guard because I hadn’t thought of her actually needing blood, but I blurted out “is it Red Cross blood”?  The nurse looked at me as if she’d never been asked that question before and then said “I’ve never been asked that before”. My daughter threw me a look like really Mom?, but she tolerated me asking. The nurse had to check to see who this hospital’s blood supplier was and when she came back in our room to tell me that indeed it would be Red Cross blood, I was very satisfied. Why?  Well, I know the rigorous testing and regulations that have to be followed by blood collections and I know how safe Red Cross blood is. Sitting in that hospital with my daughter, knowing she was in very good hands and that she had Red Cross blood waiting in case she needed it was quite comforting to me.

FullSizeRender (5)Michael Robert joined us at 1:06 PM on July 23, 2015 with a full head of black hair. Of course I think he’s the cutest, best baby, and I know I’m biased, but he really is! His delivery was not an easy one but my daughter never did need any blood. I am so grateful for the donors who had given those pints of blood that were waiting for her in case she needed it – it means as much to me as if she had been transfused.

I donate blood as often as I can through one of our Red Cross blood drives and I hope you will too. Knowing that one pint of my blood can save up to three lives is a very powerful reason to make me take the hour I need to plan for a donation, but now I equate it to that moment when my daughter might have needed someone else’s blood to help her. It’s personal, it’s powerful, and we need more people to decide that it’s an easy way to help someone else. Please consider donating your blood and we make it so easy to do it! Go to and find a drive near you or even simpler, download the Red Cross Blood app on your smart phone and you can register for a drive even faster.

100 Days of Summer. 100 Days of Hope.