It’s Experiences Like These That Make a Difference

By Patty Flowers, Wisconsin Region American Red Cross CEO

As I was winding up my 3+ week deployment in Houston, I felt a little bittersweet because I was leaving some ‘family’ behind.  It’s amazing how you become so close to people from all over the country when you work beside them for 12-14 hour days.  Servant hearts comes to mind because that is what I was surrounded by and had been for more than 3 weeks.  You don’t have to ask ‘what is the right thing to do’ because it’s already being asked by each person.  It was an amazing team down in that great state and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

Houston dog visit 2 (2).jpgOne of the days some special visitors came to visit us at headquarters!  What an uplifting 15 minutes for so many tired people! Animals can make you smile and calm your brain so quickly.  I am so grateful for the group that came in with their special critters.  So much happiness and it was needed.  There was not a face without a smile!Houston Dog 2 visit (2)

 

 

So much had been done at the end of my deployment that some groups had closed up shop, including Disaster Assessment.  Their group accomplished what they had to do using drones to help with the flooded areas and it was amazingly efficient.  However, there’s still so much that needs to be done.  Over 3,000 people were still in shelters and these people are truly the ones who needed us the most.  They may have had family they could go to but they couldn’t get there because they couldn’t afford a bus ticket or gas for their car.

***Warning, tissues may be needed****

I met a incredible woman, Maria, in one of our larger shelters and she was waiting for the Individual Assistance program to come back online.  Maria told me that she had a miscarriage just a few days before the hurricane hit and one of the things she was desperate to do is buy some flowers and put them on her baby’s grave.  When she heard the good news that our assistance was coming back online, she started to cry and thanked me for all we were doing for them.  As I received one of the biggest hugs I’d ever gotten down in Houston, all I could think of is how incredibly cool it was that we were giving our donors’ gifts to someone like Maria.  Fulfilling a wish like this and allowing her to grieve and recover is what we were there for.  Please remind every donor that their donations are bringing smiles to people who have every reason not to smile during times like what Maria went through.

Another shelter resident I met, was James.  He had relatives in the Detroit area but he can’t afford to get there.  He told me he didn’t need any help with housing if he could only just get to Detroit.  I watched the smile on his face build into the biggest grin ever when he found out that we had bought him a plane ticket to get him up to his relatives.  I’ve quite honestly never seen anyone so excited.  Again, this is why we were there.

Below is a photo of Steve Hansen (Chapter Executive in Northeast Wisconsin), Michelle Goodwill (Bilingual Donor Recruitment Supervisor in Northeast Wisconsin), and myself at headquarters down in Houston.  Steve served as an EOL (Elected Officials Liaison) where he did really good work keeping communication channels open and making sure small mud puddles didn’t turn into quicksand for the Red Cross.  One day when his work was finished for the day, he very happily said yes to helping us set up a shelter in 96 degree heat with 96% humidity.  Steve worked tirelessly ALL day long with not one complaint.  He is amazing.  Michelle was on her first deployment working with the Latina Engagement Team and she has been able to take her skills in putting together blood drives to help her team with event planning in the community creating efficiencies and the ability to cover more people in need of our outreach.  AWESOME One Red Cross in action!!!

Houston One Red Cross (2)

Shout outs to other disaster workers & volunteers that were deployed down to headquarters doing great things and working LONG hours but I hardly saw, are Nick Cluppert (Disaster Program Manager for Northeast Wisconsin), Marytha Blanchard, our Division Disaster guru Megan Chamberlain, Wendy Savage (Executive Director for North Central Wisconsin), Charise Smith who rocked her first deployment handling in-kind donations, and Laurie Nehring from Blood Communications.  Last but certainly not least, Dave Gutierrez, our Division Disaster Executive who was the Job Director down in Texas. He is an amazing guy with the ability to handle such a complex operation and never get flustered.  I enjoyed getting to know Dave and my admiration for him grows each and every day.  Megan and Marytha were the leads for our amazing individual assistance program and literally lived at HQ for several days straight.  While they had a few bumps in the road, I am in awe of what they, along with the National team, put together.

Lastly, a few tidbits for you about Houston:  Traffic is a nightmare, gridlocked at most hours of the day.  Instead of bars on every corner, there are donut shops. Kolaches are a specialty, with different (usually some type of meat) fillings in each one.  I tried an egg and bacon one for breakfast and it was quite good!  There are even kolaches shohouston-kolaches-2.jpgps here and that’s all they sell…very popular.  And it is hot.  OMG, I have never been so hot at the end of September!!!  I couldn’t wait to get back and enjoy Fall.  90+ degrees does not equate to Fall in my view!

While I’ve been privileged to be able to deploy down to Texas, I am so very happy to be home. I want to thank each and every one who made a difference during this tough time, including those who stayed behind to keep Wisconsin going.  Our team rocks!

 

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