Janesville native makes ‘time to give back’ for those suffering amid wildfires

By Kay Elmsley Weeden, American Red Cross

Jamie Stahl has seen his share of disasters, but he was still ready to deploy this July the moment the call came as part of the American Red Cross response to the western wildfires. When a second call came in August, he was ready to help people then, too.  

As an American Red Cross disaster cycle services volunteer for four years, Stahl is familiar with the need to quickly travel to places where a natural disaster strikes and help to address the immediate and long-term needs of the affected families. In July, he was one of many volunteers sent to the western United States to assist families who had lost so much to the fires. He was deployed to Lakeview, Ore., originally for two weeks, to set up shelters for families displaced by the recent summer wildfires.  

Jamie Stahl, of Janesville, stands in front of a disaster relief trailer parked outside a shelter set up during wildfires in Oregon in July 2021. Submitted photo

“Our goal is to be there for people during a really hard time. We try to make sure they have what they need and we are there to listen and help address their concerns,” said Stahl.  

For a collection of individuals, the new shelter is now their temporary place of respite, supported by red-vested Red Cross responders. Each person is welcomed into their short-term home with a safe place to sleep, food, drinking water most of all, compassion. Here is a place where volunteers strive to reduce the stress and fear for families who may not have had much notice to leave their homes and who may have lost everything. Medical professionals are also available to address any health concerns, including replacing medication left from a hasty exit. The Red Cross collaborates with local agencies to provide assistance for pets to ensure a safe place for them as well.

As a Red Cross shelter supervisor, Jamie’s job duties include establishing the shelter is set up properly with sleeping areas with cots, certify that it is ADA accessible, make certain toilets and showers are functioning as needed, ensure there are feeding and snack areas, and help create separate areas for people to just hang out and decompress. Beyond that, his main task is to engage with everybody staying there – every day. 

Working shifts are typically 12 hours daily, although that can vary depending on factors such as shelter population and the ability for people to safely return home. On this initial deployment, Stahl and some other Red Crossers were able to return ahead of their two-week commitment. But just a few weeks later, wildfires kicked up again, and this time Stahl was deployed to northern California to help during a time when nearly two-dozen shelters or evacuation points were opened for hundreds of people in crisis.

Stahl started as a blood donor ambassador for drives in Janesville four years ago. While he still serves in that role monthly, he has filled much-needed roles as a sheltering supervisor, shelter associate, logistics warehousing. He is also qualified in delivering meals and driving Red Cross emergency response vehicle (ERV). Reflecting on the humanitarian work in high-pressure environments, Stahl he feels grateful for the chance to offer his time and compassion.  

“Life has been good to me and it’s time for me to give back,” he said. “I have the luxury of locking my apartment door and taking off to help where I am needed most.”

With a rise in disasters across the country and in our own backyard, the Red Cross is looking for more humanitarians to join our disaster action teams. Sign up and find details at redcross.org/DAT.

Spiderman, Giannis and you: join the heroes in a 17-year-old Milwaukee boy’s life

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Spiderman is 17-year-old Demarus Torrence’s favorite superhero. Like so many Milwaukee sports fans, he’s also crazy about Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

His mother, Passion Terrell’s, favorite larger-than-life hero? Anyone who donates blood.

Demarus Torrence poses with a Star Wars storm trooper, part of a dream-come-true trip to ComiCon a few years ago with the Make A Wish Foundation. Demarus has sickle cell disease and his family is encouraging people to donate blood to help him and others battling the painful illness.

That’s because Demarus suffers from the pains and plight of sickle cell disease. The ravages of the disease cause “pain crises” that at times require monthly blood transfusions and regular hospital stays. The fan of comics and sci-fi flicks showed his own bravery in merely battling through this affliction.

“Just imagine someone hitting your back with a hammer, constantly, and it just won’t stop. [Demarus] describes it and you can picture it, but you really can’t,” his mother said.

About 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are of African or Latino descent, are living with sickle cell disease. Regular blood transfusions are often a critical treatment for sickle cell patients. In fact, a single sickle cell patient can require multiple blood transfusions per year throughout their lifetime to treat complications from sickle cell disease. 

Demarus is the only person in his immediate family with the disease, though later testing revealed other family members who carry the sickle cell trait that can cause the disease. As a mother, Terrell has made it her mission to care for her beloved son and to inspire others to give blood – especially African Americans and people who have never donated. A sickle cell patient in need is more likely to find a compatible blood match from a donor of the same race or a similar ethnicity.

“I think I’ve gotten better over the years. I was a nervous wreck when he was smaller; I was probably overprotective,” she said, later adding, “You kind of feel hopeless.”

On Sept. 3, from noon until 5 p.m., the American Red Cross is teaming up with Passion and Demarus for a blood drive at his high school, MacDowell Montessori School, 6415 W. Mt. Vernon Ave., Milwaukee, 53213. All blood donors are welcome. To make an appointment at this drive, use the ZIP code 53213 in the search at RedCrossBlood.org or enter the promo code SCstrong.

Passion Terrell smiles with her son, Demarus. She said she’s felt “hopeless” at times watching her son in pain from sickle cell disease, which is why she’s teaming up with the American Red Cross to inspire blood donors at an upcoming drive.

The Red Cross and Passion’s new sickle cell awareness organization, The Strongest Warriors: Sickle Cell Strong, are encouraging African American blood donors to participate in this life-saving collection. About 30 donors are anticipated for this drive though numerous other drives are happening across Wisconsin during September, which is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

Terrell knows firsthand the “superpower” that blood donors share when making donations that help people like Demarus.

“It’s amazing, once he gets that blood in him, it’s like a different person. His breathing improves, his blood levels improve … it’s like his body wakes up,” Terrell said.

At a time when health information has never been more important, the Red Cross in April added sickle cell trait screening for self-identified African American blood donors. Tens of thousands of donors have taken advantage of this new feature over the past four months. This information is shared with donors as part of the update process in the weeks after having donated blood.

To make an appointment at a drive during Sickle Cell Awareness Month, visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the free Red Cross Blood Donor app from your app store or call (800) RED CROSS (733-2767).

Heroes, golf and goodies, all for a good cause at Northeast Wisconsin Heroes Classic

By American Red Cross staff

The American Red Cross will once again shine a light on heroes in northeast Wisconsin this September at an event that mixes inspiring stories, cool auction items, one-of-a-kind golf and support in the community.

The 2021 Northeast Wisconsin Heroes Classic will be held Sept. 1-19, through a mix of in-person golf and online engagement that benefits the mission of the American Red Cross in Wisconsin. The highlight of the event is the introduction of local heroes, from a variety of backgrounds and good deeds.

“These heroes give such a positive reminder of the good in our communities and it’s our privilege to honor each and every person,” said Steve Hansen, Executive Director, Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross. “It’s just that much better to recognize these local heroes in a way that includes the fun of golf and a silent auction, and spirit of generosity that backs the mission of the Red Cross where we live and work.”

The 2021 Heroes are:

Adult Hero – Sgt. Andrew Miles (Outagamie County)

Animal Hero – Geller with handler Jeff Jorgenson (Winnebago County)

Emergency Responders – Sgt. Christopher Tappen & Deputy Cooper Walker (Brown County)

From the Heart – Percy VanLanen-Knaub, granddaughter Tara Bailey is accepting the award posthumously (Oconto County)

Youth – Parker Wilson (Outagamie County)

Military – Jason Ortscheid, Sam Skiff, Karsen Sherrick & Chris Rosene (Brown County)

Hero of the Year – Carson Molle (Outagamie County)

Golfing for the event can tee off anytime from Sept. 1-19, with in-person golf foursomes at North Shore Golf Club in Menasha. For golf sign-ups/details, contact Steve Hansen at steve.hansen@redcross.org.

The silent auction kicks off at 8 a.m., Sept. 7 and closes at 6 p.m., Sept. 17. To join the silent auction that supports the Red Cross mission as well as see the inspiring hero videos, click here. (Golf is not required for involvement and support; a separate registration for the auction and more are available here: https://e.givesmart.com/events/m1a/)

The Mission Moment sponsor is Northeast Chapter board member Sarah Ann Dressel, with a $15,000 match to double the generosity of event donors. Additional sponsors include: Presenting Sponsor – Schneider; Award Sponsors – Menasha Corporation, Jon & Wendy Suprise, Miller Electric, Paper Transport; Golf Cart Sponsor – Festival Foods; Lunch Sponsor – The Village Companies; and Golf Reception Sponsor – Green Bay Packers Give Back.

Mary Jane Thomsen brings excitement, ownership to new Red Cross leadership role in NW Wisconsin

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Last week, Mary Jane “MJ” Thomsen began her new role as Executive Director for the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross. But Thomsen is no stranger to the Red Cross, nor the Midwest.

Thomsen has been Executive Director for the Red Cross’ Greater St. Louis Chapter since April 2018, and she spent the prior nine years leading blood collection efforts for the Red Cross in Missouri and Illinois. Success in those roles meant collaboration with Air Force bases and NHL teams, as well as United Ways and Red Cross Community Volunteer Leaders. Her career began after a triple-major B.A. degree from the University of Minnesota – Duluth, and immersed herself in professional and community affiliations such as Rotary Clubs in St. Louis and Duluth, Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals, and English Springer Rescue America.

As Thomsen settles into this new role, she shared a few key thoughts on her background and the people she “can’t wait to get to know” in her new environs. 

What are you looking forward to most at the start of your time as a leader with the Red Cross in northwest Wisconsin?

Thomsen: “I am very excited to meet the volunteers in the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter. From board members and community volunteer leaders, to all those who work to respond to disaster, support our military members and veterans and coordinate blood drives, I can’t wait to get to know them and the community we serve.”

“Coming out of COVID – and into a new community – I am really looking forward to meeting local Red Crossers in person and spending time learning more about what makes our Chapter unique in the Wisconsin Region.”

What are one or two things you’ve been most proud of with your work so far at the Red Cross?

Thomsen: “In St. Louis, as District Manager of donor recruitment, we were responsible for collecting over 70,000 units of blood annually in our Chapter. Being able to get to know our sponsors and their organizations was a pleasure, and the working relationships and friendships our team created helped us to develop blood programs which were considered signature partnerships for Red Cross.”

“Also in St. Louis, as Executive Director, I was a part of one of the first three regions in the country to begin the One Red Cross Community Engagement Initiative (Beta) models. In this initiative, Humanitarian and Biomedical Services worked closely together to ensure partner relationships were aligned to optimize blood collections and development opportunities.”

Why do you feel the mission of the American Red Cross continues to resonate so strongly in our communities?

“The Red Cross mission is to alleviate human suffering by mobilizing the generosity of volunteers, and our entire workforce is 90% volunteer led. Because we are made up of individuals who are committed to ensuring that our mission and service delivery occur down the street and across the country, each community has a very real ownership of supporting those in the most critical need – when that support is needed most.”

For more on the Northwest Chapter, including Board Directors, click here.

Arrowhead Union H.S. student wins Red Cross scholarship   

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Bradley Phillips

Every few months, we’re highlighting the incredible work toward the mission of the American Red Cross by one of our colleagues in the Wisconsin Region. Hopefully these short profiles provide a little light of positivity and inspiration across all lines of service in our humanitarian mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the Red Cross mean to you?

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

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

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