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

January

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.

February

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.

March

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!

April

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!

May

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.

June

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.

July

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.

August

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.

September

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

October

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.

November

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.

December

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. 

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