AmeriCorps Volunteers Answer the Call in Houston

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Story and Photo by Chris Genin, American Red Cross volunteer

From left to right: Jeremy Holm, Alex Unger, Juliana Stahle, Scott Sobocinski, Joshua Haisch, Emma Harvey

Unless you’ve resided or worked in an American Red Cross shelter, it’s difficult to get a sense of what goes on to ensure the comfort and safety of people who have come to the shelter for help. Volunteers work around the clock to maintain a positive environment and guarantee people’s needs are met. This is a huge job and the Red Cross often works with partner agencies in the shelter so that things run smoothly.

Alex Unger, an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Core (NCCC) team leader, is one such volunteer who represents a partner agency and is working side-by-side with Red Cross volunteers to efficiently run one of the remaining Red Cross shelters at Houston’s Greenspoint Mall.

AmeriCorps is a team-based national community service program run by the federal government and Alex and his team operate under the NCCC. Teams are usually comprised of eight to 12 people who travel around the country building homes, responding to disasters, working with kids and performing energy and environmental conservation work. They operate under 10-month commitments and typically focus on one region unless a disaster strikes. The AmeriCorps campus in Baltimore sent 12 teams to Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Prior to deploying to Houston, Alex’s team was in Idaho aiding relief efforts during the Hanover Wildfire.

Alex’s team of 11 AmeriCorps members helped spearhead the shelter set up and had the big task of unloading and organizing 16 trucks packed full of resident’s’ personal belongs. Most Greenspoint Mall residents moved there from another shelter and a system had to be implemented to make sure personal belongings went with them. Alex’s team sorted totes and boxes and created a system for where their belongings went.

Nearly 500 people descended on the shelter, some traveling with 10 massive boxes and others bringing one small tote, Alex’s team organized these things in an orderly manner, while at the same time remaining readily available to help in other areas. No matter the quantity of what came with a resident, Alex handled all belongings with care, keeping in mind that what they were unloading could be all the material things that remained for some people.

Thirteen AmeriCorps team members are still supporting Red Cross shelter operations. These volunteers help manage laundry service, sorting and distributing donated items, serving meals, unloading deliveries and maintaining general cleanliness. All of this is done in support of the 400 residents who call this shelter home nearly seven weeks after Hurricane Harvey.

Alex, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin, joined AmeriCorps because he wanted to experience this unique way of life and to develop his leadership ability. He and his team are going to continue their work in Houston until they graduate their service year on November 15.

A lot of the people are really appreciative of the work that we’re doing here,” Alex said. “Whether it’s serving meals or passing out clothes, a lot of people basically have nothing. It’s humbling to be a part of it all, to sit with someone and hear their story. It’s great to see people getting back on their feet.”

Words of Hope & Support from our Volunteers!

Written By: Deanna Culver, Red Cross Volunteer, 09/12/2017

I am a Red Cross Volunteer
Volunteering is what we do
Today, tomorrow, and the next day too
Helping people on their recovery begins with steps
Together we’ll work on cleaning up the confusion and mess
Eager to assist and ready at a moment’s notice
Helping people and meeting new friends is an added bonus
Volunteering is given from within our hearts
Today, and tomorrow right from the start
Resources and guidance a soft loving gesture in a time of need
To help get people back on their feet
Disasters happen day and night
Red Cross volunteers lead the way with a shining light
Eyes of care watching over you
Smiles to brighten your hearts that turned heavily blue
Rather on the phone or in a shelter
We’re here to help you fill alittle better
Listening, sharing, and caring to help guide you
Nothing is to tough for us to help you through
For helping people far from home and near
I am a Red Cross Volunteer

WI Red Cross Nurse Volunteer Assists Houston Residents after Hurricane Harvey

It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, TX. There is still so much to do with cleaning up and taking care of those in need. Carol Miller, a Red Cross volunteer and nurse from Rhinelander, WI arrived in Houston the day after the disaster and has been assisting at the Brown Convention Center, one of the many shelters set up. She shares her story:

(Left to right): RNs Darryl Lemick (CA) and Darla Soles (MD) talk to a resident at one of the dormitory DHS desks.

As a team of 28 Red Cross volunteers, they rode in the back of a city dump truck to get to the shelter because of the high waters. Although it was not an easy transport, they arrived safely to prep for the receiving of 5,000 disaster survivors. By Sunday evening on August 27th, there were a total of 4,900 people staying there. A shortage of cots and beds began that same night as well. The total increased greatly over night to more than 10,000 people. Carol expressed her gratitude towards the local volunteers because they pitched in their assistance to the team when some Red Cross volunteers were not able to get into the city.

Carol’s office views over Dormitory D in the shelter.

By Wednesday this week, things started to turn around for the better. Prior, Carol and her team worked diligently on a minimum of 12-hour shifts but have dropped down to 8-hour. They also received additional good news: they were getting handicap accessible showers! It’s definitely the little things that count. Also, the number of people staying at the shelter dropped to roughly 1,600 that same day but she mentioned that the current population “includes many people with the highest level of needs- those with access and functional needs, mental health issues, healthcare needs and those with limited ability to self-determine the next steps to recovery.”

She added, “Community partners have set up areas to provide eye refraction and glasses, dialysis, prescription meds, acute dental care, immunizations, lab work, behavioral health, and social services and housing referrals.”

(Left to right): Carol in Staff Wellness Office with RNs Jada Mai (CA) and Jill Boesch (AZ)

Another dorm area is set for shelter residents that have pets where they have access to medical services and food supplies from local veterinarians and pet supply retailers.

Carol ends with asking for a prayer for the people affected by Hurricane Harvey. We cannot thank her and the rest of the volunteers enough for their support, courage and love for the community.

You can still help! To donate to the Red Cross and learn how your donations are helping those impacted by disaster relief, please visit http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Harvey-Donations-Hard-at-Work-Red-Cross-Efforts-Ongoing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flood Relief Touted by Top State Leader

Surrounded by American Red Cross responders, corporate leaders and Wisconsin’s Governor, Scott Walker, Patty Flowers kicked-off a news conference to highlight flood relief efforts. She also issued a call to action for people to get involved by preparing for emergencies, donating their time as a blood donor, becoming a disaster responder in your own communities, of which the training is free, and by making a financial gift to support the ongoing relief efforts.

From left to right: Rebecca Fitzgerald (Johnson Controls Inc.), Patty Flowers (Red Cross Regional CEO), Laura Timm (Briggs & Stratton), Mary Lou Young (United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha), Governor Scott Walker, Jim Ladwig (SC Johnson), Tami Garrison (MillerCoors), Lisa Nelson (Walmart)

The Wisconsin region of the Red Cross responds to nearly 900 disasters annually and the recent 20-county flood counts as just one disaster. Overall, 90% of the Red Cross workforce is volunteer including the board of directors. Disaster teams have provided the following services during the flooding:

  • Opened and operated 10 shelters
  • Supported four Multi-agency Resource Centers
  • Distributed 9,360 relief items
  • Served more than 4,000 meals and snacks
  • Provided more than 250 health and mental health contacts.

In addition, the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 is open 24 hours a day for anyone who has been affected by the flood and may need additional emotional support.

Governor Walker shared that when he travels the state to disaster areas, he is always comforted knowing Red Cross responders are there.

All disaster assistance is free as it is a gift from the American people. All financial donations, large and small, make a tremendous impact as 91 cents of every dollar goes directly into programs and services. A $25 dollar donation provides a household with valuable clean-up supplies after a flood, while $200 covers the cost for a family of four to stay in a shelter, provide three meals, personal hygiene items and resources to begin recovery.

Business leaders joining in the news conference included Jim Ladwig, Director Global Community Affairs from SC Johnson who presented the Red Cross with a $100,000 check for disaster relief. Lisa Nelson from the Walmart Corporation also presented a $50,000 check — $25,000 of which will benefit the Wisconsin relief and $25,000 of which will support the Illinois response efforts. Four other Wisconsin companies made gifts of $10,000+ to help with the recent floods– Associated Bank, Logistics Health, Gold’n Plump and We Energies. With these donations, almost half the flooding expenses will be covered.

From left to right: Patty Flowers (Red Cross Regional CEO), Governor Scott Walker, Jim Ladwig (SC Johnson)

The Red Cross thanks its partners in the Annual Disaster Giving Program and Disaster Responder program who contribute $250,000 or more annually to ensure Red Cross has funds to support disaster relief: Johnson Controls, Kohl’s, Northwestern Mutual, Rayovac and SC Johnson.

The Red Cross is grateful to many corporate and community partners who donated goods, space and time to help reduce costs of the response.

With almost 900 disasters around the state each year, the fundraising needs are great so people can always count on the Red Cross during disasters.

You can help people affected by disasters like the recent floods and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Checks can be sent to the Milwaukee office at 2600 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Historic Wisconsin Flooding; Heroic Red Cross Response

By Amber Finley, American Red Cross

Early morning, on Wednesday, July 12, 2017, Southeastern Wisconsin residents woke to rain waters filling their homes. A few days later, Mother Nature struck again; creating flash floods in the Southwestern part of the state, leaving residents and communities devastated with the worst flooding in Wisconsin since 2008. Governor Scott Walker declared a state of emergencies for all 17 counties within a week.

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With neighbors looking to begin the clean-up and recovery process, the American Red Cross came in full-force to assist in the efforts.  In all, 10 shelters were opened and neighbors were invited to use the Red Cross facilities to shower, eat a meal, stay overnight, receive minor medical attention and, most of all, a compassionate shoulder to lean on was available 24/7.

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To assist individuals in getting on their feet, more than 2,000 flood victims were provided with clean-ups kits filled with necessary items, such as mops, gloves, bleach, all-purpose cleaners, and masks, to begin the clean-up process. The Red Cross also provided more than 5,500 people with essential bulk items like bottled (canned) water; courtesy of Miller Coors, bug spray donated by SC Johnson, and even a warehouse and forklift from Kwik Trip provided a receiving location for the many trucks arriving from the St. Louis warehouse.

The Red Cross also coordinated with community partners such as the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, WE Energies, Aurora Health Care, and state health services by opening three Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARC). The Red Cross MARC’s provided flood victims with a ‘one-stop shop’ to meet with partnering agencies to secure assistance for their long-term recovery.

For an elderly woman, fighting leukemia, Colleen Manderfeld’s nightmare was true as her sump pump failed and her hobby room was full of murky water. Colleen and her two sons began the cleaning process but were soon over-whelmed. Having seen the Red Cross on television she attended the MARC and asked about what assistance may be available.

WI Floodings - July 2017

Colleen Manderfeld with trained Red Cross Volunteer, Laurel Cooper

Because of her illness, any growth of mold or risk of getting sick can be detrimental to her health. Via collaborative efforts, she received cleaning supplies, bleach, vital information and our community partner Samaritan’s Purse will be visiting Colleen’s home to remove damage from the flooding, as well as thoroughly clean, to eliminate the risk of mold. By having multiple resources available to the flood victims, the road to long-term recovery is shortened. “Colleen had a remarkable sense of personal pride and a positive attitude which she learned from her mother. It takes an even bigger person to ask for help.” shares Amber Finley, a disaster responder. “A hug, a meal, financial support and all the little things we could do to show them it was going to be O.K. was what today was about.”

 

The Red Cross is driven by local volunteers who give of their time, talent and treasure to ensure each disaster victim is supported.

Red Cross continues to provide support in Southeast Wisconsin

The American Red Cross continues to provide assistance to Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth County residents after being hit with severe flooding.  Red Cross, with partnering agencies, opened three Multi-Agency Resource Centers where residents were assisted with immediate disaster recovery needs.

To date, the Red Cross has:

  • served 480 clients
  • provided 493 meals
  • distribution 1,689 clean-up kits
  • served 1,748 snacks
  • provided clients with 4,315 bulk items, such as bleach, gloves, and garbage bags

The Red Cross work continues in the Kenosha, Racine and Walworth communities and throughout Western Wisconsin.

If you affected by the storms and have questions or immediate needs, please call 414-345-8678.

How you can help

The Red Cross and the communities it serves rely on local volunteers to provide humanitarian relief during times of disaster. You can become a Red Cross volunteer in your community when disaster strikes. To learn more, visit redcross.org/wisconsin.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation’s blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. The Wisconsin Region serves 5.8 million people across Wisconsin and Houston County Minnesota.  For more information, please visit redcross.org, follow our statewide blog at redcrosswisnews.org and follow us on Twitter @redcrosswis

The Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross responds to nearly 900 disasters a year. You can help people affected by disasters like home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Click redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross Wisconsin Region, 2600 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233

 

Wisconsin’s Longest Tornado Leaves a Path of Disaster

Early evening on time on May 16, 2017, a deadly tornado cycle took aim on Barron and Rusk counties in northern Wisconsin. The EF-3 twister with winds of at least 140 miles per hour ran for 83 miles which makes it Wisconsin’s longest tornado since modern documentation began in 1950. The storm damaged 231 homes and four commercial buildings.

The storms epicenter was the Prairie Lakes Estates mobile home in Chetek and the Jennie-O turkey farm were tossed, turned, stripped and shattered to pieces. Leaving 40 homes destroyed, one person dead and 35 injured. Across county lines, in Rusk County, Conrath was hit the second hardest from the same tornado.

The American Red Cross quickly set up two reception centers at Mosaic Telecom in Cameron, the Ladysmith Sheriff’s Department first and then the Holy Trinity Church in downtown Conrath. Red Cross Disaster Responders from all over Wisconsin rushed in to support the shelter conduct damage assessment, work one-on-one with clients including by providing financial support, replacing medications and equipment to providing an emotional support to those left temporarily homeless.

For the Rutledge family, the trauma of the storm was multi-faceted. The family huddled in their mobile home before it broke apart and thrown across the earth. One member of the family was transported to Regis Hospital with life-threatening injuries. While looking at the remains of their home, they heard noises. Garnering the attention of first responders, they lifted twisted metal, shattered wood and through insulation carefully, quickly – yet carefully – through the remains. When their bunny “Racer” was in the arms of the family, they knew not all was lost.

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By Barbara Behling, American Red Cross

See American Red Cross Wisconsin Chapters Flickr site for more photos.

Our largest Multi-agency Resource Center, often called a “one-stop shop” for residents, was spearheaded by the Red Cross. For two days, Mosaic Telecom hosted 26 agencies.  These agencies provided assistance ranging from; rent assistance, security deposits, furniture, household supplies, food, clothing and much more. Each attendee started with the Red Cross caseworkers to help people create personal recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate assistance for their specific disaster-caused needs.

Non-profit, government and community organizations included:

  • American Red Cross
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStore
  • Barron County DSI
  • Red Cedar Church
  • Rural Development – USDA
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Vincent de Paul
  • United Way 211
  • WestCap
  • WI Judicare
  • Workforce Resources
  • Public Health
  • Benjamin’s House – Emergency Shelter
  • Citizens Connected
  • Johnson Insurance
  • Mosaic Telecom
  • Ruby’s Closet
  • USDA Rural Development
  • Wisconsin Works
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Barron County Veterans Service

The Red Cross has also trucked in rakes, gloves, masks, googles, bug spray and plastic bags to help in the clean-up process.

For Polk County resident, Sue Ames-Lillie, this was the first MARC she has been to, even though she has responded to hundreds of residential fires. She recalls one mother and child in particular. “The mother was battling stage-4 cancer and yet she still had the strength to carry her son upon arrival. After striking a conversation, I learned he had lost his favorite toy.” Sue ushered them in for lunch, then offered clothing along with other items provided by multiple resources. “Permission was granted to take him to a special area where toys and stuffed animals were waiting for children. His frown turned to a smile and this is how I will forever remember this day” Sue shares with gleaming eyes.

Local and regional trained disaster responders were on-scene immediately and knowing an out pouring of community support would swell, the Red Cross activated 26 ‘event based volunteers’ who worked alongside 64 registered Red Cross workers (90 total) to provide:

  • 2, 117 meals & snacks served
  • 1,721 personal hygiene kits and cleanup items distributed
  • 213 individuals met with and assisted
  • 302 health services visits
  • 78 mental health services visits

 

Moving forward the Red Cross is a partner in the Barron County long-term recovery process to ensure community resiliency is achieved. Our community education team will also be available to area schools and groups to share emergency preparedness information such as The Pillowcase Project for grade school kids.

Overall, the Barron County Sherriff’s Department estimates about $10 million in damages. The Rusk County Sheriff said their area sustained heavy damage to public and private properties, including homes and rural farms.

Three generations of the Rutledge family, Mary, Deeann & Cynthia embrace Racer, the rabbit after he was rescued from the mobile home which collapsed upon him in the Chetek tornado.