From an ATV in a soybean field to a Red Cross shelter: one woman’s rescue story during record-breaking storms

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

At first, Janice Huizenga thought she was hunkering down for another summer evening thunderstorm. Janice said she would occasionally peek out of the window of her home in Alto, in Fond du Lac County, on Tuesday as the wind whipped up and the rain started to fall.

Then, a sense of chaos, as the 84-year old saw downed trees, followed by concern, as the power went out at her house and throughout the neighborhood. Janice needed power for medical supplies and to keep an emergency bracelet charged.

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Janice Huizenga, left, shares her rescue story with Red Cross volunteers, including MaryKay Bishop.

With the storm raging around her home – the same storm that dropped more than a dozen tornadoes and flooded numerous rivers across the state – Janice’s adult children, all without power for the night, located a Red Cross shelter with power and notified local fire officials about their mother’s situation and location. Meanwhile, Janice said tornado sirens blared for a third time that night, something she said she’s never heard.

Janice’s home was now surrounded by broken trees, live wires and rain-soaked earth, so firefighters drove an ATV through a soybean field to reach her backyard. Then, she was brought along a meandering path of barely passable roads to a Red Cross shelter at Brandon High School, one town over.

“I was shocked when the tree was down [in my yard] and the roots were out,” said Janice on Wednesday, next to her cot at the shelter. “Then I saw the power line in the tree and wires pulled out of my house. Then, telephone posts were down and you never see that. Down the street, there were more posts down.”

Janice was one of dozens of people to spend a night or more at eight shelters that have been set up since August 20 by the Red Cross as part of monumental storms that have overflowed rivers and damaged homes and property from Prairie du Chien and La Crosse eastward to Coon Valley, Madison, Waupun and Cedarburg. One fatality has been reported so far in association with the storms, which have included record rainfall, numerous tornadoes and emergency declarations.

Three Red Cross shelters remained open as of August 31 and recovery efforts like clean-up kit distribution and sandbagging were in place as the state braced for more rains in the forecast through Labor Day weekend. (For updates on shelters, dial 2-1-1 or follow the Wisconsin Red Cross Facebook and Twitter pages.)

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A cornfield ravaged by August storms outside of Waupun, Wisconsin.

Back in Brandon, Janice recounted her scary evening with Red Cross volunteers, included MaryKay Bishop. The two bonded during the morning with stories of the storm, but also of family. After one night at the shelter – one of the few places with power anywhere close to her home – Janice had connected with her daughter who had planned to navigate roads still under the aftermath of the storms to take in her mother until power and safety were restored in Alto.

Janice was grateful for the night at the shelter, in the basketball court of Brandon H.S. She had slept some and talked with volunteers about plans for a group lunch.

Pondering the power of the devastating storms across Wisconsin, and of the wide-ranging recovery to come for herself and thousands of other residents, Janice said she felt humbled by a higher power at play.

“Man thinks they can do a lot, but nobody can do what God did with this wind,” she said.

To offer your support to people like Janice impacted by the Wisconsin storms and floods, click here to find out how to volunteer, donate or give blood.

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Do you know a local hero? Red Cross searching for Wisconsin nominees

For Brittany, it happened at the gym. Gagandeep and Chetna were on vacation. Leroy was volunteering.

Brave Hearts posed umbrellas Brittany family

Brittany Sabin, center in red, gave life-saving CPR to a man who collapsed at her gym. Here, she poses with friends and family during the 2018 Brave Hearts awards in Menomonee Falls.

Acts of heroism are all around us, every day. The American Red Cross of Wisconsin celebrates those heroes at three events each year. We need your help to identify outstanding heroes in our community at these three Wisconsin events: Evening of Heroes in Wisconsin Dells, Heroes Breakfast in Eau Claire, and Brave Hearts in Milwaukee.

 

Whether they’re stepping up during a medical emergency to provide assistance or helping others through a lifetime of volunteerism, heroes reflect what is best about our community.

Do you know someone who should be recognized? Click the event titles below for nomination details, award categories and event information:

 

Leroy NW hero consoles fellow veteran screenshot

Leroy “Buzz” Thompson consoles a fellow veteran as part of his volunteer efforts, one of the reasons he was chosen for an award.

Evening of Heroes

Nominations due October 31st  

Eligible counties: Adams, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Florence, Forest, Grant, Green, Iowa, Iron, Jefferson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marinette, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Portage, Price, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Shawano, Taylor, Vernon, Vilas and Wood counties in Wisconsin and Houston County, Minnesota.

 

Heroes Breakfast

Nominations due December 31st

Eligible counties: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pierce, Pepin, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Trempealeau, and Washburn.

NW Heroes Breakfast doctors speak

2018 honorees Chetna Mangat, at podium, and Gagandeep Singh used their backgrounds as doctors to save a life while on vacation. 

Brave Hearts

Nominations due December 31st

Eligible counties: Dodge, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth and Waukesha.

Questions? Please contact McKenna Olson at mckenna.olson@redcross.org

CARE for Paws Initiative: Helping pet owners in times of disaster

Story by Red Cross volunteer Ann Voigt

Tucked just outside of Green Bay, WI, in the quiet countryside, sits Country Care Animal Complex. Inside the walls of the complex, in addition to their everyday animal care, the staff serves another important purpose.  The CARE for Paws (Countrycare Animal Rescue Efforts) initiative is part of the Countrycare Animal Complex and partners with the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of The American Red Cross, using their resources to help animals in need during disastrous times.

PAWS Kit Photo 1

When I spoke with Joanne Clark, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Countrycare, to learn more about the CARE for Paws and the kits they make for animals in need, I could tell from just the phone conversation that this was an initiative which was very close to their organization’s heart. The kits are serve a dual purpose – to help victims who are pet owners with initial needs [for their pet(s)] after a disaster strikes and they then serve as carriers for the pets.  Included in the kits are collars, leashes, food, blankets, bowls, kitty litter, toys, and care information.

PAWS Kit Photo 2

The most important part of the kits, however, is the love that each volunteer puts into them. The organization holds bi-yearly gatherings to fill the hundreds of kits and has been doing so for about five years.  It is an effort put forth simply for the love of the animals and the need to ensure the safety and well-being of pets whose owners have fallen on hard times due to tragedy.

 

PAWS Kit Photo 3

The organization’s quest to help pets doesn’t stop with the aftermath of an event – they also provide needs in anticipation of unforeseen events. With a requested donation of $15.00, their Emergency Evacuation Bags include a pet blanket, collapsible food/water bowl, slip leash, waterproof envelope for medical records, booklet of preparedness tips, window sticker to alert first responders that pets are in the home as well as a pet first aid bag with instructional card. These items are all contained in a drawstring bag for easy access.

For more information on this heroic animal organization, please visit their website or Facebook page.

http://countrycareac.com/

https://www.facebook.com/careforpawscac/

https://www.facebook.com/CountrycareAnimalComplex/

Story by Red Cross volunteer Ann Voigt

A reflection and personal story to support her native Puerto Rico by Wisconsin volunteer, Julianna Kimpton who packed her backpack and flew to her island after Hurricane Maria.

September 20, 2017. All media say that my island is dark. My Boriken will never be the same. My search for the voice of my people began.

October 21, 2017. At approximately 1:38 pm local time an American Airlines airplane landed in San Juan with me as a passenger, at that moment is when I really understood what silence means. There were no cheers or songs, only teary eyes because we have witnessed from the sky the destruction Maria caused. Then it hit me, this was just the beginning.

Kimpton Photo - Home Destruction 2

As a volunteer for the American Red Cross, I was assigned to Reunification. (Helping those affected to communicate with loved ones, it is the search and rescue unit of the Red Cross) What I never imagined was that it would be me who would meet a new reality, a new story and reunite with the Boricua that has been asleep inside me since I left the island in December 2001.

I’ve spent the last 21 days with my family, we do not carry the same last name or DNA but we share the “plantain stain” on the forehead. We carry the warrior air of our Taino Indians, carry the flag and raised fists shouting “I shall not quit.”

My island will never be the same. It will take generations before our Yunque recovers, take years before the streets are once again free of debris, months until every household has water and electricity, but what you can already feel and hear in the air is Faith.

Kimpton Photo - Carrying Supplies I have met with thousands of people in these three weeks. Every day, I go out to distribute water and supplies to groups of 300 to 600 people. I visit the elderly in their homes and take items to people with disabilities. I embraced, I prayed, laughed and cried with more people than I can count. I held the hand of elderly people in beds of which they will never rise again. I’ve met families who had lost contact and I’ve heard people talk about what Maria “stole”. But from everything I’ve have seen and heard, something that everyone has in common, regardless of age or situation, destruction or pain is Hope.

This hurricane took ceilings, houses and unfortunately took lives. But for those who are still here the hurricane could not steal their fighting spirit – that Boricua heat. The same spirit that leads us to feed the neighbors when in our own home we have barely enough to eat. That spirit of family, I traveled to places where there was nothing and still people came out of their homes with “a cold coke” or “a glass of water with ice cubes.” (Trust me, here the ice is more valuable than gold) and always the “I owe” with promises of “pateles” and rice with pigeon peas cooked on the fire.

Kimpton Photo - Home Destruction 2

My people, our island will never be the same, but the #puertoricoselevanta is law. People are ready to rebuild, they are ready to put Maria as part of the story in a social studies book with the word “Survivor” next to it. Boriken is being renovated. Children are flying kites today, the projects are full with cleaning crews consisting of people who live there. Crime has decreased and people are on the street helping others.

I write this at 4:12 am local time. In less than two hours, I will leave wearing my red vest and go to work. I have written this with the music of the Coqui orchestra as inspiration. Hoping to give at least a small window to the Boricua dream.

Please do not be discouraged. Yes, it’s true the hurricane has destroyed thousands of homes, uprooted trees and claimed lives. It has given back what we had forgotten for a time — Puerto Ricans are one. We are family. We fight amongst ourselves but if a stranger comes to bother one of us we defend our own “uñas y dientes”. It has given us humility. It reminded us what our parents told us a chancletazo limpio, “be kind, be a good person  and certainly no me abochornes”.

I leave you to sleep for a little while, but not before thanking you for your support. I hope my message proves what my heart screams, we are one. We are family and my people please know Puerto Rico is getting “make over” when we finish will be “de show”.

Kimpton Photo - Day Off God bless you.

Julianna Kimpton

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.

Red Cross Responders Stepping Up After Manitowoc Fire

We can’t say THANK YOU enough to our dedicated volunteers!

Stories and photos by: Andrea Wandrey, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

“Look at that smile, isn’t that priceless”, says Taira Grubb, as she is watching one of her shelter residents unfold his new pair of pants. He is one of more than 80 elderly residents that lost everything in a Manitowoc apartment fire—from clothes to medication and furniture, photos and memories. American Red Cross responders from all over Wisconsin raised their hands quickly to help open up and run a shelter at the Wilson Junior High School, to provide basic needs like food, clothing and a place to sleep.

(l-r) Taira Grubb Bobbi Holiday and Jane Lazarevic

Taira Grubb has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than ten years. She is one of five disaster action team members in Washington County and traveled with fellow volunteers Bobbi Holiday and Jane Lazarevic to Manitowoc to help. Her favorite part of shelter-work is learning about the clients. “I really enjoy talking to them”, she says. Just like Taira, Jane appreciates the personal interactions: “I like making them laugh and helping them think positively”. Jane is a long-time Red Cross volunteer, and recalls that initially she was not sure how her professional background in technology could be helpful to the Red Cross. However, she quickly found out that there is always a way:

“Whatever you can do, you can give something”, says Jane.

In previous deployments she worked in many different positions, from setting up computers, to logistics, staffing and general shelter work. Likewise, her fellow Washington-County volunteer Bobbi has held different positions at the Red Cross. She was previously an office manager and is in disaster-work now, experienced in assisting clients in traumatic situations like the Manitowoc fire.

Terry Wesenberg, a licensed clinical social worker and licensed counselor and Red Cross Volunteer.

A variety of skills were needed at the Manitowoc shelter and highly-trained workers are indispensable. Terry Wesenberg joined the shelter as a licensed clinical social worker and licensed counselor. He is one of the Red Cross’s most experienced mental health professionals. For many years he was in the army, offering his help to soldiers. After his retirement from the Armed Forces he worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for six years in disaster work. Being a Red Cross Volunteer for more than 30-years, he has helped more people than he could count. “I headed out to help after six Hurricanes”, he recalls. He travelled to the Gulf Coast to assist after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, and was in New York for Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012. When asked about his most memorable experience in all these years, he recalls his conversation with a 90-year-old woman after Superstorm Sandy. “When storm hit, she carried six white banker-boxes from her basement into her living room, to protect them from the flood”, he recalled. The boxes contained pictures, stories, and poems from her deceased granddaughter. With the water forcing its way into the house, the boxes got wet and all memories destroyed. Yet the woman refused to throw them out. “This is all I have left” Terry recalls her saying.

His extensive experience helps Terry support the Manitowoc fire victims, who also lost all of their belongings in the fire. Although his work can be tough, Terry very much enjoys volunteering, specifically because of the fellow volunteers he meets. “If you go out you will meet the best people. You want to know them all”, he says.

 

“The Volunteer You Would Need” Red Cross Volunteers are There When Disaster Strikes.

Written By: Dawn Miller, American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region

Photos provided by: Megann Hooyman

When the volunteer from the American Red Cross arrived it was like seeing an old friend and that was just what Megann Hooyman and her family of Appleton needed. The moments leading up to it were a blur of smoke and sirens.

Megann’s family, including her husband, Andy, 4-year old daughter, Zoey and the two-year old twins, Rylee and Callie, had arrived home from a holiday event with Santa. It was a festive Saturday morning so it took Megann a few moments to realize something was wrong.

When she opened her door all she saw was black and smoke. The glass from the oven was shattered on the floor and smoke was everywhere. She bent down to Charlie, their basset hound, but he was already gone. In the living room the smoke was so thick she could not see her hand in front of her.

She ran out the front door and yelled for someone to call 9-1-1. Smoke billowed out behind her. When she opened the door it allowed oxygen in to ignite the flames again.

Andy grabbed the fire extinguisher nearby and used it to keep flames down until firefighters arrived. “It was lucky that we had the fire extinguisher and that Andy knew how to use it,” says Megann.

Within moments Megann heard the sirens and the fire department was there. The fire fighters not only got the fire under control but assisted the family’s other dog, Zebby, who suffered bad burns and smoke inhalation. The ambulance assisted Andy who also was treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire damage was extensive and their possessions were destroyed.

Megann says the American Red Cross volunteer appeared out of nowhere. It’s like seeing a familiar face when you see the American Red Cross logo and that red vest. “It was nice to have that one reliable thing you know you can count on for information and support.”

Megann says the volunteer being there made her feel less alone. “I would have felt lost because I wouldn’t have known what to expect.”

He offered honest advice, time to process next steps and he made sure they were ok. He made sure they had housing and asked if they needed community resources like the food or clothing pantry. He gave them a $625 debit card for necessities like shampoo, conditioner and diapers. “It goes pretty fast when you have little ones,” says Megann.

Megann says she is thankful for such a supportive community. In the weeks following the fire, they stayed with family and were offered much support from friends and community who rallied to help keep the holiday season merry.

“You donate, you give back but you never think you are going to be on the receiving end,” says Megann. “But you need these services.”

Megann recently became the newest member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team.

“I hope I volunteer but I hope I don’t because it’s not a good situation,” says Megann. That’s why she’s not only being trained in disaster response but also wants to assist in fire safety and prevention education.

Megann is joining the team of compassionate and caring volunteers in red vests so she can be a friend when someone needs it the most. “You see it in school and on t.v. but you never think it will happen to you,” says Megann. “I don’t know any way to thank those who helped us except to give back and volunteer.”

If you want to be like Megann, please check out the volunteer opportunities at redcross.org/WI/volunteer.  Join us as we #Help1Family!