Readiness, Service and a Fire Close to Home: Our First Year Together

By Mark Thomas, Wisconsin Region CEO & Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, American Red Cross

It was December 2018 and, as always with the holidays, it was time for family updates. Checking in with siblings, relatives, loved ones, a roundup on new jobs, relationships, babies and other benchmarks.

From my sister, the update was initially grim: my nephew in Racine had suffered a home fire.

Mark Thomas headshot proThat’s the kind of news that puts so much into perspective. She said he and his girlfriend had gotten out safely. They lost many possessions, including gifts from the holidays. But, as my sister said, they had hope right after the fire, because that’s when they received comfort and help from volunteers at the American Red Cross.

My sister and nephew didn’t even know I had started a new career at the Red Cross. This was just weeks after I had joined. The story from my sister was an unfiltered acknowledgement that fires didn’t just happen to other people. And that hope and help came from the Red Cross for everyone in need, my family included.

Once I had the chance to share about my new role at the Red Cross, I knew from my family’s story that I had come to the right place.

I’m happy to report that my family is back in their place and on solid footing. As for me, I’m now at one year as Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive with the Red Cross. On this anniversary and during a time of year when people are extra reflective, I wanted to revisit a few of the milestone moments from another outstanding year of service by your Red Cross in Wisconsin. I also wanted to share a big lesson I’ve learned and the vision I have for the time ahead.

But back to 2019. As the anecdote I shared at the start shows, our programs and mission became very real in my life right away. Here are a few, high-level bullets of the stand-out moments our Region has been involved with over the past 12 months:

January

  • Received the “Region of the Year” recognition for the fundraising success of my predecessors and present leaders on our fund development team
  • Brought together our Southeast Chapter Board for my first full meeting (special shout-out to board chair Becky Fitzgerald for your leadership and guidance)

February

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With our team at the Milwaukee Stand Down, held at the Armory. 

March

  • Met people displaced by a large-scale apartment fire in Bayside, including a dear friend and a local reporter brave enough to share her story
  • At a shelter from ice jam flooding in Fond du Lac, watched as strangers brought a turkey on their Harley for people who were displaced, and was impressed by all the volunteers who kept spirits high (my teenage daughter was wowed, too, and impressed me by putting on a Red Cross vest and pitching in)

April

  • Welcomed and enthused by our staff at our first, in-person meeting in Madison
  • Those feelings multiplied this same month on an introductory meeting with my national colleagues at the historic Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C.

May

June

July

  • Able to notch success in nearly every way for our fiscal year, which ended in June
  • Completed my first CPR training
  • Worked alongside local and national Red Cross teams at the LULAC Convention in downtown Milwaukee
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Meeting disaster volunteer Ryan Clancy before he headed to help during Hurricane Dorian. Also met a few members of the Milwaukee media, who helped share Ryan’s journey.

August

  • Talked with volunteers as they flew off to the large-scale response to Hurricane Dorian and other flooding and fires – what an impressive machine to help people in desperate need

September

October

  • Grateful to have Greg Novinska take a new role with our biomedical services team, my colleague in everything happening behind the scenes to merge the full power of the Red Cross for people in our state

November

  • Cold weather came early, and with it, the typical spike in home fires … thankfully, our volunteers around the state have once again answered the call for families displaced by this every-day disaster
  • Had important discussions around inclusion and diversity with our talented Wisconsin leadership team, such a vital part of plans to make our organization the best place it can be for everyone

December

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Kids in Milwaukee enjoying swim lessons, with the promise of many more to come thanks to the Centennial Campaign and Milwaukee Rec.

There has been so much from those events and more that have impressed, humbled and energized me about the work we do. From it all, two ideas stand out.

The first is readiness. That word – readiness – means so much more to me, now that I’ve seen us in action. Home fires, floods, staff meetings, volunteer recruitment, fundraising, blood collection, outreach to military families … even as these words are coming together, our teams in Osseo are wrapping up a reception center for people affected by a massive car pile-up. Just before I pulled together these thoughts, one of our long-time and wonderful volunteers, Marge, stopped in and reminded me of the value of openness and being ready to share her passion and ideas for our mission. The countless ways readiness is part of our service at the Red Cross keeps what we do exciting and important.

From that important lesson on readiness, I have a solid foundation on how we build for the days ahead. We have a very strong network across Wisconsin. I am committed to making sure our core service is focused on our customers – including people in need, our volunteers and our supporters – and that it remains inclusive to all. There have been incredible people who have sustained and led this organization for more than 100 years in our state. I will carry that legacy of service. And I aim to make sure every community we serve knows the Red Cross is here to help, the right way. With you, I know we can help our friends, family and neighbors in need for the next 100 years – and beyond.

‘This is happening, this is now’: Wisconsin man credits repeated CPR training with life-saving act

By Zahra Said, American Red Cross

On October 6, 2017, Mark Brudos was having dinner with his family at a Beloit steakhouse to celebrate his brother’s birthday. While enjoying their meal and chatting, Brudos noticed the gentlemen’s wife stand up. She made direct contact with Brudos, asking for someone to help her because her husband is choking and not responding.

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Mark Brudos shares his CPR save story during a recent work event in Milton honoring his act.

Brudos immediately dove into his training from American Red Cross.

First, he cleared the scene, as people panicked around the choking man.

“I said everyone calm down we need space.”

Next, he found people to help, including dialing 9-1-1. Then, Brudos engaged the choking man, whom he realized was not breathing. Brudos started CPR, something he had repeated training on through the Red Cross at this workplace.

“I thought, ‘This is happening, this is now.’ I was just focused.”

Not long after, Brudos was able to get the choking man upright and breathing again. By this time, police and paramedics came to the man’s attention and Brudos let them take over.

Brudos leaned on his training and a bit of adrenaline. But after the professionals tended to the man, now safe and no longer choking, Brudos had time to reflect with his family on the “surreal” experience. Even with all the trainings, it was hard to believe this had happened.

Brudos believed it was his duty to help in this situation.

“On our way out the door, the [choking man’s] wife said thank you. I said, ‘No, that was my job and it was my responsibility to act.’”

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The National Certificate of Merit outlining Brudos’s actions and including a medal.

For his actions, Brudos received the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit, for “selfless and humane action in saving a life.” Brudos was one of a trio of recent Wisconsin recipients of the life-saving honor, the highest a citizen can receive from the Red Cross.

Part of that sense of duty came from an incident about 15 years prior where a stranger saved his father’s life during a sudden health crisis. “Even prior to that I wanted to give back to society for giving me my father. [CPR training] was my way of giving back.”

He wants people to know that as a human being and as a citizen that if he can help, others should get trained to help as well. To that end, Brudos had already scheduled another training for 31 employees after his life-saving event at that Beloit steakhouse.

Brudos credits his company for giving him the opportunity to get educated and prepare him for the incident that he did not know he was ready for. The incident also proved how prepared he was and how great American Red Cross’s training is.

“To validate that I was prepared it is a testament of how good of a training the American Red Cross has.”

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Brudos, center with medal, shares his Red Cross award with co-workers. He credits repeated CPR trainings at his workplace, Charter Nex Films, with his ability to have helped save a life.

Because of his training with American red cross and the experience that he has had with this incident, Brudos believes everyone should get certified.

“It is important to take the certified class and everyone should be trained on this”, said Brudos.

He believes starting early is important and schools should offer the training as well.

“It should be a requirement. It should be a requirement in high school before you get the diploma.”

To sign up for a CPR or other life-saving class near you, click here.

In First Aid, Jeanne Charnon is a Top Volunteer

by Antonia Towns, Red Cross volunteer

Upon retiring from her job as a travel agent, Jeanne Charnon started to move up the ranks as a volunteer for the Red Cross.

In nearly a decade of “sharing my time,” Jeanne said she’s learned a great deal about herself and the organization. Her openness to lead and learn is one of the many reasons we’ve chosen Jeanne as one of our spotlight volunteers during Volunteer Appreciation Week.

Jeanne Charnon Photo“Knowing how many great people are involved … it’s a whole team effort and one person could not do it by themselves,” Jeanne (pictured above) said during a recent interview. “It’s very worthwhile, regardless of what area you’re in.”

In 2009, Jeanne, of Greendale, tagged along with a friend who was already volunteering with the Red Cross. Jeanne started out at the front desk, warmly handling reception and bureaucratic duties for about a year. Then, she joined the First Aid Support Team, also known as F.A.S.T.

Jeanne is now the co-facilitator of F.A.S.T. and has been essential in the success of the program. She is responsible for arranging contracts with clients and setting up the calendar for staffing events, which she says can mostly be done from home.

F.A.S.T. deploys volunteers who are certified in First Aid and CPR to community events like Summerfest and the Special Olympics, providing basic First Aid.

“Working with the Special Olympics, seeing how they interact and their joy, they’re a primary reason why I do this,” she said.

Amid staffing changes in 2014, Jeanne was part of a small group of volunteers who stepped forward to voice their concerns about the program ending. The group created a proposal and were granted one year to see how they would do, they are now into their fourth year. By 2015 the program was totally volunteer based and has been led by volunteers since. This year F.A.S.T. is expected to be present at around 35 events and has about 52 volunteers.

“We manage to staff them all. I hope we can keep the program going,” she said. “I enjoy the people that we work with.”

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wisconsin’s Longest Tornado Leaves a Path of Disaster

Early evening 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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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. (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.

4th Annual Disaster Training Conference

Last week, the Wisconsin Region conducted our 4th  annual Disaster Training Conference. Though the conference was held on the shores of Green Lake, attendees paid little attention to beautiful autumn scenery outside. The 183  attendees, Red Cross volunteers and staff from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, enjoyed four days of learning, sharing and networking.

The broad range of classes provided opportunities for brand new volunteers and seasoned veterans. The newest volunteer had been with the Red Cross for only two days and several in attendance had more than 20-years of service. Classes were offered to provide instruction on delivering the Red Cross mission, supervision & leadership along with diversity & inclusion. Workshops built upon classroom instruction and provided hands-on opportunities to set-up a shelter, conduct damage assessment and manage a disaster relief operation.

On Wednesday night, Red Cross volunteers partnered with the Berlin Fire Department to make homes in Berlin safer. They visited homes and provided smoke alarms testing, free smoke alarm installation, home evacuation planning and fire safety tips. 25 homes were visited and 69 smoke alarms were installed.  Community outreach like this is happening around the state and more than 10,000 smoke alarms will installed this year alone!

By all reports, the Disaster Training Conference was a wonderful success! It was wonderful to see so many Red Crossers come together to learn and celebrate together. Plans for next year’s conference are already underway. We hope to see you there!