“Are we homeless now?”: Milwaukee father shares heartache, hope after an apartment building fire

In home fires, the flames and headlines can sometimes overshadow the impact on the lives of the people affected. Jaime was displaced by a fire Saturday afternoon at an apartment building in Milwaukee, along with his wife, Araceli, and their 10-year-old daughter, Lizeth. The fire sent a handful of residents to the hospital. Red Cross volunteers and staff helped during the fire and afterward established a shelter at Ascension Lutheran Church.

Jaime de la mata 43rd St fire April 2018 _ TWOAt the shelter on Monday afternoon, Jaime (above) took a break from filling out a sticker activity book with Lizeth to share his thoughts on the incident – the speed of the fire; the heart-wrenching question his daughter asked afterward; and his appreciation of volunteers and emergency personnel.

Below are excerpts from what Jaime shared in a conversation with Justin Kern, communications officer at the American Red Cross of Wisconsin.

On the fire that started during a restful weekend afternoon:
“It happened before, but those alarms, they were false alarms. This time, it was serious. It took us by surprise.

43rd St fire April 2018 volunteers Ruth Michael

Red Cross volunteers Michael and Ruth call for assistance outside of the apartment building, off S. 43rd St., as impacted residents keep warm in an MCTS bus, at right.

“It was early Saturday, one of the few Saturdays that [my wife and I] don’t work. We just heard someone yelling and the alarm in the distance. I thought it was my phone. Then the alarm starts again, closer. And when I opened our door [to the apartment hallway], I noticed a cloud coming closer to us. I grabbed my daughter, told her to get her jacket, told my wife, I grabbed our keys and we were out.

“I came back to help people, but at that moment, it was incredible, all the smoke. I could see nothing, it was dark and I used my sweatshirt [to cover my mouth]. Since I’ve lived there, I knew everyone around. I was worried. I was yelling, knocking on doors … The whole thing was, 20 seconds, 30 seconds …”

On the uncertain first few hours:
“It was amazing, the help. The police, they were there to do their job. Firefighters, took care of their jobs. The police said to go to the bus, Red Cross will help you. … Before, when I was in the field, watching everything, the smoke, debris. I was cold. …

“I took a seat in the [MCTS] bus and Red Cross were very good to me. It’s an amazing job they all did for us. … The other people, some are sad, but others were treating [my daughter] so nice, talking to her on the bus … it was fine when I saw her.”

On sad questions and hope for what’s to come:
“That first day, it was hard for me. I tried to contain my tears, my feelings.
“Lizeth asked me, ‘Are we homeless now?’ I told her ‘No, no, it was just an accident. I’ve got a job, your mom has a job. You’re alive. Nobody died. We complain about things, all of the time, but maybe this is a message from god. … We’re in the same situation [everyone from the building]. But don’t worry, because something good is coming.’”

43rd St fire shelter Ascension Lutheran volunteer Jasmine

Lunch time at the shelter, served by our volunteers and set up at Ascension Lutheran Church, one of the many partners to help these families during a difficult time.

On his family’s gratitude:
“I’m glad for Red Cross. … They made it so we had a place to sleep, something to eat and help us with our future. No one else is going to do all that for us.
“Red Cross has given the help that we needed. … There were little things, like games to play and a Mickey Mouse [doll]. I didn’t notice, but when I opened her backpack, she brought three waters and three bananas. [laughs] She had the Mickey in there with the things she brought from home.”

Red Cross continues to work with Jaime and his family, as well as with about two-dozen others impacted by this fire. To join our campaign to help families with fire prevention and protection across the county, click here.

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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.”

A Different Kind of Disaster

By Sid Boersma, Clinical Social Worker & Mental Health Leader for Southwest WI Chapter

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I had the honor and privilege of serving as a Disaster Mental Health Responder in Las Vegas for ten days after the October 1st mass shooting. There was a heavy emphasis on Red Cross Mental Health and Health Care in this deployment given the nature of the event. I assisted with two blood drives, attended the Vice President Pence visit when Las Vegans from many Churches and Synagogues walked to City Hall from the four corners of the city to come together in healing. I helped at two other healing events and attended a memorial for the slain Las Vegas hero and policeman, Charlie.

vegas1 My work also included working one-on-one with victims and their families at the Family Assistance Center and via an Integrated Coordinated Condolences Team, which includes Spiritual Care, Health Services, Caseworker and Mental Health support for individuals and families. I have been deployed a number of times to floods and hurricanes. This one was different. Difficult. I was struck with the intensity and the great needs of those who lost loved ones and friends and those who were physically and very emotionally injured. One gal who lost her best friend in the shooting and was scarred by shrapnel herself will never be forgotten. She’ll never forget the trauma but we helped her move forward. Showing up was the best thing we can do. To listen, to help people heal.

 My heart continues to be a bit broken with the many grieving folks I met with. This deployment has required me to take time to reflect and relax and heal as caregiver stress was clearly a reality for me. My advice is that we care for self and others during and following all of our work as Red Cross volunteers. Take time for yourself and get help from others too. We need to provide so much tender loving care to others in these events that it may take the wind out of ourselves. I am breathing a little more deeply these days and appreciating life a bit more. It certainly is precious, isn’t it?

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The American Red Cross offers free 24/7 counseling and support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

It’s Experiences Like These That Make a Difference

By Patty Flowers, Wisconsin Region American Red Cross CEO

As I was winding up my 3+ week deployment in Houston, I felt a little bittersweet because I was leaving some ‘family’ behind.  It’s amazing how you become so close to people from all over the country when you work beside them for 12-14 hour days.  Servant hearts comes to mind because that is what I was surrounded by and had been for more than 3 weeks.  You don’t have to ask ‘what is the right thing to do’ because it’s already being asked by each person.  It was an amazing team down in that great state and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

Houston dog visit 2 (2).jpgOne of the days some special visitors came to visit us at headquarters!  What an uplifting 15 minutes for so many tired people! Animals can make you smile and calm your brain so quickly.  I am so grateful for the group that came in with their special critters.  So much happiness and it was needed.  There was not a face without a smile!Houston Dog 2 visit (2)

 

 

So much had been done at the end of my deployment that some groups had closed up shop, including Disaster Assessment.  Their group accomplished what they had to do using drones to help with the flooded areas and it was amazingly efficient.  However, there’s still so much that needs to be done.  Over 3,000 people were still in shelters and these people are truly the ones who needed us the most.  They may have had family they could go to but they couldn’t get there because they couldn’t afford a bus ticket or gas for their car.

***Warning, tissues may be needed****

I met a incredible woman, Maria, in one of our larger shelters and she was waiting for the Individual Assistance program to come back online.  Maria told me that she had a miscarriage just a few days before the hurricane hit and one of the things she was desperate to do is buy some flowers and put them on her baby’s grave.  When she heard the good news that our assistance was coming back online, she started to cry and thanked me for all we were doing for them.  As I received one of the biggest hugs I’d ever gotten down in Houston, all I could think of is how incredibly cool it was that we were giving our donors’ gifts to someone like Maria.  Fulfilling a wish like this and allowing her to grieve and recover is what we were there for.  Please remind every donor that their donations are bringing smiles to people who have every reason not to smile during times like what Maria went through.

Another shelter resident I met, was James.  He had relatives in the Detroit area but he can’t afford to get there.  He told me he didn’t need any help with housing if he could only just get to Detroit.  I watched the smile on his face build into the biggest grin ever when he found out that we had bought him a plane ticket to get him up to his relatives.  I’ve quite honestly never seen anyone so excited.  Again, this is why we were there.

Below is a photo of Steve Hansen (Chapter Executive in Northeast Wisconsin), Michelle Goodwill (Bilingual Donor Recruitment Supervisor in Northeast Wisconsin), and myself at headquarters down in Houston.  Steve served as an EOL (Elected Officials Liaison) where he did really good work keeping communication channels open and making sure small mud puddles didn’t turn into quicksand for the Red Cross.  One day when his work was finished for the day, he very happily said yes to helping us set up a shelter in 96 degree heat with 96% humidity.  Steve worked tirelessly ALL day long with not one complaint.  He is amazing.  Michelle was on her first deployment working with the Latina Engagement Team and she has been able to take her skills in putting together blood drives to help her team with event planning in the community creating efficiencies and the ability to cover more people in need of our outreach.  AWESOME One Red Cross in action!!!

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Shout outs to other disaster workers & volunteers that were deployed down to headquarters doing great things and working LONG hours but I hardly saw, are Nick Cluppert (Disaster Program Manager for Northeast Wisconsin), Marytha Blanchard, our Division Disaster guru Megan Chamberlain, Wendy Savage (Executive Director for North Central Wisconsin), Charise Smith who rocked her first deployment handling in-kind donations, and Laurie Nehring from Blood Communications.  Last but certainly not least, Dave Gutierrez, our Division Disaster Executive who was the Job Director down in Texas. He is an amazing guy with the ability to handle such a complex operation and never get flustered.  I enjoyed getting to know Dave and my admiration for him grows each and every day.  Megan and Marytha were the leads for our amazing individual assistance program and literally lived at HQ for several days straight.  While they had a few bumps in the road, I am in awe of what they, along with the National team, put together.

Lastly, a few tidbits for you about Houston:  Traffic is a nightmare, gridlocked at most hours of the day.  Instead of bars on every corner, there are donut shops. Kolaches are a specialty, with different (usually some type of meat) fillings in each one.  I tried an egg and bacon one for breakfast and it was quite good!  There are even kolaches shohouston-kolaches-2.jpgps here and that’s all they sell…very popular.  And it is hot.  OMG, I have never been so hot at the end of September!!!  I couldn’t wait to get back and enjoy Fall.  90+ degrees does not equate to Fall in my view!

While I’ve been privileged to be able to deploy down to Texas, I am so very happy to be home. I want to thank each and every one who made a difference during this tough time, including those who stayed behind to keep Wisconsin going.  Our team rocks!

 

Reflections on Hurricane Irma Relief

By Viv Chappel, Wisconsin Region Grants Specialist

I just returned from my deployment in Florida, where I spent the better part of two weeks bringing hot meals to people impacted by Hurricane Irma. Mobile feeding of this nature is done with our fleet of Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs), trucks designed to move and distribute large quantities of food, drinks and other relief supplies.

My driving partner Terry and I brought our ERV from Wisconsin to assist with the disaster relief efforts. Each morning, we reported to a large kitchen in Lutz, Florida (near Tampa). There, we would receive our route assignment for that day, load up with food and supplies, and hit the road to bring hot meals to residents in need.

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Viv Chappell with the Emergency Response Vehicle from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Parked near the kitchen in Lutz, FL, awaiting the day’s route assignment.

Our Wisconsin ERV provided thousands of meals in communities primarily between Tampa and Orlando, where many residents were still without power a week or more after Hurricane Irma struck. We saw considerable wind damage and some flooding throughout these areas. With many people having lost the contents of their refrigerators, and the difficulties of storing and cooking food without electricity, the hot meals provided by the Red Cross were a welcome sight.

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An ERV driver from Washington serves meals to some young Floridians.

The gratitude expressed to us by the people we served was overwhelming and humbling. I want to pass this gratitude along to you and the donors and partners with whom you work—because each and every one of you plays a part in making these moments of relief and hope possible. Some memorable moments while we delivered free hot meals to communities in need:

  • One young woman did a double take when she saw we were serving food, and said, “You’re serving hot meals? You’re going to make me cry.” And tears of joy came to her eyes.
  • A boy about 12 years of age was so happy he kept saying, “You guys are so nice, you guys are so nice! Thank you!”
  • A woman in an apartment complex that was still without full power over a week after the storm said, “Y’all are a blessing.”
  • On a couple of occasions, we came across mothers that needed baby supplies such as diapers and milk. We embraced the motto “Get to yes” and made it happen right away, even though these requests were outside of our truck’s day-to-day hot meal service delivery. The moms were so grateful for our help.
  • Too many “Thank you’s,” “Bless you’s” and smiles to count.
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Viv Chappell serves meals outside of a community center in Dade City, FL.

Throughout my deployment, the power of the Red Cross Chapter network was clear. Our ERV was one of about ten trucks operating out of just this one kitchen on any given day—not to mention all the activity occurring in other parts of the state and beyond. Red Cross ERVs and volunteers came to Florida from all corners of the country. I met Red Crossers from Washington state, New England, and just about everywhere in between. We were brought together by a common purpose, to fulfill the mission of the Red Cross and help alleviate human suffering in the face of disaster. It’s comforting to know that people will come to help whenever and wherever needed.

Click here for more pictures of the Hurricane Irma relief efforts in Central Florida. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do here in Wisconsin to bring relief to Florida and other areas impacted by recent disasters. Your support and hard work makes a difference!

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ERV drivers near the kitchen in Lutz, FL.

When Every Door Was Closed, The Red Cross Was Open

By Duchess Adjei, Regional Communication Director for the American Red Cross

The landscape in the wake of a disaster is a minefield of confusion, anxiety and frustration.

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Clayborn Residence in Katy, TX after Hurricane Harvey.

Katy, Texas resident, Kimberly Clayborn, found that out in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. But she also found family hospitality, as well as the compassion of strangers in the form of the American Red Cross.

Weeks after the disaster, she can breathe a sigh of relief and reflect: “Every door I knocked on was closed, but it was the Red Cross’ that was open. We can now rebuild.”

In the immediate aftermath of Harvey, Clayborn and her family took refuge with family members in Lake Charles, LA. “My entire subdivision was underwater and we were unable to access our property,” Clayborn said.

A week after the storm, the Clayborns were allowed back into their home. The
destruction was breathtaking. “Ripped papers and photos, saturated furniture,
broken glass and wood – our beautiful home was decimated.  In the beginning, I didn’t believe I needed any immediate assistance due to our insurance. With our car and home destroyed, I quickly realized that our everyday needs like food and clothing were items we needed now.”

The Clayborns tried to apply for emergency assistance with a variety of agencies,
but were denied time after time and were re-routed to the Red Cross.  The reality of their loss took the Clayborns to their lowest point: All of their personal items were gone, 17 years of memories erased. “I was adopted and all my adoption papers and photos were destroyed,” Kimberly explained. “I lost my adoptive parents nine and 18 years ago, so this truly took a toll. We’ve all seen these horrific events take shape as you watch television and listen to the radio, but this was like nothing we’ve ever seen.” With tears in her eyes, Kimberly recalled her first encounter with the Red Cross in the person of a disaster worker named Marytha.

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Clayborn Family

A Red Crosser for more than a decade Marytha understood what Kimberly needed. “She took her time with me, was incredibly patient and listened to my story.  She let me cry and explain my frustration,” Kimberly said.
“Marytha took out paper, and even though the Red Cross was not set up for assistance, she didn’t pass me by to another organization. She captured my information and said she would let me know when a (cash assistance) plan was finalized.  Shortly after, Marytha called me by phone to walk me through the entire Red Cross’ Immediate Assistance Program. The $400 that was available to my family was immeasurable. Every door I knocked on was closed, but it was the Red Cross’ that was open. We can now rebuild.”

 

Note:  Marytha is Wisconsin’s Regional Disaster Officer.  Kimberly Clayton went on and on about how AMAZING she is and how she wishes she could tell the world and all the people in the Red Cross organization. Clayton shared that because she was adopted, she has certainly felt a void with the pictures and documents being destroyed from the storm, however, Marytha was the bright spot in her life, that has allowed her to cope and move forward.  Thank you Marytha!

A 1st Deployment Story

Doug Martin

By Doug Martin, Disaster Volunteer

I spent the second week of my 2 week deployment in a shelter located at North Collier Regional Park in Naples.  We typically had between 130-150 clients with a high of 170.  Most of the clients were there due to the lack of electricity in a very hot and humid South Florida, though there were many that lost everything.  I was assigned as shelter manager at the location  where I led a team of approximately 20 volunteers.  We made sure that the clients were as comfortable as possible.   Most of our time was spent just Doug Martin2sitting and talking to the clients.  I sat with a retired military veteran for many hours which was one of the highlights of my deployment.  He told me many stories about his time fighting in the Korean Conflict.  His smile and sincere gratitude made This whole thing worth while for me.  Another client was a young person that was desperate to go home to family.  Due to extenuating circumstances, going home was not an option and she intended to leave the shelter.  My team and I were able to convince her to stay, and again, a simple smile from her three days later made it all worth it.  There are many stories like these.  This shelter was also a pet shelter which added another challenge.

This was easily one of the most humbling things that I have ever done.  The outpouring from the community was overwhelming.  A man and some of his friends drove a Doug Martin3portable shower from Atlanta to the shelter, and working with the county, every client in the shelter was able to take a shower.  Dunkin’ Donuts brought fresh hot coffee and donuts every morning.  These gestures turned a shelter where clients laid on their cots staring at the ceiling into a vibrant community of survivors.

I have never been so mentally and physically run down in my life, but the gratitude and hugs from these folks made it all worth it.  The flight attendant on my flight home asked me if I would do it again, and I told her that I would go back in a second.  I came back a person changed for the better.  I had the best team of volunteers and together we ran the best shelter that we could.

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