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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Husband & Wife’s Deployment Journey

By Mike Jordan, Senior Development Officer

Mike & Mary Blog 1My wife, Mary, and I recently returned from two weeks in Houston, TX. It was her first major deployment with the Red Cross and my second (LA in 2016). This time it was more her idea than mine. We had a planned vacation in Harbor Springs, MI with three other couples which I did not think she would want to miss. However, thousands and thousands of people were impacted by Hurricane Harvey and the pictures and stories on the news were just too much to ignore. We felt we had to go. Mary shut down her business for a few weeks and I had colleagues step in for me. It worked out.

In a disaster this size, there are bound to be some confusing times. Ours was in the beginning. We could not get to Houston so went to Baton Rouge and were prepared for a five hour bus ride to get to our destination. It turned into a three day adventure with stops in Lufkin and Nacogdoches, TX. Finally in Houston, we were loading up the vans with supplies and set to head off to Beaumont, TX for shelter work when we were asked to change assignments based on my prior work in Louisiana a year ago.

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We then spent 11 of our 14 days driving a 16’ box truck around the affected areas handing out supplies such as; water, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), OFF bug spray, bleach, rakes, shovels, etc. The Red Cross calls it Bulk Distribution or Distribution of Emergency Supplies. We would make two or three runs a day as the traffic in Houston is horrible. We helped over 3,000 families with much needed supplies. Yes, my back is sore but my heart and soul feel a lot better.Mike & Mary Blog 3

Each day started in a warehouse where the supplies were located, sorted, prepared and loaded into trucks. We were then given our “mission” or area to support based on those supplies. We were very grateful that for a few days the Army came in and helped sort the items and load the trucks. They were amazing. Each run typically served 125 – 150 homes.

The people of Texas were hit hard. They lost a lot and in many cases the entire contents of their home had to be thrown out. Their spirits however remained amazingly positive. One man told me “it’s just stuff”. I guess you need to live an experience like this to feel that way but he and his family were still alive and unharmed. The “stuff” can be replaced. Another gentleman shared that he has lived in the same house for 30 years and just made the final mortgage payment – now it was wiped out. Honestly, I was at a loss for words, he however thanked us for our being there and helping out. WOW.

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We drove for hours some days to skirt flooded areas and get to the affected homes. Water still stood in many areas but most had gone away. Those affected were dealing mostly with the aftermath. The Red Cross is very clear that we are not to take risks on our missions. We are not search and rescue, we have a different role and must be safe as we do our work. Even with this in mind, we saw water every day during our travels and the damage it left behind.

We are happy to be home and know that other Red Crossers will take our place and continue the mission. We helped thousands of people but always feel that we wish we could have done more. We will look for another opportunity someday but for now we need to get our other work done.

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My wife and I were also followed around by a video crew for a couple of hours one day. You might enjoy seeing one of the pieces they did here.

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A few high level facts about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

  • In the last three weeks, the Red Cross and community partners have provided more than 926,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters.
  • Shelters were opened in 8 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • The Red Cross has served more than 2.7 million meals and snacks to people in need with the help of partners
  • More than 6,100 Red Cross disaster workers and more than 290 emergency response vehicles are on the ground right now, helping thousands of people affected by these storms
  • More than 69 million hurricane and flood alerts have been issued through Red Cross mobile apps for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Just for Hurricane Harvey where we deployed:Mike & Mary Blog 8

  • To date, there have been more than 389,000 overnight shelter stays
  • Along with our partners, we have served more than 2.2 million meals and snacks in Texas and Louisiana
  • More than 3,300 Red Cross disaster workers are on the ground in Texas and Louisiana, with more than 290 on the way
  • More than 170 emergency response vehicles have been activated to help deliver meals and relief supplies across the hardest hit areas of Texas and Louisiana
  • Mental health and health services professionals have provided more than 73,000 contacts to provide support and care to people in Texas and Louisiana
  • We’ve distributed more than a half million (621,000) relief items like diapers, bug spray, cleaning supplies, coolers, and comfort kits that contain deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other hygiene items in Texas and Louisiana

Lastly – THANK YOU to all the wonderful donors that help us with our work though the generosity of financial support, In-Kind contributions and warm and caring thoughts. We could not have helped these people without your support. We’ll hang up the vests for now and look for another day to help out.

Small miracles make a big impact

By Luong Huynh, Disaster Program Specialist

Luong is deployed to the US Virgin Islands & wanted to share her story:

IMGP0453 (2).jpgThis is Mrs. Nelda Ringsborg, a resident of St. John in the USVI. Her home was heavily damaged during Hurricane Irma and she had been living with no power or running water for a week. Nelda had also injured her knee during the storm and, sadly, her husband had passed away last year, so she was trying to survive this ordeal on her own.

Assisted by private citizens, Nelda was brought by boat to the shelter I have been helping to supervise. Through getting to know her, we discovered that she had no access to personal resources and that her only support was someone in Houston.

Over the next three days, Nelda spent her time in the nursing station and we spent our time trying to figure out a way to get her to Houston. We ran into roadblock after roadblock, and Nelda started to lose hope that she would ever be able to leave. Then, one evening, a senator from the USVI that I had met a few days earlier, asked if Nelda was still there. The senator had found an anonymous donor who offered up to $1500 to get Nelda to Houston.

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We booked a flight on her behalf, arranged transport for her, and I sent a volunteer with her to help get her checked into her flight and to make sure airport staff we ready to assist her. Yesterday, she called to let us know that she had made it safely to Houston.

Trading Milkshakes for Disaster Relief

Hurricane Harvey victims received an extra helping of love today, thanks to a team of girls from Brookfield, and Elm Grove, Wis.

After seeing the devastation Hurricane Harvey delivered to Texas, they knew they could use the proceeds from their lemonade stand for a greater purpose.

“Normally, we just buy milkshakes or something,” said 5-year-old Isabel. Instead, Isabel, Emmy, Hannah and Sophia took the $600 they earned from this year’s lemonade stand to help Hurricane Harvey victims.

The girls stopped by Milwaukee’s WITI-TV, Ch. 6 today to donate their earnings to the station’s telethon benefiting the American Red Cross.

“Good people doing good things is what helps drive our mission,” said Patty Flowers, Regional CEO of Wisconsin’s American Red Cross chapter. “Not only does it warm our hearts to see children get involved with such an important cause, it makes a true difference in the lives of people who are experiencing one of the worst times of their lives.”

Do you have proceeds from a lemonade stand burning a hole in your pocket? We can put those dollars to work for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Visit http://www.redcross.org/donate.

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The “lemonade sweethearts” stopped by to make a difference for Hurricane Harvey victims. Pictured left to right are Hannah, 10; Emmy, 10; Isabel, 5; and Sophia, 12. 


Let’s Sound the Alarm Together

The fact is most fire deaths are preventable. Yet, seven people perish in fires across the country every single day. One major tool for prevention is a working smoke alarm. Together, to help reduce home fire deaths and injuries, volunteers and partners across the country along with the American Red Cross will participate in the Sound the Alarm campaign.

36071126730_83faf5f12d_z-2.jpgBetween September 23rd – October 15th, the American Red Cross will install over 100,000 free smoke alarms in more than 100 high-risk neighborhoods nationwide.  During this time, the Red Cross will also install its one-millionth smoke alarm.  WOW! This number includes at least 1,500 of those alarms being installed in the Wisconsin Region.

Last fall, the Red Cross along with participating fire stations installed more than 800 alarms in Brown County.  However, this year we are focusing on areas with higher rates of home fires which includes Milwaukee & Dane County.  Additional smaller smoke alarm installations are also being hosted around the state.

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The fire aftermath that devastated Kevin & Elizabeth Brown’s home but whose family was saved by working smoke alarms!

Smoke alarms save our lives! Kevin & Elizabeth Brown, along with their 5-year old son, escaped a burning mobile home thanks to smoke alarms installed by the Red Cross in a partnership with the Janesville Fire Department.  See more photos here.


Already smoke alarms have saved 268 lives in the nation including three in Janesville, Wisconsin.  So we are asking for your support on these up-coming Sound the Alarm events! Join Us!

Saturday, September 23rd Milwaukee, WI
October 5-7th, Superior, WI
Saturday, October 7th Madison, WI

“Each time we install alarms, we know lives are safer. Being part of the million-alarm milestone highlights our mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.” Patty Flowers, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross Wisconsin Region.

If you are unable to volunteer to help install free smoke alarms in your local communities you can also participate by fundraising to support the Sound the Alarm program. Learn more here.


Summer Safety Tips for your Furry Friends

By Melissa Sears, American Red Cross Volunteer & Animal Lover

It’s hard to resist those beautiful 80 degree weather days when the sun is out, skies are clear & it’s the perfect time to take your playful pooch to the dog park. After a long week indoors at work, it can be tempting to play catch outside for hours with Michael Bark Jordan, bring your furry companion camping for the weekend or enjoy a local pet-friendly outdoor festival. Even if you don’t have your little fur ball of joy with you, keeping them in mind while you’re out for the entire day is important for their safety.


It’s important to know the where, when & how pets are likely to overheat.  If your pet stays at home, try keeping a fan or two on in the house, brush them often or take them to a pet groomer to get a shave.  There are even cool, tasty treats you can make your cats & dogs since you can’t share your popsicle or ice cream with your fur-child. Know how to be aware of the signs & what to do with your pet during the summer time with some of these Summer Pet Safety Tips:

● Age, weight & breed of your pet can cause them overheat easier. Pets that are
very young, old, overweight or don’t get enough exercise are more susceptible to
heat stroke as well as certain dog breeds like boxers and pugs are prone to overheat.

● Physical signs of overheating & heat stroke include: heavy panting, glazed eyes,
rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of
coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and

● Your pet should have equal parts sun & shade during hot, humid days. Make sure they get plenty water during summer activities.  Tip: Buy a collapsible travel water bowl that you can bring with you to a restaurant, festival or even on a run at the park.

● Be able to treat your pet if you suspect heat stroke. Learn more here.

Download the Pet First Aid app on Apple or Android phones for mobile access when you’re on-the-go because when something happens & you need to know what to do in the moment it’s helpful to have pet emergency support available on-hand.