In retirement, SAF volunteer Holsinger is proud to be ‘somebody who cares’ for veterans and service members

By Kelsey McCarthy, American Red Cross

Volunteers may not always have a background in the area where they dedicate their time and talent. But they’ve all got the passion.

Rich Holsinger is a retired professional who has spent his career honing his managerial skills in regional management positions at a national retail giant and a popular coffee roaster. After his retirement, Rich began working with the American Red Cross two years ago as a lead volunteer at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Department.

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Rich Holsinger preps SAF materials for his activities with veterans and service members in the Madison area.

On the surface, Rich’s volunteer work with SAF is quite a bit different than his professional background. SAF at the Red Cross proudly serves veterans, service members and their families. All the same, since taking up his volunteer leadership role, Rich has made a remarkable impact on the lives of numerous veterans and their families and caregivers.

“The volunteers don’t do a lot of talking, but we do a lot of listening. It’s interesting to hear their stories and just show them that there’s somebody who cares,” Rich said in regards to why he enjoys serving and working with his team.

Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.

Rich has created exciting weekly programming for patients including activities such as dinners with game nights, BINGO with prizes, tailgate parties, nightly performances from local music groups and sing-a-longs.

“With the different programs we’re running now, whether you’re working with a veteran or you’re working with a caregiver of a veteran, to see them relax, to see them talk about something else rather than medical … I usually get more out of it than I put into it. I find it very rewarding,” Rich said.

In two weeks, Rich is looking forward to hosting the Madison V.A.’s first picnic.

“We’re working with the V.A. to ensure that we have the right kind of food for them… the Red Cross will supply all of the food and the hospital will prepare it,” he said.

He also spoke about how some hotels in the area including Stay Bridge Suites Middleton/Madison-West have provided spaces for veterans during their time at the Madison V.A. as well as resources for events for veterans and their caregivers.

While Rich is truly enjoying his role and continuing to help the Red Cross team at the Madison V.A. grow, he didn’t have plans to volunteer for the Red Cross before his retirement and explained more about why he chose to apply as a volunteer for the Red Cross and got his start as the new lead volunteer at the Madison V.A. Medical Center.

Rich had been retired for about five months when he realized that he didn’t want to just retire and focus on himself and play golf all day, one of his favorite pastimes. With the extra time on his hands, he wanted to make a difference in his community where he could and help people in need.

He began researching volunteer organizations and found a volunteer position that was seeking “somebody to take charge and start building some programs for the veterans at the hospital in the area.”

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SAF volunteers set up a refreshments table at a recent service member send-off event in Franklin.

He knew that his vast experience of managing people in project and program development would be a great fit. He saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what he enjoyed and was familiar with and put his passion and talent to the test, starting with new entertainment and program development for veterans and their families and caregivers.

Rich said that two people who have been monumentally helpful and amazing to work with on projects are Richard Seymour, SAF Program Director, and Michelle Matuszak, SAF Manager. Rich said Matuszak and Seymour have been instrumental in helping Rich on his volunteer journey, and he’s thankful that they gave him the freedom to “do his own thing.” The praise goes both ways.

“We had issues with getting leadership in the Madison V.A.,” Seymour said. “Within a year Rich has started and established programs, built a volunteer team and … controls the budget we have established for the Madison V.A. I wish I could clone him 10 times!”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

How a home fire client became an all-star volunteer

By James Ziech, American Red Cross

Kimberly Brockman’s decision to join the American Red Cross as a volunteer four years ago began with a cry for help – her house was on fire.

It was three in the morning. Cries from her daughter aroused Kimberly from her sleep. Then, she heard the smoke alarms. She sprang into action. She evacuated her family and her pets from their burning trailer. Her daughter was taken to the hospital. One of their dogs didn’t make it.

“We have nowhere to go, nothing but the clothes on our backs,” she remembered thinking at the time.

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Kimberly Brockman shares a selfie while wearing her Red Cross volunteer duds.

Kimberly reached out for help the best she knew how. Within the hour, a representative of the American Red Cross came to help. Volunteers from the Red Cross brought comfort, then provided some money for a safe place to stay for a few days. When it came time to leave the hotel and find a new apartment, her Red Cross caseworker led her to the information and agencies that could get her started again in a new place for her and her family.

“I was so touched by what the organization does, that I wanted to help people the way they do,” she said.

Coming in with many years of experience working as a Medical Assistant, her choice of being a volunteer as a blood donor ambassador was an easy one. She would greet and welcome donors who come to the blood drives and ensure that they have a pleasant experience with the organization.

“Everybody is so thankful and we are thanked so much for what we do to help people,” she said. “I think we get the most thanks by talking to someone and asking people what you do for a living, and they’re like, ‘You guys are awesome! Thank you for being there.’”

After some time, Kimberly took up a leadership role and started to do community outreach. Sometimes, she would spend time in public talking with people. Other times, she would get to know the businesses in the area and getting them involved in hosting blood drives. There will even be a blood drive at Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc on July 17. (Click here to find that and other drives to share your generous donation of life-saving blood.)

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Brockman, holding the check at left, joins fellow Northeast Chapter volunteers to accept the generous donation from a rock concert that included Cheap Trick.

Kimberly wanted to also get involved in disaster response, though health issues prevented her from doing on-scene responses to incidents like home fires. Turned out, there was a need for volunteer disaster dispatchers. It was a perfect fit. From the comfort of her home, she could put volunteers in touch with people who need our help.

“It’s not that you want to feel good about yourself, but about making others feel better. Knowing how you help your fellow man in the worst times of their life. Just being a shoulder, just giving support. It’s about helping other people. Some people just want to know other people care,” she said.

Volunteers like Kimberly Brockman continue to reach out to assist all in need: from local house fires to regional flooding and hurricanes, from donating blood to running blood drives, from community outreach to building partnerships with businesses and government, volunteers from the American Red Cross are available 24/7 to serve and assist. For more information on how you can help your community and state, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

‘Gwen T. Jackson Day’ sights and proclamation

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

May 28 was proclaimed “Gwen T. Jackson Day” in Milwaukee County, a recognition of her tireless decades of volunteerism and community service. That included more than 60 years with the American Red Cross, in roles that ranged from famine relief for Africa, support of U.S. service members and expansion of diversity in volunteerism, to the highest ranks for a volunteer in the organization, as National Volunteer Chairman in Washington, D.C.

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Mark Thomas shares reflections on Gwen Jackon’s impact on Milwaukee and the nation as a volunteer leader with the American Red Cross.

To honor Gwen T. Jackson Day on what would have been her 91st birthday, organizations close to Gwen’s legacy of work gathered on Tuesday to share stories, food and her spirit of community service. Our hope is to build upon Gwen’s legacy to create an annual day that acknowledges volunteerism and community action across Milwaukee.

“As someone who grew up in this community and spent much of my professional career here, I know I’m able to be the CEO of the Red Cross because [of] someone like Gwen Jackson,” said Mark Thomas, CEO and Southeast Chapter Executive.


There are numerous ways you can use your talents toward good in the Milwaukee area. Click here to find out more.


In this blog are a few pictures from the event, which included Red Cross and United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, which was held at one of her favorite art galleries and community spaces, King Drive Commons Gallery and Studio. In addition, we’ve included the full proclamation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

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During an event held in her honor, Gwen Jackson pictures and momentos were on display at one of her favorite spaces, King Drive Commons Gallery and Studios.

Executive Proclamation

Whereas, on May 28, 1928, Gwen T. Jackson was entered this earth and on March 24, 2019, at the age of 90, Gwen T. Jackson was born into eternal life; and

Whereas, we now take time to recognize the loss of an important member of not only our community but also a loving mother, daughter, wife, sister and friend; and

Whereas, we will never forget Gwen’s civic leadership and commitments to our community. Gwen retired as a Human Resources Vice President from Brills Colony Men’s Clothing Store. Her volunteer service includes time with the United Way, Urban League, YMCA, and more than 60 years of volunteering with the American Red Cross. Gwen held the National Chairman Volunteer position for four years with the American Red Cross, the highest volunteer position available; and

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Milwaukee disaster action team volunteers serve food and listen in during drumming played at a Gwen T. Jackson Day event in Milwaukee.

Whereas, in addition to volunteering for disaster relief, Gwen dedicated service to our most vulnerable populations – senior citizens and children. Gwen served as Commissioner Emeritus of the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging, and worked to improve the educational outcomes of young people in Milwaukee, having 21st Street School renamed the Gwen T. Jackson Early Childhood Elementary School; and

Whereas, Gwen’s effervescent spirit, perpetual optimism, unending loyalty and constant cheer were a blessing to everyone around her,

I, Chris Abele, do hereby proclaim May 28, 2019 as Gwen T. Jackson Day throughout Milwaukee County, and I offer my support to the family and friends of Gwen as well as appreciation for her positive contributions to Milwaukee County.

A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

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Walter Donaldson joined 172 veterans Saturday at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

With icy rain and whipping winds outside of the Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee, Walter Donaldson was perfectly content to reminisce on warmer and brighter days, during the 1990s, when he lived in Florida.

Donaldson lived there during and after his service in the Army. He taught high school students and even volunteered for the American Red Cross after a tropical storm. The years since then haven’t always been easy or kind to Donaldson, he said, with a wizened smile and a follow up declaration that he’s doing better now, with a place to stay on the southwest side of Milwaukee and a chance to teach again. On this day, he attributed an upbeat attitude partly to thoughts of Florida during a Midwestern winter, and partly from the clothing, personal items and resources he received at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

“This helps. I’m grateful, all of this helps,” Donaldson said, pointing to clothing and Red Cross bags.

Donaldson joined more than 170 area veterans at the Stand Down rally at The Armory, a bi-annual event that focuses on homeless or at-risk veterans. At Saturday’s Stand Down, veterans had the opportunity to meet with dozens of organizations, including the Red Cross, veterans’ groups and food providers, health professionals and hair stylists, as well as various state and federal agencies. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff from the Red Cross once again provided hygiene items and informational/communication resources for veterans.

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A veteran in prayer during Saturday’s event at The Richards Street Armory.

The event is billed as a “hand up, not a handout” for veterans. Between meals, check-ins and conversation, the rally included call-and-response shout outs to the five branches of the military, patriotic songs and a plea from organizer Stan Kogutkiewicz for vets in the crowd to use the resources in the room.

“Do not leave here until you get going on your problems,” echoed George Martin, one of the event emcees.

For Marvin Britton, that meant taking a stroll through the booths that packed The Armory. Britton’s gold Army ring caught the light as he talked and clutched onto a smooth wooden cane, as he shared straightforward stories of service, of addiction, of sweethearts long gone. Since his service in Vietnam, from 1974-78, life took him to San Diego and La Crosse, with time on and off in Milwaukee. These days, he’s staying in Union Grove at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, from where a group of veterans bused in for the rally.

“I’m fine, now … just trying to stay healthy. Got my backpack, going to the booths after I get some of [those] clothes” from the clothing donation line, he said.

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Veterans received information on ways they can connect with resources and family from the American Red Cross.

Ready to meet Britton, Donaldson and all the veterans were volunteers like Bob Nelson. Nelson joined the small team handing out American Red Cross bags with hygiene items and veterans resources information at the west end of the stout military hall. Nelson’s son is in the Marine Corps, connecting him to a lineage of men who have served in their family. For Bob Nelson – also on the Red Cross disaster action team – meeting and sharing with veterans at the Stand Down rally is a small gesture of gratitude.

“This is something I can do, I can be here,” Nelson said.

For more information on the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down event, click here.

To get involved or find out more on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission for veterans and military service members and their families, click here.

A New Year’s resolution to volunteer leads to a remarkable year of Red Cross action

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

When Lynn Marquardt, of Sturgeon Bay, applied to be an American Red Cross volunteer one year ago in January, she never expected that her New Year’s resolution would send her to two of the most devastating natural disasters of 2018.

Newly retired from her career as a family nurse practitioner, Marquardt was ready to join her husband, Dennis, as a Red Cross volunteer. After signing up and finding an area she found interesting – disaster response – she went through online and in-person trainings.

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Lynn Marquardt, right, and her husband Dennis, both of Sturgeon Bay, serve meals to two people staying at a shelter in Panama City, Fla. in October.

Then, in spring 2018, her first volunteer response: a trailer fire in the middle of the night, in the nearby town of Brussels. She arrived to find a large family, pets included, huddled in a vehicle after fleeing their burning trailer. Seeing the state they were in – barefoot, scared and in shock, but fortunately unharmed – the reality of the ordeal suddenly hit her.

“I realized what it meant to have to leave behind everything in order to escape – your identification, medications, meaningful personal belongings,” Marquardt said.

But the horror of the situation was replaced by the reward she felt in responding to the family’s immediate needs.

It was a privilege for her to explain to the family that the Red Cross would provide them with shelter and help them get funds for certain basic things.

“To see the relief on their faces meant so much,” she said. “I knew this was the start of their healing process.”


Click here to find your place as a volunteer with the American Red Cross this year.


For both Marquardt and her husband, this affirmed their decision to become Red Cross volunteers. A few months later, they had the opportunity to put their compassion and talents toward a disaster with national attention.

Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the residents of North Carolina when the Marquardts received the call in September. They arrived a few days after the storm hit and were assigned to a shelter in the town of Sanford, housing over 300 residents, many with medical needs such as hemodialysis. Once there, Marquardt was tasked with feeding, all from a single-burner stove in the shelter’s small kitchen.

She realized the first thing she needed to do was build trust in those she would be helping. The simple act of offering snacks and drinks to the residents made a difference.

“When they saw what we could offer, it changed the nature of our relationship,” she said. Marquardt also discovered the generosity of the local community as many restaurants donated food.

Over time the shelter’s residents opened up and shared their stories, which for Marquardt “was a beautiful experience, and a real lesson in humanity.” Despite the hard work, long days, and sharing a single shower with hundreds of others, she came away with a true understanding of the importance of cooperation.

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Sand replacement roads and snapped pine trees were typical sights for Lynn Marquardt during her deployment for Hurricane Michael. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers from across the U.S. descended on the area to help those in need.

Only weeks later the call came to travel to Florida and help with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The Marquardts flew into Tallahassee, received their orders, and then drove to Panama City.  This was essentially “ground zero” of the storm and one of the hardest hit cities.

“I remember driving in and seeing the destruction. There were still electrical wires dangling and trees blocking the roads,” recalled Marquardt. “We were in the midst of a disaster that was still going on.”

They were directed to a shelter set up in a school, one of the few schools not destroyed by the hurricane, housing hundreds of people. Assigned again to feeding, Marquardt worked alongside volunteers to provide the residents three meals each day. And again, most memorable for Marquardt was the outpouring of support the shelter received from local community members.

With her first year of volunteering now in the books, will 2019 be as busy for Marquardt? There’s no way to predict, but she does have one particular goal: should a disaster strike that involves the need for an emergency response vehicle (ERV), she’d like to put her recent driver training to the test and get behind the wheel.

newyearnewyouShe also plans to complete training to become a Red Cross supervisor/manager. The supervisors she worked under in her first year of volunteering recommended that she and her husband both pursue this training given the leadership skills they demonstrated.

Looking back on an action-packed year of volunteering, Marquardt remarked that “the mission of the Red Cross – to alleviate human suffering – is what drives and inspires me.” The Red Cross is fortunate that Marquardt made the decision to channel this drive into a new year’s resolution that ultimately helped hundreds of people.

It’s not too late for you to consider making a similar resolution at the start of 2019. Take the first step by filling out the volunteer form here.

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve Never Been So Scared”: Early Reflections on Dane County Flooding

Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross; Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

“Now I know what it’s like to be in a hurricane.”

Ashley Repp from Mazomanie, Wisconsin, recounted her harrowing rescue while visiting her neighbor in the local Red Cross shelter at Mazomanie Elementary School.

 

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A mother and daughter watch flood waters consume streets near their home on Tuesday in Mazomanie.

“I was absolutely terrified. The water was rushing in so fast!,” Repp shared.

Repp and her neighbors were rescued early Tuesday morning when heavy rains sent a flash flood crashing through her town of Mazomanie, and the surrounding communities of Cross Plains and parts of the Madison area.

“The rains started Monday, but by early Tuesday, I saw the streets starting to flood. I came outside about 5:30 in the morning and the waters were already rising. I looked across the street to the apartment building that sits a bit lower and saw the bottom floors under water.”

Ashley stopped momentarily to share the pictures she took. The sight showed a small town under a deluge. A record-breaking rainfall on Sunday and Monday swelled rivers, overran into backyards, submerged cars, basements, businesses.

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Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown, right, assists a client at a shelter at Madison West H.S. on Friday morning. 

Red Cross opened shelters in Mazomanie (314 Anne St.) and Madison (at West H.S., 30 Ash St.), as well as Cross Plains (at Glacier Creek Middle School, since closed). Other resources include mobile and fixed distribution of clean-up kits across Dane County, and, with dozens of community partners and government agencies, multi-agency resource centers in Mazomanie (on Friday, 314 Anne St.) and Middleton (on Saturday at Blackhawk Church, 9620 Brader Way). (Additional updates are available here from Dane County Emergency Management.)

Back at the shelter in Mazomanie, Ashley continued her story. She said that within 20 mins, her stairwell was flooding. “Water came rushing in, and the fire department came by and told us to grab our stuff and get out. I don’t even remember much, except that the water was rushing in so fast-it was hard to stand and keep my balance. I’ve never been so scared in my life!”

The rescue workers assisted Ashley and her neighbors into rafts and then steadied it by walking it through the flood waters, and up to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) building.

“Folks from all over our community were there to give us clothing and dry out what we had been wearing, which was soaked.”

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On Thursday, a family in Mazomanie cleans up from initial flooding and places sandbags outside their house for the possibility of more water.

When asked how long all this took, Ashley’s face become very somber: “You know … I have no idea. Time just ran into itself … I have no idea at all.  It was about 7 that night before we got settled in. I thought it must be later than that, but … I don’t know.”

Her voice trailed off, she paused and then turned and said, “I’m just so thankful we all got out. Everyone here, the community, the Red Cross, everyone helped us feel safe. Folks offered clothes, food … the whole community pulled together to help all of us.”

When asked whether she would be staying here, at the Red Cross shelter, Ashley replied, “No, I’m lucky. I have a place to stay, but my neighbor doesn’t, so I’m glad you’re here to help her, I was worried.”

Ashley had come by the shelter to check in on her neighbor: “She’s being well cared for, thank you. Thank you, Mazomanie and thank you, Red Cross!”

Follow American Red Cross of Wisconsin on Twitter and Facebook for breaking updates on shelters and other resources. For access to resources for this ongoing flooding situation, dial 2-1-1.

After “unfathomable” tragedy, Portage residents get back on their feet

by Justin Kern, communications officer, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

Before the fatal fire, before the downtown vigil and before the shelter, Paul Platt and dozens of other residents of an historic apartment building in Portage were having a typical Sunday morning.

For Paul, that meant a morning off from work spent watching YouTube videos in his pajamas.

Then – the smoke alarms.

“The alarms were cutting through the videos and I went out [into the hallway] to see what was going on. That’s when I could smell smoke,” Platt said.

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An entrance to Portage Presbyterian Church, where a Red Cross shelter was established for the days following an apartment building fire.

He grabbed a handful of essentials from his nightstand and sprinted out of the building. He called the next few hours “chaotic.” The fire displaced in upwards of 75 people, from more than 50 units at the building known local as The Ram, a notable former hotel in downtown Portage. It also resulted in the fatality of a child who lived in the building, part of a family that many of the residents knew well.

Platt and dozens of other people were assisted by Red Cross with food, recovery resources, mental health services and shelter over the next few days.

While comfortable and fed, Paul said he had a “restless” first night at the shelter, located at nearby Portage Presbyterian Church. He mulled the previously “unfathomable” feelings and experiences that his neighbors were going through. Looking inward, he considered how he had made it through a tough year, one that he felt he had come through with a new steady job and a nice apartment downtown.

“Man, no, this can’t be happening. I just got back on my feet,” he said.

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Red Cross volunteers Diana O’Neill, center, and Dave Sharpe share a light moment during a shelter shift.

Red Cross joined a community effort to help Platt and all the people impacted, including the family going through the “unfathomable” fatality. During the second afternoon at the shelter, a handful of Red Cross volunteers were helping with meals, connections to new clothes and just being there to listen to people. On the day shift, expert disaster volunteer Dave Sharpe sorted out registration and casework, while another disaster volunteer pro Diana O’Neill relayed resources and information to clients from other local agencies.

Carol Manolis, of Packwaukee, spent a portion of her volunteer afternoon Monday talking with Lisa McKee, and her three-month old granddaughter, Korra. In that conversation, Carol took the opportunity to hold sleeping Korra, clad in pink, giving a deserved break for grandma and mom, also at the shelter.

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Red Cross volunteer Carol Manolis takes a turn feeding and rocking three-month old Korra, the granddaughter of Lisa McKee, left.

Lisa asked Carol about tasks and time involved with volunteering to establish and run a shelter. Carol bounced as she responded, and, with a look down at placid Korra, said “this makes it worthwhile.”

The Red Cross shelter at the church closed on Wednesday, with most residents able to return to their apartments, and others put up in temporary lodging elsewhere in the city. Dozens of meals and snacks were served, and Red Cross will continue to connect residents with resources and needs as they continue their path to full recovery.

Along with Portage Presbyterian Church, other community partners included Riverhaven, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Divine Savior Healthcare Inc. medical staff, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Portage Fire and Police Departments. Many thoughtful residents have also expressed their generosity to these residents in need.

Click here for ways you can support those in need of disaster assistance in Portage and across Wisconsin.