A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

20190223_111533

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.

20190223_100355

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.

20190223_094838

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.

marquardts in panama city

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.

img_20181030_115016

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.

 

IMG_20180821_152631

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.

20180824_110853

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.”

20180823_114205

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.

Portage shelter Presbyterian church May 2018

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.

Diana and David Portage shelter May 2018

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.

Carol Korra Lisa Portage fire shelter May 2018

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.

From witness to volunteer: the expansive work of dedicated mental health volunteer Naomi Berkowitz

by Michele Maki, Public Affairs volunteer, American Red Cross

naomi berkowitzIn the 17 years since a deadly tornado jolted her psyche, Naomi Berkowitz has dedicated herself to the mental well-being of others experiencing tragedy as an American Red Cross mental health volunteer.

It all started when Naomi and her family were driving to Minnesota. Suddenly, the traffic stalled, and she noticed there was no oncoming traffic. As they were detoured, the family passed downed trees, debris and a Red Cross emergency vehicle. It was June 18, 2001, and a tornado had just ripped through Siren, Wisconsin, leveling much of the village and killing three people.

“We had no idea there had been a tornado outbreak that day. There was no siren and we had no warning.” Berkowitz remembered.

The images couldn’t be erased from Berkowitz’s mind, and when she returned to her home near Milwaukee, she drove to the chapter office of the American Red Cross and signed up as a volunteer.

Berkowitz worked professionally as a mental health therapist and it wasn’t long before she discovered that those skills were needed in the volunteer realm, too.

“Before this event in Siren, I had heard about the Red Cross. But, I didn’t realize the extraordinary lengths the Red Cross goes through to support those affected by disasters. I really, really had no idea.”

Berkowitz found out that there are many kinds of disasters and traumatic events the Red Cross will be called upon to respond and assist. These range from natural disasters like a flood or tornado, to events that require mass evacuations like an industrial explosion. It may also include mass casualty events like a mass shooting or transportation disaster.

downloadMay is national Mental Health Awareness Month, and Naomi’s skills and compassion provide a vital resource to innumerable local and national people affected by traumatic events, said Christie Catlin, Disaster Recovery Manager, American Red Cross of Wisconsin.

“There are so many aspects to recovery for the people served by the Red Cross. Naomi and her colleagues on the Disaster Mental Health team can be an amazing resource for clients who may be carrying incredible pain or stress,” Catlin said. “She’s also become a great voice and resource for her fellow volunteers on the frontlines, who are also dealing with these disasters. I’m proud to have Naomi on our team.”

Naomi Berkowitz has moved up the volunteer ranks to become the Disaster Mental Health Wisconsin Region Program Lead. She’s also been on numerous deployments across the U.S. Most recently, she was deployed for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and again for the deadly California wildfires and subsequent mudslides.

“We meet with those who have survived unthinkable trauma,” she said. “They’ve lost their home, possessions, and sometimes neighbors and loved ones. Our disaster mental health teams listen, without judgment, and offer emotional support and tools to help them with stress management, coping skills, and if appropriate, referrals to local resources.”  

Berkowitz added: “And always, all of our Red Cross services are confidential and free. These are trained mental health professionals and there is never any charge for Red Cross assistance. This is made possible by our generous donors.”

Berkowitz and her colleagues know that part of the recovery process for those affected by trauma, is navigating the triggers that can ambush a survivor after the event.

“Anniversaries can be very difficult. But if the individual prepares and understands this, they can be ready for all those feelings and memories that spring up,” she said. “We try to help prepare them and give them those tools for coping with it.”

Berkowitz explained further, with an example: “A couple of years ago there was a big condo fire. The main building was totally destroyed, and although the surrounding buildings were relatively undamaged, the residents that had been evacuated were still quite traumatized. They were really struggling. It had hit them: This could have been me!”

So, Berkowitz, gathered the Red Cross Disaster Action Team that had responded to the fire and some of the firefighters to meet with the residents. In this way, they had an opportunity to talk out and vent their experience and their fears. This was an important step for these residents in their journey to recovery.

The disaster mental health volunteers also help prepare communities for traumatic events. “Coping in Today’s World” is a program they offer to community leaders and groups.

“Programs like this can give a community some simple tools for handling stress and develop coping skills. It’s not therapy, but these are important support tools.” Berkowitz explained.

But, with multiple deployments each year to disasters like Hurricane Harvey, how do the Red Cross volunteers, themselves, cope with all the suffering they see?

Berkowitz explained: “We want to take good care of those kind hearts! During the deployments, we walk around, visit and remind our volunteers of the same things we tell our clients: be sure to drink your water and stay hydrated. Get appropriate rest, and eat healthy. Take a break and take a walk. And, if you’re feeling like you need some support, we’re here for you.

“After our volunteers return home, we follow up with a post-deployment follow up phone call just to check in on them. They’ve served long, long hours and been apart from family for weeks.  Coming back to ‘the world’ can be difficult. We want to support our volunteers in every way we can.”

Volunteers like Naomi Berkowitz continue to reach out to assist all in need: from a home fire to wildfire, from school shooting to train derailment, from volunteer to community group, the mental health volunteers from the American Red Cross are ready 24/7 to serve and assist. For more information on how you can help be more prepared or to become a Red Cross volunteer, visit here.  

“There are so many ways to help”: Erin Martin jumps into disaster volunteer roles

by Antonia Towns, Red Cross volunteer

When a tornado blew through the town of Chili, Erin Martin swirled into action.

A firefighter and longtime Wisconsin resident, Erin helped to coordinate a community clean-up effort for the town, about 20 minutes west of Marshfield. A few years later and after the birth of a child, Erin remained inspired by the disaster response experience, and signed up as a volunteer with the Red Cross.


“There’s a huge need for it in Clark County. It’s been good,” said Erin, one of the volunteers we’re highlighting during National Volunteer Appreciation Week.

With 22 years of experience working for the fire department, 19 of those years as a firefighter, Erin brings a unique set of skills that are beneficial to her volunteer position on the Disaster Action Team (D.A.T.) with the Red Cross. Along with her skills and experience, Erin carries plenty of compassion.

“I’ve seen people after a house fire and they just have a sense of hopelessness with no clue of how to rebuild. I can point them in the right direction and understand what they went through,” she said.

She recalled a time when she responded to a house fire where the family had been split up.

“After I gave them their card and told them what to do next, the wife started crying. We gave them some direction,” Erin said, adding, “You’re one of the first people that tells the victims that they’re going to be OK.”

Brian Cockerham, Red Cross North Central Chapter disaster program manager, called Erin an “invaluable volunteer” for her steadfast presence in Clark County.

“Erin is a not only an amazing Red Cross volunteer but is a great community member and a real asset to people around her,” Cockerham said.

Although firefighters often partner with Red Cross staff and volunteers, Erin said she didn’t know the extent of Red Cross offerings and programs until she joined D.A.T. For instance, training to provide emotional support to people who have suffered from a residential fire let her know that “there are so many ways to help.”

And with her holistic emergency background – for which she was awarded a Hometown Hero honor from the North Central Chapter of the Red Cross – comes a well-rounded view of the impact during emergencies.

“I’ve seen people during the events, and with the Red Cross, now I see them after, in recovery,” she said. “I’ve seen the full circle now.”

For more information on the ways you can help your community and our state, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

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.”