Lloyd Seawright is engaged, busy — and ready for even more

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

It was fifteen years ago around this very time that Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana coast and pummeled the city of New Orleans. Lloyd Seawright, a current American Red Cross volunteer based out of Milwaukee, shares harrowing tales involving several of his family members directly impacted by Katrina.

“My mom is from New Orleans and was living there in 2005 when Katrina hit. Although she was trapped by the storm she survived,” recounted Seawright. “But I lost several family members including my grandmother and my great uncle to the disaster.”

Lloyd Seawright while helping others at a disaster shelter.

His elderly grandmother was living in a convalescent home and couldn’t get out in time. According to Seawright, she actually floated out of the facility and was located through the help of Red Cross ham radio operators. His great uncle was never found.

After experiencing the fear and heartbreak of that natural disaster, Seawright made a vow to himself that one day he would help others who might be in such a situation. And he is making good on his promise.

In 2013 Seawright registered to volunteer with the Red Cross and has jumped at every opportunity to get involved. He’s participated in a range of trainings, all to provide him the chance to respond, help others, and eventually perhaps to save lives.

“I’ve been able to get involved with the Red Cross on many levels all across the board, and I continue to be ready to do whatever is needed of me,” he said.

In the past several years Seawright has responded to the destructive flooding in Burlington and Waterford, as well as the major fire in Bayside last year that displaced more than one hundred residents. He also participated in Red Cross fundraising campaigns to support the recovery from Hurricane Florence’s devastation in 2018.

You can be a hero to veterans, families displaced by fire, blood donors and more. Join our volunteer teams. Find the volunteer opportunity for you at redcross.org/volunteer.

Seawright explains that he enjoys his Red Cross volunteer work because it provides him with the continuous opportunity to learn and operate within the ranks of the Red Cross. He appreciates the education he’s gained and the chance to work across different teams in different ways – from sheltering and fundraising to lifesaving and disaster response. The one major box he has yet to check is deployment. Seawright’s training and skills are matched by his desire to one day deploy to a national or international disaster site.

Lloyd Seawright gives two-thumbs up after a smoke alarm installation event in 2019.

Seawright’s non-volunteer work keeps him busy, and there’s a common thread across his various activities. A former member of the Marine Corps Reserve; he demonstrates a call to duty in everything he pursues. By day he works in emergency management where he instructs and evaluates individuals training to become EMTs. He’s also passionate about his job as a lifeguard at Atwater Beach, a public beach located on the shore of Lake Michigan in Shorewood, Wisc. His medical training, lifesaving and open water skills make him especially suited for that work.

When asked his thoughts regarding the current global pandemic, Seawright expresses concern for the toll it is taking on mental health. The isolation factor many are experiencing is particularly troubling.

“I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person,” he said, “but I do worry about how the loss of normal milestones like going back to school or celebrating birthdays and weddings with friends will impact many people, especially kids.”

For now, Seawright continues to stay optimistic and focus on the Red Cross volunteer activities that come his way. And more than anything, he looks forward to getting the call to deploy to serve as a Red Cross volunteer on a national mission.

Fore-ward!: the 2020 Red Cross Heroes Classic tees off today

In an abundance of caution, the American Red Cross has made the decision to re-imagine our annual Community Heroes Golf Outings in Green Bay and Madison.

golf picBoth of the golf outings will still take place, however, the outings will be spread out over a three week period: Tuesday, September 1st – Tuesday, September 22nd. In addition to the fun on the course, part of our event will be going virtual.

We will be hosting an online auction, honoring community heroes and providing the opportunity to help support the life-saving mission of the American Red Cross.

During this three-week period, you can visit the event website to:

  • Bid on silent auction items
  • Donate to the American Red Cross and participate in the $30,000 matching donation opportunity, sponsored by Lea Culver and Sarah Dressel
  • View inspiring Red Cross hero stories — videos will be posted one at a time throughout the event
  • Learn more about how your support can make a direct impact on the people whom the Red Cross serves.

Stay tuned for more information and messages throughout the event. For now, visit the Red Cross Heroes Classic website, check out the silent auction, and start your bidding!

Find all the info in one place at the Red Cross Heroes Classic Website.

 

“You can come back”: Madison volunteer who rode out hurricanes at Red Cross shelters flies to Texas to help others recover

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Angela Oakley is no stranger to emergency sheltering during a hurricane.

Oakley remembers days as a teenager spent riding out a hurricane in a shelter near her childhood home in South Carolina. In 2018, she travailed flood waters left behind from Hurricane Florence to reconnect with her husband and gather assistance from a shelter site after they “lost everything that [they] had.”

It’s precisely because of those hurricanes that Oakley moved with her family to Madison, Wisc. last year. And it’s her fortitude and compassion from those hurricanes that found her on a flight first-thing Wednesday morning – this time, as a mass care and sheltering volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Angela Oakley at airport Hurricane Laura

Angela Oakley readies for her flight in Madison to Texas for her first deployment, to help people affected by Hurricane Laura.

“I’m proof that there is still life after disasters. You can come back,” Oakley said.

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, Oakley joined three other volunteers from Wisconsin converging on Texas and the Gulf Coast ahead of landfall by Hurricane Laura. It was Oakley’s first in-person disaster deployment, work she said she’s “drawn to,” given her personal background mixed and her past 10 months of Red Cross preparations.

“I know I’m going to do something I’m trained for, I know I’m with an organization that has done this a million times,” she said. “And you’ve got to have some faith, because I know the people there are going to need the help. So that’s where I need to be.”

Click here for the latest from the American Red Cross on resources, assistance and ways you can help with Hurricane Laura.

In February 2019, she moved with family to the Midwest, into a home that includes her husband, teenage daughter and pets in Madison. By that fall, she had signed up as a Red Cross volunteer, like the ones she remembered after Hurricane Hugo, along with Florence and others. Initial volunteer roles involved client casework on the disaster team and welcoming donors at blood collection site in her new hometown.

Then, last month, she was deployed virtually, in Texas, as it turns out, to get families back up on their feet after Hurricane Hanna drenched parts of the state. Oakley said she was prepared for the role of providing assistance and working with people through the day-to-day challenges from protracted flooding. She wasn’t quite ready for the appreciation people shared back with her.

“To see that fear, that anxiety, that uncertainty turn around, and then you can see hope build … and then you get thanks, gratitude. I was in tears, it was so rewarding,” she said Tuesday evening.

Wisconsin volunteers were among approximately 2,000 Red Cross disaster team members on the ground or assisting remotely as Hurricane Laura approached. In the week leading up to landfall, the Red Cross was busy arranging supplies, sheltering needs and more for people affected by Laura, which had strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane by Wednesday afternoon.

You can support our response and relief for people affected by this hurricane and other disasters in two ways. First – we are always looking for talented, compassionate people to volunteer, both in person and virtually, in myriad ways. Find a volunteer opportunity that fits your passion and lifestyle today at redcross.org/volunteer. Second – the mass movement of humanitarian help and the people who provide it happens because of the generosity of people like you. Your donations make this assistance possible for people in crisis. On behalf of everyone helped during Hurricane Laura and other disasters this year, thank you for your kind gift.

Grateful for support after apartment fire and more, a Burlington mother is determined to “succeed”

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Heather Wilke admits she’s had to “fight like hell” during points of her life. Whether it was lousy jobs years ago or a patch without steady housing after her time in the Army, the Burlington mother hasn’t always had it easy.

But with some support and her daughters by her side, she’s determined to “succeed” and make a life of helping others – even after last week’s apartment building fire that displaced her family and their pets from their home.

Kayla Heather Loretta Wilke with Louie Burlington DR Aug 2020

Heather Wilke, center, with her daughters Kayla, left, and Loretta, plus their dog, Louie, all at a Burlington hotel provided by the Red Cross after an apartment building fire last week.

That support of late has come in part from the American Red Cross, as Wilke and her daughters Kayla, 15, and Loretta, 12, plus their rambunctious dog, Louie, join 24 other people sheltering at a Burlington hotel.

As the Wilke family came down to grab lunch on Wednesday, Heather shared her backstory and how she plans to help veterans or victims of domestic violence after her upcoming final year at UW-Parkside. And she expressed gratitude for everyone who has helped her and her family after last Thursday’s fire that has kept them from their home.

“All the representatives from the Red Cross have been very helpful and very kind,” Wilke said.

“I make sure to thank them for taking the time out of their schedules. It’s a big thing they’re doing, coming here two times a day at least and helping us all out. It’s an honorable thing to do.”

On the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 13, a fire in a Burlington apartment complex put out more than 50 people from dozens of units. About half of those residents have been housed in emergency lodging at a hotel by the Red Cross, as restoration efforts continue at the apartment complex. Recovery work with residents on next steps continues, including help from agencies in Racine County like Southern Lakes Area Love Inc.


Your generosity powers the humanitarian work of the Red Cross. Please consider a gift to help families in need with emergency food, shelter, health resources and compassion.


On the day-to-day side of things, disaster volunteers with the Southeast Chapter of the Red Cross have provided twice-daily meal deliveries to the hotel, including a tasty recent dinner donated by Napoli Restaurant and Pizzeria. On Tuesday, volunteers Cindy and Pat Cain made a very Wisconsin type of meal delivery, packing lunches into the storage compartments of their three-wheel Harley Davidson.

Kevin Connell lunch delivery Burlington DR Aug 2020

Red Cross volunteer Kevin Connell loads up lunches for delivery to 24 residents of a Burlington apartment building presently staying at a hotel after a fire.

The next day, it was Kevin Connell, loading up his truck with individually packaged submarine sandwiches and water from a nearby grocery store, then bringing meals into the hotel via the luggage cart. Families trickled in around noon, and Kevin asked them and hotel staff about their days, light-hearted small talk. Connell said he’s had a few conversations with his daughter recently about his drive to volunteer with the Red Cross, and the range of people he’s met in the past year on the disaster team. Spending the extra time in the hotel lobby to greet people displaced by this fire during lunch – even if it is a few feet apart with a mask on – makes for important interpersonal connections in a trying time, Connell said.

“If I can be here, this is where I want to be,” he said.

Connell and others have been there for Wilke and the residents of this Burlington residential building. Before lunch on Wednesday, Wilke shared that it’s not the first time she’s had help from the Red Cross.

Wilke enlisted in the Army not too long after watching the World Trade Center towers fall on television. Before she left for boot camp, she held out hope that her grandmother, ill with emphysema, would be well enough so they could spend time together before Wilke’s next assignment. Unfortunately, while in basic training, she got a “Red Cross message” that her grandmother had passed away. Wilke was extremely appreciative for that assistance in being able to attend her grandmother’s funeral. She even recalled a humorous moment as that message was initially delivered to her by a tough-as-nails commanding officer.

“My drill sergeant called on me and said, ‘Private! I don’t care what you do, but do not cry.’ I instantly started crying because I knew what was going to happen … He was amazing, but he couldn’t console, he was my drill sergeant.”

Your generosity makes sure people receive the help they need from the Red Cross, whether in military service or in times of disaster. Thank you for considering a gift to the Red Cross to help people in need.

‘The main award is that my daughter is alive’: Red Cross trainer recognized for use of life-saving skills at home

By Angela Glowacki, American Red Cross

Gavin Walsh made it a priority to learn CPR and First Aid in his adult years, even going on to become a trainer of those skills.

It was that training which kicked into place in his own home to help his young daughter avert disaster – and earn Gavin a national recognition.

In 2017 around Thanksgiving, Gavin’s daughter, who was two-and-a-half-years old at the time, took a grape from the dinner table and went back to her room to eat it.

Gavin TWO

After sharing his life-saving story, Gavin Walsh, top left, was awarded the Certificate of Merit from the American Red Cross, presented during a board meeting to Wisconsin Region COO Tom Mooney, bottom right.

“For some reason, something told me to look down the hallway to where she was,” Gavin shared in July during a virtual meeting of the Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Turned out, Gavin saw his daughter had begun to choke on the grape. He recognized these signs of choking and gave his daughter back blows. On the third strike, the grape was dislodged from her airway.


You can find a life-saving training near you that fits your schedule. Click here to find a schedule for trainings on CPR, First Aid and more from the American Red Cross.


 

Gavin had been taking CPR classes through the Red Cross since he was a young adult and had been renewing his certification every two years.

“I believe the training that I got gave me the knowledge to know what to do even though I was panicked,” Gavin shared. “I don’t know how I would have reacted if I didn’t have that training.”

Gavin went on to discuss why training was so important to him: “When we take the training, we don’t think about actually using it … but from taking the training, it’s made me realize that …. We never know what’s going to happen.”

For his action, Gavin was awarded the Certificate of Merit, the highest honor the Red Cross bestows upon a citizen. The Certificate is signed by the President of the United States, and is accompanied by a medal and a pin.

“I am thankful to the Red Cross for the training. It’s an honor to get the award, but it is humbling too. The main award is that my daughter is alive,” Gavin said when surprised with the award during the board meeting.

During this meeting, he stressed how important it was to receive this training, “These skills actually work and save lives and its these skills that are the reason that my daughter is still alive today.”

It was the second time in as many weeks that the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross was able to recognize life-saving actions by people who have taken First Aid and CPR training. A group at a Rothschild manufacturer were awarded for their efforts in saving the life of a co-worker.

To recognize someone who has saved a life with Red Cross training in your community, share their story on this page.

‘Now I can look out for myself and others’: Red Cross award honoree shares the First Aid basics that kept a co-worker alive

By Angela Glowacki, American Red Cross 

“If my story gets one person to sign up for Red Cross training, then I did something.” – Kevin Arrowood

Kevin Arrowood is an employee at Borregaard LignoTech, in north-central Wisconsin, a company that offers American Red Cross CPR/Adult First Aid/AED training to its employees. In late 2019, Kevin, along with two other employees, took part in this training. A few weeks later, that same training would help save a fellow co-worker’s life.

Kevin and honors

Arrowood smiles with his Certificate of Merit honors for life-saving action based on Red Cross training.

In January, Kevin said one of his co-workers appeared sweaty, out of sorts and was complaining of headaches. Based on his Red Cross training, Kevin feared his co-worker could be having a stroke. He sat the co-worker down, and then alerted nearby colleagues, Emily Ertl, Peter Lawrence, and Maria Bandell. The four of them worked together in calling 9-1-1 and keeping their co-worker calm and conscious until EMTs arrived.

During a talk with Kevin in July, he talked about how he was able to use the knowledge he gained from the Red Cross training to take action.

“When you look back on it, you can tell something was off” with the co-worker, even though he and Kevin had not known each other well. “It reminded me of the signs of a stroke and reminded me [it was important] to calm him down.”

For their efforts, Kevin, Emily and Peter were given the Certificate of Merit, highest honor the Red Cross bestows upon a citizen. The Certificate is signed by the President of the United States, and is accompanied by a medal and a pin. Even though she had not participated in the First Aid training, Maria’s integral action in helping the team and her co-worker earned her the Extraordinary Personal Action Certificate. The team was surprised with the honors after sharing their story during a Wisconsin Region North Central Chapter board virtual meeting in July, and then an in-person presentation the following day at their workplace in Rothschild, Wisc.


You can find a life-saving training near you that fits your schedule. Click here to find a schedule for trainings on CPR, First Aid and more from the American Red Cross.


On the day of the incident, the coworker who indeed suffered a stroke was taken to the hospital. Months later, that co-worker has recovered and “you would never know” the serious health scare he went through, thanks in part to the quick work of his colleagues. He’s back at work and was able to share in the special presentation of the awards and the story sharing at the Rothschild manufacturer in mid-July.

Borregaard Group With Logo 07162020

Wendy Savage, in white, meets with the team that used Red Cross First Aid training to help save a co-worker’s life, during an award presentation in July at Borregaard in Rothschild.

“Now I can look out for myself and others”, Kevin said.

Jen Marzu, an employee at Borregaard and the Red Cross instructor who trained Kevin and his coworkers, voiced how proud she is of her team that they were able to work together to save a life.

“I trained my first responders to take care of the situation … it made me feel good that I knew they were all in good hands” Jen shared during the board meeting. She said about half their employees have taken this training, which ranks above their workplace requirements.

The president of the company, Paul Hendricks, joined the virtual meeting for the story and surprise recognitions. Paul also voiced his appreciation for the workers and the Red Cross for providing the lifesaving training.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our employees and how they reacted. We also have to thank the resources that the Red Cross supplies,” he said. “[It is] fantastic guidance”.

To find out more about the Certificate of Merit and to nominate someone, visit this page.

COVID-19: Red Cross Offers Virtual Care for Families Who Have Lost Loved Ones

Virtual Family Assistance Center provides resources to those struggling with loss and grief due to the pandemic

MILWAUKEE, Wisc., June 23, 2020 — The American Red Cross of Wisconsin is launching a Virtual Family Assistance Center to support families struggling with loss and grief due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

VFAC ARC WisconsinPeople can visit the Virtual Family Assistance Center online here to access a support hub with special virtual programs, information, referrals and services to support families in need. The hub will also connect people to other community resources provided by non-profit and government partners. People without internet access can call 833-492-0094 for help.

“Our goal is to provide connections to resources for Wisconsin families personally affected by COVID-19, especially due to the loss of a loved one,” said Mark Thomas, American Red Cross Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive. “We want affected families to know that the Red Cross and our partners are here to provide compassion and support as they grieve.”

Many families have experienced a disrupted bereavement and grief process due to restrictions related to COVID-19. To help, the Red Cross has set up a virtual team of specially trained mental health, spiritual care and health services volunteers who are:

  • Connecting with families over the phone to offer condolences, support and access to resources that may be available
  • Providing support for virtual memorial services for families, including connecting with local faith-based community partners
  • Hosting online classes to foster resilience and facilitate coping skills
  • Sharing information and referrals to state and local agencies as well as other community organizations including legal resources for estate, custody, immigration or other issues

All Family Assistance Center support will be provided virtually and is confidential and free.

For media contact: Aubrey Dodd, communications volunteer, American Red Cross, aubrey.mke@gmail.com

‘The only person she could turn to right now was the Red Cross’: a disaster volunteer shares anecdotes of service during COVID-19

Transcription & Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

We recently talked with Southeast Wisconsin Chapter disaster action team volunteer Paul Beinecke for a video project that covered the added challenges and rewards in work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not every portion of Paul’s touching input was included in the video, but all of it was moving.

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American Red Cross volunteer Paul Beinecke talks with a resident displaced by an apartment fire in winter 2019 on the East Side of Milwaukee.

Below, we pulled a few additional takeaways and anecdotes from Paul, in the hopes that you’ll get yet another glimmer of the stories and heart that drive our thousands of volunteers here in Wisconsin.

On some of the emotional challenges in providing care amid COVID-19:

“One of the things I’ve noticed … during the COVID environment is that we’re all experiencing different forms of isolation and stress. And yet, when we meet these individuals, it comes down to a human element. We’re on the same page. We see things through their eyes, that we might not normally see, experiences with individuals of diverse backgrounds.


Your gift, no matter the size, is doubled through June 24. Click here to double your support.


On keeping up support for people displaced by disaster during a pandemic:

“We haven’t changed what we deliver to clients. The method of delivery has changed a little bit. We still deliver disaster mental health services, we still supply disaster health services, we supply lodging, when necessary, we supply food and feeding when necessary.

One change is that we screen our volunteers and we screen our clients [for symptoms of COVID-19]. We practice social distancing. It’s been actually going over very easily, both with our volunteers and with our clients. The clients don’t get upset when we talk about COVID screening, when we practice social distancing. In many cases, they ask us to (socially distance) before we even ask them to. So, it’s been a good experience. (Volunteering with) the Red Cross has always been a good experience for me. It’s hard to help people and not feel good about it.

On being a parent and grandparent, then seeing people with their own children affected by home fires:

“When I was working with a young mother … being a grandfather (myself) and having a couple of young grandchildren right now, it was hard for me to imagine, seeing a young woman, a single mother, with a one-month old and having to deal with the loss of everything in her household.

The only person she could turn to right now was the Red Cross. The Red Cross was there for her. That makes you feel good.

GF fire COVID April 2020 Jim Robin Berzowski food arrange

Robin Berzowski, foreground, arranges food deliveries for people affected by a fire in Greenfield in spring 2020 with her husband and fellow volunteer, Jim.

On the empathy of his disaster volunteer colleague, Robin, while fighting back tears:

“So Robin (Berzowski) is one of our volunteers who is on the disaster team with me. … You know, we all talk about ‘clients.’ That’s what we’re trained to do and that’s how we talk about it. We refer to everybody as a client.

Robin refers to everybody by their first name. … It’s tearful for me, I don’t know why. (Paul, fighting back tears:) She just has empathy that is just unbelievable.

She goes out onto a scene, like an apartment fire, where there’s 20 people. [In our casework] we refer to the client by number. Robin refers to clients by name, every single one of them.

I’ve been to a couple of the larger fires after Robin has been with them. And all of them ask me where Robin is. Robin has brought flowers to people [to Dolores, an octogenarian living alone and displaced from a fire over Easter]. She knows everyone by name.”

Your generosity supports the food and resources brought to people recovering from fires, floods and other catastrophes. That generosity is doubled for a short-time; if you give by June 24, a support is matching all gifts to the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. Thank you for considering a gift that doubles your impact.

Special thanks to Lance and the team at Plum Media for capturing Paul’s story as part of their powerful videos that led our 2020 Brave Hearts event.

‘The kindness in your voice makes a difference’: over the phone from Wisconsin to Michigan, volunteers talk about virtual deployments

Story By Angela Glowacki / Photos by Perry Rech, American Red Cross

Despite a global pandemic, our Red Crossers are still connecting with and assisting those in need from large-scale disasters through virtual deployments.

Liz Marsh and Barbara Gugel are two dedicated Wisconsin Region volunteers who have been virtually deployed in response to the central Michigan flooding that occurred in May.

Now that they’ve been helping our neighbors in Michigan for the past few weeks, we asked them to share their experiences with virtual deployments, how it compares to other in-person work with the American Red Cross and the takeaways they’ve heard from people on the ground in Michigan.

ARC-Michigan.DR377-20.060

Flood damage in what remains of downtown Sanford, Mich., following the draining of both the Wixom Lake and Sanford Lake impoundments along the Titabawassee River. 

Liz Marsh

Liz started her journey with the Red Cross three years ago after deciding that she wanted to do something for her community. She has been virtually deployed five times – assisting in the recovery process of disasters from tornadoes in Texas and Illinois to flooding in Wisconsin. In addition to being a dedicated volunteer, Liz is a mother of five who lives in northeast Wisconsin.

“I wanted to see a change in my community … and there was no Red Cross [volunteers at the time in Shawano County] … so I wanted to do something for our community to help”, Liz said.

Interestingly, Liz has only ever been virtually deployed to disasters. When asked how it feels to still be able to do her work despite current circumstances, she replied that it is fulfilling to know that she is able to be a resource for people in need.

Liz’s Michigan experience

Liz has been working in the Midland area of Michigan and has been working with many senior clients, where she addresses some added difficulty for them due to COVID-19. She expressed how it has been challenging for seniors in particular due to their increased risks from potentially contracting the virus.

One of the people Liz has worked with during her virtual deployment to Michigan is a veteran who suffered from a stroke back in November. Two days after he was released from the hospital, the flood occurred, damaging his and his wife’s home. A stroke, a pandemic, the flood and then the added stress of paying for all related home repairs and hospital bills. Liz has been working with this couple throughout her time being virtually deployed – she was even promoted to supervisor –assisting them with finding resources and providing support.

“I can relate to the mass devastation of not knowing the next turn and needing the extra help and … [I get] the ability to be a killer resource and figure out the problem and solve it so they can move on to recovery,” she said.

ARC-Michigan.DR377-20.054 (1)

Michigan volunteer American Red Cross Disaster Assessment Team members on a deserted and closed state road in Edenville, Mich., immediately downstream from the failed Edenville Dam.

Barbara Gugel

Barbara joined the Red Cross as a volunteer one and a half years ago, thanks to her neighbor who got her interested in volunteering with the organization. Her volunteer work with the Red Cross includes experience in sheltering, feeding, casework, driving emergency vehicles, as well as being a Disaster Action Team supervisor for Columbia and Dane Counties.

When the flooding in Michigan occurred, Barbara began calling those affected by the flood, helping them find temporary housing and addressing their needs. In the first two days of her virtual deployment, Barbara had contacted 32 people and opened 12 cases all from her home in Lodi, Wisconsin.

Barbara’s Michigan experience

Barbara is working with people located upriver, in the counties of Gladwin and Beaverton of Michigan. One family that Barbara has connected with is a family of four, plus the mother’s elderly father in law who has physical limitations. They have been staying in a hotel during these past couple of days. Barbara has been staying in touch with this family frequently during her time virtually deployed, providing them not only with support, but also a listening ear.

Not all of Barbara’s clients are sheltered in hotels. She mentioned that some of her clients were renting campers, or borrowing them from friends. Campgrounds around the area have opened up for these clients to give them a place to stay. In some cases, if a client’s property is safe enough, the camper is parked on the property so that the family can still be near their home.

“You’re still helping to alleviate human suffering,” Barbara said. “The kindness in your voice makes a difference.”

Virtual or not, you can still make a difference

Thanks to volunteers like Liz and Barbara, the Red Cross has been able to assist many people affected by the flooding. Despite the deployments being virtual, our volunteers are still able to be there for their clients and get them the help they need. Beyond that, they are able to be a much needed listener and a (socially distanced) shoulder to lean on. Here are two ways you can help this mission continue, virtual or in-person:

Disaster preparedness for youth goes virtual

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Even tornadoes have gone virtual in these days of remote schooling, social distancing and Zoom meetings.

Jesse Coates, American Red Cross volunteer, recently led a lesson for seven elementary school-age children from Wisconsin through a virtual version of our Pillowcase Project lessons. These lessons are typically very hands-on, with dry-runs of disaster do’s and don’ts, and the occasional high-five.

pillowcase virtual pic THREE

A screenshot from a recent Pillowcase Project virtual lesson led by American Red Cross volunteer Jesse Coates.

So, in the current virtual and remote environment instilled by the pandemic, Coates relied on vibrant language, props and visuals from the lesson plan to engage his online “classroom.”

As Coates put it: “Tornadoes, they can be the scariest. Do you know what a tornado is?”

Isabelle, one of the students, put it plainly, through her computer screen on the other side of the state: “Mean.”

Coates: “You guys rock, you’re awesome at this. You all are smart, that’s right … and remember to stay inside and away from windows.”

Pillowcase Project is typically taught by a few volunteers, in front of entire classrooms of kids, as an extreme weather and disaster preparedness course for youth ages 8-to-12. It’s complemented by Prepare With Pedro, another preparedness lesson set for 4-to-8-year olds.


Want to share disaster tips with young people in a fun, engaging way? Download our free Monster Guard app here and help the youth in your life get prepared, not scared.


During the recent first round of virtual lessons, Coates was clearly still finding ways to have fun and learn, and get the young people in this lesson to do the same. In materials shared on the screen and guidebooks accessed by adults who helped to guide their young attendees, Coates talked through things like where to go if tornado sirens sound, and how to cope with destruction from a fire. And, as children often do, they posed unexpected and big-picture questions.

From Isabelle, one of the students: “What starts the fires?”

Coates: “Fires have a mind of their own. It happens everywhere in all sorts of weird ways, that’s why we want to talk about this now … and talk about it with the big people at home.”

Our teams are ready to lead virtual disaster preparedness lessons for schools, organizations and youth groups. For information and scheduling, contact Nick Cluppert, Red Cross Senior Disaster Program Manager, at nick.cluppert@redcross.org.