“Show Them That We Care”: Volunteers Detail Unique Roles in Disaster Relief

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

At the American Red Cross, volunteers donate their time, skills, experience and care to alleviate the suffering of others during a disaster.

Yet no two volunteer departments are the same. And a recent wave of apartment fires brought forth the unique skills and heart volunteers have in our shared mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

On Jan. 28, three separate apartment fires – two in Milwaukee and one in Beaver Dam – displaced nearly 400 people in a single day. In an already-busy winter of home fire relief in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, our local volunteers and some from other states stepped up in their various roles to make sure people in need were taken care of. More than 184 volunteers were involved in those larger scale incidents, with dozens more involved in the every day response and recovery of people across our Region.

Ranjit Verma, right, and volunteer team member Denise Bruneau pick up 130 lunches cooked by Alverno College, to share with people displaced by an apartment fire in Milwaukee.

One of the departments that provides assistance is the Disaster Action Team, or DAT.

Ranjit Verma, a volunteer from Shorewood, has been a DAT member for around two years. When asked how the DAT Team helps clients and their families Ranjit explained that “we respond to people in disaster areas; commonly fire accidents that have taken place in the area.”

Ranjit has always played a volunteer role in his life. Before he joined the Red Cross, he hosted a number of fundraisers and supported local students in his area.

When Ranjit heard about the Red Cross, he knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. He enjoys providing care and comfort to people “who have faced unpleasant situations” and he is glad to be “part of this mission to give to people in need.”

On Feb. 1, Ranjit and other DAT feeding volunteers delivered around 130 prepared meals to guests; he had another meal delivery route the next day. (All told, from one hotel-shelter set up for residents displaced from a Milwaukee apartment fire, volunteers delivered more than 7,000 meals in four-plus weeks.)

The meals consisted of a main course – chicken Caesar wraps, for instance – and a snack. Some guests even had dietary requirements and Ranjit provided diabetic meals to them. 

“I love the one-on-one interaction … saying ‘How is your day?’ provides relief. It brings a lot of smiles and joy and I’m more nervous than the guests sometimes,” he said.

With a knock and a call of “lunches … Red Cross,” Volunteer Terry Mackin brings sandwiches to rooms at a hotel-shelter not far from his home in Milwaukee. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

After delivering meals to guests, others would be waiting for theirs asking him, “When are you going to reach the third floor?” and “What did you get for us today?” 

However, along with the pleasant conversation, Ranjit also mentioned how guests looked to him for guidance. “It was surprising how much more they needed,” he explained.

They would often ask him about the next steps in their recovery and asked what they could expect next, putting their trust in him and the Red Cross volunteers on his team supporting them. 

Ranjit went on to explain how COVID has impacted his deliveries. He can no longer provide hugs or handshakes to offer comfort and Ranjit says he misses that contact as a way to connect with guests.

Another way volunteers once again answered the immense need was on the Health Services team. Again, on just the one Milwaukee apartment fire, Disaster Mental Health and Health Services provided 4,171 contacts with people for anything from medication prescription refills to talks with a certified counselor.

Jeanne Frey from Binghamton, N.Y. deployed in Milwaukee to assist with client support and prescription needs. Jeanne has served with the Red Cross in Health Services since 2005. As a retired registered nurse, Jeanne explained how she does her part to serve clients.

Jeanne Frey texts to check in with health needs of people displaced by an apartment fire in winter 2021 in Milwaukee. She flew in from Binghamton for two weeks of service in Wisconsin as a Health Services volunteer. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

“We try to help them move forward in their recovery and work with the community resources,” she said.

Jeanne works with case workers and other Red Cross volunteers as well as pharmacists and doctors to assist her clients.

“We provide food for them and take care of them and their medical needs if necessary … And we can contact the pharmacy where they have their prescriptions refilled and make arrangements to get those replaced if they lost them in a fire … We want them to feel safe.”

Jeanne explained how she enjoys providing the highest quality of care and attention to her clients.

“I come to one of the shelters and I’m available if one of the clients has a health-related need or I try to make myself available for any of their needs,” she said.

And when clients have emergency medical needs, Jeanne and her team act swiftly to provide critical support and ease her clients’ minds.

“As common practice …We will call the pharmacies and pick them up [prescriptions] for the clients if they needed them right away.”

Jeanne mentioned how much her service means to her and she knows how important it is to be there for them and help them through as many of their problems as she can. 

“For me personally I try to put myself in their place … anything that we can do to be supportive, show them that we care, and do whatever we can to help guide them back to some semblance of normalcy,” she said.

When asked about how she got started with the Red Cross back in 2005, Jeanne told about how she was inspired to join when a coworker of hers was already working with the Red Cross and had gone down to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina.

“I was just so touched by his role in providing care for the people down in New Orleans that I said, I think I can do that, too.”

If you or someone you know is thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please go online to the Red Cross Volunteer Opportunities page and see what area(s) of service might be a great fit for you. You can also find out the top needed volunteer positions at the Red Cross on the Become a Volunteer page.

The Red Cross will provide the necessary training and new volunteers are always encouraged to explore and try out different roles in the various Red Cross Departments to find what they’re most passionate about to help and to help carry out the Red Cross mission to be there when others need it most.

More than 1,000 People Displaced by Fires to Start 2021

Story by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Another 536 people were displaced by home and apartment fires in February in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, the continuation of a busy and tragic start to American Red Cross relief efforts in 2021.

Apartment fires have been rampant to start 2021. The Red Cross helped 25 people displaced by this fire on N. 25th Street in Milwaukee in February. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

In the first two months of the year, that total of people affected by approximately 180 residential fires helped by the Red Cross topped 1,054. That total is more than one-quarter of the entire number of people served by the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross through disasters for all of our previous service year.

Along with a few more home fire fatalities, this start to 2021 was also marked by more large-scale apartment building fires, including: 13 people at an apartment fire in Wisconsin Rapids; 8 people at an apartment fire in Clintonville (Waupaca County); 18 people at an apartment fire in Janesville; 12 people at a multi-unit fire in Kenosha; and 25 people from an apartment fire in Milwaukee (pictured at left). While residential fires affected every corner of Wisconsin and the U.P., nearly half of those in need of services happened in Milwaukee.

At this same time, Red Cross disaster teams continued to provide hotel-sheltering for people displaced by a few incidents that occurred in a single day in late January. As of March 1, there were still 40 people displaced by one of those fires, in the Burnham Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. Concurrent to hundreds of nights of hotel room stays with that Burnham Park fire in the past four-plus weeks, Red Crossers have provided 6,787 meals and 4,147 health/mental health contacts. At one point in early February, the number of people helped in local Red Cross sheltering efforts was second only to Louisiana, where hundreds remain without homes after summer and fall hurricanes.

The Red Cross volunteers “take care of things you didn’t even think about,” said James Fair, a veteran who was among 225 people displaced from that fire, the largest single incident in recent Red Cross service history.

American Red Cross volunteers and Wisconsin Veterans Network collaborate on recovery plans for a number of military veterans put out of their homes by a recent apartment building fire. Photo by Leslie Luther/American Red Cross

Examples of relief support by Red Cross disaster teams at these fires includes aid for temporary lodging at a local hotel, meals, and access to health and mental health resources. Volunteers and staff also work with residents on recovery plans to move forward during the protracted aspects of a home fire, like identifying longer term housing.

The winter season typically brings an increase in residential fires, though our teams have been involved in a higher than usual number of large-scale fires going back to the start of the pandemic. Since March 2020, Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have been committed to internal and CDC protocols to ensure health and safety measures for everyone involved in our mission.

For a list of home fire essentials and preparedness steps to take with your family today, click here.

Your support brings immediate resources to people in need after a home fire. Thank you for considering a gift to our mission for people affected by fires in our communities.

Care, for the “Things You Didn’t Even Think About”

Story & Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

On Friday afternoon, James Fair had initially stopped by the American Red Cross caseworker station set up in a Milwaukee hotel lobby to ask about transportation. He’s in that challenging in-between time, after being displaced by a fire at his apartment building but before he can move into his new place.

Moments later in the lobby, along with talking transportation, Red Crosser Melinda Rosario was putting adhesive bandages on cuts on Fair’s hands, making sure he’d had a chicken Caesar wrap for lunch (he’d eaten it) and checking in that he knew the latest developments on his next apartment.

Melinda Rosario, Red Cross disaster team member, opens an adhesive bandage for James Fair, one of many people still dealing with an apartment building fire on Jan. 28.

“They take care of things you didn’t even think about,” Fair said afterward.

Fair is one of more than 100 people still displaced by a Jan. 28 apartment building fire on Milwaukee’s South Side, a fatal incident and the largest among a slew of high-volume residential fires to kick off 2021 in Wisconsin. In all, the Red Cross has helped 740 people who have been displaced by more than 100 fires since the start of the year, which is on trend with a typical busy winter here, but markedly higher in terms of the number of people affected each day.

Behind those numbers, however, are the unique ways disasters affect each person, from flashpoint to aftermath, with no certain timetable. Fair, a military veteran and a Milwaukee native, had lived in the 106-unit building in the Burnham Park neighborhood since the fall. On Jan. 27, he had dozed off to the nightly news only to be woken up at around 2 a.m. to pounding by a neighbor on his third-floor apartment door. Half wondering if it was a dream, Fair had enough time to grab his cane, put on a robe and grab a hat, to cover his head and face, given the smoke, to say nothing of the pandemic.

“They were yelling that we had to evacuate onto a city bus … at first, I was thinking that I’d be right back up in my place,” Fair said, before stepping back to reflect on the layers of issues that come up with such a fire. “You know that saying, ‘Bigger the headache, bigger the pill’? I feel like there isn’t a pill big enough for what you go through” after a fire.

Even still, Fair said he was very appreciative of the hive of Red Cross activity buzzing around him in the hotel lobby. Sheltering operations on Friday at the hotel – one of two hotel-shelters established over the past two weeks with just this fire – included delivery of 80 lunches by volunteers Kevin Connell and Terry Mackin, and restocking of complimentary masks and gloves by Merrill volunteer Laurel Cooper and Binghamton, N.Y. health services volunteer Jeanne Frey. Behind the scenes, numerous other disaster workforce members organized partners to identify affordable housing possibilities, transported totes for those ready to begin moving and helped residents process the emotional gravity of a fire.

James Fair calls himself a “different type of soldier,” though one grateful for help from the Red Cross after a fire displaced him and the rest of the people in his 106-unit building in Milwaukee.

Rosario, a disaster team member from Harrisburg, Pa., said that Fair and a handful of other military veterans displaced by this Milwaukee fire would be moving into longer-term housing in the coming weeks thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Fair called himself “a different type of soldier,” someone up for the challenges that life can hit you with at 2 a.m. on a sub-zero-temperature Milwaukee weekday. At the same time, he recognized that he’s had Red Cross volunteers fighting for him since he arrived from the fire. 

“I’m glad Red Cross is here, these people are here, because … otherwise, I don’t know,” he said.

Your generosity and volunteerism enable the Red Cross to help people like James every single day. We’re grateful for your consideration of joining our mission, through a gift or as a volunteer.

Heroes among us: American Red Cross – Northwest WI Chapter honors local heroes at March 2021 virtual event

EAU CLAIRE, Wis., February 11, 2021 – Our community is filled with everyday heroes. This March, the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross will once again honor a select group of the heroes among us.

The annual Heroes Breakfast will take place virtually this year from 8-9 a.m., Wednesday, March 10. The annual event celebrates local people who were involved in selfless acts of courage and kindness during the past year. The award breakfast also serves as a fundraising event for programs and services provided by the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Chosen across a handful of categories, honorees at the Heroes Breakfast represent those among us who reflect what is best in our communities. The 2021 Heroes are:

Korey Maves (Dunn County) – award: Adult Good Samaritan

Libby Wiensch (Chippewa County) – award: Youth Good Samaritan

Will Gieger (Chippewa County) –award: Community Heroes

Vivian Swarey (Barron County) – award: From the Heart Hero

Lieske Gieske (Eau Claire County) – award: Healthcare Heroes

Grant Kjellberg (Eau Claire County) – award: Military Hero

Dennis Beale (Eau Claire County) – award: Hero of a Lifetime

Mayo Clinic Health System is the premier sponsor of this very special event. Additional sponsors include Xcel Energy, Marshfield Clinic, WQOW TV-18, Kaze Studios, Bauer Built Inc., Royal Credit Union, Ayres Associates, Security Financial Bank, Global Finishing Solutions, Westconsin Credit Union, Ayres Associates, Group Health Cooperative of Eau Claire, M3 Insurance, Mosaic Telecom, BMO Harris, Associated Bank, and Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.

To reserve your seat for this virtual event, https://NWHeroes.givesmart.com or call (715) 271-8395. Reservations for this virtual event are $10 and all proceeds go toward the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

519 people affected by spate of January home fires

During busy winter season, Red Cross shares preparedness reminders and resources

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Winter has brought a sustained escalation of home fires in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, with more than 500 people displaced in January alone, including at large apartment fires in Beaver Dam, Menasha and Milwaukee.

An apartment building in Milwaukee affected by a tragic fire in January 2021.

The American Red Cross has assisted approximately 519 people at 68 fires, which registers as more than two-per day and ranks on par with some of the busier months in recent years. That includes a fatal fire at a 106-unit building in the Burnham Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, one of the largest residential fires we’ve assisted with in recent years, as well as other apartment fires in Menasha (43 people), Beaver Dam (35 people) and elsewhere in Milwaukee (17 people). Separately, Racine has suffered four, single-family home fires in January, affecting 19 people, and Iron Mountain, Mich. has had two single-family home fires, affecting 10 people.

“While we prepare for an unfortunate rise in fires each winter, our teams have helped people through a particularly dense number of larger incidents, such as the three big apartment fires alone on January 28th,” said Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Executive Director, American Red Cross. “With these incidents still looming large, we’re encouraging people to take a moment and review their preparedness plans with their families, as well as to consider ways to join our mission.”

Examples of relief support by Red Cross disaster teams at these fires includes aid for temporary lodging at a local hotel, meals, and access to health and mental health resources. Volunteers and staff also work with residents on recovery plans to move forward during the protracted aspects of a home fire, like identifying longer term housing. This work is amplified by partners in service at communities across our Region.

The winter season typically brings an increase in residential fires, though our teams have been involved in a higher than usual number of large-scale fires going back to the start of the pandemic. Since March 2020, Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have been committed to internal and CDC protocols to ensure health and safety measures for everyone involved in our mission.

Home fire safety tips & resources

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Denise Bruneau, left, and Ranjit Verma collect more than 100 chicken wrap meals from our partner Alverno College for distribution to people at temporary sheltering after home fires.

The Red Cross is asking everyone to take simple steps to reduce the risk of a fire in your home and to help save lives:

  • Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in two minutes or less.
  • Test the smoke alarms in your home and replace deficient batteries or alarms. Teach children the sound of a smoke alarm when you practice your home fire escape plan.
  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as a neighbor’s home or a tree in the front yard, so everyone knows where to meet.
  • Bring home fire and disaster safety lessons into your school or organization. Click here to sign up for these free virtual preparedness courses.
  • For additional free resources and safety tips, visit redcross.org/homefires.  

You can support this ongoing mission for our neighbors in need by joining as a volunteer or by making a donation at redcross.org.

‘This is temporary’: perspective and perseverance power recovery after Menasha apartment building fire

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jo Ann Harris in a selfie.

Jo Ann Harris stood outdoors in flip flops and comfy clothes amid a Wisconsin winter afternoon, in “total shock” as a police officer told her the building she lives in was on fire.

She had left the apartment that morning for doctor’s appointments, on a seemingly ordinary Wednesday, never dreaming of the doubt and obstacles she’d come home to.

Yet just over a week later, she’s standing strong with the keys to a new apartment – and a newfound appreciation for those organizations that help others, like the American Red Cross.

“There’s so much good I haven’t been able to focus on the down times,” Harris said.

On the afternoon of Jan. 20, fire ripped through the Jefferson Court Apartments, ultimately displacing people from 24 units in the residential building near Jefferson Park in Menasha. In the initial response, Red Cross disaster teams established lodging, meals and immediate needs at a nearby hotel for Harris and nearly 30 other people.

Disaster teams from the American Red Cross at the scene of an apartment building fire in January 2021 in Menasha. Dozens of residents received relief and recovery help from Red Cross and partner agencies. Photo by Tom Nimsgern / American Red Cross

Harris moved into her apartment in 2016, up from Hammond, Ind. near her hometown of Chicago. In Menasha, she found a good career in customer service, and an apartment ideally located next to “beautiful” Lake Winnebago and run by landlords she had started to tease as “like my mother and father in Wisconsin.”

The fire took away that ideal apartment. But Harris has been able to pull a few priceless items from the wreckage – her family photographs central among them – and find perspective parallel to the pain.

“I’ve been really trying to keep it together. It’s a strain,” she said.

“But I’m very grateful, because God has made a way for people that don’t know me to be empathetic and show they care, show a caring spirit. You don’t always find that and the whole world is going through [a pandemic] right now. This happened, this fire, but then people helped, got me in a hotel, you’re eating every day, you’re making a way to move. I’m so grateful.”

Red Cross and a network of local service agencies – LEAVEN, St. Vincent de Paul, United Way, Salvation Army – rallied early on to see what recovery resources may be jointly available, with the future of the Menasha apartment building uncertain.

Your generosity brings relief in times of need to people in our community. Thank you for your support.

Harris has been a big advocate of LEAVEN since she arrived in Menasha and called them “a rock” this past week. In short order, she’s also grown close with Red Cross team members, like Sharon Holt, a volunteer from Combined Locks who has helped her with calls and reconnections to the numerous agencies that become disjointed after something as dire as a home fire.

Harris shows off the keys to a new place, just a week after experiencing a fire.

As Harris talked up getting the keys to a new place in Appleton, she acknowledged the gravity of the whole fire may yet come to her doorstep. She promised to keep moving ahead though, turning up the Marvin Sapp gospel songs when she needs a boost and reminding herself that she’s a witness to that lesson her mother often shared – help others because you, too, may one day need help.

“The representatives of the Red Cross, they give you empathy and they are on the frontline of helping,” Harris said. “Sometimes, we drop all our load on them, like they’re our therapists. I look at them, like, ‘They’re here to help me. They’re giving me their time.’ They helped me realize this is temporary.”

Your support of the American Red Cross enables our disaster teams to bring emergency relief to people like Jo Ann. Thank you for considering a donation to our humanitarian mission.

Red Cross teams with NFL to urge blood and plasma donation during National Blood Donor Month

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (Jan. 5, 2021) – The American Red Cross and the National Football League are teaming up this January, during National Blood Donor Month, to urge individuals – especially those who have recovered from COVID-19 – to give blood and to help tackle the national convalescent plasma shortage. Right now, more donors are needed to help hospital patients.

During this critical time, the Red Cross and NFL are thrilled to offer all those who come to donate an opportunity to receive a special thank you this month. Those who come to donate blood or platelets this January will be automatically entered to win two tickets to next year’s Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.* In addition, those who come to give January 1-20, will also be automatically entered to win the Big Game at Home package for an awesome viewing experience safely at home, with a 65-inch television and a $500 gift card to put toward food and fun.**

Individuals can schedule an appointment to give blood today with the American Red Cross by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or activating the Blood Scheduling Skill for Amazon Alexa.

“Blood and plasma donors who have recovered from COVID-19 may have the power to help critically ill patients currently battling the virus,” said Dr. Erin Goodhue, Red Cross medical director of clinical services. “With hospital distributions for convalescent plasma increasing about 250% since October, these generous donations are vital in helping to save lives throughout the winter – a time that is often challenging to collect enough blood products for those in need.”

As COVID-19 cases have risen across the U.S., so has the need for convalescent plasma – leading to a shortage of this potentially lifesaving blood product. Like “special teams” units on the field, COVID-19 survivors have a unique ability to make a game-changing difference in the lives of COVID-19 patients. Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 may have antibodies in their plasma that could provide a patient’s immune system the boost it needs to beat the virus.

How those recovered from COVID-19 can help

There are two ways COVID-19 survivors can help – through a convalescent plasma donation or by simply giving whole blood. Plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may be used to help COVID-19 patients. Health emergencies don’t pause for holidays, game days or a pandemic – blood is needed every two seconds in the U.S. to help patients battling injury and illness.

Blood donation safety precautions

To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, individuals who do not feel well or who believe they may be ill with COVID-19 should postpone their donation.

Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face covering or mask while at the drive, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance.  

“Your whole team has saved our lives”: the words of 2020 that stand out to me

By Mark Thomas, Regional CEO & Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, American Red Cross

“On behalf of our family, thank you so very much for all the help from the Red Cross. Words cannot describe how much you have helped us. You are all amazing. You have been the world to us, your whole team has saved our lives.”

A member of a family in Racine texted the words above to one of our dedicated Disaster Action Team volunteers. The family was one of a handful who had been displaced by a fire in October. Texting had been the fastest and safest way to connect the family with shelter, food and more in the aftermath of the fire that displaced approximately 40 people total. As this and other families made their next steps toward recovery, the volunteer shared the words from this text to the rest of us on the daily disaster response meetings.

In darkness and loss, this person in need reached out to share gratitude, positivity and caring. Although they wrote that “words cannot describe” their feelings, the consequences of your impact was on full display.

Volunteers Dave Flowers and Kevin Connell deliver relief resources to the Wisconsin National Guard at a COVID isolation site in spring. It was one of the many ways our teams rose to the challenge of humanitarian aid during the pandemic.

In this year with so much uncertainty, pain and, yes, death, I want to take a positive cue from one of the thousands of people we’ve helped. Rather than reel off grim reminders of 2020, I want to take the chance to shine a light. Three lights, actually, for the three words that stood out to me over the past 12 months.

With apologies to Merriam-Webster, my first word of 2020 is commitment. Your commitment as Red Crossers since spring has been nothing short of astounding. When the pandemic really hit here, we weren’t sure how we’d connect volunteers with clients or if we could even hold blood drives. I remember some terrifying scenarios floating around. You remained committed to our mission. You stayed committed through societal turmoil and the worst natural disaster season in recent memory. You exemplified why people believe in the American Red Cross.

Here I am donating blood at our Milwaukee headquarters, where, like at all our drives during the pandemic, temperature readings, masks and extra cleanings are part of the extra steps to make donations safe.

Looking back over the year, the second positive word that comes to mind for me is resilient. It comes in partnership with commitment, but shows our flexibility, creativity and humanity in making our mission happen. Think about the resiliency it took to pull off virtual fundraising galas and take on brand-new volunteer roles; to innovate on the fly with COVID antibody testing and convalescent plasma collection; to come together around difficult conversations in digital town halls on topics like racial equity and civil unrest. And then to keep ourselves and those we serve safe and prepared in everything else we do. For every fire and each blood drive, with any fundraiser and all our programs, you bounced back with new, evolving opportunities to help someone.

That brings me to my final word of 2020 – honor. I am honored to call you colleagues and teammates, to do this work and follow in your footsteps. It’s an honor to know that our commitment and our resiliency enable us to serve people in crisis, no matter how daunting the news. I’m honored to wear this Red Cross because of everything we can accomplish together for people who need us, in “normal times” or whatever is next.

(Re)introducing: Kyle Kriegl, Executive Director, Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

After more than 20 years in various leadership and service roles at the American Red Cross, Kyle Kriegl is coming back to where it all started.

Kyle Kriegl has been named the new Executive Director for the Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the Red Cross.

His Red Cross career started in 1997 as a health and safety director in Monroe and Juneau counties. After a stint in disaster and Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) in Portage County, he came to Madison to serve for years in emergency services and again in health and safety. During the 2000s, he also served as an interim executive in Racine and Janesville, as well as a national role to enhance chapter fundraising and service goals.

In 2008, he became the Chapter Executive in what is now the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter, the leadership role he’s held for the past 12 years.

Kyle Kriegl kicks off the 2020 Heroes Breakfast event in Eau Claire in March.

“I always wanted to come back to Madison if I had the chance. The years in Eau Claire [at the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter office] have helped me gain more executive experience – more experience in Training Services, International [Services] and SAF, Disaster Cycle Services, Biomedical Services. I have a good feel for all our lines of service,” Kriegl said. “I want to go and do great things in Madison.”

Over his career, he considers himself “lucky” to have worked with so many volunteers from the Wisconsin Region, including some from the Southwest Chapter like Sheila Sims and Dan Prevenas. And he said he’s stepping into this new role knowing that there are passionate, steady supporters and board directors, as well as a slew of successful blood drives like the annual “Beach Days” summer donation events in Madison.

Among his varied roles, Kyle shared a few of the Red Cross career highlights so far:

  • Reconnecting members of a Stevens Point family separated by strife in Cambodia, through his community partnerships and just before Christmas
  • Establishing a regional lifeguarding competition in Wisconsin Dells to encourage swim safety
  • Working with disaster teams to provide resources to families devastated by separate tornadoes in Chetek and Oakfield
  • Deploying to help people after Hurricane Katrina and 2003 flooding in Pennsylvania
  • Bolstering events like the annual Northwest Chapter Heroes Breakfast

Along with the career trajectory toward Madison, Kyle and his wife, Kristin, have family in Madison and love University of Wisconsin athletics – especially men’s basketball – and have nabbed pictures of every statue in the “Bucky on Parade” collection.

Kriegl, center, and Maggie Fischer, in volunteer services (at left), give items to volunteers at a 2018 appreciation event in Eau Claire.

Tom Mooney has been serving more than 12 years as Executive Director in the Southwest Chapter, in a dual role as Regional Chief Operating Officer (COO). The organizational shift to separate those roles enables Tom to solely focus as COO. 

Mark Thomas, Wisconsin Region Chief Executive Officer, said: “Tom has been a true community leader in every sense for the city and region he loves so much. We’re indebted to his years at the helm in the Madison area and look forward to the unique leadership he’ll continue to provide as COO.”

“In Kyle Kriegl, we have an experienced Red Cross leader with the drive to lead our mission in Madison, La Crosse, Beloit, Janesville, Tomah and throughout southwestern Wisconsin,” Thomas added.

Kyle’s first official day in the new Executive Director role is Monday, Nov. 30. For information on the opportunity to lead our Northwest Wisconsin Chapter, visit the Red Cross careers page.

American Red Cross seeks your community hero nominations for 2021 Brave Hearts honors

MILWAUKEE, Wisc., Nov. 24, 2020 – Do you know a hero living in our community? Someone who has saved a life or whose actions inspire others? Someone who makes southeastern Wisconsin a better place every day?

The Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross is now accepting nominations of inspiring local people for consideration at our 2021 Brave Hearts community heroes event. We’re looking for your nominations of people who have performed or continue to perform heroic acts in 2020 across a handful of categories.

Brave Hearts heroes are being accepted until Jan. 31 in the following categories:

George Koerner was selected as our most recent Military Hero for his passionate work with fellow veterans.
  • Community Safety, Security & Resiliency – use of knowledge, skills or research to provide aid to the life of another
  • Emergency Response – first responder exhibiting heroism on or off-duty, or in an ongoing and extraordinary effort toward community support
  • From the Heart – blood donor or blood drive supporter
  • Military – member of the Armed Forces exhibiting heroism in response to an emergency situation, on or off-duty
  • Youth – involved in a heroic act at 18-years old or younger

Nominees must live, work or the heroic act of courage or kindness must have occurred in one of the following counties: Dodge, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington or Waukesha. A specific heroic act must have occurred in the past year, from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020; an act of courage or kindness can be ongoing or have occurred at a particular time. From the nominees, a committee also selects a lifetime award for the Brave Hearts event.

Nominate a hero before Jan. 31 and find more details here: https://www.redcross.org/local/wisconsin/about-us/news-and-events/events/brave-hearts/brave-hearts-nomination.html

The annual Brave Hearts fundraising gala is slated to be a virtual event in May 2021.