Readiness, Service and a Fire Close to Home: Our First Year Together

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

It was December 2018 and, as always with the holidays, it was time for family updates. Checking in with siblings, relatives, loved ones, a roundup on new jobs, relationships, babies and other benchmarks.

From my sister, the update was initially grim: my nephew in Racine had suffered a home fire.

Mark Thomas headshot proThat’s the kind of news that puts so much into perspective. She said he and his girlfriend had gotten out safely. They lost many possessions, including gifts from the holidays. But, as my sister said, they had hope right after the fire, because that’s when they received comfort and help from volunteers at the American Red Cross.

My sister and nephew didn’t even know I had started a new career at the Red Cross. This was just weeks after I had joined. The story from my sister was an unfiltered acknowledgement that fires didn’t just happen to other people. And that hope and help came from the Red Cross for everyone in need, my family included.

Once I had the chance to share about my new role at the Red Cross, I knew from my family’s story that I had come to the right place.

I’m happy to report that my family is back in their place and on solid footing. As for me, I’m now at one year as Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive with the Red Cross. On this anniversary and during a time of year when people are extra reflective, I wanted to revisit a few of the milestone moments from another outstanding year of service by your Red Cross in Wisconsin. I also wanted to share a big lesson I’ve learned and the vision I have for the time ahead.

But back to 2019. As the anecdote I shared at the start shows, our programs and mission became very real in my life right away. Here are a few, high-level bullets of the stand-out moments our Region has been involved with over the past 12 months:

January

  • Received the “Region of the Year” recognition for the fundraising success of my predecessors and present leaders on our fund development team
  • Brought together our Southeast Chapter Board for my first full meeting (special shout-out to board chair Becky Fitzgerald for your leadership and guidance)

February

20190223_102432

With our team at the Milwaukee Stand Down, held at the Armory. 

March

  • Met people displaced by a large-scale apartment fire in Bayside, including a dear friend and a local reporter brave enough to share her story
  • At a shelter from ice jam flooding in Fond du Lac, watched as strangers brought a turkey on their Harley for people who were displaced, and was impressed by all the volunteers who kept spirits high (my teenage daughter was wowed, too, and impressed me by putting on a Red Cross vest and pitching in)

April

  • Welcomed and enthused by our staff at our first, in-person meeting in Madison
  • Those feelings multiplied this same month on an introductory meeting with my national colleagues at the historic Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C.

May

June

July

  • Able to notch success in nearly every way for our fiscal year, which ended in June
  • Completed my first CPR training
  • Worked alongside local and national Red Cross teams at the LULAC Convention in downtown Milwaukee
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Meeting disaster volunteer Ryan Clancy before he headed to help during Hurricane Dorian. Also met a few members of the Milwaukee media, who helped share Ryan’s journey.

August

  • Talked with volunteers as they flew off to the large-scale response to Hurricane Dorian and other flooding and fires – what an impressive machine to help people in desperate need

September

October

  • Grateful to have Greg Novinska take a new role with our biomedical services team, my colleague in everything happening behind the scenes to merge the full power of the Red Cross for people in our state

November

  • Cold weather came early, and with it, the typical spike in home fires … thankfully, our volunteers around the state have once again answered the call for families displaced by this every-day disaster
  • Had important discussions around inclusion and diversity with our talented Wisconsin leadership team, such a vital part of plans to make our organization the best place it can be for everyone

December

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Kids in Milwaukee enjoying swim lessons, with the promise of many more to come thanks to the Centennial Campaign and Milwaukee Rec.

There has been so much from those events and more that have impressed, humbled and energized me about the work we do. From it all, two ideas stand out.

The first is readiness. That word – readiness – means so much more to me, now that I’ve seen us in action. Home fires, floods, staff meetings, volunteer recruitment, fundraising, blood collection, outreach to military families … even as these words are coming together, our teams in Osseo are wrapping up a reception center for people affected by a massive car pile-up. Just before I pulled together these thoughts, one of our long-time and wonderful volunteers, Marge, stopped in and reminded me of the value of openness and being ready to share her passion and ideas for our mission. The countless ways readiness is part of our service at the Red Cross keeps what we do exciting and important.

From that important lesson on readiness, I have a solid foundation on how we build for the days ahead. We have a very strong network across Wisconsin. I am committed to making sure our core service is focused on our customers – including people in need, our volunteers and our supporters – and that it remains inclusive to all. There have been incredible people who have sustained and led this organization for more than 100 years in our state. I will carry that legacy of service. And I aim to make sure every community we serve knows the Red Cross is here to help, the right way. With you, I know we can help our friends, family and neighbors in need for the next 100 years – and beyond.

Tornadoes, power outages, extreme heat and an explosion: how Red Cross ‘helped our communities’

Story and photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Elizabeth Arnold forked into another bite of spaghetti in red sauce Tuesday afternoon in the cafeteria at Menominee Tribal School in Neopit. Just moments before, Arnold and others eating in the lunch room applauded at the announcement by officials that power had been fully restored for the first time since Friday’s wild storms.

Elizabeth Arnold Laurel Russ Tribal School meal select July 23 2019

American Red Cross volunteers Laurel Cooper, left, and Russ Van Skike serve up a warm, tasty meal of pasta to Elizabeth Arnold on Tuesday in Neopit.

“This is the first warm meal I’ve had since Friday,” Arnold said between bites of pasta.

The American Red Cross partnered with Salvation Army and leaders from the Menominee Nation and Menominee County to serve the lunch for dozens of families on Tuesday. The groups also provided information on power outage preparedness and dealing with food spoilage. It was part of an ongoing, statewide response by the Red Cross, which kicked off in earnest with an explosion in Madison on Friday morning and then continued into the week following thunderstorms, hail, small tornadoes and extreme heat that blasted across Wisconsin.

The Red Cross has established, partnered with or supported approximately 14 reception centers – located along the path of storms and destruction from Neopit to Mishicot, from Appleton to Waupaca, and from Madison to Balsam Lake – for residents in need of water, snacks, power and sometimes meals and showers. Through Tuesday afternoon, the Red Cross had provided nearly 1,400 hot and pre-packaged meals along with 570 cases of water across the state. Operations have also been set up to help with sheltering of clean-up partners like Team Rubicon in Langlade County and canteening for search and rescue teams in Menominee County. From Friday into Saturday, volunteers ran a cooling shelter at the Alliant Energy Center as the city of Madison dealt with a power station explosion that knocked out electricity during the brunt of a heat wave. Roles at Red Cross have been predominately run by a team of approximately 50 volunteers. Gov. Tony Evers has declared a State of Emergency from the storms. In partnership with county, state and tribal leaders, the Red Cross remains committed to bringing immediate needs and resources to residents affected by this devastating wave of storms.

From bottom right Emmeretta Corn Chantel Alveshive Kewascum Rosie Ricky Lee Stalla Joseph Tribal School July 2019

The whole family shares a laugh at youthful antics Tuesday during a lunch served at Menominee Tribal School. Pictured are, from bottom right, Emmeretta Corn, Chantel Alveshive, Kewascum, 4, Rosie, 3, Ricky Lee, 8, Stalla, 2, and Joseph, 4. 

After her meal, Arnold, a Menominee County board supervisor, loaded up extra meals into her truck to take to neighbors in Keshena also dealing with outages and unable to make the Tuesday lunch service. She turned to Red Cross volunteers: “Thank you for everything. You really helped our communities out.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, remnants of sheer winds and some of the verified tornadoes remained very present, like in Elderon, where trees were pulled from the ground with densely exposed roots and earth, and in Knowlton, where barn siding was ripped off and coiled across properties. At the fire department in Rosholt, volunteers have kept the doors open 24 hours for people in need of water, showers and somewhere to plug in. Here, the Red Cross has played a support role with water while keeping in contact with Portage County officials on immediate needs. Rosholt F.D. Chief Greg Michelkamp said the department generator had been cranking full-time since Saturday and that he hoped his neighbors would have the lights back on soon, for risk of longer term needs like sheltering or mass feeding.


For the latest weather alerts, preparedness tips and shelter info, download the free American Red Cross Emergency App here or in your app store.


In Appleton on Monday, one of two reception center sites operated from a community room at the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department. There, a family of three recharged phones and contacted family via text and social media. KaZoua Lee scrolled through Facebook and said it was nice to have a place to plug back in and “let people know” they were OK, even without power for a few days. The three listened as a neighbor shared her stories of the storm and subsequent outage while her phone juiced up. Volunteer Sharon Holt of Combined Locks said the stories were typical from the more than 150 people who paced in and out of the center since Sunday morning.

Knowlton barn siding tornado July 2019

A confirmed tornado from weekend storms peeled off siding from this barn in Knowlton, Wisc.

Blocks from the Appleton site, mangled trees lined residential neighborhoods on either side of Highway 47, especially around the Erb Park area. City crews and electric company line workers were always within view or earshot. Neighbors likened this damage to the storms and weak tornados in 2016. David Williams, a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer with the Red Cross, was himself still running off a neighbor’s generator as he cleared away a smashed fence and broken tree limbs. Williams said he and his mother were lucky to have such community support.

“A lot of damage, but we’ll be alright,” Williams said.

Red Cross will continue to partner with local and state agencies in the days and weeks ahead as our neighbors continue their recovery.

Your generosity enables the Red Cross to mobilize support to people in need, up the street and across the county. Consider a donation to support volunteers and resources for people affected by a disaster. Click here to take action.

Mark Thomas to join American Red Cross as Wisconsin Region CEO, SE Chapter Executive

The American Red Cross today welcomes Mark Thomas as its new Wisconsin Region CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive.

Mark Thomas - headshot Dec 2018Thomas has deep nonprofit and for-profit executive experience, with strengths in sales and operations management, and strategic leadership skills. Thomas has led or participated in fundraising efforts for The American Heart Association, United Performing Arts Fund and The United Way. Most recently, he served as Vice President and COO for the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee.

Thomas said the people and mission of the American Red Cross provide an opportunity to extend his professional expertise and his dedication to Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

“The staff, volunteers, donors and advocates at the Red Cross provide our state with a powerful resource for positive change, from home fire recovery and military support, to safety training, responses to national disasters and ensuring a strong blood supply,” Thomas said. “I am grateful to help lead such a highly regarded organization with a commitment to Milwaukee and Wisconsin that spans more than 100 years.”

His professional background also includes leadership roles at The Milwaukee Business Journal, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A Milwaukee native who lives in Mequon with his family, Thomas has and currently serves on numerous nonprofit boards, and has been recognized on numerous occasions for his contributions to the community.

Patty Flowers, the prior CEO and Chapter Executive, retired recently after eight-and-a-half years of remarkable growth and collaboration across the five chapters and two biomed territories in the state.

For more information on other Wisconsin Red Cross executives and locations, click here.

Thomas officially starts his leadership role effective Dec. 12, 2018.

Words of Hope & Support from our Volunteers!

Written By: Deanna Culver, Red Cross Volunteer, 09/12/2017

I am a Red Cross Volunteer
Volunteering is what we do
Today, tomorrow, and the next day too
Helping people on their recovery begins with steps
Together we’ll work on cleaning up the confusion and mess
Eager to assist and ready at a moment’s notice
Helping people and meeting new friends is an added bonus
Volunteering is given from within our hearts
Today, and tomorrow right from the start
Resources and guidance a soft loving gesture in a time of need
To help get people back on their feet
Disasters happen day and night
Red Cross volunteers lead the way with a shining light
Eyes of care watching over you
Smiles to brighten your hearts that turned heavily blue
Rather on the phone or in a shelter
We’re here to help you fill alittle better
Listening, sharing, and caring to help guide you
Nothing is to tough for us to help you through
For helping people far from home and near
I am a Red Cross Volunteer

Red Cross continues to provide support in Southeast Wisconsin

The American Red Cross continues to provide assistance to Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth County residents after being hit with severe flooding.  Red Cross, with partnering agencies, opened three Multi-Agency Resource Centers where residents were assisted with immediate disaster recovery needs.

To date, the Red Cross has:

  • served 480 clients
  • provided 493 meals
  • distribution 1,689 clean-up kits
  • served 1,748 snacks
  • provided clients with 4,315 bulk items, such as bleach, gloves, and garbage bags

The Red Cross work continues in the Kenosha, Racine and Walworth communities and throughout Western Wisconsin.

If you affected by the storms and have questions or immediate needs, please call 414-345-8678.

How you can help

The Red Cross and the communities it serves rely on local volunteers to provide humanitarian relief during times of disaster. You can become a Red Cross volunteer in your community when disaster strikes. To learn more, visit redcross.org/wisconsin.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation’s blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. The Wisconsin Region serves 5.8 million people across Wisconsin and Houston County Minnesota.  For more information, please visit redcross.org, follow our statewide blog at redcrosswisnews.org and follow us on Twitter @redcrosswis

The Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross responds to nearly 900 disasters a year. You can help people affected by disasters like home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Click redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross Wisconsin Region, 2600 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233

 

Peta Murgatroyd and Maksim Chmerkovskiy to Participate in Dancing with Our Stars Finale

The 10th and final edition of the American Red Cross Dancing with Our Stars (aka DWOS) event, which will be a two-night extravaganza in late February, will feature appearances by professional ballroom dancers Peta Murgatroyd and Maksim Chmerkovskiy thanks to a sponsorship by Jack’s Maintenance. Billed as “ Dancing with Our Stars 2018: All – Star Edition , presented by the Schneider Foundation ”, local community members who participated in previous years are returning to once again be Star Dancers. Peta and Maks will serve as celebrity judges for the Saturday, February 24, 2018 ballroom dance show. They will also make an appearance at a Disco-themed Dance Party fundraiser the night before. Both events will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the KI Convention Center in downtown Green Bay. People in attendance will receive the chance to win personal experiences with Peta and Maks including the opportunity to dance with them.

While this is the first time Maks will be part of DWOS, it marks Peta’s third appearance as she previously participated in 2014 and 2015. Murgatroyd is well known for teaming with Green Bay Packers legend Donald Driver to win Season 14 of ABC-TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

People interested in purchasing tickets should send an email to: redcrossdwos@gmail.com.

The goal of this final DWOS campaign is to raise $600,000. In its nine-year history, DWOS has raised more than $2 million. These are the DWOS alumni lacing up their ballroom dancing shoes one more time:

  • Anna Allen
  • Chelsea Anderson
  • Billi Jo Baneck
  • Keith Cronin
  • Kati Donaho
  • Mary Gronnert
  • Tracy Lemsky
  • Emily Matesic
  • Zeb Metzler
  • Bill McGlin
  • Pam Niles
  • Lisa Pritzl
  • Adam Rockman
  • Stacy Stecker
  • Dan Terrio
  • Jody Weyers
  • Marty Williams
  • Kelly Wolff

Paul Kardish of Schneider is also joining the team, taking the place of Chris Lofgren who participated in DWOS 2014.

All funds raised support disaster prevention, preparation and relief, the life-saving training of first aid, CPR/AED classes, collection and testing of blood and blood products, support to military members serving around the globe and international programs.

More event details can be found on the following Red Cross platforms:

Donation page: https://www.crowdrise.com/redcrossallstars

Dancing with Our Stars blog: http://redcrossdwosblog.org

Facebook All-Star Page:  https://www.facebook.com/RedCrossAllStars/

Twitter: @redcrosswis

Use #RedCrossAllStars and #DWOS18 to join the conversation on social media!

About the American Red Cross: The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

Red Cross supporting families affected by Wisconsin corn mill explosion

Cambria, Wis., June 1, 2017 – Following a deadly corn mill explosion in Cambria, Wis., on June 1, the American Red Cross is providing the affected families with emotional support services.

“Trained mental health counselors are on-the-ground working directly with the people impacted by this tragic event,” said Barbara Behling, spokesperson for the American Red Cross Wisconsin Region.

When people experience a disaster or other stressful life event, they can have a variety of reactions, all of which can be common responses to difficult situations. These reactions can include:

  • Feeling physically and mentally drained
  • Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics
  • Becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis
  • Arguing more with family and friends
  • Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. Try to accept whatever reactions you may have. Look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your disaster-related needs and those of your family.

The Red Cross advises parents to keep a close eye on the children. When disaster strikes, a child’s view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. Children of different ages react in different ways to trauma, but how parents and other adults react following any traumatic event can help children recover more quickly and more completely.

For additional information visit redcross.org.

Media Contact:

Barbara Behling, barbara.behling@redcross.org

American Red Cross

920-642-0404