Deployment Spotlight: Barbara Behling – Communications Officer – Shelter Keepsake & Autographs

Barbara Behling, left on Friday, May 16, 2014 when she got the call that her help was needed in the Red Cross response efforts for the wildfires in California. She flew back Wednesday, May 21, 2014 and here is one of the many stories she has written during her deployment. We thank Barbara for giving of her time and talent and for sharing the stories of how the Red Cross is helping those in need.

Photos & Story by: Barbara Behling, American Red Cross  

Eloise Aleman Pillow is autographed by Martin Astl

Eloise Aleman Pillow is autographed by Martin Astl

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Barbara Behling, (left) with Eloise Aleman and her signed pillow.

Pillow closeup

 

It’s not often you have to leave your home with a 5-minute warning but for Eloisa Aleman this was San Diego wildfire reality. From frantic moments she found comfort, friendship and compassion in the Mission Hills High School shelter for several days.

From a collection of individuals, a community was formed thanks to a sea of red vested American Red Cross responders. Each person was welcomed to their ‘temporary home’ with a safe place to sleep, food and snacks around the clock. Medical professions provided a watchful eye to ensure any health issues were addressed including replacing medications left behind from a hasty exit.  Compassionate care was provided to help calm fears and reduce stress as the flames grew and the smoke came closer.  Through partnerships, all their pets were housed, fed and even walked. A few individuals even slept next to their furry friends in separate quarters.

When the evacuation orders were lifted many returned home to resume normal daily activities. However, for some, a new reality was about to begin with clean-up to begin as their homes were reduced to ashes.

Eloise Aleman was so impressed with the hospitality! She wanted a lasting reminder.

“You are all like family!” she exclaimed.

So she wanted to keep her shelter pillow and pranced to each red vest for an autograph and a hug.  This act of appreciation, gratitude and memory will last a lifetime for each Red Cross worker.

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“Will My Children Remember Me?”

In honor of Memorial Day, we want to share with you a touching story and video about how a simple doll can help children cope with deployment of their mom or dad.

Story By:  Mar Tobiason, Meghan Spreer & Barbara Behling

American Red Cross volunteer Mar Tobiason presents Hug-A-Hero dolls to the Blankenship family.  Lillie (3 ½) and Hallie (2) along with their mother Katherine Blankenship were delighted with tears of joy.

American Red Cross volunteer Mar Tobiason presents Hug-A-Hero dolls to the Blankenship family. Lillie (3 ½) and Hallie (2) along with their mother Katherine Blankenship were delighted with tears of joy. Photos credit: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross Volunteer.

“Will my children remember me?”

That’s just one of the concerns military fathers have as they leave their young children for extended periods of time. Thanks to a partnership with the American Red Cross, children of the deployed 5th Marines Divisions, have a resounding “yes” to this question.

After two California wildfire evacuations for Camp Pendleton in California, the flames were extinguished and the families returned home to a very special gift from the Red Cross.  Bobby Ellison-Peck, Services to Armed Forces program manager, coordinates the Hug-A-Hero program with the support of military Family Readiness Coordinators. A full-length photograph is taken of each Mom or Dad and reproduced on a custom-made doll. The foot-high stuffed dolls also have words of encouragement such as “I Love You!” Tears of joy ran down the cheeks of moms after their child received the dolls. Many of the kids squealed with delight, “Daddy! Daddy!”

“It’s not just for the kids, it’s also for ‘me’” stated Melissa Rooks, who is also the Family Resilience Coordinator. “To be honest, I give him a squeeze and kiss too.” Melissa’s son Zachary received a Hug-A-Hero Doll five-years ago.  He still keeps it close to him day and night. “Through facial recognition, he remains physically and emotionally attached. It’s so much more powerful than a doll,” concludes Melissa.

The program is spearheaded by the Red Cross with funding from a Walmart grant. This is one program to help families and military members before, during and after deployments. To learn more about our support of military members and Veterans, please visit www.redcross.org/SAF

 

When You Lose Not Only Your Home, but Your Safe Haven

Barbara Behling, Communications Officer, left on Friday when she got the call that her help was needed in the Red Cross response efforts for the wildfires in California. She is flying back today, and here is one of the many stories she has written during her deployment. We thank Barbara for giving of her time and talent and for sharing the stories of how the Red Cross is helping those in need.

 May 18, 2014 – By Barbara Behling, Advanced Public Affairs Team, Harmony Grove, California Wildfire

Harmony Grove.spider

Harmony Grove home owner Chris Meredith (left) and Barbara Behling, American Red Cross by Koi pond. Photo by: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

It was not his home but his Koi pond that grabbed national attention.

The devastating San Diego wildfires of 2014 destroyed 25 of the 29 homes of the Harmony Grove Spiritual Association community. Yet, thirty-six of Chris Meredith’s forty Koi survived the burning embers. While watching news the day of the fire, Chris saw his home of 27-years go up in flames. Knowing the importance of this spiritual community, the fire department connected a generator to pump fresh air and clean water into the murky pond to increase chances of the Koi’s survival. The Koi Club of San Diego agreed to relocate the colorful fish until they can be returned to a rebuilt Harmony Grove.

When the first responders gave an ‘all clear’ for residents to return, the American Red Cross was there too. As Harmony Grove residents began searching through ashes, the pain of what was lost was apparent on their faces. Red Cross mental health workers were on the scene to talk with people, provide comfort and support them as a range of emotions swept over them.

Red Cross caseworkers were on hand to assist with short and longer-term recovery plans. Through a partnership with Campesinos Unidos, short-term lodging and emergency funding was provided for residents who lost their homes and all their belongings. The Red Cross also provided water, food, snacks, comfort kits and other supplies to residents returning to where their homes once stood.

With continued oversight by the Red Cross, each resident will have support for days, weeks and even months to come as Harmony Grove rebuilds its community.  “This is more than a home – it’s our safe haven,” Chris said.

Harmony Grove home owner Chris Meredith (right) and Barbara Behling, American Red Cross.  Photo by: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

Harmony Grove home owner Chris Meredith (right) and Barbara Behling, American Red Cross. Photo by: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross

Many of the residents were philosophical about the losses, emotionally supported by the spirituality of the community.  “With a wooden house and deck and surrounded by trees, it’s not a good combination. We are simply passing through this land and we take the experiences with us,” Chris concluded.

The Red Cross responds to nearly 62,000 residential fires a year and has trained disaster responders available to respond to disasters large and small.

The American Red Cross provides all their services as a gift to the American people from the American people.  If you would like to help us with a financial gift and learn about fire prevention, readiness and tips for disaster recovery please visit www.redcross.org.

 

 

 

Local volunteers play key role in national Red Cross disaster responses

Written by: Andy Thompson l News-Record Editor

Harvey Lorenz (right), Neenah, and Dennis Caillouet, North Carolina, learn how to use a handheld device for damage assessment in the area that was affected by Hurricane Isaac in Port Allen, La. Lorenz has been deployed to 10 Red Cross disaster relief missions. / Barbara Behling/submitted

When the American Red Cross put out a call for assistance in the wake of Hurricane Isaac in late August, Neenah’s Harvey Lorenz was quick to respond.

The 72-year-old Lorenz, a veteran Red Cross volunteer whose first deployment was in response to Hurricane Katrina, quickly packed a suitcase, boarded a flight and headed for the Gulf Coast.

“You get the word and within 24 hours you’re on the ground,” said Lorenz, a retired banker who has been on 10 Red Cross disaster relief missions.

Lorenz spent 16 days assisting hurricane victims in Louisiana. He flew into Houson on Aug. 30 and stayed in a shelter in Orange, Tex., because power was out at the Baton Rouge, La., airport. The next day, he traveled to Baton Rouge and stayed in a shelter for several days while assisting hurricane victims, most of whom were trying to cope with the flooding caused by massive rains.

The hurricane made landfall on Aug. 28 and caused significant flooding in coastal areas of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Lorenz was among 15 Red Cross disaster workers from northeast Wisconsin who were sent to the Gulf Coast to provide aid for victims of Hurricane Isaac. Barbara Pilon of Neenah served on a team coordinating the distribution of clean-up gear.

A considerable amount of Lorenz’ time was spent in Laplace, La., located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Not only did he assist with compiling hurricane-related financial estimates during his stretch in Louisiana, he assisted in damage assessment work and got involved in teaching other volunteers how to respond to the needs of storm victims.

When he was in Laplace, which had six to nine feet of water running through it because of the slow-moving storm, President Obama visited the community.

The work is often painstaking and the deployments are for indefinite periods of time, but Lorenz gets a great deal of satisfaction from assisting victims of disasters.

“It’s part of the recovery process,” he said. “I enjoy helping others. I’m not big on recognition, but what you do is really neat and a lot of people appreciate it. Down there (in the Gulf Coast), people have been through this so often. They are very resourceful.”

Barbara Behling, communications officer for the American Red Cross in Northeast Wisconsin, has high praise for Lorenz’ work on behalf of the Red Cross.

“Harvey tells it like it is,” said Behling, who spent two weeks in Louisiana assisting with the disaster response effort. “Harvey comes with a great sense of maturity. He’s not going to be shifted off course. He knows the mission and he knows what it takes to get it done.”

Behling said Lorenz does an outstanding job of keeping accurate financial records and data.

“He’s a finance guy by trade, but he understands the human side,” she said. “He has such a huge heart and he can really relate to people who have been affected (by disasters).”

Behling served as a public affairs chief during her deployment and focused on lining up the services that were vitally important to hurricane victims. She was based in Port Allen, which is close to Baton Rouge, but also spent some time in Madisonville, which was pounded by 16½ inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

She said houses were “wiped-off” their foundations by the torrential rains and water was “up to their eyeballs” for some residents.

“It was horrible,” Behling said.

Behling was impressed with the response to the hurricane by local, regional and national volunteers.

“You always see the best of humanity after a disaster,” she said.

— Andy Thompson: 920-729-6622, ext. 29, or athompson@newsrecord .net

My Hurricane Isaac deployment…

My name is Barbara Behling, the Chapter’s Communications Officer and I recently returned from my Hurricane Isaac deployment. On August 28, 2012 Isaac caused great damage and destruction: he also re-energized and mobilized communities.

With much anticipation, Isaac garnered strength while sitting in the Gulf Coast deciding if he would hit Tampa during the Republican National Convention or shift west and hit New Orleans, ironically on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Both presented logistical and emotional challenges. The story you may not have heard is that a few hours north of Louisiana, small inland towns such as Madisonville, Slidell and Baton Rouge were inundated with rain; up-to 16.5 inches fell in the same area in under 24-hours. For these small towns, this was much worse than Hurricane Katrina!

I learned of one lady whose house was filling fast with rain water. Afraid she and the children would drown inside, she perched her two children to her hips, their arms tightly around her neck. She started wading through the main street of town. Unbeknown to her, the man-hole covers blew-off due to the force of water. Within an instant, three lives were lost.

The forceful winds, torrential rain, flash flooding and threatening tornadoes were what Mother Nature handed us. What we gave back was just as powerful. The Red Cross mobilized 4,800 trained responders, each with a specific goal to help people. Each armed with skills, training and more compassion than you can ever know, we put our talents to work. We opened nearly 100 shelters, each a respite for those tired, hungry and emotionally drained. We partnered with groups such as the Southern Baptists, while they can cook from scratch hundreds of thousands of meals a day, they don’t have deliver vehicles. We do. In fact five Emergency Response Vehicles around Wisconsin were active in community feeding and outreach activities. Yes, our local volunteers drove our custom made vehicles, each with Wisconsin license plates to Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. From each, our teams loaded, hauled and distributed meals at local community centers, shelters, schools, churches and throughout neighborhoods. You see when the Red Cross vehicle is coming down your street, you not only receive a hot meal, cold water and snacks, you are met with a Midwest smile. As one driver stated, “sometimes it’s not just about serving the food, you just have to stop and give them a hug too.”

Damage assessment worker marking the damage to this Louisiana home.

As our damage assessment, health services, emotional health professionals and folks like myself travel down impacted roads we meet people like George Moore, whose home was severely damaged. With the dignity and pride of serving his country, he adjusted his military hat and jacket and went to work cleaning-up. “I have survived everything, hurricanes, typhoons and serving in the military during WWII. Red Cross was there for me in 1945 and they are here for me today.”  With George’s physical challenges, it was if he mustered the strength to stand at attention when neighbors and people he never knew walked into his yard and began picking up the pieces. While we handed each ‘George’ we met free cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items, our gift is so much larger. It’s the people who stand behind us to make this happen. Whether you are deployed, supporting our Chapters at home or making an in-kind or financial gift, you were there too.

Each time I’m deployed, certain names and moments are forever engrained in my memory. I first talked with Tammy Morris, from the Madisonville, LA church. She called and asked if I could drive down to support their community outreach day.  When I said, “sure” I could hear her strong voice drop to a cracking, soft-spoken “the Red Cross is always here for us.”  I left my lodging before 6:00a.m on a Saturday. When our eyes met, we instantly hugged. She shared with my team the plan for the day. Nearly 40 community groups were gathering at the church and at the ball field by 9:00a.m.  Each group would be assigned jobs to help their community recover. Right on time, and if on cue, three American Red Cross box trucks arrived. Two hauled pre-packaged clean-up kits and water neatly stacked on pallets, one had bulk items such as shovels, racks, gloves, coolers, and more. Then as if on cue again, the doors flew open and dozens of kids in matching shirts formed an assembly line to unload the trucks. Another team stacked the materials in the church. As the disaster victims, arrived at the church, they were greeted with yet another team that carried the materials to their cars. In some cases, groups followed the resident home and began the process of bailing out water, ripping-out carpet, tearing down drywall and more.

Still back at the church, another team was serving hot meals, delivered by a fourth Red Cross vehicle. Each person was given a hot meal, water, sports drinks and snacks. People also stopped at this point, to sit, to share their story with our trained personnel. You see, part of the healing process is sharing your story. We had licensed mental health professionals ready to listen. We had nurses administering first aid to those with small injuries so it wouldn’t be a larger problem later. We also started ‘client case work’ which is a way to help the resident identify their next steps, determine if they have the resources to recovery, we listened and guided them into recovery.

So I could have a lasting reminder of Tammy, Madisonville and Isaac, I asked if Tammy would record a short message. She obliged. I’ll cherish her kindness, her ability to rally a community, and her sweet hug.

To view additional pictures from Hurricane Isaac click HERE.

Fox Cities residents lend a hand in the Gulf

By Jim Collar:  jcollar@postcrescent.com

Disaster workers travel south to provide aid to hurricane victims

Neenah resident Harvey Lorenz arrived at an American Red Cross staging area in East Texas on Thursday ready to assess the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.

As the weakened and slow-moving storm soaked the Gulf Coast, Lorenz awaited word on when he’d put his training to use.

“I have no idea yet,” Lorenz, 72, said Thursday afternoon.

Lorenz is among 15 Red Cross disaster workers from northeast Wisconsin sent to the Gulf Coast to provide aid for victims of Hurricane Isaac. The hurricane made landfall late Tuesday and has caused significant flooding in coastal areas of Mississippi and Louisiana.

The Red Cross has deployed more than 2,700 trained disaster workers from across the country to offer aid in the Gulf region.

In the Fox Valley, Barbara Pilon of Neenah left for Texas on Wednesday to serve on a team coordinating the distribution of clean-up gear and Kathleen Brockman of Freedom headed to the Gulf Coast to help with health services. Dennis Nagan of Appleton drove the local chapter’s emergency response vehicle south and began distributing food, water and other supplies Thursday.

Barbara Behling, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Northeast Wisconsin, expects volunteers will be in the region for quite awhile.

Though Isaac didn’t carry the strength of Katrina seven years ago, Behling said, “this is going to be a long-term recovery effort for many of the people who live in that area.”

The first workers from northeast Wisconsin left for Florida a week ago thinking the Tampa area would suffer the brunt of the storm.

“No one can truly predict what Mother Nature is going to do,” Behling said.

Hurricane Isaac marks the 10th deployment for Lorenz, the Neenah resident who flew into Houston on Wednesday and traveled on Thursday to the Red Cross staging area in Orange, Texas, near the Louisiana border. His first deployment was in response to Hurricane Katrina, after which he worked as a case worker assisting evacuees in Tupelo, Miss.

His latest deployment has been “relatively chaotic,” said Lorenz, who spent Wednesday night on a cot in a church with 110 people. But he is happy to help bring comfort to disaster victims.

“I get a lot out of being able to help somebody,” Lorenz said. “It’s a meaningful experience to see your challenge, be put to use and see the results of the work being done.”

We Are All ONE

This post comes to us from Barbara Behling, who was deployed shortly after we heard about the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin

Dilys Rana, Barbara Behling and Naomi Berkowitz at Oak Creek vigil. The Red Cross had several emotional health professionals assisting people with the grief throughout the week.

Oak Creek, WI…On Sunday, August 5th a single gunman entered the Sikh Temple and fired rounds killing six at a sacred place of worship. The perpetrator was stopped by brave first responders. We may never know the single answer of ‘why’ this senseless tragedy happened at a sacred place of worship but what we have learned about the Sikh community is their resolve, and peacefulness is stronger than any bullet.

Almost immediately, the call for American Red Cross assistance was received. We activated numerous trained personnel to work with the affected communities. For the first responders, including SWAT, FBI, ATF along with local teams of police, sheriffs, and local officials have worked around the clock. It’s been several days since the shooting and we are still providing snacks, food, water, coffee and a moment of respite as crews continue to work tirelessly. They will solve the criminal investigation questions.

We also worked hand-in-hand with the families themselves. They were shaken, distraught, seeking answers and given the opportunity to enjoy silence amongst hundreds. Our mental health professionals were at their side, lending an ear, a shoulder, a tissue. I listened and watched Harans Farwaha share how his ‘young bride’ of 57 years was within 10 to 15-feet of the shooter. “Had he turned right instead of left, she would be gone today,” he explains as water wells-up in his eyes, tears stream from hers.

The Sikh Community believes in peace. Not once have we heard about hate or revenge. They simply want to heal and practice peace.

Tuesday evening was the Oak Creek community’s annual and pre-scheduled National Night Out. Thousands of families attended, gathered emergency planning information, shared their streets and interacted with the Sikh community. A candle-light vigil was also incorporated into the evening. The Sikh community shared their immigration story which brought them to the United States in 1912. With a strong work ethic, they built the railroads, farmed the land, became business owners and lived the American dream. They explained their three golden rules to remember their source, earn a living honestly and share with those less fortunate.

The U.S. Ambassador to India shared how this is ‘humanities night-out’ and “we all share a sense of deep sorrow and grief. India is a land of expressive diversity & nothing expresses it like the

Sikh community. Courage, commitment, giving, valor and patriotism are words we are defined by. This is a time of renewal and faith to the human family.”

Throughout the evening, you felt the international, language and custom barriers breaking down. This was not a day to reclaim what we lost but a day to reflect and embrace. It was stated, “we are not separated – just on different continents looking for each other.”

We are fortunate to have trained staff and volunteers from all cultures, background and education. This evening included a multi-lingual Red Cross volunteer who speaks English, Hindi and Punjabi – the traditional Sikh language. Although many in the community spoke English, several of the elders did not. It was through use of words, the traditional greeting (folding of hands with a slight bow) and the use of their fear none – frighten none mantra we all explored cultural differences together. Their doors will be open and ours are open as well.

Through this tragedy, we have all learned through actions, words and compassion. We, at the American Red Cross, are simply honored to help during this difficult time.

To view additional photos please click HERE.