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

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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.




The Power of Social Engagement

By Jody Weyers, Volunteer and Communication Director  @jweyers2

With smartphones, facebook, twitter and other social engagement platforms it is changing the way we communicate with people.  Working in the communications field for over 12 years at the American Red Cross, I have seen a lot of changes in technology, forms of communications, what works and what is outdated.

Over the last few years, on larger disasters I have seen how our National Headquarters team uses social engagement as a way to communicate with our clients, and as a way for the community impacted to communicate with us.

I have now experienced this power first-hand on the impact social media has in times of a disaster with the recent tornadoes and storms that hit Northeast Wisconsin on the morning of August 7.

Here are some real life examples of how we identified those who needed help and we were able to help:

Tweet from @WendyH0405:  @newredcross I’m in rural Hortonville and am wondering where to go to get ice thanks?

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I sent her my e-mail and she contacted me with her information and I was able to provide her number to our team delivering ice to call her when they were in the area. I am happy to say Wendy sent back an e-mail at 2:00pm that day, saying she was able to get ice and thank you!

Here is another success story.

Idell Johnnston @sfagentidell is a State Farm agent from Shawano, and has helped in the past with her family to canvas the area with fire prevention door hangers. She saw me on the news that night, wanted to help and followed up via facebook.  I made a call to the disaster lead and, yes, we did need some extra hands. Idell and her daughter came down to help give out ice all day at our Appleton Office.

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Social engagement cannot replace your traditional forms of communication. You still have to pick up the phone, meet people in person, and I am a firm believer of the hand written thank you note, but in times of disaster, and with social engagement being instant, this is just another tool to help the Red Cross connect with people and for people to connect with the Red Cross!

Thank you @lisajduff  for your nice message of appreciation!!!

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Get to Know our Volunteers: PaKou Lee

PaKou Lee started volunteering with the American Red Cross about 3 months ago.  You may see her name a lot on our blog, because she is assisting in our communications and social engagement department. We have so many stories to tell at the Red Cross, we just need more storytellers! Do you like to write, interview people, looking for experience in journalism or communications?  Think about volunteering for the Red Cross just like PaKou!  


Pakou LeeMy name is PaKou Lee. I’m an outgoing person and enjoy getting to know people. I’m ambitious and always have perseverance.  I’m an avid checker of my bucket list. I’ve been told I have a feisty personality and a great laugh.

Here are some fun facts about me:

Hometown: St. Paul, MN. Living in Green Bay for three and a half years.

Age: 23

Education: UW-Green Bay, 2012, Communication degree

Occupation: Health Advisor at United HealthCare, Vemma brand partner, & American Red Cross volunteer

Hobbies: Running, couponing, and watching my nieces and nephews grow up

Favorite TV: Raising Hope

Favorite Movie: The Little Rascals

Favorite Book: The Success Principles by Jack Canfield

Favorite Food: Sushi and curry noodle

Favorite Animal: Dogs

Favorite Quote: Don’t wait for sunshine, play in the rain

Why I volunteer for American Red Cross: I work in customer service so I don’t get to work with my passion: public relations and social media. I do enjoy my job, but I want to continue gaining PR and social media skills.  Also, I want to give back to the community because I think it’s important to take care of each other, especially in times of need. I’m happy to have Jody as my mentor because I’m gaining so much knowledge from her.

Barbara Behling Shares her Red Cross Deployment Experience

By Barbara Behling, regional community development officer for the Amercan Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin

Flag flies at Lowes store in Sanford.N.C. Amazing no one was hurt.

On Sunday, April 17th I was deployed to support North Carolina as a string of deadly tornadoes had ravaged the state. As a member of the Advanced Public Affairs Team, we are responsible for the early communications between local communities, affected chapters, emergency management and national media.

This disaster presented several challenges. No mercy was shown on several counties; more than twenty people were killed, hundreds of home destroyed, thousands damaged, and the scope of involvement from all partners (Red Cross, FEMA, Southern Baptist, Search & Rescue, Salvation Army, Tide Loads of Hope, etc) was immense.

More than a dozen shelters were established for temporary housing. In each, we coordinated “I’m safe and well” messages to families frantically searching for their loved ones. We provided a warm place to sleep, showers, hot food, snack, activities for the kids (this included an Easter Basket delivery made by local school group, with financial support from a local business). Most of all, we provided a respite of silence, support and hope.

My two favorite “safe and well” connections were regarding a 91-year old grandmother and her family out of state. On an even larger scale, we reconnected a military family near Fort Bragg with her deployed husband in Kuwait via assistance from their Puerto Rican family and the Puerto Rican Red Cross.

Our Counseling teams were working one-on-one with families who lost a loved one in the storms. They listened, supported funeral arrangements, encouraged the grieving process to continue, they cried and hugged each family member left behind. 

In neighborhoods, our damage assessment teams were recording the storms carnage so that we could provide additional financial assistance to storm victims. Each families needs are different and through the client casework process, we listened, documented and supported emergency basic needs.

Partnerships which were well established and those that “popped-out” of the blue were heart-warming. The Tides Loads of Hope cloth washing service was activated in two communities. The Southern Baptists were cooking food and our emergency vehicles delivered it door-to-door. The media was consummate partner, they ran stories of where people could stay, what emergency numbers to call, hosted telethons and more.

While Mother Nature wrath of destruction was at her worst. The people of North Carolina were at their best. It’s this collective spirit that will prevail.