From witness to volunteer: the expansive work of dedicated mental health volunteer Naomi Berkowitz

by Michele Maki, Public Affairs volunteer, American Red Cross

naomi berkowitzIn the 17 years since a deadly tornado jolted her psyche, Naomi Berkowitz has dedicated herself to the mental well-being of others experiencing tragedy as an American Red Cross mental health volunteer.

It all started when Naomi and her family were driving to Minnesota. Suddenly, the traffic stalled, and she noticed there was no oncoming traffic. As they were detoured, the family passed downed trees, debris and a Red Cross emergency vehicle. It was June 18, 2001, and a tornado had just ripped through Siren, Wisconsin, leveling much of the village and killing three people.

“We had no idea there had been a tornado outbreak that day. There was no siren and we had no warning.” Berkowitz remembered.

The images couldn’t be erased from Berkowitz’s mind, and when she returned to her home near Milwaukee, she drove to the chapter office of the American Red Cross and signed up as a volunteer.

Berkowitz worked professionally as a mental health therapist and it wasn’t long before she discovered that those skills were needed in the volunteer realm, too.

“Before this event in Siren, I had heard about the Red Cross. But, I didn’t realize the extraordinary lengths the Red Cross goes through to support those affected by disasters. I really, really had no idea.”

Berkowitz found out that there are many kinds of disasters and traumatic events the Red Cross will be called upon to respond and assist. These range from natural disasters like a flood or tornado, to events that require mass evacuations like an industrial explosion. It may also include mass casualty events like a mass shooting or transportation disaster.

downloadMay is national Mental Health Awareness Month, and Naomi’s skills and compassion provide a vital resource to innumerable local and national people affected by traumatic events, said Christie Catlin, Disaster Recovery Manager, American Red Cross of Wisconsin.

“There are so many aspects to recovery for the people served by the Red Cross. Naomi and her colleagues on the Disaster Mental Health team can be an amazing resource for clients who may be carrying incredible pain or stress,” Catlin said. “She’s also become a great voice and resource for her fellow volunteers on the frontlines, who are also dealing with these disasters. I’m proud to have Naomi on our team.”

Naomi Berkowitz has moved up the volunteer ranks to become the Disaster Mental Health Wisconsin Region Program Lead. She’s also been on numerous deployments across the U.S. Most recently, she was deployed for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and again for the deadly California wildfires and subsequent mudslides.

“We meet with those who have survived unthinkable trauma,” she said. “They’ve lost their home, possessions, and sometimes neighbors and loved ones. Our disaster mental health teams listen, without judgment, and offer emotional support and tools to help them with stress management, coping skills, and if appropriate, referrals to local resources.”  

Berkowitz added: “And always, all of our Red Cross services are confidential and free. These are trained mental health professionals and there is never any charge for Red Cross assistance. This is made possible by our generous donors.”

Berkowitz and her colleagues know that part of the recovery process for those affected by trauma, is navigating the triggers that can ambush a survivor after the event.

“Anniversaries can be very difficult. But if the individual prepares and understands this, they can be ready for all those feelings and memories that spring up,” she said. “We try to help prepare them and give them those tools for coping with it.”

Berkowitz explained further, with an example: “A couple of years ago there was a big condo fire. The main building was totally destroyed, and although the surrounding buildings were relatively undamaged, the residents that had been evacuated were still quite traumatized. They were really struggling. It had hit them: This could have been me!”

So, Berkowitz, gathered the Red Cross Disaster Action Team that had responded to the fire and some of the firefighters to meet with the residents. In this way, they had an opportunity to talk out and vent their experience and their fears. This was an important step for these residents in their journey to recovery.

The disaster mental health volunteers also help prepare communities for traumatic events. “Coping in Today’s World” is a program they offer to community leaders and groups.

“Programs like this can give a community some simple tools for handling stress and develop coping skills. It’s not therapy, but these are important support tools.” Berkowitz explained.

But, with multiple deployments each year to disasters like Hurricane Harvey, how do the Red Cross volunteers, themselves, cope with all the suffering they see?

Berkowitz explained: “We want to take good care of those kind hearts! During the deployments, we walk around, visit and remind our volunteers of the same things we tell our clients: be sure to drink your water and stay hydrated. Get appropriate rest, and eat healthy. Take a break and take a walk. And, if you’re feeling like you need some support, we’re here for you.

“After our volunteers return home, we follow up with a post-deployment follow up phone call just to check in on them. They’ve served long, long hours and been apart from family for weeks.  Coming back to ‘the world’ can be difficult. We want to support our volunteers in every way we can.”

Volunteers like Naomi Berkowitz continue to reach out to assist all in need: from a home fire to wildfire, from school shooting to train derailment, from volunteer to community group, the mental health volunteers from the American Red Cross are ready 24/7 to serve and assist. For more information on how you can help be more prepared or to become a Red Cross volunteer, visit here.  

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Wisconsin Floods — Red Cross Responds

Heavy rains caused flooding throughout Northern Wisconsin earlier this week. Since then, it’s been a flurry of flood relief activities with the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter leading the charge. Red Cross services have included providing clean up supplies, bottled water and connecting one-on-one with affected families who need shelter, health or other immediate disaster relief. An Incident Integrated Care & Condolence Team is also working with the families of the three fatalities.

Today, Red Cross workers are delivering clean-up kits (bucket, mop, broom, squeegee, gloves, bleach, brush, etc.) to the following locations:

  • Methodist Church, Hayward – 35 kits and Flood Recovery  Booklets
  • Minong, Town Hall, Washburn – 50 clean-up kits and Flood Recovery Booklets
  • County Health & Human Services, Ashland – 40 additional Clean-up kits, 60 cases of water, flathead shovels, garbage bags, gloves (Yesterday, 37 Clean-up kits, bleach, bottled water, perishable food and Flood Recovery Booklets.)

All locations listed above are coordinating distribution to the public.

As of Thursday evening, our Client Casework team met one-on-one with individuals/families affected by flooding and had opened 24 cases, with the majority being on the Bad River Reservation in Ashland County. Case work will continue through this weekend and by appointment should contact the Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 800-236-8680.

The Red Cross encourages residents to stay safe by following safety tips:

  • During cleanup, wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots.
  • Dry-out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building.
  • When in doubt, take it out! Remove all porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried. These items can remain a source of mold growth and should be removed from the home. Removal and cleaning are important because even dead mold may cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • To prevent mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent/bleach and water.
  • Homeowners may want to temporarily store items outside of the home until insurance claims can be filed.
  • Stay away from floodwaters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way.
  • Turn around, don’t drown. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.

We are greatly appreciative of Premium Waters and Kwik Trip who both donated pallets of water.

The best ways for you to help is by supporting our efforts with a financial gift or volunteering your time. We rely on volunteers to provide humanitarian relief during times of disaster and we’ll get you trained before the next disaster strikes.   To learn more, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Throughout Wisconsin, we respond to nearly 900 disasters every 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 http://www.redcross.org/Wisconsin or call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

 

 

Western Wildfires Do Affect Us

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

Red Cross workers witness the devastating affect of wildfires

The United States as a whole is in the midst of one of the worst, and most expensive, wildfire seasons on record. To-date this year, more than 8.5 million acres have burned. In addition to the wildfires currently devastating California, Red Cross disaster workers are assisting with relief efforts for an additional 26 large-scale active wildfires that are currently burning across Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

So far this wildfire season, Red Cross teams across multiple states have operated 52 shelters that saw over 2,400 overnight stays, served nearly 41,000 meals and snacks and distributed nearly 5,000 relief supplies to assist those impacted by raging wildfires. The Red Cross is also working with partners to provide care for evacuated pets and animals.

When disasters hit, the impact is felt far and wide – property is damaged, people are displaced, and lives are upended. But one of the greatest impacts of a disaster is often unseen: the effect on people’s emotional health and mental well-being. Trained Red Cross caseworkers are providing much needed mental health services for individuals and families impacted by these disasters, helping people deal with the intensity of the disaster and connect with additional resources within their community. And as fires continue to burn, Red Cross disaster workers are also looking ahead to coordinate recovery efforts for both individuals and families impacted and displaced by these devastating fires. The Red Cross will continue to work within communities to provide the needed resources to help people respond and recover from wildfires – even after the smoke clears.

Disaster Preparedness

People in the path wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather should download the Red Cross Emergency App for real time access to weather alerts, preparedness information, safety tips and shelter locations. The Emergency App provides expert advice on what to do during floods, tornadoes, wildfires and other disasters. The app also provides lifesaving information on emergency first aid for various situations such as what to do for heart attacks, heat-related emergencies and includes water safety tips. Pre-loaded content ensures that guidance from Red Cross experts is available anytime, anywhere – even without mobile connectivity. The Emergency App is available for free in app stores for smartphones and tablets and can also be found by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/apps.

Wildfire Tips

With no end in sight to critical fire weather in the affected states, the Red Cross has safety steps people should follow if they live in an area where a wildfire is possible:

  • If a wildfire threatens, be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
  • Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room or spot so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Click here for additional safety information, including what do to before, during and after a wildfire.

  • To support wildfires and residential fires alike, please consider making a financial contribution at redcross.org/donate
  • To become a disaster responder like Gene Wallis and Vicki Gurriell, you can start your volunteer application at redcross.org/volunteer

April Volunteer Spotlight: Linda Arnold

MaxCongratulations to Linda Arnold of Milwaukee on being named one of the April 2015 American Red Cross Volunteers of the Month!

Intrigued by what nurses could do to help clients affected by disasters, Linda joined the Red Cross in February of 2008. Linda explains, “my daughter had volunteered for Red Cross when she was an undergrad at UW-Milwaukee (First Aid Service Team), so I checked it out and met April Eagleboy who was in charge of staffing and new volunteers at the time. She [April] was a good recruiter, and I took a number of classes at the Red Cross “Institute” a month later. In April there was a tornado outbreak in Atlanta and I was deployed. It was only a 6-day deployment, but by the time it ended, I was hooked on the Red Cross.”

Volunteering about 40-hours per week, Linda works in Disaster Cycle Services as the Health Services Lead for the state. Linda has taken the initiative to build the department by making policies and procedures strong, repeatable, and expandable. She has also invested a great deal of time building capacity among Health Services volunteers. Linda has set standards, developed organizational charts, and established efficient chains of command. Because of Linda, Health Services is stronger both in our region and nationally as well!

When asked about her favorite moment with the Red Cross Linda explained, “I would say it is not a moment, but a deployment. I was sent to Super Storm Sandy in New York just before the storm hit. I was on one of the last flights into New York before the storm. I was sent to Long Island to teach and mentor the Health Services Lead and to manage Health Services there. When I arrived, there were 10 shelters open with 1500 people in them. We worked together that night to get medications for 80 people who critically needed them. We worked all night with a pharmacy that had a small generator and was willing to help and asked the nearest open hospital if they could send a doctor to write prescriptions for the people who needed them…I stayed approximately two months and developed a long lasting friendship with the volunteer I mentored.”

Linda encourages everyone to consider volunteering their time with the Red Cross, “You can find something you enjoy doing by volunteering with the Red Cross. You can feel good about the work that you do. You can spend as much or little time as you have to give. You can make friends with people you would have never met otherwise. You can use your lifelong skills to learn new ones. You will have precious memories from working with the people who have been affected by disaster and may see parts of the country you’ve never seen before. You can be part of the solution!” Thank you, Linda, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!

To learn more about how you can get involved, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer or contact the office of Volunteer Services at volunteerwisconsin@redcross.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Maxine Klumb of the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter

maxineCongratulations to Maxine Klumb, of Oshkosh, on being named one of the March 2015 Volunteers of the Month by the American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region.

Retired, and eager to keep busy with volunteer work, Maxine joined the Red Cross in September of 2009. “After working in the health profession helping people in need for 30 years, I figured that this would be a good fit for me,” explains Maxine.

Volunteering about 18 hours per week, Maxine wears a number of very important hats – she is a Casework Supervisor for Northeast Wisconsin, Fox Valley Disaster Action Team Captain and Co-Chair, and a member of the Regional Disaster Planning Leadership Team. Maxine also assists with preparedness activities and deploys on national operations. According to her nominator, Nick Cluppert, Disaster Cycle Services Program Manager, “Maxine is always willing to help wherever she can. She has taken on a number of responsibilities for Disaster Cycle Services, and excels in all of them!”

Maxine’s work impacts the Red Cross every day. Maxine stays busy making sure that clients’ needs are always met on time. When cases are opened, Maxine ensures the case is assigned to a casework volunteer and the necessary steps are being followed to meet the client’s disaster causes needs. As a Fox Valley Co-Chair, when new volunteers come on board she will make sure they are assigned to a team and have all necessary supplies and resources to do their jobs.

“Maxine is dedicated and knowledgeable about what she does. She is reliable, and is always someone you can count on…Just this past month Maxine has gone above and beyond. There was a single family fire in Waupaca County, Maxine lives in Winnebago County, and when we were not able to get someone to respond she was on her way to assist the family. She also did a deployment recently to Washington State for a flooding operation. Maxine was recruited for her knowledge of the Client Assistance System. Upon her return, she literally landed at the airport I called her, she was then responding to an apartment fire in Menasha that had displaced 50+ residents…If this isn’t dedication and going above and beyond I don’t know what is!” Nick exclaimed.

Maxine encourages everyone to join as volunteers of the American Red Cross. According to Maxine, “there is always a need for volunteer help. You will love the feeling you get after you have helped someone, be it a single house fire or a major disaster. You can volunteer as much or as little as you desire.”

Thank you, Maxine, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!

Right now, the American Red Cross has many volunteer opportunities, including becoming a disaster responder, supporting military troops, teaching life-saving first aid and CPR, and many more. Red Cross volunteers are united by their service and the feeling that in changing others’ lives, their lives are also changed.

To learn more, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer or contact the office of Volunteer Resources at volunteerwisconsin@redcross.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Phyllis Wiggins from the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter

phyllisCongratulations to Phyllis Wiggins of Milwaukee on being named one of the March 2015 Volunteers of the Month by the American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region.

Phyllis joined the Red Cross in March of 2013, and her motivation to volunteer came from an incredibly unique experience. Phyllis explains, “When I was in the military, I was accused of a heinous crime. Of course, I didn’t do it but I was imprisoned. Since I did not have a lawyer, nobody in my family could find me. My family contacted the American Red Cross and Red Cross found me!  They provided my family with the contacts and advice they needed to help me get out of prison. I could not wait to get out of the military and volunteer with the organization that helped my family, when I could not.”

Volunteering about 30 hours per week, Phyllis works as a Chapter Logistics Lead. Within logistics, she is involved in six different activities – transportation, warehousing, supply, facilities, life safety & asset protection, and procurement.  As a leader, she is responsible for building capacity, training, and mentoring volunteers. Phyllis has also deployed on several national operations.

Phyllis recently led the new Logistics team through a massive undertaking…cleaning up the Milwaukee office’s basement! Through this project Phyllis engaged a team of more than 10 volunteers. The new space is being used to house the logistics team. Phyllis’s nominators, Kyle Roeder and Nicole Gulatz of Disaster Services and Fund Development described her as “determined, positive, persistent, organized, and willing to improvise and do whatever needs to be done to get the job done!”

“I love the fact that the American Red Cross will help anyone in need. We do not discriminate against anyone and gladly provide valuable services to people when they most need it. It is very fulfilling, to me, to help for no reason other than someone needs help.”

Phyllis encourages everyone to consider volunteering their time with the Red Cross, “If you love to help others while others help you; If you love to give for the sake of giving with no expectations other than to help others; If you love giving your all to a cause you truly respect and are passionate about; If you can imagine yourself going to places where everyone needs your help and you can give it; If you love to be the best you can be and give the best you can give, volunteer for the Red Cross!”

Thank you, Phyllis, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!

Right now, the American Red Cross has many volunteer opportunities, including becoming a disaster responder, supporting military troops, teaching life-saving first aid and CPR, and many more. Red Cross volunteers are united by their service and the feeling that in changing others’ lives, their lives are also changed.

To learn more, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer or contact the office of Volunteer Resources at volunteerwisconsin@redcross.org.

Community Partnerships a Must in Helping People Recover from Disaster

by Nick Cluppert, Disaster Program Manager, American Red Cross 

Nick Cluppert, Disaster Program Manager, presenting  to volunteers and community partners in West Bend.

Nick Cluppert, Disaster Program Manager, presenting to volunteers and community partners in West Bend.

Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs) are a newer concept that can be used following a disaster to provide services to clients. MARCs are locations that are set up where different organizations come together under one roof to provide services to those affected by the disaster. The MARCs allows clients to come to one place to receive services, and prevents that client from having to go to multiple places to receive services to help with their recovery efforts.

The Red Cross has been doing a number of informational sessions on MARCs that volunteers and community partners have been invited to attend to learn more information. Three separate sessions were held in West Bend, Neenah and Fond du Lac in September and October. Between the three sessions 81 volunteers and community partners attended to learn more about MARCs and how they can benefit the community and individuals following a disaster. By holding these informational sessions we were able to educate our partners on what MARCs are, so when a disaster happens they will already be familiar with the concept. New partnerships and agreements are being formed because of these sessions. It is exciting to see the collaboration that had developed between agencies by bringing people together with a common goal – helping disaster clients with their recovery.

We will continue to work with the partners that have come to these sessions, as well as those that did not come to continue to develop plans and procedures on how we will bring a MARC together following a disaster.

There will be additional MARC informational sessions planned for the future. If you or your agency are interested in learning more please contact Nick Cluppert, Program Manager, at 920-231-3692 x19 or nick.cluppert@redcross.org