‘Grateful’ installers, recipients of free smoke alarms and fire escape plans

By Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross

Dora Hogan was singing a grateful tune after a friend in her choir said she could get free smoke alarms installed in her Milwaukee home. American Red Cross volunteers who made the installations were grateful, too.

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American Red Cross volunteer Jordan Davis, right, talks over a home fire escape plan with Dora Hogan, left, & Alisa Jones. 

Hogan, a grandmother living on the west side of the city, said a smoke alarm in her living room had fallen from her ceiling, which made it difficult for her to replace. With family – including her beloved grandchildren – visiting often, Hogan found it essential to reach out to the Red Cross on their standing offer to provide free smoke alarms to those who need them.

Hogan made an appointment for the alarms (click here to find out how) and two Red Cross volunteers came to check out her home fire safety needs. Along with the living room replacement alarm, Red Cross volunteer Jordan Davis found another alarm in one of the bedrooms with a 1997 expiration date. A few additional alarms were in order, too, posted in important spots in the home to give Hogan peace of mind. Davis tested the alarms and, with a beep, everyone knew that the home was a safer place.

“The smoke alarms could save a life, especially with a lot of grandkids here all the time,” said Alisa Jones, Hogan’s daughter, who was present during the installations. “They could be doing anything: cooking, curling irons left on … I’m very grateful that we have the smoke alarms.”

Along with the alarms, Davis sat with Hogan and Jones to review fire safety tips and a fire escape plan. With these plans, in case of a fire, Hogan’s family will know exactly what to do and how to stay safe outside the home.

Sound the Alarm logoIn addition to installing smoke alarms, Davis volunteers on the Milwaukee area Disaster Action Team (DAT), a role that puts him in a place to comfort and help families involved in many local home fires. Davis said smoke alarm and home fire escape plan events like one coming up April 27 in Milwaukee are “crucial” when it comes to family preparedness.

“Responding with DAT in the aftermath of a home fire to provide comfort and resources to community members can be extremely challenging – and especially when one learns just how many residences in Milwaukee do not have working smoke alarms. Installing smoke alarms before a fire occurs, however, truly brings my service experience with the American Red Cross full circle,” Davis said.

If you don’t know if your smoke alarms are working or think you need new ones, please reach out. Red Cross volunteers are always here to help, such as numerous, day-long smoke alarm installation events coming up:

  • April 13 – Chippewa Valley
  • April 27 – Milwaukee
  • April 27 – La Crosse
  • May 4 – Fox Cities
  • May 4 – Janesville

Sign up for your free smoke alarm and home fire escape plan by entering your information at GetASmokeAlarm.org or by texting the word “Alarm” to 844-811-0100.

A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

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Walter Donaldson joined 172 veterans Saturday at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

With icy rain and whipping winds outside of the Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee, Walter Donaldson was perfectly content to reminisce on warmer and brighter days, during the 1990s, when he lived in Florida.

Donaldson lived there during and after his service in the Army. He taught high school students and even volunteered for the American Red Cross after a tropical storm. The years since then haven’t always been easy or kind to Donaldson, he said, with a wizened smile and a follow up declaration that he’s doing better now, with a place to stay on the southwest side of Milwaukee and a chance to teach again. On this day, he attributed an upbeat attitude partly to thoughts of Florida during a Midwestern winter, and partly from the clothing, personal items and resources he received at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

“This helps. I’m grateful, all of this helps,” Donaldson said, pointing to clothing and Red Cross bags.

Donaldson joined more than 170 area veterans at the Stand Down rally at The Armory, a bi-annual event that focuses on homeless or at-risk veterans. At Saturday’s Stand Down, veterans had the opportunity to meet with dozens of organizations, including the Red Cross, veterans’ groups and food providers, health professionals and hair stylists, as well as various state and federal agencies. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff from the Red Cross once again provided hygiene items and informational/communication resources for veterans.

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A veteran in prayer during Saturday’s event at The Richards Street Armory.

The event is billed as a “hand up, not a handout” for veterans. Between meals, check-ins and conversation, the rally included call-and-response shout outs to the five branches of the military, patriotic songs and a plea from organizer Stan Kogutkiewicz for vets in the crowd to use the resources in the room.

“Do not leave here until you get going on your problems,” echoed George Martin, one of the event emcees.

For Marvin Britton, that meant taking a stroll through the booths that packed The Armory. Britton’s gold Army ring caught the light as he talked and clutched onto a smooth wooden cane, as he shared straightforward stories of service, of addiction, of sweethearts long gone. Since his service in Vietnam, from 1974-78, life took him to San Diego and La Crosse, with time on and off in Milwaukee. These days, he’s staying in Union Grove at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, from where a group of veterans bused in for the rally.

“I’m fine, now … just trying to stay healthy. Got my backpack, going to the booths after I get some of [those] clothes” from the clothing donation line, he said.

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Veterans received information on ways they can connect with resources and family from the American Red Cross.

Ready to meet Britton, Donaldson and all the veterans were volunteers like Bob Nelson. Nelson joined the small team handing out American Red Cross bags with hygiene items and veterans resources information at the west end of the stout military hall. Nelson’s son is in the Marine Corps, connecting him to a lineage of men who have served in their family. For Bob Nelson – also on the Red Cross disaster action team – meeting and sharing with veterans at the Stand Down rally is a small gesture of gratitude.

“This is something I can do, I can be here,” Nelson said.

For more information on the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down event, click here.

To get involved or find out more on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission for veterans and military service members and their families, click here.

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.

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.  

Installing smoke alarms and peace of mind

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

For Renee Hovland and Ms. Bowman, volunteers installed peace of mind along with smoke alarms during recent communitywide events.

The two Wisconsin residents welcomed Red Cross volunteers and partners into their respective homes as part of “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life,” a national campaign to reduce injury and death from home fires.

Madison STASAL volunteers prep

Volunteers receive tools, alarms and instruction in Madison at event host, American Family Insurance HQ.

Hundreds of volunteers teamed up with a goal to install 1,400 smoke alarms during separate, daylong events in Milwaukee and Madison. Other cities and counties have or will hold their own installation roundups. (Click here to sign up for a free smoke alarm installed as part of this ongoing campaign.)

During the recent communitywide events in Milwaukee and Madison, Renee and Ms. Bowman shared the stories behind their installations.

‘It means the world to me’
Renee Hovland and her family know firsthand the impact of a house fire.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, 11 years ago, a candle burned out of control and “took down our whole house,” she said. Seven fire crews came to the site of their house in McFarland, on the outskirts of Madison, even tapping a neighbor’s pool to help contain the blaze.

The Hovlands – Renee, her husband Eric, their two daughters, plus three dogs and two cats – lost that home and all their possessions. But, they were alive and unscathed. They rebuilt on the same property.

Madison Sound the Alarm install family

Charles installs an alarm at the Hovland house with his family team, Crystal (center) and Samantha.

So, when they received a flyer about the fire department and Red Cross teaming up to install smoke alarms on May 5, Renee made an appointment.

“We had hardwired smoke detectors when we rebuilt and some of them are past the date that they’re still working,” Renee said. “It’s been something that’s bothering me, knowing that don’t have current alarm equipment that’s working. To me, this is a huge deal.”

A volunteer team of four family members installed five smoke alarms in the Hovland house and talked through an escape plan with Eric. As Renee brought their dogs outside to prevent a distraction, she reflected on the sense of security she’s gained from the free installations.

“It means the world to me,” she said. “I honestly can’t afford to buy that many [smoke alarms] and putting them up on a ladder, with my health, I can’t do that. It’s huge, a huge help.”

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In his Milwaukee kitchen, Donta Geter, right, talks through a fire escape plan with Red Cross volunteer Shelly Grasso.

‘That’s a blessing’
Donta Geter invited a team of Red Cross volunteers from Marquette University into his family’s majestic, three-story red brick home in Milwaukee’s Cold Spring Park neighborhood on April 28. Donta pointed to a few spots in and around the living room that lacked a working smoke alarm. Then, he helped his grandmother – who introduced herself as “Ms. Bowman” – into the kitchen to establish a fire escape plan with volunteer Shelly Grasso.

Shelly drew an escape map onto a dry erase board with input from Donta and Ms. Bowman, as the other volunteers snaked their way up the home’s back stairwell to install alarms on the second story and in the attic.

“Nope, we don’t have a plan,” said Ms. Bowman. “We were always under the assumption that if there’s a front entrance and a back exit, you go out [of one of those]. But … you might have to go out of one of these windows!”

Milwaukee Sound the Alarm pin 2018Ms. Bowman and Donta talked with Shelly about the best ways to get out in the event of a disaster, and then posted that map on their refrigerator. In the meantime the other volunteers had finished installing three new alarms and replacing another.
Ms. Bowman remarked: “Thank you for all of this. That’s a blessing.”

For more information on the home fire safety campaign – including installation signups and volunteering – click here.

Historic Fundraising Concert to Benefit Disaster Victims

UMOS, Dist. 12 Alderman José G. Pérez and El Conquistador

Newspaper to Co host: HISTORIC FUNDRAISING CONCERT TO BENEFIT DISASTER VICTIMS featuring Multiple Grammy Winner and Living Legend Eddie Palmieri & his Latin Jazz Ensemble in a unique once-in-a-lifetime concert performance with local salsa musicians and a special appearance by Afro-Puerto Rican Jazz Virtuoso Dr. William Cepeda direct from Loiza, Puerto Rico. 

International and Locally known Puerto Rican Artists unite and donate their services to raise funds to aid victims of Hurricane Maria and Mexico Earthquakes

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (October 13, 2017) – UMOS, together with 12th District Alderman Jose G. Perez, and Publisher Victor Huyke will welcome Grammy Winner, Music Icon and Living Legend Eddie Palmieri & his Latin Jazz Ensemble in a special benefit performance to raise funds for victims of the natural disasters in Puerto Rico and Mexico on Saturday, October 28, 2017 10:00pm at the Potowatomi Hotel & Casino- Woodland Dreams Ballroom, 1721 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233. ALL ticket proceeds will be donated to charity thanks to the generosity of Mr. Palmieri, his sidemen, and all of the participating artists and volunteers.

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The recent catastrophic natural disasters in Central America and the Caribbean have directly impacted friends and families of many residents of Milwaukee County and Southeastern Wisconsin. An important humanitarian effort to aid victims has emerged from high profile musicians who are donating their time, talent and artistry to provide a dynamic entertainment experience while generating much needed monetary funds. The City of Milwaukee was honored to be the recipient of legendary musician Eddie Palmieri’s offer to donate 100% of his services on a precious Saturday evening time slot together with local and regional musicians in order to send aid directly to victims. Mr. Palmieri, winner of 10 Grammy Awards, an NEA Jazz Master Award-America’s highest honor for lifetime achievement in Jazz, is currently on a national tour entitled: “EP @ 80” celebrating his 80th birthday with innovative new music and a selection of classic hits most of which have become anthems throughout the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia. A volunteer committee of artists, elected officials, educators, and community activists quickly mobilized to produce and market the event. All three event co-hosts have a distinguished record of providing outstanding leadership and support to underserved communities. UMOS, a leading nonprofit community based advocacy agency has generously offered to support this humanitarian fundraiser and concert which follows its acclaimed annual Hispanic Awards Banquet scheduled to take place earlier that evening in an adjacent ballroom. The Palmieri Concert will take place promptly at 10 p.m. in the Woodland Dreams Ballroom of the Potowatomi Hotel & Casino, 1721 W. Canal Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233. Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended. Advance tickets available online at: www.eddiepalmiericoncertforprmx.mivoz.com. Donations will also be taken at the door and a select number of Special Discount Coupons will be available on a first come- first served basis to all patrons who attend the UMOS Hispanic Awards Banquet. A VIP package is available with premium seating and perks which include a private meeting with the artists, and signed poster or CD. All proceeds will go to the American Red Cross whose representatives will be on-hand to meet and share information about their relief efforts. It is anticipated that one or two actual Red Cross volunteers who are serving currently in Puerto Rico will be on hand to describe first hand accounts of relief efforts on the island.

Ticketing // Admission: Seating capacity is limited. Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended. Minimum advance donation is $40.00. Special VIP package $150.00 includes premium reserved seating, private meet and greet with artists and complimentary signed CD or Poster while supplies last. ONLINE TICKET PURCHASE AT: www.eddiepalmiericoncertforprmx.mivoz.com.

The event organizers and artists have set a minimum goal of $25,000.00 for disaster relief. All proceeds donated to: The American Red Cross. Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation. Artist websites: www.eddiepalmierimusic.com www.williamcepeda.com

Attorney Michael Reyes, event coordinator: 414-350-5522 michaelreyesmusic@gmail.com

Greenfield’s Life-Saver Receives National Award

At only 11 years-old, Abram Suminski of Greenfield, Wisconsin, is a official recipient of the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit for selfless and humane action in saving a life. This is the highest award given by the Red Cross to an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains life by using skills and knowledge learned in the American Red Cross Preparedness, Health and Safety Services courses.

When Abram Suminski was learning first aid basics in an American Red Cross Babysitter’s training course, I doubt he knew how quickly he’d be putting them to use in a real-life situation. Good thing he was prepared though when his younger brother, Logan, was in need. Shortly after, the brothers were playing in their grandmother’s basement when Logan started to choke on a piece a candy. Abram saw his brother turning purple and jumped into action to perform abdominal thrusts. His quick actions dislodged the piece of candy from Logan’s throat, saving his life!

Abram’s instructor from the Babysitter’s training course heard of his life-saving story, and she, along with the Greenfield Rec. Department (where the training took place), nominated Abram for the Red Cross Certificate of Merit, which is signed by the President Barack Obama, who is the Honorary Chairman of the American Red Cross!

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Abram Suminski holding his award with the help of his younger brother, Logan.

On Tuesday night at the Greenfield Common Council Meeting, Abram received the Red Cross Certificate of Merit. The Mayor of Greenfield, Michael J. Neitzke, and local Red Cross CEO, Patty Flowers, had the honor of presenting the award to Abram. In attendance, were some very special guests including Abram’s family, the vice principle of his school, his Red Cross instructor and the Greenfield Fire Department.

If you’re thinking about signing up for a Red Cross training course, don’t hesitate – be prepared! Information about the Red Cross Babysitting course, First Aid, CPR/AED and other training courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

To see live action watch the Fox 6 news clip!