Colorado Floods – Telling our Story: Part 1

By Jody Weyers, Volunteer and Communications Director

How do I even start to share about this amazing journey I have been on for the past week? I will start from the beginning. I landed in Denver, Colorado, Sunday, Sept 15 around 12:30 pm.  I pick up my rental car and called Hector Emanuel, the photographer, I would be paired with for the next week, to see where he was at.

Ran into many detours on my way to Greely, Colorado.

Ran into many detours on my way to Greely, Colorado.

He, and his assistant Liz Preovolos, were at a Red Cross shelter in Greely, Colorado. I looked at my gps, and it was about an hour drive. Upon my arrival in Denver, it was a very gray, rainy and cold day. I headed off to Greely, and as I got closer, it was harder and harder to get there. I stop at a local gas station 10 miles from Greely, and ask how to get there.  With roads washed out, and/or flooded, it was almost impossible. The store clerk, providing me some alternative routes, and thanked me for my work. I had on my Red Cross hat and sweatshirt, and I am once again reminded of the power of the Red Cross symbol. The clerk, comes out from behind the counter, and asks “Can I give you a hug?” Of course, I say yes.

I finally make it to the City of Greely Recreation Center, after many detours. I go inside and there is a flurry of activity. I meet up with Hector and Liz, who arrived the day before, and have spent most of the day at the shelter. They give me a tour of the facility, I talked with some of the volunteers, and clients, and then we head back to our home base in Loveland, Colorado for the night.

This would be the start of our routine for the week. Hector, would go to his room to look at his pictures from the day, and pick the best 25-30 photos to send to American Red Cross National Headquarters. The three of us would meet in the hotel lounge, and we would go over photo release forms, identify the people in each picture, and write the caption for each photo to share their story.

Why are we doing this you ask? These photos and stories paint a picture of how the American Red Cross is assisting the people of Colorado. We are bringing a face to the American people, so when people donate, they know who and how they are helping. We are telling our story!

Monday, September 16 –

The three of us meet down in the hotel lounge for breakfast and we make our game plan for the day. We focus on the Red Cross shelters that are set up to house the many people displaced. Sunday night there was 1,000 people that stayed in 24 different shelters across Colorado.

First Stop, Thompson School District Building, in Loveland, Colorado.  We met a family who had not one, not two, but three disasters displace them from their homes, over the past six months. The Oft family moved from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, after two tornadoes ripped through their town and damaged their home. They moved to Drake, CO to be closer to family. They barely had enough time to evacuate as the flood waters started  rise over the roads. Charlsey Oft said, “When you have kids, you can’t think of the bad stuff, you have to carry on and we are thankful for the goodness of others.”

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross Shelter at Thompson School, Loveland, CO. Red Cross Health Services worker Pam Robinson, RN, of Masonville, Colorado, hugs Adalynn Oft, 4, of Drake, Colorado, as her sister, Zoee, 1, looks on and her mother Charlsey, share their story.  Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross Shelter at Thompson School District Building, Loveland, CO. Red Cross Health Services worker Pam Robinson, RN, of Masonville, Colorado, hugs Adalynn Oft, 4, of Drake, Colorado, as her sister, Zoee, 1, looks on and her mother Charlsey, shares their story. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

The second shelter we visited was Niwot High School, in Niwot, Colorado. The people at this shelter were airlifted to safety because of the roads being washed out and they were not able to get out by vehicle.  This is were we met Donna Hitz, 81 from Lyons, Colorado.  She had such a good spirit and attitude.  I was cracking up laughing because she was telling me about how handsome the pilots were in their uniform, and she would do it all over again for a ride with them.

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross shelter at Niwot High School, Niwot, Colorado. Donna Hitz, 81, of Lyons, Colorado, shares with Red Cross worker Jody Weyers of Green Bay, Wisconsin, her experience of being airlifted by a helicopter from her property to safety. Her neighbors knocked on her door to alert her to the evacuation and the next thing she knew, a helicopter was landing in her pasture. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross shelter at Niwot High School, Niwot, Colorado. Donna Hitz, 81, of Lyons, Colorado, shares with Red Cross worker Jody Weyers of Green Bay, Wisconsin, her experience of being airlifted by a helicopter from her property to safety. Her neighbors knocked on her door to alert her to the evacuation and the next thing she knew, a helicopter was landing in her pasture. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

The third shelter we went to was the YMCA of Boulder Valley, in Boulder, Colorado.  There was a lot of activity at this shelter, because business did not shut down for the YMCA, so you had their customers coming to workout, among all the people displaced. This is were we met Esther Peter, who had such a beautiful soul and strength about her. She and her five sisters, brother and mom, evacuated to the Boulder shelter, after water started running into their apartment building. They were able to grab a few items, important documents and that was it. Originally from South Sudan, they moved to Kenya. After enduring a lifetime of hardships in a country engaged in armed conflict, she came to the United States to build a better life with her family. Esther had to leave her two young daughters with family in Kenya, with hopes to reunite in Boulder as soon as possible.

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross shelter at the YMCA, Boulder, Colorado. Esther Peter, of Boulder, Colorado, shares her heroic story with Dr. Kathy Palakow, Psy.D., LPC, Red Cross Mental Health Worker of Boulder, CO. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross shelter at the YMCA, Boulder, Colorado. Esther Peter, of Boulder, Colorado, shares her heroic story with Dr. Kathy Palakow, Psy.D., LPC, Red Cross Mental Health Worker of Boulder, CO. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Our final shelter of the day we visited was Mead High School, in Longmont, Colorado. Hector and Liz were here the day before, and talked with many families, and we wanted to go back to see how some of them were doing. At this point in the disaster operation, some of these families have been in a shelter for 4-5 days and wanted to go home, but some didn’t have a home to go back to. To create some normalcy for the children, some of the volunteers took the children outside on the football field to play with balls, run around, and just be kids! It was great to hear their laughter, and for one small moment, they were able to forget about everything going on around them.

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross shelter at Mead High School, Mead, CO. Red Cross Shelter Manager, Ruth “Max” Bourke, of Ault, Colorado, plays catch with JoAnn Hammond, 5, of Del Camino, Colorado. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Monday, September 16, 2013. Red Cross shelter at Mead High School, Longmont, Colorado. Red Cross Shelter Manager, Ruth “Max” Bourke, of Ault, Colorado, plays catch with JoAnn Hammond, 5, of Del Camino, Colorado. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Tuesday, September 17

Red Cross Northern Operations Headquarters at The Ranch-Larimer County Fairgrounds, Loveland, Colorado.

Red Cross Northern Operations Headquarters at The Ranch-Larimer County Fairgrounds, Loveland, Colorado.

We checked in at the Northern Operation Headquarters, at the Larimer County Fairgrounds, in Loveland, Colorado.  We talked with Mike Cooper, who was in charge of the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV’s) and the workers who drove the vehicles and where they went each day.  We teamed up with ERV Drivers, Dennis and Dustin, both from Kansas. Their job was to “search and serve” in some of the hard hit areas in Northern Colorado.

We followed behind the ERV in our vehicle, as they went up and down roads and stopping occasionally to see if people needed help. We came across this road closure in Evans, Colorado and discovered, five or six guys trying to clean up their property from the floods. They were blocked in because one way the road was still flooded, and the other end of their road was barricaded.  Dustin and Dennis stopped the ERV, and we provided these families, with cleanup kits (including bleach, gloves, mop, broom, and bucket), hygiene kits(including basic toiletry items), tarps, shovels, and garbage bags. The flood waters rushed into their home, and like so many others, it came in so fast, they barely had time to evacuate. We also let them know that they could get a hot meal, shower, and other needed items at the City of Greely Recreation Center. It felt great to be able to help these people, and provide resources to them, because they felt like they were all alone blocked in on their road.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013. 49th St. in Evans, Colorado. American Red Cross emergency response drivers, Dennis Pierce from Louisburg, Kansas and Dustin Dunkin, of Garnett, Kansas handing out supplies to Robert Lujan and Brian Mestas of Evans, Colorado. Bernie Lujan of Evans, Colorado taking a box of supplies including masks, garbage bags, and paper towels to assist with flood relief cleanup to his home. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Tuesday, September 17, 2013. 49th St. in Evans, Colorado. American Red Cross emergency response drivers, Dennis Pierce from Louisburg, Kansas and Dustin Dunkin, of Garnett, Kansas handing out supplies to Robert Lujan and Brian Mestas of Evans, Colorado. Bernie Lujan of Evans, Colorado taking a box of supplies including masks, garbage bags, and paper towels to assist with flood relief cleanup to his home. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

In the afternoon, we split from Dennis and Dustin and we headed to a shelter at Timberline Church in Fort Collins This shelter was another place evacuees went to who were rescued off Storm Mountain in Drake, Colorado. While we were there, a bus pulled up, and Jason and Jennifer Morgan, walked off with their three dogs and one cat.  The only road up and down the mountain was washed away, so they had to be evacuated from the mountain by helicopter. They waited as long as they could because they had to leave their nine horses behind.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013. Red Cross shelter at Timberline Church, Fort Collins, Colorado. Red Cross workers, Jody Weyers, of Green Bay, Wisconsin petting “Ella Beagle” and Larry Fortmuller, of Santa Ana, California holding “Bailey” while their owner, Jennifer Morgan, of Drake Colorado, fills out paper work after being airlifted from Storm Mountain by helicopter. .Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

Tuesday, September 17, 2013. Red Cross shelter at Timberline Church, Fort Collins, Colorado. Red Cross workers, Jody Weyers, of Green Bay, Wisconsin petting “Ella Beagle” and Larry Fortmuller, of Santa Ana, California holding “Bailey” while their owner, Jennifer Morgan, of Drake Colorado, fills out paper work after being airlifted from Storm Mountain by helicopter. Photo by Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross

The people who were rescued by helicopter, were loaded in busses, delivered to this shelter, and if they had family to stay with, they could pick them up here. If they had no place to go, they would register and stay in the shelter. Everyone who came off the bus, Red Cross had them register with our Safe & Well site, so loved ones searching for them would know they are ok. As of Sunday, September 22, 1,588  people had registered themselves safe and well on our site.

To be continued…..

Deployment: Day One – Colorado Floods

By Jody Weyers, Volunteer and Communications Director

Deployment: Day one:  September 15, 2013

Twenty-four hours ago, I was saying yes, to assisting with the Colorado floods, and now here I am on a plane. This is my second National Red Cross Deployment. My first assignment was in 2008 for Hurricane Ike, deployed to Dallas, TX and then Houston and Galveston. It has been over five years since I have answered the call, so when this assignment came along I couldn’t say no.

IMAG1134I went into work, cleared my calendar, printed off a ton of information on Colorado and our response efforts, clean my house (yes, I am one of those people that has to have a clean house before I leave for a trip) and packed. I packed everything Red Cross I own (as seen by the picture to the right.)

My journey started out at 3:30 this am, to get ready and get to the airport for a 6am flight. As I am sitting back in my seat on my way to Denver I find it a coincidence that I am reading a book right now called “The Third Wave – A volunteer Story” by Alison Thompson. It was given to me by an amazing volunteer and it is about the inspiring account of what one woman and her friends can accomplish against the greatest odds.

It has me thinking as I am getting ready to pitch in and help those who have had their homes, possessions, and for some, have lost loved ones due to the floods, that it is amazing what one person can do, but it is even more amazing what an “army” of people can do.

photoThat is what I am doing. I am joining an army of people to help those who need it. That is what the Red Cross does. It gathers our trained group of workers and sends them to where the help is needed most. It is incredible the logistics that is behind a small operation, let alone something of this magnitude.

My assignment is that i will be assigned to a photographer as a sherpa? Yes, I wondered what that meant too.  He will be capturing pictures that tell the human side of this operation, and I will be putting the words to them.

Am I nervous? I can honestly say NO. I have been with the American Red Cross for over 12 years and it has prepared me to be ready. I am excited to share the great work of our team in photos and words. I hope these images and words inspire people to give. I thank the American people for your donations because it is allowing the American Red Cross to be able to respond to those impacted in Colorado and across the country affected by disaster.

Follow me on twitter @jweyers2 to share in this journey with me!

Sara Bruesewitz, A Lifetime of Red Cross Service

So proud of our Sara for sharing her story and we are lucky to have her on our Red Cross Team!!!

President/CEO, Gail McGovern came to visit the headquarters in Northern New Jersey where Sara was deployed to.

Volunteers constitute about 95 percent of the American Red Cross workforce and are an essential part of our humanitarian aid and services. Many choose to volunteer with the Red Cross, but we believe that there are a few individuals who were born with the Red Cross in their blood.This proves to be true with our very own Sara Bruesewitz, Public Support Coordinator with the Southeastern Wisconsin Region. Sara’s history with the Red Cross doesn’t begin with her, it actually started over 20 years ago with her mother, Barbara Bruesewitz. Barbara worked in Community Preparedness & Resilience Services in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Chapter, the same chapter that Sara would call home decades later.  Barbara left the Red Cross several years later in order to take care of her two children, Sara, and her older brother Bryan.

Growing up Sara had her first experience with the Red Cross at four years old, when her parents enrolled her in preschool aquatics and learn-to-swim programs at the Greenfield High School swimming pool.  Aquatics programs that were provided by Red Cross certified instructors and lifeguards.

As a young teen, Sara took a Babysitter’s Training course from her local Chapter, a program that helps prepare youth to make good decisions under pressure, respond to cardiac and choking emergencies, and manage children. In no time at all Sara was known in her neighborhood as the best babysitter on the block.

Problems arose for Sara at 13 years old, when she began to experience severe and chronic back pains, and after several doctor visits and physical therapy, the diagnosis was spondylolthesis, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the development of vertebrae in the spine.

Fortunately, Sara was able to undergo a spinal fusion operation to correct the issue, however during surgery Sara lost more blood than expected and was in need of several blood transfusions. The blood that Sara received was none other than blood collected by the American Red Cross, which collects approximately 40% of the Nation’s blood supply. After a grueling three-month recovery, and countless physical therapy sessions, Sara made a full recovery.

After graduating high school, Sara attended the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay where she continued to show her support and joined the Red Cross club on campus where she was active in holding community awareness events and blood drives. In her senior year she was offered an internship at the Lakeland Chapter in Green Bay, assisting in development, special events, and communication. Upon completion of her degree in May 2012, Sara was offered a full-time position within the Southeastern Wisconsin Region.

When Superstorm Sandy affected the east coast in late October, Sara embarked on her first national deployment and is currently dedicating her time as a public affairs service associate at the New Jersey Disaster Relief Operations Headquarters in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

Sara’s ties to the Red Cross began long before she was even born, and her compassion and dedication literally runs through her. She is as much a part of the Red Cross as the organization is a part of hers. On behalf of the American Red Cross, we owe a lifetime of gratitude to Sara Bruesewitz.