You’re invited: virtual fundraising gala brings everyone together over southeastern Wisconsin heroes, Red Cross mission

MILWAUKEE, Wisc., May 4, 2020 – The 2020 Brave Hearts fundraising gala has gone virtual! Our signature spring fundraising event will now be hosted online, with free access to inspirational stories of heroes from southeast Wisconsin as well as fun opportunities to support the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross.

This one-of-a-kind virtual event kicks off at 7 p.m. CST, Thursday, May 14 and lasts through Thursday, May 21. Each day is packed with hero stories, tantalizing auction items and new ways to back the Red Cross mission. Attendance for this virtual event is free, with plenty of exciting chances to boost the life-saving work of the Red Cross.

WI-Brave-Heart-Virtual=Event-1920x720Chosen across a handful of categories, honorees at this year’s Brave Hearts represent the best in spirit, service and action in our communities. The 2020 heroes are:

Rachel Nelson – Adult Good Samaritan Hero

Eva Welch & Shelly Sarasin (Street Angels) – Community, Safety, Security & Resiliency Hero

Milwaukee Fire Department Lt. Mike Ball – From the Heart Hero

George Koerner – Military Hero

Darnell Easterly, David Easterly & DeAngelo Lee (All4Kidz) – Youth Good Samaritan Heroes

Melinda Schultz – Hero of the Year

Brave Hearts is made possible by incredible, generous support from organizations in southeast Wisconsin. Lead supporters this year include Northwestern Mutual, Nicholas Company, Molson Coors, Johnson Controls and State Farm. All proceeds benefit the programs and people helped by the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

You can also show your support in this fun, interactive and free week-long event. Sign up by clicking here and make sure to share on your social media platforms.

Questions on sign up or getting involved? Contact our events specialist Jen Allen at Jennifer.allen5@redcross.org.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“You can tell that they care”: Greenfield man finds hope in people helping each other under the weight of COVID-19 and an apartment fire

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jessie Austin saw the smoke pumping out of his Greenfield apartment building, could see the flashing fire truck lights. But his mind was elsewhere.

Austin said he had “déjà vu” to other traumatic events in his life, like a fire during his youth that took a friend’s mother, and his experiences in the Army during the evacuation of Vietnam in the 1970s.

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Jessie Austin shares from a hotel in Milwaukee, a temporary home as he works on next steps in his recovery with the American Red Cross and others.

With his own apartment and belongings uncertain, under the shared stress of a global pandemic, Austin said he knew the “best way to deal with things was to get them out.” He started talking – with his neighbors on scene, on the phone with his counselor from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and multiple times each day with volunteers from the American Red Cross.

“[T]he volunteers from the Red Cross … they are very committed, compassionate people,” Austin said Thursday from a hotel sheltering operation where he and 10 other residents were staying.

“They don’t do a whole lot of talking; they’re there for support, like a sounding board. It’s … easy conversation because you can tell that they care. That’s the main thing. I’m very appreciative of them.”

In all, 19 people were displaced by the apartment building fire on April 20 and the Red Cross has worked with the residents on resources and recovery plans. In the time of COVID-19, crucial disaster response and recovery work persists – including a higher-than-normal rate of home fires for this time of year – with disaster teams adding extra safety steps along the way like daily health checks, an emphasis on virtual interactions, and masks and gloves whenever out in the field.

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American Red Cross volunteers Robin Berzowski, right, and Jim Berzowski, bring ‘room service’ meals to Jessie Austin, who was one of nearly 20 people displaced by a recent fire in Greenfield. The food drop offs are part of additional health and safety steps by disaster workers amid COVID-19.

It was the weight of the pandemic that turned Austin downright philosophical as he shared his story, his soft voice underscoring the importance he finds in keeping up hope and finding a way to help others. In a hat that read “United States of America” and prepping his hot lunch brought by Red Cross volunteers from a local diner, Austin expressed the deeper values he sees amid this unsettled moment.

“This Coronavirus thing, I’m telling people, look at what’s really going on. This thing is causing us to lean on each other and to continue to understand what life is all about. It’s about people helping each other. That’s what counts, that’s what’s important,” he said. “It’s the respect, knowing that you’ve been cared about, knowing that you count, knowing that in the long run, it’s time that is the most precious thing that we have.”

The spirit of people like Austin looking out for each other and sharing what help is available has been evident to Red Cross Disaster Action Team (or DAT) volunteers Jim and Robin Berzowski.

The couple has led food deliveries from generous Milwaukee restaurants like Don’s Diner and Landmark Family Restaurant, to the hotel sheltering the apartment complex residents. The dynamic duo of Jim and Robin – jokingly known as “DATman and Robin” among the Southeast Wisconsin disaster team – said they’ve felt grateful to be able to bring tasty meals to the residents, though the social distancing and other health steps have taken some getting used to.

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Food pick up on April 23 from a Milwaukee restaurant, with meals destined for residents of a recent apartment building fire, one of many fires during an unusually busy spring.

As they delivered spaghetti dinners to each room at the hotel shelter Thursday, residents like Jessie gave quick updates on talks with their Red Cross caseworkers, and others let Jim and Robin know what they had heard from their neighbors earlier that day.

“We’re helping but they’re helping each other out, too,” Jim Berzowski said.

For more information on the response to COVID-19 in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan – including ways you can get involved – visit this site.

‘You Don’t Know How Much Better I Feel Now’: Volunteer Kathy Markgraf Calls In with an Update from Puerto Rico

Interview by Justin Kern, American Red Cross / Photos from Puerto Rico by Scott Dalton, American Red Cross

Kathy Markgraf is one of our very special American Red Cross volunteers in Wisconsin. After a successful career shaping the lives of teens as a Spanish teacher, she joined our volunteer teams with a specialty in connecting with Spanish-language families affected by disaster. Markgraf, of Lodi, brings an invaluable mix of compassion and language skills to families experiencing home fires and other tragedies.

Kathy MarkgrafIn mid-January, Markgraf brought her casework skills to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after rounds of earthquakes shook the island. (She also deployed to Puerto Rico twice for similar work after Hurricane Maria.)

On Jan. 22, Markgraf took a moment from her evening to share a sliver of her experiences so far in helping people after the ongoing earthquakes in Puerto Rico. An edited version of her conversation appears below.

Where is your base of operations right now?

San Juan, but Mayaguez is where we stayed last night and we’ve been told we may move to that [western] part of the island in the next couple of days. The [Red Cross] mental health and health services teams are already operating in that area … it’s a lot closer to where things are happening.

Are you familiar with that are from when you went there a few years ago?

Yeah … after Hurricane Maria, the first time [I was deployed] I was based in San Juan and we traveled all over the island. The second time, I was down in Ponce, which is part of the area affected by the earthquake, though not the very center of it … It’s like going full circle for me, because I’m going to so many places I went to before, but they look so much better than they did … after the hurricanes. The one that hit me really hard: it used to be, as you drive out of San Juan toward the south coast, you drive over the mountains and you can see down to the coast to … an area near Santa Isabel where the windmills are set out onto the water and they were never working. A couple of days after we got here, we were driving over the ridge of the mountains and there were about 20 windmills and they were turning. It was cool to see the improvement.

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Red Crosser Grace connects Miriam with her cousin, who she has not spoken with in years. Miriam and her husband Jose have been sleeping in a van outside of their home since the earthquakes began. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross – Utuado, Puerto Rico, Jan. 23, 2020

The footprint of this operation is probably considerably smaller than we originally thought. It’s a relatively small area … what is really affecting people is the fear. There are buildings and homes that are damaged close to where the quakes are. But, through a large area of the southern part of the island, you’ll sometimes feel the quakes. There hasn’t been anything big like there was, most of them run … 3.0 to 4.0, but there hasn’t been one over 5.0 for a week or so. But they happen a lot. Maybe 20 times a day.

What has been your experience as a Midwesterner with this particular type of natural disaster?

It’s not something we experience [in Wisconsin]. … I’ve never been in a big one. Here … you’ll be leaning against a railing and it’ll start [shaking] and your knees will wobble a little. They don’t last terribly long but because they’re so common, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who will not sleep in their homes at night, because they’re terrified by it. … There are dozens of informal camps that have opened up. They pitch tents, people drive by at night and sleep in their cars. There are the formal government shelters, in stadiums or basketball courts. There are also base camps that have been set up and some of those are several hundred people at a crack, run by the National Guard. What is cool to see is that, after [Hurricane] Maria, the whole island was devastated, they couldn’t help each other [because of widespread power, communications and travel challenges]. Now, that it’s a part of the island, it’s churches, community groups, people in the communities are getting together and collecting stuff – diapers, cases of water – and over the weekend they were coming in with convoys … of tents and air mattresses or games for the kids at these informal camps …

Mentioning the fear earlier, the people you’re interacting with as part of the Red Cross, how are you helping them to bring resources and alleviate some of that fear?

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Mexican Red Cross volunteer offers Tailianis a hug at a makeshift tent camp. The Red Cross has more than 180 trained disaster workers on the island, supporting shelters and helping to care for more vulnerable populations such as the elderly and children. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross – Guánica​, Puerto Rico, Jan. 20, 2020

What my team has been doing, particularly our mental health people and spiritual care people – there are a lot of those volunteers already here in Puerto Rico – they’ve been going place to place, daily. There is a lot of psychological first aid from us and our mental health [workers] are very, very involved. It’s probably one of the greatest needs they have here at this point. … For about the first week, our [casework] team was doing a community assessment, where we drove into all of the affected areas and gradually eliminated areas that didn’t have a lot of need and particularly looked for these small informal camps. We met with community leaders and tried to assess, with an emphasis on elderly who may not being served, maybe people living alone, people who were bed-ridden, trying to locate what kinds of needs there were. We found that communities were checking on people and they could give us a lot of that information. But in the camps we’d go in and talk with them. One day I talked with a guy and he and his wife weren’t staying at the camp, but they came by every day and spent time there. They lived in the neighborhood. We just chatted for maybe five minutes. And when I was leaving he said, ‘You don’t know how much better I feel now.’ I was a caseworker just chatting with him, I wasn’t a [disaster mental health volunteer]. But they have so much confidence in the Red Cross, just seeing us there in our vests and stopping to … see how they’re doing, you can just see it makes them feel better.

What’s your team look like?

There are four of us deployed as Red Cross caseworkers. Two of us are Red Cross staff, one from Indiana and one from California, and two are volunteers, myself and one from Arizona. But beyond that we’ve been working with a lot of the local volunteers [from Cruz Roja Americana Capitulo de Puerto Rico]. In our team … one member was born and raised in Puerto Rico, one is from a Puerto Rican family … and I consider myself pretty bilingual at this point. I studied in college and spent most of my life as a Spanish teacher … at Poynette [High School], just north of Madison. Spanish is what took me to the Red Cross.  I retired and I said, ‘I have spent most of my life using Spanish to touch lives. What do I do now?’ And that took me to the Red Cross.

DISASTER COUNSELING/SUPPORT To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

EARTHQUAKE SAFETY You can find valuable information on how to be safe before, during and after an earthquake here.

RECONNECT WITH LOVED ONES The Red Cross has two easy ways to help people reconnect. The Red Cross Emergency App features an “I’m Safe” button that allows users to post a message to their social accounts to let friends and family know that they are out of harm’s way. The Red Cross also offers the Safe and Well website, safeandwell.org, which is a private and more secure option. It allows people to list their own status by customizing a message for their loved ones or selecting pre-scripted messages.

HOW YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes by texting the word EARTHQUAKES to 90999 to make a $10 donation or indicating this disaster on the donation form on redcross.org, and printing and mailing to your local Red Cross chapter. The Red Cross honors donor intent, and all designated funds will be used to support the affected communities in Puerto Rico through emergency relief, recovery and preparedness efforts.

Five Hours, 15 Miles, and One Pair of Shoes: How a Retired Veteran Made His Journey for Help in Madison

Story & photos by Cooper Adams, American Red Cross

In a podiatrist’s chair at a repurposed community center nurse’s office, West Jones could finally rest his feet.

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West Jones, left, poses with Jodi Grosinske, an organizer of Stand Down Madison.

Two days ago, Jones, a retired Marine, had heard about Stand Down Madison, a resources event for veterans. He knew he could use the help. But, without a car, ride or bus pass, Jones made his way more than 15 miles to the event the only way he could: he walked.

“Everyone has their own ways of doing things,” Jones said. “And walking here was my way.”

After the five-hour walk – along city streets from his home in Stoughton to the event in Madison – Jones was one of dozens of veterans greeted by organizations at Stand Down Madison. Organizer Jodi Grosinske guided Jones to the podiatrist’s chair for a check-up and pedicure, and introduced him to a slew of other agencies on hand to help, including the American Red Cross and volunteer Chuck Patzer.


You’re just a click away from Red Cross resources. Download the free Hero Care App today for quick access to all the ways the Red Cross supports veterans, service members and military families.


Jones’s transportation troubles spotlight the range of challenges expressed by veterans at Stand Down Madison, which centers on veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. After receiving first-hand compassion to go along with hygiene items, a sewing kit and that pedicure, Jones also got a ride back to his home. It was part of a longer journey.

From Marines to Madison

In his younger years, Jones wanted to serve his country any way he could. He was intrigued by the slogan “The Marine Corps Builds Men” and decided to enlist.

In boot camp in San Diego, Jones said he kept everyone’s morale high with his humor and positive attitude. West described his time as a good experience overall. He’d gotten to meet all kinds of people during his service. Once at a shooting range, Jones said he fired 10 rounds and hit 10 bullseyes, which garnered respect from his platoon. But, after only eight months, he was discharged.

“There was something wrong with my brain,” Jones clarified. “It should’ve been looked at before I was sent to boot camp.”

After his discharge, Jones spent the next 30 years with his brother, an Air Force veteran. They took care of each other (West said his brother was injured while serving). West also found comfort in an exploration of his faith.

Now, Jones lives alone in Stoughton. When he’d learned about Stand Down Madison, he knew it was a chance to take advantage of resources he needed, prompting his 15-mile hike. During this morning-long event in October, veterans like Jones received everything from legal representation to hygiene items, from career opportunities to hot meals. Jones was very grateful for everything available, and filled his cart with deodorant, printed-out Bible verses, and a sewing kit.

From One Veteran to Another

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Chuck Patzer, volunteer with the American Red Cross and a Vietnam War veteran, at an October 2019 veteran resource event in Madison.

While visiting the Red Cross booth, Jones met fellow veteran and volunteer, Chuck Patzer.

Since birth, Patzer’s life had been intertwined with the military. While his mother visited his father stationed in California during World War II, he was born. As a young man, Patzer was drafted for the Vietnam War and served as a signal translator all over the world, including Virginia, Germany, and Vietnam. Fifty years later, Patzer is still doing his part to help those who have served, like West Jones.

Patzer has been a volunteer for the American Red Cross for 10 years. Inspired by the need after Hurricane Katrina, Patzer, a retired letter carrier, came to a Red Cross office with a donation of blankets. There, Patzer was asked if he’d like to volunteer. In his decade of volunteer service since, Patzer has primarily helped as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member and as a volunteer with the Service to Armed Forces team. As a DAT lead, Patzer travels to sites of disasters like fires or floods, offering assistance.

“We provide things like food and offer help to people who need it,” Patzer explained. “It’s an emotional time, but the people we help are always thankful, even if they just needed a hug”.

With veterans, Patzer said the most important thing he provides is comfort. Veterans who suffer from dementia may feel lost, so Patzer said he brings along animatronic animals to spark their memories of childhood pets. The sweet sounds these faux felines and canines make can help to ease stress for veterans he meets. It’s also an entry point, to talk, to listen, and to share. From there, Patzer said he can provide other hygiene basics on offer from the Red Cross and let them know their sacrifice and service are deeply appreciated.

You can meet and help veterans, service members, and their families. Join our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers. Take that first step by clicking here.

Certificate of Merit honoree took initial steps to save co-worker’s life – and was ready for whatever came next

Stories and Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

When a co-worker collapsed, David Klitzman knew just what to do. He’d been preparing for this moment over the past two decades through training with the American Red Cross.

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David Klitzman shares his life-saving story during a brief award presentation July 17, 2019 at Kerry Foods in Jackson, Wisc.

First, Klitzman cleared the scene on the factory floor at Kerry Foods, the Jackson, Wisc. ingredients manufacturer where he and the co-worker were working that morning in August 2018. Next, Klitzman directed others to dial 9-1-1, then he comforted the co-worker as they talked through steps to identify her ailments and condition. He asked questions down the “SAMPLE” CPR training checklist. She revealed that she was suffering chest and head pains, and indicated that she had had a related doctor’s appointment recently.

“I was just happy to be able to participate, to help and keep her calm,” said Klitzman, a 19-year employee at Kerry, who has maintained his CPR training throughout that time. “It was nice to know that when that situation came up, I was able to do what I could and if it would’ve went any other way, I was ready to do the next level as well.”

That information was relayed to emergency responders, who took over upon arrival. The co-worker was treated and released from a nearby hospital in the subsequent days. Responders acknowledged Klitzman’s role in taking important steps to help save a life. In turn, Klitzman credited repeated CPR trainings from the Red Cross as central to his ability to step into action right away.

For his life-saving efforts, the American Red Cross on Wednesday presented the Certificate of Merit to Klitzman, of West Bend, during a short presentation at Kerry Foods. Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, Red Cross, lauded the safety focus at Kerry Foods and Klitzman’s own passion to obtain training – he’s also been a certified lifeguard and has helped his own grandchildren during medical situations – that keeps others’ safety in mind.

Jason Ampe David Klitzman Mark Thomas talks - CPR award July 2019 American Red Cross

Mark Thomas, right, Red Cross Regional CEO, express his gratitude to Klitzman, center, and Jason Ampe, of Kerry Foods, which offers Red Cross CPR training at their facilities.

“Understand that in this situation, someone was in trouble and someone needed help. If it were you, wouldn’t you want someone who could act quickly and who is trained to do the right thing? Every second counts,” Thomas said.

The Certificate of Merit is the highest civilian honor at the Red Cross, and is provided to a person who demonstrates life-saving measures to people in crisis. The Certificate is signed by the President of the United States and the chairman of the national American Red Cross, and comes with a medallion and pin.

Klitzman will be added to a roster of Certificate honorees in a Red Cross national online database. He is among a trio of honorees in the past six months and the first recent recipient in southeast Wisconsin.

The presentation was held at Kerry Foods in front of dozens of co-workers, Klitzman’s wife, Lisa, supporters of the local Red Cross, and Washington County Supervisor Donald Kriefall. Jason Ampe, of Kerry Foods, welcomed the crowd and opened the presentation by lauding Klitzman and pointing to the value of safety at the food ingredients company’s facilities in Jackson.

To bring Red Cross CPR, First Aid and other safety trainings to your workplace, visit RedCross.org/training.

 

In retirement, SAF volunteer Holsinger is proud to be ‘somebody who cares’ for veterans and service members

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

Volunteers may not always have a background in the area where they dedicate their time and talent. But they’ve all got the passion.

Rich Holsinger is a retired professional who has spent his career honing his managerial skills in regional management positions at a national retail giant and a popular coffee roaster. After his retirement, Rich began working with the American Red Cross two years ago as a lead volunteer at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Department.

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Rich Holsinger preps SAF materials for his activities with veterans and service members in the Madison area.

On the surface, Rich’s volunteer work with SAF is quite a bit different than his professional background. SAF at the Red Cross proudly serves veterans, service members and their families. All the same, since taking up his volunteer leadership role, Rich has made a remarkable impact on the lives of numerous veterans and their families and caregivers.

“The volunteers don’t do a lot of talking, but we do a lot of listening. It’s interesting to hear their stories and just show them that there’s somebody who cares,” Rich said in regards to why he enjoys serving and working with his team.

Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.

Rich has created exciting weekly programming for patients including activities such as dinners with game nights, BINGO with prizes, tailgate parties, nightly performances from local music groups and sing-a-longs.

“With the different programs we’re running now, whether you’re working with a veteran or you’re working with a caregiver of a veteran, to see them relax, to see them talk about something else rather than medical … I usually get more out of it than I put into it. I find it very rewarding,” Rich said.

In two weeks, Rich is looking forward to hosting the Madison V.A.’s first picnic.

“We’re working with the V.A. to ensure that we have the right kind of food for them… the Red Cross will supply all of the food and the hospital will prepare it,” he said.

He also spoke about how some hotels in the area including Stay Bridge Suites Middleton/Madison-West have provided spaces for veterans during their time at the Madison V.A. as well as resources for events for veterans and their caregivers.

While Rich is truly enjoying his role and continuing to help the Red Cross team at the Madison V.A. grow, he didn’t have plans to volunteer for the Red Cross before his retirement and explained more about why he chose to apply as a volunteer for the Red Cross and got his start as the new lead volunteer at the Madison V.A. Medical Center.

Rich had been retired for about five months when he realized that he didn’t want to just retire and focus on himself and play golf all day, one of his favorite pastimes. With the extra time on his hands, he wanted to make a difference in his community where he could and help people in need.

He began researching volunteer organizations and found a volunteer position that was seeking “somebody to take charge and start building some programs for the veterans at the hospital in the area.”

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SAF volunteers set up a refreshments table at a recent service member send-off event in Franklin.

He knew that his vast experience of managing people in project and program development would be a great fit. He saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what he enjoyed and was familiar with and put his passion and talent to the test, starting with new entertainment and program development for veterans and their families and caregivers.

Rich said that two people who have been monumentally helpful and amazing to work with on projects are Richard Seymour, SAF Program Director, and Michelle Matuszak, SAF Manager. Rich said Matuszak and Seymour have been instrumental in helping Rich on his volunteer journey, and he’s thankful that they gave him the freedom to “do his own thing.” The praise goes both ways.

“We had issues with getting leadership in the Madison V.A.,” Seymour said. “Within a year Rich has started and established programs, built a volunteer team and … controls the budget we have established for the Madison V.A. I wish I could clone him 10 times!”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

How a home fire client became an all-star volunteer

By James Ziech, American Red Cross

Kimberly Brockman’s decision to join the American Red Cross as a volunteer four years ago began with a cry for help – her house was on fire.

It was three in the morning. Cries from her daughter aroused Kimberly from her sleep. Then, she heard the smoke alarms. She sprang into action. She evacuated her family and her pets from their burning trailer. Her daughter was taken to the hospital. One of their dogs didn’t make it.

“We have nowhere to go, nothing but the clothes on our backs,” she remembered thinking at the time.

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Kimberly Brockman shares a selfie while wearing her Red Cross volunteer duds.

Kimberly reached out for help the best she knew how. Within the hour, a representative of the American Red Cross came to help. Volunteers from the Red Cross brought comfort, then provided some money for a safe place to stay for a few days. When it came time to leave the hotel and find a new apartment, her Red Cross caseworker led her to the information and agencies that could get her started again in a new place for her and her family.

“I was so touched by what the organization does, that I wanted to help people the way they do,” she said.

Coming in with many years of experience working as a Medical Assistant, her choice of being a volunteer as a blood donor ambassador was an easy one. She would greet and welcome donors who come to the blood drives and ensure that they have a pleasant experience with the organization.

“Everybody is so thankful and we are thanked so much for what we do to help people,” she said. “I think we get the most thanks by talking to someone and asking people what you do for a living, and they’re like, ‘You guys are awesome! Thank you for being there.’”

After some time, Kimberly took up a leadership role and started to do community outreach. Sometimes, she would spend time in public talking with people. Other times, she would get to know the businesses in the area and getting them involved in hosting blood drives. There will even be a blood drive at Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc on July 17. (Click here to find that and other drives to share your generous donation of life-saving blood.)

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Brockman, holding the check at left, joins fellow Northeast Chapter volunteers to accept the generous donation from a rock concert that included Cheap Trick.

Kimberly wanted to also get involved in disaster response, though health issues prevented her from doing on-scene responses to incidents like home fires. Turned out, there was a need for volunteer disaster dispatchers. It was a perfect fit. From the comfort of her home, she could put volunteers in touch with people who need our help.

“It’s not that you want to feel good about yourself, but about making others feel better. Knowing how you help your fellow man in the worst times of their life. Just being a shoulder, just giving support. It’s about helping other people. Some people just want to know other people care,” she said.

Volunteers like Kimberly Brockman continue to reach out to assist all in need: from local house fires to regional flooding and hurricanes, from donating blood to running blood drives, from community outreach to building partnerships with businesses and government, volunteers from the American Red Cross are available 24/7 to serve and assist. For more information on how you can help your community and state, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

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.

Army National Guard sendoff includes Red Cross volunteers who can relate

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

Mark Matuszak could see a bit of himself in every family member cheering on, hugging and giving teary goodbyes to their beloved service members at an Army National Guard soldier sendoff last week in Green Bay.

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American Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin Chapter board members Phil Zubella and Sarah Dressel (both at front) joined a sendoff for soldiers recently in Green Bay.

Matuszak’s son, Dan, is a U.S. Army Green Beret. It wasn’t long ago that Dan shipped off to the Philippines for military assignment – leaving Mark and family to carry understandable concern back here in Wisconsin during Dan’s deployment.

Knowing that important yet sometimes difficult role military families hold, Matuszak said he knew the value in joining fellow American Red Cross board members and volunteers in support of approximately 400 soldiers and their families at an event Nov. 29 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

“I can relate to the family and the folks that are here, understand how deployment is going to affect their family,” Matuszak said. “Not seeing [a deployed family member] hurts, but you know they’re doing it for the right reasons and the right cause. It’s a noble cause.”

Matuszak was one of approximately 15 Red Cross board members, volunteers and staff who joined in the warm community sendoff for Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers from the Appleton-based 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team headed out to Afghanistan.

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A spread of snacks and information for service members and their families provided by the Red Cross.

The Red Cross was one in a group of organizations in attendance to join in the sendoff, as part of its Service to the Armed Forces mission. Red Cross volunteers and board members served coffee, donuts, bananas and string cheese provided by Kwik Trip, along with offering information on resources during and long after the soldiers’ deployment. (Click here to view and share from a collection of Red Cross photos from the event on Facebook.)

Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, Wisconsin Army National Guard, took time in his remarks during the event to recognize the family and friends in attendance, and listed off supported organizations such as the Red Cross.

“We can’t do what we do, this mission, without your support,” Conde said.


Are you looking for a new way to support our military service members and families? On this page you find out how you can play an important role as a volunteer or supporter of our Service to the Armed Forces program.


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Army National Guard leaders received a Wisconsin flag from outgoing Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The Green Bay deployment event was the largest of its kind in recent years.

The event was the largest combined send-off for northeast Wisconsin in recent years. Only about 20 percent of the soldiers had previously deployed. According to a military release, the unit is “comprised of teachers, students, electricians, engineers, computer IT specialists, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, welders, auto mechanics, craftsmen” from across Wisconsin but predominately from the Fox Valley and Green Bay.

For Matuszak, that group also included a co-worker at Great Northern Corporation hired a few years ago, and another co-worker’s son. As a board member volunteering at the event, Matuszak was able to talk with people and families he knew, as well as others with whom he shares a military connection.

“I understand what’s facing them, so it’s humbling for me to watch what they’re about to go through,” he said.

The projected return for the soldiers is late fall of 2019.

Local Hero Nominations Needed!

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The American Red Cross of Wisconsin is accepting nominations for 2018 Hero Award recipients.  Each year, the American Red Cross recognizes everyday heroes in our community at three events in Wisconsin: Evening of Heroes in Wisconsin Dells, Heroes Breakfast in Altoona, and Brave Hearts in Milwaukee.

Our three events recognize individuals who have done extraordinary deeds in the community!  Whether they’re stepping up during a medical emergency to provide assistance or helping others through a lifetime of volunteerism, heroes reflect what is best about our community.

Do you know of anyone that should be recognized?  If so, please nominate them for one of our three hero events across the state! Details and categories vary by event.  For more information about our events, please click the links below:

  • Evening of Heroes – www.redcross.org/eveningofheroes
    • Nominations due December 1st
    • Eligible counties: Adams, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Florence, Forest, Grant, Green, Iowa, Iron, Jefferson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marinette, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Portage, Price, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Shawano, Taylor, Vernon, Vilas and Wood counties in Wisconsin and Houston County, Minnesota.
  • Heroes Breakfast – www.redcross.org/northwestwiheroes
    • Nominations due December 31st
    • Eligible counties: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pierce, Pepin, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Trempealeau, and Washburn.

If you have any questions, please contact McKenna Olson at mckenna.olson@redcross.org.