Calm in emergency training earns Madison employee national honors

By Katie Baneck, American Red Cross

On Tuesday, June 23, David Lich was having a meeting with his coworkers at Catalent Pharma Solutions when one of them started acting strangely and making concerning sounds.

Then, that person fell from their chair, cutting themselves in the process. David had another teammate call 9-1-1 while he retrieved the first aid kit and called out for help.

That is when David first met Thomas Coolidge, another employee at Catalent. Thomas is trained in American Red Cross CPR and First Aid and immediately began to apply that training.

Thomas Coolidge

“Thomas was able to come into a very stressful situation, take charge, and give support. What impressed me most was his level of calm,” David said in praise.

Thomas had been working on a report at his desk with headphones in, oblivious to the situation unfolding next door. It wasn’t until David jogged down the hall searching for help that Thomas was alerted to the critical scene.

Upon arrival, Thomas recognized that his co-worker was seizing. He cleared the immediate area around the patient to prevent further injury and protect others around them. He tended to co-worker’s wounded lip, applying pressure to stop the bleeding. He talked with the co-worker, keeping them conscious and attaining important basic information.

You can be trained in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding and other life-saving skills. Sign up here for virtual and in-person lessons from the American Red Cross.

By the time the first responders were on scene, the patient had become responsive and Thomas provided paramedics with an update. It was this quick thinking and first aid response that inspired co-worker Marissa Barrett to nominate Thomas for a life-saving recognition from the Red Cross.

When asked what advice he would give to those considering Red Cross first aid training, Thomas said he would encourage to treat classes as seriously as you would an emergency scene.

“Make sure that you pay attention and take the details of the training to heart while you’re learning, watching, and reading,” he said. “It is much more difficult to remember details when under duress and going through the actions.”

On Thursday, March 11, the Southwest Chapter of the Red Cross presented Thomas with the Certificate of Merit, the highest civilian honor given by the Red Cross, which includes a signed commendation from the President of the United States as well as a medal and a pin.

“Show Them That We Care”: Volunteers Detail Unique Roles in Disaster Relief

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

At the American Red Cross, volunteers donate their time, skills, experience and care to alleviate the suffering of others during a disaster.

Yet no two volunteer departments are the same. And a recent wave of apartment fires brought forth the unique skills and heart volunteers have in our shared mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

On Jan. 28, three separate apartment fires – two in Milwaukee and one in Beaver Dam – displaced nearly 400 people in a single day. In an already-busy winter of home fire relief in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, our local volunteers and some from other states stepped up in their various roles to make sure people in need were taken care of. More than 184 volunteers were involved in those larger scale incidents, with dozens more involved in the every day response and recovery of people across our Region.

Ranjit Verma, right, and volunteer team member Denise Bruneau pick up 130 lunches cooked by Alverno College, to share with people displaced by an apartment fire in Milwaukee.

One of the departments that provides assistance is the Disaster Action Team, or DAT.

Ranjit Verma, a volunteer from Shorewood, has been a DAT member for around two years. When asked how the DAT Team helps clients and their families Ranjit explained that “we respond to people in disaster areas; commonly fire accidents that have taken place in the area.”

Ranjit has always played a volunteer role in his life. Before he joined the Red Cross, he hosted a number of fundraisers and supported local students in his area.

When Ranjit heard about the Red Cross, he knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. He enjoys providing care and comfort to people “who have faced unpleasant situations” and he is glad to be “part of this mission to give to people in need.”

On Feb. 1, Ranjit and other DAT feeding volunteers delivered around 130 prepared meals to guests; he had another meal delivery route the next day. (All told, from one hotel-shelter set up for residents displaced from a Milwaukee apartment fire, volunteers delivered more than 7,000 meals in four-plus weeks.)

The meals consisted of a main course – chicken Caesar wraps, for instance – and a snack. Some guests even had dietary requirements and Ranjit provided diabetic meals to them. 

“I love the one-on-one interaction … saying ‘How is your day?’ provides relief. It brings a lot of smiles and joy and I’m more nervous than the guests sometimes,” he said.

With a knock and a call of “lunches … Red Cross,” Volunteer Terry Mackin brings sandwiches to rooms at a hotel-shelter not far from his home in Milwaukee. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

After delivering meals to guests, others would be waiting for theirs asking him, “When are you going to reach the third floor?” and “What did you get for us today?” 

However, along with the pleasant conversation, Ranjit also mentioned how guests looked to him for guidance. “It was surprising how much more they needed,” he explained.

They would often ask him about the next steps in their recovery and asked what they could expect next, putting their trust in him and the Red Cross volunteers on his team supporting them. 

Ranjit went on to explain how COVID has impacted his deliveries. He can no longer provide hugs or handshakes to offer comfort and Ranjit says he misses that contact as a way to connect with guests.

Another way volunteers once again answered the immense need was on the Health Services team. Again, on just the one Milwaukee apartment fire, Disaster Mental Health and Health Services provided 4,171 contacts with people for anything from medication prescription refills to talks with a certified counselor.

Jeanne Frey from Binghamton, N.Y. deployed in Milwaukee to assist with client support and prescription needs. Jeanne has served with the Red Cross in Health Services since 2005. As a retired registered nurse, Jeanne explained how she does her part to serve clients.

Jeanne Frey texts to check in with health needs of people displaced by an apartment fire in winter 2021 in Milwaukee. She flew in from Binghamton for two weeks of service in Wisconsin as a Health Services volunteer. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

“We try to help them move forward in their recovery and work with the community resources,” she said.

Jeanne works with case workers and other Red Cross volunteers as well as pharmacists and doctors to assist her clients.

“We provide food for them and take care of them and their medical needs if necessary … And we can contact the pharmacy where they have their prescriptions refilled and make arrangements to get those replaced if they lost them in a fire … We want them to feel safe.”

Jeanne explained how she enjoys providing the highest quality of care and attention to her clients.

“I come to one of the shelters and I’m available if one of the clients has a health-related need or I try to make myself available for any of their needs,” she said.

And when clients have emergency medical needs, Jeanne and her team act swiftly to provide critical support and ease her clients’ minds.

“As common practice …We will call the pharmacies and pick them up [prescriptions] for the clients if they needed them right away.”

Jeanne mentioned how much her service means to her and she knows how important it is to be there for them and help them through as many of their problems as she can. 

“For me personally I try to put myself in their place … anything that we can do to be supportive, show them that we care, and do whatever we can to help guide them back to some semblance of normalcy,” she said.

When asked about how she got started with the Red Cross back in 2005, Jeanne told about how she was inspired to join when a coworker of hers was already working with the Red Cross and had gone down to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina.

“I was just so touched by his role in providing care for the people down in New Orleans that I said, I think I can do that, too.”

If you or someone you know is thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please go online to the Red Cross Volunteer Opportunities page and see what area(s) of service might be a great fit for you. You can also find out the top needed volunteer positions at the Red Cross on the Become a Volunteer page.

The Red Cross will provide the necessary training and new volunteers are always encouraged to explore and try out different roles in the various Red Cross Departments to find what they’re most passionate about to help and to help carry out the Red Cross mission to be there when others need it most.

Care, for the “Things You Didn’t Even Think About”

Story & Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

On Friday afternoon, James Fair had initially stopped by the American Red Cross caseworker station set up in a Milwaukee hotel lobby to ask about transportation. He’s in that challenging in-between time, after being displaced by a fire at his apartment building but before he can move into his new place.

Moments later in the lobby, along with talking transportation, Red Crosser Melinda Rosario was putting adhesive bandages on cuts on Fair’s hands, making sure he’d had a chicken Caesar wrap for lunch (he’d eaten it) and checking in that he knew the latest developments on his next apartment.

Melinda Rosario, Red Cross disaster team member, opens an adhesive bandage for James Fair, one of many people still dealing with an apartment building fire on Jan. 28.

“They take care of things you didn’t even think about,” Fair said afterward.

Fair is one of more than 100 people still displaced by a Jan. 28 apartment building fire on Milwaukee’s South Side, a fatal incident and the largest among a slew of high-volume residential fires to kick off 2021 in Wisconsin. In all, the Red Cross has helped 740 people who have been displaced by more than 100 fires since the start of the year, which is on trend with a typical busy winter here, but markedly higher in terms of the number of people affected each day.

Behind those numbers, however, are the unique ways disasters affect each person, from flashpoint to aftermath, with no certain timetable. Fair, a military veteran and a Milwaukee native, had lived in the 106-unit building in the Burnham Park neighborhood since the fall. On Jan. 27, he had dozed off to the nightly news only to be woken up at around 2 a.m. to pounding by a neighbor on his third-floor apartment door. Half wondering if it was a dream, Fair had enough time to grab his cane, put on a robe and grab a hat, to cover his head and face, given the smoke, to say nothing of the pandemic.

“They were yelling that we had to evacuate onto a city bus … at first, I was thinking that I’d be right back up in my place,” Fair said, before stepping back to reflect on the layers of issues that come up with such a fire. “You know that saying, ‘Bigger the headache, bigger the pill’? I feel like there isn’t a pill big enough for what you go through” after a fire.

Even still, Fair said he was very appreciative of the hive of Red Cross activity buzzing around him in the hotel lobby. Sheltering operations on Friday at the hotel – one of two hotel-shelters established over the past two weeks with just this fire – included delivery of 80 lunches by volunteers Kevin Connell and Terry Mackin, and restocking of complimentary masks and gloves by Merrill volunteer Laurel Cooper and Binghamton, N.Y. health services volunteer Jeanne Frey. Behind the scenes, numerous other disaster workforce members organized partners to identify affordable housing possibilities, transported totes for those ready to begin moving and helped residents process the emotional gravity of a fire.

James Fair calls himself a “different type of soldier,” though one grateful for help from the Red Cross after a fire displaced him and the rest of the people in his 106-unit building in Milwaukee.

Rosario, a disaster team member from Harrisburg, Pa., said that Fair and a handful of other military veterans displaced by this Milwaukee fire would be moving into longer-term housing in the coming weeks thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Fair called himself “a different type of soldier,” someone up for the challenges that life can hit you with at 2 a.m. on a sub-zero-temperature Milwaukee weekday. At the same time, he recognized that he’s had Red Cross volunteers fighting for him since he arrived from the fire. 

“I’m glad Red Cross is here, these people are here, because … otherwise, I don’t know,” he said.

Your generosity and volunteerism enable the Red Cross to help people like James every single day. We’re grateful for your consideration of joining our mission, through a gift or as a volunteer.

‘This is temporary’: perspective and perseverance power recovery after Menasha apartment building fire

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jo Ann Harris in a selfie.

Jo Ann Harris stood outdoors in flip flops and comfy clothes amid a Wisconsin winter afternoon, in “total shock” as a police officer told her the building she lives in was on fire.

She had left the apartment that morning for doctor’s appointments, on a seemingly ordinary Wednesday, never dreaming of the doubt and obstacles she’d come home to.

Yet just over a week later, she’s standing strong with the keys to a new apartment – and a newfound appreciation for those organizations that help others, like the American Red Cross.

“There’s so much good I haven’t been able to focus on the down times,” Harris said.

On the afternoon of Jan. 20, fire ripped through the Jefferson Court Apartments, ultimately displacing people from 24 units in the residential building near Jefferson Park in Menasha. In the initial response, Red Cross disaster teams established lodging, meals and immediate needs at a nearby hotel for Harris and nearly 30 other people.

Disaster teams from the American Red Cross at the scene of an apartment building fire in January 2021 in Menasha. Dozens of residents received relief and recovery help from Red Cross and partner agencies. Photo by Tom Nimsgern / American Red Cross

Harris moved into her apartment in 2016, up from Hammond, Ind. near her hometown of Chicago. In Menasha, she found a good career in customer service, and an apartment ideally located next to “beautiful” Lake Winnebago and run by landlords she had started to tease as “like my mother and father in Wisconsin.”

The fire took away that ideal apartment. But Harris has been able to pull a few priceless items from the wreckage – her family photographs central among them – and find perspective parallel to the pain.

“I’ve been really trying to keep it together. It’s a strain,” she said.

“But I’m very grateful, because God has made a way for people that don’t know me to be empathetic and show they care, show a caring spirit. You don’t always find that and the whole world is going through [a pandemic] right now. This happened, this fire, but then people helped, got me in a hotel, you’re eating every day, you’re making a way to move. I’m so grateful.”

Red Cross and a network of local service agencies – LEAVEN, St. Vincent de Paul, United Way, Salvation Army – rallied early on to see what recovery resources may be jointly available, with the future of the Menasha apartment building uncertain.

Your generosity brings relief in times of need to people in our community. Thank you for your support.

Harris has been a big advocate of LEAVEN since she arrived in Menasha and called them “a rock” this past week. In short order, she’s also grown close with Red Cross team members, like Sharon Holt, a volunteer from Combined Locks who has helped her with calls and reconnections to the numerous agencies that become disjointed after something as dire as a home fire.

Harris shows off the keys to a new place, just a week after experiencing a fire.

As Harris talked up getting the keys to a new place in Appleton, she acknowledged the gravity of the whole fire may yet come to her doorstep. She promised to keep moving ahead though, turning up the Marvin Sapp gospel songs when she needs a boost and reminding herself that she’s a witness to that lesson her mother often shared – help others because you, too, may one day need help.

“The representatives of the Red Cross, they give you empathy and they are on the frontline of helping,” Harris said. “Sometimes, we drop all our load on them, like they’re our therapists. I look at them, like, ‘They’re here to help me. They’re giving me their time.’ They helped me realize this is temporary.”

Your support of the American Red Cross enables our disaster teams to bring emergency relief to people like Jo Ann. Thank you for considering a donation to our humanitarian mission.

“Your whole team has saved our lives”: the words of 2020 that stand out to me

By Mark Thomas, Regional CEO & Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, American Red Cross

“On behalf of our family, thank you so very much for all the help from the Red Cross. Words cannot describe how much you have helped us. You are all amazing. You have been the world to us, your whole team has saved our lives.”

A member of a family in Racine texted the words above to one of our dedicated Disaster Action Team volunteers. The family was one of a handful who had been displaced by a fire in October. Texting had been the fastest and safest way to connect the family with shelter, food and more in the aftermath of the fire that displaced approximately 40 people total. As this and other families made their next steps toward recovery, the volunteer shared the words from this text to the rest of us on the daily disaster response meetings.

In darkness and loss, this person in need reached out to share gratitude, positivity and caring. Although they wrote that “words cannot describe” their feelings, the consequences of your impact was on full display.

Volunteers Dave Flowers and Kevin Connell deliver relief resources to the Wisconsin National Guard at a COVID isolation site in spring. It was one of the many ways our teams rose to the challenge of humanitarian aid during the pandemic.

In this year with so much uncertainty, pain and, yes, death, I want to take a positive cue from one of the thousands of people we’ve helped. Rather than reel off grim reminders of 2020, I want to take the chance to shine a light. Three lights, actually, for the three words that stood out to me over the past 12 months.

With apologies to Merriam-Webster, my first word of 2020 is commitment. Your commitment as Red Crossers since spring has been nothing short of astounding. When the pandemic really hit here, we weren’t sure how we’d connect volunteers with clients or if we could even hold blood drives. I remember some terrifying scenarios floating around. You remained committed to our mission. You stayed committed through societal turmoil and the worst natural disaster season in recent memory. You exemplified why people believe in the American Red Cross.

Here I am donating blood at our Milwaukee headquarters, where, like at all our drives during the pandemic, temperature readings, masks and extra cleanings are part of the extra steps to make donations safe.

Looking back over the year, the second positive word that comes to mind for me is resilient. It comes in partnership with commitment, but shows our flexibility, creativity and humanity in making our mission happen. Think about the resiliency it took to pull off virtual fundraising galas and take on brand-new volunteer roles; to innovate on the fly with COVID antibody testing and convalescent plasma collection; to come together around difficult conversations in digital town halls on topics like racial equity and civil unrest. And then to keep ourselves and those we serve safe and prepared in everything else we do. For every fire and each blood drive, with any fundraiser and all our programs, you bounced back with new, evolving opportunities to help someone.

That brings me to my final word of 2020 – honor. I am honored to call you colleagues and teammates, to do this work and follow in your footsteps. It’s an honor to know that our commitment and our resiliency enable us to serve people in crisis, no matter how daunting the news. I’m honored to wear this Red Cross because of everything we can accomplish together for people who need us, in “normal times” or whatever is next.

Air Force veteran gives back to the military as a Red Cross volunteer

By Andrea Azzo, American Red Cross

Wayne MacDonald’s life has been dedicated to serving others. It wasn’t long after he got out of the Air Force when the Wisconsin man decided to volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Now, nearly 34 years later, the Stevens Point man is nearing the end of his stint with the Red Cross. MacDonald is turning 72 years old on Nov. 26. His goal is to continue serving until he reaches the 35-year benchmark with the nonprofit organization.

“The Red Cross is so important with so many different things,” MacDonald said. “Supporting the military side is the biggest thing [for me].”

MacDonald’s volunteerism has been focused Service to the Armed Forces, the department at the Red Cross that helps service members, veterans and their families. He knows firsthand how difficult it can be to transition from the military to civilian life.

MacDonald served for 10 years in the Air Force and for 20 years in the Air Force Reserve. He has been stationed overseas in Turkey, England and Germany; plus in the U.S. at military bases in Alaska and Texas.

When he spent one and a half years in Turkey, MacDonald said he did not know what kind of assistance was available to him. Even today, he says other military families aren’t sure where to go if something happens.

That’s where his work with the Red Cross comes into play. MacDonald’s primary duty includes communicating with military families to make them aware of the support that exists. This includes notifying service members when a loved one back home falls seriously ill or dies.

The Red Cross’ work has evolved over time. When MacDonald began volunteering, letters informed service members. Now the Red Cross puts a service member in touch with military families. 

Most of the time, MacDonald says feedback is positive and communication is fast. Sometimes, families are surprised at how quickly they receive important news.

Other Service to the Armed Forces volunteer opportunities include canteening at veteran Honor Flight celebrations, like this one in May 2019 in Beloit.

The Red Cross of Wisconsin primarily helps service members and veterans within the state, but there have been instances in which other Red Cross chapters have needed Wisconsin’s help. MacDonald says he has helped the Red Cross in Florida when there was a hurricane. He has also covered Minnesota when there was a shortage of volunteers.

MacDonald primarily helps over the phone. (He has never met anyone he has helped face-to-face.)

“The main thing for me is to provide, whatever their need is,” MacDonald said. “Knowing they had a need, through the Red Cross, they got support. That’s the main thing.”

For more on the many ways the Red Cross supports veterans, service members and their families – and to join volunteers like Wayne – click here.

Introducing: Jennifer Clearwater, Regional Philanthropy Officer, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jennifer Clearwater recently joined our fund development team in the Wisconsin Region, bringing a range of philanthropic expertise and a true enthusiasm in connecting supporters with the mission of the American Red Cross.

A few weeks in, and she’s already making connections for people displaced by a Milwaukee apartment building fire, along with no shortage of internal training and on-boarding. We recently invited Jennifer to share answers to a few questions at the start of her Red Cross journey.

What drew you to the mission of the Red Cross?

Clearwater: Working for the Red Cross is sincerely a dream come true. Early in my career, when I knew that I was pursuing fundraising as a profession, I had it in my mind that someday I might be experienced enough to work for the American Red Cross, and now here I am!

I believe the Red Cross is the most important nonprofit in our country, and our country’s most important non-governmental partner. It is truly an honor to be on the team and working with the amazingly generous donors and volunteers who truly make all our services possible. 

Do you have a connection with the Red Cross prior to joining our team? (blood donor, military family, etc.)

Clearwater: Well, my favorite color is red, so there’s that … Our family has been blessed to have never been in a position to have needed the services of the Red Cross, but my husband, brother, and extended members of our family and friends are either currently active military or veterans, so the American Red Cross has always been the organization we knew would be there for them if they found themselves needing assistance domestically or internationally.

I also recently donated blood for the first time – the new Blood Donor app is terrific for scheduling appointments and I highly recommend everyone downloading it if you haven’t already. I was a little nervous going in to my first blood donation, but it was an energizing experience and I’ve already used the Blood Donor app again to schedule my next donation. 

What are some professional high points for you so far?

Clearwater: I’ve been blessed to have had opportunities to raise donations for and leave a positive mark on several important Wisconsin institutions, like Polish Fest, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee. Working for the American Red Cross is a dream come true for me; quite frankly, this is the most important job I’ve ever had, and I am delighted to be here at this highly critical time in our nation’s history to support the giving that makes Red Cross donors most fulfilled. 

Coming into the organization during this dramatic time, when we’re dealing with the daily effects of COVID-19 as well as disaster upon disaster has been interesting to say the least. Sort of like jumping onto a moving treadmill that’s set for Olympic gold medal sprinter speed while simultaneously drinking from a firehose … but I wouldn’t have it any other way and have already begun connecting with our generous supporters about the tremendous needs of the times. I’m looking forward to helping them and our volunteers and staff partner their resources to deliver critical services to our fellow ‘Sconnies and Americans today and for many years to come.

Outside of your career, what else would you like people to know about you right out the gates?

Clearwater: Rob – my husband of 27 years – and I are blessed with two healthy, smart, loving, and beautiful daughters, Emily and Paige. We all live in picturesque Port Washington, where I am also humbled to be a volunteer political appointee on our city’s Police and Fire Commission. I additionally have the honor of serving as a volunteer board director for Ozaukee County’s Riveredge Nature Center. 

Reach out to Jennifer on ways to put your generosity into action with the Red Cross at Jennifer.Clearwater@redcross.org

‘It’s a changing experience’: how Wisconsin volunteers are helping families decimated by wildfires in Oregon

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Hundreds of American Red Cross disaster teams have been working with families in crisis for months after a wave of hurricanes and wildfires ravaging the United States. Hillary Wanecke, of Delafield, Wisconsin has been involved with the Red Cross in humanitarian relief since Hurricane Katrina. Last week, she returned from a deployment in Oregon, where deadly wildfires decimated communities.

In this brief conversation, Wanecke shared with us the differences of deploying for disaster relief during a pandemic and the ways she was still able to let reeling families know that they weren’t alone in this battle.

You are someone known around southeast Wisconsin for your work helping people after home fires or other local disasters. But you’ve also deployed to do different types of roles in humanitarian relief after large-scale disasters. Tell me a bit about your role after the wildfires in Oregon and where you were.

Hillary Wanecke, left, was part of a team that checked on affected homes and residents after wildfires in Oregon. Photo by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross

Wanecke: On this deployment I went out in Disaster Assessment … so I went into areas that had been affected by the wildfire – it had been burning for about two weeks. We went through trying to find out which homes were affected and which weren’t and that is used for the recovery process, so that Red Cross and other agencies can help people with the things they need to recover. A lot of the roads for the addresses we had were closed, some of the assessments started virtually, where we mapped out the locations of the houses based on what the Sheriff’s [Department] said. When the streets opened up after a few days, we drove by these addresses and verified. It seemed like there was a wind storm that just kicked up this fire and people had to evacuate within minutes. They just had to leave everything. That was heart-breaking. I was around the town of Blue River [Oregon], population of about 900 on the McKenzie River. It burned to the ground. There wasn’t one building left, commercial or home in that little community.

You have hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland [in this part of Oregon]. These fires started from the lightning and the wind. At the beginning, around the beginning of September, they thought that they had these fires contained. These communities have existed here for hundreds of years, beautiful backdrops of the mountains and filled with these pristine trees. And the wind picked up, the fires kicked up and they just rolled down. … What was amazing was in some places, one house was standing and the next three houses were ashes. It seems like luck of the draw but no matter who you were, if you were in the path of it, you were really in trouble.

What were some of the homeowners you talked with saying about how they escaped, what they went through to get out?

Wanecke: One guy was very prepared, a younger man who had a satellite phone, a generator. He had kind of organized people in his community of McKenzie Ridge, for water and necessities, his own little help center. His house wasn’t burned. He said he went to sleep that night, knowing there was a wind storm [coming]. He was prepared for that but he thought the power might go out. So, what did he do? He turned off his phone to preserve power. And he woke up and the fire saved his house, but it torched the rest of the community. He was like a lot of people, he went to bed and it was fine and then it escalated to … people had to flee with whatever they had on them.

You’re just thinking that this fire is still going. If the winds changed, if the forecast changed, it wasn’t good.

What were some of the resources you and your Red Cross teams were able to bring people.

In the town of Blue River, Ore., Wanecke, left, and fellow disaster volunteers gathered information used to provide financial and other assistance to hundreds of families who lost everything to wildfires. Photo by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross

Wanecke: We’ve got this great technology and we were able to go around, find addresses, locate people who had been affected. Then, we were able to share with victims where they could get help. In the aftermath, they left so quickly, they may have been staying in cars, staying with relatives. They were shell-shocked. We were able to connect with people to get them into hotels from the Red Cross, to get them registered that they were affected by this so that they could start a case with us [for potential financial assistance], with FEMA, other agencies. After the initial days, we were doing “hot shot” calls, for people seeking help. We’d get a call from someone who evacuated who’d say, “My house, I’m not sure if it was affected, it’s at this address.” People couldn’t go back in to their communities. And if we hadn’t identified it previously, we’d go out to see the status of the house.

Now, we’re talking with people who are existing volunteers and recruit new volunteers to help with these wildfires and other disasters going on, either in person or virtually. What would you say to someone about the personal reward you find in deploying like this, even with all the considerations?

Wanecke: I was nervous about going out, during the pandemic. But you’re very well covered. The Red Cross has a lot of good training, specialty training related to COVID-19 … We’ve changed procedures during this. We’ve all gotten very good at [Microsoft] Teams and we’re using other technology more smartly. But we pivot where we have to. Some of the cell towers burned so we were doing work back on pen and paper.

It’s a changing experience. The Red Cross sees a need and it finds a way to fill it. If we can’t serve people out of Cambros, those big, red meal containers, we’ll find a way of packaging those meals and getting them to the people. If we can’t have a large congregate shelter in the basement of a church with 200 people, then we’re going to find a hotel and run it like a shelter, to get the people housed and fed. It’s a little different, you’re not hugging people. But you’re still getting information out to people and there are a lot of people who need this help, between the fires, the storms down South, the home fires locally. It’s a mess out there. But we’ve made it work.

Was there a moment you had with someone from Oregon, affected by these wildfires?

Wanecke: This one couple … she had just gotten out of the hospital and was sitting on her walker while her husband took a sieve through the ashes of their trailer home.

We found out from them that they had evacuated and this was their first time back to their trailer, which was in ash. And they had been sleeping in a tent. She was just out of the hospital … [from] a back surgery. When you think it can’t get any worse …

We let them know that they didn’t have to sleep in a tent. We got them in touch with the Red Cross in Eugene [Oregon] and found a hotel room for them and food was being delivered. … [W]hen you’re knocked on your tail with a disaster like that, sometimes common sense can go out the window. You are so overwhelmed. We were able to tell this couple that they didn’t have to do this by themselves.

You can join volunteers like Hillary in a number of roles that help people in need. Find roles for today’s disasters at redcross.org/VolunteerToday

Lloyd Seawright is engaged, busy — and ready for even more

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

It was fifteen years ago around this very time that Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana coast and pummeled the city of New Orleans. Lloyd Seawright, a current American Red Cross volunteer based out of Milwaukee, shares harrowing tales involving several of his family members directly impacted by Katrina.

“My mom is from New Orleans and was living there in 2005 when Katrina hit. Although she was trapped by the storm she survived,” recounted Seawright. “But I lost several family members including my grandmother and my great uncle to the disaster.”

Lloyd Seawright while helping others at a disaster shelter.

His elderly grandmother was living in a convalescent home and couldn’t get out in time. According to Seawright, she actually floated out of the facility and was located through the help of Red Cross ham radio operators. His great uncle was never found.

After experiencing the fear and heartbreak of that natural disaster, Seawright made a vow to himself that one day he would help others who might be in such a situation. And he is making good on his promise.

In 2013 Seawright registered to volunteer with the Red Cross and has jumped at every opportunity to get involved. He’s participated in a range of trainings, all to provide him the chance to respond, help others, and eventually perhaps to save lives.

“I’ve been able to get involved with the Red Cross on many levels all across the board, and I continue to be ready to do whatever is needed of me,” he said.

In the past several years Seawright has responded to the destructive flooding in Burlington and Waterford, as well as the major fire in Bayside last year that displaced more than one hundred residents. He also participated in Red Cross fundraising campaigns to support the recovery from Hurricane Florence’s devastation in 2018.

You can be a hero to veterans, families displaced by fire, blood donors and more. Join our volunteer teams. Find the volunteer opportunity for you at redcross.org/volunteer.

Seawright explains that he enjoys his Red Cross volunteer work because it provides him with the continuous opportunity to learn and operate within the ranks of the Red Cross. He appreciates the education he’s gained and the chance to work across different teams in different ways – from sheltering and fundraising to lifesaving and disaster response. The one major box he has yet to check is deployment. Seawright’s training and skills are matched by his desire to one day deploy to a national or international disaster site.

Lloyd Seawright gives two-thumbs up after a smoke alarm installation event in 2019.

Seawright’s non-volunteer work keeps him busy, and there’s a common thread across his various activities. A former member of the Marine Corps Reserve; he demonstrates a call to duty in everything he pursues. By day he works in emergency management where he instructs and evaluates individuals training to become EMTs. He’s also passionate about his job as a lifeguard at Atwater Beach, a public beach located on the shore of Lake Michigan in Shorewood, Wisc. His medical training, lifesaving and open water skills make him especially suited for that work.

When asked his thoughts regarding the current global pandemic, Seawright expresses concern for the toll it is taking on mental health. The isolation factor many are experiencing is particularly troubling.

“I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person,” he said, “but I do worry about how the loss of normal milestones like going back to school or celebrating birthdays and weddings with friends will impact many people, especially kids.”

For now, Seawright continues to stay optimistic and focus on the Red Cross volunteer activities that come his way. And more than anything, he looks forward to getting the call to deploy to serve as a Red Cross volunteer on a national mission.

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.