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.

“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.

GF fire Jessie Austin chair ONE

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.

GF fire Jessie food Jim Robin Berzowski

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.

GF fire COVID April 2020 Jim Robin Berzowski Landmark food pickup

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.

Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

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?

Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

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.

West_Jodi_2

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

Chuck Patzer

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.

David Klitzman shares - CPR award July 2019 American Red Cross

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.”

Natl Guard sendoff Franklin July 2018 THREE

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.