Wisconsin Red Cross Volunteers Give a Firsthand Account to Devastation, Response to Hurricanes

Story by James Ziech, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

As two deadly hurricanes struck the southeastern United States in September and October, more than 130 Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff from Wisconsin joined the national response.

Brenda Haney DA Hurricane Florence

Brenda Haney, from the Madison area, tallies damage during her deployment to North Carolina. (Photo by June Shakhashiri / American Red Cross)

Below is a snapshot of varied experiences of Wisconsin volunteers – from riding in helicopters to devastated towns to talking with people at shelters who had nowhere else to turn. While some volunteers have been deployed and come back, many more remain in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas as the recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Michael carry on for what will likely be months. (Find out how you can help the Florence recovery here.)

Tena Quackenbush of Black River Falls
Sheltering in North Carolina

Tena has been volunteering with The American Red Cross for about a year now. She was deployed to Houston last year as part of the response to Hurricane Harvey. But this experience in North Carolina was definitely different.

After going to a processing station, Tena and 10 others were flown in by Black Hawk helicopter to a shelter in Cerro Gordo to make relief and serve primarily the residents of Fair Bluff, whose town had been flooded out. Tena said it was rewarding to be able to show compassion and remove fears for those who had lost so much.

“When they learned that the shelter was closing and will have to move to another shelter, I could see the fear welling up in their eyes. We all took them outside as a group and individually for a prayer circle. After we were done, a little girl tugged on my shirt with tears in her eyes and said, ‘That was amazing’. When we left, people kept hugging us and thanking the American Red Cross for what they had done,” Tena said.

(Click here to check out a video of Mimi Maki, of Kewaunee, sharing the spiritual and emotional resources she’s providing in Florida.)

Evelyn Carter in Garland NC for Hurricane Florence Sept 22 2018

Evelyn Carter, from the Eau Claire area, provided mobile food delivery in North Carolina after Florence made landfall. (Photo Daniel Cima / American Red Cross)

Evelyn Carter of Eau Claire
Meals and driving in North Carolina

Evelyn has been volunteering for the American Red Cross for the past year and a half, active in anything from casework with clients and shelter assistance to disaster assessment and driving emergency response vehicles.

When asked to deploy, she immediately agreed. Evelyn and fellow volunteer David McDonald drove an emergency response vehicle (ERV) from the Wausau Red Cross office to Macon, Georgia. From there, they received orders for mobile assistance, which brought Evelyn to Lexington, North Carolina. Evelyn joined a caravan of vehicles to deliver hot meals to remote and disconnected parts of the state.

“It was adventurous and a challenge working with the victims and making sure you met their needs,” she said. “Whether it was one meal or several for their group, it was nice knowing that they can come up to get something to eat for the day. I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but on my last day I had people coming up to me and hugging me and thanking me for all that we have done.”

Shana and deploying vols

Ana Perez, in red hat, reviews paperwork as she and fellow volunteers from southeast Wisconsin prepare for deployment with Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross)

Ana Perez of Sheboygan
Sheltering in North Carolina

Ana has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for past four years. Previously, she had been deployed to the hurricane response in St. Croix and to flooding damage in Kentucky. When she left for this deployment, she and five fellow Red Cross volunteers arrived at a school shelter in Edenton, North Carolina, where they were initially joined by a principal, a sheriff, two cooks and a school janitor to keep 40 people calm before the hurricane made landfall.

“My heart ached for everyone in the shelters, having their lives turned upside down,” she said.

Ana said she came to help but didn’t expect to be taught something in return. She knew one of the elderly clients from a previous shelter. The client did not have anyone else with her, but she did not complain. When Ana was working the registration desk three days in, she was approached by the lady carrying her belongings and told her she had a place to go.

“I will always remember her kindness … the patience and strength she had during this difficult time in her life,” Ana said. “[I] use it as a reminder to not let the circumstances around me control my emotions or peace.”

Terry Buchen of Madison
Logistics in Virginia and North Carolina

Terry has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for 10 years. He had been deployed in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and Georgia. Like many who were deployed recently, he was also able to help during flooding and storms in his own backyard this summer in Wisconsin.

During his deployment this time around, Terry has been responsible for managing a warehouse, loading of trucks and delivering supplies where they are most needed. It appears there is no stopping him either. “To me, you’re helping people and it is a lot of fun,” he said.

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“There are so many ways to help”: Erin Martin jumps into disaster volunteer roles

by Antonia Towns, Red Cross volunteer

When a tornado blew through the town of Chili, Erin Martin swirled into action.

A firefighter and longtime Wisconsin resident, Erin helped to coordinate a community clean-up effort for the town, about 20 minutes west of Marshfield. A few years later and after the birth of a child, Erin remained inspired by the disaster response experience, and signed up as a volunteer with the Red Cross.


“There’s a huge need for it in Clark County. It’s been good,” said Erin, one of the volunteers we’re highlighting during National Volunteer Appreciation Week.

With 22 years of experience working for the fire department, 19 of those years as a firefighter, Erin brings a unique set of skills that are beneficial to her volunteer position on the Disaster Action Team (D.A.T.) with the Red Cross. Along with her skills and experience, Erin carries plenty of compassion.

“I’ve seen people after a house fire and they just have a sense of hopelessness with no clue of how to rebuild. I can point them in the right direction and understand what they went through,” she said.

She recalled a time when she responded to a house fire where the family had been split up.

“After I gave them their card and told them what to do next, the wife started crying. We gave them some direction,” Erin said, adding, “You’re one of the first people that tells the victims that they’re going to be OK.”

Brian Cockerham, Red Cross North Central Chapter disaster program manager, called Erin an “invaluable volunteer” for her steadfast presence in Clark County.

“Erin is a not only an amazing Red Cross volunteer but is a great community member and a real asset to people around her,” Cockerham said.

Although firefighters often partner with Red Cross staff and volunteers, Erin said she didn’t know the extent of Red Cross offerings and programs until she joined D.A.T. For instance, training to provide emotional support to people who have suffered from a residential fire let her know that “there are so many ways to help.”

And with her holistic emergency background – for which she was awarded a Hometown Hero honor from the North Central Chapter of the Red Cross – comes a well-rounded view of the impact during emergencies.

“I’ve seen people during the events, and with the Red Cross, now I see them after, in recovery,” she said. “I’ve seen the full circle now.”

For more information on the ways you can help your community and our state, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

A reflection and personal story to support her native Puerto Rico by Wisconsin volunteer, Julianna Kimpton who packed her backpack and flew to her island after Hurricane Maria.

September 20, 2017. All media say that my island is dark. My Boriken will never be the same. My search for the voice of my people began.

October 21, 2017. At approximately 1:38 pm local time an American Airlines airplane landed in San Juan with me as a passenger, at that moment is when I really understood what silence means. There were no cheers or songs, only teary eyes because we have witnessed from the sky the destruction Maria caused. Then it hit me, this was just the beginning.

Kimpton Photo - Home Destruction 2

As a volunteer for the American Red Cross, I was assigned to Reunification. (Helping those affected to communicate with loved ones, it is the search and rescue unit of the Red Cross) What I never imagined was that it would be me who would meet a new reality, a new story and reunite with the Boricua that has been asleep inside me since I left the island in December 2001.

I’ve spent the last 21 days with my family, we do not carry the same last name or DNA but we share the “plantain stain” on the forehead. We carry the warrior air of our Taino Indians, carry the flag and raised fists shouting “I shall not quit.”

My island will never be the same. It will take generations before our Yunque recovers, take years before the streets are once again free of debris, months until every household has water and electricity, but what you can already feel and hear in the air is Faith.

Kimpton Photo - Carrying Supplies I have met with thousands of people in these three weeks. Every day, I go out to distribute water and supplies to groups of 300 to 600 people. I visit the elderly in their homes and take items to people with disabilities. I embraced, I prayed, laughed and cried with more people than I can count. I held the hand of elderly people in beds of which they will never rise again. I’ve met families who had lost contact and I’ve heard people talk about what Maria “stole”. But from everything I’ve have seen and heard, something that everyone has in common, regardless of age or situation, destruction or pain is Hope.

This hurricane took ceilings, houses and unfortunately took lives. But for those who are still here the hurricane could not steal their fighting spirit – that Boricua heat. The same spirit that leads us to feed the neighbors when in our own home we have barely enough to eat. That spirit of family, I traveled to places where there was nothing and still people came out of their homes with “a cold coke” or “a glass of water with ice cubes.” (Trust me, here the ice is more valuable than gold) and always the “I owe” with promises of “pateles” and rice with pigeon peas cooked on the fire.

Kimpton Photo - Home Destruction 2

My people, our island will never be the same, but the #puertoricoselevanta is law. People are ready to rebuild, they are ready to put Maria as part of the story in a social studies book with the word “Survivor” next to it. Boriken is being renovated. Children are flying kites today, the projects are full with cleaning crews consisting of people who live there. Crime has decreased and people are on the street helping others.

I write this at 4:12 am local time. In less than two hours, I will leave wearing my red vest and go to work. I have written this with the music of the Coqui orchestra as inspiration. Hoping to give at least a small window to the Boricua dream.

Please do not be discouraged. Yes, it’s true the hurricane has destroyed thousands of homes, uprooted trees and claimed lives. It has given back what we had forgotten for a time — Puerto Ricans are one. We are family. We fight amongst ourselves but if a stranger comes to bother one of us we defend our own “uñas y dientes”. It has given us humility. It reminded us what our parents told us a chancletazo limpio, “be kind, be a good person  and certainly no me abochornes”.

I leave you to sleep for a little while, but not before thanking you for your support. I hope my message proves what my heart screams, we are one. We are family and my people please know Puerto Rico is getting “make over” when we finish will be “de show”.

Kimpton Photo - Day Off God bless you.

Julianna Kimpton

AmeriCorps Volunteers Answer the Call in Houston

nccc

Story and Photo by Chris Genin, American Red Cross volunteer

From left to right: Jeremy Holm, Alex Unger, Juliana Stahle, Scott Sobocinski, Joshua Haisch, Emma Harvey

Unless you’ve resided or worked in an American Red Cross shelter, it’s difficult to get a sense of what goes on to ensure the comfort and safety of people who have come to the shelter for help. Volunteers work around the clock to maintain a positive environment and guarantee people’s needs are met. This is a huge job and the Red Cross often works with partner agencies in the shelter so that things run smoothly.

Alex Unger, an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Core (NCCC) team leader, is one such volunteer who represents a partner agency and is working side-by-side with Red Cross volunteers to efficiently run one of the remaining Red Cross shelters at Houston’s Greenspoint Mall.

AmeriCorps is a team-based national community service program run by the federal government and Alex and his team operate under the NCCC. Teams are usually comprised of eight to 12 people who travel around the country building homes, responding to disasters, working with kids and performing energy and environmental conservation work. They operate under 10-month commitments and typically focus on one region unless a disaster strikes. The AmeriCorps campus in Baltimore sent 12 teams to Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Prior to deploying to Houston, Alex’s team was in Idaho aiding relief efforts during the Hanover Wildfire.

Alex’s team of 11 AmeriCorps members helped spearhead the shelter set up and had the big task of unloading and organizing 16 trucks packed full of resident’s’ personal belongs. Most Greenspoint Mall residents moved there from another shelter and a system had to be implemented to make sure personal belongings went with them. Alex’s team sorted totes and boxes and created a system for where their belongings went.

Nearly 500 people descended on the shelter, some traveling with 10 massive boxes and others bringing one small tote, Alex’s team organized these things in an orderly manner, while at the same time remaining readily available to help in other areas. No matter the quantity of what came with a resident, Alex handled all belongings with care, keeping in mind that what they were unloading could be all the material things that remained for some people.

Thirteen AmeriCorps team members are still supporting Red Cross shelter operations. These volunteers help manage laundry service, sorting and distributing donated items, serving meals, unloading deliveries and maintaining general cleanliness. All of this is done in support of the 400 residents who call this shelter home nearly seven weeks after Hurricane Harvey.

Alex, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin, joined AmeriCorps because he wanted to experience this unique way of life and to develop his leadership ability. He and his team are going to continue their work in Houston until they graduate their service year on November 15.

A lot of the people are really appreciative of the work that we’re doing here,” Alex said. “Whether it’s serving meals or passing out clothes, a lot of people basically have nothing. It’s humbling to be a part of it all, to sit with someone and hear their story. It’s great to see people getting back on their feet.”

Words of Hope & Support from our Volunteers!

Written By: Deanna Culver, Red Cross Volunteer, 09/12/2017

I am a Red Cross Volunteer
Volunteering is what we do
Today, tomorrow, and the next day too
Helping people on their recovery begins with steps
Together we’ll work on cleaning up the confusion and mess
Eager to assist and ready at a moment’s notice
Helping people and meeting new friends is an added bonus
Volunteering is given from within our hearts
Today, and tomorrow right from the start
Resources and guidance a soft loving gesture in a time of need
To help get people back on their feet
Disasters happen day and night
Red Cross volunteers lead the way with a shining light
Eyes of care watching over you
Smiles to brighten your hearts that turned heavily blue
Rather on the phone or in a shelter
We’re here to help you fill alittle better
Listening, sharing, and caring to help guide you
Nothing is to tough for us to help you through
For helping people far from home and near
I am a Red Cross Volunteer

Red Cross Responders Stepping Up After Manitowoc Fire

We can’t say THANK YOU enough to our dedicated volunteers!

Stories and photos by: Andrea Wandrey, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

“Look at that smile, isn’t that priceless”, says Taira Grubb, as she is watching one of her shelter residents unfold his new pair of pants. He is one of more than 80 elderly residents that lost everything in a Manitowoc apartment fire—from clothes to medication and furniture, photos and memories. American Red Cross responders from all over Wisconsin raised their hands quickly to help open up and run a shelter at the Wilson Junior High School, to provide basic needs like food, clothing and a place to sleep.

(l-r) Taira Grubb Bobbi Holiday and Jane Lazarevic

Taira Grubb has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than ten years. She is one of five disaster action team members in Washington County and traveled with fellow volunteers Bobbi Holiday and Jane Lazarevic to Manitowoc to help. Her favorite part of shelter-work is learning about the clients. “I really enjoy talking to them”, she says. Just like Taira, Jane appreciates the personal interactions: “I like making them laugh and helping them think positively”. Jane is a long-time Red Cross volunteer, and recalls that initially she was not sure how her professional background in technology could be helpful to the Red Cross. However, she quickly found out that there is always a way:

“Whatever you can do, you can give something”, says Jane.

In previous deployments she worked in many different positions, from setting up computers, to logistics, staffing and general shelter work. Likewise, her fellow Washington-County volunteer Bobbi has held different positions at the Red Cross. She was previously an office manager and is in disaster-work now, experienced in assisting clients in traumatic situations like the Manitowoc fire.

Terry Wesenberg, a licensed clinical social worker and licensed counselor and Red Cross Volunteer.

A variety of skills were needed at the Manitowoc shelter and highly-trained workers are indispensable. Terry Wesenberg joined the shelter as a licensed clinical social worker and licensed counselor. He is one of the Red Cross’s most experienced mental health professionals. For many years he was in the army, offering his help to soldiers. After his retirement from the Armed Forces he worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for six years in disaster work. Being a Red Cross Volunteer for more than 30-years, he has helped more people than he could count. “I headed out to help after six Hurricanes”, he recalls. He travelled to the Gulf Coast to assist after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, and was in New York for Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012. When asked about his most memorable experience in all these years, he recalls his conversation with a 90-year-old woman after Superstorm Sandy. “When storm hit, she carried six white banker-boxes from her basement into her living room, to protect them from the flood”, he recalled. The boxes contained pictures, stories, and poems from her deceased granddaughter. With the water forcing its way into the house, the boxes got wet and all memories destroyed. Yet the woman refused to throw them out. “This is all I have left” Terry recalls her saying.

His extensive experience helps Terry support the Manitowoc fire victims, who also lost all of their belongings in the fire. Although his work can be tough, Terry very much enjoys volunteering, specifically because of the fellow volunteers he meets. “If you go out you will meet the best people. You want to know them all”, he says.

 

“The Volunteer You Would Need” Red Cross Volunteers are There When Disaster Strikes.

Written By: Dawn Miller, American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region

Photos provided by: Megann Hooyman

When the volunteer from the American Red Cross arrived it was like seeing an old friend and that was just what Megann Hooyman and her family of Appleton needed. The moments leading up to it were a blur of smoke and sirens.

Megann’s family, including her husband, Andy, 4-year old daughter, Zoey and the two-year old twins, Rylee and Callie, had arrived home from a holiday event with Santa. It was a festive Saturday morning so it took Megann a few moments to realize something was wrong.

When she opened her door all she saw was black and smoke. The glass from the oven was shattered on the floor and smoke was everywhere. She bent down to Charlie, their basset hound, but he was already gone. In the living room the smoke was so thick she could not see her hand in front of her.

She ran out the front door and yelled for someone to call 9-1-1. Smoke billowed out behind her. When she opened the door it allowed oxygen in to ignite the flames again.

Andy grabbed the fire extinguisher nearby and used it to keep flames down until firefighters arrived. “It was lucky that we had the fire extinguisher and that Andy knew how to use it,” says Megann.

Within moments Megann heard the sirens and the fire department was there. The fire fighters not only got the fire under control but assisted the family’s other dog, Zebby, who suffered bad burns and smoke inhalation. The ambulance assisted Andy who also was treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire damage was extensive and their possessions were destroyed.

Megann says the American Red Cross volunteer appeared out of nowhere. It’s like seeing a familiar face when you see the American Red Cross logo and that red vest. “It was nice to have that one reliable thing you know you can count on for information and support.”

Megann says the volunteer being there made her feel less alone. “I would have felt lost because I wouldn’t have known what to expect.”

He offered honest advice, time to process next steps and he made sure they were ok. He made sure they had housing and asked if they needed community resources like the food or clothing pantry. He gave them a $625 debit card for necessities like shampoo, conditioner and diapers. “It goes pretty fast when you have little ones,” says Megann.

Megann says she is thankful for such a supportive community. In the weeks following the fire, they stayed with family and were offered much support from friends and community who rallied to help keep the holiday season merry.

“You donate, you give back but you never think you are going to be on the receiving end,” says Megann. “But you need these services.”

Megann recently became the newest member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team.

“I hope I volunteer but I hope I don’t because it’s not a good situation,” says Megann. That’s why she’s not only being trained in disaster response but also wants to assist in fire safety and prevention education.

Megann is joining the team of compassionate and caring volunteers in red vests so she can be a friend when someone needs it the most. “You see it in school and on t.v. but you never think it will happen to you,” says Megann. “I don’t know any way to thank those who helped us except to give back and volunteer.”

If you want to be like Megann, please check out the volunteer opportunities at redcross.org/WI/volunteer.  Join us as we #Help1Family!