Hurricane Harvey – Close Up

By David Schoeneck, American Red Cross Volunteer

As the winds, rain, and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey last week pummeled Southeast Texas, first hundreds, then thousands of residents sought refuge at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. By Tuesday night, August 29, more than 9,400 people had sought shelter at the center, a mammoth 5-block long structure with five large halls covering over half a million square feet.

They came as individuals, as families, as extended families, as neighbors. Often with only the wet clothes on their back, they needed a safe, secure place to stay, dry clothes, a hot meal, and most of all, hope. And the Red Cross was there for them. Working closely with government partners such as the city, the county and the state, Red Cross shelter workers welcomed them in, helped them dry off, fed them a hot meal, and saw to their health needs and concerns.

Dave Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer

Where only a few days before, there was an empty cement floor, within 48 hours a village, then a town, then a city of over 10,000 residents sprang up. Neighborhoods developed. One hall was reserved for people with pets, another for families. People of many different heritages and backgrounds from all over Texas were united as survivors of a terrible natural tragedy. All entered this giant “lifeboat” mega-shelter knowing that they would now be safe and cared for.

The Red Cross rushed workers from across the nation to Houston, even before Harvey struck. By the end of the week, more than 2,700 trained disaster workers were on the ground, and another 800 were on the way, along with more than Red Cross 200 emergency relief vehicles. Over 37,000 people stayed in 270 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas on Saturday.

At the George Brown Shelter, hundreds of local Houstonians reached out to help their neighbors. They sorted donated clothes, provided meals and food service, and rendered medical assistance. Boy Scout troops served up an oatmeal breakfast, and were introduced to folks who live outside of their middle-class neighborhoods.

Stories were shared of rescues by strangers from rising flood waters, as neighborhoods were suddenly inundated. Travel around the area was difficult, as major freeways were under water for several days. Sad stories were also shared of relatives who had tried to drive to safety, but were swept away by the floods. Red Cross Mental health and health services professionals have provided over 11,000 contacts to provide support and care for the evacuees.

Shelter for Hurricane Harvey evacuees

Journalists from all over the world rushed to cover the story, with TV crews based here sending stories and pictures back to networks in countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, and Denmark. In addition, all of the national networks, the local and regional television and radio stations, were well represented, as well as many Texas and national newspapers.

While squeezing nearly 10,000 people into one shelter isn’t optimal, everyone there was safe, out of the weather, and had access to hot food and medical assistance. Additional shelters opened up the next day and relieved pressure on the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter.

One survivor summed it all up. When told to make sure she held on to a certain document, as she slide it back into a large manila envelope, she simply said, “Don’t worry. My entire life is in this envelope.”

Thanks to dedicated and caring volunteers

During National Volunteer Week (this year, April 23-29) we like to do an extra shout out of appreciation for our volunteers who help fulfill the American Red Cross mission to reduce human suffering in the face of emergencies. The generous donation of time, expertise, and compassion make our hearts swoon with gratitude. Below, check out several spotlights featuring volunteers from selected areas around our Minnesota Region. Thanks!

Northern Minnesota

Tim Rose

Two northern Minnesota volunteers, Tim Rose and John Keith, have gone above and beyond our expectations with their diligent work in making appointments and installing smoke detectors in people’s homes. Within the last few months they have installed 419 alarms in 130 homes in our 17 county northern Minnesota chapter jurisdiction. We find this mission extremely important as our chapter alone has had 8 people perish due to a home fire this past winter season.  We could hot ask for more dedicated and caring volunteers, like Tim and John, to help carry out this important initiative of the American Red Cross!

John Keith

We are assured when they go to someone’s home that they provide them with the preparedness information needed for making a plan to evacuate in case of an emergency. From hearing their stories on their return from a smoke alarm installation, we also know they make a personal connection with the homeowner. They went to one home to install free smoke alarms where a World War II veteran mentioned the story of the Red Cross charging for donuts and coffee to active service members when in Europe. The veteran told John he had to walk 10 miles to get coffee and a donut and paid a nickel for it.  After John told him that the Red Cross started charging only because the U.S. Secretary of War asked it to do so because free Red Cross donuts caused tension with British soldiers who had to pay for theirs. The Red Cross complied, after protesting to no avail. The veteran said with a big smile “looks like I got my nickel back.”

Southwest Minnesota

Don and Betty Gedrose

Don and Betty Gedrose from Southwest Minnesota have been hard at work supporting the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Together, they have installed over 130 smoke alarms in the Brown County area since mid-December. They’re also taking a huge role in helping to plan a Brown County Home Fire Campaign on April 22. “We encourage people to take advantage of this free initiative, to check their smoke alarms regularly, and to regularly conduct two-minute fire drills at home,” says Betty Gedrose.

Biomedical Services

Mark Steffer

Since joining the Biomedical Team as a Transportation Specialist in December 2016, Mark Steffer has far exceeded the commitments placed before him. Not only has he managed to accrue twice as many work hours required, he has become an integral member of our volunteer driving force. His dedication to the driving program, and to the Red Cross in general, has enabled us to deliver life-saving blood products to area hospitals during  critical need asks—and has helped save and improve countless lives. Mark has continuously gone above and beyond as a Red Cross volunteer, holding an impressive 30+ positions within the organization as both Biomedical Services and Humanitarian Services volunteer. In the last year alone, Mark has donated over 700 hours of his time to helping our organization provide support to those in need. Throughout it all, Mark has exhibited a passion for the humanities—both through his volunteer work, and in the arts. He, like all of our volunteers, remind us every day of how lucky we are to be able to give back to the communities we serve. Thank you, Mark!

To learn about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.

Charitable Work Does Everyone Good: Spotlight on Anna Sullivan Kyle

rco_blog_img_annakyleThis 1944 Myron Hall photo shows St. Cloud Area Red Cross officials planning for their next project. Anne Kyle is sitting at her desk, John Henry standing on the right and Mrs. J. L. Rivard is off to the left.

Story by Steve Penick, Head Archivist at the Stearns History Museum

Volunteers make a difference in any community. These generous individuals help the homeless, teach kids to read, and provide assistance during a natural disaster. This dedication helps not only those in need but inspires others to contribute what they can to make the world a better place.

Anna or Anne Sullivan Kyle (1891-1963) was one such person. She moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota from Minneapolis in 1926 and began volunteering for the American Red Cross. Anne reflected on what volunteering meant to her. She stated in a 1957 St. Cloud Times article, “It’s self-satisfying. And you get pleasure out of knowing that you have really helped others.” Even though the Red Cross was her primary concern, she did not limit herself to just one organization.

In this world, people should be kept busy on something worthwhile, either church work or some charitable work. It does everyone some good.

Kyle also volunteered for the Auxiliary at the Wallace S. Chute Post in 1927 and rapidly worked her way toward president of the Sixth District several years later. Soon Anne reached the state level as a member of the Rehabilitation Committee, one in which she chaired. In her spare time, Anne became president of the Women’s Guild and the St. Cloud Area Council of the Parent and Teachers Association.

Anne’s work with the Red Cross would in time transition into a staff position. Despite the death of her husband Edwin in 1938, she continued her efforts to help the St. Cloud community. In 1942, Anne was appointed Executive Secretary, encouraging others to volunteer and help in the war effort. Her humble philosophy, though, continued to be a model for others. “In this world, people should be kept busy on something worthwhile, either church work or some charitable work. It does everyone some good.” Almost sixty years later, Kyle’s words ring true about her commitment in making a better community.

Originally published on the Stearns History Museum Facebook page, this story appears here with permission. Thank you!

My son’s superheroes are Red Cross volunteers

Story and photos by Kristen Threinen, Nurse Assistant Training Program Manager, American Red Cross 

rco_blog_img_noah-t-shirt-2Following a quick visit to our Red Cross centennial kick-off celebration in Minneapolis, my son Noah has had a lot of questions about the Red Cross.

And then, several days later, Noah’s 2nd grade class was given the option to dress-up as their favorite superhero. When I asked him that Tuesday evening (the day I received communication about dress-up day) if he wanted to dress-up he promptly responded, “YES!” He then stated he wanted to dress as a “real-life superhero,” a Red Cross volunteer.

img_0650-3I frantically emailed a co-worker, asking if there was any way I could purchase a Red Cross T-shirt. The co-worker came through as my Red Cross superhero with the shirt Noah’s wearing above.

Noah was beyond proud going to school dressed as a Red Cross superhero. And then, having the opportunity to walk with me in the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade was the icing on the cake!

rco_blog_img_noahI’m so grateful to have the opportunity to expose my son to the Red Cross mission to reduce human suffering…it’s humbling and inspiring.

Click here to learn more about Minnesota Red Cross Century of Service events throughout 2017. Also, use the social media hashtag #MNRedCross100 to share your Red Cross stories with us.

Thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? These three opportunities support disaster relief.

Icon Disaster ServicesThis year, are you thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Right now in Minnesota, we’re recruiting for three opportunities supporting disaster relief. Each position ensures disaster workers can deliver humanitarian aid at home and around the corner. 

Icon DisasterSupport daily operations for disaster relief services
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks a volunteer to support instructor-led training by scheduling in-person classes and performing other administrative tasks, as needed. This is a flexible-schedule position that can be performed remotely during daytime hours. If interested, please contact Angela Antony (angela.antony@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterPrepare new volunteers for Red Cross disaster relief service
The American Red Cross serving Twin Cities Area seeks volunteers to assist Workforce Engagement with bringing on-board new disaster volunteers. This role guides new volunteers through the first steps of joining the Red Cross, from turning in the right paperwork and signing up for training, to helping them feel prepared for their roles. On-boarding volunteers enjoy working with people, being flexible, and serving on a team. If interested, please contact Hannah Linsk (hannah.linsk@redcross.org).

Icon DisasterHelp volunteers get out the door to disaster relief responses
The Minnesota Region needs volunteers to help deploy volunteers to both regional and national disasters. Deployment team members will assign volunteers to Disaster Relief Operations (DROs), give the proper information regarding deployment procedures, distribute mission cards, and perform other duties as necessary. The best candidates will be comfortable working with online platforms and on the telephone. Help us volunteers get out the door! If interested, please contact Susan Waananen (susan.waananen@redcross.org).

rco_blog_img_centenniallogoIt’s a great year to join us! Click here to learn more about our Century of Service, year-long celebration during 2017. #mnredcross100

Post by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

What’s it like to be a refugee?

This September 9-11, the Red Cross will be taking part in a humanitarian crisis simulation put on by the University of Minnesota. The goal of the weekend event is for participants to gain an understanding of the realities and difficulties facing humanitarian aid professionals and the people they serve. Volunteers, role-playing as refugees, doctors, United Nations Peacekeepers, and others, will transform a boy-scout camp in Cannon Falls, Minnesota into the scene of an international humanitarian crisis. Participants will encounter displaced refugees, outbreaks of disease, roving militias, and many multidisciplinary problems typical of humanitarian catastrophes.

University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation course (Photo credit: UMN)
University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation course (Photo credit: UMN)

Pj Doyle, a longtime Red Cross volunteer for the Minnesota Region, explains how the Red Cross’s involvement in the simulation helps the larger community: “As stewards of the Geneva Conventions, each national society is charged with disseminating information on International Humanitarian Law to citizens. This humanitarian simulation provides hands-on means for our chapter of the American Red Cross to fulfill this role.” Volunteers from the Minnesota Red Cross region will be role-playing as delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross. During the simulation they will work on registering refugee role-players.

The simulation started in 2011 as a collaborative project co led by faculty in the Schools of Medicine and Public Affairs. Since then it has expanded to include the involvement of several different schools at the University of Minnesota and various NGOs, as well as the Minnesota National Guard. During the simulation, participants first attend didactic sessions that cover issues common to humanitarian catastrophes. Participants are then placed in multidisciplinary groups and act as emergency response teams. Throughout the weekend, these teams will assess various “camps” and “villages” as they assess problems such as malnutrition, security, and human rights violations. After their assessment, each team will develop a proposal for an intervention and present their solution to a board.

University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation, 2015 (Photo credit: UMN)
University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation, 2015 (Photo credit: UMN)

The course is a valuable learning experience for anyone who is interested in or currently pursuing a career in humanitarian aid work, as well as professionals currently working with former refugees. It is offered for a fee to adult participants from the community, and as a one credit graduate elective at the University of Minnesota. While the course places an emphasis on the public health aspects of humanitarian relief, the simulation provides an opportunity for anyone to develop and shape skills necessary for success in all areas of humanitarian work.

Photo credit: UMN
Photo credit: UMN

Both participants and volunteers are still needed and welcome for the simulation. Those interested in participating as a student or volunteering can learn more by emailing umnsim@umn.edu. To see more photos from the 2015 humanitarian simulation, click here.

Story by Adam Holte, American Red Cross Minnesota Region, International Services Intern

Vonnie Thomas, a courageous Red Cross volunteer for 65 years

RedCross16_1105.jpg
Vonnie Thomas on her official day, June 28, 2016. Photo: Lara Leimbach

June 28, 2016 was officially Vonnie Thomas Day in Minnesota after Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed it so in honor of Ms. Thomas’s sixty-five years of courageous Red Cross volunteer service. Read the proclamation below to learn about this remarkable woman and how she has helped and inspired many people in many ways. 

State of Minnesota Proclamation for Vonnie Thomas

Whereas, the American Red Cross depends on the power of volunteers to accomplish its mission of preventing and alleviating suffering; and

Whereas, Nurse Vonnie Thomas has generously volunteered thousands of hours in distinguished leadership service through the American Red Cross over the past 65 years; and

Whereas, she courageously cared for those hurt by more than 40 local, national and international disasters such as the 2012 tornadoes in Minneapolis, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, Hurricane Katrina and the 35-W Bridge Collapse; and

Whereas, she has served in many roles on a local, division and national level and is currently a member of the Minnesota Region volunteer leadership team and Disaster Health Services lead and a Staff Wellness Consultant for 13 states;  and

Whereas, she is an exceptional leader, innovator, medical professional, skilled instructor, and humanitarian and mentor, and is beloved by staff and volunteers alike; and

Whereas, she is a vibrant, engaged and active volunteer leading a statewide effort to build Integrated Care Teams in Minnesota to help families who’ve lost a loved one, and greatly contributed to the  development and implementation of the training materials; and

Whereas, her tremendous voluntary service has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international honor awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, which celebrates the contributions of nurses and nursing aides to the work of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement;  and

Whereas, she finds inspiration in the words of the founder of the American Red Cross, Nurse Clara Barton: “You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”; and

Whereas, she embodies the principles and spirit of the Red Cross and is a wonderful example of unselfish, humble and dedicated service, and an inspiration for us all;

Now, therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim June 28, 2016 Vonnie Thomas Day in the State of Minnesota.