Story and photos by Kristen Threinen, Nurse Assistant Training Program Manager, American Red Cross
Following 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.
I 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!
Thursday, January 19 marked the first of many events in a year-long centennial celebration for the America Red Cross Minnesota Region. Volunteers from across the state gathered to display, experience and share in the huge variety of services the American Red Cross provides to Minnesotans and across the globe. From a visual history of the iconic Red Cross pin to an interactive refugee camp simulation, hundreds of guests took themselves on a self-guided tour through 100 years of rich Red Cross history.
All three floors of the Minnesota region’s headquarters were buzzing with excitement for this milestone. One of my first stops was to learn about fire preparedness. “In my experience, more than half of the fires I responded to were caused by grease pans,” said Meredith Lindley, DAT volunteer for more than a year. “People know candles or kids playing with matches are top causes, but the grease pan in your oven is more dangerous than you’d think.” You can bet I went home and cleaned my grease pan that night!
I then headed to the garage to check out the ERV, or the Emergency Response Vehicle, to get a sneak peek into what the Red Cross road warriors experience when delivering relief all over the country. Red Cross volunteer Richard Underdahl-Pierce answered all our questions about the truck, how many meals it can bring to those in need and how often the truck is in action.
“Tonight we are celebrating what the Red Cross has been over the past 100 years, but also what we’re doing today and what we’re doing going forward in our communities,” said Phil Hansen, CEO of the America Red Cross Minnesota Region. “Reaching this 100-year milestone proves that our mission really resonates with people and continues to do so.”
My many conversations throughout the evening yielded a clear conclusion. The Red Cross has maintained the agility over the years to be flexible according to the needs of the American people. In Minnesota, as those needs have changed and evolved over the past 100 years, so have the programs offered by the organization. This centennial celebration is an opportunity to look back and appreciate how the organization has served the people
Click here to learn more about the American Red Cross Centennial Celebration.
This 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.
Support 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Prepare 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 (email@example.com).
Help 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It’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
In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, the American Red Cross quickly emerged as the largest social welfare agency throughout Minnesota and across the nation. The community quickly embraced the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors and by the end of the war, 20 percent of all Minnesotans had joined the organization.
This year, as we celebrate a century of service, the American Red Cross Minnesota Region invites individuals and organizations to join us as we prepare for whatever may come in the next 100 years. Click here to learn more about our Centennial Year.
During the past century, we have served millions of people. Through disaster services, we have provided immediate, emergency housing, food, clothing, medical supplies, and essential household items to victims of the more than 600 disasters that occur in the Minnesota Region annually. From preparedness education and health and safety programs to ensuring the daily demand for blood is met, we have worked vigilantly to prepare our communities with the tools and resources that save lives before urgent situations happen. We have supported our military heroes and their families before, during and after deployment and have reconnected families separated by conflict around the globe.
Today, 100 years since our inception, the American Red Cross Minnesota Region stands ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with volunteers and staff on standby to bring comfort, care and relief to victims of disasters or critical emergencies, work as health and safety trainers, and meet demand for area blood supplies.
Some people are Natural Born Huggers. Take Jane. During a recent party, Jane came up to me. “You probably don’t remember me,” she said. I sort of did, but not really. It didn’t matter. She opened her arms wide and wrapped them around me. “Hug me like you know me,” she said.
After nearly eight years of responding to Red Cross disaster relief operations where I’ve hugged people of all types, and mostly strangers, Jane’s instruction registered deep in the reptilian part of my brain. My rigid self melted. My heart warmed. Conversation lifted. We became immediate friends. I left the party a different person. The cold winter air felt frosty only on the outside. Inside, I was delighted because people like Jane, people willing to risk closeness with the largely unfamiliar, exist.
So, this year I’m taking on one New Year’s resolution: to hug you like I know you. I encourage you to do the same. And if, like me, you need practice, serving with the Red Cross is a great way to get it.
Vonnie Thomas has spent virtually her entire life helping others through the American Red Cross and the National Sports Center for the Disabled. She’s 86 years old and shows no signs of stopping.
Thomas started volunteering for the Red Cross when she was 18 so she could get a free ticket to the state fair. But, she’s still offering her time and energy to this day and has stockpiled stories that range from highly emotional to simply surprising.
Thomas estimates she’s helped on almost 50 different disasters, from tornadoes and hurricanes to fires and floods. She’s been volunteering with the Red Cross for 65 years, helping with food, clothing and shelter, but also with hugs and understanding – likely the most important assets of all.
“It isn’t what we give, it’s our presence,” Thomas says.
But, Thomas says it’s not the natural disasters that impact her the most, it’s the manmade ones. She was there at the pentagon for 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing where a daycare was hit. She’s been back to Oklahoma City a number of times, but can’t bring herself to go to the memorial.
“I get about a block away and I think nope- not quite ready. It’s just that hard because I was right down in there,” Thomas says.
Thomas doesn’t just stop at disasters. The mountains call her every single year. She heads to Winter Park, Colorado, where she volunteers to teach downhill and cross country adaptive skiing to amputees, the blind, those with cerebral palsy, cancer, brain injuries and more.
“They come around and they’re like ‘wow I’m empowered I can do this’,” Thomas says.
Thomas is rewarded by the smiles and the self-esteem that emerge from the people she teaches. She shares the story of a young boy with cancer whom she taught to ski. She was so proud of him.
“He said, ‘How come you’re crying?’ I said, ‘I’m not crying my eyes are watering because I don’t have my goggles on’,” she says. “About two weeks later, I got a package in the mail and a note from his mom and it said Jimmy wanted me to have his goggles so my eyes would never water again. He had passed away in the meantime.”
Thomas also volunteers to work with “at risk” youth. Several years ago, she taught a high school boy who showed up in a trench coat to ski and he told her he wished his mom was more like her.
“I said they know everything that’s going on… he said they have no idea what’s going on in the garage. And I didn’t pick up on it,” Thomas recalls.
Two weeks later, Thomas was called to Columbine, Colorado where 13 people were shot and killed. As she was helping families in crisis, she realized her high school ski student was Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters.
“He learned so much,” she said. “I bet if I’d had him another week we would have been okay.”
Thomas says she may be 86, but she doesn’t feel it. She plans to stay on her mission for to help and to heal for years to come.
For more information on how to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/mn and click on “Ways to Help.”
This feature story originally appeared on FOX9 online. The story is published here with permission.