Friday, October 23, 2015

FDNY Heeds the Call in South Carolina

Editors note: Chief Communications Officer Jay Bonafede is one of 22 Western and Central New York Region volunteers who have been have been part of the flood relief efforts in South Carolina:

FDNY DART team members assess the flood damage outside
a home on Jackson Bluff Road in Conway, S.C, where the
roadway is still partially flooded weeks after the storm. 
“Tell us what you need, we’ll get it done.”

Doug Bainton and the other members of the New York City Fire Department’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) have been getting it done as Red Cross partners for 25 years. Currently, 13 active duty and retired FDNY members are in South Carolina, where they’ve been providing relief and comfort to people after this month’s historic flooding since they arrived on October 12.

“This is kind of what we do,” Bainton says. “We help people for a living. This is just another way of doing it.”

This unique partnership began during Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when the Red Cross made a request for Spanish-speaking volunteers. Some FDNY members were able to help, and a year and a half later, they formed a response team made up entirely of firemen. Over the past 25 years, Bainton says the DART team has helped the Red Cross respond to disasters in every state in the union.

“It’s a way to give back,” Bainton said. “9/11 was obviously a big deal for us, something that will never go away. Half the world has already forgotten what happened here in South Carolina. We understand what that’s like.”

FDNY DART team members leave Red Cross relief supplies
outside a home in the Lee’s Landing neighborhood of
 Conway, S.C., where yards remain underwater weeks
 after flood waters reached their highest points.
The DART team members--who donate their FDNY vacation time to deploy to these disaster sites--have done everything from driving Emergency Response Vehicles to running warehouses during their 25 years as Red Cross response partners. On Thursday, the DART team did disaster assessment and brought clean-up supplies to residents in Lee’s Landing and other Conway, S.C. neighborhoods that remain so water-logged, one of the team’s vehicles became temporarily stuck in the mud.

“We’re often the first agencies to bring help to these people. That’s important,” Bainton said of the DART team and the Red Cross. “We get a lot of hugs. Grown men will sometimes start crying, and then you start crying. All they need is that minute, and then they’re fine. And they’re so grateful someone is helping them. That’s why we come back.” 

They’re #SCStrong, but Browns Ferry, S.C. Still Needs Help

Editors note: Chief Communications Officer Jay Bonafede is one of 22 Western and Central NY Volunteers who have been a part of the flood relief efforts in South Carolina. 

All of Robert Linnen’s furniture and carpeting are now sitting destroyed on his front lawn in Browns Ferry, Georgetown County, S.C.. You can see the water line on the end table. 

Linnen shows how high the flood waters rose on
 his Browns Ferry front porch. At one point, there was
 over a foot and a half of water inside his home.
The storm took place three weeks ago, but in the Browns Ferry neighborhood of Georgetown County, South Carolina, evidence of the historic flooding earlier this month remains readily apparent.

“We lost everything,” said Robert Linnen from his front porch on Mae Place. In the front yard lay all of his carpeting and furniture, destroyed by water from the crested Black River.

“There was a foot and a half inside the house,” he says. “Every day, it got higher and higher.”

“Never thought this could happen,” said Linnen’s neighbor, Cliff Ford. “We heard the warnings, but thought, ‘we’ll be okay’.”

Ford’s home was unaffected by the flooding, and Linnen’s family has been staying with his mother-in-law, whose home also stayed dry. However, the entire Browns Ferry neighborhood was cut off by the floods. For weeks, area residents only access to food and water was emergency supplies distributed at a local church. The area is just now becoming accessible, and Red Cross disaster assessment teams and caseworkers are beginning to go door to door to meet with the families and help them begin the long road to recovery.

District 2 Job Director Rick Schou meets with Browns Ferry
resident Robert Linnen to do disaster assessment of
his flooded home. Schou will send caseworkers to meet
with Linnen and his neighbors to help them begin the
recovery process. 
“It means a whole lot,” said Cliff. “Sometimes, people forget that we’re here. But we need help, and it’s just a blessing to have you people here and caring for us.”

My Red Cross Story, by Madolyn DeVelder

When I was about seven years old my house burned down. It was a house fire in Churchville, NY. I remember being so very afraid and wondering what we were going to do. All it took was my dad knocking over the kerosene heater. The automatic shut off on the heater was broken, so it instantly started.

Luckily, we were all downstairs in the living room because it was so cold with no heat in the rest of the house. I was laying on the carpet in front of the television reading my books. My dad yelled, "Get out of the house now!", and we all ran out. My mom grabbed my sister and we went to the van. We had a lot of stuff in a storage unit at that point in time, but we still had clothing and other essentials in the house. My grandmother lived down the road so we went there.

The American Red Cross showed up and gave my family some blankets and warm clothes to put on. They helped make us feel safe when we had lost a lot. The American Red Cross actually replaced some of my books that I lost in the fire. I was so grateful because my books were and still are my life. I actually still have the books they replaced, and I have every intention of letting my children know about the amazing group that gave them to me and why.

The Red Cross gave my family hope and brought smiles to our faces when all we wanted to do was cry. They brought my sister and I some Barbie dolls to play with and gave my brothers some footballs. We were given something incredible by a group of strangers, and that was hope. Hope that there were still good people in the world and hope that these people would continue to help others.

I am so proud to be a part of their work, and I am so very happy that I get to help and give that hope to others. The American Red Cross is truly a place that gives hope. This is why I chose to volunteer my time to help out. I hope my story inspires others and shows them that we are here to help. There are still people out there that will help. Never forget that sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right.

Madolyn DeVelder, American Red Cross Intern

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Three Regional Volunteers Deploying to Support South Carolina Flood Relief

22 Western and Central NY volunteers have been part of relief efforts
Sunday, October 18, 2015As people in South Carolina continue to clean up after the recent devastating flooding, the American Red Cross is working alongside community partners to provide help and support throughout the affected communities.
Three additional Western and Central New York volunteers have or will be deploying to South Carolina this weekend, making a total of 22 Regional volunteers who are supporting the relief efforts. James Segerson of Rochester deployed on Saturday, while Lucille Frisicano of Webster traveled on Sunday. Both Frisicano and Segerson will be working in Health Services.
Jay Bonafede, a Tonawanda resident and Marion, NY native, will be deploying to South Carolina on Monday to volunteer in Public Affairs. 

More than 800 Red Cross workers and 45 response vehicles have been deployed to South Carolina to help. Many residents have been able to return home, but as many as 190 people spent Thursday night in four Red Cross and community shelters in South Carolina. The Red Cross is working with community partners to distribute meals and relief supplies both at central distribution sites and throughout affected communities. Items include comfort kits containing personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies such as tarps, flashlights, trash bags, shovels, rakes, bleach and work gloves, as well as hot meals. Since the flooding began, the Red Cross has distributed thousands of relief items and more than 100,000 meals and snacks.

Red Cross caseworkers are meeting one-on-one with people to create recovery plans, navigate paperwork and connect them with resources. In some situations, the Red Cross is providing direct financial support to people who need extra help. The Red Cross is also providing health and mental health services, offering comfort and helping to replace lost eyeglasses and medications. Recovering from a disaster takes time and the Red Cross will be on the ground helping residents in the weeks and months ahead as they get back on their feet.

The Red Cross relies on financial contributions to provide help and comfort to disaster victims anywhere, anytime. You can help people affected by disasters like floods, home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

"I never truly stopped to think about what they mean...That is until this morning"

As it often does, my day began with a check of social media this morning. I saw a picture and a quote from my friend and colleague, Volunteer Specialist Nicole Roma:

"For the past 4 years, I've seen these flags as I walk into work, one for each of those who lost their lives on 9/11. But I've never truly stopped to think about what they mean to WNYers as they pass by the Red Cross... That is until this morning."

I took this photo as soon as I arrived at the WNY Chapter Headquarters this morning.
Nicole's version included people who had just stopped to reflect on the day.
The flags have been out since the Western New York Families of September 11 set up their moving tribute on Sunday morning. For me, this solemn anniversary is always one of the days that makes me most proud to be a small part of this organization. 

On September 11, 2001, I was still in media, working evenings. My wife woke me up with a phone call and asked me to record CNN. When I staggered to the living room and turned on the TV, I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. In the days and weeks that followed, that feeling didn't change much. My way of helping, and coping, was a small donation to one of the organizations helping amidst the chaos and sorrow: The American Red Cross.

In my five years with the organization, I have met so many amazing volunteers who did so much to help in those dark days, from my fellow communicators across the country to local volunteers like Peggy McGee-Smith, who spent weeks in and around Ground Zero, doing whatever they could to help. 

But what makes this display truly meaningful to me is that it represents the fact this organization is still helping, 14 years after this unthinkable tragedy. We continue to support the WNY Families of September 11, and it is my honor to work with these incredible people in my small way each year to remember the lives lost on that tragic day. The Greater Rochester Chapter will be represented at a Patriot Day celebration in Henrietta this evening, and there are tributes happening across the Region and the country.

Whether you attend a memorial, give blood in honor of the lives lost, or simply reflect in your own, personal way, take a moment to think about what today means to you, and remember everyone who came together to help in our time of need. #NeverForget

-Jay Bonafede, Chief Communications Officer
 American Red Cross, Western and Central NY Region

Friday, August 28, 2015

4th WCNY Volunteer Deploying to Washington for Wildfire Relief

American Red Cross volunteer Dominic DiGirolamo of Belmont will be deploying Saturday to Washington State to provide Disaster Mental Health services as part of the ongoing wildfire relief efforts. DiGirolamo becomes the fourth Western and Central New York Regional volunteer to deploy to assist in the wildfire response, joining John Craft of Penfield, Diana McLaughlin of Rochester and Donald Nelson, Jr. of Endwell.

The fires burning in the state of Washington are the largest in history, consuming about 600,000 acres so far. Red Cross workers have opened 12 shelters since the fires started, providing more than 750 overnight stays for evacuees. Many more people are visiting the shelters during the day for meals, to get information, or to charge mobile devices.

More than 100 Red Cross workers have provided more than 12,000 meals and snacks, including meals for U.S. military helping fight the fires. The Red Cross distributed hundreds of relief supplies and helped almost 400 people with health services such as replacing prescriptions and lost eyeglasses. Caseworkers are meeting with residents to provide assistance and access to other help.

The American Red Cross is also responding as Tropical Storm Erika heads for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, reaching Florida by Monday with 50 mph winds and several inches of rain.
On the U.S. Virgin Islands, 56 people spent Wednesday night in several Red Cross supported shelters as Erika neared the region. Red Cross workers in Puerto Rico are ready to respond, with relief supplies set to be distributed where needed. Weather experts expect little change in the storm’s strength as it nears Florida. Parts of the state could see heavy rain, strong winds and high waves along the Atlantic Ocean. Strong winds extend out as much as 105 miles from the center of the storm. The Red Cross across Florida is getting ready to respond as needed, with workers standing by, shelter sites identified and relief supplies ready to distribute.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Ignacio could come close to Hawaii as early as Monday. The storm is already carrying winds as strong as 85 mph and is forecast to get stronger over the next few days. The Red Cross already has supplies on Hawaii because of earlier storms and is watching the situation closely, ready to respond as needed.

HOW YOU CAN HELP People can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. We respond to nearly 70,000 other disasters every year, from home fires to hurricanes and more. Learn more about how Disaster Relief donations have helped people affected by previous disasters including home fires.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

CNY Board Members Lead by Example

“This is a great program. I can’t believe your phone isn’t ringing off the hook!”

Monroe Grassi of Canastota, NY was thrilled to learn that the American Red Cross could install free smoke alarms in his home. As soon as he and his wife Patricia learned about the Home Fire Campaign from the Madison County Office for the Aging, they began to spread the word.

“No charge, that’s a real plus when you’re on a fixed income,” Grassi said.

CNY Board Member Rob Just installs a smoke alarm in
Frank Stech's Cazenovia, NY Home
Three of the volunteers who visited the Grassis and two other Madison County families on Friday, July 31 to install smoke alarms and provide fire safety information normally support the Red Cross in another way. Joanna Ferguson, Rob Just and Renae Rokicki are members of Central New York Chapter’s Board of Directors.

“The Campaign was presented to us at a Board meeting, and it sounded neat,” said Just. “This is a great service for homeowners. I took the day off to do this!”

“As Board members, we don’t always have the opportunity to provide service at ground level,” added Rokicki. On Friday, she and Ferguson helped families put together an escape plan, while Just and AmeriCorps member Casey Pfeiffer installed the smoke alarms.

CNY Board members Renae Rokicki (l) and Joanna Ferguson
put on Red Cross vests and helped Monroe and Patricia Grassi
of Canastota, NY put together an escape plan
“This is a good way for people in the community to give back,” said Ferguson. “As Board members, we wanted to educate ourselves, be able to understand the impact the Red Cross has in the community.”  

Frank Stech had first-hand experience with how important the work of our volunteers can be. While Just and Pfeiffer were installing new smoke alarms in his Cazenovia home, Stech remembered when his neighbors lost their home to a fire when he was growing up in the ‘60s.

“The Red Cross was there, first on the scene to help those nine kids and their mother,” he said. “I know the importance of this. I wasn’t as interested in the free alarms as I was in learning where we should put them.”

Through education and ensuring homes have working smoke alarms, the Home Fire Campaign aims to reduce fire related deaths and injuries across the country by 25% over the next five years. Contact your local Chapter for more information or to schedule an appointment (in Central New York, email or call 315-234-2299). The volunteers that come to your door just may be Red Cross Board members, like Rob Just.

“This has been a lot of fun. I definitely want to do it again!”

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Gimmie Shelter"? Our volunteers can do that!

"Oh, a storm is threatnin'
Photo courtesy
My very life today.
If I don't get some shelter
Oh, I'm gonna fade away."
-The Rolling Stones

The Ralph will be rocking Saturday, and from the sound of things, it seems like all of Western and Central New York will be at the Stadium to see "the worlds greatest rock and roll band" live. In one of The Rolling Stones best-known songs, Mick Jagger pleads with listeners to "Gimmie Shelter". Well, Mick, that's something our volunteers do for their neighbors in need each and every day.

Just last week, when flash floods washed through parts of Syracuse, our volunteers set up a shelter at the Westcott Community Center in the early morning hours, before later moving to St. Lucy's Church, ensuring evacuated residents had a safe, warm place to stay. In November, when the area around Ralph Wilson Stadium was covered in as much as eight feet of snow, Red Cross volunteers operated or supported 19 different shelters, providing over 600 overnight stays for travelers stranded by Thruway and other road closures.

This is probably not what Mick Jagger had in mind, but
our volunteers operated or supported 19 shelters during
"Snowvember 2014"
It's not always a storm that forces someone to need shelter. An average of three times a day across the Western and Central New York Region, a family is forced from their home after a fire. Our volunteers are there then too, offering a place to stay, food, clothing and support, as they did for eight people who lost everything after an Elmira fire Thursday.

So whether it's because "a storm was threatnin'" or "a fire was sweepin'", the Red Cross volunteers are always ready to "Gimmie Shelter", even while thousands of us will be listening to the Stones sing one of my all-time favorite songs live.

Do you want to help answer Mick's call? Learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer on our website.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Celebrate Safely This Weekend!

The fourth of July is a great time to celebrate with friends and family. Here are some safety tips to stay safe while you’re having fun!

 ROAD SAFETY Millions of people will be on the roads Fourth of July weekend. The Red Cross offers these five bullets of advice to ensure everyone is safe while traveling this holiday:
·      Do not drink and drive: Many people BBQ for the Fourth of July, which often times includes drinking. Be sure to designate a safe ride and avoid making bad decisions.
·      Buckle seat belts and observe speed limits.
·      Pay full attention to the road: Although you may choose not to drink and drive there is potential for other intoxicated drivers. Make sure to pay attention to the road and cars around you. Don’t use a cell phone or other distractions while you are driving.
·      Use caution in work zones.
·      Clean your vehicles lights and windows so that you are able to see, especially at night.  Remember to turn your headlights on as dusk approaches, or during inclement weather.

Grilling Safety Many people are injured every year while using charcoal or gas grills. Follow these several steps to ensure your safety while grilling up some yummy BBQ treats.
·      Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
·      Never grill indoors.
·      Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat build up.
·      Make sure everyone, including pets, stay away from the grill
·      Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, the deck, tree branches, or anything that could catch on fire.
·      Use long handled tools to keep the chef safe.
·      Charcoal grill specific:
o   Never add flammable liquids to start the fire.
o   Let coals completely cool before disposing.
·      Propane grill specific:
o   Check the major connections points between gas tank hose and burners for potential leaks.
o   If there is a leak that does not stop, call the fire department immediately.

Water Safety Many people engage in water activities over their Fourth of July weekend. The Red Cross encourages everyone to make water safety a priority as they enjoy pools or any beaches, lakes and rivers.
·      Ensure everyone knows how to swim and designate lifeguard supervises areas.
·      Always swim with a buddy
·      Wear life jackets.
·      Pay close attention to swimmers in or near the water. Avoid distractions while supervising the water. Never leave children unattended near the water.

For more tips to keep you and your family safe this Fourth of July holiday you can download the American Red Cross First Aid app at

Stay safe and have a great Fourth of July holiday weekend!
-Sophia Maloff

"Your volunteers are amazing!"

Julie Perl at the Red Cross shelter at Westcott Community
Center in Syracuse Wednesday afternoon
Julie Perl thought her Tuesday was winding down as she left class at Bryant and Stratton College and headed home around 10pm, but unfortunately, her evening's journey was just beginning.

"I was headed down James Street, saw the fire trucks, and started freaking out," Perl said at the Red Cross shelter at the Westcott Community Center in Syracuse Wednesday. Heavy rains had caused flash flooding in many areas of the city. At Perl's apartment complex, the power had been cut as the waters filled the basement and reached the electrical wiring, and the fire department told Julie and her family they had to leave.

"I've been here since 2:30 this morning," Perl said of the shelter. "The volunteers have been amazing. On the news, you see they're everywhere, but I've never had to deal with a situation where the Red Cross stepped in. They brought out snacks for the kids at 2:30 a.m., gave us water, blankets, breakfast this morning."

Perl and a couple of her fellow shelter residents actually helped set up the cots that 18 people slept on Tuesday night. She feels that's the least they could for the volunteers that were helping them. Volunteers like Rich Plumpton, who had just returned from two weeks working with the Red Cross relief efforts in Oklahoma three days earlier.

Julie Perl and her grandson enjoying lunch at the Wescott
Community Center shelter
"You couldn't ask for a better bunch of people," Perl said. "They actually felt bad that they didn't have any toys for my grandkids. But they gave them Mickey Mouse, and that made the kids so happy. They actually slept with the Mickeys!"

Later Wednesday afternoon, the shelter moved to St. Lucy's Church on Gifford Street, where 20 people spent Wednesday night. Julie Perl says she doesn't know what she would've done if it wasn't for the Red Cross.

"I have family, but they have things that they do, and don't have the room to put us up," she said. "We probably would've been in a shelter that's not fit for kids."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Meet John Dowd

Volunteer John Dowd of Auburn recently returned from Oklahoma, one of over a dozen Western and Central NY volunteers who have deployed in the past month to help in Red Cross relief efforts following severe weather across the country. The public affairs team in Oklahoma caught up with John on his last day with the operation:

John Dowd on assignment in Oklahoma
ARDMORE, OK June 19, 2015 -- Standing in the doorway of the Ardmore Red Cross office, John Dowd extends his hand and offers a warm welcome to fellow Red Crossers walking through the front door.

"Hello there, I'm John.  Nice to meet you. Welcome!" His blue eyes beaming sincerely smiling.

John is a caseworker for the Red Cross.

After Tropical Storm Bill, John accepted the opportunity to deploy.  Accepted the challenge of uprooting his life, putting his personal affairs on pause.  He accepted the challenge to help those suffering in Oklahoma.

One community impacted, Ardmore. He's responded and assisted families who were hit hard by the heavy rain the damaging flood waters.

Two weeks.

Fourteen days.

Today he's heading back.  Today he's going home to New York. Syracuse.

"I guess...I feel a connection with Oklahoma now.  I'm going to go home, but Oklahoma will always be with me.  We gave them a little hope I think," he said, removing his Red Cross hat as he wiped his brow.

"I'm looking forward to seeing my dog again," he continued, taking out his phone, flipping through photos of a delighted Beagle.

What makes the Red Cross one of the world's most prestigious non-profits is its ability to respond to disasters. Its ability to mobilize volunteers at a moment's notice.  John exemplifies that power -- a volunteer from New York responding to assist those suffering.

There are countless volunteers like John making a difference helping those impacted by disasters stand on their feet again.

For more on the Red Cross response to recent storms, visit To learn how you can help by becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit

Friday, June 19, 2015

Red Cross to Distribute Clean-Up Kits in Newfield Saturday

Volunteers distribute cleanup kits in Wyoming County
earlier this week
Volunteers from the American Red Cross will be distributing water, food, snacks and clean-up kits in Newfield Saturday to help those affected by recent flooding. The Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) will be arriving at the Newfield Fire House on Main Street in Newfield between 9am-9:30am Saturday, June 20.

The approximately 50 clean up kits  include mops, buckets, bleach and more to help residents as they clean up after the recent storms. Volunteers will also be distributing bottles of water, heater meals and other snacks.

After last weekend’s storms, Red Cross volunteers opened a shelter in the Tompkins County town of Newfield, where 12 people spent Sunday night. Four families spent Sunday Night at a Red Cross shelter in the Tioga County town of Spencer, and reception centers were opened at the Bradford School and Odessa Fire Department in Schuyler County. The Red Cross has distributed dozens of cleanup kits in Ontario and Wyoming Counties, and remains in contact with emergency officials from across the 26-County Western and Central New York Region and remains on standby to launch an additional response should conditions worsen.

The Red Cross relies on financial contributions to provide help and comfort to disaster victims anywhere, anytime. You can help people affected by disasters like flooding, home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Volunteers Deploying to help in Flooding, Wildfire Relief Efforts

Two volunteers from the Western and Central New York Region are deploying this week to assist in American Red Cross relief efforts across the country.

Lorraine Morris of Bath, NY is deploying to Alaska Friday, where she will serve in Disaster Services Technology/Computer Operations in the response to recent wildfires. 

Herbert Wolfe of Rochester traveled to Louisiana Thursday to serve as Disaster Assessment Manager in the flood relief efforts. Wolfe will take teams into some of the hardest hit areas to assess the need and make sure relief is provided where it is needed most.
Lockport, NY's Diane Sargent in Oklahoma in May 2015

Across the country, relentless rain and raging wildfires have forced people from their homes, and the Red Cross is there providing support and comfort. Just this week alone, the Red Cross has helped people in 14 states affected by floods and wildfires.  Almost 250 people impacted by the flooding and fires spend Wednesday night in Red Cross shelters in Texas, Alaska, California, Arizona, Indiana and Idaho. Over the past few weeks, more than 2,790 trained Red Cross workers have served more than 590,000 meals and snacks, distributed 150,000 relief items and opened more than 85 shelters, providing 3,400 shelter stays.

HOW TO HELP A donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief can help provide food, water and shelter for someone who has to leave their home. Help people affected by disasters like floods, wildfires and other emergencies by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. To donate, people can visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

DOWNLOAD THE EMERGENCY APP The Red Cross “Emergency” app can help keep you and your loved ones safe by putting vital information in your hand for more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts, including flooding and wildfires. You can find it in smartphone app stores by searching for American Red Cross or going to

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Haiti on my Mind, by volunteer Winnie Romeril

A lot of people ask when am I headed out to the next crisis. The thing about responding to international emergencies is that no timeline exists. 

I recently returned from six months working on the Ebola response. Often in Sierra Leone, my mind turned to Haiti. Freetown reminded me of Port au Prince. Both are port cities with pastel-colored houses piled up mountainsides rising quickly from the sea. In both places, the people are mostly young--around 60 percent under 25 years old--figuring out how to get by in the face of unbelievably high unemployment. Both countries were getting back on track after emerging from a history filled with conflict, only to suffer tragedy on an epic scale.

The American Red Cross sent a team of us to Haiti immediately following the 2010 earthquake to
Winnie Romeril in Haiti
give help where it was needed most. We supported our permanent in-country staff who had worked for years with Haitian Red Cross volunteers in disaster preparedness, public first aid training and HIV/AIDS programs. They narrowly escaped when their Red Cross offices shook violently for less than a minute and blew out the wall where they exited with their lives.

Five and a half years later, Haiti continues to emerge from the dust and rubble of that day. In the Red Cross, we know that recovery from catastrophic disasters takes many years. We have only to look at communities on our own Gulf Coast still searching for normal 11 years on from Katrina. Yet we also have the privilege of accompanying survivors of disasters as they walk their individual roads to recovery. Every recovery is unique and we tailor our support based on lessons from previous experience.

One key change in our initial response to the Haiti earthquake was based on lessons from the Indian Ocean tsunami. We asked tsunami survivors how we could improve aid to people for the next disaster. One thing they said was, in essence, “Thank you for the help, but this doesn't feel like my home when it has your logo on it.” Since returning dignity to disaster victims is paramount, we took their concern to heart. In Haiti, the Red Cross imported and distributed over one-third of all tarps for temporary shelter, covering more than 800,000 survivors. The tarps were everywhere you looked and easy to spot, if you knew what to look for--plain light grey with a dark blue or grey stripe. Yet many a visiting politician and journalist complained they didn't see evidence of Red Cross aid other than the red crosses worn by our volunteers or painted on our trucks. While I did my best to explain our rationale and what to look for, sometimes the press didn't get it right.

Five and a half years on, the American Red Cross has helped build and operate eight hospitals and clinics, stem a deadly cholera outbreak, provide clean water and sanitation, and move more than 100,000 people out of make-shift tents into safe and improved housing. When land was not available for new homes, the Red Cross provided a range of housing solutions including rental subsidies, repairs and retrofitting of existing structures, fulfilling our promise to ensure tens of thousands of Haitians are back in homes. We also built and repaired schools, roadways and water distribution points vital to neighborhoods. 
It’s important to keep Haiti on our minds.
Winnie Romeril, International Response Team

American Red Cross

Monday, May 25, 2015

Seven Regional Volunteers Spending Holiday Serving in Storm Response Efforts

American Red Cross volunteers Lucille Frisicano of Webster and Diane Sargent of Lockport are deploying to Oklahoma Monday to assist in the Red Cross relief efforts following recent tornadoes and severe weather. Frisicano will serve as a Health Services Supervisor, while Sargent will be a Disaster Assessment Supervisor

Frisicano and Sargent become the sixth annd seventh volunteers from the Western and Central New York Region deployed to help in the Red Cross response to severe storms across the country:
NAME, HOMETOWN                   LOCATION               ACTIVITY
Lee Campfield, Apalachin                 Texas                          Feeding Supervisor
Tom Daley, Tonawanda                    Texas                          Client Casework
Lucille Frisicano, Webster                Oklahoma                   Health Services Supervisor
Greg Langen, Pittsford                      Texas                          Disaster Assessment
Donald Nelson, Endwell                   Texas                          Sheltering Supervisor
Sarah Perkins, Pittsford                    Texas                          Disaster Assessment
Diane Sargent, Lockport                   Oklahoma                  Disaster Assessment                  

The American Red Cross continues to help people affected by the ongoing severe weather, providing shelter, food and support as those impacted by the storms figure out what to do next.
Red Cross shelters are still open in Oklahoma and Texas. Red Cross workers have been providing shelter and food, cleaning supplies, health and mental health services, helping with damage assessment and meeting with families to help plan their next steps. Emergency response vehicles are traveling through the affected areas, bringing people food and relief supplies and Resource Centers are also open where people can come to be helped by multiple organizations. In the days and weeks ahead, the Red Cross will also provide health services and emotional support as residents begin to recover from the storms.

Nearly every second of every day, the Red Cross delivers help and hope. And we couldn’t be there without the generous support of the American public. On June 2, join the American Red Cross for our inaugural Giving Day, a 24-hour fundraising campaign to support those in need in communities across the country. Together, let’s go “all in” and make one day count. Schedule your donation today for Giving Day at You can also help build awareness by using the hashtag #allin1day on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Jennifer's deployment story

Jennifer Schaefer

Jennifer Schaefer of Syracuse recently returned after spending a week in Oklahoma, volunteering with Health Services as part of the Red Cross response to recent severe weather. We asked the registered nurse, who volunteers regularly with the Greater Rochester Chapter, to share her experience. Even though she says, "I always hate when people ask what I do on a deployment. I usually forget exactly what I do, to be honest. It is just a blur of days, people, late nights and early mornings," she provided this first-hand account of just one day on a deployment.

Deployment Day Two - Oklahoma City Disaster Response Operation:

Oklahoma Tornado damage. Photo credit: Jennifer Schaefer
It is always hard to describe what I do when people ask. I hold people's hands while they cry about losing their homes, family heirlooms, pets and loved ones. I make sure that the elderly woman who has not eaten in two days because she is living in a home with no electricity or working gas gets a hot meal, a promise of more hot meals and the option of a safer place to stay. 

I talk to other volunteers. I genuinely want to get to know my fellow Red Cross friends, but being a nurse puts a twist on social interaction. Being a nurse on a deployment means every interaction is evaluated, every person's needs are checked. I ended up pulling a volunteer off the job today because he was trying to work his shift after having an eye exam that left his vision blurry. These volunteers never think about themselves, so it is my job to always ask and evaluate.
As a nurse, there is no "downtime." I am checking on my roommate as she shares about her day. I ask my waitress at breakfast how the storms have affected her life and community. I even self-check. I    make time to go to the gym or talk to my family. I give hugs, rides to fellow volunteers and advice. I say, "Thank You. Thank You. Thank You." 

Oklahoma Tornado damage. Photo credit: Jennifer Schaefer
It is hard to worry yourself, about your own problems, when you see the destroyed homes and children's toys broken and upturned. It is difficult to hold back the tears sometimes, but most of all it is difficult to not be grateful. I can see how lucky I truly am and that is what keeps me coming back.

I not only help others rebuild their lives but I rebuilt my own. I started volunteering after I lost two loved ones, a job and a relationship in a short period of time. I was lost and more depressed then I had ever been in my life. That was over a year and a half ago. Today, I have my dream job working with the New York State Department of Health. I get to help children be safer and healthier every day, and you know why I got the job?  The people I interviewed with valued my volunteer service. The American Red Cross turned my life around and helped me find my true calling in my darkest moments. So what else can I say but thank you...

No, Jennifer. Thank YOU for all you do for the Red Cross and the community. Welcome home!

If Jennifer's story has inspired you, click here to learn more about how you can become a Red Cross volunteer!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What a difference a year makes!

When the phone rings at 2am, it's usually not a good sign. That's how May 14, 2014 started for me, being awakened by a phone call that we were opening a shelter in Penn Yan in response to flooding there and in Yates County.

Of course, the Red Cross volunteers were already in action. While most normal human beings were sound asleep, before 5am they had a shelter at the Penn Yan Academy for those forced from their homes, a shelter that would remain open for six days, providing 34 overnight shelter stays.

Having been with the Red Cross for a few years, I had an idea of what was happening. But when I arrived in Penn Yan that afternoon, I was stunned by the amount of devastation in the downtown area. Streets had literally been washed away.

Driving through surrounding areas of Yates County with volunteers over the next several days, delivering water and clean up kits, it quickly became apparent that more than just downtown Penn Yan had been affected by this disaster. 

Looking back one year later, two things really stick out in my mind. I grew up close enough to Penn Yan that I spent nights at my parent's house during our response. It surprised me how much harder it was to deal with a disaster that hit so close to home. 

What didn't surprise me, however, was the work of our volunteers. As my colleague Veronica said at the time of her first disaster response, "The American Red Cross was EVERYWHERE. Volunteers from Niagara Falls to Rochester to Schuyler County to Elmira and everywhere in between mobilized in Penn Yan. They volunteered for 12 hour to sometimes 24 hour shifts at the shelter at Penn Yan Academy. Still others volunteered in the Penn Yan and surrounding communities delivering clean up kits and offering advice on what was next for those who suffered losses in the flood."

Those immediate emergency response efforts continued for three weeks, with volunteers serving over 600 meals and snacks, distributing 38 clean-kits, providing emotional support to countless people devastated by the storm and provided dozens of referrals to help the community get back their feet. 

It may be hard to believe looking at today's bright blue skies, but one year later, the people of Penn Yan and Yates County are still recovering from last spring's floods. And the Red Cross is still there, supporting the community each and every day. None of this would be possible with the incredible work of our volunteers and your generous support 365 days a year. I'm proud to be a part of this great organization, but I'm especially proud to have been there with our amazing volunteers one year ago. 

Today and always, we're #PYStrong.