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Providing an Emergency Message for One of Our Own

Many people aren’t aware that assisting the U.S. military through the Service to Armed Forces (SAF) program is a Red Cross core service. Providing assistance to the armed forces for more than 100 years, the Red Cross takes pride in being that direct link between service members and their families. Emergency communications is one of the activities provided by the SAF program. Just in 2015, over 350,000 emergency communications were provided to more than 100,000 military members and their families.

Helping the Helper: Red Cross Emergency Communications

Army Specialist (SPC) Job Ojo, a native of Nigeria, is a member of the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado. He is also a Red Cross SAF volunteer. Through his work, he has a keen understanding of the importance of emergency communications messages and keeping families connected during military deployments.

red cross service to the armed forced saf emergency communications volunteerWhile he made sure his family knew how to use the Red Cross emergency communication services in the event of an emergency, he never thought that he would need to experience Red Cross support first hand.

“I’d been trained by the Red Cross, so I knew pretty much about emergency situations and the need to get information to service members,” SPC Ojo said. “I gave the information out to my family members in Nigeria, just in case.”

In January of 2016, Ojo’s adoptive father— “the one who sent me to school,” as Ojo described him— was on the way to the Federal University of Technology in Minna, Nigeria where he served as a guest lecturer. As he made his journey early in the morning, his car struck a truck parked on the roadside. The passenger side where Ojo’s father was sitting absorbed the brunt of the impact. He suffered serious head injuries and died a little while after the accident.

SPC Ojo’s sister was the first to be notified. She immediately began passing along the news to the rest of the family, but she was unsure of how to get in touch with SPC Ojo who was with his unit in the United States.

Luckily, an elder brother remembered information he had been given regarding Red Cross services to use in an emergency. A call was made and a message was sent to unit Command alerting SPC Ojo to the emergency. That message put things in motion allowing him to reconnect with his family. Red Cross documentation also helped secure a zero interest loan from the Army, so that he could return to Nigeria for his father’s funeral.

“I’d just like to extend my appreciation to the Red Cross,” SPC Ojo said. “Getting the message through the Red Cross was helpful because my chain of command was notified and that helped a lot in processing my emergency leave travel to Nigeria to attend the funeral.”

SPC Ojo knew that the SAF program would help if there was a need to connect with his family anywhere in the world. He had worked emergency communication cases for other service members. Now has an even greater appreciation for the Red Cross and the SAF program’s emergency communications services.

Need Help? How to Initiate an Emergency Communication

You can initiate a request for emergency assistance for members of the military currently serving on active duty by contacting our Red Cross Hero Care Center, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Using a computer, smartphone or tablet, you can start a request for services and track progress from anywhere in the world. To speak to a Red Cross Emergency Communications Specialist call: 1-877-272-7337.

A version of this story originally appeared on Colorado Red Cross blog, written by Southeast Colorado Volunteer Kyle Fiehler.

Photo in post: SAF volunteer SPC Job Ojo, holding a photo of his family while standing with SAF managers Barbara Shufelt (l) and Gaby Skovira (r) outside the Southeastern Colorado Red Cross office in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo by Richard Firth/American Red Cross

Two Ways Technology Helps Red Cross Earthquake Response

American Red Cross disaster relief has taken on many forms since our inception in 1881, when Clara Barton dispatched two men to help distribute relief goods and cash for victims of a Michigan forest fire.

Fast forward more than 130 years, and we’re still using whatever means necessary to provide support and relief to disaster victims, sometimes even to disasters across the globe. We have been thrilled to see a couple news outlets take notice, covering the innovative ways our staff is using technology to assist in a disaster.

The Washington Post, in “How a bunch of tech geeks helped save Nepal’s earthquake victims,” included the work of two volunteers frequent Red Cross Chat readers know well: Glen and Judy Bradley. The Bradleys are phenomenal volunteers who help set up telecommunications systems to open up desperately-needed digital channels following a major disaster.

The Post notes:

“Advancements in technology have also helped humanitarian organizations use their people more efficiently. With a satellite connection, doctors who can’t physically get to a disaster site can talk directly to patients, or analyze their X-rays, or review blood test results remotely. The result is a significant boost to the quality of care.”

Our own Dale Kunce and Jenelle Eli were included in a recent piece in The New Yorker, “Creating a Map to Navigate the Post-Earthquake Landscape in Ecuador.” To get a better sense of damage following a disaster such as an earthquake, relief organizations use crowdsourced maps created by efforts like the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

We’ve already shared other inspiring technology ideas about disaster prevention and recovery, from wearable technology to smart fire sensors. We also look forward to highlighting future innovations in humanitarian aid.

If you’ve come across exciting examples of disaster technology, please share with us in a comment below!

Hats Off to Celebrity-Packed TUBEATHON Concert

Last week, the Red Cross joined forces with iHeartRadio and What’s Trending to kick off our annual Giving Day with an online, celebrity-packed concert. The TUBEATHON was a live streamed music event featuring social media influencers to raise money and awareness for the Red Cross.

A Hashtag for Good

The event focused on #help1family, a hashtag designed to increase awareness of the families we help recover from emergencies every day. In fact, the Red Cross meets a family that has lost everything due to a home fire or another disaster nearly every eight minutes. The TUBEATHON was a great opportunity for people to donate to provide hope for these families in their time of need.

For every tweet with the #help1family hashtag, Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark donated $1 to the Red Cross. These thousands of simple tweets made all the difference to families in need.

Now Featuring…

Twhats trending red crosshe event was live streamed from the iHeart Theater in Los Angeles, and featured numerous celebrities and social media stars. The influencers traditionally generate more than 200 million social media impressions combined.

Hosted by Shira Lazar, the TUBEATHON included performances by Alyson Stoner, BC Jean and Mark Ballas, Chanel West Coast, Melanie Martinez, iLoveMemphis, Tyler Hilton, DSharp, 80Fitz, Sky Blue, Sam Tsui, Janina Gavankar, Alex Boye, Heffron Drive and more.

What’s the Impact?

Thanks to the TUBEATHON and Giving Day, we raised enough to help over 28,000 families in need during and after a disaster. If you missed out on Giving Day, you can still make a difference for families in need by donating here or learning more ways to support our lifesaving mission.

What’s Trending posted a teaser video on Facebook, giving an overview of the event and TUBEATHON participants.


Houston Residents Face Disaster Fatigue After Second Flood in a Year

Lindsay Ellard and her family had just moved back into their house after flood waters had destroyed her home in May of 2015, many of their belongings were still in boxes. Lindsay recalls that their infant daughter, who was 6 months old at the time of the May floods, saved their lives by crying as the waters rose in the night. Mother and daughter were trapped in the higher part of their house until they could be rescued.

Ten months later, flood waters returned, wiping out everything that had been rebuilt.

“I’m not sure which was better,” said Lindsay. “To wake up and find the water there, or to watch it creep up slowly, knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it.”

Disaster fatigue red cross floodsLindsay is not alone as hundreds of families affected by the earlier floods have found themselves repeating the process. Many of them came by the Red Cross bulk distribution center to pick up cleaning supplies this weekend and to swap stories of their experiences. There were those in tears over having to start over again, others angry, and some resigned.

What is Disaster Fatigue?

Disaster fatigue is a phenomenon that occurs when an individual, family or community is faced with a string of crises, as in the case of the neighborhoods of Houston who have had storm after storm and flood after flood. The emotional strain around having to rebuild lives is difficult enough the first time, but doing it over again compounds the stress.

The families who come to the Red Cross are dealing with the challenges in different ways. Rob Raphael shared that he and his neighbors took different paths in their recovery from the first flood. He chose to wait for the slow approval of a total rebuild of his house so that it would be “elevated” on a higher foundation. This required a longer build time made even more challenging by the waiting list for contractors in the area. His neighbors chose to refurbish their home in its original setting, betting on the flood being a one-time disaster. “They took a gamble. Now they have to decide if they want to gamble again.” Rob was quick to point out that the Red Cross helped him and his wife the first time around. “My wife was so impressed that she signed up and is now a volunteer for the Red Cross.”

Staying Postive and Getting Help After Floods

The vast majority of the people who came to get supplies had positive and determined attitudes. Helen Haywood has a full house with her daughter’s family staying with her while their home is cleaned up. “This is when you see everyone at their best,” said Helen. “People are really good about helping. The Red Cross has been there, too! Thank you, thank you!”

Lindsay Ellard had words of advice to anyone who has to face a disaster. She suggested that making a list of contact information, medical needs and anything else vital then keeping it ready is important for trying to recover. For the first flood, she didn’t ask for help, not wanting to take resources from other people who might need it more, but this time she says she’s learned that there is nothing wrong with getting help and that community support is how she’s picking up the pieces. “I’m trying to stay calm and not freak out. I never thought I’d have to worry about things like PTSD, but every time it rains I find myself starting to panic. Everyone has been so understanding.”

Tips for Coping with Disaster Events

Often people under stress feel physically and mentally drained, get frustrated more quickly and more often, but there are some things people can do to cope with events over which they have no control:

  • During stressful times it’s important to eat properly and maintain a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and get some rest.
  • Staying connected with friends and family is important because getting support reduces that feeling of being alone.
  • Be patient with those around you and recognize that everyone is stressed and may need time to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Remain positive and remember having successfully gone through other tough times and reach out when support is support is needed and help others when they need it.

Bill Pennington summed up this philosophy when asked about how he was handling his second flood: “No reason to moan and groan! Just get ‘er done…one more time.”

If We Each #Help1Family: Red Cross Giving Day

It’s almost here! April 21 is Giving Day, a 24-hour fundraising campaign supporting the work of the Red Cross as we help people each and every day in need of emergency support. Your support on Giving Day will help in those minutes, hours, and days after a disaster.

And boy, have we been busy with disasters! In fact, we’ve already responded to three times as many large disasters in 2016 as compared to the same period in the previous three years combined.

How You Can Help

Unite with thousands of people like you on Giving Day to make a real difference. Your gift of $88.50 can provide a family of three with a day’s worth of food, plus blankets and other essentials.

Head to the website to #Help1Family (or more!) here.

Selfie for Social

Amp up your selfie game and use our handy selfie sign to let all your buddies know why you’re joining Giving Day to #help1family. Find the selfie sign here.

Giving Day Red Cross

There are plenty of other ways to participate on social too. Use the images and text below to share your support.

Don’t forget to include the #Help1Family hashtag!

Thank You to Our Giving Day Supporters & Partners

Thank you to Willow Springs Foundation and DraftKings, 2016 American Red Cross Giving Day National Supporters, and to Sunoco, a 2016 Giving Day Partner.  The generosity of our National and Community Giving Day Supporters & Partners allows us to provide help and hope for more families who need it most.

Visit our Giving Day website to make a contribution to #Help1Family, check the leaderboard, and grab some info to share on your social channels.

Life in Tanzania Refugee Camps

Refugee camps are realities hard to describe, especially to people who have never been to one. I just spent nearly a month in two of them—the Nyarugusu and Mtendeli refugee camps in Western Tanzania—yet often find myself struggling for words when friends ask me what it’s like. I was there for exactly that purpose, however. To tell the story of these camps, massive and overwhelming, and of those refugees who find themselves living in them, and how the Red Cross is helping life become just a little bit more bearable.

In May 2015, after violence pushed thousands of fleeing Burundians into neighboring Tanzania, already scarce resources were pushed even further to the limit. Camps built with a capacity for 50,000 now hold over 150,000. The Red Cross runs health services in the camp, and provides vital services that can often mean the difference between life and death. This video is just a glimpse into that life, and how Red Cross is helping with the enormous need of thousands of refugees.

My Experience in Tanzania Refugee Camps

How We’re Helping Refugees

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an Emergency Appeal of to support the Tanzania Red Cross Society as it responds to this unfolding crisis. The Appeal aims to assist 250,000 refugees in the Nyarugusu and Mtendeli camps through the provision of basic health care, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, shelter, disaster preparedness and risk reduction and capacity building. The American Red Cross has contributed $200,000 and a disaster response specialist to help support the IFRC’s ongoing work around population movement in Tanzania.

5 Reasons to Stop, Collaborate and Listen About Fire Safety

The Red Cross responds to nearly 66,000 disasters a year and the vast majority of those are home fires. That’s why we launched our Home Fire Campaign in October, 2014 to help people prepare for, respond to and recover from home fires. Our goal is to reduce the number of fire-related deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2020.

1. Fire affects everyone – even celebrities.

These musicians share their personal stories of how home fires impacted their lives.

2. Neighbors helping neighbors. 

We’ve helped install 264,010 smoke alarms so far. See how Red Cross volunteers in Greater Atlanta worked together with their local fire department and a local Boy Scout troop to help their neighbors.

3. You can be a #firesafety hero at any age.

As a fourth grader at Beech Elementary School, Trinity received preparedness training with The Pillowcase Project. Trinity grabbed her pillowcase and pushed her family out the door when a fire broke out in the apartment above hers.

4. Smoke alarms save lives!

Gene Welsch knows all too well the importance of working smoke alarms. We are proud that our Home Fire Campaign has helped save 85 lives through the installation of smoke alarms and preparedness training.

5. Fire safety can be as simple as #2Steps2Minutes

Step 1 – practice escaping your home in under two minutes. Step 2 – check your smoke alarms monthly. Know your drill like this family.

Our Partners in Home Fire Prevention
Generous donations from Nationwide, Duracell and The Wawa Foundation are supporting the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent.

Quiz: What Kind of Giver Are You?

We’re just one week away – Giving Day is April 21! We hope you are as excited as we are to raise awareness for our critical mission and to raise funds to support the lifesaving work of the American Red Cross. With the support of Giving Day, families, neighbors and communities who have experienced a devastating home fire or other disaster will receive relief and hope as they begin to rebuild their lives.

As we count down to Giving Day, we created a personality quiz for you to discover what kind of giver you are. Find out, then share with friends and family to see if anyone matches up!

Don’t forget to share your quiz results on your social media accounts too! Thanks to a generous contribution from Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and craigconnects, each time you use the #help1family hashtag, a dollar will be donated (up to $25,000) to the American Red Cross. Keep on posting and let’s reach our goal together!

From the Archives – Volunteer Extraordinaire, Mabel Boardman

From the Archives header_350 width

National Volunteer Week is April 10 to 16, 2016. From the Archives salutes Mabel Thorpe Boardman, dedicated volunteer and architect of the modern Red Cross who gave 40 years of her life to the organization. 

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881. Her strength and determination were the dominant forces of the organization in its early years. She ran it almost singlehandedly.

By 1900, Barton had secured a government charter which resulted in establishing an executive committee–a more formal system of governance. Mabel Boardman was listed as one of the 50 incorporators of the American Red Cross on the congressional charter application. She came from a prominent Ohio family, was well-educated, well-connected, and had devoted her life to public service. Boardman was a product of the progressive era and believed the Red Cross should operate like a business.


Mabel Thorpe Boardman volunteer

         Mabel Thorpe Boardman, photograph by Harris and Ewing.

Although Boardman’s name was put forward as an incorporator without her knowledge, she accepted the assignment and set about learning how the Red Cross operated internationally and in the various societies and auxiliaries which made up the loosely organized American Red Cross at the time.

She led the drive to redefine the Red Cross. Boardman sought guidance and counsel from social workers, financiers and government officials, including her family friend, the future President William Howard Taft.

Boardman became the driving force behind the newly reincorporated American Red Cross. Although she refused formal chairmanship (a role assumed by Rear Admiral William K. Van Reypen), Boardman took a position on the Executive Committee as secretary. Although influential throughout her tenure with the organization, Boardman’s most prominent period of authority was from 1904 until 1917.


Boardman in 1910, working in Red Cross headquarters, a room within the State-War-Navy Building next to the White House. The space was offered for the organization’s use by the then current Secretary of War William Howard Taft.

Boardman in 1910, working in Red Cross headquarters, a room within the State-War-Navy Building next to the White House. The space was offered for the organization’s use by the then current Secretary of War William Howard Taft.

During her tenure, Boardman turned the Red Cross into an organization that offered a broad array of services through a network of nationally chartered chapters. Those services and mandates were carried out by a well-trained volunteer corps supported by a competent professional staff. Among the services Boardman initiated were nursing, first aid and water safety and other opportunities for volunteer service.

In 1917 when the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson replaced the existing Executive Committee with a War Council to run the Red Cross. Boardman’s role was marginalized as the War Council was composed of an all-male group of bankers and lawyers. Undaunted, Mabel found a new way to contribute by establishing a Woman’s Advisory Committee to assist with the war effort.  


Boardman in uniform, right, with members of the Woman’s Advisory Committee in 1917 on the steps of the newly-built national Red Cross headquarters. The committee coordinated volunteer activities for patriotic American women who wanted to do their part in World War I.

Boardman in uniform, right, with members of the Woman’s Advisory Committee in 1917 on the steps of the newly-built national Red Cross headquarters. The committee coordinated volunteer activities for patriotic American women who wanted to do their part in World War I.

Following the war, the Executive Committee was re-established, but it was not until 1921 that Boardman returned to a major leadership role as a central committee member and national secretary. She continued her involvement with the Red Cross for many more years.

She organized the Volunteer Service (later Volunteer Special Services), which included nurse’s aides, a motor corps, a canteen corps, a home service corps and the “Gray Ladies.” Boardman served as director of the Volunteer Special Services from 1923 to 1940, when the ranks numbered more than 2.7 million volunteers.

In addition to her national duties, Boardman was chairman of Volunteer Services for the District of Columbia Chapter.


Left: A meeting of the Red Cross National Committee on Volunteering in December 1934 had distinguished attendees: Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt; Boardman, presiding and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. Photo courtesy Keystone View Company. Right: Boardman in Red Cross uniform.

Left, a meeting of the Red Cross National Committee on Volunteering in December, 1934 had distinguished attendees: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Boardman, presiding, and Former First Lady Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. Photo courtesy Keystone View Company. Right, Boardman in Red Cross uniform.

Boardman, whose entire Red Cross tenure was served as a volunteer, resigned from the central committee of the Red Cross in 1944 and died two years later in March of 1946. Her passing was noted in an extensive New York Times obituary. The Boardman Memorial Bay in Washington’s National Cathedral, the place of her burial, was dedicated in June, 1958.

volunteer The Boardman Memorial Bay in Washington’s National Cathedral, the place of her burial, was dedicated in June, 1958.

Learn more about Red Cross history on redcross.orgFollow Nicholas Lemesh on Twitter, @NickLemesh.

Red Cross Reconnects Sisters Separated for 72 Years

Story by Krista Schilling, American Red Cross Regional International Services Program Manager, Seattle, Washington

Marta Kruk Lysnewycz was born in Hai, in the Chernigovskaya region of Ukraine in 1926. After surviving Stalin’s genocide of the Ukrainian people known as Holodomor or “death by starvation” during 1932 and 1933, Marta was taken to a forced labor camp in Hitler’s Germany when she was 17 years old. She lost all contact with her mother and nine siblings.

Marta Kruk Lysnewycz in her home with pictures of her, Vassia, and their mother.

Marta Kruk Lysnewycz in her home with pictures of her, Vassia, and their mother.

While in forced labor in Germany, she married a Ukrainian partisan. Because of his political activities during World War II in support of Ukraine’s freedom from Soviet rule, Marta was unable to look for her family after the war. For decades, she didn’t know what happened to her family and was too afraid of the Soviets to start a search.

In 2013, Marta’s daughter Christine Lysnewycz Holbert saw an online ad in their current home of Sandpoint, Idaho, for SeniorWish.org. Christine wrote to them about her mother’s turbulent early life in war-torn Ukraine and Germany and inquired if they could help find information about what happened to Marta’s family during and after WWII. They were intrigued by Marta’s story and started the process of trying to discover if any of Marta’s siblings were still alive.

Marta was the second to youngest child in the Kruk family, so the search began as a quest for information about her younger sister, Maria, who, because of her younger age, might still be alive. Rampant corruption and limited access to crucial records left Marta and her daughter doubtful any information would be found. After many false starts and demands for bribes in exchange for information, SeniorWish finally decided it was not possible for them to find Marta’s family. They suggested contacting the Red Cross. Marta agreed.

SeniorWish contacted the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program on Marta’s behalf to help locate Maria. Ultimately, the Red Cross found records revealing that Maria, born in 1930, had passed away in 2008. After so many years of not knowing the fate of her sister, the news gave closure for Marta and her family.

The Red Cross also discovered the birth and death certificates for Marta’s other brothers and sisters, giving Marta and her family more information than they ever hoped to receive. They were grateful to have knowledge about Marta’s Ukrainian birth family, especially that her mother had survived into her 80s. Marta was grateful for the news about her mother and siblings, and thought this was the end of the story.

However, unbeknownst to Marta, the Red Cross search continued. A couple of years after the initial search was started, the Red Cross revealed a surprise. From her large family of ten siblings, Marta’s older sister, Vassia, was still living in a remote Ukranian village. During the conflict, Vassia had been taken to a forced labor and thought to have been killed. Now at 92 years old, she lived alone and had no phone.

With assistance from the Red Cross, the sisters reconnected after 72 years apart. Marta received a letter from Vassia and several photos. A Skype call was facilitated through the Red Cross.

Vassia knew the first question her sister Marta would ask: What happened to their mother? This was the single most important piece of news that Marta could have received.

“It gave her such relief to know that her mother was taken in and cared for, by her own sister, until she died of natural causes and old age,” said Christine.

The two sisters, at first so overwhelmed by the duration of their separation, hardly knew what to talk about. “But then they spoke, hesitantly, for about an hour,” Christine recounted. She added that her aging mother wanted to dress up for the occasion. “She had asked someone to lend her some fancier clothes to wear for the Skype call.”

The reunification of the Kruk sisters—taking into account the tragic circumstances of their separation and now, their advanced age and the distance between them—is an event that defied the odds. It also shines a light on the profound impact of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program and its ability to go beyond borders, distance and historic events to bring loved ones together again.

If you or someone you know is looking for loved ones, the Red Cross may be able to help. You can visit our website for more information or fill out our form to begin your search today.