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Straight Talk on the California Wildfire Response

There have been several misunderstandings about the Red Cross and our response to the California wildfires, and we believe it is important to state the facts as clearly as possible.

Like you, these are our communities and we care deeply about the people driven from their homes by these terrible fires, especially those who have lost everything. Our mission is simple: to provide shelter, food, and relief to people in need.

A disaster this size takes the involvement of many people from many backgrounds and we’re proud to be one of those “helpers”. We are committed to partnering with others with the same or similar mission so that together we can provide a wide range of opportunities for anyone who wants to help fire survivors.

Fact #1The role of the Red Cross is to provide shelter and to support the immediate needs of those affected by the California wildfires, including a safe place to stay, food, water, and health services, cleaning supplies, emotional support and other support resources. We have supported people with disabilities and we also partnered with several organizations to care for evacuated pets and animals. Residents affected by the fires are welcome to stop by our shelters for services during the day even if they choose to spend the night elsewhere.  Some individuals and families chose to stay outside of the shelters because they wished privacy that a shelter setting could not provide.

Since evacuations were first ordered, more than 600 trained Red Cross workers and community volunteers have:

    • Served more than 76,000 meals and snacks
    • Handed out more than 32,000 relief items
    • Supported more than 10,000 overnight stays in shelters
    • Provided more than 4,800 health and mental health contacts
    • Opened more than 500 cases to provide individualized recovery support

Fact #2: Red Cross normally coordinates the handling of in-kind donations with a partner organization that has the expertise in the logistics of sorting and packing goods. We appreciate the generosity of those who have brought items to help others, but we cannot accept in-kind goods donations as we do not have the infrastructure to support management, sorting, and distribution of such items. In Calistoga, Napa County identified the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (cvnl.org) Emergency Volunteer Center to coordinate such donations.

Fact #3: Financial donations to the Red Cross are being used to provide help to people in need right now and will enable us to continue providing help as communities recover. As of Sept. 24, the Red Cross estimates that we will spend more than $6.6 million helping people affected by wildfires across the western United States – the vast majority of these costs are for California (more than $5 million) and Washington State (more than $1.1 million).

The $6.6 million cost estimate includes wildfire response and recovery efforts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington State.

The Red Cross meticulously honors donor intent. Donations made in support of a specific disaster will be used for that disaster only. Any designated funds we raise beyond what is needed for emergency relief will be put to use serving the recovery needs of the affected communities.

Fact #4: An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends goes to our humanitarian services and programs and are used to provide food, shelter, emotional support and other assistance, as well as the staff, goods, vehicles and warehouses that make that relief possible. This means that roughly 9 cents of every dollar donated supports general operations to keep the Red Cross running, such as information technology, fundraising, finance, HR and communications.  The Red Cross has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and has a 3-star rating with Charity Navigator.  One of the BBB’s standards for accountability is that a charity should spend at least 65 percent of total expenses on program activities. The Red Cross vastly outperforms on this measure. We encourage donors to review our rankings with watchdog organizations and view our audited financial reports on redcross.org.

Fact #5: We greatly appreciate the number of individuals who stepped up to volunteer for the California wildfire disaster, but as with any volunteer organization, we must follow certain screening protocols, which take time to implement and are difficult to undertake during the start of a disaster.  CVNL (cvnl.org) coordinated community volunteers provided support at the Napa County Fairgrounds shelter in Calistoga. Any community members interested in spontaneous volunteering help in Lake County may register online with North Coast Opportunities at ncoinc.org.

The Red Cross is a nearly all-volunteer workforce, composed of people who want to help their neighbors. In response to massive wildfires in California this month, local Red Cross volunteers from the affected areas and neighboring counties immediately mobilized to help the relief effort.

The Red Cross is always seeking committed, qualified volunteers to help our local communities before, during and after disasters. Please direct anyone who is looking for an ongoing or longer-term commitment to this application http://tinyurl.com/redcrossNCCRvolunteer, and they can work with their local volunteer manager to complete the steps needed to become a Red Cross volunteer.

By their very nature, disasters are unpredictable and require immediate crisis management and triage to employ the best possible response and outcome. The reality is that disaster response sometimes is not perfectly executed. We regret that anyone whose offer to help, donate and/or otherwise support support were met with anything less than a compassionate and gracious response from the Red Cross, and we appreciate those who sought us out to express their concerns.

Communities Come Together in the Face of Devastating Fires


Red Cross worker, Jordan Scott, does some coloring with 8 year old April Vazquez, at the Red Cross shelter in Kelseyville, CA. April and her family evacuated their home due to the ongoing Valley Fire burning in Lake County

One week. It’s a long time to be away from home. Typically there’s an element of planning involved for those heading out of town for a stretch like that. Plenty of time and thought goes into what to pack, where to stay, and when you will decide to return to the home which, under normal circumstances, you’re fairly certain will still be there when you get back.

For residents of California communities threatened by ongoing wildfires [Valley Fire (Lake/Napa Counties), Butte Fire (Amador/Calaveras Counties), and Rough Fire (Fresno County)], time to plan was a luxury many didn’t have. Fast-moving flames have forced thousands from their homes at a moments notice, leaving just enough time to gather their loved ones and maybe a bare minimum of personal items.

One week since the largest fires have started, thousands remain in an anxious state of uncertainty at Red Cross shelters awaiting word on when they may be able to return home and what they might find when they arrive.

“As the days go on the frustration grows, and we definitely understand that,” said Jordan Scott, one of more than 250 Red Cross workers providing relief for evacuated residents. “The uncertainty is scary and it takes an emotional toll on everyone. While we know these shelters are no substitute for a home, everyone is working hard to provide a safe environment with basic comforts to help folks through such a tough time.”

At the Napa Valley Fairgrounds in Calistoga, evacuees have found refuge in the expansive facilities where Red Cross workers are serving hundreds of meals each day, providing much-needed emotional support, and ensuring all residents have access to available services and resources. And though the capacity to accept, store, and distribute material donations is limited, Red Cross workers and local organizations are working together to manage thousands of donated goods, the result of the generous outpouring of community support.

Nearly 150 miles to the southeast, near the Butte Fire in the small town of Jackson, California, the popular Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort has switched gears, converting several areas of the hotel to an emergency shelter for evacuated residents. As Bill Thornton, Rancheria CFO says, “This is our community. We take care of each other.”

That same sentiment is shared by the many Red Crossers working throughout the affected communities.

“The volunteers are not strangers here,” says Scott. “This is their community where they live, work, and play. They are providing for their friends and neighbors. Despite the fact that they are also personally affected by these tragedies, they are selflessly placing the needs of others ahead of their own as a means of giving back. It’s both heartwarming and inspiring.”

As of Thursday, Red Cross workers have provided the following for those impacted by California wildfires:

  • Served 25,000 meals and snacks
  • Supported 4,200 overnight stays in shelters
  • Provided more than 1,800 health and mental health contacts

As firefighters continue their tireless efforts to contain these devastating blazes, these workers will remain to provide whatever assistance is necessary. From food to blankets, prescriptions to clothing, to hugs and shoulders to cry on, and everything in between, the Red Cross is here for our communities in need.

Says Scott, “When the fires are out, the realization of what is needed will just be getting started. It will be a long road to recovery, but I’m proud to say that the Red Cross will be here to help all along the way.”

From the Archives – Walt Disney, World War I Driver

From 1914 to 1918, Europe endured the horrors of The Great War, later known as World War I. In recognition of the 100th anniversary, “From the Archives” will feature a series of articles describing Red Cross involvement in the war.

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When the United States entered the war in 1917, Walt Disney’s older brothers enlisted, but 16-year-old Walt was denied enlistment because of his age.

Disney was determined to do his part. When a friend learned that the Red Cross Ambulance Corps would accept volunteers as young as 17, Disney used his artistic skills to alter the birth date on his passport application from “1901” to “1900” so that he could go and serve his country.

Disney reported for training at Camp Scott, a temporary encampment near the University of Chicago. Yellow Cab Company mechanics taught recruits how to repair motors, assemble and disassemble vehicles, and drive over rough terrain.

Because his departure to Europe was delayed while he recovered from influenza, Disney’s unit sailed without him. He then joined another company awaiting transport to France. While that unit waited to be shipped out, the war ended with the armistice on November 11, 1918. Nevertheless, they shipped out 50 men the following day to aid in the occupation. Disney was number 50.

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Disney is seen above in his Red Cross uniform, and on the right with a group of his buddies.

Because he hadn’t left the U.S. until after the war ended, Disney never fulfilled his desire to be an official ambulance driver. He never experienced the atrocities and dangers that most ambulance drivers faced, but he did his duty and put in his fair share of driving.

Disney was first billeted in a chateau in St. Cyr. Later, he transferred to Evacuation Hospital Number 5 near Paris, where his duties included being a driver and mechanic for Red Cross supply trucks and providing taxi service for army officers.

He also served at a Red Cross canteen at Neufchateau in the French countryside.  His duties included driving Alice Howell, a Red Cross canteen worker, to various base hospitals to deliver doughnuts and ice cream to patients. The two became friends and a few years later when one of Howell’s colleagues was visiting the Disney studios, he asked about her and renewed their acquaintance by sending her a Mickey Mouse doll the following Christmas.

Shown below is Disney’s travel authorization to Neufchateau.

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While overseas, Disney found time to develop his artistic skills. He decorated vehicles with cartoons (visible in the photo below), illustrated posters for the Red Cross, and drew war-related cartoons for Life magazine and Judge, a humorous periodical. Alice Howell confirmed his love of art when she was quoted in The Daily Nebraskan, the University of Omaha newspaper, by saying “. . . I would spend the afternoon going to the hospitals. He was drawing even then . . .”

This photo of Disney in uniform was taken before he left Paris to return home.  

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Shown above is Disney’s Red Cross employee service record.

Disney spent roughly a year in France. As American troops were quickly being sent home, Disney applied for a discharge and was sent back on September 22, 1919. His overseas experience remained with him throughout his life and gave him great respect and affection for American men and women in uniform.

Find more information on the American Red Cross in World War I on redcross.org.

This Is Measles

Emmi Herman is a children’s author and a presenter at the 2015 Measles & Rubella Initiative meeting, which is going on this week at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. Below is transcript of Emmi’s speech, a compelling and powerful firsthand perspective of the devastation measles can bring.

Good afternoon. My name is Emmi Herman.

I am a victim of measles.

I am a victim of measles without ever having had measles.

At the end of February 1960, my sister, a precocious, healthy—and I emphasize healthy—child was halfway through the fourth grade in Rockland County, New York, when she contracted measles from one of her classmates who lived right down the street from us. His case was among the approximately 999 uncomplicated cases reported prior to the 1963 measles vaccination program in the U.S. For every 1,000 cases of measles, one would develop into a life-long disability. My sister‘s case was that one. On March 1, she was diagnosed with measles encephalitis.

I was only six years old, but the gravity of her illness wasn’t lost on me, and today, the very mention of the word measles resonates into the deepest part of my being and is what brings me here today when herd immunity is in question and vaccine-resistant campaigns trump proven science.

My sister was whisked away to the local hospital where she slipped into a coma. Measles encephalitis had already caused brain injury and the prognosis was grim. “Pretend she was hit by a car” was one callous recommendation my mother received from a treating doctor. But my mother thought otherwise. She stayed by my sister’s side around the clock.

I went to school and was bounced from one neighbor to another until my father came to get me. I suppose he tried to work. He had to work. The medical bills started to pile up. Plus there was the upkeep of our new suburban split level home, which stood half-empty, aching for the family ruckus for which it was intended.

Instead, it got the measles encephalitis whisper.

And then, a miracle happened. After five weeks of my mother’s vigil, my sister came out of a coma. Hospital rules were not child-friendly and throughout her stay, I was not allowed to visit. So as soon as she was able, my parents arranged to get my sister to the window so we could see each other. I stood in the vast parking lot and looked up. She was smiling and waving with great ferocity. When I replay that scene in my mind, the wild-looking, awkward wave personified her fight to survive and the strength she would need to endure the battlefield of life that lay ahead.

So time moves slowly when you’re six years old. I don’t recall my sister’s homecoming but it was sometime around Easter because I wanted a pet rabbit.

My aunt tried to appease me.

“Oh, you could get a toy rabbit now,” she said, “or if you wait until your sister comes home from the hospital, you could get a real one.”

“My sister is never coming home,” I blurted out.

Out of the mouth of babes. Because in a metaphorical way, the sister I knew before measles never really did come home.

At first, everything seemed normal. My mother was home. My sister went back to school. But her behavior and personality changed as a result of encephalitis and it presented issues that had to be dealt with. She struggled with learning new concepts in subjects where she had previously mastered. At home, she fought over minutiae. My parents didn’t know what to do; the teachers offered sympathy but little support. My sister became a complicated medical case in relatively uncomplicated times.

And then she fell when walking home from school. That’s the way it was reported to me. In reality, she suffered a grand mal seizure. It was the first of many. Complications from measles encephalitis began to rear its ugly head and lay a path rife with stumbling blocks for her. My sister’s cognitive and personality changes swelled as the fickle preteen and teenage years took hold. She was the poster child for childhood bullying long before the phenomenon grew media wings. After much trial and error, lifelong medications mostly controlled the seizures. But no medication could fix the irreparable damage caused by the insidious disease.

Measles encephalitis left my sister permanently brain injured. Throughout her life, she has struggled with higher-level learning skills, awkward social behavior, anxiety, and most frustrating of all, anosognosia, a lack of awareness of her own mental health condition.

Socially, she has been in and out of my life and my family’s life on and off for decades. She has the drive of a bullfighter–but she has no strategy; she has the force of a twister along a reckless path; and she is strong, oh she is so very strong, like steel, but she doesn’t have the tools to guide her strength. And that is the crux of the problem from a social issue.

She doesn’t have the tools and refuses support from adult protective programs.

If you ask her, she will say “there is nothing wrong with me.”

Therein lies the irony. She is eligible for social services, in dire need of social services, but because of the label disability, she rejects the help because she says “I am not disabled and there is nothing wrong with me.”

She is frustrating to the point of exasperation. But it is all part of her illness that has followed her throughout life ever since she was stricken with measles.

Every single day I wonder what would our lives, and more important, my sister’s life, be today if the measles vaccination was available at that time? What if she never contracted the measles? What if she never suffered its consequences? Would we have a close and stable relationship? Would it be like my two daughters’ loving relationship, histrionics and all? The measles robbed that landscape for me. It broke in like a burglar and robbed our wonder years.

Measles stole a so-called normal sibling relationship right from under our feet.

It stole laughter.

It stole mischief; it stole secrets sisters keep.

It stole reliability; it stole dependability.

It stole a future filled with a family of her own.

Presently, I am concerned about my sister’s physical well-being. She falls. She falls a lot, a condition likely connected to her brain injury from measles encephalitis. And she is vulnerable, a target for unscrupulous people she meets.

My mother, frustrated without answers, tried every angle, including returning to college in her 40s to get a degree in psychology. She passed away 10 years ago.

My dad is memory impaired and lives near me. He has outlived his monetary resources. But he has also outlived his anguish surrounding my sister’s condition, something that plagued him for 50 years.

My husband and I will subsidize my sister for as long as we can. But when we can’t I don’t know what will happen.

So today what I can do is to speak out.

To share my story.

To tell young parents who are on the fence about measles vaccination, pediatricians even, who have not seen the scourge of measles encephalitis and the devastating, life-changing results it causes.

Because if we really want to be serious about vaccine preventable diseases we have to keep addressing the vaccination program as a social issue on a state, national and international level.

Otherwise, like me, we are a room of victims.

Victims that have to pay the price for those who do not see the irrefutable benefits for giving every eligible child a vaccine for vaccine preventable diseases such as measles. Thank you.



Are You Prepared to Fend off Disaster Bullies?

Nobody likes a bully. They come in and seem to do whatever it takes to disrupt your life and make things difficult. In that respect, bullies and a disasters have a lot in common. They’re mean, aren’t too concerned about your feelings, and they can often come out of nowhere to cause chaos.

However, being prepared and knowing what to do when faced with a disaster bully can go a long way to help reduce the impacts to you, your home, and your loved ones.

September is National Preparedness Month, a month designated each year as a time to raise awareness and encourage individuals, families, businesses, and more to learn and understand your disaster risks and take the simple yet critical steps necessary to be prepared.


There are many who say if you are prepared for an earthquake, you are prepared for any disaster. Would you be ready for this bully to come along? You can be!


Flooding is among the most common disasters and each year often proves to be the most destructive and costly type of disaster across the country. As winter approaches, have you considered how prepared you are for the storms? Check out what you can do to be ready!


You may not know it as things have been relatively calm and collected this year along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, but we are smack dab in the middle of hurricane season. When the winds start swirling and the rain starts pouring down, make sure you have plans in place to keep your family out of harm’s way.


Tornadoes are among the most frightening disasters, not only for their destructive nature but also because they are so unpredictable. For those who live in areas at risk of tornado events, being prepared is an absolute must!

This September, make disaster preparedness a priority for you and your loved ones. The Red Cross has a ton of great resources to help you get started or give you a refresher! And join the National Preparedness Month conversation on Facebook and Twitter @RedCross to let us know how you’re doing using the hashtag #NatlPrep.

There’s no time like the present to get prepared!

Note: These videos were created to emphasize the importance of being prepared for disasters. They are in no way intended to minimize the devastating affects of disasters OR the seriousness of bullying, which affects thousands of people of all ages everyday.

The Surviving Survival Kit

My 7th grade academic year included, courtesy of a forward-thinking social studies teacher, a month-long unit on emergency preparedness. We researched different kinds of disasters, gave presentations on how to prepare for these disasters, and wrote papers about how to respond to the less serious and survive the potentially devastating.

Most memorably, however, we assembled our own survival kits and then put them to use in (what felt like) a vast forest on a cold, wet, November morning. Under adult supervision we built shelters, bandaged fictional wounds, started fires, and “survived” on the food and drink packed in our kits.

Fast forward 24 years… Last month, while visiting my parents in Wisconsin, my sister and I volunteered to clean out their garage. Hidden among piles of dusty, dirty sports equipment and gardening tools, tucked away on a top shelf, and still in its original waterproof Maxwell House coffee can, we found my survival kit.

When the garage project wrapped, I took the kit inside and dumped its contents out on the dining room table. Each item brought me back to that 7th grade project and prompted a discussion with my own elementary school-aged kids about why I chose to include it, given the limited real estate in my coffee can.



A large coffee can in which to pack all of my “tools”, as as well as a small coffee can for heating water over a fire.



A whistle, thermometer/compass combo, and flashlight with extra batteries.



A garbage bag (to use to build a shelter), an insulating blanket, and rolls of twine, string, fishing line, and wire.



Various first aid supplies, including gauze and bandaids.


My kit also held a needle and thread, a pocket knife, fishing hooks, an eye glass (for starting fires), bouillon and sugar cubes, tea bags, matches in a waterproof container, candles, and last but not least, $0.50 to make a pay phone call. (At this point I had to pause and explain pay phones to my kids.)

Impressively, because of what my teacher had taught us during the emergency preparedness unit, I had packed my kit in such a way that almost 25 years later nearly every item still had life – and the potential to save a life – left in it.

September is National Preparedness Month. At some point this month, set aside an afternoon, or even just an hour or two, to prepare your home and family by researching the most commonly occurring disasters in your area and assembling an emergency preparedness kit (or two!) according to your specific needs. Place your kits in your home and vehicle, and make sure everyone in your family knows where to find them.

Hopefully you’ll never need your kits. Perhaps you’ll find them 25 years from now, still stocked and ready to save a life, in the truck of your car or on a shelf in your garage. But if you do need your kits, that afternoon spent gathering flashlights, batteries, nonperishable foods, bottled water, and first aid supplies will have been well spent.

Click here for additional information about how to prepare your home and family for emergencies.

Katrina Volunteers – 10 Years Later


Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, fast becoming one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history and triggering a nationwide disaster relief effort of an unprecedented scale. As this disaster unfolded before the shocked eyes of the country, thousands were driven to get involved and help in whatever capacity they could.

For many, Hurricane Katrina served as their first venture into volunteerism with the Red Cross. For others, it was a continuation of a life committed to service. A decade later, many of those who responded to help the Katrina-affected communities get back on their feet continue their volunteer service, providing compassion and comfort to those in need throughout the country. We asked them to share their stories from Katrina and their experiences over the last 10 years. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“When I first started working at the American Red Cross Puerto Rico chapter as Communications Officer, Katrina happened. I [didn’t] know how the chapter works, but immediately my partners at work show me the most important thing – how to give without being there. From the distance I collaborate doing like dozens of fundraisers events. Lots of people calling to asked how they can help. The feeling was amazing, exhausting, but amazing…I no longer work for the chapter, but thanks to the American Red Cross I know the humanity still exist. Thank for such amazing opportunity.” – Miguel Chinea, Puerto Rico

“It’s my 10 years as Hurricane Katrina inspired me to join! I’m in the Southern Tier Red Cross Chapter out of Endicott, New York! I just stay local! Been and worked [through] the floods of 2006 and 2011! I met many Red Cross workers from across the country through those floods but ’06 flood i worked and met the most!! I’m now doing home fire prevention and smoke alarm installs!!” – Dave Hitt, New York

“I began my Red Cross career after Hurricane Charley hit my state of Florida. I had been with the Red Cross for about three months when Katrina hit and I was deployed to Mobile, Alabama and then onto Bay St. Louie, Pass Christian and Waveland, Mississippi. I was assigned to an ERV [Emergency Response Vehicle] and handed out water, hot food and snacks to people who needed it. They were so grateful for anything we could give them and always had a smile for us when we came by. I still to this day cannot think about my time in MS without tearing up. It was a leap into the fire for my first deployment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just received my 10 year pin and good lord willing many more.” – Wendy Mitchell, Florida

“I began volunteering with Red Cross in 1969 during Hurricane Camille with my mother. During Hurricane Katrina I opened a shelter at Harrison Central Elementary School (MS) along with my sister. We lost our homes and had to stay at the shelter until it closed. We thank all of the volunteers that came to help. I will continue to volunteer with Red Cross. It is a privilege to help others in time of need.” – Verna Walker, Mississippi

“I was unaware  The American Red Cross would become my passion . Watching the Thailand 2004 Tsunami I cried…seeing the destruction water could leave behind. Time marched on until Hurricane Katrina while, in the warm comfort of my home with my family watching the news, seeing people and children on roof tops waiting for help, animals displaced and people dying my heart sank. I heard a public service announcement that the American Red Cross needs volunteers, I wrote down the number that day [and it] changed my life. Since that time I have become a Disaster Action Team captain in my home town, a Community Outreach Volunteer, and a regional biomedical ambassador. The American Red Cross has become a way of life for my family – from my niece and sister volunteering to my Grandchildren marching in parades assisting with events teaching them the importance of that red vest . I give my time and talent not because of any reward or prestige  , but because someone that has lost everything needs a helping hand.” – Robi Wall

“The relief work for Hurricane Katrina was stressful, exhausting, both physically and emotionally, and fraught with constant challenges and problems to solve, but it was also incredibly rewarding. Probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I feel very fortunate to have been able to have made a difference, to help care for people who have no place to live and no jobs to return to, and I am honored to have been part of the massive Red Cross volunteer efforts.” – John Burnap, Rhode Island (excerpt from a Providence Journal article John wrote in 2005 upon his return from serving at Katrina)

A lot has changed in the 10 years since Katrina. But the heart of Red Cross volunteers remains the same. As we reflect on a Katrina we also celebrate the spirit of compassion which led so many to selflessly serve those in need across the country each and every day. THANK YOU, RED CROSS VOLUNTEERS!!

Please continue to share your stories in the comments below!

Digital Art Expo: Kids Weigh in on Swimming and Lifeguarding

We asked kids in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade why they thought swim lessons and lifeguard training are important.

Check out how the kids showed their support and enthusiasm for swim lessons and lifeguard training – we love their drawings! (And don’t miss the latest on our training and certification for extreme shallow water rescue, especially critical for summer waterparks outings.)

Sarah – 2nd Grade


Sophie – 2nd Grade


Sophie – 2nd Grade


Alyssa – 3rd Grade


Hannah – 3rd Grade


Mia – 4th Grade


Noah – 4th Grade


Rachel – 4th Grade


Wyatt – 4th Grade

Intrigued? If any of the drawings above moved you to get trained, find more information on swimming courses and lifeguard training on redcross.org.

Why Blood Donors Are My Heroes

Post written by Joey Hoffman, mother of a blood recipient.

On February 8, 2003, my daughter, Daisy, received her first blood transfusion immediately after birth. It helped save her life – as did countless other transfusions over the years.

PastedGraphic-1 copyAt eight weeks in utero, Daisy was diagnosed with gastroschisis, a congenital condition in which her intestines developed outside of her body in the amniotic fluid. My OB-GYN stated that she would be OK. They would place her intestines back inside her abdomen, and she’d recover in the neonatal intensive care unit for two weeks.

Daisy lived in the NICU for seven months.

Daisy didn’t recover as her physicians anticipated, so two weeks after she was born, she returned to the operating room for exploratory surgery. What did they find? Most of her small and large intestines were necrotic, or dead. That night, cribside, she received more blood, helping to save her life once again. As a snowstorm raged outside, I watched each drop of blood flow into her tiny body, a four-hour process that ended at midnight.

As a first-time mom still recovering from my cesarean section, plus acclimating to New York City hospital life and the fact that my daughter’s life was in moment-to-moment jeopardy, I was on autopilot – praying, visualizing and feeling grateful that she was alive. It was hard to imagine that people we had never met donated their blood to help save a stranger’s life. PD (pre-Daisy), I had never received blood or given blood. I just knew that the American Red Cross was the revered, go-to organization that helps save lives around the world.

After she was discharged from the NICU, and after repeated complications, it became clear that my baby needed a transplant. When Daisy was 3 years old, we moved to Omaha, Nebraska. (As a consummate city gal, I didn’t know where Omaha was until months later when I looked on a map.) There she received a small bowel, liver and pancreas transplant – and more blood. Each year, we celebrate the anniversary of her transplant as her rebirthday.

Daisy has received so many blood transfusions I have lost count. Receiving blood was as common in our world as attending a “Mommy & Me” class was for a typical kid. Clearly, there was nothing typical about Daisy or our life. But no matter, she was alive! Seven months after the transplant, she was diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, a cancer of the immune cells, and received four months of chemotherapy and more blood.

PastedGraphic-2 copyEight years later, Daisy (or Tween as I call her) is a vivacious, sharp and – dare I say? – normal, 12-year-old, hyper-hormonal girl. She just returned from one month at sleepaway camp, got braces and is starting middle school. Her biggest worry is whether she’ll get into show choir – a far cry from the days when I didn’t know how much more time she would have with us.

Scores of heroes helped save my daughter’s life by sharing their blood with her. The Red Cross currently has an urgent need for blood donors of many types as well as platelet donors to help patients like Daisy.

Blood donation appointments can be quickly and easily scheduled by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). 

Moving forward in Carrefour-Feuilles, Haiti

This post was written by Michael de Vulpillieres, a member of the communications team at the American Red Cross Greater NY Region chapter. This past June, Michael traveled to Port-au-Prince to learn more about Red Cross programs in Haiti and to support the local Red Cross office. For more photos from Michael’s visit to Carrefour-Feuilles, click here.

Building supplies and construction equipment lined a newly-built road as I approached Campeche, one of the eight neighborhoods that comprises the community of Carrefour-Feuilles in western Port-au-Prince. It was about 7 a.m. and I was to spend the next few hours visiting one of the areas of the capital city most impacted by the 2010 earthquake.

My tour began in the narrow walkways of Campeche, accompanied my local colleagues proudly donning their Red Cross shirts. Area residents waved and smiled at us as my guides showed me around, pointing out countless projects along the way made possible by the American Red Cross and the partners we fund—retaining walls, latrines, repaired homes, foot paths, drainage systems, bridges, water points, schools and street lamps, just to name a few. Along with this work, my colleagues also indicated where new constriction financed by the American Red Cross—a health center, public squares, a soccer field, marketplaces and more water points—will soon break ground.

This infrastructure is critical in establishing a more functional and resilient community, in part because this poor area of Port-au-Prince was in desperate need of it even before the quake. Less than 40 years ago, this hill flanked by two steep ravines was sparsely populated. But the 1970s and 80s saw the population in Campeche and other parts of Carrefour-Feuilles skyrocket with a large influx of relatively poor residents moving here and building mostly makeshift homes. A fragile infrastructure barely followed suit and the zone quickly became one of the most densely populated and disaster-prone areas of Port-au-Prince.

So when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, Campeche along with the rest of Carrefour-Feuilles was devastated. That’s why the American Red Cross and other groups designated this area as a priority zone for infrastructure and other community revitalization projects.

Today, local residents are leading the rebuilding effort here, with the help of organizations like the American Red Cross. The impact of such community improvement projects is obvious, but beneath the surface, beyond the bricks and mortar, Red Cross-funded youth, community preparedness, health and livelihoods programs are leaving their mark as well.

I spent the remainder of my morning with Achile, the manager of American Red Cross livelihoods programs in Carrefour-Feuilles. For two hours, he introduced me to half a dozen recipients of small business financing programs and village savings and loan associations (VSLA) made possible with American Red Cross support.

One of the individuals I met was Jeanneus Verdier, who joined a VSLA group in Campeche a year ago. As part of the group, neighbors pool their money over a nine month period and during this process provide loans to fellow members when needed for a small fee. Red Cross-funded partners empowered these groups with the training and other tools to make this lending possible. Verdier runs a local school and has used the money from two different loans to purchase cement for school repairs. He told me that without the loans, these improvements would not have been made. Verdier has since renewed his participation in the program.

My visit ended around noon, outside of Campeche in Post-au-Prince’s city center. Across a busy street from the national soccer stadium was the La Rencontre Restaurant, owned and operated for the last eight months by a young Campeche resident, Frantz Volma. After losing his job in 2013, Volma turned to an organization financed by the American Red Cross for a small-business loan to open his own restaurant. Today, the restaurant does brisk business; the best-selling item on the menu, “Poulet National,” the national chicken and rice dish of Haiti. As Vomar tells me with sense of relief on his face, “I don’t know where I would be without this loan.”

For more information about the American Red Cross’s ongoing work in Haiti, visit redcross.org/haiti.