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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

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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.

Surviving Disaster for the Second Time

Written by Stefanie Arcangelo, American Red Cross for Texas Gulf Coast Blog

At 1:45 a.m. on March 10, 2016, Stacey Kellum and her family were watching the creek, fed by the Sabine River, near their home. The creek was rising, but didn’t appear to be a threat. The family was awoken at 3 a.m. by the sound of their dog barking. They looked out the window and could tell water was knee deep. By 5 a.m., the water was waist deep outside their home and the family decided to evacuate by boat.


Stacey Kellum of Kirbyville hugs Red Cross volunteer Stefanie Arcangelo outside her home. This is the second time in 10 years Stacey lost her home to a flood. Photo: Jay Bonafede, American Red Cross

Kellum had lived on this block in Kirbyville, right near her parents and grandparents, for nearly 20 years. The recent flooding brought back memories for Stacey. “10 years ago in October, this same flood came,” said Kellum. “We lost that home and built this one. We had an inspector come out to look at the property where we were rebuilding; he told us the water hadn’t been up this high in 100 years.”

stacey2Stacey Kellum’s home is now destroyed after taking on nearly six feet of water during the Southeast Texas flood on March 10, 2016. The interior of her home is also full of ruined belongings and is already developing black mold.

The home Kellum built 10 years ago is now destroyed. Nearly six feet of water was inside the home when Kellum and her 19-year-old daughter, Tiffany, came back in the early afternoon of March 10 to try to retrieve some photos. “Tiffany is a Red Cross certified swimmer,” said Kellum. Kellum and Tiffany waded through the waist- to chest-high water to reach the home, “I managed to open the door and all of the water and things in the home started to pour out,” said Kellum. “Tiffany told me to get on her back and she swam us back to the boat.”

Kellum, her four children and husband are safe and staying at her in-laws. The family visited the Multi-Agency Resource Center at Trout Creek Baptist Church in Kirbyville recently to begin the road to recovery. “The Red Cross provided us with help. They connected us with Goodwill, The Salvation Army and provided us with assistance to move forward.”

Having the Red Cross and other organizations there to help has been a comfort for Kellum. “It’s really great to know that we have somebody here. At least we have hope.”

Standing in the yard of her home a little more than two weeks after the flood was hard for

Kellum. “I don’t like looking at it. I know it’s a total loss. I want to dig a hole and let it fall in.”

Still, Kellum is looking toward the future, “If I can get substantial help, I’m not coming back. I can’t do this again. I am hopeful I won’t be back out here.”

Recruiting Social Ambassadors for Red Cross Giving Day: Are You In?


Ever wonder if all that time spent tweeting, posting to Facebook and snapping Instagram pics would pay off? Here’s your chance to use your social savvy for good!

Who We Need: Social Ambassadors

For Giving Day, we’re looking for anyone with:

  • Experience on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
  • Passion about helping those who are in need.

Wait, What’s Giving Day?

Giving Day, on April 21, is an opportunity for thousands of people in communities across the country to come together to help families who have been impacted by a home fire or other disaster and will need Red Cross assistance to get back on their feet.

What You Can Do

Help carry our Red Cross Giving Day message far and wide. We’ll give you all the tools you need, and you can help out as much (or as little) as you’d like. Wondering what to write? We’ve got you covered. Our Social Ambassador page provides easily customizable, click-and-paste social posts and images for you to use. We even have a special hashtag to use – #help1family – to add to the Giving Day conversation.

Ok, Sign Me Up! 

It’s easy – head to the Giving Day website and let us know a little about who you are. Sign up now to start receiving weekly email updates that you can share to inspire even more people to get involved.

Together let’s bring more good days for families in need! #help1family

What Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Work Looks Like in Spain

You may be a long-time blood donor, a disaster volunteer or a proud CPR-trained citizen. But how much do you know about our work with United States Armed Forces across the world? For Red Cross Month, we have a Q&A with Jonathan Glenn, Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Regional Program Manager at the Naval Station in Rota, Spain.

Tell us about your life as an SAF staff member in Spain

They say you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you do; in that case, I haven’t worked in years. I have on the other hand traveled the world, met incredible people and had many life changing experiences as an American Red Cross SAF staff member.

Where I live, there are palm trees in my front yard and the Atlantic in the back. If that sounds like paradise, you’re right! However, scenery isn’t everything. What makes my life great is the privilege I have to serve the Active Duty Servicemembers and their families who live and work on Naval Station Rota, Spain.

Located on the southern coast of Spain (I can get to Africa faster than Madrid from where I am), I wake up energized every day to get to work and make a meaningful impact on my community. You may be surprised to learn that an overseas SAF station is essentially all the departments of your community’s Red Cross chapter in the States rolled into one, offering the full range of services with a fraction of the staff and resources with which to do it.

What’s one thing you’re currently working on?

We don’t shy away from a challenge, even when we are tossed a curve ball. In fact, this week started off with me making an announcement to my volunteer staff that I have been asked to deploy to our Red Cross office in Kuwait for a little over five months. I leave with just a few weeks of notice and will be there for the height of the heat, as if Spanish summers weren’t hot enough! Note to self: pick up sunscreen after work.

In all seriousness, I am excited to be following in the footsteps of many generations of Red Cross staff who have ventured to deployed sites to provide services to our Armed Forces throughout American history.

So what does preparing for a deployment look like?

There is a lot to do before a deployment and pace of office doesn’t slow down for you to get it done. Between trips to the clinic for blood draws, a hearing test and other fun activities required before I can leave for Kuwait, I have to meet with base leadership to plan a deployed ship’s homecoming ceremony. I’ll also need to build my PowerPoint for tonight’s Disaster Action Team orientation and I need to swing by the library this afternoon to snap some photos of our reading tutor volunteers who are helping young students with English reading comprehension.

What else happens at a Red Cross SAF installation?

I spend a lot of time away from my desk. Luckily my super talented Field Office Assistant, Emily, is there to help with an emergency message in the event of a family illness or death back home. We’re doing a beach clean-up project this Saturday. A health and safety lead volunteer teaches the Girl Scouts on base how to use a pillowcase to prepare for natural disaster in the scout hut. There is no shortage of opportunities to see my team in action around the base.

I’ll share some photos of other activities around the base.

Regional Program Manager Jon Glenn facilitates the Disaster Action Team orientation for a group of new Red Cross volunteers. The DAT will lead the Red Cross’s disaster education activity in the community, as well as respond to house fires on base.

Red Cross service to the armed forces disaster action team

The Rota Red Cross’s collaboration with MWR Library provides Red Cross volunteer tutors who are paired with youth 5-10 years old for the “Reading Buddies” program. The students read to the volunteers to practice their reading comprehension skills. Pictured here: Red Cross volunteers Gersen Reyes, Christian Ramilo, Mervin Chavez and program lead Emiley Murphy.

Red Cross service to the armed forces Reading Tutor

Naval Station Rota celebrates the arrival of ships when they return to port from deployment. The base leadership looks toward the Red Cross for volunteer support at the events and it all starts with planning meetings. This is me on the left (Regional Program Manager Jon Glenn) with Command Master Chief Terrell.

Red Cross service to the armed forces ship

Preparing the base community for earthquakes, tsunamis and other potential threats is a focus of the Red Cross at Naval Station Rota. Volunteers Scott Humphreys and Aaron Swanson man an informational table at a Red Cross sponsored safety event.

Red Cross service to the armed forces Disaster Preparedness

On National Acts of Kindness Day, Scrubby Bear handed out free hugs, roses and candies to passersby around base. Even busy Exchange Store manager Rick Nelson has time for a hug from Scrubby Bear (supported by volunteer Erik Monda).

Red Cross service to the armed forces hug

On National Acts of Kindness Day, Red Cross volunteers accompanied our office mascot, Scrubby Bear (supported by volunteer Raiza Cruz), around base. Scrubby took time to play games with single sailors at a base recreation hall.

Red Cross service to the armed forces Scrubby Bear Ping Pong

Thanks to the leadership provided by my Volunteer Partner, Jen Cunningham, and my Community Volunteer Leader, Heather Piedrahita, I know that the Red Cross Rota station will thrive while I am in Kuwait. I can’t wait to see what they have achieved when I return.

Cheers to Ten Years, Twitter!

Happy birthday, Twitter!

We’ve had our ups and our (now infamous) downs, but needless to say our operations wouldn’t be the same without Twitter. We #LoveTwitter! Here are some of our favorite highlights.

Our first tweet

Highlights during our Haiti earthquake response

Yes, that’s right. Add a new factoid to your trivia quiver! President Obama’s first tweet came from the @RedCross Twitter account.

Bottom line: Our Twitter journey has been incredibly meaningful.


The Red Cross Is There as Soldiers Return Home

By Brittany Jennings, Regional Communications and Marketing Director in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Hours before families arrived for a welcome home ceremony at Ft. Bragg on March 9, the American Red Cross was preparing for them.

At 2:45 a.m., coffee brewed in the Red Cross office on the installation. Volunteers put on their blue vests and got to work loading their cars with canteen supplies – orange tang, coffee, granola bars, cookies, coloring books, tissues, informational materials and more. By 4 a.m., the team of eight volunteers was ready to serve and entertain the families who eagerly awaited their soldiers.

The empty warehouse-like building quickly turned into a maze of hundreds of people. Throughout the crowd, blue vests could be spotted. Some handed out Goldfish crackers and crayons, while others simply sat and listened to the anxious moms and dads who hadn’t seen their sons or daughters in almost a year.

Heather Sizemore and her three children were the firred cross solider return homest to arrive.

Despite it being 5 a.m., 7-year-old Sarah sprinted into the empty building, and 3-year-old Asher scaled the wooden benches. Heather held her sleeping 15-month-old as she tried to corral the others. She’d already been up since 4 a.m., ridding Asher’s bedroom of monsters.

Following her children in, Heather found a seat in the first row of benches, directly in front of where the 82nd Airborne Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division would march into the building from the runway. The soldiers were the last group of paratroopers to return home from deployment in Iraq.

With a big grin, little Sarah told me she was waiting on her daddy to come home.

“He’s been gone nine months,” Heather said. “You have to prepare yourself mentally and be patient with your children.”

A few rows over from Heather’s family sat Kym LaRiviere and her 3-year-old, Evelyn. “I’m going to run to my daddy and tell him I love him,” Evelyn said.red cross soldiers return home

Evelyn already had the day with her dad mapped out – eat snacks, play puzzles and eat more snacks. She grazed on a chocolate-covered granola bar as she spoke to me. And in her left hand, she carried a “Frozen” Disney balloon. That’s how she planned to get her daddy’s attention. “Balloons are good for daddies,” she explained.

The plane finally touched down as the sun rose over the tarmac. Families moved outside to see 118 paratroopers marching in. Of those soldiers returning home was Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne.

Before going home to his own family, Clarke shook hands with each Red Cross volunteer at the canteen.

“Thank you for always being here,” he said. “The Red Cross is always here when we get home.”

1. Heather Sizemore (right) with her children, Sarah (left), Asher and Gabriel.
2. Kym LaRiviere (left) plays with her daughter, Evelyn.