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Ten Years Later – Share Your Volunteer Experiences


This month marks ten years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast, launching an unprecedented disaster relief effort which stretched across the entire country. For many current Red Cross volunteers, Katrina served as their introduction to disaster relief and volunteerism, as thousands were inspired to join in the massive effort to bring comfort and aid to those impacted.

Ten years since Katrina marks the 10-year anniversary for many volunteers continuing to serve today, and we want to hear your story! Tell us about your first volunteer experience during Katrina, what inspired you to continue your service afterward, and what have your experiences been like since then? Don’t forget to tell us who you are and which Red Cross Chapter/Region you call ‘home’…though of course you may remain anonymous if you’d like.

Share your stories in the comments section of this blog OR submit them to socialmedia@redcross.org with the subject “My Katrina Volunteer Story”. We will compile many of the submissions to share on a follow up blog to be published later this month.

Thank you for sharing your stories and, most importantly, thank you for your continued selfless service!

Check out how disaster preparedness and response has changed in the 10 years since Katrina in this article by Red Cross CEO, Gail McGovern.

Centennial Campaign: Year 2 Swimmers Diving In

Post by Connie Harvey, Director of the Red Cross Centennial Initiative

I’m so proud of the Red Cross for honoring the organization’s 100-year history of teaching lifesaving and water safety in such a significant way with its Centennial Campaign. Now in its second year – still an early stage of the five-year quest to reduce drowning rates by 50 percent in 50 at-risk communities – I know that we are opening a world of opportunity for so many people as they learn to enjoy the water safely, and I am confident that the campaign is saving lives.

How It’s Working

Just 14 months since the launch of the campaign, the Red Cross is proud to announce 34 Centennial partnerships in more than 147 facilities and across 12 states. That translates to more than 12,750 additional kids and adults who are learning swimming and lifesaving water safety skills. I’m not sure who is more excited in the video below – the kids learning to swim or their adult instructors!

Our Partners

What makes the work of our Centennial partners so powerful is their willingness to go above and beyond. Overwhelmingly, our partners – state, city and county parks and recreation departments, YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers and community pools – were already running robust learn-to-swim programs. We came to them and asked if they would be willing to do more – and these partners said yes without hesitation.

As we get started with each partner, we brainstorm about how we can help overcome barriers that keep people from learning about water safety, an important life skill. We ask them to answer the question, “What would you do if you had no obstacles?” Many aquatics directors already have ideas in mind. And while every community is different and thus the approaches to the solutions are different, the ultimate goal is the same everywhere. We all want to make swimming lessons available in a safe environment, taught by qualified Water Safety Instructors, where participants are encouraged to return until they reach water competency.

Smiles for Swimming Successes

From the huge, proud smile on the face of a child who just swam unsupported for the first time in her life…

tmaya blog

Ta’Mya , 8 years old, beams with pride as she swims on her own for the first time.

To the tremendous sense of accomplishment of Elvin, age 11, who is now able to swim in the deep end with his friends…

To the Water Safety Instructor who is so proud to help children overcome their fears and sees the potential for their future…

We’re excited to see what smiles come around next summer!

Want to get involved? Learn more about water safety instruction and swimming classes, as well as the Centennial Campaign on redcross.org.


First Person Perspective – Red Cross Response in Saipan

The following was written by Julie Bradley of the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter. She has been a volunteer with the Red Cross International Response roster since 2010. She has deployed to Nepal twice, first in 2013 for non-disaster preparedness and most recently in April of this year as part of the Information Technology/Emergency Response Unit team during the first round of response immediately following the earthquake. She is currently in Saipan providing IT support in the wake of this month’s typhoon.


As I worked to install communications and computers for the American Red Cross disaster response in Saipan I heard a conversation that took me back 10 years. Here in post typhoon Saipan a woman in line for Red Cross assistance turned to the woman behind her,

“How’d you do?” she turned and asked.

“The roof and one car,” she answered.

“The roof, first floor and carport,” the first woman replied.


That conversation between two islanders took me back 10 years to 29 August, 2005. “How’d you do?” became a normal greeting after Hurricane Katrina, that storm of storms. Epic Katrina was also the driving force behind legions of Americans like Glen and me to step up for our first Red Cross disaster volunteer work. We spent the first weeks after Katrina helping my parents who had 21 feet of surge sweep through their waterfront home near Bay St Louis.

“The roof, and water up to the third shelf of the medicine cabinet on the second floor”, was their answer to “How’d You Do?” As we worked days and nights to shovel sludge and pile ruined belongings on the street curb for pickup we were fed and watered by upbeat Red Cross volunteers from all over the country; cheerful people who enjoyed their work and took genuine interest in our well being. We looked forward to the daily arrival of the volunteers driving the Red Cross food trucks; we knew their names, where they were from, and they knew a lot about us before we finished the massive cleanup at my parents.


Flash forward to today. Typhoon Soudelor is just as catastrophic to these islanders as Hurricane Katrina was to my family. As I walk down the streets of Saipan I see aftermath everywhere; downed trees blocking roads and crushed houses, roofs gone with makeshift tarps to block the daily rains, entire houses lifted from their foundations by microburst tornadoes. It can take your breath away. The size of Saipan may be small, but it makes up the entire world for the people who live, work and raise families here. Red Cross case workers work long, emotion charged  days to extend aid to the thousands of islanders who line up for food, water, medical and clothing assistance. The islanders are lovely, apologizing for putting us to the trouble as they enter their twelfth day with no power or sewage service.


Typhoon Soudelor was devastating, but forecasters give us some bad news; an entirely new Category Three typhoon may be heading our way.  I eye the three cases of communication equipment that Glen and I brought with us as checked baggage.   Will we have what we need for a second round of destruction? We keep our fingers crossed that the projected direct hit of these strong forces will be kinder and take the typhoon further out to sea.  It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, but as these typhoons in Saipan remind me, there is no shortage of disasters. Let’s all do what we can.

~Glen and Julie Bradley, Red Cross volunteers, Saipan

Julie and Glen Bradley

Julie and Glen Bradley


A College Preparation How-To, By a Red Cross Intern

I recently had the realization that this fall, I’ll be a junior at James Madison University. And with that realization was an onset of panic. Going into my third year of college means that I am one step closer to becoming a Real Adult. I’m feeling nostalgic for the time when I was preparing to go off to college, so here’s some advice to all the new rising freshmen.

Understanding How to Properly Function as an Adult, Re: Appliances.

My roommate accidentally put liquid dish soap in our dishwasher

Buying decorations for the dorm room, choosing out your preferred color of extra-long twin sheets, and getting the right devices is one of the most exciting parts of the summer. However, before you go, make sure you know what you can and can’t bring with you. I lived directly across from the only kitchen in my building, and while I constantly wished that we were allowed to bring microwaves (so I wouldn’t have to smell burnt popcorn and failed cooking attempts), we unfortunately couldn’t. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can bring a toaster or coffee maker, understand how to use all appliances safely.

Getting Sick Is Real, and It’s Terrible Without Mom & Dad.

Living in a dorm means that germs spread like wildfire. During my freshman year, I got mono for six weeks, followed by the flu, followed by a cold. Let’s just say that my winter was not a fun one. Know the steps to prevent the flu, and understand when your immune system needs a break. If you’re not feeling 100 percent, most universities offer free medical consultations.

Do You Really Need That $2 Fish From the Pet Store?

My foster kitten, Sherman, relaxing in the kitchen cabinet 

My old RA once told me a story from her freshman year: two guys bought a fish for their dorm room. When it came time to go home for winter break, neither of them wanted to transport the fish, so – and I’m not making this up – they put an entire Pop-Tart into the fish bowl and left for a month. Follow your school’s rules when it comes to pets and their safety. Many universities will allow fish or other low-maintenance pets, but understand the responsibility that comes with having one.

High School Stereotypes Are a Thing of the Past.  It’s Okay to Join the Knitting Club.

I encourage everyone to join different clubs and organizations. College can be intimidating, but this is also a time to try new activities in a safe environment. Interested in astronomy or hip-hop dancing? Go to your student org night, and find what’s available. A good place to start is seeing if your school has a Red Cross club! Wherever you end up, make sure it’s with people you like doing what you like.

The Fire Alarm Will Go off While You’re in the Shower, at Least Once.

Lastly, be sure to learn your surroundings. It’s important to know how to safely exit your building in an emergency, and also understand the area you will be living in. My school is located in the mountains, which means lots of snow during harsh winter months. If you’re going to a school in a disaster-prone area, know the necessary measures you will need to take before, during, and after.

This is me, sledding behind my dorm building during a snow day freshman year

The most important things in college are to have a good time, learn a wealth of information from classes, and make memories to last a lifetime. As a Red Cross intern, and a rising junior, my only wish for you is that this guide will help steer you in the direction you want to go in. Good luck, and stay safe.

P.S. Also don’t miss the Ultimate College Dorm Prep List from the Red Cross on redcross.org.

Safety Quiz: Are You Prepared for Your Next Vacation?

With less than a month left of summer, many families are getting ready to take one final vacation. Staying in a hotel on vacation can bring a lot of added benefits (e.g. a warm bed to sleep in at night, continental breakfasts and room service).  However, a disaster can strike anywhere at anytime — even your hotel. Here at Red Cross, we’ve created a six-question quiz to put your hotel safety knowledge to the test when it comes to preparing for your vacation, getting to the hotel and what to do when a disaster happens.
No matter what result you got on the quiz, Red Cross has some useful information and classes to check out. Consider taking a class in first aid, CPR and AED training before your vacation, and downloading the Red Cross Emergency App for information on more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts.

Why We Give to the Red Cross

By Anthem Foundation

At Anthem, we partner with thousands of national and local nonprofit organizations, and are proud and inspired by all that our company, our Foundation, our partners and our associates do to give back. We are particularly committed to ensuring that we impact and strengthen communities where we live, work and serve.

Disasters and emergencies can strike at any moment. So when it comes to disaster relief efforts, we believe that the best approach is a proactive one. That’s why Anthem Foundation is a proud member of the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP) at the million dollar level.  Anthem Foundation, along with our fellow ADGP members, helps provide a reliable funding base for disaster relief services. These funds enable the Red Cross to respond immediately to the needs of individuals and families affected by disaster at home and around the world, regardless of cost. Because of our up-front investment, the Red Cross is on the ground and taking action right now.

“The moment I explained to one of our local Anthem associates what it means to be a part of the Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program, I realized that our company is truly making a difference.”

-Morgan Coleman, Program Manager, Anthem Foundation & Social Responsibility

After this year’s earthquakes in Nepal, we learned that Anthem has several associates who are from Nepal, or who have loved ones still living there. So although the disaster seemed far away, it hit close to home for many.  The Red Cross is part of our year-round Associate Giving Program, so we were able to quickly establish a workplace collection for Nepal relief efforts.  The response was an incredible avenue for associates who were looking for a way to help. In just a few weeks, associate donations paired with our Foundation’s match surpassed $30,000.

Through our ADGP membership, Anthem Foundation is in a unique position to enable immediate response – and that is incredibly important to our company. Anthem associates often express to us how pleased they are that their company invests in the safety and well-being of communities, and feel a sense of pride when they see us so visibly aligned with the work of the Red Cross.  They appreciate the opportunity to contribute themselves – both financially, as well as through their time and talents. From organized blood drives at office locations across the country to emergency preparedness trainings to disaster kit builds, our associates help their communities year-round through the Red Cross.  It has inspired a deep sense of community and camaraderie, and gives them a reason to feel good knowing they are working for a company that cares about the same things they do.

The Red Cross is entrenched in every aspect of disaster response – so there’s no better organization for us to partner with – whether it’s supporting a group of individuals who have been touched by a disaster, or thousands across the globe. What we can accomplish together is truly inspiring.

For more information about Anthem Foundation’s corporate responsibility, visit www.anthem.foundation or http://anthemfoundation.tumblr.com

Red Cross Provides Help in Saipan Following Devastating Typhoon Soudelor


On Sunday, August 2, Typhoon Soudelor struck Saipan (part of the US Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands) causing the worst devastation the island has seen in years. Preliminary reports suggest over 800 homes are damaged and power may not be fully restored to the islands for four weeks or longer.

The American Red Cross has an office on Saipan and volunteers have been providing help around the clock. As of Aug. 7, here’s a quick snapshot of Red Cross efforts:

  • Mobilized a team of 41 people currently on the island to provide support with sheltering, feeding, logistics and damage assessments. Dozens of additional workers are either en route to the island or on standby to travel.
  • Served more than 5,600 meals in government-operated shelters where nearly 600 people have sought refuge.
  • Shipped more than 600 rice cookers to Saipan which are en route now.
  • Received more than 2,000 calls and visits from people seeking help – that’s nearly 5 percent of the total population of Saipan.
  • Created a relief plan to get financial assistance and critical relief supplies to thousands of people in the hardest hit areas. These supplies, currently being mobilized, include bags of rice, canned meat, hygiene products, flashlights, butane stoves, cleaning supplies and tarps.

saipan2“I have seen multiple primary power poles down; I have seen cars flipped over the road; I have seen lots of torn roofs,” John Hirsh, executive director of the American Red Cross in Saipan, told Pacific Daily News. Damage was “extensive” across the island and there had been significant damage to public infrastructure, he said.

To aid in the relief efforts, several highly trained Red Cross volunteers from the mainland United States are on the ground or en route to assist. Volunteers from Illinois, Nebraska, New York, and elsewhere are giving their time and talents to help get the devastated communities of Saipan back on their feet.

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

VIDEO: New York Volunteer, Alex Resnick, talks about his deployment to Saipan

Dakota Bradley Named Ambassador for Red Cross Fire Mission

After losing his childhood home in a house fire at the age of 15, singer/songwriter Dakota Bradley has a personal connection to those who know all too well what the fire takes from people.  Growing up in St. Louis, MO, Bradley moved to Nashville, TN at the age of 16 after his family lost everything in a house fire. This life-changing experience is the inspiration behind Bradley’s passion to partner with the American Red Cross and to serve as an Ambassador for our home fire campaign to reduce fire deaths and injuries by 25%.

“Losing my home in a fire was devastating. I am honored to partner with the American Red Cross in hopes to prevent similar tragedies, as well as a way to help fire victims,” says Bradley.

To kick off the yearlong giving campaign, Bradley will donate $0.50 to the American Red Cross for every digital purchase of “Name On It” sold between now and September 30, 2015. You can download his new single by visiting iTunes.  Your gift to Home Fire Relief enables the Red Cross to provide critical services to people impacted by home fires along with the lifesaving tools and information to support home fire prevention efforts.

International Youth Day: Carolyn’s Powerful Survival Story

August 12 is International Youth Day! And the American Red Cross is celebrating our young partners like Carolyn Strzalka, President of the Red Cross Club at the University of Michigan. Carolyn is a blood recipient, a donor and a Red Cross volunteer.

Here’s Carolyn’s Inspiring Story:

Carolyn Strzalka, Red Cross Club PresidentIn high school I was an active student. I volunteered regularly at a local animal shelter and organized local food donation drives in addition to working hard on my studies. As varsity soccer captain, I ate healthy and exercised, making sure to take care of my health. So when I turned 18 and started experiencing sharp abdominal pains I knew something was not right.

When my doctor told me that I needed to have my gall bladder removed two days before moving into my college dorm I was nervous I would miss out on all the welcome week activities. As a stubborn 18 year old, I adamantly told him that after my cholecystectomy I would be going off to college. He explained to me the surgery was an out-patient surgery and I should be recovered enough to partake in any non-strenuous activities. But the day after I moved into my dorm room I knew something was not right. After not being able to keep any food down and almost fainting walking back to my dorm room I called my mom and asked her to take me to the hospital.

In the emergency room, the physicians told my parents that there was a very low chance that I would survive. I had been internally bleeding into my stomach for 3 days and my red blood cell levels were at a third of what they should have been. He suggested I receive two blood transfusions, but cautioned my parents that it may already be too late. Fortunately, the blood transfusions saved my life.

I am beyond thankful for the blood donors whose donations have allowed me to be alive today. These donors have a special place in my heart because I have type O negative blood and can only receive blood from other type O negative people.

After this experience I wanted to give back to blood donors who helped save lives like mine. However, after receiving a blood transfusion you are not able to donate blood for a year. So I began volunteering at blood drives to let people know how much their donation meant to people like me. While volunteering I got to hear inspiring stories about why other people donated blood, including stories from people who donate blood every 56 days. After experiencing the need for blood donations first hand, I now am inspired to donate every 56 days as well.

How to Get Involved

Join Carolyn by choosing to make a difference in your community this summer with the Red Cross, either through blood donation, taking a babysitting class or volunteering. You can find more ways to get involved at RedCrossYouth.org. #ChooseYourDay

Generation Y and IHL: Why Should Millennials Care?

Post by  Jessica Lach, IHL Youth Education Intern. Originally posted on the Humanity in War blog.

DeathtoStock_SlowDown2Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, are said to be full of complexities and firsts. Born in 1994, I consider myself a true millennial because I check most of the required boxes: I had Internet access during my formative years and social media as I grew into adulthood, and I learned all about the economy by watching the effects of the 2008 Global Economic Recession. Most importantly, me and my generation have been overexposed to media more so than any other generation preceding us. Despite all the information we are regularly thrown, we sometimes have skewed perspectives, especially when it comes to putting International Humanitarian Law into context.

A New Way of Getting and Processing Information

Millennials are the first generation to collectively form a true companionship with something lacking a living pulse — in other words, our smartphones have become a part of our daily lives and regular communications. Not only are our smartphones an extension of ourselves, but they are how we see the world we are living in. I know I am not the only one guilty of checking my social media news feeds before I even get out of bed in the morning. After all, about “six-in-ten online Millennials (61%) report getting [political] news on Facebook in a given week, a much larger percentage than turn to any other news source, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. From the comfort of bed, I can become fully aware of what the weather is like, how political situations across the world are panning out, and, most importantly, what a Kardashian sister ordered from Starbucks. New technological apps have simply become parts of our daily routines. Having progressed from Myspace home pages and then Facebook timelines, to Twitter feeds and Instagram posts, we Millennials have now found ourselves getting a look at daily life from 10-second Snapchat stories. From Snapchat, members of Generation Y have learned about the Greek referendum and other world events through the eyes of people much like ourselves. Furthermore, we are a generation that relaxes to the welcome screen of Netflix and opening chime of Xbox.

A Skewed Version of Reality, Including Rules of War

DeathtoStock_Wired10However, with the movies and video games which we regularly expose ourselves to through these and other services, a lot of what we see is not entirely accurate when it comes to properly portraying the rules of war. Common dystopian novels and movies, like The Hunger Games and Batman, regularly show scenes of destruction to civilian compounds and even the use of child soldiers, both of which are prohibited under IHL. Popular video games also tend to portray a world of warfare that skews the reality of what a wartime conflict is like and the real protections that are in place. I facilitated a Raid Cross activity once, during which my team and I hosted an open discussion about what the rules of war include. Throughout this discussion, many students tried to tell us that it was okay to take items off of deceased soldiers since this action is permitted in the popular video game Call of Duty.

Before I learned about IHL, I never really thought that rules of war existed, especially since modern media rarely displays them. Although I know fiction is merely fiction, when something is regularly portrayed, it can be easy to apply it to real life. For example, regularly watching movies like The Hunger Games may lead young people to believe that children carrying and firing weaponry is normal, whereas it is prohibited under IHL. The Call of Duty instance above is another example.



Why Understanding IHL Protections Is Critical

Though Millennials are a generation of information seekers and seem to always be plugged in, the result is that we can easily skew information and not fully understand the true implications of what we are exposed to in the media. When prompted with the question of “Why should Millennials care about IHL?”, the answer is simple: we are exposed to wartime conflicts more so than any other generation before us was from the media, meaning it is important that we understand the protections granted under IHL. It is imperative that we understand that what we see in the media is not always legal, not only because the rules of war are important but also because they may be vital to the strangers we see gracing our Snapchat stories an ocean away. As Millennials, we watch snippets about life on the frontlines on our Facebook timelines and then sit down and relax to Game of Thrones, all while forgetting that there are rules of war that, in effect, help shape the conflicts of our day. Though we are a generation known for our overexposure, we are also one of great conviction- a similar conviction that was found in the creation of the Geneva Conventions decades ago.