“Do All The Good You Can”

A Story of Partnership That Made the Difference for Hundreds of Lives

By Michele Maki, American Red Cross

“Do all the good you can.” The Reverends Scott and Denise Wiley and their congregation of faithful at the United Methodist Church of Valley Springs, CA put this tenant of faith into action recently when the disastrous Butte Fire broke out early in September.  “We have been charged since the 1700s by our founder, John Wesley, to “Do no harm; Do all the good you can; Stay in love with God.” explained Reverend Scott Wiley.  “When this disaster struck, the partnership we formed with the American Red Cross many years ago, was put into action.”

Red Cross Community Partners: Reverends Scott and Denise Wiley of the United Methodist Church of Valley Springs

Robin Friedman, District Director for the American Red Cross, has high praise for the congregation too, “The Red Cross is grateful for the generosity and hospitality shown to us by the church and their congregation.  They opened their facility and their hearts to us. Because of this, we were able to fulfill our mission. We were able to have a facility and staging area to set up communications, work areas for our caseworker, nurse, logistic, feeding and sheltering volunteers.  The church provided us with the necessary parking areas for our Emergency Response Vehicles, supply trucks (tents, blankets, shovels, water, etc.) and room to store supplies waiting to be delivered to those affected by the fire.”

“It was only a matter of how we could best serve when the need arose. We remain glad to be of service.” Rev. Wiley said. Through this coordinated effort by the Red Cross and this valued partner, over 2000 meals a day were served and hundreds of families were assisted by Red Cross caseworkers and trained counselors.

The Red Cross continues working with this and other community partners to assist in the recovery effort. They are available on site at at the Disaster Relief Center located at 891 Mountain Ranch Rd, San Andreas, CA.

Community Partnerships-The First Brick in the Road to Recovery

By Michele Maki, American Red Cross

Please, close your eyes for a moment and imagine:  You have just returned to what used to be your beloved home.  Ash. That is all that is left. Ash.  You sift through it, hoping to recover something recognizable. You recall how quickly the fire raced through your community. Literally running for your life, with nothing but the clothes on your back.  A feeling of overwhelming sadness grips your heart. Tears start to flow. Yes, you’re grateful to be alive, but all that is familiar…..all that was “home” is gone. Where and how do you start over? How does anyone recover from this kind of tragedy?IMG_0800

Kathleen Harmon, Executive Director for Community Foundation of Amador County knows this story. She has comforted and listened to many in her community share just this kind of horror. “Many in our community have few resources to recover for this kind of tragedy.  That is why I’m so grateful for the help the American Red Cross has given us.  They have provided us with the resources to address the immediate needs of those affected. We know the Red Cross will partner with our foundation and our other community agencies to help us build a firm road to recovery.”

But Harmon knows there is more work to be done.  “The Red Cross message of “Prevent, Prepare and Stay Informed” will help our community navigate the future. We know this will not be the last disaster we face.  We need to do all we can to help prevent the next disaster.  We need to prepare and we need to be informed.  We need to clear, realistic expectations from each of us in this partnership. We all have a part to play.”

The Community Foundation of Amador County has established a Disaster Relief Fund to help in the planning and implementation of a recovery effort.  “We can learn much from the Red Cross.  They came here, to this disaster, and helped create order out of the chaos.  When one sees that Red Cross symbol, we know we can all breathe easier. It means Hope.”

Harmon’s vision for the community Foundation is to assess the recovery needs of her community and how each community partner will contribute and then add their piece to the plan to ensure success.  “We have a very giving community, so it’s important that we honor those funds and not duplicate services.  I look forward to working with our community partners, including the Red Cross, to see this recovery effort realized.”

The Red Cross is grateful to all the community partners in Calaveras and Amador Counties for their help in the disaster relief and recovery efforts.   As all of us continue to work together in partnerships for the sake of our communities will be stronger and more prepared for whatever may come.


Community Partners Are a Piece of the Pie

By Michele Maki, American Red Cross

“We all have a piece of the pie and each piece is very important. If we know how each piece fits, and we all do our part, the pie is made whole and everyone can be fed.” This assessment was shared by Marti Crane, a volunteer for over ten years with the American Red Cross in Rancho Calaveras. Crane is a woman who cares deeply about her community. She serves with several other non-profit agencies such as the Volunteer Center for Calaveras County. She serves as their Director and says she has learned much. “If we all communicate what our agencies can do for the community and come together in cooperation, the community benefits.”

Marti looked around, and saw that kind of partnership and cooperation were clearly evident in the facilities the Red Cross was temporarily using during the Butte Fire relief and recovery efforts. “The United Methodist Church has been so gracious to offer the Red Cross the use of their church hall for our headquarters and staging area. They have been just wonderful!” Marti praised. “And that’s exactly what I’m talking about-understanding what our mission is, and helping one another. Truly, this is a partnership.”IMG_0781

Marti continues her work, cleaning the kitchen the Red Cross had been using. She stops and adds, “I love the Red Cross for their nimbleness and flexibility too. “When the need calls, they act! You have to be flexible in a disaster, because disasters are so fluid. Everything can change, just like that!” Marti continues, “There is another kind of flexibility too, that I love. I can volunteer just so many hours to this, and still be available to give to other causes that are important to me. That kind of flexibility is important to me too. And…..there is so much kindness here. How can anyone pass that up?”

Red Cross Lends a Hand and Hope in the Road to Recovery

“Red Cross Caseworker shares some helpful news with Karen Williams “

By Michele Maki, American Red Cross Volunteer

“I keep thinking this is all a bad dream, but then I look around, and I realize it’s real. The fire took away everything.” Richard Williams, from Calaveras County, shares his story of shock and disbelief.  As he continues his story, his voice cracks and his tired, blue eyes glisten with the hint of tears. “We made it out safely, and I’m grateful, but…..everything……it’s all gone.”  Williams shared how he loved to restore cars, and how the model “A” sedan was about 50% restored.  His vintage record collection is gone.  Williams turns to his daughter, Karen, and goes silent.

Karen continues their story, “We packed the car with our photos and our pets, but some of our kitties panicked and fled.  Some of them didn’t make it. We’re headed to Davis to pick up two that are being treated for burns.  It’s just so hard.” A tender hand reaches out to reassure Karen.  Joan Zbachick, a seasoned Red Cross volunteer and caseworker comforts her.

Patiently and gently, the interview continues and hope begins to surface. When caseworker Zbachick finds out that Karen hasn’t refilled some of her medications because of finances, she re-assures Karen that the Red Cross can help.  Realizing that the Williams’ will likely incur costly veterinarian bills, Jean Kerrigan, RN and Red Cross volunteer assists and also gives them a copy of a proclamation by Governor Jerry Brown, that (in some cases) allows pharmacists to waive co-pays for those affected by fire, including the family pets or livestock. Nurse Kerrigan encourages the Williams family to ask their pharmacist and vet about it.

Visible relief washed over Karen’s face, with the good news.  Additionally, the caseworkers were able to help direct Karen to other agencies at the resource center. When she expressed her gratitude, Zbachick simply smiled, and said “This is what we do.  We’re here to help make your recovery just a little bit easier.”

This is what the Red Cross does: it provides HOPE and a helping hand in the road to recovery.

Our Community and How Our Red Cross Supports Us

~“We were here before, we were here during and we will be here long after”~
Written by Michele Maki, American Red Cross Volunteer

Volunteer Dennis Lewis directing the action at Butte Fire operations center
Volunteer Dennis Lewis directing the action at Butte Fire operations center

“This has been my chance to give back, and I’ve never regretted it.” Dennis Lewis, a retired police officer and 5 year veteran of the American Red Cross does not mince his words when asked, “Why, with so many opportunities for the retired these days, why do you volunteer so many hours to the Red Cross? Lewis pauses for a moment, and thoughtfully explains, “Well, you know, when I was a Marine in Vietnam, my mom passed away. The Red Cross convinced my CO that I should attend her funeral. They actually bumped a general off the flight to get me home. I’ve never forgotten that.“

Lewis is the Mass Care Lead for Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Alpine Counties. He leads and responds to disaster calls for the Disaster Action Team too. These calls are frequently home fires. It could be a family that had a fire and has no place to go.

“We provide for their immediate needs. We make sure they have a safe place to sleep, meals, and if all was lost, a change of clothing, and emotional support. Our health services can help the family with any medicines that may have been lost to the fire too.”
Frequently though, Lewis is the only volunteer on the scene. “I could sure use some help!” Lewis said, “I like to train folks to help and I like hands on help.”

This was clearly evident during the tragic fire that ravaged his community. Known at the “Butte Fire”, more than 470 homes were lost. In the early days of the fire, many volunteers remarked how Lewis was the order in the middle of chaos.

“He has a presence, you know,” remarked one volunteer. “When he’s in the room you know it. But he has a way of making each person feel special and no matter what task you are given, you know it’s important to the mission and your own contribution is valued.”

“Some of our local Red Cross Volunteers lost their own homes in this fire. Their loss and the losses of this close community have really touched our hearts in a very personal way. It is OUR loss,” explained Sue Yoder, who flew in from Iowa to help in the relief and recovery effort.

Dennis put it succinctly, “The Red Cross was here before the fire. We were here during the fire. We will be here during and after recovery, which will take years. This is our community, our friends and neighbors, and it’s important that we take an active role in looking after each other.”

Lewis and the Red Cross encourage you to consider taking on that active role by becoming a Red Cross Volunteer. Training is free, and you will be helping your own community prevent and prepare for the unexpected. Visit redcross.org/goldcountry for more information!

A Case of Coming Home

Written by Richard Woodruff, American Red Cross

Kathy Catania has been a Red Cross volunteer for 10 years signing on right after Katrina. Her first deployment was to Biloxi Mississippi and it started a path of service that today has brought her to Northern California and the small town of San Andreas the Calaveras county seat near the hardest hit areas of the Butte Fire. That is where the Red Cross Client Assistance Center is and that is where we found her on the phone checking up on one of her clients.

As we quietly sat and talked there were a few people coming and going behind us needing assistance.  They were greeted at the door often with a hug and a bottled water as they made their way into the private cubicles. One-on-one the caseworkers would sit down discuss their situation and provide or direct them with or direct them to what they needed for their unique situation.

Kathy doing casework at the Red Cross client assistance center
Kathy doing casework at the Red Cross client assistance center

For Kathy this particular assignment is a bit of a homecoming because although she currently lives in San Diego, she used to live in nearby Sonora and in fact still owns a home there. The Butte Fire hit her especially hard because she almost lost her own home during a previous wildfire.  The fear and uncertainty of that situation gives her special empathy for the  people of Calaveras county.  After being evacuated (many to Red Cross shelters) most had no idea whether or not their homes had even survived. It took several days for the firefighters to go back up into this the burn areas to begin to document what homes had been destroyed. She knows first hand what that feels like.

Since the client assistance center started operating on September 19th, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers have opened over 375 cases and the work is just getting underway.  The road to recovery is a long one and the Red Cross will be here as long as it takes.

Kathy says even though coming back here has been bittersweet it has also been  a very rewarding experience because says that she has been able to help her former neighbors. She says “These are very close knit communities that band together in times of need and I am glad to be part of that healing process.” For Kathy it is a case of coming home to where a part of her heart will always live.

Its a Dog’s World

image1The world of the Red Cross involves many partnerships. One of those is Lend a Heart-Lend a Hand Animal Assistance who provided therapy dogs to one of the Red Cross shelters in Amador County.  The Jackson Rancheria Hotel Casino had been converted into a Red Cross shelter initially housing hundreds of people who had escaped the flames of the Butte fire.  The canine companions could be seen mingling with shelter residents offering comfort and hope.

One such dog was a poodle named Credo. They say poodles are one of the smartest breeds there are and clearly Credo represented that.  He was extremely smart and one of his tricks was to pretend that he had a cold and was sneezing. He would then grab a tissue from a box.  The novelty alone provided an entertaining diversion from the situation at hand.    Credo has a complete repertoire of tricks including putting laundry in the dryer, picking up items dropped and even retrieving medications. For this assignment he was there to just offer the unconditional love dogs are known for. Other therapy dogs could be seen visiting shelter residents exhibiting the kind of unconditional love dogs are known for.

The Red Cross also has it’s own corps of therapy dogs called the American Red Cross Canine Action Team.

Member of the American Red Cross Canine Action Team
Member of the American Red Cross Canine Action Team

It takes a whole community to make a community whole and these furry friends are part of that community.