A Veteran Honors An Act of Kindess To The Red Cross

Story and Photos by Cindy Huge, American Red Cross

Dennis Lewis instruction new volunteer in the Basics of Sheltering class. DR202-17

When a call goes out for help, Dennis Lewis, an  American Red Cross volunteer, is always willing and ready to respond.

As a young marine stationed in Vietnam, Lewis received heartbreaking news that his mother had unexpectedly died. Desperately wanting to fly home for her funeral and not knowing how to accomplish this, he contacted the American Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces.  Their representative was able to contact Lewis’ commanding officer and made the necessary travel arrangements. This wonderful act of kindness was something that Lewis never forgot. He knew that some day he would like to become a volunteer and give back to the organization that helped him during  that difficult time.

“Lewis represents the heart of the Gold Country Region,” praised Jordan Scott, Social Engagement Strategist for the Red Cross. “If there is any opportunity to help, he answers that call, no matter what it is. You can always count on him.”

A 3 am call for help may go unanswered for some, but not to Lewis. He knows that call means there is someone in need- someone who has just experienced a devastating loss of a home due to fire or flood. At times, Lewis has driven over 2 1/2 hours to reach a person needing help on behalf of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team.

Volunteering has become a way of life for Lewis, one that has spanned nearly 10 years of service and has included several national deployments taking him hundreds of miles away from his home and family.

Dennis Lewis exemplifies just one of the many thousands of Red Cross volunteers who unselfishly give daily to those in need. If you would like to be apart of this humanitarian organization or find out more on how you can make a difference in the lives of others,  please visit RedCross.org

A New Partnership Benefits Hundreds Now, Thousands in the Future


ca2Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

Community partnerships are an important part of the success of any Red Cross mission in a disaster.  When Oroville and the surrounding communities were ordered to evacuate Sunday night, the American Red Cross had only hours to activate their emergency plans to feed and shelter potentially thousands of displaced people. Cal Expo at the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento became an important community partner when the State of California ordered it to open for this emergency.

This year Cal Expo celebrates its 50th anniversary and was the brainchild of Governor Pat Brown. It was dedicated in 1968 by then-Governor Ronald Regan. It has been the showcase for car shows, thoroughbred and harness racing, and many programs highlighting California’s agriculture and wine industry. It had never been called on, however, to house potentially hundreds of evacuees from a disaster. The officials at Cal Expo and the Red Cross linked arms to make it happen. By Monday morning, only hours after evacuation orders were issued, supplies and staff were arriving and by noon the shelter was in full operation.

“We’ve never worked with the Red Cross before, and I have to say they were amazing,’’ complimented Margaret Mohr, Deputy General Manager for Cal Expo. “The disaster planning, preparedness and cooperation helped make this a successful operation. Cal Expo looks forward to a long and beneficial partnership with the Red Cross.”

High praise for Cal Expo was expressed by the Red Cross, too.

“Cal Expo has been a very helpful and accommodating host during this disaster.” said Red Cross Volunteer and Shelter Manager, Mike Jamie. “We’ve been assisted by their facilities management, event planning, law enforcement, and administrative services.  Because of this, the operation ran much more smoothly.”california-1a

The praises for both agencies don’t stop there.  The evacuated residents who benefited from this partnership gave kudos, too. “The staff was so warm and inviting. They kept everything so clean and organized. No one judged us and everyone was so respectful,” shared Jennifer Moss, an evacuee from the town of Linda. “We came here afraid and worried, and the folks here helped ease our fears.  I’d like to thank everyone at Cal Expo and the American Red Cross for all you’ve done for us.”

  It Takes a Partnership

Story and Photos by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

“It’s a blessing to help in a time of need. “  These heartfelt words were spoken by Ron Hughes, a volunteer with the Southern Baptist Convention- California Disaster Relief.  While visiting the Red Cross shelter at the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento, his words were repeated by numerous fellow volunteers from the organization. “We are a small part of a bigger picture in disaster relief.” Ron continued.  “We know none of us can do it all. It takes cooperation and partnership to be successful.”

img_0683It’s Thursday, just four days into the relief operation at the shelter.  The volunteers from the Southern Baptist Convention are busy unloading supplies in preparation to cook and deliver 150 meals for the staff and residents at the shelter.  The coordinated teamwork between the two humanitarian agencies made it clear there was a mission to be accomplished and everyone was focused on its success.

“We’re all a part of the same team with the same goals.” one volunteer remarked. “There is no “me” in this.  It’s all about service to others……those in need.”

Mike Bevins, State Director for the Southern Baptist Convention agreed.  Bevins has a 20 year history with the organization and has high praise for his organization.  “They’re all volunteers. They pay their own way to serve others. I’m honored to be their servant leader.”  Bevins explains.3

There is high praise for the Southern Baptist Convention volunteers from the Red Cross too.  “They are fabulous! There is just no way we could be successful in our mission without their partnership. Today, we were able to feed a good hot meal to 150 hungry residents and staff at the shelter this afternoon, because of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are essential to our success.”

Semper Gumby! Always Flexible

Story and Photos by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

“Semper Gumby! That’s my motto.”  Tirtza Pearl, a Red Cross Volunteer from the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter currently deployed to the Oroville Spillway Incident, shares her philosophy and why working as a Red Cross Volunteer is so important to her life.

“I think my path to the Red Cross began back when I was living just outside of img_0707Anchorage and experienced the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.  The Red Cross response was incredible.”  Later in life, Pearl experienced another series of disasters, the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991.  “I saw the good work of the Red Cross all those years, and I now wanted to be a part of it.”  Pearl showed up at her chapter office to help and was put to work answering phones. “I just kept coming back, day after day. I guess the staff had a lot of faith in me, because they then put me in charge of the switchboard.  That was my beginning with the Red Cross and I’ve never left. That was 26 years ago.”

Since then, Pearl has volunteered in a variety of capacities: sheltering, client casework, damage assessment, and more.  “I’ve done a little bit of everything and met lots of different people in the Red Cross.  Being flexible is the key.” Pearl explains. “When I deploy to a disaster operation, I may be asked to help with feeding or sheltering one day and client casework the next.  It’s all about the needs of those we are serving. They are in need and we are there to help.”

tirtza-pearl-1About three years ago, Pearl was on a deployment when someone put a sign over her desk that read:  Semper Gumby “I loved that-always flexible!  That fit my philosophy perfectly.”   Gumby was a popular flexible clay animation figure with a show of his own in the early 60’s and again in the 80’s on television.   “Gumby was always kind, agreeable and VERY flexible….literally.” Pearl explains.   “Semper means ‘always’.  So, ‘Semper Gumby’ is just perfect.  What a great motto for Red Crossers, especially for deployments, where remaining flexible is so important.”

Pearl truly lives that motto when volunteering too.  “I’m happy to do and be wherever I’m needed, and I take my Gumby (who now sports an official Red Cross pin!) with me. This is his 4th deployment.  He reminds me to stay cheerful and flexible and he’s a great icebreaker in meeting new volunteers and making new friends in the Red Cross.”  Pearl picks up her Gumby and continues, “He doesn’t say much, but his message is clear: stay flexible…….semper Gumby!”

We Are Family

Story and photo by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

“We’re their family while they’re away.”  This is the unofficial motto of one of the unsung heroes of the American Red Cross-the nurses that staff its Staff Wellness Services during Disaster Response Operations.  Most folks are aware of some of the history of the Red Cross and its nurses, especially Clara Barton in its early years and the bravery of the Red Cross Nurses during pandemics such as the Spanish Influenza that killed millions following World War I.  But few know, even within the Red Cross itself, the important role our nurses play in keeping our own volunteers healthy and caring for them during a disaster operation when they fall ill.

mary-jean-kippenbrockMost Red Crossers think of each other as “family” and these nurses take that caring seriously.  Mary Jean Kippenbrock, RN and Red Cross Volunteer explains, “We do take the health of our volunteers very seriously. They are here, away from their own families to help those in need.   When they fall ill, we’re here to help. We become their family.”

Earlier in the day, Nurse Kippenbrock came to the aid of a volunteer who had become ill by getting his prescription filled and delivering it to his hotel room, ensuring his rest and recovery.  “This is just the kind of thing his family would do for him if he were home.  He’s here to help others and can’t because he’s ill, so we become his family and will take care of these things so he can recover.”

But the caring of these Red Cross Nurses doesn’t stop there. “If a volunteer is so sick that we need to send them home, we make sure this is done safely and with their health in mind.”  Nurse Kippenbrock went on to explain that in some cases the nurses in Staff Wellness will book their flight home for them and if need be, escort them home, or even to the emergency room if necessary. “Their health and safety is our concern. Again, we are their family while they are away from their own.”

Truly, the American Red Cross is Family.



Make a Plan, Be Prepared and Stay Informed

Story and Photo by: Cindy Huge, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

Late Sunday night, J.P. Campos, a young man of only 20 years old, received a phone call from a friend warning him to evacuate quickly. There was, he learned, a mandatory evacuation order for Oroville due to the damage to the Oroville Spillway. Campos decided to initiate his own disaster plan for his family.

Campos immediately checked for weather and road conditions by searching news and weather on his computer. He knew he had to have several options for travel in case there was flooding. He also checked the location of Red Cross Shelters. Camps was worried about his 25 family members located in 3 different cities nearby. He decided to take nothing to chance called each one of them to direct them to the nearest shelter.

After loading his car with clothing and bedding, Campos and 3 of his siblings, drove to the store to buy basic essentials for his family. He knew that they would need water, snacks and some hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. He also bought diapers for his 11 month old brother. He was trying to leave nothing to chance.

John Craig, Red Cross Volunteer and J.P. Campos looking over the evacuation route Campos drove .

Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteers were busy setting up shelters in several towns, including Cal Expo at the California Fairgrounds to house the evacuees. The numerous drills and careful planning by the Red Cross and its community partners made it possible for the Red Cross to quickly meet the immediate needs of the Campos family and the thousands of other families who evacuated.

The Campos family of 25 were safe and cared for due to J.P.’s quick thinking and preparedness. Although not all family members were able to be together in the same shelter to start with , eventually, they were all reunited at the Cal Expo Shelter.

“J.P. Campos is a perfect example of what we, in the Red Cross, stress in Disaster Preparedness. He made a plan, he followed the orders of the emergency officials and he kept calm. He did everything right, and because of that, his family is safe. He’s a shining example of what do in an emergency such as this,” Praised Cindy Huge, Public Affairs Officer for the American Red Cross. “Make a Plan, Be Prepared and Stay Informed.” Campos adds, “I am thankful for the Red Cross for helping my family. They have been so very kind to us.”

Local Shelter Strikes Gold with Event Based Volunteers

Written by Maggie Buckenmayer, American Red Cross Volunteer

Volunteer Natalie Wren, performs a medical test on a shelter resident. Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer/Red Cross

“We didn’t have any first aid supplies when we first arrived, but we could triage and call 911 for ambulance support,” stated Natalie Wren who lives in the Chico area. Natalie was one of the first ‘event-based volunteers’ – community members who volunteer to help during a local emergency – who showed up at the Red Cross shelter at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds on February 12, following mandatory evacuation orders in the area of the Oroville Dam. She learned of the call for health care practitioners from a friend on Facebook and contacted four of her friends, all of whom are in their fifth semester in nursing school. All five rushed to the shelter to volunteer.

After the customary background check, Natalie earned her official 30 day probationary Red Cross volunteer badge and jumped right to work helping shelter residents with their health care needs. When asked what made her volunteer, she responded, “I volunteered to feel part of something bigger than myself. Helping the shelter residents was why I became a nurse and having it happen in my own backyard is a crazy experience.”

Natalie also commented that during her first nursing classes she learned about Clara Barton and the Red Cross and has wanted to become a volunteer for the Red Cross since.

Natalie’s story is just one of many event-based volunteer success stories. Since the Red Cross opened the Silver Dollar Fairground shelter, more than 375 people have registered to be volunteers.

Niko Marin chats with Red Cross volunteer Diane Wilson as he registers to help at the Chico shelter. Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer/Red Cross

Niko Marin, another future volunteer, registered as a volunteer and is also a student at the fire academy at nearby Shasta College. Niko is excited about using his fire fighting training to make him a better Red Cross volunteer.

Eva Marquez, lead for the event-based volunteers at the Silver Dollar shelter was touched by the communities support. “We have lots of volunteers from Chico State as well as area residents. The turnout has been very good.”

Volunteers Eva, Diane, and Anita work to welcome new volunteers at the Chico, CA shelter. Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer/Red Cross

Engaging event-based volunteers in Red Cross work is a win-win proposition for the community and for the American Red Cross. The Red Cross provides community members with an outlet to channel their desire to assist their neighbors in the aftermath of a disaster. In turn, the volunteers bring a variety of skills, the motivation to help, and their knowledge of the community. Together, the American Red Cross and event-based volunteers are able to provide support to those affected by disaster when they need it most.