Red Cross in Minnesota – Celebrating Our 2020 Heroes Awards Recipients

Each year in Minnesota, the American Red Cross celebrates everyday people who perform extraordinary acts of compassion in local communities. The actions of these Heroes demonstrate the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering. This year our Heroes are being recognized with a virtual celebration because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Presented by US Bank, the annual Heroes Awards celebrate Heroes in six categories including: Community Hero, Give Life Hero, First Responder Hero, Good Samaritan Hero, Military Hero and Youth Hero.

Congratulations to our 2020 Heroes Awards honorees!

Here are their outstanding stories.

2020 Military Hero – Sergeant First Class Raul Muñiz

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Raul Muñiz

The American Red Cross Military Hero Award is presented to an active, reserve or retired member of the Armed Forces or ROTC or civilian that has made a significant impact on the military community.

Buffalo resident and Active Guard Reserve Soldier, Raul Muñiz organizes an annual Veterans Day Program at the Waters Church in Sartell, Minnesota, which has generated over 600 participants in the last 2 years. Raul brought in almost 20 community partners to his event including American Legions, Vet Centers, Homeless Resources, and therapy animals. This event is an amazing way to provide resources for veterans and their families while also honoring them for the service they’ve given to our country.

“Raul shows great dedication and commitment to the veterans in our community,” says nominator Anthony Poff.

2020 Good Samaritan Hero – Adventor Trye

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Adventor Trye

Sponsored by CenterPoint Energy, the American Red Cross Good Samaritan Hero Award is presented to an individual(s) who displayed courage and compassion upon encountering an unusual, significant or unexpected incident.

Early this June a devastating electrical fire broke out at a group home in New Hope, Minnesota. Adventor Trye, a direct care worker at the home, was doing laundry in the basement when he saw smoke coming from the garage. He ran upstairs and helped resident Ken Mundale to safely exit the building. Adventor then heroically ran back into the burning building to ensure that there were no other residents still inside the home.

“Adventor jumped into action at work, courageously putting aside his own safety to help the individual in his care,” says nominator Cyndi Lesher. “He’s a model citizen in our community.”

Adventor immigrated to the U.S. 20 years ago from Liberia. Alongside his work as a care provider, Adventor is working towards a university degree in Theology. Adventor shows commitment and compassion to those he works with not just during an emergency, but every day he comes to the job.

2020 Give Life Hero – John Schenk

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John Schenk

Sponsored by Ceridian Corporation, the American Red Cross Give Life Hero Award is presented to an individual whose commitment to blood and platelet donation played a significant role in ensuring the health of patients in our local communities and throughout the country.

St. Cloud, Minnesota resident John Schenk has been donating blood through the Red Cross for 50 years and recently reached his 35-gallon milestone. He started donating in college at the age of 18 and hasn’t stopped since. John has donated whole blood more times than anyone else in the state of Minnesota. With 280 donations over the past 50 years, John has consistently donated approximately every 66 days. That is amazing dedication to saving lives in his community.

“John’s dedication to the Red Cross blood program is outstanding,” says nominator Sue Thesenga. “He’s a hero who hopes to inspire the younger generation to save lives through giving blood.”

2020 Community Heroes – Dina Colville and Alan Haus

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Dina Colville and Alan Haus

Sponsored by Eide Bailly LLP, the American Red Cross Community Hero Award is presented to individuals who display leadership and commitment to their community by making a positive and significant impact.

On December 5, 2019, a routine test flight of a National Guard helicopter took a turn for the worst and a fatal crash ensued near the small town of Marty, Minnesota. Local residents Dina Colville and Alan Haus organized a community response to assist first responders and military personnel as a search for the helicopter was underway. Within hours, Dina and Alan had set up food and supplies in a local school. The community worked alongside the Red Cross for five days, cooking warm meals, offering condolences, and transforming the school into a refuge for military, first responders, and law enforcement on the scene. Dina and Alan dropped everything to bring the community together and support the effort in whatever way they could.

“I watched supplies pour into the school from peoples’ personal freezers, cupboards, and wallets without question,” says nominator Jacklin Steege. “The time, emotion, and dedication they put into their efforts, went above and beyond what I’ve seen at any disaster before.”

2020 Youth Hero: Sanya Pirani

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Sanya Pirani

Sponsored by Medica Foundation, the American Red Cross Youth Hero Award is presented to an outstanding young person who displayed courage and compassion upon encountering an unusual, significant or unexpected incident. This could be a onetime incident or involvement in an on-going commitment to the community through an act/s of kindness, courage, or selflessness.  

Sanya displays ongoing dedication to her community and the world through her nonprofit called Sanya’s Hope for Children. Sanya founded Sanya’s Hope for Children in 2017 with the mission to help children with the basic necessities of life, fund educational endeavors, and make an impact on vital community issues. Sanya has organized many successful projects and fundraisers to provide for both her local community and children worldwide.

“Education is the only way out of poverty,” says Sanya. “I’m on a mission to make sure every child has access to basic life necessities and a quality education.”

2020 First Responder Heroes: Tyler Sowka, Jim Penberthy, Joe Nielsen, Margaret Morin, Andrew Haider, Rick Lonetti, Nate Van Heel, Becky Nilius, Martha Tack, Petrea Miketey, Skylar Stevenson, Ron Hansen, & Steve Hacken

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Sponsored by Abbott, the American Red Cross First Responder Hero Award is presented to an individual(s) or group of the public service community (for example: EMS, firefighter, or law enforcement officer) who went above and beyond the call of duty.

Dave Keiser suffered a heart attack on the golf course in Rush City, Minnesota, the night before his 41st wedding anniversary. Dave’s ‘widowmaker’ artery was 100% blocked and he was moments away from death. A nearby golfer named Tyler Sowka, an Airforce Serviceman from North Branch, stepped in immediately and performed CPR, saving Dave’s life. In less than one hour, Dave went from golfing in Rush City to being wheeled into an operating room at the University of Minnesota. The work of Tyler and local first responders ensured that Dave survived his heart attack and could live to tell his story.

“If Tyler would not have stepped up to perform CPR, Dave would not have survived,” says Dave’s cardiologist. “Dave’s life was saved by immediate and proper CPR being administered.”

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Helping people affected by Hurricane Hanna

Carol Holm of the American Red Cross surveys flooding caused by Hurricane Hanna, in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Fulfilling our humanitarian mission to alleviate human suffering continues in response to disasters in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, 17 volunteers from across our three-state region are helping people affected by Hurricane Hanna in Texas. These deployments include volunteers like Carol Holm (pictured above and below) who are on-the-ground in Texas while others are responding remotely from home.

In response to Hurricane Hanna, more than 200 Red Cross disaster workers are beginning detailed damage assessment work across Texas, in addition to supporting additional response efforts. Feeding missions are underway in the hardest hit counties where the power has been out and food is unavailable. So far, more than 5,900 meals and snacks have been served with partners. Over 470 overnight shelter and hotel stays have been provided with partners. More than 400 contacts have been made to support any physical, mental health, disability and spiritual needs.

Red Cross volunteers Carol Holm, right, and Marc Lazerow, left, show the Cantu family to their cots at a Red Cross shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Hanna in Edcouch, TX on Tuesday July 28, 2020. Family units are grouped closer together while other cots are spaced further apart for social distance from others to help protect against COVID-19. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Throughout the 2020 hurricane season, dedicated Red Cross relief workers, mostly volunteers, will continue to prepare for and respond to each round of storms providing comfort and care as affected communities assess damage and attempt to return to daily life, amidst the continued struggle against the Coronavirus Outbreak.

We’ve undertaken a suite of risk mitigation activities for our disaster workforce, including prioritizing non-congregate lodging for our responders, mandating the use of face coverings for everyone working at a Red Cross work site, pre-arrival COVID-19 testing when required by the receiving state, departure testing for all deployed workers, and maximizing virtual work.

You can help people affected by disasters like storms and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief or by becoming a Disaster Relief Volunteer. You can donate or start your volunteer journey at redcross.org/mndaks.

Disaster Preparedness for Meow, Bark and Moo: Ways to Include Your Pets and Livestock in Your Disaster Preparedness Plan

Animals can sometimes be overlooked when creating a disaster preparedness plan for your household but are still at risk during an emergency.

Floods and home fires are some of the most common disasters that families in Minnesota and the Dakotas face. It’s important to have a plan in place for your family members, pets, and livestock in the event that a disaster strikes close to home. Below are some ways to include your pets and livestock in your disaster preparedness plan. Note: This post mainly focuses on cats, dogs, and livestock. For information on other pet species, visit the links in the Additional Resources section at the end.

10 Ways to Include Your Pets in Your Disaster Preparedness Plans

1. Include pets in evacuation practice drills so they feel comfortable riding in their travel carriers. Practice transporting your pet by taking them for rides in a vehicle similar to one you would be evacuating in.

2. Microchip your pet(s). Register your pet’s microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information updated at all times.

3. Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit so evacuation will go smoothly for your entire family. This kit should include:

– Sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape.

– Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan and a manual can opener.

– Medications and copies of medical records stored in a waterproof container

– A first aid kit.

– Current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost.

– Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.

– Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable

4. Communicate which family member is tasked with grabbing the emergency pet disaster kit. Make sure each member of your family knows your pet evacuation plan.

5. Ensure that your pet’s vaccinations are current and that all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Many pet shelters require proof of current vaccinations to reduce the spread of disease.

6. Know where your pet might hide when stressed or scared. Practice catching your pet, if needed.

7. Identify which pet friendly hotels and motels along your evacuation route will accept you and your pets in an emergency. The majority of Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety concerns. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are allowed in Red Cross shelters.

8. Create a buddy system with neighbors so everyone is prepared to help if a disaster strikes when a family is away.

9. Affix a pet alert window cling to a visible front window and write the number of pets in your house. This is critical for first responders to know how many animals may need to be evacuated.

10. Download the Red Cross Pet First Aid App for access to training on dog and cat first aid and other resources to be prepared for a disaster.

When Disaster Strikes

If you must leave your pet behind in the event of a disaster NEVER leave them chained outside. Leave them loose inside your home near entrances with plenty of food and water.

While the best way to ensure your pet stays safe during a disaster is to evacuate them with you, remember never to delay escape or endanger yourself or family to rescue a family pet.

Caring for Pets After Disaster

Be aware of hazards at ground level, particularly debris, spilled chemicals, fertilizers and other substances that could injure your pet.

Watch your animals closely and keep them under control as fences and gates may be damaged or destroyed.

Disasters can alter the scents and the appearance of areas your pet is familiar and comfortable with. Make sure you monitor their well being and be aware that changes in levels of aggression and defensiveness are possible.

10 Ways to Prepare Livestock for Disasters

1. Ensure all animals have some form of identification.

2. Evacuate animals whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes in advance.

3. Hold disaster drills and practice emergency procedures with all employees and animal owners.

4. Make sure you have the trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal.

5. Make available experienced handlers and drivers that understand your evacuation plans.

6. Help organize safe holding facilities in your community such as fairgrounds, farms, and racetracks for use in an emergency.

7. Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care, and handling equipment.

8. For flooding disasters, move animals, feed, and water supplies to higher ground. Act quickly at the first sign of rising water.

9. Do not let animals loose to fend for themselves during a disaster unless a wildfire threatens your area. Animals on the road can be injured and can create a hazard for evacuating motorists.

10. Post a sign for rescue workers noting the number and types of animals left behind.

Additional Resources

Red Cross page on Pet Disaster Preparedness
CDC guidelines for protecting your pets during an emergency
Livestock Disaster Planning Guidelines from Palo Alto Humane Society
Disaster Tips for Reptiles and Amphibians
Further Tips on Disaster Preparedness from The American Humane Society

Post by Kieran White, American Red Cross Volunteer

July Fourth Safety Tips

This year, celebrating Independence Day will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We have safety tips that you can follow, especially if your community is re-opening.

COVID-19 Safety

• Continue to social distance by staying 6 feet away from others, especially if you are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19 (over age 65 or any age with underlying medical conditions).

• Continue to wear cloth face coverings in public. Face coverings are most essential when social distancing is difficult.

• Follow guidelines for your area when it comes to how large gatherings can be. Avoid crowds and mass gatherings.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

• Stay home if you are sick.

Fireworks Safety

Many public fireworks shows are canceled this summer to avoid holding events where large crowds will gather. If you plan to use your own fireworks, check first if it is legal in your area.

• Never give fireworks to small children, and never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials. Always follow the instructions on the packaging.

Keep a supply of water close by as a precaution.

Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.

• Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight “a dud.”

• Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from children and pets.

Grilling Safety

Grilling fires spark more than 10,000 home fires on average each year in the U.S. Do these things to help prevent a home fire:

• Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.

• Don’t add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.

• Never grill indoors — not in the house, camper, tent or any enclosed area.

• Make sure everyone, stays away from the grill, including children and pets.

• Keep the grill away from the house or anything that could catch fire. 

• Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.

DYK: The Red Cross offers a series of free mobile apps to put lifesaving safety information in the palm of your hand. Download these apps by searching for “American Red Cross” in your app store or at redcross.org/apps.

Have a save and fun weekend!

Practicing Water Safety Amidst COVID-19

Post by Kieran White, Red Cross Volunteer

With the summer season upon us, many Minnesotans and Dakotans are headed outside to be on the lake and in the pool enjoying time with family and friends. As everyone prepares to get out of their houses and spend time in the water, we must all be reminded of the importance of practicing water safety. Now is a great time to take a few minutes to review safe water practices and the multitude of resources available to you through the Red Cross. With the continued impacts of COVID-19, public pools, lakes, and recreation centers may not be able to offer swimming lessons and lifeguarding in the same ways they have before. Continue reading to see the resources available to ensure you and your family can stay safe during these uncertain times.

Water Safety and COVID-19

Before heading to public beaches and pools this year, make sure you review the following guidelines to ensure your family and community members stay safe amidst the continued dangers of COVID-19.

  1. Continue to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between yourself and others when at the beach and pool.
  2. Wear cloth face coverings whenever you are out of the water and around others. Do not place face masks on children under age 2.
  3. Keep an eye on your children at all times to decrease emergencies and the need for lifeguard contact with guests.
  4. If a swim area seems too crowded to be able to safely socially distance, find somewhere else to go.
  5. Check with your local pool or beach to see what guidelines they are putting in place to limit capacity and ensure safe practices for guests and employees.

Ensuring Water Safety in Every Environment

The Red Cross water safety page contains information on topics including drowning prevention, the need for water competency, and educational resources for families with children.

Drowning Prevention

This summer, with physical distancing necessary, many families will be spending more time at their home pools, lake cabins, and boats away from lifeguards and public places. It is imperative, now more than ever, to ensure you are prepared for drowning emergencies and take necessary precautions. The Red Cross recommends following the Circle of Drowning Prevention and ensuring layers of protection are in place.

  1. Provide close and constant contact with children you are supervising near the water.
  2. Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing.
  3. Learn swimming and water safety survival skills.
  4. Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jackets.
  5. Always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Water Competency

Make sure you and your family members are water competent before partaking in any water activities. The Red Cross recommends these five basic water safety skills to ensure you can save your life in the water:

  1. Step or jump into the water over your head.
  2. Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
  3. Turn around in a full circle and find an exit.
  4. Swim 25 yards to the exit without stopping.
  5. Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder.

If you or any members of your family struggle with completing these tasks, continue reading to learn about the educational materials available to improve upon these skills.

Educational Materials for Families with Small Children

This summer, many communities will keep their local pools and aquatic facilities closed amongst the continued dangers of COVID-19. Without access to swimming lessons and lifeguards, families must find other resources to ensure their children are safe in the water. The Red Cross has developed an interactive program called WHALE Tales where Longfellow the Whale can help your children learn to be safe in the water. This program has multiple interactive videos and activities to teach the basics of water safety. WHALE Tales also comes with a discussion guide for Parents and Caregivers to help facilitate a discussion on water safety with your child.

Whale Tales can be found online here and on the Red Cross Swim app available for download for Apple and Android.

Additional Red Cross Resources

Home Pool and Hot Tub Safety

Swimming Safely in Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

Life Jacket Safety Guidelines

COVID 19 and Aquatics

Toolkit for Lifeguard Training and Operations

Cultivating Compassion with Red Cross Psychological First Aid Training

By CC McGraw, Red Cross Volunteer

Once COVID-19 reached the United States and everything began to shut down, it was hard to grasp the severity of this whole thing. As an athlete at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, our spring season was canceled completely, and we were immediately moved off campus and forced to complete the rest of the semester online.

Inevitably, this was a big change for all of the athletes, especially since we had grown so used to having such crazy hectic schedules and nonstop training. This was heartbreaking to say the least, but our athletics department prioritized our mental health and stress levels by taking certain initiatives of providing access to meditation apps and ensuring we were staying connected with our teams via Zoom.

CC McGraw, UMN Gopher Volleyball (photo provided by CC)

For me, those efforts were a kind of psychological first aid, a bandage for mental health. Like a good bandage, psych first aid brings mental health stability during emergencies, especially during disasters. Psych first aid mitigates acute distress and serves as a bridge to continued support and care if necessary.

Whatever the case may be, it’s always important that those affected by a disaster are provided with empathetic and practical psychological support. This begins with a strong, compassionate, and supportive presence by an American Red Cross volunteer. But it can also begin with you, now at home, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help, the Red Cross is offering online psych first aid training for free. I recently completed the training, and I realize the necessity for it now more than ever. Emotional distress is not always as visible as a physical injury, and yet it has the power to be just as painful and debilitating.

After going through a life-altering experience and traumatic event, it’s very common to be affected emotionally. Psych first aid is simply a strategy to reduce the wide range of painful emotions experienced by those with high volumes of stress.

Tips from the American Red Cross online psychological first aid training course

The training touches on the vast range of stress reactions which can be manifested in thoughts, feelings, behaviors, physical effects, and spiritual beliefs. It informs us of the many contributing factors to stress reactions and the role that they play in the distress of the individual. More importantly, it raises awareness on how to analyze the situation, then describes how to approach it accordingly.

There are a variety of actions you can take depending on the situation. However, the training provides twelve main components that you should consistently try to follow. Now that I have them, I feel a new confidence and awareness in order to approach and help those affected.

I’ve found that this training benefits my ability to aid individuals in a more compassionate and supportive way, as well as use this new knowledge to support my family, friends, and others in my community. It’s a tool we can all use to reduce our own stress levels, by simply understanding our reactions to different forms of stress and then applying the principles of psych first aid to enhance our resilience to those stressors.

I recently completed the training, and I realize the necessity for it now more than ever. Emotional distress is not always as visible as a physical injury, and yet it has the power to be just as painful and debilitating.

Of course, I continue to have my worries and doubts with all of the uncertainty that stems from COVID-19, but I also understand that this pandemic is affecting every single person in the world, in some form or another.

Regardless of the circumstance, people are having to sort out their stressors and stress reactions in order to maintain their mental health in quarantine, so this is another reason why the free and online psych first aid course from the Red Cross is so beneficial. It provides you with many forms of stress reactions, stressors, and how to manage your stress in a healthy manner.

I’ve also found that to effectively help and support those around you, you should feel confident that your mental health and stress levels are intact as well.

Desperately Seeking Sewers

Red Cross is asking home stitchers to make face coverings for service members, veterans and their family members

Face coverings volunteers sent to the Fargo VA for veterans and their families, May 2020.

Continuing Legacy
For more than 130 years, the American Red Cross has provided comfort and care to service members, veterans and their families. One long-standing activity is the Red Cross program to knit socks and helmet liners, sew coverings for casts, and crochet or quilt lap blankets for injured wheelchair patients.

We’re continuing this legacy during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis because an ongoing need exists for face coverings that people can wear on military installations, at veteran’s homes and hospitals, and other areas where they are required. To help, our volunteer workforce is joining others to help sew and distribute these coverings.

Take for example Judi, a long-time Red Cross volunteer in Minot, North Dakota. She made 170 (wow!) of the 262 we’ve given so far to the VA in Fargo, ND. “I’ve always felt that everyone should take care of our veterans, in any way that we can. It’s a small gesture, but one that’s greatly needed. It’s a privilege to be able to help,” says Judi, who’s also a military veteran.

Get Sewing
If you’re interested in making face coverings to support service members, veterans and/or their families, please read this article from the CDC for sewing and design details. We’re particularly looking for face coverings made with gender neutral, masculine, or patriotic fabrics and sewn at home by hand or machine. We especially recommend that they’re sturdy enough for industrial laundry machines.

Community stitcher JoAnn sews face coverings for distribution at the VA in Hot Springs, SD, May 2020.

JoAnn, pictured above at her sewing machine, made face coverings for the VA in Hot Springs, South Dakota. For her, taking up the sewing project was a way to come together during a time when lives have changed so much and so quickly. “I learned about the need for face masks and just one mask turned into forty!  The challenge encouraged me to keep reaching out. Thank you for the privilege and honor to assist the Red Cross and the VA.”

Stitching Tips
• Consider expanding the sizes seen in the link above to accommodate a wider variety of face types/sizes (man vs. woman, facial hair, etc.).
• Using a softer material for the interior part of the covering can make it more comfortable to wear.
• Launder and dry material prior to making face coverings to reduce the chance of shrinkage.
• Tie closures provide greatest size and comfort accommodation as well as making them sturdier for multiple washings in heavy-duty laundry machines.

Final Step
When your home stitched face coverings are ready, reach out to our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team at minnesotadakotassaf@redcross.org for mailing or drop-off information. Working with our volunteers, our team will verify the need for face coverings with service member partners and make arrangements for delivering your home-sewn coverings to where they’re needed most across our Minnesota and Dakotas region.

Thank you so much for helping our military heroes!

An American Red Cross historical poster from World War I.

Critical need for African American blood donors

Hi Everyone,

We want to let you know that the American Red Cross has a critical need for African American blood donors to help patients, especially those battling sickle cell disease, following a significant decrease in diverse donors in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic environment.

Across the nation since mid-March, the number of African Americans donating blood with the Red Cross has dropped by more than half. This low donor turnout is largely due to blood drive cancellations at businesses, churches and schools and the disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates for African Americans compared to other ethnicities.

Despite the steep decline in blood donations, the need for blood products for patients with sickle cell disease has remained relatively steady.

So, we’re reaching out to partners, community influencers, organizations, and YOU! for support that could help raise awareness about the need for diverse blood donors, especially African American blood donors during this COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, we’re encouraging eligible donors from communities of color to keep their scheduled donation appointments and to look for open appointments at redcrossblood.org, especially in the weeks ahead as blood drives are added.

Thank you! 😘

Ethan Hiew – Overcoming fear to help others with COVID-19

On April 28 at the Red Cross in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ethan Hiew stepped up in big way – he overcame his fear of needles and donated convalescent plasma that will help COVID-19 patients recover.

“I’m not fond of needles and I definitely was a bit scared. But this is very relaxing and I’m just chilling out listening to some music. I’m happy I’m able to share my good health.”

Ethan, 17, is a Boy Scout and a St. Thomas Academy junior who’s aspiring to have a career in the film industry. He tested positive for COVID-19 after the illness was spread by a family member who had traveled to Europe for business.

He started having headaches. He thought the headaches were from adjusting to a new pair of glasses. But they persisted, and then he tested positive for COVID-19.

Ethan did not have severe symptoms or require hospitalization, and once he fully recovered after self-quarantine, his family talked together on how they could help others during these uncertain times. They decided to fill out the donor eligibility form on the Red Cross website to see if Ethan qualified to donate convalescent plasma for critically ill COVID-19 patients. A few days later, they heard back that Ethan was a candidate to donate.

“Ethan has never donated blood before. He was a little nervous because he almost fainted a couple of years ago during a blood draw at a doctor’s office,” said his mom who provided morale support for her son from a social distance.

“As a scout and student, giving back to local communities is very important to Ethan,” said his mom. “Our Christian faith calls for us to love and serve others – we are blessed and so proud of him that he wanted to help in such a meaningful way!”

Ethan agreed and said he would do anything to help others who had this illness. “I’m in this situation for a reason – and it must be to help!” he said.

Story and photo by Sue Thesenga/American Red Cross

“The most important tool we all have is a positive outlook.”

Red Cross disaster mental health expert shares mental health insights for times of isolation, stress, and uncertainty.

When disaster strikes or when a crisis develops we can find ourselves challenged physically, emotionally and mentally.  While we are often very good at taking care of our physical needs, in those hard times we often neglect our mental health. 

And that’s where the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health team comes in.  These volunteers are highly trained and qualified helpers that can assist with keeping us mentally strong and emotionally stable during hard times. 

Terry Crandall knows all too well the challenges we are all facing with COVID-19 related stay-at-home and quarantine orders.  “Our biggest challenge right now is probably isolation and the ongoing effect of not having our usual social support network.” 

Mr. Crandall leads the Disaster Mental Health team for the Minnesota & Dakotas Region of the Red Cross.  Terry, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor and an Adjunct Professor at the University of South Dakota, tells us that he started volunteering with the Red Cross in 2006. 

Since then he says with a laugh that he has now, ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ in reference to his passion for the Red Cross mission and his commitment to helping people in need of mental health help.  “That is sometimes just a shoulder to lean on and someone to tell their story to.”   

Terry believes that not having access to the people we love like our family and friends leaves most people feeling isolated and without their usual support system.  He says that feeling of isolation can lead to despair when facing this pandemic. 

“People are experiencing very normal emotional and mental reactions to this situation.  They are missing their families and friends, they are worried for kids and their studies.  Kids are missing their friends and social networks like their clubs and teams. There is uncertainty about when, or if, school will be back in session.  Proms and senior events will likely not happen for this class.” 

For almost all of us work has changed.  For those left out of work by this virus there are huge amounts of anxiety about the future.  Money concerns seem to touch everyone.   

Compounding these worries are the stressors that can come from having what may feel like, “just too much family time.”  Terry recommends families keep to a regular schedule and try to stay engaged in activities that are creative and can offer some exercise.   

Terry says that using positive imagery, relaxation techniques, and visualization tools can all help make you more resilient and able to cope in a healthier way.  “The most important tool we all have is a positive outlook.  If we can stay focused on the fact that this isn’t forever and that there will be a much better day to come, we can keep all of us mentally strong.”   

The Red Cross guide to recovering emotionally recommends several tools to help keep a positive outlook. ‘Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.’ 

You can get disaster tools, information about recovery, and guides to coping with the stress of the COVID-19 crisis at the Red Cross website.  You can start here: shelteringathome. For more about the emotional stresses and tools that can help  you can visit this guide:  recoveringemotionally.

Are you ready to join the team?  The American Red Cross accomplishes our mission with over 90% volunteers.  We need you.  Your community needs you.  You feel the need to help make this better.  Please consider adding your talents to our team. 

If you are interested in joining the Disaster Mental Health team please see the requirements and opportunities by visiting:  mentalhealthvolunteer

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746. 

Story by Ray Guest, Red Cross volunteer