Become our newest community hero

Jennifer Pluhar (l) is a Red Cross volunteer who has helped dozens of families after disasters in Minnesota. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Jennifer Pluhar (l) is a Red Cross volunteer who has helped dozens of families after disasters in Minnesota. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer Jennifer Pluhar spent her birthday helping more than 25 people displaced from their apartments after a fire in Minneapolis on February 23. Like hundreds of other Red Cross volunteers across Minnesota, Jennifer puts her own life on hold to help others during a great time of need. People rely on Red Cross volunteers to help them find safe and warm shelter after disasters. Sometimes they count on volunteers like Jennifer to hold a hand, listen and support them on the path to rebuilding their lives.

Jennifer’s contribution, along with hundreds of other volunteers across Minnesota, is invaluable. This is why the American Red Cross sets aside the month of March as Red Cross Month, a time to celebrate our everyday heroes and to ask you to become one of our newest community heroes.

The Red Cross depends on people like you to deliver help and hope to others, both neighbors and strangers, during emergencies. During the 2015 fiscal year, the American Red Cross Minnesota Region supported 2,541 people affected by local disasters, provided 2,459 emergency communications to military families and trained 122,656 people in lifesaving and caregiving skills. And, people from this area donated 215,091 units of blood. These acts of service truly save lives.

133903-March-is-Red-Cross-Month-Twitter-FINAL1March is the time for you to become a community hero by taking two simple steps. First, be ready for the next emergency by creating a preparedness plan for your home. Find help at Second, test your smoke alarms, and ask your neighbors to do the same. If you don’t have smoke working alarms, click here to get free smoke alarms in your home. You can also sign-up to be a Red Cross volunteer, blood donor or financial contributor by going to

Thank you Jennifer. And thank you to all of the Red Cross volunteers, donors, and contributors in this region, across the nation, and around the globe who assist others during life’s darkest hours.

What’s a Red Cross dispatcher?

By Kaylee Beevers, American Red Cross intern

Across the United States, the American Red Cross has people who volunteer their time as dispatchers during Red Cross disaster responses. These volunteers help fulfill the Red Cross mission to reduce human suffering during emergencies. Red Cross dispatchers coordinate response teams that provide basic comfort and care to families after home fires and other disasters. These dispatchers serve their communities with care. This volunteer role is one of the most worthwhile ways to get active in the Red Cross. Below are brief portraits of five volunteers who serve as disaster response dispatchers for the Minnesota Red Cross region.


Mike and Deb Hofmann, St. Cloud 
Based in central Minnesota, Mike and Deb Hofmann proudly serve together as Red Cross volunteer dispatchers. The couple met in high school and they currently living in Cold Spring. Mike has served the American Red Cross for 40 years through multiple volunteer positions and Deb has been with the organization as a dispatcher for 10 months. Some of the most rewarding parts of the job for the couple is knowing you can help people during their time of need and offer services. Deb says, “When they’re looking for a way to go, we give them a direction.” Their advice? If you want to get involved, connect with your local Red Cross chapter.

Dunder 1Diane Dunder, Duluth
After retiring as a health and physical education teacher, Diane Dunder decided to take on the volunteer role as a Red Cross disaster relief dispatcher. Dunder says she was graced with “the best instructors who knew what they were doing and were very well informed about the job.” Some of the role’s challenges in her area,  she says, are not having enough field responders as well as other dispatchers. “We all have other things going on in our lives and yet more help would be appreciated.” One of Dunder’s greatest rewards while serving as a dispatcher was helping an elderly woman after a house fire. The victim had health issues and Dunder spent several days following up and working with healthcare and mental healthcare professionals to make sure that the woman was safe. “Being a dispatcher is a great way to volunteer and keeps you educated,” says Dunder.

Joe ReinemannJoe Reinemann, Mankato
Stationed in the southwest Red Cross chapter in Mankato, Joe Reinemann has been a volunteering dispatcher for more than a year. Reinemann usually works as a dispatcher during night shifts that start from 4:30 to midnight or from midnight to 8 am. Reinemann, who helped create the most recent dispatcher training materials, says “we’re upgrading our dispatcher manual. It’s extremely hands-on. It’s also one-on-one.” Reinemann felt nervous when he received his first dispatch call for Red Cross disaster response. He wanted to make sure that everything went well, but he says “the help and training are so great that sometimes you don’t even need any assistance from other dispatchers.” Reinemann’s advice to future volunteers is to “DO IT! It may be imitating to sign up, but it’s not complicated at all.”

Jan Reyers, Mpls-St.Paul Metro
Jan Reyers has served as a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than 35 years. Most currently, he’s disaster response dispatcher based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Originally from White Bear Lake, Jan is proud to serve with the Red Cross alongside his wife Bonnie, who is also a dispatcher. “It’s always nice to have your wife as a dispatcher to help coach you along.” Being a dispatcher has taught Jan how to prioritize what he’s doing and to get it done correctly. Jan says the skills you need in order to become a dispatcher are communication, organization of information and people, and demonstration of empathy. Having served as a disaster responder in the field helps. “Get involved, sign up and be available to serve,” is Reyers’ advice to all anyone who wants to participate with Red Cross disaster relief teams.

Learn more
The need for Red Cross volunteer dispatchers is great. Last year the Red Cross supported more than 2,500 people affected by local disasters, which were mostly home fires. It’s a great way to serve and to meet new people. The current Red Cross dispatchers need to you step up and to get involved! More importantly, your neighbors, friends, family and thousands of others across this region need you. You never know when hard times will strike and you could lend a hand to someone who needs it the most. You could be the person who gives someone hope during a time of despair and a way to look toward a brighter tomorrow. To learn more, click here.

Red Cross spiritual care is for disasters of all sizes

Story by Jason Bengtson, Regional Recovery Manager for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

_DSC2957Since 1997, American Red Cross volunteers in spiritual care have responded to large disasters across the country, providing what is for some people a basic need for disaster relief. Now, the Red Cross will offer spiritual care during disasters small, medium and large. This program expansion comes following a national Red Cross leadership decision to make spiritual care a part of basic comfort and care in local communities across the country.

A major component of the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Program is collaboration with our Integrated Care and Condolence Teams (ICCT). These teams coordinate services to families whose loved ones are injured, missing, or deceased because of disaster. Immediate relief and long-term recovery planning, health services, mental health support, and spiritual care is offered together as a way to decrease intrusion into people’s lives while increasing care, comfort and support, during a time of great need.

Our region is fortunate to have Greg Bodin leading the local spiritual care team. Greg is a Red Cross volunteer who helps lead the national spiritual care program. He’s also head of pastoral care for North Memorial Health Care. He has deep experience providing spiritual care after emergencies.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Red Cross to expand the basic services it provides to people affected by disasters in Minnesota,” says Greg. “The Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care program represents excellent community care across faith traditions.”

_DSC2929Spiritual care volunteers respect the Fundamental Principles of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The principles ensure that services are provided with neutrality and impartiality in a way that supports the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering. The volunteers provide consistent and reliable services in all regions and to all persons regardless of faith traditions. They are trained to spiritual care during a house fire, the most common disaster the Red Cross responds to, as well as major natural disasters and mass casualty events.

Recruitment and training for this new opportunity will take place during the coming months. To be eligible for a spiritual care volunteer position an individual must be a professional chaplain or an endorsed faith-based provider. Active leaders of local faith-based organizations are encouraged to become Red Cross spiritual care responders.

For additional information about this opportunity, please email Jason at Image credits: Lynette Nyman

Caring people make the Red Cross go round

Story by Hildred Dungan, Red Cross Volunteer

“Everything the Red Cross does because of disasters–and we’ve had many this year ranging from Washington wildfires to South Carolina flooding–is done with help from caring people like us. “

I have been a volunteer for the Red Cross since 2003. Based in Minnesota, I first started after I took several classes and became a volunteer to go to local fires and help the families after the incident. We provided those affected some funds depending on the severity of the fire. In our office counselors helped them with a lot of referrals to places like VEAP and Bridging to replace their personal items that were lost. It was always a comfort to them when we were there, especially in the middle of the night.

To date, I have been on about 20 deployments which have ranged from Hurricane Katrina (my first one) on the Gulf Coast to Hurricane Sandy in New York, and most recently the wildfires in Idaho and Montana. A deployment is when you are sent to volunteer at some type of a disaster usually in another state.

When I was deployed to Katrina, another volunteer and I drove the Emergency Response Vehicle better known as the ERV to Montgomery, AL to pick up a load of water and snacks. The ERV is the size of an ambulance and it is a feeding unit to go out in affected areas and feed those who are without electricity and maybe running water. We did 2 meals a day with a Baptist group cooking big kettles of food and there were maybe 20 ERV’s delivering food and water to all parts of the area. We were first assigned to Mobile, AL and drove anywhere up to a 50 miles range to serve lunch. We would serve hot food from a serving window in the truck and when finished or the food was all gone we would head back to our base camp and do it all over for dinner. All the people we served would be so appreciative as they hadn’t had a hot meal for 3-5 days by then.

Another disaster I worked on was the 35-W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Another volunteer and I were in charge of seeing that there was hot food for the divers, police, federal officials when the first lady and again when the President came. We were only using 2 ERVs to send out food but had many volunteers who came to the Red Cross building to eat which is almost right under the bridge. I was able to go down on the river one evening and take food to the divers. Many days after the incident happened it was still a disturbing event to look up at the bridge and see cars still hanging there.

Hurricane Sandy was another unique disaster because of the size and how long the recovery went on and how large it was. By now I had changed from working with the feeding unit to the staffing unit. That job is to take care of the volunteers that are working on the disaster. They may be doing disaster assessment, mental health work, client casework and feeding those who are without a home, and most likely were staying in one of the many shelters the Red Cross operated across parts of New York, New Jersey and some of New England.

Because the job was so large for Sandy our Staff Services team was divided into several parts. I was the manager of all volunteers coming on the job and leaving the job. Some mornings we would have 50 new volunteers reporting to check in and get their assignments. The Red Cross headquarters where I worked for three weeks was two miles from my hotel. Every morning I walked past some interesting sights like the Good Morning America studio and the jumbotrons on Broadway. I picked up breakfast from a local deli or a street vendor and did the same on the walk back in the evening.

The night before Thanksgiving some of my group decided we would go up to Central Park and look at the parade floats. You cannot imagine the number of people who had decided to do the same thing. There were eight of us in our group and we had to hang on to the coat of the person in front of us or we would have been lost. We decided that we had walked about eight miles that evening, but it was fun. None us would do it again.

My most recent deployment was the Idaho and Montana wildfires. Half of my time there was spent in Kamiah, ID which is way up in the mountains. My workplace was the local American Legion. There was a reception center, called a MARC, that brought many groups into one place where those affected could get different kinds of help. There were 16 families that had totally lost their homes as they burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Many others had lost part of their homes or all of their out buildings and a lot of cattle.

Everything the Red Cross does because of disasters–and we’ve had many this year ranging from Washington wildfires to South Carolina flooding–is done with help from caring people like us. The Red Cross is always grateful for our help. If any of you have 4-5 hours a week to volunteer, we always need more help. If it would not be your thing to go out to fires or to be deployed, there are simple jobs in the office that can be done, such as addressing birthday cards for volunteers. If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, just click here.

Meet BJ, a new Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader

Story by Nancy Rogers, Volunteer Services Specialist for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota

An American Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader (CVL) is a single point of contact for a community with the primary goal of developing, building and expanding the presence of the Red Cross in a given area.  A CVL serves as the face of the Red Cross to local communities with a dedicated focus on recruiting volunteers, managing relationships, fulfilling region-wide objectives and supporting delivery of the Red Cross mission.

BjBJ Kohlstedt was selected recently as the first Community Volunteer Leader (CVL) for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.  She’s excited about a new role that allows her the opportunity to represent the Red Cross along Minnesota’s North Shore.

Since 2008, BJ has been the Emergency Manager for Lake County. She first became acquainted with the Red Cross when a shelter was opened in Silver Bay during the 2009 ice storm, and she was very impressed by and grateful for the work the Red Cross did while helping people in that community. While later serving as a Red Cross chapter board member, BJ learned more about the variety of services the Red Cross provides.  Now, she’s looking forward to building local awareness and engagement in her community that will strengthen a Red Cross presence.

“We’re fortunate to have BJ representing the Red Cross on the North Shore.  She has a perfect combination of credibility and genuine concern about the people in the communities she works with,” says Dan Williams, Executive Director for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.

BJ is jumping right into her new volunteer role. Already, she’s met with officials from all of the local fire departments in her area,  making them aware of the Red Cross services available to home fire victims. “The firefighters I met were very appreciative of my outreach and glad to know of our services so they can further assist those in their communities affected by a fire disasters.”  Soon, BJ will meet soon with other Red Cross volunteers and local partners to set up a Home Fire Campaign in the Two Harbors area.

BJ sees a lot of opportunities for the Red Cross to be involved in her area and she wants to build on that. One plan is to hold North Shore meetings for volunteers, giving them a way to stay connected to and involved with the Red Cross.

Another goal is to build the partnership between the Red Cross and the Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT) on the North Shore. According to BJ, “The Red Cross and CERT serve communities throughout the United States in a variety of ways before, during and after emergencies. Both programs accomplish a great deal individually and they can do even more working together. In partnership, we can increase preparedness and resilience in communities, and offer assistance and support in the aftermath of disasters.”

BJ sees collaboration between the Red Cross and other emergency response organizations as vital to strengthening disaster preparedness and response. And she says she’s honored to have a new role and opportunity to help make it happen.

To learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities, click here.

Full-scale exercise readies Red Cross and its partners for disaster response

Story by Dan Williams, Executive Director, American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota

Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, MN, 2015. Photo credit: Jon Snyder.
Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, MN, 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.

Disaster response training is serious business for a wide range of players. Government, military, hospitals, schools, and non-profit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, are among them. On August 24 and 25 in Duluth, Minnesota, the Red Cross and several partners got deep-in-the-weeds serious for Vigilant Guard 2015, a full-scale disaster response 4 years in the making.

According to the Minnesota National Guard, “Vigilant Guard is a United States Northern Command and National Guard Bureau sponsored exercise program. The program provides an opportunity for the State of Minnesota to improve emergency coordination, response and recovery management with federal, regional, local, civilian and military partners. The citizens of Minnesota depend on state and federal agencies to work together to prevent, protect, respond and recover from disasters. Together, we provide the capabilities to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred. Vigilant Guard is a rare training opportunity that greatly supports everyone–both participants and the citizens we serve.”

The mock disasters for Vigilant Guard were straight line winds causing severe damage to Hermantown, Proctor and the Duluth Hillside; a railway chemical spill; and a ship destroying the Blatnik Bridge spanning the bay between Duluth and Superior. The Red Cross role in the exercise was to establish a shelter at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC), which is a designated Red Cross shelter location for a real, large-scale disaster response.

Red Cross volunteers set-up a mock shelter during the Vigilant Guard at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., August 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.
Red Cross volunteers off load supplies for a mock shelter during the Vigilant Guard at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., August 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.

On Monday at the Red Cross chapter office in Duluth, 35 public health nurses from 7 Counties, one Native American tribe, the Medical Reserve Corps and the Minnesota Department of Health took training on how to provide nursing services in a disaster shelter. At the same time, more than 35 Red Cross volunteers and others from partner organizations conducted a training on how to stand-up a disaster shelter. The training ranged from setting up cots and doing registration to ensuring client safety and securing shelter resources. Red Cross volunteers from across Minnesota were represented.

That evening, Red Cross volunteers had the mock shelter up and running. Their effort added to individual expertise as well as response capacity state-wide. At the end of the day, more than 25 participants stayed at the shelter as if they were people displaced by disaster. They needed their sleep, as the next day they would operate the shelter for community members who were invited to come to the shelter as evacuees and register as if they would be staying there, which was an important part of the exercise. One FOX21 story put it this way:

It will offer an opportunity for Red Cross volunteers, new and old, to test their skills when disaster strikes. “Tomorrow is the day to make mistakes. I always tell people the key word is disaster…We take care of people in the time of disaster small or big,” said Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Tony Guerra.

Red Cross volunteers operated a mock shelter to support the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, August 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.
Red Cross volunteers operated a mock shelter to support the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, August 2015. Photo credit: Dan Williams.

On Tuesday, day two, starting at 7:00 a.m., the Salvation Army began serving breakfast, just as they might during a disaster response in the area. Then, at 8:30 a.m., community members began arriving to register for staying at the shelter. More than 130 community members gave their time to test the newly trained shelter staff! Some went through the registration line multiple times to simulate an even larger group of evacuees. As an important part of the training, community members with functional needs were invited to participate and we were grateful for their participation. People with hearing and sight impairment, as well as those with service animals, put the participants in a great position to use their training. A Duluth News Tribune story put it this way:

Red Cross volunteer Karen Campion oversees the sign-in process prior to setting up a mock shelter at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., during the Vigilant Guard disaster training exercise, August. 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.
Red Cross volunteer Karen Campion oversees the sign-in process prior to setting up a mock shelter at the convention center in Duluth, Minn., during the Vigilant Guard disaster training exercise, August. 24, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Snyder.

Other volunteers provided different training opportunities. Jack Bender, who is hearing impaired and communicated through an interpreter, said his participation in the event allowed workers to learn how to help deaf people. “I have to say that they did a really good job handling our communication needs,” Bender said. “There were a few Red Cross workers that knew some basic sign language and finger-spelling, and they were able to help start triaging … until the interpreter arrived.”

We’re also grateful for three new University of Wisconsin-Superior international students who came to the shelter as well and gave the volunteers a chance to use language translation materials the Red Cross uses in shelters.

As a part of the military component of Vigilant Guard 2015, a group of distinguished visitors toured Camp Ripley in Little Falls and the convention center in Duluth where full-scale exercise was taking place. As part of that visit, Phil Hansen, CEO of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region, as well as Regional Board Chair Lori McDougal and Vice Chair Joan Thompson, were able to visit the mock shelter exercise in Duluth. They met many of the volunteers who set up the shelter and several of the Red Cross nurses who trained during the exercise.  Phil, Lori and Joan were impressed with the commitment of the volunteers as well as the close working relationship between the Red Cross and our military partners.

The Minnesota National Guard presented a certificate following the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise in Duluth, Minn., August 2015. Photo credit: Joan Thompson.
The Minnesota National Guard presented an award of service to the Red Cross following the Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise, Duluth, Minn., August 2015. Photo credit: Joan Thompson.

For all of the hard work, the Minnesota National Guard surprised the Red Cross volunteers and staff with a special public service award. Phil Hansen accepted the award on behalf of the Red Cross relief workers participating in the exercise. About the two-day exercise Phil said, “Vigilant Guard was a terrific opportunity to work as a team with our volunteers and key partners to test our readiness before a disaster strikes. Many thanks to all who organized this exceptional exercise.”

To learn more about getting involved with the Red Cross, click here. To access Red Cross disaster and safety tools and resources, click here. For everyday, handy preparedness, download a free Red Cross mobile app.

Red Cross for life after Katrina

It’s been ten years since Katrina, and Dan Hoffman is still a dedicated Red Cross volunteer. Photo provided courtesy of Dan.

“I became a Red Crosser for life after Katrina.” Ten years ago, Dan Hoffman, from New Brighton, Minnesota, was one of 245,000 Red Cross disaster workers who responded to Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. Dan recently sat down with Red Cross intern Vivi Engen to look back on his experience.

Tell me about how you got involved with Katrina.

Katrina was my first national deployment. At the time, I was an employee for the Red Cross at the St. Paul Chapter and a trained disaster volunteer. I got a phone call on the day the storm hit asking if I wanted to deploy, and I accepted. I was on a plane later that afternoon headed down to Houston. From Houston, I was assigned to work at a 6,000 person American Red Cross shelter at the Convention Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Convention Center in Baton, Rouge, LA where Dan worked during is deployment.
The Convention Center in Baton, Rouge, LA where Dan Hoffman worked during is deployment. Photo provided courtesy of Dan.

What was it like to be at the shelter?

The first few days I would describe as organized chaos. Buses and helicopters unloaded a steady flow of scared, mud-covered people just pulled from disaster. We knew what we needed to do–what the Red Cross always does–everything from setting up portable showers outside the convention center, to providing clothes and hygiene kits, and registering people and contacting other shelter locations to find lost loved ones. We did this for 12 hours a day, and just like the refugees, slept on cots. We saw, and lived it all. I knew that I was part of something big and wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

Tell me about what you did there.

I think a better question is what didn’t I do. I worked the floor so I did whatever needed to be done. I did everything from giving teddy bears to kids, diapers to moms, to taking down names of people sleeping on cardboard boxes because we ran out of cots early on and pushing people around in wheelchairs who couldn’t walk. But more than anything I would just listen. These people were hurting and needed to tell their story.

What were some of the stories that had an impact on you?

Red Crossers busy at work in the shelter.
Red Cross relief workers busy at the shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo provided courtesy of Dan Hoffman.

I’ll tell you a few of my favorites…

Miss Evelyn was one of our shelter residents. Her home had been destroyed by the storm, and when the rescue crew came to save her, they told her she had to leave her dog, Pepper, behind. Pepper was Miss Evelyn’s only family, and she was heartbroken without him. There was a pet shelter set up at Louisiana State University, and a couple of days after talking to Miss Evelyn, I stopped over there while on a supply run to see if I could find her dog. I found a Red Cross worker and asked her if she had seen Pepper and she said she would be in touch. A few days later, I received a few photos of different dogs at the shelter. I showed them to Miss Evelyn and, wouldn’t you know, there was Pepper smiling back at her in one of the photos.

Another woman, Hattie Mae, came to the Red Cross shelter unable to walk, and unable to fit into a wheel chair. A day later I stopped by the local hospital and “commandeered” an over-sized wheelchair to lend to Hattie Mae because she needed something to get around in. I will never forget the look on her face, or the hug that she gave me, when I came back with that chair.

Cots were set up all through the Convention Center for refugees who lost their homes.
Cots were set up all through the convention center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Hurricane Katrina refugees who lost their homes. Photo provided courtesy of Dan Hoffman.

Miss Amelia, another refugee, who was a kind of matriarch over a large family community, introduced me to her family. “This is Mr. Dan, he’s Red Cross, so listen to him.” It sure gave me instant credibility. Then she turned to me and said “You came all the way form Minnesota to help us, you must be an angel.” I am no angel, but I do share the gratitude that the refugees had for my work, for the experience that they gave me. The people at the shelter who had lost everything were so gratified, so appreciative for the smallest things that it changed the way I see life today. And that’s something I will never be able to repay them for.

How did this experience transform your commitment to the Red Cross?

After Katrina, I realized that the work that the Red Cross does is my calling. Once I came home, I shared all of the incredible stories I had been told, what the Red Cross did and how the Red Cross helped all these people.  Just like the stories of the shelter refugees needed to be shared, so did the Red Cross’.

Katrina Pix 027_2
Dan Hoffman (far right) with other Red Cross disaster relief workers and a Hurricane Katrina refugee in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo provided courtesy of Dan.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to finish up with a woman named Misty. While working at a shelter as a volunteer, you half adopt people while you are there, meaning there are certain individuals that you go in to check on or eat with them on a regular basis. Misty was one of those people for me. Misty is a poet, and on the day of the storm she wrote a poem that was angry. Angry at Katrina and all of the destruction it had caused and how it impacted her–she lost her dog and everything she owned. A few weeks after I got home, I received a letter in the mail. It was another poem from Misty titled “Thank You”. The last line of the poem read “memories of you will never leave my heart.”  Now I ask you, how could an experience like that not change your life?

To learn more about how you can volunteer with the Red Cross, chick here.

Four Days on an Emergency Response Vehicle

Story and photos by Jerry Eiserman, Red Cross Volunteer

Jerry's Red Cross "Emergency Response Vehicle" (ERV)
Jerry’s Red Cross “Emergency Response Vehicle” (ERV)

After I retired, I wanted to find a worthwhile way to spend my new-found free time. I remembered hearing about volunteers who packed up when various disasters occurred and served with the American Red Cross. And I decided that was what I wanted to do.

As soon as I began my training, I learned that the first Red Cross relief workers to to arrive on-scene at a local disaster are Disaster Action Team (DAT) members.  These response teams are trained to be efficient and effective in their efforts helping people, and I quickly joined the squad.

After becoming a disaster relief volunteer I started to ask, what happens when the disaster gets bigger?  There are many different jobs when large-scale disasters, such as a tornado or hurricane, hit a community. I learned that my experience driving trucks and managing computer networks could be useful. I expressed my interest in and willingness to be on-call in this response activity if needed.

Day One

On June 29th I got a call that the Red Cross needed the Minneapolis Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) to help out in Illinois, and for the first time I was able to say yes. I partnered up with another volunteer named Bill Craig, a delightful gentleman from St. Cloud, MN, who had disaster experience after being deployed to Hurricane Sandy. We took off from Minneapolis on June 30th and arrived at the Red Cross chapter in Romeoville, IL, on morning of July 1st ready to receive our assignments.

Red Cross Volunteers help out in Cole City
Red Cross Volunteers help out in Cole City

We were dispatched to the Bourbonnais and Kankakee, IL, office where severe flooding and tornadoes damaged the surrounding area. We loaded our ERV with cleaning supplies, drinks, snacks and shovels, and headed for Cole City, IL.  Cole City is a small, rural town that a recent tornado had ripped through, leveling several neighborhoods and wreaking havoc throughout the town.

After several hours distributing relief supplies to people in Cole City, we returned to Kankakee where we helped open a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC).  A MARC is where different service agencies congregate to provide a one-stop service center for folks affected by local disaster.  I quickly learned that as a volunteer, I was there to help with whatever needed to be done. One minute I was in the gym setting up tables and chairs, and the next I was being asked to set up a small computer network to serve the folks that would be coming in the next day.

Day Two

The MARC set up in Kankakee
The MARC set up in Kankakee

Our second day started at 6 a.m. The MARC ran ten computers and two laser printers to service the needs of affected residents. Once the network was up and operating, the local volunteers had everything under control and I moved back to my ERV role. We spent the morning loading relief supplies into people’s cars and handing out drinks and food. There was a flood of people that came to the MARC after lunch, so my job transitioned to walking families through the in-take process. By the time the doors closed at 6 p.m., we had processed 160 families.

Day Three

On day three, we met at the Bourbonnais office at 10 a.m. and loaded flood clean-up supplies and headed for a small, rural town called Momence, IL.  We paired up with a case worker from Pennsylvania and drove around the town to see where help and supplies were needed. We soon ran out of cleaning supplies and had to call for back up because so much damage had been done.

We out-processed at the Romeoville office about 7 p.m. and started the drive back to Minneapolis.

Day Four

We finished our journey back in Minneapolis on the 4th of July and got in about noon.

The biggest lesson I took from my four days on an ERV is that the world is not as bad as we make it out to be. Today, the news is full of terrible accidents, criminals and disasters. But what I found was that there is some beauty left in the world. The vast majority of Americans are kind and compassionate people. When our neighbors get hit hard most of us don’t just drive by, we stop and help. Almost everyone that I put my hand out to was unbelievably grateful and had the “I may be down but I’m not out” look in their eyes. Lee Greenwood is correct: I’m proud to be an American.

To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.
To browse more ways to help fulfill the Red Cross mission, click here.

Wonderful is a life filled with volunteer service

Story by Ellie Decker, American Red Cross Volunteer Services

Red Cross volunteer Alice Tomaschko recently received her 60-year service pin in Austin, Minn. Photo credit: Carrie Carlson-Guest.

“I’m never speechless.” But after receiving her 60-years of service pin from the American Red Cross, followed by a Volunteer of the Year Award, Alice Tomaschko was without words. Her fellow volunteers, who attended the volunteer recognition event in Austin, Minnesota, were not. They had much to say about Alice. They described her as a mentor, friend and inspiration. Looking around the room it was clear that Alice had made an impact during her decades of Red Cross volunteer service.

A few days later, I talked more with Alice about her life and volunteer work with the Red Cross. Throughout our conversation Alice laughed. She told me about her children, and late husband, and how volunteering always had been a part of her life. Wonderful is the word Alice uses to describe her life, a life filled with service. Simply, she enjoys volunteering.

Alice started volunteering with the Red Cross in 1955 when she was pregnant with her first daughter. First, she volunteered at local blood drives. She used a typewriter to record donor information. Later, she trained to work with military families, which she describes as one of the greatest things she has done with the Red Cross. Through volunteering with Service to the Armed Forces, Alice witnessed the help Red Cross gave to families. Alice’s husband and his family experienced this assistance firsthand when the Red Cross helped her husband get home for his grandmother’s death. That help is why she chose to volunteer with the Red Cross.

Alice’s work has continued to help people in multiple ways. In addition to those who received Red Cross services, she has helped other volunteers. Being described as a mentor, she says, is the best compliment she could ever receive. Even though it’s impossible to measure the impact Alice has had on others, her impact is here to stay. (She even helped plan the volunteer appreciation event.) The reverse is true, too: the Red Cross has had an impact on Alice. “I’ve had absolutely one of the best lives with the Red Cross I could imagine.”

For more information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.

In the New Year…Volunteer!

The New Year is a great time to evaluate your priorities and begin new adventures. If you’re looking to improve your health, expand your social circle, and build new skills, volunteering with the Red Cross may be the perfect new experience to dive into in 2015. And if you’re already among our amazing cohort of volunteers, this may be just the time to explore a new opportunity.

Icon Disaster ServicesWhy Volunteer?

Volunteering has many benefits – it allows you to expand your skill set, meet new people, have fun, and make a difference in your community. But did you know it also has positive health benefits? A Corporation for National and Community Service report found that volunteering leads to better health, including lower mortality rates and lower instances of heart disease. So, if your New Year’s list includes hitting the gym and eating more veggies, consider volunteering as another (and more fun) way to improve your health.

Why the Red Cross?

Volunteers are so important to the Red Cross that they’re right in our mission statement:

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

Red Cross volunteers are both generous and committed. In the past 6 months, volunteers from the Minnesota Region have devoted over 57,000 hours to the Red Cross mission – a value of over $1.3 million to the organization and our community.*

What Can I Do?

The Red Cross has a wide variety of volunteer opportunities – from teaching CPR/First Aid courses and to responding to local disasters, to assisting with fix-it projects around our buildings. You can check out the opportunities listed below, and find a more complete overview of opportunities on our website. If you’re ready to get started, you can apply here.

If you already volunteer with the Red Cross but would like to get more involved (or try something different), we have some great new opportunities available:

Volunteer Champion – The Volunteer Services Department is seeking  Volunteer Champions to support and implement ways to recognize, retain, and increase satisfaction of volunteers.

Disaster Action Team (DAT) Administrator – The Disaster Services Department is seeking a DAT Administrator volunteer to manage the DAT calendars, communicate schedules with after-hours answering service, monitor DAT schedules to ensure ongoing on-call coverage, and enter response data after an event.

Donor Appreciation Volunteer – The Financial Development Department is seeking volunteers to thank donors for giving generously to the American Red Cross.

Latino Outreach Volunteer – The Preparedness Department is seeking  volunteers to go to a variety of events in the Latino community and have conversations with individuals and families about the importance of being prepared. Must be fluent in Spanish.

Current volunteers can view full job descriptions and express interest in any of these opportunities on Volunteer Connection or by emailing

Cheers to all Red Cross volunteers – both new and veteran – in 2015!

Lisa Joyslin,
American Red Cross Minnesota Region Volunteer Director

*According to the Independent Sector’s estimated value of volunteer time of $22.55 per hour.

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