Notes of Thanks

It’s National Volunteer Week, and the staff and board members here in the Northern Minnesota Region have much to be thankful for. This year we decided to write creative thank you notes to volunteers in celebration of their service to the Red Cross. These notes will be compiled into a poster, which we’ll bring to each of the upcoming volunteer appreciation events this spring. But in honor of National Volunteer Week, here’s a preview of how thankful we are for our fabulous Red Cross volunteers.

Megan M note croppedMegan D note croppedBoard note 1 croppedChoua note croppedLisa note croppedNicole note croppedboard note 2 croppedJason note croppedJenn note croppedB Safe note cropped

Happy Red Cross Month

From the archives: Phil Hansen in 1990 working for the Red Cross, Rochester, MN.
From the archives: Phil Hansen in 1990 working for the American Red Cross in Rochester, Minnesota.

They say that what you send out in life comes back to you multiplied.  I believe this is so and I have witnessed many examples over the years.

In my own experience, a donor supplemented the cost of a swimming program in which a Red Cross instructor taught me to swim. I got so excited about the program that I joined the Red Cross and helped teach thousands of others– mostly kids–to swim. My ability to swim has saved my life on at least two harrowing occasions. And one time I used my ability to swim to save a friend. I suspect that many of those I trained have saved lives as well.

My experience is one small example of the multiplying effect of a donor’s gift.  I bet the Red Cross has already touched you or a family member in some way.  If not, maybe someday it will–you may need swimming skills to save a loved one’s life–or have a heart attack and need CPR–or need blood after an accident–or need a place to stay after your home burns down–and the Red Cross will be there for you–always.

During March–Red Cross Month–I want to share my sincere thanks with our board members, volunteers and paid staff members, donors, supporters, partners, and friends for the many ways you have helped the American Red Cross serve the needs of Minnesotans.

Wishing you a very happy Red Cross Month,
Phil Hansen, CEO, American Red Cross, Northern Minnesota Region

P.S. Click here to learn more about ways to be involved with the Red Cross.

Will You Be Our Valentines?

Dear Red Cross Volunteers,

Red Cross volunteer Rick Campion hands food to Janice Lewis during the Hurricane Isaac disaster response, September 1, 2012. (Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)
Red Cross volunteer Rick Campion hands food to Janice Lewis after Hurricane Isaac on September 1, 2012. (Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross)

We think that you’re fabulous. We appreciate your positive attitude, your willingness to help out in anyway that you can, and your desire to learn and share your expertise. We love your commitment, your sense of humor and your compassion. Our hearts pound with joy when we think of how smart and dedicated you are, and how you share time, talent and grace under tremendous pressure. We see how wonderful you are and we know that what you give to the Red Cross and the people we serve means more than we could ever write on a card.

Thank you for everything that you do, for everything that you are, and for your friendship and support. So, will you be our valentines?

With much love from,
The Staff at American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region

Three Cheers for Paul!

So, the other day, this young man named Paul van Vliet stops by Red Cross offices in Minneapolis and drops off comfort kits for kids. How cool is that? He (Paul) comes up with his own project idea (making comfort kits for kids) and provides them (the kits) to us (Red Cross) so that our disaster relief workers can give the kits to kids affected by disasters (like fires, floods, & tornadoes).

Now, let’s give some credit to us (Red Cross) because we came up with the original comfort kits for adults and children idea, but we rely on motivated and generous peeps like Paul to make this kits and help reduce the suffering of people who escape burning buildings or high waters. Paul’s dad John was on hand for the comfort kits for kids drop off. He took a fine photo of his son Paul (top & bottom) and then sent us a nice note (excerpt below left).

“It was great to meet you at the Twin Cities’ Red Cross office today. Thanks for your interest in my son, Paul’s, Eagle Scout project. It was a wonderful surprise and honor to meet Phil Hansen, an Eagle Scout himself. I know Paul was very impressed and honored by Mr. Hanson’s enthusiastic reaction to his project. And I am sure Paul will remember this day for the rest of his life. Most important, he and I are gratified to know these comfort kits will benefit the littlest and most vulnerable victims of disasters.”

Well, John, we think your son is the bee’s knees. We could not do what we do without him and others like him. We wish Paul many happy days during his next adventure (college) and hope that he will make his way around the world and back to us some time in the future.

Meet one of our 2012 Heroes

Elizabeth Estepp, of Ham Lake, Minnesota, is a 2012 American Red Cross Heroes Awards recipient.

One Sunday morning in Ham Lake, Minnesota, Elizabeth Estepp was at church when her pastor challenged everyone.  “He asked us to ask ourselves, if our church disappeared would the community even miss us.” Estepp and some others realized that the answer was no.  To change this, they decided to focus community outreach on bringing clothing to people. But how? Estepp slept, thought, and prayed until an idea formed. “I told my husband, we have a trailer full of junk parked outside. Let’s clean it out.” That was more than two years ago. Since then Friend2Friend, a mobile clothing ministry, has put hundreds of pounds of wear-able used clothing into the hands of people who can’t afford to buy their own.

Friend2Friend, a mobile clothing ministry based in Ham Lake, Minnesota, reaches hundreds of people across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

For us, Estepp is a hero, helping to provide for people in the face of emergencies. For example, last year on May 22, Friend2Friend responded to the Minneapolis tornado, bringing clothing, toiletries, and water to people who were forced to flee their homes with little or nothing. During regular, non-disaster hours, volunteers are gathering, sorting, and hanging the clothes on racks that will later be transported to twenty church locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. On some nights, says Estepp, more than one hundred people show up. In no time, the racks are empty and ready for new donations. “We have seen so many people struggling for the first time in their lives.” Sometimes, she says, people have found clothes to use for job interviews. “They get jobs and then come back to help.”

Pants on a mobile clothing rack hang from the upper left side, making it easy for people to find a fit.

Watching volunteers prepare donated clothing items for distribution serves as a reminder that helping others takes time and effort. Simply, it’s work. And Estepp recognizes this. “If we didn’t see the definite impact we wouldn’t be able to keep it going.” The impact extends from a homeless person needing a jacket to a widower finally feeling good enough about emptying his deceased wife’s closet. Or to a volunteer feeling worth-less until putting his trailer-pulling skills to work for a worth-full cause. Or to Estepp listening to a question and finding an answer because “this is what energizes me.” She’s making plans too: getting Friend2Friend’s food pantry on wheels.

Estepp and the other 2012 Heroes will be honored at the annual American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, May 24, at Target Field in Minneapolis. The public is invited to attend, help recognize local heroes, and support their local American Red Cross. Tickets and table sponsorships are available online at

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Apartment Fire Survivor “Worse than Back to Square One”

On Friday, March 9, 2012, a fire burned an apartment building in Minneapolis. That afternoon at the Red Cross service center volunteer relief worker Kevin Berger spoke with two people affected by this disaster and learned more about them.

Kimberlee Overvold and Carl Robinsen survived the March 9, 2012, St. George apartment fire in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Kevin Berger/American Red Cross

Kimberlee Overvold was at the temporary Red Cross service center just a few blocks from where she had lived for 11 months before a fire destroyed the St. George apartment building on 17thStreet. She was trying to collect herself and figure out her next steps. Overvold and her boyfriend were in the process of finding a bigger apartment but then the fire took it all away. Overwhelmed with the emotion of the situation she said,“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be a dream.”

They had just gone to bed around 1:45 a.m. when the fire alarms sounded at 2 a.m. Kimberlee said at first they thought it was a false alarm because even as they headed out of the building there was no signs of smoke or fire. However, it wasn’t long before flames rushed through the building and they found themselves meeting up with their neighbors in a bus temporarily used as a shelter.

Before moving into the St. George apartments she had been homeless for nearly 2 years. Back then she said at least she had some possessions, but now “I’m worse than back to square one” as she’s lost everything. Pointing at herself with her mobile phone in hand, she said, “this is my living room now as all my stuff is gone.”

She reflected on some of her family pictures and watercolors she had from her late grandmother. “That’s the stuff I’m going to miss.”

The St. George apartments burned, displacing more than 30 residents of Minneapolis. Photo credit: Kevin Berger/American Red Cross

Her boyfriend, Carl Robinsen, was also considering how to move forward. “I’m not worried about what caused this to happen, we just need to fix it.” He said they were thankful that no one was seriously hurt or killed in the building that housed 32 units. “You can’t replace life,” he said.

One concern is replacing clippers and shears valued at more than $1500 and needs for the barber program he’s just four months from completing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). As lunch passed by at the Red Cross service center Robinsen was wondering if he should make his way to his job as a janitor in Edina so that he could at least think about something else for a while.

The couple left the service center with information from the Red Cross and The Salvation Army for a temporary place to stay and getting some clothes before finding a new home.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross disaster relief, helping people recover from this fire and similar disasters. Or go to to donate even more financial support. This story and the accompanying photos are by Kevin Berger, a volunteer American Red Cross disaster relief worker based in Minnesota.

Morning blaze serves “full meal deal” to volunteer in-training

Scott Olson, a volunteer Red Cross disaster relief worker in-training, got his first on-scene experience, Friday, March 9, 2012, when his phone rang early that morning. The Red Cross was responding to a 3-alarm fire in downtown Minneapolis.

2:30 got the call; 3:00 arrived on scene

Scott Olson, Red Cross volunteer-in-training, at Minneapolis apartment fire, March 9, 2012. Photo credit: Dave Schoeneck/American Red Cross

We tried to walk close to the building, but there were flames licking out the second and third floor windows. The whole area was cordoned off by fire trucks and police.

We went to the shelter bus. About that time there were ten people on it. Most of them were very upset, crying, sort of in shock. I remember another responder saying she expected more people to be on the bus. She handed me a clip board and told me to go ask them some questions. Then they started to trickle out of the bus, finding places to go.

The other responder said this isn’t typical for a first response. I hope it’s not scaring you away she told me. No, I’m not scared. It was neat. I got the full exposure. I got to watch the media. It was the full-meal deal, really.

8:00 am close to getting parking ticket, left the scene; 8:10 am arrived home; stripped and fell on bed; magic happened after that

Want to join us? Click here.

Red Cross Family Tracing Helps Husband and Wife Live Again

With Red Cross help, Abdiaziz Warsame, 35, learned that his wife is alive after being abducted by militia six years ago in Mogadishu, Somalia. He now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his son. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Abdiaziz Warsame has lived in Minneapolis for the past six years taking care of his son and anticipating a life without his wife, his son’s mother. That was until he reached out to the Red Cross and its family tracing services.

“I am really thankful to the Red Cross for the job they did for me and my family,” says Warsame. “I gave up until the Red Cross found her alive.”

Abducted by militia in Mogadishu, Somalia, there was little reason for Warsame to believe that his wife was anything but dead. He fled with his son to Cairo, Egypt, where he sought refuge with the United Nations. His son’s condition, which includes brain damage and some paralysis, prompted a quick departure for an operation in the United States.

“I will not forget how the Red Cross helped me find my wife and how the Americans have been good to us,” says Warsame.

Abdiaziz Warsame, 35, fled Mogadishu, Somalia, with his son Shamusdin, 10, who has brain damage and paralysis. Red Cross family tracing services helped find Warsame’s wife alive in Somalia. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

The Red Cross sent a message from Minneapolis to Washington D.C., to Geneva, Switzerland, and then to the Red Cross in Nairobi, Kenya. From there, the Somali Red Crescent conducted a field search and found Warsame’s wife, Ayan Mohamed, in Mogadishu. They returned a message in the opposite direction that the Red Cross delivered to Warsame in Minneapolis.

The message came with a phone card, which Warsame immediately used to call his wife who had no idea her husband was living in America. Now, Warsame talks on the phone with his wife every day.

“We married for love,” says Warsame. “These six years are like 60 years. For that reason we live when we talk to each other.”

Warsame wants to be reunited with his wife—who also survived a bullet wound with Red Cross medical services in Somalia. “My son always says ‘where’s my mom,’ but I am so happy,” says Warsame. “I have found her now and hope to bring her here.”

Learn more about Red Cross family tracing and international services. Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross, with assistance from Yahye Mohamed/American Red Cross. Posted February 22, 2012

Star Bank shines on Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes

The American Red Cross collected holiday cards throughout the past several weeks for distribution on military bases and hospitals, veterans’ hospitals and other locations in the U.S. and abroad.  More than a million cards were collected this year, bringing the total for Holiday Mail for Heroes to about 4.5 million cards during the past five years. One of the program’s strongest supporters is Star Bank in Eden Prairie. Katie Incantalupo explains why…

Katie Incantalupo (left) and service members helped collect more than 19,000 cards for the 2011 Holiday Mail for Heroes program. Photo courtesy of Star Bank.

The leaders of Star Bank, including both President and CEO Harry Wahlquist and I, have a strong commitment to the mission of the American Red Cross to provide relief to victims of disaster and to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

We’ve been hosting quarterly blood drives at Star Bank in partnership with North Central Blood Services for about 12 months. Harry is a longtime Red Cross Board Member and I’m a Lifetime Member of the Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders within the Red Cross. I was elected to be a member of the National Council for Tiffany Circle in 2010, and my participation in that governing body brought forth the opportunity for me to lead the Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign on a national level for the 2011 holiday season.

Katie Incantalupo (right) and Elena Luca (left), sign Holiday Mail for Heroes cards in Washington, DC. Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

I have spoken with many service men and women over the past four months about the Holiday Mail campaign and have heard wonderful stories about how much it means to receive a card when you are serving away from home over the holidays. The card campaign makes a real difference in our service members’ lives. Star Bank hosted a card signing event that was well attended by members of the community, including several local “celebs.” I’m so excited that more than 19,000 holiday cards were signed in Minnesota alone this year!

Katie Incantalupo gets ready to donate blood. Photo courtesy of Star Bank.

It has been an honor to assist the Red Cross in growing awareness and participation on behalf of Holiday Mail for Heroes and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to serve the organization in this way, both personally and professionally.

Katie Incantalupo is a Red Cross volunteer and the Director of Marketing for Star Bank in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The mailbox for the 2011 Holiday Mail for Heroes program is now closed, but Americans wanting to help military members, veterans and their families can visit the Red Cross holiday giving catalog and click on “Help Our Troops.” The online catalog offers symbolic donations to help provide members of the Armed Forces with phone cards and comfort kits as well as assist homeless veterans, among many other options.

Red Cross women on the Russian front during the Great War (WWI)

WHILE browsing the library stacks at one of our local universities, we stumbled across this report from the field. In this case, the field is the Russian front at the onset of The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) in 1914. The reporter is Stanley Washburn, the American war correspondent who saw first hand the work of Red Cross volunteers.

Stanley Washburn's "Field Notes From the Russian Front" references the Red Cross numerous times and includes a chapter on women serving during The Great War.

EVERY cloud, so the proverb runs, has its silver lining. Surely there can be no greater cloud than the ghastly shadow of war which lies all over Europe to-day, but equally true is it that this one also has its silver lining, a side filled with human sympathy, love and the best instincts of which the race is capable. This, of which I would write a few lines, is the world of devotion and beauty supplied by the sisterhood of the Red Cross in Russia at war to-day. For several weeks now we have travelled constantly amidst scenes of war and the wreckage that man has created among his fellows, and there has not been a day in all these weeks that the picture has not been softened by the presence everywhere of the gentle womanhood of this country, ministering to the smitten, and alleviating the suffering of those who have fallen before the tempest of shot and shell that has swept across this great zone in which we have been travelling.

As the troops have responded to the call to the colours, so the women and girls have given themselves broadcast to the work of alleviating the misery of the wounded, and of speaking the last low words of love and sympathy to those whose minutes upon this earth are dragging to their appointed end. Most significant of all to the stranger who has been led to believe that Russia is a land of two classes the aristocrat and the peasant is the democracy of the women. In response to the appeal to womanhood, there is here no class and no distinction, and one sees princess and humble peasant woman clad in the same sacred robe of the Red Cross. On more than one occasion I have discovered that the quiet, haggard-faced sister, whom I have questioned as to her work among the wounded, was a countess, or a member of the elite of Petrograd’s exclusive society.

As my mind runs back over the past days, a number of pictures stands clear in my mind as typical of the class of selfless, high-minded women whom the exigencies of war have called from their luxurious homes to the scenes of war’s horrors. In Lemberg [Lvov, Poland], just at twilight, I spent two hours in one of the huge barracks of misery in which were crystallized all the results of man’s ingenuity to destroy his fellow. There went with me the round of the wards a woman whose pale face and lines of sadness bespoke the drain on nerve and sympathy that weeks in the hospitals had involved. In her uniform frock and white-faced headgear, with the great red cross of mercy on her bosom, she seemed to typify womanhood at its very best. As we entered each ward every head was turned in her direction. At each bed she paused for a moment to pass a smooth, white hand, soft as silk, across the forehead of some huge, suffering peasant. Again and again the big men would seize her hand and kiss it gently, and as she passed down the line of beds every eye followed her with loving devotion such as one sees in the eyes of a dog.

During WWI, in hospitals such as this one in Tours, France, Red Cross Volunteers worked as nurses, nurses aids, and “searchers,” who tried to find information for families whose sons were wounded or had died. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

And in each bed was a story not a detail of which was unknown to the great-hearted gentle woman. Here was a man, she told me, the front of whose head had been smashed in by a shrapnel ball which had coursed down and come out at the back of the neck. “Two weeks ago,” she said,  “I could put two fingers up to my hand in this man’s brain. Yet we have fixed him up and he will recover,” and with an adorable movement she stooped quickly and patted the great, gaunt hand that lay upon the coverlet. And so we went from bed to bed. When she at last left me I asked the attending surgeon of her. “Ah, yes,” he said, “she is here always, and when there is a rush, I have known her to spend fifty hours here without sleep and with little food. Who is she ? Countess. There are many, many like her here.”

Again comes to mind a picture at Rawa Ruska. The street from the station is lined on both sides with hospitals. As I was returning to the hotel last night I paused beside an open window. Inside the room was an operating table, on which, beneath the dull rays of an oil lamp, was stretched the great body of one of Russia’s peasant soldiers. This point is near the battle line now, and many of the wounded come almost directly here from the trenches. The huge creature that now lay on the table was without coat, the sleeve of the left arm was rolled to the shoulder, and over him hovered two girls as beautiful as a man could wish to see. The one sitting on a high stool, held in her aproned lap the great, raw stump of bloody flesh that had been a hand, and even in the dull light one could see the smears of red upon her apron. As she tenderly held the hand, she spoke in a low and gentle voice to the soldier, whose compressed lips showed the pain his wound was costing, although no groan or murmur escaped him. The other girl, kneeling by his side, was sponging the hideous member with the gentleness of a mother handling a baby.

Chapter VIII, “The Women in the War,” Vladimir Valensky, Russia, October, 21, 1914, Field Notes from the Russian Front, by Stanley Washburn, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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