Volunteer Spotlight: Melinda Wittmer

MelindaMeet Melinda Wittmer, a Disaster Services volunteer for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.

Melinda has been a Disaster Services volunteer since 2011, and is part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT). She also has recently taken on a new role with Volunteer Services – she’ll be interviewing prospective volunteers to introduce them to the volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross and help them find a good fit.

As a child, Melinda was introduced to the Red Cross as part of her home-school curriculum, in which her mother made the Red Cross a recurring theme. What Melinda took away from that was that the Red Cross “is a solid entity that is always there to help.”

Fast forward to Melinda’s adult life when she was working at a group home and became very close to an individual who turned into one of her favorite clients. His health declined and he was put on life support, and then eventually taken off. At that moment Melinda decided she wanted to do something good and help people. She went to the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, to ask a few questions, and was immediately “roped in.” Within minutes she was filling out an application, and the rest is history!

Melinda went on her first home fire call with one of the chapter’s most experienced volunteers.  Since then Melinda has responded to over 30 home fires.  Melinda says that the most satisfying part of being a disaster volunteer is “helping people who have experienced a devastating loss and seeing how grateful clients always are for the services of the American Red Cross.”

A few months ago Melinda went through the difficult experience of responding to an incident that involved a fatality. Additionally, it turned out that she was familiar with the person who died. Despite the difficulty involved in this response, Melinda took away the feeling that she was there for the family to help them with the “begin-again phase” of their lives.

The Red Cross has made Melinda more confident, and through her interactions and meeting other volunteers she has become interested in pursuing a career in Emergency Management.

Melinda certainly embodies the mission and fundamental principles of both the American Red Cross and Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the globe.  She’s always ready, willing and able to assist and a great comfort to those who have suffered a loss because of home fires and other disasters.

Story and photo by Nancy Rogers, Volunteer Services Coordinator for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.

To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.

Hello Summer!

Purchased at a Minneapolis garage sale for 25 cents, “Red Cross Stories for Children” by Georgene Faulkner. (Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross)

Summer is the season of many things: sprinklers and flip-flops, Popsicles and fireworks. And garage sales. Stumbling across one this past weekend in Minneapolis yielded a book called Red Cross Stories for Children that the American National Red Cross (as it was once known) published in 1917. Children’s book author Georgene Faulkner composed these stories about “self-sacrifice and devoted skill” as a means to teach children about Red Cross ideals. The tattered spine and fragile pages have rendered the book obsolete for library use, but the words hold up for summer story-telling on the porch or inside the backyard tent with a flashlight and smores.

Happy Summer Everyone!

Local volunteer earns top honors

Tom Meyer (center) received a 2011 Harriman Award at American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Please join us in congratulating Tom Meyer for being a 2011 recipient of the American Red Cross Harriman Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service. Meyer, the Volunteer Board Director with the North Central Blood Services Region and a board member of the Twin Cities Area Chapter, received the Harriman Award for Biomedical Partnership.

The Harriman Awards for Distinguished Volunteer Service are presented to American Red Cross volunteers in direct service, administration or management, with the exception of volunteers currently serving on the Board of Governors. The top honor that the American Red Cross issues, the Harriman Award recognizes extraordinary American Red Cross service that extends to people and places beyond the local community and is awarded on the basis of extraordinary accomplishments rather than length of service.

Congratulations Tom! Thank you for your outstanding service!

 

Remembering Denny Smith

Denny Smith before before the cancer. Photo courtesy of the Denny Smith family.

It is with a great sadness that that we say goodbye to Red Cross disaster action team member and dispatch volunteer Denny Smith, who passed away in late September.  For the past 14 months Denny had been fighting a courageous battle with brain cancer, a fight that he did not give up easily.

After his retirement from law enforcement, Denny started volunteering on the Red Cross Emergency Medical Services Team with his wife, Karen, and in 2009, became one of our most active disaster responders.  With his cheerful spirit, wonderful sense of humor, and passion to serve, Denny promptly became a valuable teammate and friend to many of us.

Denny remained active during the early stages of his brain cancer, often sending email updates, and attending meetings to stay connected with the group.

Denny is dearly missed and our hearts go out to his grieving loved ones.

Overwhelming Response Includes the Red Cross

Story and photos by Andrea Bredow, Red Cross Volunteer

Scott Webber & Mary Ellen Fox, volunteers on the sand bagging line in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

It was a chilly 17 degrees on Saturday morning, but the cold spring air and piles of snow did not stop the Hastings, Minnesota, community from banding together to fight the looming Mississippi River waters.

An estimated 700 volunteers spent Saturday sandbagging homes along the river.  The American Red Cross Twin Cities Chapter volunteers were there as well. The Red Cross feeding vehicle, also know as the ERV, was on hand to provide hot beverages and snacks to keep volunteers warm and energized.

Red Cross volunteers served coffee, hot chocolate, & snacks to people sand bagging in Hastings, Minnesota. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

The call for volunteers went out early in the week and hundreds responded with shovel in hand.  Family’s worked filling bags, youth groups stood in the “bucket line” delivering sandbags to homes and Scott Webber even showed up on his birthday to help.

“This is what the city of Hastings does. We help each other,” said Webber.

Webber and a hundred other volunteers were sent to surround Lloyd Fanum’s river side home with sandbags.  Fanum has lived on the river for 30 years and is always overwhelmed by the communities outpouring of help.

“The boys and girls giving their weekend to help me is overwhelming!  I can’t thank them enough,” said Fanum.

Homeowner Lloyd Fanum is interviewed about the outpouring of help to save his home from the impending flood. Photo credit: Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross

The army of volunteers turned out 20,000 sandbags in only four hours!

“When the neighbors are in trouble, we are ready to reach out and help,” said Patrick Walker, one of the sand bagging organizers.

Walker says they are ready to gear up the sandbagging operation at any time.  If more homes along the river need help, the Hastings community will be there.

Click here to learn more about Red Cross services and opportunities.

Not Stopping Anytime Soon

By Grace Thompson, American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter

For many, it’s hard to remember the hot days of the Minnesota State Fair this time of year, but for Muriel Olson the smell of corn dogs and the sounds of the “great Minnesota get together” are vivid as she reflects upon her last 50 years of service with the American Red Cross.

Muriel’s story began in 1956 when she was asked by her school’s nursing program director to volunteer for the American Red Cross booth at the state fair. “It was minimal work, washing people’s feet and dressing blisters.”

Muriel Olson has been a Red Cross volunteer for 50 years.

Little did she know, this agreement would begin a remarkable span of years sharing her time and talent with the American Red Cross, for which she was recognized this past year with a 50-year service pin.

“I didn’t really choose [volunteering for the American Red Cross], it kind of just happened and it never stopped. I don’t plan on it stopping anytime soon!”

As a recent volunteer with the American Red Cross (or as Muriel might call me, a “newbie”) I was both honored and excited by the chance to interview the Red Cross veteran. I naturally had all kinds of questions I wanted to ask her—such as how many disasters have you responded to (“too many to count”), why do you continue to volunteer (“because I love helping people”), and was there any experience that was particularly meaningful for you (“the embrace of a family member who suffered the loss of their home to a fire”).

She kindly replied to all of my questions and also offered three nuggets of wisdom I’m excited to pass along:

1.    “Be passionate about helping people”
To Muriel, this is the most important quality of a Red Cross Volunteer. The reason why the American Red Cross makes a difference is because its volunteers show compassion to every person, regardless of who they are or what his or her circumstances may be. “Even if it is a single-family fire, it’s a disaster to them. Sometimes they just need people to help them- whether it be filling out paperwork, or sitting with them.”

2.    “Be willing to adapt to changes”
Muriel enthusiastically expanded upon this, “if there is one thing I can tell you, volunteering with the American Red Cross will never be boring! There is always something new to learn or some challenges to overcome… you are responding to disasters, disasters by nature are never planned.” According to Muriel, the power of the American Red Cross is its ability to offer relief in the midst of uncertainly.

3.    “Be ready to work as a team, and to make life-long friends.”
Muriel attributes much of her achievement to the supportive Red Cross community. “I have been able to volunteer and remain positive throughout these last 50 years because of he wonderful friends I have made. The American Red Cross is filled with people of every skill and generation.” This diversity is seen in the classroom where Muriel teaches Disaster Medical Assistance to the “next generation” of Red Cross volunteers. For Muriel, the opportunity to see young volunteers dedicate their time and skills gives her hope for the future of the American Red Cross. “It is a volunteer run organization, without these newbies…[and] without this community, we wouldn’t have a Red Cross.”

In many ways, Muriel’s first actions as an American Red Cross volunteer are symbolic of her continued benevolence over these past 50 years. It’s because of people like Muriel that the American Red Cross, a volunteer-led organization, continues to make an inspiring impact on the world. The Red Cross is grateful for Muriel’s years of service and Muriel hopes her story encourages others to, in turn, “use their skills and talents to help people.”

Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.