Red Cross volunteers deserve our thanks

Red Cross volunteer Susan Cebelinski checked in at the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, on April 6, 2016, before going to Louisiana where she will provide emotional support to people impacted by the flooding. Thank you Susan!
Red Cross volunteer Susan Cebelinski checked in at the Red Cross office in Duluth, Minnesota, on April 6, 2016, before going to Louisiana where she will provide emotional support to people impacted by the flooding. Thank you Susan!

Volunteer /välənˈtir/
someone who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task

American Red Cross Volunteer
/əˈmerəkən/ /red/ /krôs/ /välənˈtir/
someone who freely donates time to community and country by participating in life changing and saving service 

Without volunteers the American Red Cross and its mission to help others would never be fulfilled. The Red Cross depends on volunteers to embrace service within their communities and to come together in times of crisis. During National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, we have the chance to express our gratitude to the women and men, heroes and leaders, and old and young, who voluntarily give their time and expertise, and wear the Red Cross on their shirt sleeves, while working to reduce human suffering.

National Volunteer Week is important to the Red Cross because it has nearly 330,000 volunteers nationwide. From a disaster worker helping one or hundreds, to a military responder comforting an injured solider or family member, or to a blood donor ambassador welcoming someone who’s about to roll-up a sleeve for a cancer patient waiting for lifesaving blood, the Red Cross offers a range of volunteer positions that serve others, both neighbor and stranger. Whether Red Cross volunteers are waking up in the night to assist a family after a fire or teaching a class on how to give first aid, all of them deserve a sincere thank you from us and many others.

To this we say, THANK YOU RED CROSS VOLUNTEERS! Without you, who knows where so many people in need would be today. You’re the light that shines from this organization and you continue to make a difference in your local communities, and across our country, one voluntary service action at a time. Thank you for the hours and hours you’ve given and the number of lives you’ve made better. We know that you generally take the humble path, but during National Volunteer Week it’s your turn to take a bow and accept our applause. We’re grateful for all that you do!

If you’re not a Red Cross volunteer but you know someone who is, give them a hug and say thanks. Ask them about their volunteer service. The many hours they spend helping others is remarkable and worth hearing about. Maybe their stories will inspire you to become a Red Cross volunteer and be the hero in someone’s life.

What does a Red Cross nurse do during disaster?

Story and photos by Vivi Engen, American Red Cross Intern, Minnesota Region

The Disaster Health Services Nursing kit is condensed into one duffle bag and can serve up to 50 people at a shelter.
The Disaster Health Services Nursing kit is condensed into one duffle bag and can serve up to 50 people at a shelter.

During large-scale disasters, Red Cross nurses serve as the initial medical response at a shelter. They assess basic medical needs of clients and address quick and easy fixes, such as a cut or sprain. Anything more severe is treated at a hospital.

To speed nursing response during disaster, the Disaster Health Services team in Minnesota recently introduced a nursing kit that will be used at shelters during responses across the state.

The kit, which is condensed inside a single duffle bag, provides a quick-response supply for up to 50 individuals. Supplies include over-the-counter medication, wound dressings, CPR masks, bandages, protective gear and more.

Kami Buccellato goes through the supplies inside the Nursing Kit.
Kami Buccellato goes through the supplies inside the Nursing Kit.

“The kit provides the nursing staff with the materials needed to serve as a starting point for clients,” says Kami Buccellato, the Twin Cities Deputy Lead for Disaster Health Services and one of the creators of the nursing kit. “It’s still a work in progress, but we have already seen good results.”

Earlier this year, the kit was used for the first time at a shelter after an apartment fire. Disaster Health Services received positive feedback on the condensed bag and was happy to report that the kit contained its critical response supplies.

The idea for a nursing kit surfaced when responders showed up to shelters with duplicated supplies. “Duplicated supplies decreases efficiency,” says Buccellato. “In a disaster setting, everything is already chaotic, so anything that we can do to increase organization helps.”

A look at the contents inside the Nursing Kit.
A look at the contents inside the Nursing Kit.

The American Red Cross is always looking for new nurses who are ready to be put on the disaster scene. “Any nurse looking to gain experience, meet new people, and share knowledge is welcome in Disaster Health Services,” says Buccellato.

Are you a nurse? Have you ever thought about volunteering? If so, the Red Cross wants you. To apply, click here.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation’s blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. The Minnesota Region serves 5.2 million people across Minnesota and part of western Wisconsin with offices in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis, Rochester and St. Cloud. For more information, please visit  Like us on Facebook: American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Follow us on Twitter: @mnredcross

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.

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.

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.

Celebrating Volunteer Service

The 2014 American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Volunteer Awards at the ceremony in June. Photo credit: Andy King.

This past June 24 was a special night during our 2014 Volunteer Recognition event. That night 21 volunteers from our Red Cross region were honored for their outstanding service.

These volunteers were recognized for their generous dedication of fulfilling the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

These volunteers take time to teach, prepare and help their neighbors. They are among 1,100 volunteers giving time and expertise in a Red Cross region that serves more than 4.3 million people in 43 counties in northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Audrey Waage, center. Photo credit: Andy King.

They are moms and dads, high school and college students, and friends and family members who care about their communities and are ready to serve every day. Some of the words that describe these individuals include: “humble, compassionate, fearless, enthusiastic, creative thinkers, engagers, teachers, and mentors.”

The Red Cross thanks this year’s volunteer honorees and all of those who give time to help others often in their greatest time of need.

The 2014 volunteer recipients and their award categories:

Red Cross volunteer award recipient Sara Schomburg (c). Photo credit: Andy King.
Sara Schomburg, center. Photo credit: Andy King.

Diane Dunder: Distinguished Volunteer Leader of the Year Award

Outstanding Volunteer Group Award: St. Croix Valley Disaster Health Nurses Anne Headrick, Mary Menter, Patricia Bell, Maria Saterbak, Millie Jones, Nancy Mortwedt, Jane Norbin, Cheryl Blythe, Flora Holmberg, Roger Jacobson, Dianne Polasik, Iona Holsten and Vonnie Thomas

Tami Jensen: “Behind-the-Scenes” Volunteer Award

Sara Schomburg: Youth Volunteer Award

Audrey Waage: Disaster Volunteer Award

St. Croix Valley Disaster Health Nurses. Photo credit: Andy King.
St. Croix Valley Disaster Health Nurses. Photo credit: Andy King.

Dave Adriansen: Health and Safety Recognition Award

Pj Doyle and Kathryn Schmidt: Outreach Volunteer Award

Randi De Mel: Rookie Volunteer-of-the-Year Award

A region-wide committee comprised of staff and volunteers reviewed the nominees in each category and voted on a winner.

Post by Eduardo Sanchez Beltran/American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities. 

Small Gestures, Big Rewards

Post by Kelly Vetter/American Red Cross

Kelly Vetter holds and cherishes her grandma Nana's 10-year American Red Cross volunteer pin. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Kelly Vetter holds and cherishes her grandma Nana’s American Red Cross 10-year volunteer service pin. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

If you were lucky enough to have known my grandmother Eileen, warmly referred to by her eight grandchildren as Nana, you would know that volunteering at the American Red Cross was a perfect role for her.  She was a “people-person,” and I think of the Red Cross as the ultimate “people-organization.”

My Nana made you feel like you were the most important person in the room.  That must explain why each of us grandchildren can proudly proclaim, “I was her favorite.”  I envision the people she sat with, perhaps after donating blood or after learning the steps they would need to take to recover from a home fire, left the building knowing without question that they mattered to her and that they mattered to the Red Cross.  She could sit, listen and empathize better than anyone else I know.

And isn’t it surprising how a few simple words or actions can lighten one’s suffering?  One of the many lessons I learned from my Nana is that small gestures can be as powerful and meaningful as grand gestures.  The finer details, which my Nana never overlooked and which the Red Cross is so good at (being available day or night, offering an assuring smile and hug, treating every person’s experience like the lead story of the day), can produce such great comfort.

Kelly Vetter's grandma Nana holds her 2-day old granddaughter. Also pictured is Kelly's grandpa Walter. Photo provided courtesy of Kelly.
Grandma Nana holds baby Kelly, only 2 days old. Also pictured is Kelly’s grandpa Walter. Photo provided courtesy of Kelly Vetter.

I began working for the Red Cross just a few short months ago.  I am impressed daily by the dedicated staff and volunteers I meet here and now know why my kind-hearted Nana fit in so well with this organization. I keep my Nana’s 10 Years pin displayed on the bulletin board next to me.  I wish I could ask her more about her Red Cross story, but she lost her battle with cancer 10 years ago.  So instead, I will build my own Red Cross story and know that she would be proud to see that I, too, am contributing to the mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering, a mission that she carried out every day through small gestures.   

Tell your Red Cross story.

Eden Prairie Students Lift Military Heroes Hearts

(R to L) Students Shea Brennan, Jenny Leestma, and Bella Wheeler, with regional executive Phil Hansen (far left).
(R to L) Students Shea Brennan, Jenny Leestma, and Bella Wheeler, with Red Cross northern Minnesota regional executive Phil Hansen (far left).

Last fall, two Eden Prairie High School business clubs engaged their entire school in a massive Holiday Mail for Heroes card-signing event for the American Red Cross.

The group, led by seniors Jenny Leestma, Bella Wheeler and Shea Brennan, worked with their principal to distribute blank cards to each homeroom, hang posters and banners throughout the school building, and even created a program where students could sign multiple cards in exchange for required volunteer hours. In the end, the students collected over 1,500 cards for deployed soldiers and veterans and estimated that 1,000 students participated in the project.

After the event, students read through the signed cards to ensure all messages were appropriate. “We saw that [the project] touched the students when we began to read through the cards and saw the amazing thought and effort put into so many of them,” says Jenny Leestma, one of the student leaders of the project. “It was truly a blessing to contribute to such an amazing program!”

Holiday Mail for Heroes is an annual event coordinated by the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Department, which supports members of the U.S. Military, its veterans and their families. This past year, people from across the country sent a record number of 2.1 million cards, including the cards from the Eden Prairie High School students.

The American Red Cross also has additional way for groups of youth to get involved with our programs. For more information please visit our website.

Thank you to the students at Eden Prairie High School for enthusiastically participating in Holiday Mail for Heroes, and extra thanks to the DECA/BPA students who worked so hard to make this year’s event a huge success!

Story by Lisa Joyslin, Volunteer Resources Director, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Dan’s 50 Years of Red Cross Service

Some people are motivated to volunteer for the Red Cross because of their own personal experience receiving Red Cross services, while others find motivation through the help the Red Cross has given to a family member or a friend. During the past 50 years, Dan Peitso has found his motivation through the personal connections he’s made while helping others.

Dan Peitso has been an American Red Cross volunteer for 50 years.
Dan Peitso has been an American Red Cross volunteer for 50 years.

A vivid example was when Dan was called to help a family that had survived a house fire. One family member was in shock from what happened. Dan realized that the man was a Vietnam veteran who was traumatized because the fire reminded him of his experience in Vietnam. Dan, also a Vietnam veteran, recognized the common background and established a connection with the man, helping him through the trauma of the fire.

“It’s moments like these, making personal connections during difficult times, that are my favorite part and greatest reward of serving with the Red Cross,” says Dan.

A half century ago, Dan started working with the Red Cross as a lifeguard and a water safety instructor. He worked his way through college by teaching water safety, and even continued this work while overseas in the military. Once he returned to the states, he became a board member at the former Red Cross chapter in Anoka, Minnesota, and also became involved in volunteering for disaster services and deploying to national disasters, such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Dan has also worked in mass care services and damage assessment, and has been instrumental in assisting with the Response Technology Team in times of humanitarian crisis.

Dan Peitso received this 50 Years pin from the American Red Cross.
Dan Peitso received this 50 Years pin from the American Red Cross.

Long-time Red Cross volunteer, Dave Schoeneck, knows Dan well after years of receiving calls in the middle of the night when the Red Cross is often responding to fire disasters. “At first glance, Dan can come across as a gruff, grizzled veteran of the Red Cross, but beneath that exterior is a warm, compassionate and dedicated volunteer.”

Dan’s dedication to the Red Cross continued even as he survived treatment for cancer. “I’m grateful for the continued support and understanding I received from the Red Cross throughout my illness,” says Dan.

Dan’s looking forward to celebrating another half-century mark: 50 years of marriage. Throughout that entire time, Dan has been a valued member of the Red Cross, assisting in a wide range of disaster situations. His decades worth of devotion and commitment to the Red Cross and its mission to alleviate human suffering is greatly appreciated.

Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer. Story by Lia Capaldini, Communications Intern, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. 

Regional Volunteer Award Winners Go Above and Beyond (Part 3)

(Part 3 of 3)

This is our third and final blog post featuring the 2013 Regional Volunteer Award Winners. This year’s winners show the dedication and passion that many volunteers have for the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. We thank these and all Red Cross volunteers for their service. 

Judi Blomberg – Volunteer of the Year: Outreach

Judy Blomberg

In the past year Judi has been an integral part of the Preparedness program, filling an important gap by skillfully presenting preparedness topics to community groups. Judi is an excellent representative of the Red Cross, often going above and beyond by finding ways to add more value to her audience by tailoring her material. She also serves as a mentor to other volunteers, frequently sharing her ideas and experience with new presenters.

Christina Hujanen – Volunteer of the Year: Rookie

Christina H_crop-bmp (1)When you look at Christina’s service to the Red Cross and our communities, it’s hard to believe she’s only been involved for one year! She began serving on the Northland Board of Directors in July of 2012, and quickly became trained in disaster response. When Superstorm Sandy hit Christina deployed 3 times to assist East Coast residents as a caseworker, serving away from home for over eight weeks. In addition she is on-call for local disasters and has responded to a number of single family fires, displaying compassion and willingness to ensure that clients receive the referrals needed recovering from disaster.

Interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Now, there’s an app for that. Check our our new Team Red Cross app and get started today.

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