Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guest Speaker Examines Unrest in Ukraine

By Patricia Billinger & Tim Bothe

Ukraine has experienced deep political crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution and subsequent shifts of power. At the heart of the conflict is a divide between those who wish to maintain ties to Russia and those who wish to align more closely with Western nations.  This domestic divide has deepened pre-existing ethnic and linguistic cracks. 

Meanwhile, continued Russian military involvement in the region – particularly in Crimea - has intensified the crisis, contributed to a wave of internally displaced refugees, and muddied the international perception of whether this is an internal civil dispute or an international conflict involving two nation-states. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 17, international business development specialist Mike Shanley shared his personal experience as a humanitarian aid worker in Ukraine at the start of the crisis and his current perception of events as a businessman who continues to maintain business contacts within the Ukrainian community.
Mike Shanley discusses current political unrest in Ukraine.

Shanley is the Founder and CEO of Konektid, an organization that works to help companies enter markets in emerging economics like Ukraine. Shanley developed his connection with Ukraine and a number of businesses, residents and aid organizations in Ukraine when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer there from 2004-2006.

It was while he was volunteering in Kiev, Ukraine’s capitol, that he witnessed the Orange Revolution first-hand. It was a peaceful revolution that brought pro-democracy, Western-allied leaders to power. 
Having witnessed that revolution, Shanley said he was shocked when another political shift in November 2013 turned violent. 

Indeed, violence and instability in Ukraine in the past year have reached such levels that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is helping people affected by the conflict,  primarily in the eastern portion of Ukraine, and is supporting the work of the Ukrainian Red Cross. 

The Red Cross has assisted by:
  • Providing medical supplies to 25 health facilities in eastern Ukraine
  •  Providing aid to 10,000 displaced persons
  •  Providing 120 tons of food, which was delivered by the Russian Red Cross to displaced persons around Rostov.
Shanley recalled Ukraine’s harsh winters. Even during relative stability, there were times where they had to cancel the English classes he was teaching because it was so cold, “you could see your breath inside the classrooms.” Today, economic pressures caused by the conflict combine with a lack of government services to the conflict zones to create challenging conditions for refugees fleeing the violence or relocating in search of access to services – and warmth. 

The harsh reality of winter makes aid provided by the Red Cross and international agencies that much more vital for those caught in the midst of a struggle to define the identity, borders and alliances of a region in flux.

The Red Cross is helping families find missing loved ones in the Ukraine due to the current conflict through its Restoring Family Links program. For program information and general inquiries use the International Reconnecting Families Inquiry Form or contact a Restoring Family Links caseworker at 303-607-4771.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Red Crossers serve as Santa’s Helpers for Colorado National Guard

Santa with Vincent Herra-Rue (age 3) and Red Cross
 Volunteer Thea Wasche, at Santa’s Workshop with
Colorado National Guard .
Photo by Lorin Schroeder/American Red Cross
In mid-December the thoughts of many children are focused on Santa and presents. The children of Colorado National Guard families are no different and those thoughts were amplified Dec. 13 when the Colorado National Guard sponsored Santa Workshops for soldiers and families at their armories located in Colorado Springs, Centennial and Grand Junction.

Red Cross volunteers provided hot chocolate and other treats as they worked alongside Guard members to organize and handout presents to families. Of course Santa was there to hand out gifts to the children and to hear their Christmas wishes.

Families select gifts at Santa’s Workshop
with Colorado National Guard - Photo by
 Lorin Schroeder/American Red Cross
More than 300 children and parents attended the events across the State and they were supported by 15 Red Cross volunteers and Colorado National Guard staff. “The wonderful Red Cross volunteers showed up in force,” said Airen Hall, family assistance specialist for the Colorado National Guard. “We can’t imagine how this would work without having their participation.”

Red Cross therapy dog Lacey was on hand to greet the children along with her handler Thea Wasche, a volunteer with the American Red Cross. “Lacey loves children and children really enjoy petting and playing with her,” said Thea. “Therapy dogs like Lacey are great at relieving stress…even at Christmas.”

Lacey and Thea Wasche (Red Cross Volunteer)
welcome Vincent Herra-Rue (R) to Santa’s
Workshop with Colorado National Guard
- Photo by Lorin Schroeder/American Red Cross
This event is put on every year for soldiers and families who might otherwise not have the merriest of holidays. Gifts are provided through donations from individuals, organizations and businesses throughout Colorado.

Additional photos are available on our Flickr page. If you would like to learn more about how the Red Cross supports military families visit our Service to Armed Forces website.

Story From the Holocaust: Red Cross Reconnects Family History

Story by Bill Fortune, American Red Cross
Photos provided by Dawid Kufel

A family patriarch survived WWII concentration camps, became an American citizen and lived a productive life in the United States. His family never knew until the Red Cross discovered his story and helped fill the gaps in the family history.

Corporal Boleslaw Obst, 1939. Photo
 provided by Dawid Kufel
Warsaw, Poland 1939:Polish Army Corporal Boleslaw Joseph Obst was detained by Nazis and sentenced to Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp. World War II raged on and when the Red Army advanced he was marched to Flossenberg Concentration Camp in Germany. It was there that Obst wrote his last letter to his family. Shortly after that the family was notified that he had died in the concentration camp.

Jump to 2013: Genofewa Tonder, Obst’s daughter, received a death certificate from the state of Virginia stating that Boleslaw Joseph Obst died in 1997 at the age of 85 in Richmond, Va. The family never knew he had survived the war and that he had lived in the United States as an American citizen for more than 50 years.

In April 2013, James Griffith, American Red Cross Restoring Family Links Caseworker, received an email from Dawid Kufel, a foreign exchange student from Poland living in Colorado Springs, Colo. The email told how the family was very surprised to find that their patriarch had actually survived the concentration camps and instead died in Richmond, Va. They had tried unsuccessfully to get additional information and hoped that the Red Cross would be able to help them fill in the missing years. Dawid in particular wanted to learn more about his grandfather.

"The fact that he (Obst) had died here in the United States meant that there had to be some kind of information about him, some kind of outline of his past to fill the gaps,” said Griffith. “It was a puzzle that I felt needed to be put together.”

Dawid Kufel, Grandson kneels  at the
 headstone of his grandfather in Richmond, VA
Griffith found that Obst had been liberated by the U.S. Army 90th Infantry Division April 23, 1945. He then traveled to the United States as a refugee under the International Refugee Organization.

With the help of Richmond Times Dispatch Newspaper archivist Ellen Robertson, they located the grave site and documented that he had worked for more than 30 years as a baker, never remarried and died June 2, 1997, in Richmond, Va.

The family was given the information and in June 2013 Dawid Kufel traveled to Richmond, Va. to visit the grave site of the grandfather he never knew. In an email, Kufel expressed his thanks to the Red Cross. "It gives us a good feeling that we were able to find something about my grandfather’s past,” he said. “It is sad that we didn't have a chance to know him but at least we know what happened.”

When it was all said and done Griffith was able to sit back with some satisfaction knowing that he had brought closure to the family. “It's really sad that neither side of the family knew the other was alive all those years,” he said. “But it's really good that we were able to help bring them a little closer together.”

Learn about Restoring Family Links at Reconnecting Families website and The Restoring Family Links Blog.For program information and general inquiries use the International Reconnecting Families Inquiry Form

Friday, December 12, 2014

4 Easy Ways to Spend a Few Holiday Bucks and Make a Big Difference

By Patricia Billinger
OK holiday shoppers, meaningful gifters, Type-A planners and busy people who like to get more for their money: This blog is for you!

We’ve come up with a short list of win-win opportunities for your holiday spend. Check two items off your holiday to-do list: Give a gift, and give back!

1. Date-Night Delight! Treat yourself or someone on your “nice” list to a restaurant night out. Save a ton of money. And, at no cost to you, the Red Cross will also benefit from your culinary delight. Boom! Go to this LivingSocial Deal and spend $40 to receive a $200 value eGift Card, from today through December 22. Four dollars of each purchase will be donated to the Red Cross via OPP Brand Solutions, an agent of

2. Zoom Zoom. Imagine yourself in that new car, zipping along curves....or safely and comfortably navigating traffic with the kids strapped in the back, if that’s more your speed. Either way, if your end-of year shopping includes a new Mazda, you can also “drive” a donation to the Red Cross.

Now through January 2, customers who purchase or lease a new Mazda vehicle may direct a $150 donation from Mazda to the American Red Cross (among other participating charities) during the Mazda Drive for Good event.

3. A Gift From the Heart. What do you get the person who has everything? How about the power to save a life?  Now through Dec. 31, we’re offering 20% off CPR and First Aid training through our special “Friends and Family” discount.

  • Grandpa and Grandma would be thrilled to know child and infant CPR and first aid for when they watch the grandkids. 
  • Your niece doesn’t want that sweater you picked out (sorry). But she’ll enjoy the prospect of earning her own shopping money by babysitting, with help from the Red Cross Babysitter Training you provide. 
  • Or, treat yourself to CPR training knowing that it may empower you to give the ultimate gift some day: saving someone’s life.

4. BurgerFi Your Giving. In what amazing, perfect world does consuming delicious burgers help people who have lost their homes to disasters? THIS amazing world we’re in right now!

Now through December 31, BurgerFi will match in-store gift-card purchases dollar for dollar, for a minimum donation of $10,000 to the Red Cross. They’re also matching gifts through this microsite. Sounds like a great idea for the burger-lover in your life!

Happy shopping/giving!