Friday, February 12, 2016

How Fate, a Fundraiser and a Bow-tie Led to Love

By Paula Deegan 
Red Cross Heroes events have several goals: celebrating local heroes, honoring first responders, and, of course, raising funds to help the Red Cross alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Our events also aim to connect people to the Red Cross mission and to each other. Though we’ve never set out with the goal of turning two single individuals into a couple, that is exactly what happened at the Red Cross Century of Champions Ball on March 22, 2014.

Longtime Mile High Chapter Board member Steve Gurr and his wife Amanda were planning to attend the event at a table filled mostly with Steve’s colleagues. A last minute cancellation inspired Amanda to invite her friend Jennifer Martin to the Ball, knowing Jennifer would have a ball gown to wear and would enjoy a fun Saturday night out. Little did Jennifer know that this turn of events would introduce her to her future husband.

Jennifer and Don, center, moments after they met at the Ball.
Their love story all started with an untied bowtie. The evening of the Ball, amidst the glamour of the red carpet and the prestige of droves of Red Cross supporters, Steve’s colleague, Don Samuels, arrived with his bowtie untied due to a broken wrist. Don approached Amanda for assistance with the predicament, but his colleague’s wife saw the opportunity and introduced him to Jennifer to help him tie his tie. The rest, as they say, is history.

Don and Jennifer started dating after that night. They became engaged the following Christmas Eve and were married last March, just about a year after their fated meeting at the Red Cross Ball.

When asked if she and Don would be attending the American Red Cross Heroes Soiree in Denver this year, Jennifer quickly replied, “Yes, we cancelled plans to go out of town so that we could go!” and said this annual Red Cross event is like another anniversary and will always be very special to the couple.

As Jennifer remarked with a laugh while telling their story, “The Red Cross does more for its community than you might expect!”

This Valentine’s Day, we wish all our Red Cross couples a happy day and we look forward to seeing many of you at the American Red Cross Heroes Soiree on February 26.

Check out photos from the Century of Champions Ball where this story took place: 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Zen of Preparedness: Lessons Learned from SB50 Championship Rally

By Patricia Billinger
When a million people descend on one city park to celebrate their team winning the Super Bowl, emergency agencies go into overdrive preparing for any eventuality that could compromise public safety.

But what about the fans?

As I made my way to Civic Center Park on Feb. 9, 2016, to join a pair of Red Cross teams stationed to provide basic first aid and other services, I witnessed several incidents that illustrated the power of preparedness…and the frustration that comes with being unprepared.

Being unprepared can make a good day bad, and a bad day
even worse. 
One woman was furiously laying on her horn at an intersection, fuming at being unable to turn right while hoards of pedestrians (legally) crossed at the crosswalk. It appeared she either hadn’t planned for so much traffic, or hadn’t heard the news that a million people were expected to come to downtown Denver for the rally.

In a coffee shop a block from the parade route, a man cut to the front of the line and slammed down a bottle of water; he didn’t want to wait for lattes to be made to purchase his water. When told that others in the line were waiting to purchase water, too, he claimed that if he didn’t get water right now, the person he was with was going to pass out. It appeared they hadn’t anticipated the physical toll of walking to the event and standing in the sun amid a crush of other people.

And in the midst of the jubilant crowd, as the parade was just beginning to arrive, a certain communications employee (ahem), gave up on trying to live-Tweet about her agency’s participation in the event and then had to leave early as her cell phone battery died due to searching constantly for a signal. She had known that cell towers would be taxed (she works for an emergency agency, after all, that had given its emergency workers radios to ensure they could maintain communications without relying on cell service). But she hadn’t made a plan for WiFi access and hadn’t brought along a backup charger.

For all three of these individuals, a lack of preparedness turned a fun experience into an exercise in frustration. Who knows how many other fans had their celebration dampened by poor planning – perhaps arriving too late because they hadn’t checked road closures, perhaps suffering discomfort because they failed to bring supplies like water, sunscreen and snacks, perhaps getting separated from friends or loved ones because they hadn’t made a meet-up plan and couldn’t connect via cell phones. 

Now, consider this: imagine how much worse it could be, and how much higher the stakes would be, if this weren’t just an afternoon in the sun celebrating a sports team, but rather a disaster affecting 1 million people.

Being unprepared makes a fun day less fun. Being unprepared during a disaster makes a bad day even worse –  potentially even fatal.  Meanwhile, taking steps to be prepared – whether for the everyday or the Big Day – provides a certain zen. 

Have a Game Plan. It makes life easier.
When you have prepared mentally and physically for the things that could go wrong, you are better equipped to cope when things do go wrong. You have that alternate route in case Broncos traffic – or a flooded out bridge – eliminates your original route. You have that bottle of water in case your companion gets faint from standing too long – or from running to escape a burning home. You have that MiFi device and backup battery for your cell phone in case 1 million people overwhelm the cell towers – or some cell towers are down because they were blown down by a tornado.

The zen of preparedness is something to practice on a daily basis, so that you can tap into it no matter how big or small a disaster may strike.

Find out more about how you can prepare for emergencies large and small:

On the Defensive Team at the Super Bowl 50 Championship Rally

By Patricia Billinger
The oft-repeated mantra going into Super Bowl 50 was that in a show-down between a No. 1 offense and a No. 1 defense, the defense usually wins. And here we are in Denver, celebrating Super Bowl champs.
Red Cross volunteers stand ready to provide first aid and
other emergency assistance at the #SB50 rally.

While hundreds of thousands of people descended on Denver’s Civic Center Park to celebrate their national champions today, the Red Cross was proud to be part of a different defensive team: the team working together to keep those fans safe and to serve them should anything go wrong. Just like in football, it takes the involvement of a variety of specialized, skilled players united under a leader, each playing a role in the success of the team effort. In this case, our goal was to protect public safety and be prepared to respond to any emergency that could arise, from individual medical needs to a terrorist attack.

 Some of the defensive team members were visible, such as the police, fire and EMS spread throughout the crowd. Others were behind the scenes, planning for the massive gathering, preparing and positioning resources for various scenarios, and managing the situation real-time.

More than a dozen Red Cross workers – mostly volunteers – participated in supporting public safety and preparedness for the Super Bowl champions rally. The Red Cross staged two emergency vehicles in Civic Center Park, staffed by six volunteers trained in CPR and basic first aid. The volunteers served as a support and reinforcement to the medical teams provided by Denver Health Paramedics. 

With the Denver Health Paramedic Division as the Incident Command for the operation (or the head coach, you might say), Red Cross emergency response experts staffed the emergency operations center alongside other key partners in public safety. We also placed volunteers, shelters and resources on standby to be ready to open and operate an emergency shelter should the need have arisen.

Most of the people at today’s rally didn’t notice any of this defensive team at work. And that’s how it should be: like a good set of Tackles protecting the quarterback so he can focus on the opportunities ahead instead of worrying about being attacked from his blind side.

If you're looking to be part of the team that helps keep Coloradans from being "sacked" by disasters, the Red Cross is always in need of volunteers willing to train, practice and show up when the time comes. Visit to get started. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Red Cross Honors National Guardsman for Service, Sacrifice and Saving Lives

by Cari Roberts 

Physicians Assistant Victor Palomares volunteers with his whole heart. He deploys overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan with the Colorado National Guard. Each time he volunteers to do so, he makes life changing professional sacrifices. He has closed his medical practice here in Colorado to serve his country as a flight surgeon, leading a team of medics in the field. Upon return, he rebuilds that practice and strengthens his local community connections. Victor, his team, and the service members they care for are far away from family when they deploy. He has often missed family holidays and his children's birthdays.

Many American families have a long, strong family tradition of military service, often times going back generations. Victor came to the United States when he was eight years old. His family moved here from Mexico and built a life. When asked about the motivation behind his military service, Victor says simply and humbly, "It was necessary to join the Armed Services, to give back what's been given to me." In this profound way, he is helping to ensure that others have the same opportunities.

I asked Victor if there was a bright moment that made missing holidays and putting his professional career on hold worth it. In his gentle, thoughtful way he described the thanks he would receive from 18- and 19-year-old soldiers, deployed to a far-away country, often injured, always missing their parents and families, and each in need of encouragement. Many of them have sought him out here in Colorado to say thank you again. Victor is still involved in their lives, still encouraging them today. That, he says, is how he knows he's doing something worthwhile.

These acts of kindness provide moments of grace in times of chaos. For that, we honor and appreciate Col. Victor Palomares at the Red Cross Heroes Soiree on Friday, Feb. 26. The event is sold out, but we encourage you to read about the heroes we will be honoring, share their stories, and support the Red Cross by making a donation or attending the Heroes Soiree After Party, which is open to the general public.