Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pikes Peak Volunteer Receives Top Red Cross Honor

Pikes Peak region volunteer Debby MacSwain laughs when she says she never expected to win the Harriman award for excellence in volunteerism. But her 45 years of service to The American Red Cross are serious business. And as a result of her wide-ranging and dedicated efforts, she did receive the Harriman award, the Red Cross’ highest honor for volunteer service, this year. “I’d look every year to see who won [the award], and I wouldn’t ever give a second thought to ever winning it,” she said. “I wouldn’t even think to try to get it; it always went to other people who had done a lot more.”

It is hard to think of many ways Debby could have done more for the Red Cross during her exceptional and enduring volunteer career. Debby began volunteering for the Red Cross as a recent college graduate in the late 1960s. She jumped into the deep end with her first volunteer assignment in Vietnam as a “Donut Dollie.” Following her deployment to Vietnam, Debby dedicated the next four and a half decades of her life to the Red Cross, primarily in service to the Armed Forces. Though her engagement with the Red Cross has ranged from water safety to global deployments, Debby’s recent projects have included work on a memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring Red Cross volunteers who have passed away, and working with the Legacy Program to recognize volunteers who have worked in combat zones.

This year's Harriman award was given at a ceremony at Red Cross Headquarters in Washington DC on Oct. 24. The ceremony also honored North Carolina volunteer Elaine Lyerly and actor, director and activist Sean Penn for his work in Haiti. Debby said she didn’t introduce herself to Mr. Penn, but that the entire experience did make her “feel like a star for one night.”

Debby MacSwain at the Harriman Award ceremony, center, with friends Julie Berger (left) and Jackie Walters (right)
Despite her decades of volunteer service, Debby is still humbled by the experience of receiving the award. “It’s more than an honor,” she said. Read more about Debby and her award here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pics: Fruita "Truck N Treat" event

On Saturday, Oct. 27, about 1,000 children from the Western Slope got a chance to explore a Red Cross Mobile Feeding Vehicle, learn about preventing the most common disaster and sign a thank-you banner to veterans and active military.

The Red Cross was one of about 50 community participants in the “Truck N Treat” event in Fruita on Saturday. Red Cross workers handed out candy and also provided helpful information about preventing home fires – the most common disaster to which the Red Cross responds.

As part of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces programming, there was also a giant “thank-you” banner for visitors to sign their messages of appreciation to veterans and active members of the military; the banner is an annual Red Cross tradition in Colorado and is displayed on Veterans Day and during military events to showcase public messages of support.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pikes Peak Chapter: Red Cross Provides Comfort and Hot Chocolate To Families Affected by the Wetmore Wildfire

Residents whose homes were taken by the Wetmore wildfire were allowed to view their property Thursday morning. Custer County provided transportation for more than 20 people to enter the burn area to witness the destruction that occurred when the wildfire raged through their properties.

Red Cross volunteers brought hot chocolate and coffee to help warm the residence on a cold Thursday morning. Grief and Trauma volunteers were also available and went along with the residence into the burn area. Red Cross volunteer Tracy Barber was one of those counselors that went along with the residents.

"The mood was somber and it was difficult for some to see what had happened", Tracey said, "however all were grateful for the opportunity to see things firsthand."

Those residence will not be able to start the cleanup effort until fire in the burn area stabilizes which could be several days. Volunteers from the Pikes Peak Area Chapter will be doing bulk distribution of clean up supplies at the Custer County Disaster Assistance Center this weekend.

Story written by Red Cross volunteer Bill Fortune. Photos by Red Cross volunteer Matthew Martinez.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The ABCs of Trick or Treat Safety

Have a fun and safe time trick or treating this Halloween!  Parents, you can do double duty with this week's preparedness and safety post:

Work on your kids' ABC's while going over some Halloween safety before doing your annual candy-hunting next week.  While costumes, masks, pranks and fun are all part of Halloween, there are some great tips here for keeping your holiday fun and festive.  Courtesy of the CDC website.

Alphabet letter S Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.
Alphabet letter A Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
Alphabet letter F Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you.
Alphabet letter E Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat.
Alphabet letter H Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you. Always WALK and don't run from house to house.
Alphabet letter A Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it before bedtime to prevent possible skin and eye irritation.
Alphabet letter L Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.
Alphabet letter L Lower your risk for serious eye injury by not wearing decorative contact lenses.
Alphabet letter O Only walk on sidewalks whenever possible, or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.
Alphabet letter W Wear well-fitting masks, costumes, and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips, and falls.
Alphabet letter E Eat only factory-wrapped treats. Avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers.
Alphabet letter E Enter homes only if you're with a trusted adult. Only visit well-lit houses. Don't stop at dark houses. Never accept rides from strangers.
Alphabet letter N Never walk near lit candles or luminaries. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In October, A Focus on Home Fire Prevention

About every nine minutes, the Red Cross responds to a fire. Here in Colorado, we respond to about one home fire a day, on average.

Although home fires are the most common disaster year-round, we typically see an uptick in home fires with the first cold snap – so in October we commemorate National Fire Prevention Week. But whether it’s a designated week or not, it’s always a good time to get yourself prepared for a possible home fire. The theme this year is “Have Two Ways Out,” which means just that: you should have two ways out of your home in case of a fire. And that means you should develop a plan that includes at least two ways out of each room in your house. And with all planning, it’s important to practice that plan, preferably twice a year. If there is a fire, it’s important to follow your escape plan, get and stay outside, and to call 9-1-1.

When I was younger, my parents, my sister and I mapped ways out of our house pretty regularly. One year, my sister and I were supposed to climb out a window to a lower ledge and then jump down, where my dad would catch us. An unfortunate timing incident ended in my dad’s glasses breaking into two pieces and hours of uncontrollable laughter. So planning for a home fire can be more than just an important family activity, it can also be quality family time (with or without broken glasses).

We’d encourage you to take the time this month to map your way out and talk to your family about your escape plan. And while you’re at it, please consider the below safety tips to make sure your house is free of some of the most common fire dangers:

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the house and inside bedrooms.
  • Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year. Test each alarm monthly by pushing the test button.
Find more tips and tools for making your household emergency plan at

Friday, October 19, 2012

New Wildfire App Brings American Red Cross Safety Information to Mobile Devices

“Blaze Tracker” features give users warning, alerts and fire information for locations of their choice

Estes Park, Colo., Oct. 19, 2012 — As Red Cross workers in Colorado are keeping an eye on three wildfires that could threaten populated areas, the American Red Cross has released its official Wildfire App for nationwide use. The app puts lifesaving information right in the hands of people who live in or who visit wildfire prone areas.

This free app—available in English or Spanish—is the fourth in a series created by the American Red Cross, the nation’s leader in emergency preparedness, for use on both iPhone and Android platforms. The Wildfire App comes after the highly successful First Aid, Hurricane and Earthquake Apps, which have more than 1.2 million users.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Flu Season & Staying Healthy

It's October - we've had our first official dusting of snow in Denver, football season is well underway, baseball is in playoff mode...all the things that mean fall is officially here and winter is around the corner. This weekend I spent time preparing my house for cold weather (well, to be 100% accurate, my husband did). Things to check off the list included:
  • blowing our our sprinklers
  • splitting firewood
  • covering up the swamp cooler
  • putting away the grill
  • cleaning out the summer flowerbeds
The list goes on and on! I'm sure a lot of you are doing the same things these days.  I don't know about you, but I absolutely adore this time of year. The stores are full of fall flowers, pumpkins...and one other thing you may want to add to your list of fall-preparation "to-do's", if you haven't already: getting you and your family members flu shots. They're incredibly easy and affordable to get -- your employer may even give them out for free -- but they will save you from a miserable and potentially dangerous bout with this nasty virus.

According to the CDC: "Everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine this season. It’s especially important for some people to get vaccinated. Those people include the following:
  • People who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu
    • This includes
      • People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
      • Pregnant women.
      • People 65 years and older.
  • People who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications
    • This includes household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease."

A full list of health and age factors, people at a high risk for complication from the flu is available on the CDC website. Check off one of the most important fall to-do's soon!

Holiday Mail for Heroes a Huge Morale Booster

Mary Jacoby Hastings
Prepare to spread holiday cheer to our Armed Forces through the Holiday Mail for Heroes program now in progress through December 7, 2012. This annual tradition gives everyone an opportunity to express appreciation to those who have chosen to serve their country at home and abroad.

Each year the American Red Cross collects cards between October and early December to distribute at military installations, veterans hospitals, and other locations. The cards and personal messages, sent by tens of thousands of Americans, are a huge morale booster.

Imagine the smiles these cards bring to the faces of troops so far from home around the holidays and to those recovering in military hospitals, particularly when family cannot be near.

There are several ways you can prepare a card to send to our troops through the American Red Cross in time for the holidays:
1.     sign a  card and take it to an organized signing event
2.     create an original card or have a child create a card to take to a card signing event
3.     volunteer at an upcoming card-making/signing event
4.     organize a card-signing event with a local organization, such as your place of employment, church or school
5.     incorporate the project with another upcoming event, such as a holiday fair
6.     volunteer to assist in preparing cards for distribution

Throughout the year, you can also make a difference with a monetary gift to help military families through the Red Cross. Your donation can help change a military family’s life. Simply visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

For a heartwarming look at how much this gestures means to our Armed Forces, view actual video at: or visit the  Holiday Mail for Heroes YouTube playlist.  

Card Guidelines:
Every card received will be screened for hazardous materials by Pitney Bowes and then reviewed by Red Cross volunteers working around the country. Please observe the following guidelines to ensure a quick reviewing process:
·        Ensure that all cards are signed.
·        Use generic salutations such as “Dear Service Member.” Cards addressed to specific individuals cannot be delivered through this program.
·        Only cards are being accepted. Do not send or include letters.
·        Do not include email or home addresses on the cards: the program is not meant to foster pen pal relationships.
·        Do not include inserts of any kind, including photos: these items will be removed during the reviewing process.
·        Please refrain from choosing cards with glitter or using loose glitter as it can aggravate health issues of ill and injured warriors.
·        If you are mailing a large quantity of cards, please bundle them and place them in large mailing envelopes or flat rate postal shipping boxes. Each card does not need its own envelope, as envelopes will be removed from all cards before distribution.

All holiday greetings should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Story About the American Dream

Maru Del Real-Gwin
Maru Del Real-Gwin has an American Dream. But to her, the American dream isn’t about a big house, a new car, or a flatscreen TV. For Maru, the dream is about taking the opportunities and resources this nation offers and using them to help those in times of need.

Maru grew up in Mexico, and had some experience with the Mexican Red Cross before moving to Texas 17 years ago. After volunteering at a Dallas shelter during Hurricane Katrina, Maru decided to teach herself English to be a better advocate for clients who did not have English skills. Maru spent hours at the local library learning the language, driven to speak for those who had no voice. Since her time in Dallas, Maru has been deployed to disaster sites around the country, and has traveled to Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. to do the important work that takes place after initial on-site disaster responses.

Maru says she feels especially suited to care for clients who have lost everything.  Her experience as a new American, with limited English skills and a fixed income, gave her a point of empathy with clients in areas affected by disaster.  She talks about barely scraping by while teaching herself the language and volunteering her time to the American Red Cross. Her bilingual skills and sheer determination have allowed Maru to rise through the ranks of volunteers at the Red Cross, but in speaking with her, it becomes clear that no matter how little she’s ever had, she’s always found a way to give of herself to those in need.

"My dream is to help," she says, smilng. "That's all I want to do.” 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mile High Region Adopts Volunteer Connection Tool

For everyone seeking something online, there is usually a service to find it. Through the magic of the Web search, millions of Americans have found jobs, cars, even soul-mates uniquely suited to them. And now, thanks to a new system donated by Grainger, the American Red Cross has launched an interactive tool for new and existing Red Cross volunteers to find the perfect opportunity for every individual looking for a way to serve their community.

Volunteer Connection, launched in 16 Red Cross pilot chapters earlier this year, is an interactive, engaging, nationwide tool that offers advanced search capabilities and consolidated volunteer data to match potential and existing volunteers with opportunities that maximize their skills, availability, and unique interests. Volunteer Connection enables volunteers to more actively engage in their volunteer experience – sharing their stories, communicating with fellow volunteers, uploading photos, scheduling themselves for shifts and more.

The Mile High Region launched its Volunteer Connection site on Oct. 2. With this new site, Mile High Region volunteers can now run comprehensive searches for opportunities and to complete preliminary recruitment and background-check tasks in one online location. The database also incorporates features that track training and scheduling data, which will allow volunteers to offer their time as they are available and log completed training courses in their online records. Meanwhile, on the back-end of the database, Red Cross volunteer coordinators have gained access to a comprehensive list of available, qualified volunteers with specific skills and training to call upon as the need arises.

Here's a YouTube video that runs down the basics of Volunteer Connection, and shows how both volunteers and Red Cross volunteer coordinators will benefit from this powerful tool.

Interested in trying it out? Visit the Volunteer section of and click on the application link (if you’re not yet a Red Cross volunteer) or the Volunteer Connection link (if you’re an existing Red Cross volunteer).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What the Presidential Debates can teach us about preparedness

by Patricia Billinger, Communications Director
Denver is host to the first Presidential debate of 2012, and the town is abuzz with talk about the debate and preparations for it.
The news has been warning us for days about road closures – in particular a large stretch of I-25 – being implemented in relation to the debate.  My husband and I both planned ahead and biked to work today in order to avoid being ensnared in the ensuing traffic. Local schools and hospitals made contingency plans to work around closures, and some local businesses implemented work-from-home or flexible work hours to help employees ensure the debate didn’t cause a debacle in their commutes.
I’m curious: What preparations and changes to your daily habits did you make in response to the knowledge that a major part of our city would be essentially shut down?
And I’m even more curious to know whether people took more precautions and gave more forethought to this temporary disruption to their lives than they do to the less tangible but more impactful threats of disasters.
There’s a major difference between the two: we knew the debate was coming, and we could plan ahead for it. With most Colorado disasters, you don’t get that luxury of time. Nevertheless, we can apply the same sort of planning and forethought to reduce the discomfort and inconveniences we may experience when disaster strikes.
We can plan our alternate routes: Imagine that our route home (or our route to the kids’ school, or the route out of our neighborhood) is going to be closed – not by a Presidential road block, but by fire, flood, downed trees or power lines.  How would we get to safety? Where would we go?
We can work on business preparedness and contingency plans so that we know our employees can continue to fulfill our company’s essential functions, whether or not they can make it in to the office.  Do we have the resources, plans and communications in place to keep operating?
We can tune in and find out ahead of time what the best sources for information are, so that we know what’s going on and how it will affect us. We don’t want to be the driver stuck in traffic on I-25 today with no clue that any of this was happening because we haven’t checked any source of local news in five days – and we certainly don’t want to be the person caught in danger’s way because we were unplugged from the critical sources of information that can pre-warn us with lifesaving information before or during disaster. Do we know how we would find out about evacuations, impending danger and emergency precautions during a wildfire, flood, man-made threat, tornado or other disaster?
I challenge readers to have your own debate tonight or tomorrow. Ask your household members the questions above and challenge each other with changing scenarios. Identify the weaknesses in your preparedness plans…and then commit to making plans and setting up the resources to address those weaknesses. And if you need some help, has tons of resources and ideas.
Because the need to be prepared before disaster strikes is not debatable.