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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Voices of Refugees" and ACC deepen Red Cross workers’ understanding of refugee communities


St. Cajetan’s podium for the
April 22nd seminar
“Voices of Refugees” hosted
 by the African Community Center
Soft and gentle, sonorous and strong voices resounded at St. Cajetan’s on the Auraria Campus April 22 for the African Community Center’s Voices of Refugees seminar. It was the seventh year the ACC coordinated a safe podium for Denver’s international community members to open-up. It was a secure environment for Denver’s students and volunteers to hear the stories of resettlement and immigration opportunities.

Two speakers from Burundi and Sudan testified to the initial fear, loss, and despair of fleeing one’s home. They recounted the uncertainty and destitution of resources in refugee camps. And they highlighted the hope and promise of the long road to rebuilding and reconnecting to separated family members through opportunities like resettling in foreign countries.

The ACC shared voices
and imagery
from partnerships
with  Picture.Me.Here.
George Serwenda was formerly from Burundi and a refugee in Tanzania from 1993 to 2008. He now works at the African Community Center as a Case Manager.  George spoke softly about the emotional terror of political violence wresting him away from safety and contact with family members. He emphasized the miraculous grace of reconnecting with some family when devising plans to find safety in refugee camps beyond the border. 

Hawa Salah is from Sudan.  She was a refugee in Egypt from 2000 to 2005.  She is now working towards her educational goals and raising her family in Denver. Hawa sang to the audience to invoke her past experience as a refugee. 

The speakers also emphasized the importance of personal goals to adapt. George humbly spoke of the persistence, patience and tenacity required to rebuild one’s life after resettlement in Colorado. George advised others that resettlement is not the end of the refugee story. Resettlement is the beginning. One’s efforts to truly work hard and earn their goals prepare them for opportunities. 

American Red Cross workers from the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program attended the event as part of an ongoing partnership with ACC and as a way to deepen their understanding of and relationship with the refugee communities they serve. The Restoring Family Links program helps reconnect families who have been separated by war, conflict or disaster.

 “I believe it is through collaboration that we can create a welcoming community with opportunities for everyone to contribute to community building!” said ACC Outreach Coordinator April Sugimoto. 

The ACC sponsors a
refugee artisans' social
enterprise, We Made This,
and displayed the wares.
The Red Cross Restoring Family Links program has worked towards a strong collaboration with ACC through outreach as well as by providing health, hygiene and material needs donations. Representatives of ACC have given lectures to educate Red Cross workers about refugee populations; the Red Cross has also supplied basic household essentials and mattress furnishings for refugees resettling into apartments with help from ACC. 

Tim Bothe, International Services Manager for the Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming Region, said these partnerships in Denver speak to a larger global picture. “Colorado resettles 2,000 refugees annually. However, each case begins an average of 15 years prior to resettling due to civil war and genocide,” Bothe said, explaining that these examples of violations of international humanitarian law underscore the importance of ongoing International Red Cross efforts to foster an understanding of and respect for the tenets of international humanitarian law. 

Find out more about International Humanitarian Law, Restoring Family Links the ACC and other topics related to Colorado’s refugee population by emailing Tim Bothe, International Services Manager:  Tim.Bothe@redcross.org.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day: How an IHL Volunteer Finds Inspiration in her Jewish Heritage

Red Cross International Services volunteer Robbe Sokolove believes in “Tikkun Olam,” a Hebrew phrase meaning, “To repair the world.” It’s an expression that holds special significance for Sokolove, who has worked on Restoring Family Links cases that tell individual stories of global conflict, from families separated by the Holocaust to messages intended for recipients in Iraq and Afghanistan. In observance of Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we asked Sokolove to share her experience with RFL, her own face-to-face confrontation with anti-Semitism, and how her heritage influences her volunteer work with the Red Cross.

In the past year, Sokolove helped to reconnect an elderly Jewish couple to an ancestor in Poland, with the help of the International Red Cross. The couple’s cousin was a young girl during the Holocaust and was taken into guardianship by her family’s servants. The cousin was found by the Red Cross after WWII, who located her parents in the US and successfully reunited her with her family. The couple Sokolove was working with hoped to learn more about where their cousin had lived during the Holocaust, as well as any other available details about her life in Poland. Through research and a lot of legwork, Sokolove and the ICRC were able to supply the couple with documents of their cousin’s transatlantic trip to the U.S., as well as an address for her home in Poland.

“It wasn’t a reunion at the airport, or anything like that,” Sokolove said. “But to this couple, it was extremely important to have this information about their history.”

Sokolove, whose own ancestors came to the U.S. from Russia in 1899, is an active member in the Denver-area Jewish community. She experienced firsthand the lingering legacy of anti-Semitism in 2013, when the Morrison Synagogue where Sokolove was a member and community leader was vandalized with swastikas. Sokolove describes the event as a moment where her small synagogue, which had always felt safe and isolated from the greater world, felt vulnerable to hate. “It was the first time it really hit home for me personally,” she said. “I feel safe in my community, but we have to remember we are all vulnerable, whether we are big or little.”

For Sokolove, her work with International Humanitarian Law and Restoring Family Links is a way to help make the world a better place, despite genocides and conflicts that still divide families and create refugees. The Fourth Geneva Convention, which formed the foundations of International Humanitarian Law, was a response to the horrors of the Holocaust, and Sokolove sees her ongoing work with IHL as having a connection with her own heritage. She calls her volunteerism her own “Tikkun Olam,” the way she herself can help repair the wrongs of the world.

 “I see it as a mitzvah,” she said, “My history and my community make this work a perfect match for me.”  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Red Cross Story: Think Globally, Act Locally

By Jasmine Liddington

I was in my senior year of college when the Indian Ocean Tsunami claimed the lives of more than 230,000 people. I felt this immediate call to action within my heart; I need to go there, I need to help.  The first organization that came into my mind was the Red Cross. I knew that they were a volunteer organization who always stepped up to the plate in times of disaster.  I got ahold of my local volunteer chapter and I told them I wanted to go.  I told them I was willing to drop everything and I told myself that I’d finish my degree later.

The man on the other side of the phone told me no and explained that Red Cross responses start with the local, trained Red Cross workers in their home country, and that there are hundreds of thousands of Red Cross volunteers all over the world; during an international response, the Red Cross sends its most highly trained specialists from among the thousands of ready and willing volunteers around the world. He explained that sending just anyone would result in chaos that would take time away from the people who needed help and from what needed to be done.

Seven years later I was living in Japan when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami occurred causing over 16,000 deaths and nuclear contamination that is impossible to estimate. I had friends who scarcely got out alive and others whose lives were changed forever. I was living in a small farming town north of where the destruction occurred but all of Japan experienced a startling rise in radiation levels. The 1000 people in my town came together trying to decide what to do and resolved to plaster every building with heavy duty plastics. Two days later work and school were called off and the entire town went to work on this project. It was an exhilarating feeling seeing how people come together in times of need.

Once again I felt that call to action and watched as the Red Cross entered Japan and did what they do best. I resolved that as soon as I returned to the United States that I would start to volunteer for the Red Cross. I became a volunteer in 2012 and began the training that I had been told about 8 years earlier. Now I understand that it is all the work and training done ahead of time that makes the Red Cross successful when volunteers do need to be mobilized.

What I’ve learned since joining the Red Cross is that Red Cross is hard at work every day, not just during massive natural disasters. They are helping people in need right in your back yard to make it to doctor’s appointments, to inspire young people to get involved, to be prepared for house fires and many other things all of which are done by volunteers. If you are the type of person who feels that call to help when you see people in need start volunteering for the Red Cross now. They will help get you the training you need so that when disaster strikes you are ready to be a part of this wonderful thing called volunteerism.

This is me in Japan hiking Mt. Fuji

Monday, April 21, 2014

Caring for your whole family: Pet First Aid Awareness Month

April is Pet First Aid Awareness month—time to brush up on how to keep your pet safe and healthy and learn what to do when things aren't so.

Matt Reeves has been teaching Cat and Dog First Aid classes for ten years. With the student materials coming before the classes themselves, the creation of these special courses happened in reverse-order, with courses typically manifesting before the student materials.

“It’s different than our other courses in how consumer-driven it is,” says Reeves. He remembers the Red Cross receiving a noticeable number of questions on the topic of pet first aid before the courses were created.

“It’s a special class,” says Reeves, “People don’t need the course for work or to be a volunteer—they take it because they genuinely want to learn pet first aid.” Reeves says he likes that people come with a clean slate because the courses are not taught anywhere else. “It’s fun,” he says, “the questions are more immersive than I've experienced with other classes.”

With 8-10 classes each year, the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross will host its next Cat and Dog First Aid classes on April 17th and again on June 19th. The classes teach pet owners how to administer CPR, how to help a choking pet, how to check vital signs, and how to recognize what is normal pet behavior and what is not; how to transport an injured pet and poison control are also on the agenda.

Want to take action? Learn more about Pet First Aid Awareness, download our Pet First Aid app, and use this checklist to prepare, respond, and recover from a disaster to ensure the safety of your pets. There is also a handy e-flyer with more info on Pet preparedness here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Red Cross To Honor Community Heroes at “Celebrating a Century of Community Heroes” Event on April 23

The American Red Cross in Northern Colorado has selected award recipients for the 2014 Celebrating a Century of Community Heroes event. The recipients, one individual and four organizations, will be honored at 2nd Annual Celebrating Community Heroes event held at the Hilton Fort Collins from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. This year has special significance as we celebrate a century of exceptional volunteerism with your American Red Cross in Colorado & Wyoming.

You can join in the festivities as we honor Community Heroes and celebrate a century of Red Cross service. More information and tickets can be found at: http://www.redcross.org/news/event/Celebrating-a-Century-of-Community-Heroes.  
Here are the American Red Cross 2014 Community Heroes:

Larimer County Sherriff
Justin Smith
Professional Lifesaver – Larimer County Sheriff’s Office
Thousands of Coloradans were stranded in the foothills of the Front Range in the hours and days after the Colorado Flood 2013. The quick, decisive, compassionate and coordinated efforts to safely evacuate citizens helped to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of an epic disaster. For their exceptional leadership through the evacuations, Justin Smith and the extraordinary staff of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office are honored as the American Red Cross Professional Lifesavers.

Military Lifesaver – Colorado National Guard
Colorado National Guard
help with evacuations

With thousands of Coloradans stranded and Emergency Management systems getting overwhelmed up and down the Front Range the Colorado National Guard was called in to help. For the largest airlift evacuation operation in Colorado history and the largest animal airlift operation in our nation’s history in lockstep coordination with local authorities the Colorado National Guard is honored as the American Red Cross Military Lifesavers.

Kevin Unger, UC Health
Commitment to Community – University of Colorado Health
In the wake of the flood, our communities were overwhelmed with needs for resources, trained volunteers and care. UCHealth helped to meet the community needs with a Special Operation Response Teams, significant financial support and by loaning one of their staff members, trained as a Red Cross specialist, to the Disaster Relief Operation for weeks. For their unique understanding of, and compassionate response to the community University of Colorado Health is honored for their Commitment to Community.

Zane from Serve 6.8
Spirit of the Red Cross – Serve 6.8
Weeks before the High Park Fire, community volunteers banded together to help those in need in our communities as Serve 6.8. Little did they know how much they would be needed over the next two years. From emotional care, to sheltering, to helping families as they travel the long road of recovery after a disaster, Serve 6.8 has truly helped to alleviate human suffering in the face of disasters. They are compassionate, caring, credible and collaborative as they truly live the Spirit of the Red Cross.

Erik Wyatt (in uniform)
Youth Lifesaver – Erik Wyatt
11 year old Erik Wyatt has always had a heart for helping others. In the Scouts he got trained to be mature beyond his years and to be courageous enough to help those in need. He is a hero in a small and unassuming package. Little did he know that his training, courage and maturity would help him to save a life the life of his little brother. For courage, calm and decisive action in a life threatening situation Erik Wyatt is honored as an American Red Cross Youth Lifesaver.

Celebrating a Century of Community Heroes is a unique celebration of the individuals and organizations that have touched lives in our community through acts of extraordinary heroism and service. In 2014, the American Red Cross celebrates 100 years of service in Colorado. Join us as we honor the past year of heroes who helped our neighbors during emergencies including the Colorado Floods, reflect on a century of service, and look to a future of another 100 years providing compassion to the communities of Northern Colorado.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org/colorado.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Red Cross Story: Proud of My Lifesaving Son on Prom Night

Hunter Hoagland on Prom Night
My son, Hunter, was trained as a lifeguard by the Red Cross and worked this past summer as a lifeguard for Pinehurst Country Club. He is a junior at Dakota Ridge High School. Several weeks ago as Prom season was kicking into gear, he was asked to a Prom at another high school.

He arrived at a home where pictures were taken.  He and his date exchanged flowers, smiled big for the camera and boarded a bus for transportation to dinner. As the bus was emptying, a young man from another bus boarded Hunter’s bus, vomited and passed out. As others avoided the boy and made their way to the door, Hunter as well as the bus driver noticed that the young man was in trouble. He was not breathing.

Without thought to his tux, date or situation, Hunter administered CPR until the bus driver could reach a hospital several blocks away. Hunter and his date stayed with the young man until he was stabilized in the hospital. The bus driver and hospital personnel praised Hunter’s quick and decisive action in helping the young man out of a clearly life threatening situation.

I have included a picture of Hunter in his tux prior to the Prom. I would imagine there aren’t many formal life saving opportunities!

I believe you guys should know that your training can and does make a difference in many situations, clearly it did here. And I would hope that you would be as proud of Hunter as his family and friends are.


Jack Hoagland
Lakewood


Note: Yes, Jack, we are as proud as a papa that Hunter was such a hero and used his training to save a life! We are very impressed with his calm under pressure, compassion and service. Way to go, Hunter!

Have you used your Red Cross skills to help someone in need? Was your life saved by someone trained in CPR? Share YOUR Red Cross story at www.redcross.org/colorado-stories

Monday, April 14, 2014

April Lunch & Learn to Focus on the Challenges, Narratives of Refugee Resettlement

For some refugees, fleeing a homeland blighted by conflict and violence is only half the battle. Once refugees are relocated to the United States, many face employment challenges, language barriers, health issues and difficulty integrating into an entirely new culture. To help refugees overcome these challenges, groups like Denver’s African Community Center (ACC) offer educational resources, housing assistance, health services and job training. At this month’s International Services Lunch & Learn event, April Sugimoto and Lindsay Dean of the ACC will discuss the ways their organization rises to the challenge of meeting the individual resettlement needs of those seeking refuge in the Denver area. 

Sugimoto, the ACC’s Outreach Coordinator, emphasized that while some refugees share common basic needs, every refugee’s story is distinct and requires a tailored response. “We like to say, ‘Once you’ve met one refugee, you’ve met one refugee,’” said Sugimoto. “When an individual comes to Denver, we support them with basic needs and benefits, every step that you can imagine you’d need to take if your life was completely uprooted, but [each resettlement approach] is really case-by-case.”

Recognizing the many distinct experiences of refugee life, the ACC coordinates a recurring storytelling event, “Voices of Refugees,” where “community members” (the group’s term for resettled individuals) are invited to tell their stories of displacement and resettlement. The event functions as part of the group’s efforts to promote multicultural exchange between the refugee community and the greater Denver population “I think it’s an amazing opportunity to make that connection between what’s happening globally, what issues are creating refugees, and creating that local level of understanding and interest, understanding who our neighbors actually are,” Sugimoto said.

In conjunction with services offered by the ACC and organizations like it, The Red Cross offers the Restoring Family Links Program for refugees who need help locating and communicating with family members separated in the chaos of conflict. The Red Cross assists about 5,000 families annually with this service.

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, April 16, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, April 15 to Tim Bothe at Tim.Bothe2@redcross.org. WebEx options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week: An Opportunity to Prepare

Understanding the types of severe weather that are possible in your area is an important aspect of preparedness — and that’s the impetus behind Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week, April 14-20.

With spring in full swing, we’re getting into warmer temperatures and the time when severe weather is more likely to occur. Although tornadoes may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about  severe weather, Colorado’s threats also include flash floods, wildfires, thunderstorms, hail, lightning and heavy winds.

“We always encourage people to think through what they would do each day during that particular type of severe weather,” said Tom Magnuson, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo. The Weather Service, an expert that the Red Cross turns to for information on upcoming and current weather threats, will release information focusing on a different weather hazard each day during Severe Weather Awareness Week.

In addition to the information provided by the National Weather Service and organizations like Ready Colorado, the American Red Cross provides tools to aid personal preparedness for severe weather. Among its many resources are mobile apps that put vital information at your fingertips. The FREE American Red Cross apps provide information that can help you plan for, respond to and understand different types of severe weather and scenarios through features like interactive quizzes and preloaded content, so the info can be accessed even when cell towers are down.


A few of our favorite apps are:
  • Tornado App (iTunes/Google Play) — sounds an audible siren when NOAA issues a tornado warning for a location monitored by a user
  • Flood App (iTunes/Google Play) — will sound flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts
  • Wildfire App – shares news about wildfires in a selected area, lists shelter locations and provides advice for safety before, during and after a wildfire
  • First Aid App (iTunes/Google Play/Amazon Marketplace) — provides expert advice for everyday emergencies through videos and step-by-step advice.
Being aware of the weather threats in your area and familiarizing yourself with what to do before they strike could save your life and reduce your potential losses. For example, after using the Tornado App to learn what to do if there’s a tornado in your area, you may want to look around your environment and locate safe places for taking cover. By considering what your response should be to each severe weather scenario, you’ll be better prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure your safety.

It’s especially important to listen for emergency alerts and warnings, because severe weather isn’t limited to a certain season in Colorado. While the peak months for stronger storms are April, May and June, there can be severe weather almost any time of the year from February through early November, Magnuson said.

Coloradans’ love for the outdoors is another reason to be knowledgeable about these weather hazards. Thunderstorms, for example, occur almost on a daily basis throughout the summer, especially in the mountains. “That’s why we tell people to get your hike done and get your fun done in the morning before thunderstorms develop,” Magnuson said.

And with thunderstorms comes lightning and hail, which residents need to be aware of and understand how to respond. Lightning in particular should be taken seriously when people are outside working or doing other activities: It typically kills three people and injures another dozen each year, according to Magnuson. The threat of hail is also important to understand. In fact, Magnuson said, Eastern Colorado gets bigger hail and more of it than most of the U.S.! New residents may be unaccustomed to this type of severe weather and how to respond to it (get yourself and pets indoors during thunderstorms as small hail can suddenly change into large “ice missiles,” according to the National Weather Service).

Just as it’s important to learn about the types of severe weather in Colorado before they strike, users shouldn’t wait until there’s an emergency to use the mobile apps. “The apps have shown that they can save lives but the key is to download it before you need it and to learn how to use the features that it provides,” said Bill Fortune, communications specialist for the Colorado and Wyoming Region of the American Red Cross.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Red Cross Story: The Most Meaningful Donation, by Jason Romero

I attended the Century of Champions Red Cross Ball in Denver on March 22, 2014. It was a night I’ll never forget – in addition to being inspired by heroes’ stories and volunteers’ dedication amid the glamorous backdrop of black ties, ball gowns and live music, I had a five-minute conversation that touched my heart and illustrated the depth of human compassion and generosity.

Jason Romero shares a moving experience about Red Cross impacts.
The Ball was an “event of the century” to raise funds for Red Cross services in honor of 100 years of the Red Cross in Colorado. I became involved in the Red Cross gala when a friend from Behind the Red professionals group, Deirdre Wildman, encouraged me to attend the event. I joined my Wells Fargo colleague and Board Member Dan Barry, as well as QEP table host Shanda Vangas.

I was impressed by the details of the gala. The presentation was very well done, beautiful and streamlined. And the music was amazing!

After the dinner, I took a phone call outside of the Sheraton Hotel ballroom on the 16th Street Mall. While ending my phone call, a passerby approached me. “Why do you look so sharp?” the man said, complimenting my tuxedo to start the conversation. I was flattered and briefly had the impression that the man might ask for change.

That impression was transformed 180 degrees instantly.

I explained I was attending a fundraiser for the Red Cross inside the hotel.  Then the anonymous man grabbed all the change from his pocket and handed it to me. “Here. It’s everything that I have collected today. This is all I have,” he said.

I gently refused and told him, “You don’t have to do that; I’ll make a donation in your name.” But the man insisted that the American Red Cross had helped him and his family immensely and it was very important to him that his contribution go to the Red Cross to help others. The man only revealed that he was originally from Louisiana and had been living in Denver for a few years.

As the impromptu donor walked away on the 16th Street Mall, I was stunned by the profound gesture from the man. To me, that 80 cents was as valuable as a gift a thousand times its dollar value because it was so heartfelt and inspirational. The memory of Red Cross volunteers’ assistance was worth everything the man had that day just so that another family could receive the same support from Red Cross volunteers in the future.

That anonymous man’s donation provided me with a deeply moving, personal philanthropic perspective. The perspective of donating a day’s worth of income, all your personal wealth from one day, to an organization that had impacted your life was tremendously uplifting.

It was a rare opportunity that I was not going to waste.  I returned to my table and shared my experience. Everyone was as awed and touched as I was. Our table host, Shanda Vangas, did the honors of delivering the donation to the Red Cross during the Gala.

I am so glad that I attended the Red Cross Ball so that I could support the lifesaving work of the Red Cross and so that I could cross paths with that man whose life was so touched by the Red Cross that he wanted to pay it forward in any way he could.

Jason’s photo booth image of black ties and friends.
(Jason - bottom row third from right. Shanda - top row third from left)



Friday, April 11, 2014

Local Burmese, Nepalese Refugees Learn About Hope for Reconnecting with Their Families

by Christine Eyre
robbe sokolove stands beside member of asian pacific development center in denver
Robbe Sokolove with Eugene Yom,
a social worker at the Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC)
“We have family who are in refugee camps, family in prison or family members we can’t find.  We need help from the Red Cross to help us connect with them…we want to live together as families again and be happy.” 
--Burmese asylee in Denver

The process of integrating into a new country as an asylee or refugee is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can face, and the degree to which an individual is able to become a full participant in society depends on several key factors including learning a new language, access to employment and cultural orientation.  Perhaps more important is family stability, which may be compromised if family or friends have been separated internationally by war, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency.  The Restoring Family Links program of the Red Cross is a critical link in helping refugees and asylees in this essential part of the integration process.

The volunteer-run Restoring Family Links community outreach program of the Colorado Red Cross works to find opportunities to identify and serve refugees and asylees living in Colorado. 

Last week, American Red Cross volunteers Robbe Sokolove and Christina Eyre traveled to the Asian Pacific Development Center  in Denver to reach out to Burmese and Nepalese refugees and asylees living in the Denver-metro area. Through two interpreters, Robbe and Christina explained how the program works, and the kinds of help the Red Cross can offer to refugees and asylees seeking family in Bhutan or Nepal. 

After listening to the presentation and asking questions, at least two thirds of our fifteen participants had potential cases for the Restoring Family Links program.  Their heartbreaking stories ranged from a woman who was separated from her husband over 20 years ago and has no knowledge of what has happened to him, to our Bhutanese interpreter who has a family member who has been imprisoned as a political dissident.

As a part of the community outreach team for Restoring Family Links, I am most grateful to our new partners at the Asian Pacific Development Center for inviting us to present this program to their clients—if our initial meeting is any indication, we have identified a demonstrable need in our community and our work with these refugees and asylees may be an important part of their resettlement and integration into the community.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Red Cross presents Lifesaver Awards at VillaSport Athletic Club in Colorado Springs

Story and Photos by Bill Fortune/American Red Cross

Jim Ungarvsky, a member of the VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa in Colorado Springs, will never forget March 5, 2014. On that day he joined several other members in a contest to see how many pushups they could do. Before long, he started having chest pains and within a few minutes collapsed on the floor in cardiac arrest.
Bobby Bernal, Leilani Akiyama, Billy Thompkins
Fortunately for him there were some skilled hands nearby. Billy Thompkins, Bobby Bernal and Leilani Akiyama, trainers at the facility quickly went into action. They immediately checked for breathing and pulse. Finding neither they began CPR and defibrillated the heart using an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). “We were a pretty skilled team even without a verbal plan,” Bernal said. “Billy and I began doing CPR and Leilani ran for the AED.” The team of rescuers was in automatic rescue mode as they moved to help Ungarvsky. They didn’t have to speak. They just did what they were trained to do.

Akiyama received her training a little over a year ago while working in Seattle, WA and at the time hoped she would never have to use the lifesaving skill. “When it happened I just went into action,” she said. “I knew what I had to do and just did it.” Looking back on the incident she realizes how important it was to learn the skills in Red Cross training. “You have to be ready and able to act.” She said. “The instructors really emphasized that and it made the difference.”
Leilani Akiyama

All of the trainers and staff at the VillaSport Athletic Club are certified in CPR and First Aid from the Red Cross. “We are so proud of these three heroes,” Said Monica Copelin, aquatic director for the facility. “They stepped up when it was needed the most.”

Ungvarsky has made a complete recovery following the rescue and surgery. He is back at the Club and will be participating in upcoming exercise events. “I am so grateful that these three knew what to do,” he said. “They saved my life and I will never forget that.”

Tom Gonzalez, CEO for the Red Cross Pikes Peak Chapter presented the Lifesaver Award to the three rescuers. “This is another example of how important it is for people to get CPR training,” he said. “Having the right skills at the right time truly can mean the difference between life and death.”
The American Red Cross offers a variety of lifesaving skills including CPR, AED, First Aid and Babysitting. To find out more about Red Cross classes and certifications go to redcross.org/classes.
(L-R)Tom Gonzalez, Bobby Bernal, Leilani Akiyama, Billy Thompkons with Jim Ungvarsky

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Huge Thank-You to Red Cross Volunteers

During National Volunteer Week April 6 - 12, the American Red Cross of Colorado celebrated its volunteers and the work they do in the community to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

“Our volunteers have rolled up their sleeves, poured out their hearts and given everything they’ve got over the past year to respond to fires and floods – all while keeping the everyday Red Cross services and programs running. That’s why celebrating National Volunteer Week is particularly important for us this year, because we want to acknowledge and thank them for giving so much,” said said Luzon Kahler, Volunteer Services Director for the American Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming.

Nearly 2,000 volunteers serve with the Red Cross in Colorado. Nationally, the Red Cross has nearly 400,000 volunteers, which represent more than 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce.

“Our volunteers respond to house fires, teach lifesaving skills, support our military members in the community and much more,” Kahler said.  “They help us fulfill our lifesaving mission every day, and we are overwhelmed with gratitude for their service.”

To thank local volunteers for their service, Red Cross are making personal phone calls to each and every active volunteer. Local chapters created special “thank-you” banners that staff and members of the public can sign with messages of gratitude to Red Cross volunteers. The Mile High Chapter in Denver and the Pikes Peak Chapter in Colorado Springs are also hosting a BBQ and a Recognition breakfast for their respective volunteers in April and May.


Across the organization, the Red Cross has an average of 14 volunteers for every one employee. According to the Independent Sector, the 2012 value of volunteer time is $22.14 per hour, further evidence of the tremendous value and impact volunteers hold for nonprofits such as the Red Cross.

Last year, Colorado Red Cross volunteers provided food, shelter, comfort and hope to 2,293 local residents who faced home fires and other disaster situations – that is in addition to the thousands of Coloradans helped during wildfires and floods. Red Cross volunteers helped to train more than 58,000 people in lifesaving skills and provided more than 7,000 services to military members, veterans and their families.

The Red Cross invites the public to sign up to volunteer and be a part of the lifesaving work it does. The Red Cross is looking for diverse volunteers of all ages and skill levels. People can go to redcross.org/colorado and click on “volunteer” to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application.

People who might want to volunteer when a disaster strikes this community should download the Team Red Cross app. Through the free app, people can sign up to help, get an overview on basic tasks and receive notifications about local Red Cross volunteer opportunities.

The Team Red Cross App can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/mobileapps.


Workshop in Lyons Helps Prepare Community for Future Disasters

By Claudia Giannetti, Preparedness volunteer

Residents of Lyons and the surrounding areas gathered on April 8 to attend a Be Red Cross Ready (BRCR) Preparedness workshop presented by the Red Cross and made possible through the work of a number of Lyons community partners. 

It was a beautiful Colorado spring day and all was calm, yet just a few months ago this community was partly under water, in the midst of the isolation and destruction wreaked by the 2013 Colorado floods.

So, why host a Preparedness workshop after the fact? Because it is the perfect time to review and share lessons learned with our neighbors.  After all, neighbors taking care of each other is what creates resiliency. 

This is the basic yet powerful message of the American Red Cross.   Stronger connections within our community make us better prepared to respond and recover during the next disaster. This was also the message emphasized by representatives from the Lyons Fire Department and the Boulder Office of Emergency Management during the evening of dialogue around disaster preparedness. Being individually prepared is a key step in helping control the chaos cause by a disaster, but we need to take it further, to know our neighbors and the resources we can share to complement and strengthen our safety.

For those present at the workshop, the memories of how they had to shelter in place for the first few days and then pack out and evacuate are still very fresh.  Most of the people in attendance were out of their homes for the six-week period that the entire Town of Lyons was evacuated, and many others were evacuated for much longer. 

As part of the preparedness discussion, residents shared stories of how they survived the floods – such as evacuating with a VW van that was ready-loaded for camping. Others were less prepared and said they grabbed a handful of items to keep warm and be connected, but in the hectic process of evacuating forgot important items like a wallet with their ID. Some described trying to keep their loved ones calm and safe, all the while attempting corral their scared dog who was running around.  They also described safe havens; The Church served as one of the "islands" throughout town where folks sought shelter and advice on how to proceed.

The workshop was presented in a community dialogue format to allow town members to learn from each other’s collective experiences and knowledge. In addition to looking back on what helped during the flood as well as what they wish they had done to be prepared, attendees were asked to look forward, to the future: What else does this community want to do to keep developing their resiliency?  What steps can they take so their community is even better prepared and stronger to face whatever disaster might come next?

Suggestions included access to more response and recovery training by organizations such as the American Red Cross, HAM Radio operation, fire mitigation, CPR and First Aid.  The Red Cross will coordinate to set up training, or assist with coordinating training through other of its partner agencies.

Blue skies might not seem like a time we want to worry about 'what if'. But it really is the perfect time to do so with calmness to prepare a kit, make a plan and stay informed.

What's it like to be a Kid in a military family?

When members of the armed forces deploy to serve their country, their family members – and especially children – also make sacrifices.

"Being a military kid means doing what is right and helping around the house when your dad is deployed," said one young Colorado boy who  shared his story with the Red Cross last year.

Many of the kids are very proud of their parents; they also acknowledge that it can be tough.

In recognition of their sacrifices, the American Red Cross and the Colorado National Guard join forces in April to draw attention to school-age kids who are part of military families in Colorado.

As part of the “Month of the Military Child,” the American Red Cross and the Colorado National Guard have co-sponsored a statewide essay contest open to kindergarten through 12th grade students in Colorado. Military youth in Colorado from all branches and duty status are eligible to submit their essay on what it is like to be a child in a military family until May 2.

Here's a video of last year's adorable winners:


“We think that it is so important to give opportunity to get the military children’s voices heard. It’s great to hear what they say and how they feel,” said Laurie Burke, State Youth Coordinator for the Colorado National Guard Child & Youth Program.

One winner from each category will be awarded an Xbox One. Prizes will be given out at an award ceremony in June.

2014 Month of the Military Child Youth Essay Contest – “What is it like being part of a military family?”

•    Categories are by grade: K-2; 3-5; 6-8; 9-12
•    Essays must be 100-500 words for K-8th grade; 500-1,000 words for 9th-12th grade
•    Entries must be received by May 2, 2014, and mailed along with entry form to Laurie Burke, CYPC, CONG Family Programs, 12200 E Briarwood Ave, #160, Centennial, CO 80112
•    For questions, please contact Laurie Burke at (720) 250-1412 or laurie.j.burke2.ctr@mail.mil


The Red Cross is supporting these activities as part of its Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program. Although best known for its disaster response, the Red Cross in fact has a long history of serving members of the armed forces through every war of the 20th century and continuing today. Red Cross SAF programs include pre- and post-deployment briefings for members of the military; emergency communications between deployed military and their families back home; support for military families while their loved ones are deployed; and assistance at veterans and military hospitals.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Staff Services Training Institute Innovates and Addresses a National Need


Staff Services is a mighty behind-the-scenes team that plays an essential role in any disaster response operation. They are the volunteer human resources group responsible for recruiting, training and placing volunteers in disaster relief.

“Staff Services essentially sets up a Fortune 500 operation in under 72 hours during a response,” said Luzon Kahler, Senior Manager of Volunteer Services for the Colorado & Wyoming Region.

On March 22-23, Kahler and her leadership team organized a Staff Services Training Institute in Denver.  The institute was spurred by a recognition that the Colorado & Wyoming Region needed to develop more capacity in local Staff Services volunteers and to train the team for upcoming disasters. The Colorado floods in 2013 had 1,255 workers, of which 90 were Staff Services – but only 12 of these workers came from the Colorado and Wyoming Region.

Staff Services volunteers from all over the country in 2013 flood response.
“As we anticipate the wildfire and flood season of 2014, we wanted to ensure we grew our Staff Services workforce, and developed and deployed training that will help them be successful when we face the next large disaster,” Luzon said.

Beth Burns, Carroll Larremore, Jack Roeger, Elaine Tomlinson and Luzon prepared all the manuals and presentation materials. The effort was a huge success: Volunteer Services met their goals, boosting participation in Staff Services from 12 members to nearly 40 and setting a national standard.

Beth Burns, Staff Services Chief, introduces the Disaster Cycle to the Institute participants. 
“We had requests to participate from all over the country, and the event was sold out in two weeks,” Luzon said. Although the COW Volunteer Services team developed the training to address a need in our region, they have had requests from every state to use the innovative training materials to develop similar Institutes across the country.

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering. Thanks to Institute participants Dana Goldsmith, Megan Fossinger, Gary Breig, Brad Rice, Mary Fleurquin, Linda Russett, and Leyda Pendergrass. 





Thursday, April 3, 2014

Run for the Red Cross During your Next Marathon!


It's race season! If you're planning to run a marathon or half-marathon this season, chances are you've already started your training regimen and may even be up to those "long run days."

While you're getting your gear, making your registrations and working out your body, don't forget to include your favorite charity in your plans! Many races allow you to designate a nonprofit charity to benefit from your hard-earned miles. 

This year, in honor of our Colorado Red Cross Century Celebration, the Red Cross is participating in the Colfax Marathon as a charity partner. If you’re planning on running the race, all you need to do is designate the AMERICAN RED CROSS as your charity partner. While registering, just say YES to the question: Do you (or your team) plan to raise funds or awareness for one of our charity partners? Then choose the Red Cross.

You don't have to fundraise in order to participate on our team, although your donations are always welcome! If you'd put your money where your running shoes are, you can donate at https://www.redcross.org/quickdonate/index.jsp. 

When you designate the Red Cross as your charity partner, you'll join our team and will receive invites to training runs and happy hours as well as a cool Red Cross t-shirt and a pre-race carbo load. 

Already ahead of the game and registered for the race? No problem! If you're already registered, log onto myevents.active.com with your active email and password to review your registration information and add the Red Cross as your charity partner. 

Good luck, and may you achieve new PRs!