Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best 14 Stories of 2014

As 2014 comes to an end, we took a moment to read back through the year and select our top 14 stories. Here they are, grouped by topic rather than in order of importance:

2013 Colorado Flood Recovery Effort

Flood Survivors: 'It's Like Beginning Again.
Alma and her family were awoken at 3 a.m. by a call warning them to evacuate immediately because flood waters were coming. Alma, husband Guillermo, daughter Perla, son-in-law Gerardo and grand-daughters Yamileth and Yaretzi escaped to Guillermo’s sister’s home, leaving everything behind in their Longmont mobile home…

A flood recovery solution MacGyver would be proud of
It’s a bridge. And not just any bridge: this bridge is mobile; it’s in a trailer so that the Glen Haven community can take it anywhere it might be needed to provide access over rivers and streams that are otherwise currently impassible…

When All Other Communications Are Down -Gold Hill Now Has a Solution
The danger, isolation and destruction of the 2013 Colorado Floods brought the realization that there was still a gap in their ability to communicate quickly with other towns and with emergency management in order to access and share vital emergency information – at a time when information is needed most, and could make the difference in saving lives…

Home Fire Preparedness Campaign

Volunteers visit homes in Fort Collins most at risk for home fire losses
Volunteers from the American Red Cross, Poudre Fire Authority and Hope Worldwide went door-to-door in a Fort Collins neighborhood surrounding Putnam Elementary School in an effort to save lives. The volunteers were targeting 139 homes that were selected due to higher risk of loss caused by home fires. Their goal: to provide education and resources to help prevent those home fires in the first place and save lives and reduce property loss in the event of a fire…

Disaster Response
Home Fire is Anything But 'Routine' For the Survivors
On a cold mid-November afternoon, in a tightly packed mobile home park in Brighton, a small fire in a garden shed spread to two adjacent structures, rendering each trailer uninhabitable…

International Services
Story From the Holocaust: Red Cross Reconnects Family History
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…

November's Lunch and Learn to Feature "Lost Boy of Sudan" 
Manyang Reath Ker Manyang, a “Lost Boy” displaced by the Sudanese civil war, spent 13 years of his young life hungry, homeless and displaced in refugee camps along the border between Sudan and Ethiopia. With the help of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links service, Manyang spent whatever time and resources he could reaching out to the family he’d lost in the Sudanese civil war… 

Preparedness, Health and Safety Services

Red Cross Instructor Honored For 50 Years of Service
Doing anything for half-a-century is amazing and worthy of recognition all on its own. Few careers would span that length of time but when the career involves the teaching of lifesaving skills the recognition becomes that much more important…

Preparedness Paid Off for the Sharp Family (And It Will for You Too)
Personal and family preparedness is important, just ask the Sharps. For the last 15 years, Jessica Sharp has kept a box of important documents in a specific location so she could easily grab it in the event of an emergency. And that planning recently paid off when the Sharps experienced a fire followed by flooding in their home in Saratoga, Wyoming…

Service to Armed Forces

Service to Armed Forces Program Supports Warrior Transition Battalion
The Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program in Colorado provided direct support to the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) at Fort Carson, Colorado, through the donation of customized recumbent bicycles…

2014 Month of the Military Child Essay Contest
Every year in April, the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program celebrates the Month of the Military Child. This year marks the third annual Month of the Military Child essay contest in Colorado. The theme this year was “What does it mean to be a military child?” …

My Red Cross Story
As part of our 100 year celebration we posted stories that were told by those who have been helped by the Red Cross and those who volunteer.

My Red Cross Story: My Daughter Gave Me My Life
I’m alive today thanks to my 18-year-old daughter, Julia. She had planned to work out one morning in February but instead stayed home – and came downstairs to find me collapsed on the living room carpet. My heart had stopped suddenly, and I had already turned ashen white…

My Red Cross Story: Four Generations of Red Cross Volunteering
See that beautiful girl on the left? That’s my daughter. (Yes, I am biased). Her name is Brinley, she is 16 years old, and she just earned Volunteer of the Month at the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross. You know what you can’t see in this picture? The four generations of my family who have volunteered with the Red Cross…

Looking Back at 2014: Quiet is a Relative Term

By Elisa DiTrolio and Patricia Billinger

In the world of the Red Cross, "quiet" is a relative term.

As we reach the end of 2014, we're thankful that no large-scale disasters occurred in our region this year. Although we experienced a little relief this year, the Red Cross stayed busy, responding to everyday disasters, assisting other states with recovery and response, and sharing safety and preparedness education and resources.

This year, we helped more than 422 families affected by home fires in more than 90 cities and towns in Colorado. Home fires are the most prevalent disasters, occurring on average more than once a day in Colorado.

Delivering safe drinking water in Saguache.
In 2014, Red Cross volunteers assisted more than 1,400 individuals affected by disasters, providing food, clothing, lodging, and emotional support. In addition to the near-daily home fires, the Red Cross responded to other disasters such as a water emergency in Saguache, where we delivered 600 gallons of water, and flooding that forced the evacuation of more than 150 Boy Scouts to a Red Cross shelter in Walsenburg. The Red Cross of Colorado also deployed volunteers to assist residents affected by disasters in other states, including wildfire and mudslide responses in Washington state and flooding in New Mexico and Texas. Finally, our workers continued delivering comfort and assistance to hundreds of peopled who were still recovering from the 2013 floods.

Numerous times throughout the year, our volunteers focused on readiness efforts as we went on alert, ready to respond, during flash flood and tornado warnings and small wildfire pre-evacuations. Part of being ready is participating in various exercises to prepare volunteers to be part of the bigger team that responds when disaster strikes. We also worked diligently to help prepare community members, groups, businesses and organizations so that they are better able to face emergencies and bounce back after disasters strike.

Without our dedicated volunteers, we could not have done this work, and we are grateful for each and every volunteer who contributed in 2014, from the behind-the-scenes office volunteer filing and answering calls to the Disaster Action Team members who go out in the middle of the night to help their neighbors at their time of greatest need. Thank you!

If you read this blog, we encourage you to join us in a moment of gratitude that Colorado was spared major catastrophe -- and join us in a moment of heartfelt thoughts for those hundreds of residents who were touched by smaller, personal disasters like home fires. Join us in saying "thank you" to a volunteer. And we hope you'll join us in our mission in 2015 by becoming a volunteer or donating to support the work of the Red Cross.

Wishing you a Safe and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Red Cross Story: What The Red Cross Means to Me Now

Like many others, I've heard of all the good things that the Red Cross does for families and communities in times of natural disasters like fires, floods and tornadoes. During those times of crisis, the Red Cross supplies food, shelter and health services. They also help teach emergency preparedness and important lifesaving skills like CPR, first aid, water safety and babysitting.

But the Red Cross means even more to me now. 

I am one of five siblings. In May 2014 my brother Bill became critically ill and was on life support. I drove 250 miles from my home in Grand Junction to Denver while two other siblings flew to Denver from Wisconsin and Florida. After over a week in ICU, my brother's condition had improved; he was off the ventilator and able to make his own health care decisions. But the situation encouraged us to consider our emergency plans and take steps to be prepared for family emergencies. 

Terri and her four siblings, all together for the first time in about 20 years.
Courtesy of Terri Ahern
The time was right to take action and we accomplished a lot. While we supported my brother in ICU, we began planning to prepare our parents' Advance Directives and Medical Durable Powers of Attorney. My youngest brother, Johnny, a Chief in the U.S. Navy in Florida, helped us prepare to activate the Red Cross should Bill take another turn for the worse. The Red Cross can send emergency messages to members of the military. These messages can reach deployed service members in geographic areas and assignments where other messages might not make it through, and the messages are often critical for obtaining approval for emergency leave to travel home. We gathered the necessary information for Johnny and another brother, Mike, a Commander in the U.S. Navy who is stationed in Naples, Italy. 

Little did we know that we would need that information in less than three months for another family member. 

Our mom, who suffered with chronic illnesses, was hospitalized several times around her 80th birthday in July. After emergency rooms, hospital rooms and a stay in rehab, she choose palliative and hospice care. I provided the Red Cross activation information to our step dad. The hospice personnel utilized the information and were able to bring Mike and his family from Naples to the Denver area a few days before my mom died, while she could still talk and recognize the family. They were also able to attend a quickly put together funeral and memorial service before they had to return to Italy. 

It had been about 20 years since all five of mom's kids had been together at once. During this three-month time period in 2014, my family had two critically ill family members while two of my siblings were serving in active duty in the military. Thanks in part to the Red Cross, we were able to be together with each other and our mom as a family in her final days. (See photo.) Until May of 2014 I had never known about this Red Cross service, and it had a profound impact on my life. 

Now I know exactly what the Red Cross means to me. Thanks for all you do for individuals, families and communities in their time of need. I have given a monetary donation as a small token of my gratitude for the help the Red Cross gave during our family's time of need. I hope the gift will help "pay it forward," honor my two siblings who proudly serve in the U.S. Navy, and honor our mom, Patricia Oestereicher-Jones.

--Terri Ahern
Grand Junction

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 economies 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!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thank you Colorado for being the best! #COGivesDay

First, we want to say THANK YOU. Thank you for caring about your fellow Coloradans, for supporting local nonprofits that help your neighbors, and specifically for supporting the Red Cross in Colorado! You are part of the reason Colorado is such a great place to live.

Colorado ranks high on many quality-of-life lists. With our year-round sunshine, breathtaking mountains, healthy lifestyles, excellent level of education and robust economy, some city or town is regularly highlighted on a list of “Best Places to Live.”

Add “generous and giving” population to the list of reasons why Colorado is a great place to live. Although Colorado is not yet a top-ranked state in this category, residents have been steadily increasing their national ranking on charitable giving thanks in part to the annual Colorado Gives Day campaign, which aims to increase philanthropy in Colorado. Colorado’s charitable ranking, calculated via giving reported on IRS income tax returns, improved from 38th in 2008 to 30th in 2012, the latest year for which data was available.

This year, Colorado residents and companies broke the record for Colorado Gives Day, donating more than $26 million over a 24-hour period to support local nonprofits serving Coloradans!

The American Red Cross received more than $134,000 from 777 donors (lucky number!), who gave an average of about $173 each! The grand total that the Red Cross receives from Colorado Gives Day will be increased proportionally by the FirstBank $1 million incentive fund. (Read this article to understand how they portion out the incentive fund.)

That funding will make a real difference in the lives of Coloradans. It will help the Red Cross reduce deaths, injuries and losses due to emergencies via education, training and direct outreach. It will supply shelter, food, clothing and comfort items for individuals and families affected by disasters like home fires.  And it will support our work helping members of the military and their families  before, during and after deployments.

From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU for giving to the Red Cross on Colorado Gives Day!
Read more about the programs and services your Colorado Gives Day donations support:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another Reason to Support the Red Cross on Colorado Gives Day

Casework Volunteer Peggy McCown(L) provides food and
 clothing vouchers to Walter Booth after fire took his home
in Pueblo, CO.
It was a chilly night in Pueblo Nov. 23, 2014, when Walter Booth stepped out of his mobile home and saw flames coming out the back. Neighbors called 911 while Booth tried to rescue his pets. The fire took his mobile home, all of his belongings and one of his dogs. Fortunately, he was not injured and is now staying with a friend until he can move forward with recovery.

A Red Cross Disaster Action Team was deployed to help and quickly began working with Booth to determine immediate needs.
Volunteer Kathy Sharkey, team captain, quickly determined that he would need a place to stay and money to get clothing and food. “When we arrived we could see the stress on his face,” said Sharkey. “He still had a smile though and we could tell he was glad to see us.”

Red Cross Nurse Esther Savage(L) talks with Walter Booth
about resources after fire took his home in Pueblo, CO
A few days later Booth met with Red Cross nurse Esther Savage for follow up and referrals. Turns out his glasses were ruined in the fire so a referral was made to get them replaced. “The more Walter and I talked the more I found additional resources to help him,” said Savage. “He is a veteran so I called the Veterans Affairs and helped arrange to get his glasses replaced.” Booth was also able to pick up some additional vouchers for food and clothing, additional blankets and even some food for his dogs.

Recovering from a loss like this is a process, which lasts for much longer than the cleanup. The Red Cross is there to help every step of the way. “I really appreciate what the Red Cross has done for me,” Booth said. “They gave me a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food. They helped me with everything I needed.”

Every eight minutes the Red Cross responds to an emergency, the vast majority of which are home fires. This was just one home fire that occurred in Colorado that weekend. On Saturday, Nov.22 the Red Cross responded to fires in Grand Junction, Vail and Las Animas. An additional fire occurred Nov. 24 displacing another family in Pueblo.

The frequency of home fires increases as the cold season wears on and the Red Cross has safety tips to help you and your loved ones be better prepared for emergencies at You can help insure that disaster services continue by supporting the Red Cross on Colorado Gives Day. Go to to find out how you can support the American Red Cross in Colorado.