Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Red Cross Honors Couple for Hosting Children Impacted by War

By Cassie Schoon

Jackie Mukandekezi
In a way, Geras Shoukulu and Jackie Mukandekezi are always expecting. Over the past five years, the couple has welcomed eight unaccompanied refugee minors into their home. And each time a new refugee child arrives, Jackie says, it’s like bringing home a new baby.

“It’s like bringing in a newborn every time we bring a kid into our home,” she said. “Each time is like starting from the beginning.”

For each child, the experience of coming to Jackie and Geras’ home is a chance to start over after a life in refugee camps and war-torn communities. But since Jackie and Geras are from similar origins, they can provide a level of understanding and empathy different than many host families. Geras was settled as an unaccompanied minor from Ghana, and Jackie hails from Rwanda. As difficult as it can be hosting the refugee children in their home, Jackie says that her own history is what drives her to help children fleeing violence and conflict at home.

“What makes it worthwhile is that we are giving ourselves, as people who came from the same situations as these kids,” she said.

Geras Shoukulu
For Geras, who fled Ghana as the sole caretaker for his younger siblings, helping children like him is not a burden, but a blessing.

“A pastor told me, God has given me this gift, to care for others, and I should use it,” he said. “There was no beginning, and there will be no end, we will keep doing this as long as we are able to.”

For their humanitarian contributions to easing the suffering of people affected by war, conflict and disaster, Jackie and Geras will be honored with the Red Cross International Services Award at the 2016 Heroes Soiree on Friday, Feb. 26.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Off-duty EMT Saves Lives in Home Fire

By Kimberly Blanco

Paramedic Kristin Genova
In the early hours of the morning on July 29, 2015, Kristin Genova was driving home after a long shift with the Denver Paramedics Division when she noticed flames. Kristin immediately pulled her car to a stop in a safe location and called 911. After hanging up the phone, she approached the building and saw that the garage of the condominium complex was ablaze.

While she is not a trained firefighter, Kristin approached the front door to see who might be inside. She quickly noticed that the entry was blocked by fire, so she proceeded to the back side of the building. Beside the door was a sign that read “oxygen in use.” Kristin knew that she had to act fast. As she pounded on the door, a frightened elderly couple answered. Once she explained who she was, the couple opened the door to receive her help. “They both used walkers, so I got their walkers and escorted them across the street to a safer area,” Genova recalled.

Once the couple was safe, Kristin approached the other residence, helping another family with two children and a dog to safety. Then, she waited with the elderly couple until their family arrived.

In most cases, you only have about two minutes to evacuate a home fire. Kristin Genova’s quick actions that night likely saved lives. For that we will honor her with the Red Cross Disaster Response Award at the Red Cross Heroes Soiree on Friday, Feb. 26. The event is sold out, but we encourage you to read about the heroes we will be honoring, share their stories, and support the Red Cross by making a donation or attending the Heroes Soiree After Party, which is open to the general public.

Friday, February 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Zen of Preparedness: Lessons Learned from SB50 Championship Rally

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

But what about the fans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Defensive Team at the Super Bowl 50 Championship Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 8, 2016

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

by Cari Roberts 

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Students Learn About Emergency Preparedness with The Pillowcase Project

By Linda Julich

Students follow along in their workbooks at The
Pillowcase Project at Widefield School District.
Photo by Bill Fortune, Red Cross
It was a great opportunity for the American Red Cross to reach out to children in our community as volunteers visited two schools in the Widefield School District during January. Teams from the Southeastern Colorado Chapter brought The Pillowcase Project to 170 third, fourth and fifth graders at Talbot Elementary and 326 students in the same grades at French Elementary.

The Pillowcase Project is a partnership between Disney and the Red Cross. It teaches students how to prepare for, respond to and cope with emergencies of all sizes.

Gabe Leyba,10, reads his workbook during
The Pillowcase Project.
 Photo by Joe Coleman/Red Cross
The interactive training is presented in a “learn, practice, share” format with the hope that students will take home the message and share it with their families. “We know that when we teach children they take it home to their siblings and parents,” said Lead Instructor Dana Goldsmith. “The way we teach the information helps to implant preparedness into their hearts and minds so they can draw on it in times of emergency.” The children “took the pledge” to learn about emergencies today, practice what to do, and go home and share what they learned with their families.

They learned and practiced coping skills….breathing slowly and thinking of good things and they participated in an active discussion about hazards in their community such as home fires, wild fires and winter storms.

Volunteer Jennifer Marsh shows a
student how to "stay low and go".
Photo by Joe Coleman/Red Cross
Every 8 minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster somewhere in America, and most of these are home fires. The students were reminded about checking batteries in their home smoke detectors. The instructors reviewed how to think through what to do if there is smoke and fire in their home. They all practiced “get low and go” as they formed relay teams and practiced crawling low across the floor, testing the doorknobs for heat with the back of their hand and then deciding if they can leave through the door or window.

Each student was given a pillowcase that could serve as their emergency kit. Assembling their pillowcase emergency pack with things to keep warm, food and a bottle of water, and a comfort item ahead of time helps them think through what they should do in a winter storm to stay safe.

4th Graders hold their pillowcases at French Elementary
School in Widefield. Photo by Bill Fortune/Red Cross
The brightly colored markers came out for the last segment as they all decorated their pillowcases with things that were meaningful to them about the emergency. The Red Cross team was asked to autograph several of the children’s pillowcases which made us all feel appreciated. And a few special volunteers got hugs.

A big thanks to Assistant Principals at Talbot and French Elementary schools who promoted The Pillowcase Project and arranged time for the students to attend.

So, when Mom or Dad ask “what did you learn in school today?” we know 496 children from Widefield School District 3 will be showing off their pillowcases, making fire escape plans in their project workbook, and most importantly talking about how to be safe in their homes and during emergencies.

You can learn more about The Pillowcase Project and other resources for schools on our website.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

IHL Film Series: "Dirty Wars" and the Dark Side of the War on Terror

by Cassie Schoon

In 2010, Jeremy Scahill, an investigative reporter, and Richard Rowley, a director, arrived in Afghanistan with a handful of grant money and a desire to document the war that had been raging in the region for nearly a decade. In two years, Rowley and Scahill captured footage that exposed the darkest sides of the war in Afghanistan: civilian deaths, cover-ups, and ongoing vendettas against suspected terrorists like Anwar al-Awlaki. Their work was polished (thanks to screenwriter David Riker) into the 2013 feature-length documentary film Dirty Wars, which will screen at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, as this month’s installment in the International Humanitarian Law film series.

Using in-depth research and candid interviews of political players, Afghan civilians, and other insiders, Dirty Wars paints an intimate portrait of the war and those who closely witnessed its consequences. The film won the Cinematography award at its 2013 Sundance premiere, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2014 for Best Documentary Feature. Scahill’s investigations in Afghanistan were also the premise for his 2013 book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.

The film’s exploration of the War on Terror raises profound questions about International Humanitarian Law, and the experiences of civilians in violent conflict. A round-table discussion of these questions will follow the film presentation. To RSVP to the event, click here. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Join our Film Club and Receive Free Gifts and Benefits!

Between November 2015 and April 2016, attend at least three IHL film series screenings and receive a free Red Cross first-aid kit. Attend at least five and be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a Red Cross disaster supplies kit!

Red Cross Honors Life-Saving Heroes

by Janet Koelling

On a sunny summer day in Lakewood, four everyday people proved that every second matters, and that ordinary people can become heroes during those seconds.

The story began on July 25, at Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood. After water skiing on the lake, a park visitor returned to the dock. When he exited the boat and walked to the shore, he fell face first onto the deck, suffering a massive heart attack.

Brian Kakac and JC Pritchard were nearby and witnessed the collapse. Trained in CPR, both men leapt into action, rolled the visitor onto his back and checked his vital signs. Finding no pulse, Brian immediately started compressions, while bystander Liz Funk called 911.

“I had the dispatch person on the phone with me and she immediately told me to be ready for a long haul that we were going to perform 600 compressions – on her count," Liz recalled. "And she started a cadence with the count, so I put my phone on speaker.”

Parks Supervisor Andrew Sprafke
Parks Supervisor Andrew Sprafke received the 911 emergency dispatch and responded to the scene with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

“I was only about two minutes from the ski school, so I got there pretty quickly," Drew said. "I arrived on-scene and very happily for me, observed two bystanders performing CPR on the patient – which is something we don’t always see.”

Sprafke administered the AED, which prompted four shocks. Kakac and Pritchard continued CPR until the ambulance arrived.

“We kept going for quite a long time," Kacak recalled, estimating that they performed CPR for 13-14 minutes. "When he left, we thought he was dead.”

On the ambulance, the patient was placed on oxygen and administered additional shocks. Five minutes later, the fire chief called and told the rescue team he had a pulse and his heart was beating. Recalling the event, Kakac added, “It’s not a day that we like to remember, but we are very grateful that he is still with us today.”

As a professional rescuer and long-time Red Cross first aid and CPR instructor, Sprafke is impressed that bystanders would start administering CPR, saying, “To be willing do the right thing, and do it correctly is a huge plus. It’s what saved the life of this gentleman.”

According to cardiac specialists, patients who suffer this type of massive heart attack have a survival rate of 3%. All involved helped saved the patient’s life.

Sprafke added, “I was an EMT for nine years. This situation wasn’t unexpected. Nevertheless, there was high adrenaline and stress. It is rewarding to contribute to an effort that enabled the patient to walk out of the hospital several weeks later.”

Andrew Sprafke, Brian Kakac, JC Pritchard, and Liz Funk will be honored for their lifesaving heroism at the Red Cross Heroes Soiree on Friday, Feb. 26. The event is sold out, but we encourage you to read about the heroes we will be honoring, share their stories, and support the Red Cross by making a donation or attending the Heroes Soiree After Party, which is open to the general public.

The Red Cross trains an average of four million people every year in first aid, CPR and AED skills. Find out more about training options and sign up for training at