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April 10, 2014

Volunteer Profile: Brian Anderson - Community service is what he does

Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to learn about their Red Cross work and how they got involved with the organization. Take a moment to read some of these wonderful stories and recognize our volunteer heroes!

Before coming to the Red Cross, Brian Anderson was a policeman with the Josephine and Jackson County Sheriff's Offices for twenty five years. He supervised emergency management, often interacting with local Red Cross volunteers.  When Brian retired from the force in 2012, he wanted to give back to the community. Working as a volunteer at the Southwest Oregon Red Cross Chapter was a logical choice. Learning to work in a larger organization and navigate all the new processes was initially challenging. However, Brian says that the training provided by the Red Cross certainly made things much easier.

Assisting victims of the Colorado flood in 2013 was his first major deployment. Flood waters had spread across almost 200 miles, affecting 17 counties and resulting in catastrophic conditions from Colorado Springs north to Fort Collins. Over 25 inches of rain fell in five days. As soon as Brian indicated his availability, he was called to action. Within days, he flew into Denver and located the large warehouse that provided housing for all the support agencies and 30+ volunteers. It also stored the bulk of the relief supplies: blankets, cots, water, packaged meals and more. The Red Cross was to house and transport these bulk supplies to those affected by the flood devastation. Brian worked in bulk distribution for 13 days before rotating back to Oregon.

He found the operation very well organized. While this was the first deployment for many of the members of this diverse group of volunteers who were trying to learn the ropes, there was no shortage of seasoned staff and supervisors.
 Brian has been a DAT member in Grants Pass since May 2012. In December of that year he was tasked with establishing a shelter when southern Oregon was hit with heavy snowfalls. One of the families he encountered there suffered doubly when one of the a fire started accidentally, burning their home to the ground. Since the family lost everything, Brian connected the family with local social-service agencies that could mitigate their loss and suffering.

His recommendation to new volunteers is to  take advantage of the training that is made available by their Red Cross chapter, and to be patient and flexible. These are valuable traits for victims to see, as it provides a helpful model for them.  
NOTE: Brian recently returned home after participating in the relief efforts for the Oso landslide in northern Washington. There he worked with nearly 350 volunteers, approximately half of whom hail from the Pacific Northwest.

March 27, 2014

Volunteer Profile: Cathy Kuter - Disaster team responder and leader

Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to delve into what they do, and how and why they do it. Take a moment to read some of these wonderful stories and recognize our volunteer heroes!

            Cathy Kuter and her husband joined the Southwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross in February, 2010. Before retiring, Cathy was in a customer service position at a health insurance company. One of the elements of volunteering for the Red Cross she found particularly appealing was the opportunity to continue providing customer service, but in a much more exciting and flexible environment.

            Cathy is a DAT team Captain/Coordinator who responds to disasters both locally and nationally. She also assists with recruiting and the deployment of fellow volunteers to national disasters. 

            When Cathy first joined the chapter, it was rewarding for her to find a very experienced and supportive leadership group. However, as happens periodically at the Red Cross, major staff changes occurred shortly thereafter. This caused a number of volunteers discouraged by the changes to depart. Cathy says, Im glad I chose to stick with it because I was challenged to step up and take on new responsibilities that were out of my comfort zone. She believes some of her most rewarding experiences with the Red Cross have resulted from the most challenging situations.

            As a DAT leader, Cathy focuses on mentoring and encouraging team members toward opportunities that will help them reach their full potential. I think my experiences early on helped give me good insight into the needs of a DAT member. Its been fun learning and growing together.

            Cathy talks a lot about the camaraderie created when teams work together to conquer significant challenges. She reported on one memorable period of service, when, in a 36-hour period, the team was called upon to respond to four house fires, an apartment fire and a request from the State Highway Patrol to canteen during a major highway accident. This was our teams first big test and it was very rewarding to see how we all came together to successfully assist the many clients who needed our help that day.  

             Since joining the Red Cross, Cathy feels she has become much more aware of those in need of help, as well as those who unselfishly volunteer their time and energy to help others.
Volunteering is the perfect way to meet new friends and add structure, self worth and adventure to your life. Its good to know that retiring doesnt have to mean the end of significant personal growth.

March 20, 2014

Ken Rislow: Red Cross Trauma Specialist provides a different kind of support during disasters

Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to delve into what they do, and how and why they do it. Take a moment to read some of these wonderful stories and recognize our volunteer heroes!

Ken Rislow joined the Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross in 1995 after attending a trauma workshop where he learned there was a pressing need for trauma volunteers in our area. He serves as a volunteer mental health/trauma specialist, a DAT (disaster action team) responder and an emergency recovery vehicle driver. Ken has served on his chapter’s DAT since joining. He has responded to local fire, earth slide, and building collapse disasters from Manzanita to Raymond. Consoling, relocating, feeding and clothing the survivors of each crisis, he proved that they were not alone in their darkest hour.

Ken has been a Red Cross volunteer at two of nature's worst storms in Oregon history. The first occurred in 1996, when heavy rains caused record high waters in the Nehalem River Valley and resulted in the Willamette River's worst flooding in history. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a national crisis, his role was to triage suddenly dislocated hurricane survivors arriving in Portland. In that role he coordinated their reconnection with loved ones, ensuring their medical, psychological and housing needs were met. He was pressed into action again with the Great Coastal Gale in 2007. This was the result of tropical typhoon winds coming out of Asia and impacting coastal Oregon and Washington. These winds had gusts of over 130 miles per hour and produced flooding throughout the region that was blamed for at least 18 deaths.

In both 1996 and 2007 a large number of communities and citizens in Washington and Oregon were affected when their homes and farms were destroyed by record winds and flood waters. Large segments of the area’s highway and communication infrastructure were destroyed, some for extended periods of time. People became stranded by the quickly rising water. Many people were left cold, wet, homeless and isolated. Support and assistance was urgently needed

During the 1996 disaster, Ken and his team worked more than six weeks providing support and counsel to clients and relief workers, eventually integrating with FEMA services. Many of the people in the eye of the storm managed agricultural and dairy farms. Besides the destruction of their homes and farms, many lost nearly all their animals. Some families even faced the loss of their livelihoods. Besides setting up and operating badly needed shelters and food kitchens, a large part of Ken’s role was to educate people about what to expect and how to best manage the feelings that resulted from experiencing this level of devastation. He provided support to victims and to relief workers who could become overwhelmed by people’s emotional trauma. This enabled responders to be more supportive of disaster victims as well as each other. In some cases Ken and his team delivered food supplies to people in their homes and conducted follow-up home visits to make sure that healing continued.

The damage from the Great Costal Gale saw comparable devastation and hardship along the coast of Oregon and Washington. Again, communication and transportation systems were destroyed, in some cases for lengthy periods of time. People needed to be moved out of the cold and rain immediately. Ken’s team established a shelter for more than 100 victims and provided food service for as many as 200 people daily. Some people in the affected area remained without heat for two to three weeks. To build morale, Ken and other relief workers focused on improving communications, particularly regarding disaster and relief information as it became available. “You are not alone!” was a message repeatedly communicated to ensure morale continued to improve.

The relief work was further complicated by the number of aged and disabled victims affected. Patients and the elderly were dropped-off from local convalescent and retirement facilities with little or no possessions, sometimes without any of their critical medications. Because of the necessity created, Ken and his staff coordinated with local hospital and nursing services to ensure medications were made available within 24 hours. Some victims were living in remote areas. These were homes that had never been recorded in county records so relief workers had to find them before providing services.

Ken’s expertise in understanding the challenges and behaviors of survivors of these kinds of disasters and sharing these experiences with other volunteers helps to provide critical insight for disaster relief operations. Ken is a valuable resource for the Red Cross, especially with disasters of this magnitude, and we are grateful for his commitment to the organization.

March 17, 2014

A Story from the Warming Center

The following message comes from Lesa, one of our incredible emergency warming center volunteers. Lesa was a familiar face at our warming centers, and she spent several nights staying awake to assist people who needed a warm place do sleep. 

Spring is fast approaching, the buds on the trees are getting ready to burst open and the weather is definitely warmer. Before we put aside all our concerns about winter and the warming shelter, let me share on of my experiences from the last shelter overnight.

It was in the morning after a long night monitoring. I was helping to clean up before leaving for home. I was approached by a groomed man in causal winter wear, and he identified himself as a member of the Imaego Dei parish. He questioned me about the program. This surprised me as my only contact with Imaego Dei was the pastor. He would give us his support and help us with answers to our questions. I wanted to be sure that this gentleman understood the importance that Imaego Dei was making in people's lives. I wanted to ensure that he understood that the Red Cross took care of his church's property and that we were respectful of his church's mores.

He smiled and stated, "You don't need to tell me about this, for as of the beginning of February, for the first time in my life I became homeless. I didn't know what to do and I was afraid, but then I remembered my church had a warming shelter and all I needed to do was come, I would be taken care of by the Red Cross."

I was surprised by his statement, I had not expected this response. He continued to proceed to thank me and asked me to extend his thanks to the rest of the shelter volunteers as he walked away,

So on his behalf, to all those who have volunteered: THANK YOU.
Volunteer help clean up after a busy night at the warming center