Volunteer Spotlight: Yasuko Atkinson

By Kaley Hearnsberger, Staff Contributor


For the last 36 years, Yasuko Atkinson has volunteered for the Red Cross in Service to the Armed Forces. She is originally from Japan where she met her husband, Romane Atkinson, when he was serving in the Navy. They married in March of 1953. Yasuko moved to the United States in 1955 to be with her husband and soon after became a citizen.

Yasuko Uniform
Yasuko holds up the uniform she once wore regularly as a Red Cross volunteer

Romane commented that Yasuko’s service was a way of demonstrating her citizenship in America. “She wanted to do something to prove she was a citizen of this country.” She wanted to give back to the country that welcomed her. Yasuko says that volunteering for the Red Cross “was a way to support this country and this military.”

Yasuko opens a container and delicately unfolds a vintage Red Cross uniform. She recalls, “When I put on my uniform it made me happy. Coming from Japan, I felt I had a place to be.” Back then, Red Cross volunteers still wore uniforms, like the nostalgic image of Red Cross nurses in white on the battlefield with their hats.

Romane shares that his wife felt a strong sense of duty with the Red Cross, “If she said she was going to be there, she was going to be there.” Romane’s pride in his wife was as strong as her pride for serving the military.

Serving the military is in Yasuko’s blood. Her father was an officer in the Japanese Army. She grew up fascinated with the military. She had great aspirations to join the Army like her father. “I was too short to join the military myself. I wanted to be a nurse in the Japanese army, but at the physical examination they said I was too short.” She was 14 years old at the time. “When I saw that big red cross, I felt like I was reliving my dream of being a nurse in the military,” Yasuko recounts.

Yasuko-Romane Art Piece
Yasuko and Romane (right) have served their country together for decades–her through the Red Cross and him through the U.S. Military

Service runs deep within the Atkinson family. Romane served in the Navy for seven years and in the Army for 20 years. Romane volunteered to join the Navy during the Korean War. He became a Seabee. Later he served three deployments in Vietnam. Their daughter is a retired Lieutenant Colonel and their son served in the Navy for six years as well. They have two grandkids and a new great grand-daughter who undoubtedly will be inspired by the military service that runs deep in their family.

Yasuko found volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross wherever her husband was stationed. They spent about three years in Hawaii, five years at Fort Riley, Kansas, and 10 years at Fort Hood. At each installation she worked in the hospital or clinics. She spent time in the physical therapy department, medical library and records, and helped at the front desks across clinics.

Yasuko Pins
Yasuko treasures her various Red Cross awards, pins and mementos. 

In her 36 years, Yasuko’s dedication garnered countless awards and even recognition from two Texas governors (Bill Clements and Ann Richards). Her collection of pins adds up her years of service: five years, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and finally the 35-year pin. She displays them in a decorative shadow box along with her Clara Barton’s 150th birthday coin she received while at Fort Riley in Kansas. “When I volunteer something good happens to me,” Yasuko beams a proud smile.

Yasuko volunteer spotlight 1
Yasuko Atkinson
Volunteer Spotlight: Yasuko Atkinson

How to “Thank a Hero” with the Red Cross

By Judy Abelman, Volunteer Contributor


“Thank you for your service!  Happy holidays!”

Jasmine distributes cards at the Austin VA clinic

These warm greetings rang out over and over in mid-December as American Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteers handed out holiday cards at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Austin.

Volunteer Jasmine Posey, a military spouse, joined the Red Cross so that she could continue volunteering wherever she and her husband are stationed.  Driving down from Killeen to the VA Center in Austin was well worth it because she “really likes being able to give back and provide veterans with holiday cheer – as they have done so much for us.”

The nationwide “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program was started by the Red Cross in December 2007 as an outlet for the American people to express their appreciation to service members during the holiday season. People create cards, send them to the Red Cross, and we help distribute them to military members, veterans and their families.

Card delivery at Luke Air Force Base

This year alone, the Central Texas office received more than 4,000 holiday cards.  The cards arrived from all over the United States, and many of them were “home-grown” with lovely messages and drawings that were greatly appreciated by the service members and their families.

According to Red Cross SAF Specialist Ames Davis, the “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program empowers all volunteers, with just a small commitment of time, to make a big difference in their community.

Lorelei greets veterans with a smile at the Austin VA clinic

That’s precisely what prompted local Red Cross volunteer Lorelei Supapo to come out to the VA in December; her job prevents her from taking long-term Red Cross assignments but she found “Holiday Mail” and was happy to get involved. She loves Christmas and found this program to be a “small thing you can do to make a difference in a person’s life.”

“Many vets don’t have families anymore or are separated from their families at the holidays,” explained Lorelei. “This is an easy way to do something that’s meaningful to them.”

A huge success over the years, the “Holiday Mail” program brings in so many holiday-specific cards each December that Red Cross volunteers have a hard time getting them all distributed while the holiday messages are still timely.

So a transformation is underway.

Sorting at the Austin office
Volunteers sort cards at the Red Cross office in Austin

The program is now run locally by Red Cross regions across the nation, and it has grown into a year-round opportunity to support our service members. “Thank a Hero”—as it’s now called—is the perfect opportunity for anyone to submit thank-you, get well and holiday cards to the armed forces all year round.  You can even submit an original banner or sign, or share a social media video to show a service member you care.

“We know that the enthusiasm and warm wishes people have during the winter holidays extends throughout the year,” said Bristel Minsker, Communications Director for the American Red Cross Serving Central and South Texas. “With ‘Thank a Hero’ we hope to remind Central Texans that their military community needs their support year-round.”

When asked why we’re extending the program, Ames recalled two emotional encounters.  The first with a veteran who told her with a sob that he hadn’t received a Christmas card in years.  And the second when she extended the holiday gratitude to a 5-year-old son of a veteran and thanked him for his own service to the country.  “Just like my daddy? “the toddler asked.  “Yes, just like your daddy,” Ames replied.

Want to help?  Send your thank-you, get well and holiday cards (all holidays – remember Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day) to:

Thank a Hero

c/o Ames Davis

American Red Cross Serving Central Texas

2218 Pershing Drive

Austin, TX 78723


Want to help distribute cards?  It’s a great team-building event for companies and organizations.   Simply send an email to  ames.davis2@redcross.org and sign up to volunteer with the Red Cross at volunteerconnection.redcross.org.






How to “Thank a Hero” with the Red Cross

Twelve lives saved thanks to functioning smoke alarms

By Judy Abelman, Volunteer Contributor


Fire response 2 - Jan 2018
Red Cross volunteers, Stephen and Mary, sit down with “Miss Shirley” and the other residents to provide recovery assistance after the fire

On a frigid January night in northeast Austin, “Miss Shirley”—as she is called by those close to her—awoke to the blaring sound of a smoke alarm. A fire had broken out in the garage of the home where she is caretaker to ten adults and one child with developmental disabilities.

“Thank God we had working fire alarms.  I just can’t imagine what would have happened without them,” she exclaimed as she met with Red Cross volunteers later that night, dressed only in her bathrobe. Everyone made it out of the home safely.

Shortly after the fire broke out, next-door neighbors Jennifer Biundo and Stephen Pipkin were there to help.  Stephen recalled that, “we awoke to the sounds of the people outside and then realized that the house was on fire.”

The good Samaritans rushed out with blankets, and warmly welcomed all twelve individuals displaced by the fire into their home. They waited together while the Red Cross Disaster Action Team was en route.

Fire response 1 - Jan 2018
Jennifer and Stephen offered tea and comfort to their neighbors while the Red Cross workers started the casework process

With “tea and sympathy”, Jennifer and Stephen temporarily sheltered their neighbors and opened their home to the Red Cross volunteers who responded to help each resident with resources for a nearby hotel, comfort items, prescriptions, food, clothing and mental health support.

Thanks to working smoke alarms, kind neighbors and Red Cross volunteers and donors, “Miss Shirley” and those in her care are on the road to recovery.

Need a smoke alarm? The Red Cross provides free smoke alarms across Central Texas.  If you don’t have enough smoke alarms or aren’t sure if yours are working, contact us. Visit soundthealarm.org/austin to schedule an appointment or call 512-928-4271.

Want to help prevent home fire deaths and injuries? If you would like to volunteer for a Red Cross Sound the Alarm smoke alarm installation event, visit soundthealarm.org/Austin. Here are just a few of the upcoming installation events in Central and South Texas that you can be a part of:

  • January 20 – Bryan/College Station
  • March 24 – Comfort
  • April 28 – Austin
  • May 12 – San Antonio
Twelve lives saved thanks to functioning smoke alarms

A three-alarm birthday, Red Cross style

By Patricia Fraga, Volunteer Contributor

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On Saturday, December 9th, the American Red Cross Serving Central Texas held a Sound the Alarm event in Southeast Austin as part of the nationwide Red Cross effort to help reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fires.

Since its launch in 2014 this preparedness program has saved 285 lives by providing free smoke alarms in homes across the country.

During this Saturday event, Red Cross volunteers installed more than 84 smoke alarms in homes of the Pecan Grove mobile home park.

One of the families visited by the Red Cross was the Alvarez family (below).  The family of six received three free smoke alarms in their festively decorated home for the holidays.


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The Alvarez family was educated on the importance of working smoke alarms, putting together a fire evacuation plan, and other safety tips.

Pricilla Alvarez, an 8th grader, listened intently to the fire safety tips and even provided a local television station with an interview about what she learned.

Even more touching was the impromptu birthday celebration for another of the Alvarez girls, Marissa. When the Red Cross team heard that Saturday was her eighth birthday, they serenaded her with “Happy Birthday,” and of course left behind three special, potentially life-saving gifts that will ensure many more birthdays to come.

At the end of the 30-minute visit, the entire family was very grateful and thanked the Red Cross volunteer team for their efforts and expertise.

A three-alarm birthday, Red Cross style

Two months after Harvey, my service continues

By Marty McKellips, Regional Chief Executive, Central and South Texas

It’s been more than two months since Hurricane Harvey caused the largest flooding event in U.S. history. The Red Cross has provided shelter, food, relief supplies, casework, health services, emotional care, direct financial assistance and other support to help people whose lives were turned upside down by this disaster – but our work isn’t finished.

I’d like to share some important news with you. While the last two months have brought some of the most tragic and challenging circumstances you can imagine, they have also been inspiring. I am committed to seeing my fellow Texans through this incredibly difficult time, however long that takes. That is why I’ve accepted the role as Interim Regional Chief Executive for the Texas Gulf Coast Region for the next several months. I will oversee the ongoing relief efforts and develop a transition plan to guide the region back to “blue sky” operations. Our Regional Chief Operating Officer, Alex Villa, will act as Interim Chief Executive here in the Central & South Texas Region in my absence. While this will be a challenge, I know we are up to it. We will come together as one Red Cross and support our statewide network of volunteers, disaster workers and hurricane survivors.

To every volunteer, every donor, every partner, every advocate: thank you for supporting your fellow human beings in their time of great need. For a complete report on the Red Cross response to Hurricane Harvey, download the one-month update.

Two months after Harvey, my service continues

Veterans in the Red Cross Family

Military service requires so much from those willing and able to serve. At the Red Cross, we are humbled by that sacrifice, and grateful that so many Veterans choose to bring their talents to this organization. Thank you, Veterans, for your service to your country, and your continued service through your work at the Red Cross.

Below are just a few of the veterans on the Red Cross team in Central and South Texas, both volunteer and staff.

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Veterans in the Red Cross Family

Hurricane Harvey Multi Agency Resource Center Resources – San Antonio, TX

On Friday, September 22, 2017 the American Red Cross Serving Greater San Antonio and other local disaster assistance organizations opened a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) in San Antonio, Texas. Residents affected by Hurricane Harvey who weren’t able to attend the event can still utilize the resources from agencies who attended the event. Please refer to the list below for information on how to reach these organizations.

The American Red Cross
Through the generosity of our donors, the American Red Cross is providing emergency assistance in the amount of $400 to qualified households directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Assistance will be issued per household; any subsequent applications will be denied. Registration for this program will be open through Tuesday, October 10, 2017.

Assistance is available for qualified households in the most impacted areas within these 39 counties: Aransas, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzalez, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Waller and Wharton.
Website: www.redcross.org/hhia

Community Action Partnership
Community Action Partnership is a national, 501(c)3 nonprofit membership organization that provides technical assistance, training and other resources to Community Action Agencies, nonprofit and public groups funded by the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a federal program that allocates funding to states to combat poverty across the United States. The resources provided to Community Action Agencies across the country by Community Action Partnership allow our Agencies to stay up-to-date on the latest best practices to fight poverty and empower low-income individuals and families to achieve self-sufficiency. We are committed to strengthening, promoting, representing and serving our Network of Agencies to assure that the issues of poverty are effectively presented and addressed.
Phone: (830) 491-9011
Website: www.ccsct.org

Educational Service Center, Region 20
Education Service Center, Region 20 (ESC-20) positively impacts the learning community through high quality, cost effective products and services. Our vision is to be the definitive choice for leadership, innovation, and the advancement of learning. Quality performance is a commitment to excellence by each employee – achieved through teamwork and a process of continuous improvement. We believe: in service first; our employees drive our success; collaboration maximizes results; in purposeful and effective communication; change is opportunity; in cultivating strengths; and learning is life-long.
Phone:  (210) 370-5200
Website: www.esc20.net/parentresources 

Fair Housing Program
The City of San Antonio Fair Housing/Housing Counseling Program is to help residents maintain housing stability, which is key to family well-being. The program is a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counseling agency. The Fair Housing Program assists area residents in Tenant/Landlord Mediation, Mortgage Counseling, Discrimination Complaints, and provides Community Outreach to achieve the goal of maintaining housing stability.
Phone:  (210) 207-5910
Website: sanantonio.gov/humanservices 

Family Endeavors – Hurricane Harvey Emergency Assistance & Supportive Services for Veteran Families
Our Veteran Services program offers Homelessness Prevention & Stabilization Services to Veterans and their families. These supportive services include outreach, case management, help in obtaining VA benefits, emergency financial assistance in obtaining and coordinating other public benefits.
Phone: (210) 431-6466 (Ask for Veteran Intake Line)
Website: www.familyendeavors.org

Health Care Homeless Veterans
The central goal for the South Texas Veterans Health Care System’s Health Care for the Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Program is to end homelessness among Veterans through community partnerships. We provide Veteran centered integrated healthcare to improve Veteran quality of life, promoting highest level of functioning and assisting homeless Veterans in achieving their identified goals.
Phone: (210) 616-9915
Website: www.va.gov

San Antonio Food Bank
The San Antonio Food Bank takes pride in fighting hunger, feeding hope in our 16 county service area. We believe that no child should go to bed hungry, adults should not have to choose between a hot meal and utilities, nor a senior sacrifice medical care for the sake of a meal.
Phone: (210) 431-8326
Website: www.safoodbank.org

San Antonio Housing Authority
The San Antonio Housing Authority provides quality affordable housing that is well integrated into the fabric of neighborhoods and serves as a foundation to improve lives and advance resident independence.
Phone: (210) 477-6262
Website: www.saha.org

Texas Department of Public Safety
Website: https://www.dps.texas.gov/

The Texas Women, Infants, and Children program
The Texas Women, Infants, and Children program is implementing special procedures in the wake of the unprecedented flooding due to Hurricane Harvey. The special procedures will allow people to easily enroll and receive food and infant formula benefits, breastfeeding support, and referrals for shelter and other resources. Disaster victims will be asked to sign a self-declaration form declaring their need for WIC benefits due to Hurricane Harvey.
Phone: 1-800-942-3678
Website: www.TexasWIC.org

Hurricane Harvey Multi Agency Resource Center Resources – San Antonio, TX