Volunteer Spotlight: Veteran Volunteer Recalls Red Cross Services During Wartime

Written by Eugenio Cortez, Red Cross Volunteer and US Army Veteran

I was a young soldier in the US Army when I first learned about the American Red Cross and the organization has been a lifeline when I needed them. I say “them” because the Red Cross has always been volunteers who selfishly donate their time and energy to help their neighbors in need. 

“The Red Cross would traverse the countryside to meet with other units wherever they were. Red Cross members were looking after us and volunteering their time in places of danger to bring a little bit of the US to those serving their country.”

In South Korea, where I was stationed near the DMZ, it was a welcome sight to see the Doughnut Dollies from the American Red Cross when they would come by to lift our spirits. We would all gather around, whether we were in the field or in our compound, and have coffee and donuts, play games and chat about what was going on in the world. The Red Cross would traverse the countryside to meet with other units wherever they were. Red Cross members were looking after us and volunteering their time in places of danger to bring a little bit of the US to those serving their country.  The Red Cross has come to my aid during my time in the Republic of Panama, Korea, Vietnam and Germany. They provided information about my family when I wouldn’t or couldn’t write to them because of my circumstances. Not only did they get in contact with me, but the Red Cross aided me in returning home when there was a family emergency.

A year before I retired from the San Antonio School District as a School Social Worker, I attended an orientation about the Red Cross and became a volunteer attending classes about disaster services. When I did retire I quickly became an active volunteer. Truth be told, my wife declared that I wasn’t going to stay home and do nothing, so she pushed me out, and I am thankful she did. 

I took my volunteering seriously and my idea was to become a custodian or a janitor. However, the director of disaster service had different plans for me and asked me to work with shelters.  I was assigned to work with another volunteer who had set up the groundwork but a month later, I was working independently on the project.  Fortunately, I had learned enough to take on the responsibility.   Next, the director asked me to join the Disaster Action Team (DAT) , which I didn’t mind because the shelter management wasn’t taking too much time to manage.

Being a DAT volunteer opened my eyes to some of the work being done by volunteers with regards to home fires. Being on call for seven days can be strenuous and the home fire calls are almost at night or in the early morning, but my wife had joined as a volunteer as well so together we would venture out to answer the calls.  The fact was, we didn’t mind at all, because we saw the need of people, we were assisting during our home fire responses. My DAT responsibilities became the position where I was able to help my fellowmen.   

The Red Cross has become digitalized to better serve our communities around the world.  But it is the volunteer who selfishly dedicated their time to helping those recover from disaster who ensure that the Red Cross will continue to be around for the next generation.   

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Red Cross Volunteers Support Homeless Veterans

Red Cross Volunteers Support Homeless Veterans

At 10 a.m. on a cold Friday morning, American Red Cross volunteers gathered together to support San Antonio’s Homeless Veteran population at the 22nd annual Stand Down for Veterans hosted by the American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program (NVOP).

The Stand Down is a one-day event in which organizations gather together to provide homeless veterans with various resources and supplies, such as free flu shots, food, haircuts, housing assistance, hygiene products, clothing, assistance with veterans benefits, and information about local programs and services available to them.

The event also gives Red Cross volunteers the opportunity to serve former military service members in need, a group near and dear to volunteer, Celeste Carrola’s heart. Celeste served for 40 years in the Department of Defense’s Air Force division as civilian, “so I have a certain connection with the military,” Celeste said.

Although she usually volunteers with the Red Cross Disaster Action Team she decided to join our Service to the Armed Forces event to support and thank our former military service members.

StandDown2019
Red Cross volunteer Celeste Carrola hands out  kits filled with hygiene items for homeless veterans during the  American GI Forum’s 22nd Annual Stand Down for Veterans.

Joe Campbell, who has volunteered with the Red Cross of 20 years, marked his third consecutive Stand Down this year. A Vietnam-era veteran, he helped pass out comfort kits full of essential toiletries such as soap, shampoo, razors, and lip balm to fellow veterans. “Ahh, I love it,” Joe said after he assisted a homeless veteran with his bags. Events such as this proudly display the camaraderie and support established in the military, something Joe loves to continue through his volunteer experiences. “I love helping,” Joe said.

This was also Lucy Medina’s first time volunteering for the Stand Down event. A 20 year Air Force retiree, she has continued serving her country for the last three years as a Red Cross Volunteer. “I serve wherever I can,” she said with a smile.

A few minutes later, Lucy greeted a veteran who walked up to the table, handed him a black bag with the emblematic Red Cross and a thank you card from the Thank a Hero Program. As he reached for the items, he looked her in the eyes, tilted his head down slightly, and thanked her.

If you would like to serve veterans in your community, reach out to your local Service to the Armed Forces representative for opportunities in your area or visit our website at https://www.redcross.org/volunteer

From Veterans to Volunteers

The month of November is dedicated to the celebration and remembrance of our military veterans. In honor of Veterans Day this Nov. 11th, we’d like to introduce you to  former military service members who have decided to continue serving their country through the American Red Cross.

Frank “Mac” McNell

Mac was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. In 1996, after serving for 26 and a half years, he retired as a Sergeant Major. In 2004, Mac decided to volunteer with the American Red Cross. Applying the problem-solving skills he honed during his Military service, the Red Cross deployed Mac to Louisiana to aid the director and assistant director during Hurricane Katrina. “Anytime there was a problem, they would send me out, and I would take care of it.”

While there, Mac would answer questions from residents affected by the storm, support volunteers in the shelters, and identify and resolve any other problems that would come up. Recognizing that these situations can be overwhelming for those not accustomed to the chaos of disasters, Mac was more than happy to be able to contribute and establish stability. “With my experience in the Army, I would fix the problem because I don’t have ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary,” Mac said.

After seeing how his skills and experience in the military has helped the Red Cross, Mac seeks to help other veterans find their place in civilian life. Mac believes that veterans are uniquely qualified to volunteer with the American Red Cross, “Where they used to help other countries, now they can help their communities.” 

Roberto Bonilla

Roberto Bonilla was introduced to the American Red Cross when an Army recruiter suggested he become CPR certified in 1994. After completing the Red Cross CPR and First Aid certification courses, he has consistently sought out Red Cross chapters throughout his military career, nationally and internationally.

At his first duty station at Fort Sill, Roberto noticed a need for bilingual CPR instructors. He volunteered to help on the weekends, stating that “it felt good to help.”

As he was deployed across the country and world, Roberto utilized the information and skills he gathered as a military serviceman and Red Cross volunteer. Despite constantly being on the move, Roberto was always drawn to a Red Cross chapter. “The directors and other volunteers were very warm, and they were accepting. They really represented the American Red Cross creed.”

Since retiring from the Army in 2016 as a Sergeant First Class, Roberto has been volunteering for the Red Cross consistently in various ways, including bringing awareness to programs offered to military members and their families such as the emergency message services in which the Red Cross acts as a liaison between the family and military in cases of emergency on the home front. 

“It’s not just one thing,” Roberto said. “There are a lot of things that volunteers can do.”

If you would like to volunteer for the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Volunteers of the Quarter: Ed Duchac and Carina King

both


Volunteers constitute about 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce.  Volunteers make it possible to respond to an average of more than 62,000 disaster every year throughout the country, most of them home and apartment fires.  The Central and South Texas Region (CSTR) is home to countless selfless volunteers who amplify the mission of the Red Cross through their various roles.  Each quarter CSTR recognizes the efforts of our volunteers by selecting a volunteer of the quarter.

Across our 80-county region, we received 19 nominations, and the selection committee included team members from all chapters and lines of service. The nomination pool was filled with spectacular volunteers, the committee decided to recognize two volunteers this quarter.


Congratulations to Ed Duchac & Carina King for earning the coveted Volunteer of the Quarter award. Please read below to see what their nominators had to say:

Ed Duchac“Ed Duchac is a committed volunteer who embodies the mission. He has stepped up both locally and nationally to support the Red Cross. Ed has been an amazing part of our volunteer team. He brings leadership skills, wisdom, and humor to his work with volunteers and staff. In addition to his deployments to Hurricane Harvey, the California Wildfires, Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael and most recently to Hurricane Dorian as LSAP Lead, Ed has also strengthened our chapter by taking on various roles including Chapter Logistics Lead, Duty Officer, Regional LSAP Lead – and many more! Ed’s tireless dedication to the mission is demonstrated by his willingness to respond to local disasters, work in the office, head up local logistics and onboard our new Disaster Program Manager. Ed is an all-around team player and great asset to the Red Cross.”

– Nominated by Executive Director, Tracy Austin

 

“Carina has volunteered as a DAT member for over a year and has worked her way up to Carina KingDAT Captain. In addition to being on-call 24/7 for DAT, she also helps out with community tabling events and will help where ever and whenever asked, including learning how to teach the new DAT classes! She has recently taken on the DAT Duty Officer role, in addition to being on-call for DAT calls. This means she answers the DAT Phone 24/7 when it rings, confirms fires with local Fire Departments and then coordinates the volunteers to deploy to the fire. In addition to this new role, she is also learning how to be a Caseworker so that she can help with the follow-up calls to those clients that have lost their homes. She is an incredible asset and our Team is so lucky to have her support!”

– Nominated by Disaster Program Manager, Tracy Beach &
Disaster Cycle Services Volunteer Demond George

 


To learn how you can volunteer with the Red Cross, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Volunteers Help Save Lives During Home Fire Prevention Week

During Fire Prevention Week (October 6-12) the American Red Cross Serving Central and South Texas urges everyone to practice their home fire escape plan and test their smoke alarms.

“During Fire Prevention Week, and every day, we urge everyone to  prepare your family for home fires before the holidays and cold weather increase the risk of these crises,” said Marty McKellips, Regional Chief Executive Officer, Central and South Texas Region. “Please install and test smoke alarms on every level of your home and practice your escape plan until everyone can get out in two minutes or less.”

PRACTICE YOUR PLAN AND TEST YOUR ALARMS For free home fire safety resources, visit redcross.org/homefires or download the free Red Cross Emergency App (search “American Red Cross” in app stores).  Remember to do the following:

  • Include at least two ways to get out of each room in your home fire escape plan.
  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone can meet.
  • Practice your escape plan until everyone can get out in two minutes or less.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, placing them inside and outside bedrooms, and sleeping areas.
  • Test smoke alarms monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year, if your model requires it.

LIFESAVING HOME FIRE CAMPAIGN MARKS FIVE YEARS Home fires take seven lives each day in the U.S., most often in homes without working smoke alarms. That’s why the Red Cross is working with partners to install free smoke alarms in high-risk communities and help families create escape plans through its Home Fire Campaign — which has saved at least 638 lives across the country since launching in October 2014.

In fiscal year 2019 (June 30, 2018 – July 1, 2019) in Central and South Texas, the Red Cross and local partners have:

  • Installed 1,286 free smoke alarms.
  • Reached 973 children through youth preparedness programs.
  • Made 548 households safer from the threat of home fires.

During Home Fire Prevention Week, volunteers and partners worked together to install 149 smoke alarms making over 60 home safer in San Antonio and Franklin, Texas.

It is through the generosity of donors and power of volunteers that the Red Cross is able to fulfill its humanitarian mission. To support our lifesaving work, please consider volunteering or making a donation by visiting redcross.org.

Red Cross Responds to Multiple Fires in Central and South Texas

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written by Noi Mahoney, Red Cross Volunteer

The American Red Cross is continuing to support residents and provide assistance to first responders affected by several fire events around central and south Texas.

Red Cross workers opened a resource center and have been providing relief and comfort to individuals impacted by a large apartment fire in San Marcos since Friday morning.

The fire occurred at the Iconic Village apartments and the Vintage Pads apartments located just north of the Texas State University campus. Five people were killed in the fire and about 200 people were displaced. Many of the people affected by the fire were students at Texas State.

“We have been out here since 7 a.m. Friday morning,” said Elizabeth Wills, a Red Cross Disaster Action Team captain. “We opened a resource center at the San Marcos Activity Center. We have been providing comfort kits to those affected by the fire.”

Wills said since Friday they helped 87 people and opened cases for 79 people.

“We have been assisting residents, doing casework, providing financial assistance, helping residents who were displaced,” Wills said. “We have also been providing assistance to students who need things like getting a prescription for their glasses or prescriptions for medical needs.”

Wills said the Red Cross has been working closely with officials from Texas State University, the San Marcos Fire Department and the San Marcos Office of Emergency Management.

“We have received very positive feedback from residents, from city officials and from the office of emergency management who are grateful to the Red Cross for the help,” Wills said.

Around 100 miles north of San Marcos, the American Red Cross Serving the Heart of Texas has been providing food and supplies to first responders fighting wildfires in northwest Coryell County and the Fort Hood military installation near Killeen.

The wildfire fire in Coryell County, which at one point covered around 2,900 rural acres, is still ongoing and was about 75 percent contained as Tuesday (July 24).

“We have been feeding 135 fire fighters everyday,” said Disaster Action Team Lead Robert Gonzales. “We’ve been feeding first responders, emergency medical services workers, Texas A&M Forest Service (workers), people from (Coryell) County and community volunteers.”

The Red Cross has served more than 1,105 clients with food and supplies since Saturday, Gonzales said. “Four volunteers have been helping with the response in Coryell County.”

On Fort Hood, a wildfire fire was burning in four separate locations. Around 6,500 acres on Fort Hood have been affected over the past several days. No lives or buildings have been reported lost from the fire.

Penny Peck, one of the Red Cross volunteers working on Fort Hood, said they have been providing three meals a day since Monday, serving about 450 people a day. The Red Cross has also been providing fruits, snacks, water and Gatorade.

The soldiers and fire fighters have been very appreciative, Peck said.

“I have lost count of how many times I have been told, ‘I really appreciate what you guys are doing,’” said Peck, a feeding coordinator who was working out of an emergency response vehicle (ERV) and tent. “We’ve been providing three meals a day since Sunday, about 450 people everyday.”

Gonzales said they have also received positive feedback from county officials, including Robert Harrell, Coryell County Emergency Management Coordinator, and his staff.

“Bob Harrell and Azalea from the county, have been really appreciative of everything we have done,” Gonzales said. “Azalea, everyone calls her ZZ, has been really appreciative of the food, we also brought sunscreen for the first responders. She said she didn’t know about everything we do.”

At another wildfire in Burnet County, the Red Cross of Central Texas has been helping firefighters since early Sunday morning. The fire has affected around 737 acres and was 60 percent contained as of 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“The (Burnett County Office of Emergency Management) contacted us and asked if we could provide canteening (food, water and snacks) for the fire fighters,” said Don Barlow, the Disaster Action Team Lead from the Central Texas chapter. “Sunday morning we fed them breakfast tacos, and for lunch we fed them Chic-Fil-A. They requested breakfast again Tuesday.”

The fire ignited on a rural county road north of Burnet on Sunday. Concentrated to ranch land, the fire has not prompted any evacuations. Barlow said he and his wife Julie were the volunteers assisting the firefighters and emergency services workers responding to the fire. He estimated they served around 150 clients during the response.

“When we first got out there Sunday morning with the breakfast tacos, it was like feeding a bunch of hungry fish,” Barlow said. “The fire fighters had been working all night and they were real hungry.”

After disasters big and small, the American Red Cross focuses on providing safe shelter, food, emergency relief supplies, emotional support, health services and recovery assistance. The Red Cross relies on dedicated volunteers and generous donations to help disaster victims. You can help people affected by disasters like these and countless other crises by volunteering or making a donation to support Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

A Mother’s Heart. A Humanitarian Mission

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
As families across the country prepare to celebrate the matriarchs in their families, the American Red Cross Serving Central Texas is honoring a mother and daughter volunteer team who have made it their family mission to serve their community.

Izadora Martinez began volunteering with the Red Cross in 2015 during the floods in Wimberly, TX. Since then, she has become an integral volunteer to the local chapter and organization.

“I saw a need in our community during the disastrous Wimberly Flood of 2015,” Martinez said. “I had never felt so closely impacted to such devastation so close to home.”

Since then, Izadora has served in several disaster relief operations and has become an expert in the many volunteer roles she fills. Her dedication was recognized at this year’s Red Cross Gala as she was awarded the Greg Coleman Tribute Award.

Izadora’s passion to serve the Red Cross mission soon became a family affair. After seeing the local chapter’s need for more volunteers, she enlisted the help of her mother Kathy Callahan.

“When my father passed away I asked my mother to come live with me in Austin,” Martinez said. “It was a difficult decision, but we knew it would be best for her.”

After attending numerous Red Cross events with her daughter, the familial and welcoming atmosphere of the chapter peaked Kathy’s interest in volunteering.

“After attending a Service to the Armed Forces meeting, I mentioned to her that would be a way to give back to the military my dad served,” Martinez said. “I told her ‘make him proud,’ and that she has! She has found a new lease on life and is full of joy and has too found that the Red Cross is family.”

Soon, Kathy became a fixture at the Austin Red Cross Chapter, often bringing treats and goodies for the staff and fellow volunteers.

“Not only is Kathy eager to help in any way that she can, she is always thinking of ways to be kind to everyone she meets and works with,” said Reihaneh Hajibeigi, Regional Volunteer Services Officer. “We used to introduce her as Izadora’s mom, but she now has her own reputation as a dedicated volunteer and needs no introduction from us.”

Kathy’s kind-heartedness was emphatically recognized at the annual volunteer appreciation award ceremony as she received the chapter’s “Kindness Award.”

When asked what it is like to volunteer with her mom, Martinez said “Volunteering with my mom is something I wish everyone had the opportunity to do. She’s my side kick, we’re a team and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”