Red Cross Assesses Tornado Damage in Texas

By Lois Beckman and Lena Morris, Red Cross Disaster Relief Volunteers

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Mary Green talks with Red Cross volunteer Diane Telfer regarding the damage to her home caused when a tornado tore through her neighborhood. Mary was home alone studying when a tornado alert was issued for the area. “I was getting alerts on my phone, but I always get them, and nothing ever comes,” she said.

Without a basement, Mary felt the tornado damage her home as parts of her roof got torn off.

“I had never been through a tornado before,” Mary said. “The house really shook. When it stopped and I looked out my front door and saw parts of my roof across the road and in the tree, I started to cry. Not because I was upset, but because I was grateful to be alive.”

Red Cross volunteers met Mary while assessing local damages in Navasota, Texas. Volunteers like Diane are a part of the disaster assessment team, who look at homes damaged by recent severe weather to determine the assistance needed from the Red Cross.

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Red Cross volunteer Bill Wilson stands in front of Mary’s lawn, where parts of her roof were torn off by the tornado and flew onto the tree and the road.

If you or anyone you know is in need of assistance, please call the American Red Cross of Central Texas at 1-800-928-4271. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit www.redcross.org.

Red Cross Assesses Tornado Damage in Texas

Home Damaged By Floods for the Second Time

By Lois Beckman and Lena Morris, Red Cross Disaster Relief Volunteers

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Travis County resident Martha Miles, with her son Patrick on the right and Red Cross volunteer Catherine Sarkany on the left.

The recent floods have caused damage to the home of Martha Miles for the second time in less than eight months.  “We were in the process of replacing floor tiles that were damaged during the flooding in October when this flood happened. Now we have to rip up the entire floor and start from scratch,” said Miles, pictured above with her son Patrick and American Red Cross volunteer Catherine Sarkany.

Martha and her son were at the Family Assistance Center in Travis County on Sunday where the Red Cross provided assistance to those affected by the recent flooding. Like Martha, many in the neighborhood experienced flooding up to 4 feet when severe weather hit the area on May 26th. Although rain has stopped in Texas, the recovery efforts continue as residents salvage their homes and many still seek refuge at Red Cross Shelters.

If you or anyone you know is in need of assistance, please call the American Red Cross of Central Texas at 1-800-928-4271. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit www.redcross.org.

Home Damaged By Floods for the Second Time

Dynamic Duo: Why the Bergerons Keep Coming Back to the Red Cross

By Monique Knight and Lena Morris, Red Cross Disaster Relief Volunteers

Roy and June Bergeron have been volunteering with the Red Cross for 13 and 12 years, respectively. The retired couple from Baton Rouge, LA, spends much of their time travelling to assist with relief efforts during national disasters. In fact, they have been on 32 Red Cross deployments across the country and have provided assistance in nearly every type of natural disaster – flood, hurricane, tornado, wildfire and snow storm.

DSC_0159It was a hurricane in Florida that called them to action.  “We saw an article in the newspaper, asking for volunteers to help with the Red Cross,” June explains.  “Roy responded then, and I joined a year later.”

The couple volunteers primarily in shelter settings. “We find it very rewarding,” said Roy.  “We get to meet a lot of people, and they are all very thankful for our presence.”

Both said that they have enjoyed a good clientele through the Red Cross shelters.  “We get to know them and develop friendships, sharing laughs and tears,” said June.  “We’ve had people who cry when they leave the shelter because they don’t want to go.”

June and Roy say that volunteers just have to relax and have fun, because the clients have a lot going on.  Roy added that you just have to be flexible. “Sometimes we start doing mobile feeding and bulk distribution, then open shelters,” Roy said.

The couple says they have met lifelong friends through their Red Cross experience. In fact, they travel to Minnesota to visit another Red Cross husband-wife team every year.  It’s the human connection that keeps them coming back year after year.

Dynamic Duo: Why the Bergerons Keep Coming Back to the Red Cross

Victoria’s Story: Behind the Scenes of a Disaster Response

By Reihaneh Hajibeigi, Communications Intern, Fall 2013

When a disaster strikes anywhere in the country, its ripples are felt by American Red Cross staff and volunteers no matter how far away they may be.

Last week, we shared with you the story of volunteer Rigo Vallejo, just one of eleven local Red Cross workers who deployed to help the people of Colorado after floods devastated the region.

Victoria on the day before she left for deployment
Victoria on the day before she left for deployment

Victoria Goldfedib was another of the local Red Crossers to answer the call for help in Colorado, where she worked as a Staff Support Specialist. Unlike Rigo, she is a staff member for the Red Cross of Central Texas; many of you may know her as the friendly Volunteer Services Specialist for the Central Texas chapter.

Victoria said she had no idea what to expect on her first deployment

“This deployment proved to be a great opportunity for growth,” Victoria said. “We were all different, and finding ways to interact and work as a single unit with virtual strangers was an interesting and empowering experience.”

Victoria managing the registration table at the VRC Drill
Victoria managing the registration table at the VRC Drill

As an expert with Volunteer Connection, the online database that manages volunteers for the Red Cross, Victoria coordinated and oversaw the lodging and accommodations for hundreds of incoming disaster responders. Working with other groups, she and her team were able to ensure the disaster responders on the front lines received adequate support to carry out the relief operation in Colorado.

“Our DRO responders experienced a myriad of issues – everything from lost luggage to hay allergies,” Victoria said. “We did our best to accommodate every single disaster worker in order to make sure they were well-rested and in positive spirits.”

Since the flooding first began, more than 1,200 Red Crossers have helped to power a response that includes serving more than 191,000 meals and snacks, handing out more than 242,000 relief items and providing about 14,000 health and mental health contacts. The Red Cross has also provided a total of 3,800 shelter stays for people forced from their homes by the flooding.

Even though Victoria’s position as a Staff Support Specialist was mostly behind-the-scenes rather than out in the field, she certainly saw the progress of the massive relief operation in Colorado.

Victoria with a golden retriever from HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response
Victoria with a golden retriever from HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response

“This relief operation covers more than 20 thousand square miles, and as soon as I arrived on Sept. 17, I went straight to work,” Victoria said. “I spent over 100 hours helping disaster responders.”

“We are now shifting from response phase to long-term recovery, and that will last months as those affected attempt to move back into their flooded communities,” Victoria said. “But everyone in Colorado has been extremely supportive of the American Red Cross and our efforts.”

Victoria’s Story: Behind the Scenes of a Disaster Response

VRC drill empowers Red Cross to train spontaneous volunteers

Red Cross volunteers work on background checks at the VRC drill.On Thursday August 8th, the American Red Cross Central Texas Chapter hosted a special drill at the Northwest Recreational Center in Austin. Our volunteers put their training and skills to the test in real-life scenarios and ultimately demonstrated excellent teamwork and leadership throughout the drill.

After learning many lessons from past hurricanes like Katrina and Ike, our local emergency management office and Red Cross leadership teamed up to put a plan in place that would allow our region to quickly set up more than 70 shelters across Travis, Williamson and Hays counties. The Capital Area Shelter Hub Plan (CASH-P), as it’s called, is unlike any other in the country, because the Red Cross, our local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTS) and the school districts all work together to make decisions and take action.

With hurricane season upon us and recent tropical storms threatening to make landfall, it’s more important than ever for us to prepare for the very real possibility of a hurricane in the Gulf. Because of a point-to-point agreement with the City of Galveston, our region needs to be prepared to shelter up to 25,000 evacuees. But the Red Cross of Central Texas can’t rely on its existing volunteers alone to staff all of those shelters.  So what do we do? We set up a Volunteer Resource Center (VRC), of course!

The VRC serves as the destination for spontaneous volunteers–citizens from our community with no prior Red Cross experience–to receive the training and background checks they need and step into action as a Red Cross shelter worker in just a few short hours.

In addition to the Red Cross volunteers and staff who conducted the drill, volunteers from community partner organizations like United Way, Austin Disaster Relief Network, Austin Animal Services and the Jewish Community Center turned out to both role-play as spontaneous volunteers and to staff the VRC as trainers. They practiced registering new volunteers, doing background checks, delivering orientation presentations, creating badges and delivering orientation presentations.

The drill even caught the attention of three local TV news stations who captured some of the action. Check out some of the coverage here!

All in all, the drill was a great example of how much we can accomplish when we work together as a community. History has proven that a real hurricane evacuation will be absolutely chaotic and much of our planning will go out the window as we adjust to unexpected challenges, but a little extra effort, planning and practice goes a long way when it comes time to provide relief to our neighbors in need.

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Volunteer Elton Fewell wears his patches proudly at the VRC drill

VRC drill empowers Red Cross to train spontaneous volunteers

Luminaria Sponsors Spread Hope and Light

On April 5th, the American Red Cross of Central Texas held our annual gala. This year, Luminaria celebrated the many ways the Red Cross spreads light and hope to those most in need, raising funds for measles relief in countries around the world that do not have access to these resources.

It was a truly spectacular evening at the W Hotel in downtown Austin, made possible by our generous partners in our community. We could not have done it without their support and are so proud to belong to a community with such a philanthropic spirit.

YetterColeman LLP was our Presenting Sponsor and Lady Bird Johnson Humanitarian Award Sponsor. YetterColeman is a nationally recognized  litigation boutique with offices in Austin and in Houston. They have been a great supporter of the Red Cross and we look forward to continuing our partnership.

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YetterColeman partner Kevin Terrazas presenting Janet Ricks (mother of Kendra Scott) with the Lady Bird Johnson Humanitarian of the Year Award

Two fantastic organizations were Illuminating Sponsors – KXAN and Pierpont Communications.

KXAN has been an outspoken and involved Red Cross supporter. After the explosion in West, TX they partnered with our Red Cross chapter and with H-E-B in our disaster response. Click through for video and article.

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Pierpont Communications, one of the largest independent communications firms in the Southwest, has been a supporter of the Red Cross in our community for several years and has been a huge asset to our organization.

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Pierpont Communications Senior Vice President Stacy Armijo giving an introduction and welcome.

At the Radiant Sponsor level:

  • EZCORP
  • Moreland Properties

At the Shining Sponsor level:

  • Aquila Commercial
  • Dell, Inc.
  • Erben Associates
  • Hamilton, Pyle & Bowman, LLP
  • Jackson Walker, L.L.P.
  • Jamie Leasure and Courtney Clark
  • Nationwide Insurance
  • Randalls Food Markets
  • Swanson Vineyards
  • Strasburger & Price, LLP
  • Tribeza
  • Ultimate Resumes

At the Sparkling Sponsor level:

  • Biggs Electric, L.L.C.
  • Encotech Engineering Consultants, Inc.
  • H-E-B
  • Debbie Immel & Dana Weis
  • Diane Land & Steve Adler
  • Liv by Design
  • Mandarin Flower Company
  • April Mitchell
  • Hannah Nokes
  • Terri Broussard Williams
  • Team Moline
  • Tiffany & Co.
  • Wells Fargo Bank
  • InFluential Magazine

Last but certainly not least we would like to thank those who donated in-kind to our big board auction or the event itself.

Special Thanks to:

  • Ali Khataw
  • Andrew Bost Benefit Auctions
  • Angelica Rodriguez
  • Austin Fashion Week
  • Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
  • Bits of Courage
  • C3 Presents
  • Callie Richmond Photography
  • Consuela
  • Cornucopia Popcorn Creations
  • David Trubridge Lighting
  • DJ Johnny Bravvo
  • Dave Madden Band
  • Elements Laser Spa
  • GertieGlam
  • Kandice Sanaie
  • Kor180
  • LBJ Presidential Library
  • Liv by Design
  • Lone Star Legacies
  • Marcus and Valentine’s Too
  • Neuro Drink
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes
  • Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille
  • PSAV
  • Pura Vida Spa
  • Raes Cosmetics
  • Sanova Dermatology
  • Sara Belle’s Bakery
  • Segway Nation, Inc
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Strait Music Company
  • Swanson Vineyards
  • Tacodeli
  • The Diva’s Closet
  • The Grove
  • The University of Texas Club
  • Tech Kitchen
  • Uchiko
  • W Austin
  • Up A Notch Consulting
Luminaria Sponsors Spread Hope and Light

A Year of Service at the Central Texas Red Cross

Two AmeriCorps VISTAs came to our Austin, TX chapter in July of 2012 to begin a year of service giving back to their country to alleviate poverty. As their years come to a close, here are their thoughts about the experience.

Krista Nielsen, development

Being a VISTA in development at the Red Cross has been a truly humbling experience. I am a brand new Texan and I have been blessed to get to know the people here. This community is generous, compassionate and any time a disaster has struck will light up our phone lines wanting to give their time, collect food, give every last dollar they have and even let disaster victims stay in their homes. Through Hurricane Sandy this fall, apartments fires over the winter and the recent explosion in West it has really touched me to see how everyone around me has responded and wanted to be involved in helping in some way.

My AmeriCorps year has been about hard work to reinforce and build the capacity of our organization, community outreach and public relations, service to people who have lost everything in a disaster and helping be prepared for the next. Being a VISTA is something unique. It lets you love the work for the work’s sake, and the longer I’ve worked at the Red Cross the more I believe in the mission.

Victoria Goldfedib, Service to Armed Forces

A life-long passion for volunteer work and community service called me from my home in New York City, the capital of the world, to the capital of Texas, Austin. Throughout my year of service, I have helped hundreds of service members and veterans in times of crisis. One day, I received a frantic phone call from a service member’s wife, who was on a Skype call with her husband deployed overseas. They had just found out one of his close family members was critically ill. She placed the call on mute and told me that she did not think the family member had much time left, but did not want her husband to know at this time. I calmly explained the process for creating an Emergency Communications Message, and the information necessary for verification. She thanked me and called the Service to the Armed Forces Call Center. Several days later, I saw their case pop up in our regional queue. I called the service member’s wife to conduct follow-up and to find out if her husband was able to come home. Immediately, she recognized my voice, and told me that not only was he granted emergency leave, but he came home just before the family member passed away. The service member’s wife thanked the American Red Cross for assisting and giving her husband the opportunity to say goodbye to his family member while he was deployed.

Although bittersweet, this moment made me realize that what we do as AmeriCorps VISTAs is truly vital and necessary. Whether it is providing a homeless veteran with a bus pass so that they can travel  to the local VA facility, or assisting a service member and their family in a crisis, AmeriCorps VISTAs are truly Volunteers in Service To America.

If you are interested in giving back to your community, two year-long VISTA positions are available starting this summer – one begins in July and one begins in August. If you have questions about these positions or would like to learn more please get in touch with Cheryl Sawyer, Director of Community Resource Development and VISTA Project Director at 512-471-6173, or email at cheryls@austin.utexas.edu.

A Year of Service at the Central Texas Red Cross