Author Archives: Cari Dighton

Disaster Response: From Behind the Scenes to the Front Lines

By Alex Keilty

Cameron with an Emergency Response Vehicle in New York City in 2019, which is used to deliver food and water to the site of a disaster.

When Cameron Bochman was completing his accounting degree in North Carolina, did he ever imagine his work would take him to a meeting with FBI agents who were investigating a helicopter crash in New York City? No he didn’t, because his career path has been anything but predictable.  

Cameron, an American Red Cross employee, studied accounting because he had a natural talent for it. He says, “I took accounting because it clicked with me. But I didn’t really feel it was my passion.”

He found that passion after a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in China.

“I knew I wanted to do something in humanitarian work,” he says. “And the Red Cross really stood out.” And so this Boston hometown boy packed his bags for New York City three and a half years ago to start his job as a Disaster Response Manager working the overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m.

Part of a Disaster Action Team – a group of employees and volunteers who are the first, on-the-scene, Red Cross contacts at the site of disasters – Cameron observed the “power of volunteers,” as he calls it. His volunteers responded to countless home fires within an hour of getting a call from the fire department. On site, they provided a shoulder to cry on for those displaced by the fire, and financial assistance in the form of a prepaid debit card that residents could use for shelter at a hotel, groceries, replacing clothing or any other expenses. Then the residents would be referred to Red Cross caseworkers for help with further recovery. 

But back to that meeting with the FBI agents… In addition to home fires, there were unexpected emergencies like when a helicopter crash landed on the roof of a Manhattan building, tragically killing the pilot and erupting in flames.

Cameron at the site of one of his first Disaster Action Team responses in New York City, responding to a multi-family fire in Brooklyn. 

On that freezing cold day, Cameron and his team brought a van loaded with meals, snacks and water to feed first responders as they worked at the site. Cameron also attended meetings with the intelligence agents who were investigating the crash to determine if it was a terrorist act.

Working in New York was never boring, but after a year Cameron wanted to work with the community in a different way. Running public engagement events and prevention programs appealed to him. And so did the sunny skies of California!  

So he moved to Alameda County, to become a Disaster Program Manager, where he helps organize the Home Fire Campaign including the Sound the Alarm program to install free smoke alarms in homes across the county, and the nation.

Cameron and his team of employees and volunteers are also ready to respond to small and large scale tragedies, like when a lightning storm in the summer of 2020 sparked fires across Northern California. Cameron’s team facilitated the opening of an evacuation center and set up a shelter where evacuees from Livermore could sleep, get hot meals, access mental health support and receive the latest information from emergency responders.

Not predictable but definitely rewarding, Cameron says of his work: “You walk away feeling like you did something good.”

A Welcoming Presence

Ebony Jean Daniel has served as a Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador – and friendly face – at the Oakland Blood Center for two and a half years, much of that time spent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When looking at the good that is done through this role – every two seconds, someone needs blood,” she said. “That’s why I choose to give the time that I have given at the Red Cross, especially during the pandemic. I had the free time and felt that it was worth it to give the hours I give every week – to take the burden off others.”

As a Blood Donor Ambassador, Ebony Jean helps donors check in for their appointments, ensures COVID-19 health and safety guidelines are being followed and keeps the waiting area and canteen tidy. Perhaps most importantly, she is a welcoming presence and the first and last person donors see at their appointments, thanking them for their time and their lifesaving gift.

“People don’t really understand how vital blood products are for women giving birth. When people deal with terminal illnesses on a daily basis, the blood products they require are so important. These are some of the multiple different reasons why I chose to volunteer with the Red Cross.”

Prior to the pandemic, Ebony Jean was also a Red Cross Humanitarian Services volunteer, navigating the disaster recovery casework process in order to support families affected by disasters big and small, and helping local youth prepare for emergencies through The Pillowcase Project.

Ebony Jean Daniel, Blood Donor Ambassador at the Red Cross Blood, Platelet and Plasma Donation Center in Oakland.

“Under the umbrella of the Red Cross, there is so much good that takes place,” she said. But eventually, Red Cross Blood Services is where Ebony Jean decided to focus her time and talent.

“As far as Blood Services – people just don’t realize that in the time it takes to snap your fingers, that’s how often people require blood for survival. I never know what could come down the line in my future – I might need to be a recipient someday. We knock on wood that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, but you just never know.”

The Red Cross collects about 40% of the nation’s blood, which is precisely why volunteers like Ebony Jean are so critically important to the overall donation process.

“Looking at the whole picture – coming in, giving my time, taking the burden off other Red Cross workers so they can concentrate on their jobs and we can gather more donations – I focus on customer service, so donors have a pleasant experience. I feel there is a personal obligation, but also it is a pleasant experience for me. I have had a lot of positive interactions, and I definitely enjoy that.”

Thank you, Ebony Jean, for all you’ve done and continue to do for the Red Cross and the community. We are lucky to have you as a volunteer and we know countless blood recipients are grateful for the part you play in the blood donation process.

A Track Record for Saving Lives

By Alex Keilty

There was that one time Ian Wigley gave CPR to a gentleman at a card game, and then there were those other times — at a wedding, a family gathering, and a restaurant — that he helped people who were choking. It’s fair to say that Ian, an Instructor Trainer with the American Red Cross, has a great track record for saving lives. 

American Red Cross Instructor Ian Wigley

Ian teaches frequent first aid classes and says the training is important because, “You CAN help somebody. It will give you the skills and confidence to help until the Emergency Medical Service arrives.”

Ian’s classes include adult and child CPR, choking, how to stop life-threatening bleeding and how to use a defibrillator.

In addition to the people Ian has helped directly, there are also his students who go on to save the lives of others. 

One especially rewarding experience was when a student he had previously taught rushed to tell him how they had been able to assist a coworker who went into cardiac arrest. That man recovered and eventually went back to work.

“I was kind of emotional,” Ian said. “I was excited they were able to help somebody. They had managed to keep calm and do what needed to be done.” 

Class participants Andreina Pardo (left) and Gabrielle Valdez (right)

Gabrielle Valdez and Andreina Pardo attended a recent class taught by Ian. They were on a quest to get certified in first aid for their new jobs in child care.

“Before the class I felt nervous,” Gabrielle said. “Now I feel much more confident.”

They learned how to perform CPR, treat choking, and stop life-threatening bleeding. The Red Cross course they opted for was conducted partly online and partly in person.

“It’s important because you can save someone’s life,” Andreina said. “It’s to be better prepared.”

If you want to feel more confident that you can handle a first aid emergency, you can sign up for Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED skills courses at www.redcross.org.

A Day at the San Jose Blood, Platelet and Plasma Donation Center

Story and photos by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

American Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador Volunteer Yichen Shi

Our Volunteers

As an American Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador, Yichen can easily fit volunteering into her schedule as a pre-nursing student. “It’s really flexible and convenient to sign up for the time you want to do it,” she says.

She greets people who arrive to give blood at the Red Cross Blood, Platelet and Plasma Donation Center in San Jose and she keeps the donors’ snack table full of juice and cookies.

For Yichen, volunteering for the Red Cross looks good on her resume, and she also feels good about helping an important cause.

American Red Cross Blood Services Phlebotomist Astrid Savov

Our Staff

“The best part is when donors are happy,” says Astrid as she prepares to collect blood from a donor in San Jose. “When they say, ‘That was painless,’ it feels good.”

As a Red Cross Phlebotomist, Astrid collects blood from donors who visit the blood donation center. She admires those who donate because, as she says, “It’s people trying to do good.”

American Red Cross Blood Donor John Ahn

Our Donors

“I saw in the news that there is a nationwide shortage,” said John, as he gives blood in San Jose recently.

John is right, the Red Cross recently faced its worst shortage in more than a decade. Such bad news is what prompted John to make an appointment to donate.

During his donation appointments, John puts on earphones and enjoys the streamed shows available at the blood donation center.

Join us!

If you are interested in volunteering your time in support of your community, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

If you’re interested in joining the Red Cross – where your career is a force for good – visit redcross.org/careers.

To make an appointment to donate blood, platelets or plasma, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Mo Ghandehari – Disaster Action Team Volunteer Extraordinaire

By Larry Dietz

American Red Cross Volunteer Mo Ghandehari is an incredible example of the Red Cross mission – and of the caring and dedicated individuals who do what it takes to accomplish that mission.

Mo started with the Red Cross in 2000, first in Las Vegas, then in Salt Lake City, before moving to California and joining the Silicon Valley Chapter in 2007.

Mo Ghandehari on a Disaster Action Team response.

One of Mo’s first positions as a Red Cross volunteer was on his local Disaster Action Team (DAT). In this role, he responded to the full range of disaster calls ranging from fires in homes, mobile homes, condos, and even a ski resort. He even had the unique experience of responding to a home fire where he and the team installed smoke alarms only a few months earlier.

Red Cross volunteers from the Northern California Coastal Region respond to between 30 and 40 disasters a week where a small handful of local DAT volunteers are some of the first on scene to assist families that have been affected.

The first job of the DAT volunteer on site is to help make the affected residents comfortable and to get them the immediate assistance or materials they might need. This could include simple things like blankets or water. Though, the needs of those affected varies from disaster to disaster, and DAT volunteers also help arrange lodging or financial assistance, which allows families to pay for immediate needs and get back on their feet.

DAT volunteers are also general volunteers and can work in other Red Cross areas. In particular, they can work in their local chapter to perform inventories or make sure that supplies and vehicles are ready to go where they are needed.

There are constant training opportunities for DAT volunteers to learn more about the latest in Red Cross systems, or improve skills with courses like Psychological First Aid: Helping Others in Times of Stress.

DAT volunteers are committed. Many sign up for frequent shifts and are always ready to answer the call, no matter what time of the day or night. When disaster strikes, speed is of the essence, whether it is a major wildfire or a single-family home fire. DAT volunteers have the enthusiasm and confidence to deal with a variety of situations.

Mo advises new DAT members to be proactive in seeking initial training. You can start with your chapter’s DAT lead, or the workforce engagement lead, or the Disaster Program Manager for your area to enroll in training. Though, he says there is no substitute for being on-call and responding.

“It is truly gratifying to help a family that needs a place to stay for a few days, before figuring things out,” he said. “When you are on the scene it is very important to be patient, and respectful of those who were affected and to work closely with your supervisors and managers.”

While the core of being a DAT volunteer is at the local level, there are also many opportunities to expand one’s volunteer career path and deploy to a major disaster as a shelter volunteer as well. It comes as no surprise that Mo has seized many opportunities to deploy and lend his talents across the nation.

When asked about which of his deployments captured the essence of really being on a deployment, he said his time as a shelter supervisor during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 would have to be the one.  It was Mo’s first assignment as a shelter supervisor on a disaster response. The shelter was in an elementary school in Pearl River, Louisiana.

“The experience taught me to treat shelter residents just like you would treat your own house guests,” he said. “Our crew did just that! The shelter experience was a team effort between the Red Cross and local volunteers. They opened and operated this shelter for two to three days, and were exhausted and very happy to see us. Residents had already been pitching in – helping the team to prepare breakfast, cleaning the bathrooms, and doing other chores.  We had no electricity and water for the first few days. The new shelter team, which consisted of four volunteers, plus residents (before others arrived), were literally like a family (the shelter had about 50-80 residents), helping each other to make it through.” 

Not only did Mo develop is shelter management skills and style on this deployment, it also taught him about the satisfaction of serving.

“As I was leaving the job – after two weeks – I noticed a hand-written thank you note on the board, on behalf of the shelter, saying that I provided good care during my two weeks as shelter manager,” he recalls. “This, to me, was heartwarming – a very good rewards for two weeks of hard work.”

When asked about what it takes to be a successful shelter manager, Mo said, “Being compassionate, friendly, and able to relate to people from all walks of life, able to establish trust with supervisors and shelter workers, and being a coach and mentor to other team members.”

Mo is a shining example of a Red Cross volunteer. He has won a number of awards, including the Chapter International Services Award (2021), the Extraordinary Commitment and Dedication Award for Chapter Disaster Cycle Services (2016) and the Chapter Clara Barton Award (2012).

You too can become a Disaster Action Team or Sheltering Volunteer and serve your community in their time of need. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more.

A mother’s motivation

By John Lindner

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood for surgeries, cancer treatments, chronic illnesses or traumatic injuries. Because less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood or platelets, hospitals in the U.S. are very dependent on donations from those that are eligible to donate.

Elizabeth Crisafulli with her daughter, born prematurely at 28 weeks.

Every blood donor is motivated to do so for different reasons. Elizabeth Crisafulli discovered her personal motivation 22 years ago, when her daughter was born very prematurely at 28 weeks. The baby weighed just 2.5 pounds and needed an emergency blood transfusion. In addition to tapping into the blood products the hospital had on hand, some of Elizabeth’s friends donated blood. Her daughter is now a healthy 22-year-old.

When you speak with her, you get the impression that Elizabeth is on a mission. She has battled cancer twice, which temporarily postponed her ability to donate blood. Once she was cleared to do so, however, she was right back at it. She got frustrated once when she couldn’t donate because “something was too low.”

Like many of us, Elizabeth receives email notifications for blood donations which remind her to schedule her next donation. She goes to the same San Jose red Cross Blood Donation Center each time and sometimes brings her daughter along (her husband is not eligible to donate). Needles don’t bother her but she says, “I don’t watch it going in.”

Elizabeth praises the American Red Cross Blood Donor mobile app, stating that she “loves it,” adding that “it makes donating so simple.” The mobile app is extremely user friendly and helps you find local blood drives and donation centers, schedule and reschedule appointments and keep track of your donation history. “It even tells you where your blood went and how many lives it impacted,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve shared the app with my friends who have used it to donate.”

This writer was unfamiliar with the mobile app (called “Blood Donor American Red Cross” in the App Store and “Blood Donor” in Google Play). I downloaded the app after speaking with Elizabeth and have a feeling I will be donating more frequently, much like the others Elizabeth has influenced to do the same.

The impact of donating blood is huge – one donation can potentially save more than one life. Unfortunately, today the Red Cross is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade. The blood supply is dangerously low, which has forced some hospitals to defer patients from major surgeries, including organ transplants.

It’s hard to say how many lives Elizabeth Crisafulli’s donations have impacted over the past 22 years, but it’s clear she will positively affect many more in the years to come. Thank you for your life saving donations, Elizabeth!

About the author: John Lindner is a Public Affairs volunteer with the Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

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