Author Archives: Kathryn Hecht

Remembering the Loma Prieta Earthquake: 30 Years Later

loma prieta 420x279On October 17, 1989, the devastating 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake rocked Northern California with the Bay Area and Central Coast bearing the brunt of the impact. The resulting catastrophic damage and loss of life forever changed the landscape, infrastructure, and people of the Golden State.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary, the American Red Cross is gathering stories from those who experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake. Through sharing these stories of recovery and resiliency, we hope to encourage active preparation for the next major event. If you have a memory, experience, or photos/videos from Loma Prieta, we invite you to share them with us. Read more

Leadership Development Camp posts record numbers and attendance

LDC-420x279The American Red Cross Youth Leadership Development Camp for the Northern Californa Coastal Region was held at Camp Butano Creek in Pescadaro on August 5th through 8th. The multi-day camp involves youth throughout the Bay Area in Red Cross activities and provides leadership and learning activities to develop our future leaders.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • 123 campers attended this year representing all four regional chapters – a first for the region!
  • An additional 23 youth staff attended, including seven advisory board youth staff, all of whom worked to plan the camp since December 2018.
  • 146 youth were certified in CPR/First Aid.
  • All participants experienced Community Disaster Education and learned how to install smoke alarms/check their homes for fire safety preparedness.
  • Campers studied the following components of Raid Cross, a role-playing simulation activity that helps students understand the basic rules of International Humanitarian Law:
    • Prisoners of War
    • Militia members making artillery decisions
    • Army Generals making a decision far away from the battles themselves

Always a highlight, Raid Cross introduces many students to unique parts of armed conflict and Red Cross’ involvement in each one.

  • Each student took part in the Diversity program designed to guide youth in understanding privilege. Students took part in a diversity circle to encourage recognition and appreciation of each other’s similarities and differences.

Thank you to all who attended. We hope to see you next year!

Please visit this link to view pictures from the event.

Contra Costa Smoke Alarm Lead Wins Top Award

Marcie Wright-Powell-420x279by Marcia Antipa

Marcie Wright-Powell considers herself an unlikely hero. As with many Red Cross volunteers, Marcie shuns the spotlight. She says, “I really don’t do anything special and certainly a lot less than other volunteers.”

But Marcie could not avoid the accolades this spring, as she was named the 2018 Volunteer of the Year for the American Red Cross of Contra Costa County.

Those who nominated Marcie for this award noted that she is one of those volunteers who does it all: “…being deployed to local disasters, working in shelters, volunteering at the Red Cross Galas, delivering food to our Red Cross shelters, working on our volunteer events committee, and along with everything else she has done, with a can-do attitude, excellent leadership skills, and a true volunteer spirit.”

Now, Marcie is the lead for scheduling all volunteers in the “Sound the Alarm” smoke detector campaign. Marcie’s journey to that role started five years ago. After working as an office manager for 30 years, she joined her husband, Don, in volunteering for the Red Cross. “It’s a challenge, another thing we can do together.”

Their first assignment as a team was with Volunteer and Youth Services, working with high school Red Cross Clubs. “They were very impressive and had all their fundraising plans together.”

Marcie’s next big step was into Disaster Deployment. She worked 12-hour shifts at shelters during several fires in Contra Costa County. She checked fire survivors into the shelter, served food, and found a way to deliver food to another shelter that was cut off by the fire.

During a fire in Clayton, Marcie worked at a shelter at the local library. “One guy came in filthy dirty from work and asked ‘do you guys just have a clean t-shirt I can wear?’” The volunteers found him one. “His son was just thrilled to have pizza and soda and asked if he could read a book from the library.” Marcie said this work gave her a new perspective, that “just having a toothbrush, food, and water” can make a huge difference to a fire survivor.

Marcie also heaps praise on other volunteers, and even the survivors themselves. She noted that the Red Cross partners with Animal Services to help care for pets affected by the fire. “I was really impressed. They bring crates, food, water, leashes, collars. One lady evacuated without her cat. Her neighbor just ran into her house, grabbed her cat, threw it into his car, and brought it to the shelter.”

But Marcie felt she could put her office management skills to better use for the Red Cross. Now she marshals her own army of volunteers, contributing hundreds of hours to the “Sound the Alarm” campaign. She schedules volunteers to install smoke alarms free of charge in clients’ homes and to provide education on fire safety and preparedness.

Marcie has recruited teams of Sound the Alarm volunteers, often husbands and wives, or groups of friends. “My only request is – come up with someone you can work with. Four guys who are in Kiwanis set up their own team and give me four hours a month. They can get five homes done in a day.”

Marcie says people are grateful for the help. She remembers a single mother who had been scared about a fire breaking out in the middle of the night. The team took the time to go over fire safety with her children. “I get emails from people saying, ‘Thank you. Your crew was so professional.’”

And there is a lighter side to her work. Marcie once called an 85-year-old woman to schedule an appointment for the smoke alarm team. “She was pretty much homebound, and very talkative. She said, ‘Now I just have one question for you. I need a man, but he has to drive and he can’t wear a diaper!’”

What will Marcie take on next with the Red Cross? She has an idea she’d like to promote to help volunteers stay engaged. Along with the more formal meetings at Red Cross offices, she asks, “Can we just meet somewhere in a non-business way, and have a cup of coffee with a few people? That’s where ideas come from; not by meeting, but by actually talking.”

With her “true volunteer spirit,” Marcie just might make that happen!

Marcia Antipa is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.

Tanya Sullivan of Sonoma County Awarded Coveted Clara Barton Honor

Tanya Sullivan 420x279

by Marcia Antipa

“I was stunned.”

That was the reaction from Red Cross Volunteer Tanya Sullivan of Sonoma County when she was given the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the California Northwest Chapter.

“I was so surprised and just so honored. Just the name – it’s quite a recognition!”

Anyone who has worked with Tanya in her many Red Cross volunteer roles would not be so surprised to hear of her award. Marianne Arden, of Volunteer and Youth Services, says, “Tanya always downplays her role, but she is absolutely critical to our chapter, and during a disaster, she probably puts in a 70-hour week.”

The Clara Barton Award is given to a volunteer who has made “significant contributions while working with other volunteers and paid staff in developing and implementing effective programs in a resource manner which has enabled the American Red Cross to provide valuable service to the community.”

Tanya’s journey to this prestigious award began four years ago when her uncle passed away. He was a volunteer firefighter in the small Sierra Nevada community where Tanya was raised. “His death motivated me as a new empty nester to find ‘the next thing in my life.’”

Previously, Tanya had a professional career with Fireman’s Fund, then spent time at home raising her children, volunteering in the schools, little league, and other organizations. She also took a part-time job at a nursery. But when her children left home, she wanted to find a well-organized group that could use all of her skills and, as she says, “help me lead an impactful life.”

That group was the American Red Cross, where Tanya joined the Disaster Action Team. Her first “Mission Moment” was a call to a house fire late one night.

“It was in December, very dark and very rural, east of Santa Rosa up in the foothills.”

Tanya says every time she deployed to help a family, “there is an element of shock, of ‘what are we going to do tomorrow?’ We are there while the house is still smoldering, and the fire trucks are still there. One family I met was focused on how the kids were going to get to school.”

Tanya also deployed to the Russian River floods this winter, where she handed out buckets of cleaning supplies to start people on their “disaster recovery.” She says it’s her favorite role.

“You’re not just giving them a bucket – you’re hearing their stories.”

Tanya says in the Russian River community, many residents have been through floods several times over the years.

“The word you hear so much in these situations is resilience. It has become an overused, hashtag word. But I saw it; neighbors helping neighbors pull soaking wet furniture from homes, finding a way to start moving forward.”

Tanya now volunteers in Workforce Engagement. That’s where she earned the Clara Barton award, for streamlining the system to help new Red Cross Volunteers get trained and ready for deployment.

“It was full of speed bumps and potholes. Courses that were required didn’t exist; no one knew where to look. I saw this opportunity to fix all that. I don’t like whack-a-mole solutions that provide an immediate answer, but create a problem downstream.”

Tanya compiled a new document that closed the gaps in workforce training, at the regional and national level. “I was the persistent squeaky wheel that wouldn’t go away.”

Those who nominated her for the Clara Barton award wrote, “Her impact is huge, as this is a primary tool for all of Workforce Engagement, and impacts each and every [disaster services] volunteer.”

Tanya is obviously proud of her work, and of the army of volunteers that carries out the mission of the American Red Cross.

“It just blew my mind when I found out how few paid staff the Red Cross has, and look what we can do! Red Cross knows how; I love being a part of that!”

Congratulations to Tanya Sullivan!

For information about how you can become a volunteer with the American Red Cross, please click here.

Marcia Antipa is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.

Sticking with it for the community

Annie Schaefer - 420x279The American Red Cross named Annie Schaefer the 2018 Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year for Napa County. Though Annie shuns the limelight, her passion and belief in the Red Cross exude with every breath and action she takes on behalf of the agency. This is her story.

Ten years ago, Annie Schaefer worked for a large pharmaceutical company in Napa. The senior team set aside 100K every year to give to important causes, so it was no surprise when a board member from the American Red Cross in St. Helena made a pitch to her company’s leadership in search of additional board members. Annie’s boss recommended her for the job.

“I got a cold call, [this man] shared his experience, and I listened,” Annie reflects. “He asked me about my involvement in or knowledge of the Red Cross. I only had one distant association. My mother was a nurse in the community, and my parents were always active. But the cool thing about the Red Cross was that my Mom volunteered at the summer fair at the first aid station. So I agreed to attend a Board meeting.”

At the time, in 2009, Annie had a son overseas in Iraq. During that Board meeting, the team talked about the work of the Red Cross with military families. “I got a lump in my throat,” she says. “And it became apparent I was one of the only people with a direct link to the military. I bit, and joined the Board.”

As Annie learned more, she started taking classes. She dove into her work as part of the chapter’s Disaster Action Team. Then in 2014, when Annie had taken the helm as the Napa Valley Board Chair, American Red Cross transformed its local operations nationally to meet the growing demands for services while making the best use of donor dollars. In the new chapter design principle, a chapter must serve a minimum population of 340,000.  This led to the consolidation of many smaller Red Cross chapters into fewer larger ones, hence the birth of California Northwest. A year later, Annie was the last remaining Napa Valley Board member. “The timing couldn’t have been worse,” she says. “My primary concern was to keep the Red Cross front and center and to let people know we weren’t going anywhere.”

Annie says the timing was challenging.  In the middle of all the transitions of structures and roles, the area was hit with a couple of major disasters. The 2014 earthquake destroyed the Napa office, even though St. Helena’s survived. And then the wildfires of 2015 ravaged the northern counties. “Twelve hundred people showed up in 48 hours at the Calistoga fairgrounds,” she recalls. “And that’s when we got the hit. People said, ‘the Red Cross doesn’t know what they’re doing’ and people were left with a bad taste in their mouths. But everyone was at fault; the entire region – government, nonprofits, Red Cross, companies, residents – was unprepared and overwhelmed.”

Why did Annie stick with it in spite of challenging feedback and community misperceptions? “I thought: these are my people,” she says. “It’s the personal piece of it that makes it worthwhile. My community is what kept me coming back. Even when it became the most grim.”

Annie recalls, “When I helped open the mass care shelter in 2015, a very gentle retired fellow came up to me. It was quiet, and he smiled and said ‘ya know, I’ve always donated to the Red Cross so now I get the payback.’ And it’s because of our [donors and volunteers] that we can provide for people who need us.”

When asked what she would tell potential volunteers for the Red Cross, Annie replied “You can’t measure the warmth. When you give something, don’t look for what you get out of it, look for how it makes you feel. Get the whole story – go out on a call – you can watch and see what happens.”

For information about how you can become a volunteer with the American Red Cross, please visit this web page.

I’m still useful

Ki Daniels 420x279
Ki Daniels poses in front of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, where she was staying in an American Red Cross evacuation shelter after flood waters from the Russian River inundated her home on February 26, 2019. (Photo: Barbara Wood)

By Barbara Wood

Ki Daniels, who has been living in an American Red Cross evacuation shelter since February 26, 2019 when forced to flee as the Russian River overtopped its banks, knows what it takes to recover from a disaster. That’s because in October 2017, Ki lost her home and all she owned in the Tubbs Fire, a loss from which she only recently had begun to feel she’d recovered.

Nonetheless, Ki, who had just recently completed renovating a home she thought would give her a fresh start on the banks of the Russian River, is upbeat about her future. She says her second loss of a home and most of her belongings in less than two years is “another opportunity for re-creation.” And she credits the Red Cross – which helped her recover after the Tubbs Fire and in the Sebastopol shelter gave her a safe, warm place to sleep, medical care, emotional support and meals – with helping to make that “re-creation” possible.

“The services that the Red Cross provides to those fleeing disaster is the foundation for their tomorrow,” Ki says. “I’ve been so well cared for.” She credits the Red Cross for helping her to manage her medical problems, as well as providing medication and medical supplies and providing a special adjustable, heavy-duty medical cot on which to sleep.

“It’s little things like that that make the world look different for someone who has medical problems,” she said.

Ki Daniels_Press 420x279

Ki Daniels shares the story of her recent escape from Russian River flood waters with a news reporter in front of the evacuation shelter in Sebastopol that the American Red Cross opened on February 26, 2019. (Photo: Barbara Wood)

Ki, who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a business as a Feng Shui consultant, said she arrived at her Russian River home after an out-of-town trip only to learn the area was being evacuated. “I just grabbed a trash bag,” she recalls. She filled it with her medications, a blanket and pillow, and a few papers. A sheriff’s deputy took off his jacket and gave it to her. “I was freezing,” she remembers.

After arriving at the shelter in the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, “the Red Cross absolutely gave me all the additional support I needed,” Ki says. Red Cross volunteers helped her find a change of clothing and other necessities. “My heart’s not broken – it may be cracked, but it’s not broken,” Ki says. She also says that her attitude about the future changed while she was in the shelter, especially after she volunteered to help the Red Cross assist some of the shelter residents.

“Being here really shifted my mind. I’m still useful,” she smiled.

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About the author: Barbara Wood is a Red Cross volunteer writer with our Silicon Valley Chapter.

Community togetherness in times of need

By Lindsay R. Peak

rc420 x 279Having survived the Valley Fire that decimated so much of Lake County in 2015, the mother/daughter duo of Kathleen Connors, 66, and Kelly Grimsley, 33, moved to Santa Rosa in August 2016 to make a “fresh start.” They had barely settled there when they heard the astonishing news in October 2017 of the threatening Tubbs Fire near their new home.

The two quickly fled, traveling toward Healdsburg in search of safety. A wrong turn landed them in Guerneville. Realizing their mistake, they looped back toward the freeway, eventually arriving at the emergency Red Cross shelter at Windsor High School in the early morning hours.

Remembering the feeling of being displaced with her daughter and a just a few important papers, fire survivor Connors pensively jests, “This was as ‘fresh’ as it gets.”

Night one, the pair slept on wrestling mats on the shelter’s floor. Night two, there were cots. “That was a really welcome thing. We could really rest a little bit,” says Connors.

In the days to come, community donations began to pour in. Connors and her daughter recounted the large mountain of available items piling up in the center of the gymnasium, including bedding. Padding their cots with layers of sheets, blankets, and warm comforters made their unthinkable situation feel a little more like home.

“All of our immediate needs were met,” says Connors.

Connors had limited experience with the American Red Cross prior to staying in the shelter. She recalls participating in basic training decades before while volunteering as a candy striper, but not much more.

No strangers to giving, Grimsley and Connors had regularly volunteered with local charities and non-profit organizations. Grimsley, diagnosed with autism and with other medical challenges, enjoys donating her time to help benefit others. Most of the projects Grimsley and her mother had choosen to work on are geared toward fundraising for or increasing awareness of a particular cause.

But this experience was different, as the first-time shelter clients were receivers instead of givers of volunteer services.

“What an extraordinary compassion [it is] to receive,” says Connors. “I never gave it a second thought when on the other side. It’s just what you did. Being on the receiving side, you see that these people are really extraordinary. The compassion was extraordinary. To receive that was just amazing.”

Connors further explains, “All the resources were organized. We saw everyone working with law enforcement. We had food. Medical care was available. A hug was there if we needed a hug.”

Commencing the long process of rebuilding, Grimsley took to the Internet. Online, she discovered that a beloved local chapel was among the structural fire victims. Once praised for its exquisite mosaic wall, only the tiles survived. A handful of individuals sought volunteers for an art project aimed at making trinkets from these recovered tiles.

Mother and daughter had frequently taken art classes, so the project seemed like a perfect fit.

With their spirits down, the creative process was a welcome distraction. It was a way to occupy their minds, bring them together with the community, and use their talents in a positive way while going through the many stages of grief.

Over a period of three months, this mother and daughter worked roughly 200 hours on the project. After the tiles were cleaned, tumbled, and polished, they were crafted into crosses, ornaments, garden accents, and tie tacks, among other things. In all, the pair and others involved created over 1,000 unique keepsakes.

The tile creations were given away at a variety of events aimed at community togetherness. They served as a sign of strength, symbolic rebuilding, and comfort in times of need. Some mementos were sent to the Camp Fire this past fall. Others were distributed to local churches.

By word of mouth, more and more volunteers participated in the project. And, it is not over.

“There are still projects to do. There are still tiles,” says Connors.

Connors and Grimsley presented each Red Cross volunteer with one of their masterpieces as a token of appreciation at the California Northwest Chapter’s September BBQ celebration.

Connors has many human-interest stories and positive experiences to share, including a misunderstanding about the comfort level of a standard-issue cot.

After leaving the shelter, she and her daughter were briefly displaced again. Connors marched into the local Red Cross office to seek assistance one more time. Connors asked a Red Cross representative if she could borrow one of the cots she got so familiar with over the course of a few weeks in the shelter. The Red Cross representative looked at Connors with a confused look and said, “You want to borrow… a cot?” Connors confidently replied, “Yes. We were in a shelter. We slept really good on the cots. I will bring it back. I want to borrow it just for a few days.” The woman left momentarily and returned, visibly concerned. Without saying yes or no to the request, the representative compassionately stated, “Ma’am, I think you need a pysch evaluation.”

Connors, taken aback, then explained how the community donations and experience with the Red Cross made the standard-issue cot more than a cot to her and her daughter in their time of need.

Understanding her experience more completely, the two shared a good laugh.

“It was a fun moment,” says Connors.

Rising from the ashes, this mother-daughter twosome remain positive as they continue to search for permanent housing. They have slept in numerous places including an office and at Red Cross volunteer Peggy Goebel’s home.

Uprooted twice by natural disaster, Connors has learned and shares a mantra about one’s home:

“Home and sacred ground is where you are whatever moment in time it is.

“The fire was the fire,” she says. “We have to choose to appreciate things that came out of the fire that were amazing. There were a lot of people we wouldn’t have met or known had it not been for the fire. It has its moments. There is a little silver lining.”

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About the author: Lindsay Peak is a volunteer writer for the California Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross.

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