Author Archives: Martin Gagliano

“It’s not just the support you bring, but the positivity that comes along with it.” – An Interview with Wyn Davies, Red Cross Disaster Action Team member

Photo courtesy of Wyn Davies

American Red Cross volunteers come from many diverse backgrounds, with different life experiences, but they all have something in common: they want to help others in their time of need.

In 2018, Wyn Davies was working for a company that made an in-kind donation to the Red Cross response during the Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties. He had the chance to meet John Ruiz, our Regional Disaster Officer. Wyn was already familiar with Red Cross disaster work because one of his friends was a Disaster Action Team (DAT) supervisor and often shared stories about how the Red Cross helped the community in times of need. Soon after, he decided to join as a volunteer.

What motivates you to dedicate your time to help others and how do you integrate this into your everyday life?
In my professional career, I help large companies with all aspects of their desktop and mobile computing needs. By digging into the issues, I work with extended teams to help alleviate issues people are having, or things that are holding them back. I feel that by being a part of DAT, I am doing the same things but with their immediate life needs. I’m always here to help.

I love to give back to the community and although I generally see people during the darkest of their days, I know what I am doing will help them and that gives me great motivation to keep moving forward.

After a disaster response, one of the residents told me that he and his family have been donating to the Red Cross for years and never thought they would be at the receiving end of our disaster services. You never know when you will need that help yourself, so I always want to make the most of what I can give and do.

Which part of the work with the Disaster Action Team do you enjoy most? What do you think is the most important thing about this role?

I enjoy being with the people we serve in their time of need. I love being able to bring them some kind of hope when they have experienced some kind of loss. It’s hard sometimes but I always have to look at it from the point of view that we are bringing them some much needed help and services. I think that being a beacon of hope for them is the most important part of the job. It’s not just the support you bring but the positivity that comes along with it.

How much time per week or month do you dedicate to your volunteer work?

I try to be on call or at least generally available several days a week, depending on my work schedule.
I also do some other volunteering outside the Red Cross, so I need to balance my time.

What are some of your favorite memories during your work with the Red Cross?  

There have been lots of things I could talk about but it’s really the everyday interaction with those affected by disasters that stand out in my mind. I have been to countless home fires of all types where someone has lost everything they own, and it’s always the interactions with the residents that sticks with me. Hugs too, I love the hugs folks want to give us.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing that might help people understand and share the work of the Red Cross?

When I tell people what I do for the Red Cross, they immediately start asking about all the different aspects of the help we can provide. I always encourage people to reach out and start the journey themselves to become a volunteer. There are so many different ways you can help that it doesn’t really matter about your background or specific skills, there is always something that can be done to (help people) our clients. Give a little of your time or a lot, it all helps.

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers just like Wyn. They play critical roles in their local communities making sure families don’t have to face tough times alone. For more information and to apply, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday

Note from the editor: This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Spirit of Volunteerism: Celebrating our Volunteers of the Year

The Volunteer of the Year Award is the highest honor a volunteer can achieve within our chapters, awarded annually to the individuals who best exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

The most recent awardees have contributed significantly to the American Red Cross across all our lines of service and worked alongside staff and other volunteers in multiple roles.

Their contributions have enabled the Red Cross to fulfill our mission to the community throughout the region.   
We proudly present:

Cindy Leung
Bay Area Chapter
Alameda County

Cindy has been part of the Community Partnership outreach program in Alameda County since 2020.

Her leadership has made the program a model for similar initiatives across the region. Her professionalism and dedication has allowed the Red Cross to reengage with multiple key partners while developing new relationships.

Cindy is a passionate volunteer who believes that “we can only fulfill our mission as a team and as a community.”

“I’m motivated by the incredible selflessness and dedication of other Red Cross volunteers, the staff and our partners who all drive towards disasters instead of away from them. With climate change, I see more and more human suffering and displacement in our future, and there will be even greater need for our services, before, during and after emergencies.”

Suzanne Garrett
Bay Area Chapter
Contra Costa County

Red Crosser extraordinaire Suzanne Garrett was honored for her service, dedication and time as a large-scale disaster responder and as a Disaster Action Team member. She’s held several key roles in Contra Costa County, including Disaster Chair, Disaster Action Team Lead, Duty Officer and Caseworker.

She also serves as our county  Program Lead for The Pillowcase Project and has kept the program thriving in Contra Costa County, even through the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to thank all the many volunteers I have the pleasure to serve with, in Contra Costa and also throughout (our region.) You have made me feel like part of a true family where we all have a common purpose – Sleeves Up, Hearts Open, All In.”

Ann Bennett Young
Central Coast Chapter
Santa Cruz County

Since joining the Red Cross, Ann has supported blood drives as a Donor Ambassador and as a blood drive coordinator.

She has also been an advocate and champion of inclusion, belonging, equity, and access, and has presented on cultural intelligence on multiple occasions within our region and to regions across the U.S.

Ann has also assisted Disaster Cycle Services, working with community partners and residents to ensure they are prepared to respond to disasters.

“Volunteering with the Red Cross allows me to spend time with people who know that they can make a difference for those around them. Problem-solving and meeting needs become so much more meaningful in a context where others can benefit directly. Additionally, I learn so much and am always able to strengthen my skills by taking on new and different challenges.”

Alisa Zhou
North Bay Chapter
Marin County

Alisa is a kind and passionate volunteer, and a wonderful leader for her chapter’s Youth Executive Board.
From her position on the North Bay Board of Directors, Alisa was inspired to create a storybook that highlights Red Cross volunteers around the world. In addition to her storybook project, Alisa is always thinking of new ideas to engage chapter youth volunteers and promote Red Cross Clubs.

Furthermore, she has invited notable guest speakers to events that allow high school students to learn about the organization’s impact.

“I’m blessed to have found a family among the Red Cross community and look forward to continuing to grow — both personally and professionally — together. The Red Cross community is one that is so special…(t)his organization truly bridges the line between friends and colleagues,” she said.

Matthew Tsai
Silicon Valley Chapter
Santa Clara County

With his determination to serve communities impacted by wildfires, Matthew became an effective advocate for expanding youth engagement in disaster response within our region.

He was the first youth volunteer from our region to be deployed in the staffing function, specifically the Disaster Event Based Volunteer team.

In this role, Matthew supported community members who graciously raised their hands to join our wildfire response. He hosted new volunteer welcome sessions, managed the regional volunteer shift tool, and helped fill open shifts, all while attending school during the day. 

“I am continually inspired by how the collective power of our organization enables us to respond to major disasters and help people across the globe.”

Meet Angela Thompson Hunt: Turning Compassion into Action

Angela Thompson Hunt has always been a Red Crosser at heart, even before she started volunteering.

Growing up in the Midwest, she experienced tornado drills at school and saw the devastation caused by floods and winter ice storms. “Over the years, I’ve seen the American Red Cross assist people in their recovery from disasters,” she said. “I knew I wanted to volunteer someday.”

Angela walking next to an Emergency Response Vehicle
at Santa Rosa Parade
Photo courtesy of Angela Thompson Hunt

But it wasn’t until she and her family moved to California that she found time in her busy schedule as a full-time mom and office assistant to become a trained Disaster Action Team (DAT) member for the Red Cross.

“I loved that I could fit my Red Cross volunteering and DAT shifts around my family and work schedule,” she said.

“Volunteering, for me, is about using my skills to support my community in a way that fits in with the rest of my life. It’s also about learning new things and making myself step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “Compassionate listening, interviewing, flexible thinking, creative problem solving, pivoting and reprioritizing, public speaking, planning, data management and record keeping, new computer systems, and digital communication technologies have all been part of my volunteer experience.”

Over the years, Angela has worn many hats within the North Bay Chapter of the Red Cross, demonstrating a high level of professionalism in every project she takes on. She is the Workforce Engagement Coordinator for Napa and Sonoma counties, training and guiding new volunteers into positions that are a good fit for them. She is also a Disaster Instructor, a valued Mass Care Team member and she collaborates as a social media volunteer for the Public Affairs team.

“At the heart of my volunteer work is the satisfaction I still get in training volunteers, helping them turn their compassion into action in service of our shared Red Cross mission,” she said. 

Because of her commitment and dedication, Angela was honored in June with the North Bay Chapter’s Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership. This is the highest honor for chapter volunteers, highlighting their significant contributions in a series of leadership positions held over years.

“My Red Cross memories are like a bead necklace,” Angela said of her experiences during multiple deployments. “One bead for getting on an airplane not knowing what to expect (when) landing in Louisiana in 2005. One bead for my first overnight shelter shift at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds during a winter flood. Another is for helping with cots in a local church following an apartment fire and then another one is for setting up cots in the Finley Community Center for a different apartment fire. There’s a bead for the Napa earthquake, another for the Clayton Fire, the Ghost Ship Fire, the Tubbs Fire, the Kincade Fire, and the list goes on. Beads for every volunteer I assisted in training and deploying to home fires, apartment fires, wildfires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as so many other disaster response situations where Red Cross volunteers show up to help. I’ll never forget all those wonderful people who, much to my surprise, have become such an important part of my life. My Red Cross family.”

Without a doubt, one of the precious beads in this memory necklace is dedicated to Angela’s family – her husband, daughter, and son – who have spent their time with her as both a wife, mother and Red Cross volunteer. “Over the years it has been wonderful to share this some Red Cross experiences with my children: participating in parades, organizing comfort kits or volunteer recognition pins, creating training packages, or attending a volunteer party,” she said.

“I love that the American Red Cross, founded in 1881, is such an old organization, generation to generation, volunteer to volunteer, sharing the mission, passing on training, and handing over the torch to make sure that there is always someone ready to respond,” she said.

Thank you for your priceless work, Angela and congratulations for this well-deserved recognition.

Meet Stuart Chessen. Lifelong Volunteer, Dedicated Red Crosser

By Martin Gagliano

Stuart Chessen knows the value of preparedness, but also the power of helping people in their darkest moments.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Chessen

“I’ve always been one willing to help,” he says. “I like to talk and listen to people when they’re having a problem. You may help them further along by listening to what their problems are and I am good at listening.”

As the Specialty Vehicle Lead for the American Red Cross Pacific Division, Stuart oversees the maintenance of Emergency Response Vehicles, or ERVs, Mission Ready Vehicles and sheltering trailers. He also leads specialty vehicle driver training, getting both the fleet and people ready to respond and reach communities in times of need. He was recently honored with the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Red Cross. This is the highest honor of volunteer achievement at the chapter level, highlighting the significant contributions of someone who serves in a series of leadership positions held over a period of years.

Stuart was an active volunteer in his community for many years before he joined the Red Cross in 2009. When asked about what it’s like being a Red Crosser, he responds humbly, “That is our mission in action. I like the way we all work together to help people. We are there to ease some of their pain in difficult situations, where they just don’t know which way to go because their world’s been turned upside down.”

Stuart Chessen in an Emergency Response Vehicle

Stuart has deployed to disaster responses multiple times, both throughout Northern California and nationwide; he even crossed the country to New York as an ERV driver after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We took the vehicle here in San Jose and drove it all the way to the East Coast. We had a small delay in Pennsylvania avoiding bad weather and we reached our destination on Long Island after five days. We did mobile feeding around the neighborhoods where people had no gas or power. They were in cold homes, waiting for us to arrive with a hot meal.”

On the preparedness side of Stuart’s Red Cross contributions, his background as a First Aid & CPR instructor makes him an excellent Be Red Cross Ready presenter and he enjoys teaching disaster preparedness in communities across Santa Clara County. In addition to his many roles, Stuart also works as a trainer and coach for Logistics and Disaster Action Team members, recovery caseworkers, ERV drivers and new volunteers.

Stuart is an extremely dedicated volunteer who wears many hats within the Silicon Valley Chapter and the region. He exemplifies the Red Cross values of compassion, collaboration, creativity, credibility, and commitment. Congratulations on this well-deserved award, Stuart, and for all you do on behalf of the Red Cross.

Sound the Alarm: Red Crossers make hundreds of local homes safer throughout the month of May

By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa

Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

Home fires claim seven lives every day in the U.S. and remain one of the most frequent disasters across the region — but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. That’s why over three weekends in May, American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region volunteers and partners installed 1,217 free smoke alarms and made 450 homes safer as part of the Sound the Alarm program.

Launched in October 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign aims to prevent deaths and injuries from home fires. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of this campaign. Working with local fire departments and other community partners, Red Cross volunteers visit high-risk neighborhoods, install free smoke alarms and provide residents with safety education on how to prevent home fires, what to do if a fire starts and how to create an evacuation plan.

“Sound the Alarm is a meaningful way to be part of a larger movement while directly helping local families,” said Ana Romero, Red Cross Regional Preparedness Manager. “In just one day, our teams could help save a neighbor’s life.”  

Richmond, Calif. 05.07.22.
Photo by Brenda Dawson Dove/American Red Cross

Bay Area Chapter

Isabel Oliva and Julio Hernandez are two of many Richmond residents who received a visit from Red Cross volunteers and the Richmond Fire Department on a Saturday morning in early May.

With the help of local volunteer Yvette Cuellar, Isabel and Julio learned how to prevent home fires and create an evacuation plan to keep their family safe.

Volunteers like Yvette are the heart and soul of this lifesaving program. After four successful Sound the Alarm events across the Bay Area Chapter in May, 396 free smoke alarms were installed, making 132 homes and 392 residents safer in Richmond, Oakland, San Bruno and San Francisco.

Oakland, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Kane Wong/American Red Cross

North Bay Chapter

Novato, Calif. 05.21.22 – Photo by Marcia Antipa/American Red Cross

Marin County sisters Angel and Alisa Zhou are two of the dozen Red Cross volunteers who gifted their time to help install smoke alarms and share safety information at the Novato Sound the Alarm event on May 21 in the North Bay Chapter.

“It’s important that for their own safety, and the safety of the children as well, that there are alarms installed,” Angel said.

Alisa chimed in, “It was so much fun meeting these people and getting to know more about our local community.”

Across the chapter in May, Red Crossers made 118 homes and 251 residents of Santa Rosa, Fairfield and Novato safer by installing 270 free smoke alarms.

Fairfield, Calif. 05.14.22 – Video produced by Nanette Shamieh/American Red Cross

Central Coast Chapter

Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross
Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

On May 14, Red Cross volunteers, local Seaside High School Students and partners from the Monterey County Fire Department came together on a bright, sunny morning in Las Lomas, Calif.

After briefings by the Fire Department, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Patsy Gasca, and remarks by Monterey County Supervisor Phillips, the teams spread out into the neighborhood to install free smoke alarms and share home fire safety information.

During two weekends of Sound the Alarm events in the Central Coast Chapter, 78 homes and 339 residents from Las Lomas and Watsonville were made safer with the installation of 229 free smoke alarms by our volunteers and partners.

Heart of the Valley Chapter

Modesto, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Martin Gagliano/American Red Cross

The Heart of the Valley Chapter had a busy Saturday morning on May 14 when Red Cross volunteers and staff gathered at the Modesto Mobile Home Park for a Sound the Alarm event alongside the Modesto Fire Department and local community partners.

In this community, Red Crossers, including long-time volunteer Tracey Singh, visited 23 homes and installed 48 free smoke alarms. Tracey is an experienced volunteer who enjoys helping equip residents like Martha Guerrero with the knowledge needed to keep her family safe in event of a home fire.

Martha is one of the 89 Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.

Silicon Valley Chapter

“I dealt with people who have been through fires or floods in their homes and these fires are really fast,” said German Barajas, who used to work at a restoration company. “With a plan in hand already, everyone gets out safely and nothing really bad happens, besides the property being damaged, and that’s always replaceable.”

German was happy to receive a visit from Red Cross volunteers at his home in San Jose on May 21 as part of the region’s signature Sound the Alarm event. In just one day, Red Cross volunteers from the Silicon Valley Chapter installed 274 free smoke alarms, making 99 homes safer and helping 329 residents.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22 – Video produced by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

“My stepdad has been a fireman for 27 years, so we have always talked about fire preparedness, prevention, escape plans and what to do in case of emergencies. It’s definitely been drilled into me from a young age how important these things are,” says Megan, a volunteer for the Red Cross Sound the Alarm program.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22
Photo by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

Megan was one of 297 local Red Cross volunteers that helped with the Sound the Alarm events across the Northern California Coastal Region this May.

In addition to these larger Sound the Alarm events, the Red Cross will continue this work across the region throughout the year, installing free smoke alarms and conducting home fire safety educational visits with individuals and families on an appointment basis. Residents who need assistance or would like to schedule a visit with Red Cross volunteers can sign up at SoundTheAlarm.org/NorCalCoastal.

The Red Cross Home Fire Campaign has helped save at least 1,275 lives across the U.S. since its launch, including 24 lives saved right here in the Northern California Coastal Region. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross, along with partners, has installed more than 2.3 million free smoke alarms and made 982,369 households safer nationwide.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from regional partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company; E. & J. Gallo Winery; Arista Networks; Silicon Valley Bank; and State Farm.

For a full suite of photos from the month’s events, visit the full Northern California Coastal Region album. To watch additional videos from the month’s events, visit YouTube.

Service to the Armed Forces Volunteers Support ‘Wings Over Solano’ at Travis Air Force Base

By Larry Dietz, Public Affairs Officer

Photo by Samar Salma/American Red Cross

The U.S. Air Force hosted their annual Wings Over Solano Air Show at Travis Air Force Base on May 14 and 15. The show was open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days and featured a wide range of aircraft from the Pitts Special S13, right on through to state-of-the-art aircraft such has the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber and the F-35 Lighting multirole combat aircraft.

Red Cross volunteers converged on Travis from all of the Northern California Coast Region Chapters – Silicon Valley, Bay Area, Central Coast, Heart of the Valley and North Bay. Under the leadership of Liz Dietz and Marilyn Byington, volunteers offered training, minor first aid supplies such as band aids, water and ear plugs. They also informed show goers about the Red Cross mission and spoke to service members about services the Red Cross offers to them and their families.

Volunteer Stuart Chessen managed logistics for the effort. More than a dozen additional Red Cross volunteers supported the event, and volunteer Salma Samar took great photos and videos.

Mary Ann “Stormy” Reilly and Stuart Chessen taught hands-only CPR, which is a relatively new technique introduced to help save lives through CPR where people are reluctant to give rescue breaths, especially in the COVID-19 era. On these two wonderfully warm days, there were kids aged 7-14 years old and some older adults who stopped by to observe, practice and learn about ‘Hands Only CPR’ and what to do if someone is choking on something. These people got down on their knees to practice, and worked hard to do what they needed, to help save someone’s life. 

Photo by Samar Salma/American Red Cross

Peg Geringer taught ‘Stop the Bleed.’ If you are involved in an incident where there is a severe, bleeding wound, the first thing to do is to call ‘911’. After that, Peg explained that you use direct pressure to stop the bleeding by putting your two hands over the wound and pressing down hard with your upper body.  If you have a roller gauze, take the end of it and start stuffing the injury with as much gauze as you can. Tie off the roll over the wound and if you have a tourniquet handy, apply it 2-3 inches above or below the wound, but NOT over a joint.  Turn the stick or windlass as tight as you can to stop the bleeding. Tourniquets are used as a LAST resort to stop the bleeding.  Cover them to prevent shock.  You may put a large ‘T’ on their forehead with a Sharpie, so the medics know the person has a tourniquet on their body.

Together these two seasoned volunteers trained about 60 people during the weekend event.

The Red Cross presence at Wings over Solano was another example of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces support. The Red Cross provides the military services with emergency communications services, support to Military Hospitals and Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Facilities as well as by building strong families and resilient communities.

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