Author Archives: redcrossnorcalstaff

California Storms Response: Stories of the Helpers

By Alex Keilty/American Red Cross 

Hundreds of American Red Cross disaster workers are in California, helping people impacted by this two-week stretch of back-to-back severe weather.

Lunch is served, thanks to Red Cross husband-and-wife volunteer team Lillian and Jeff!

The relentless storms have caused flooding, landslides, power outages, severe damage to roadways and numerous evacuations from one end of the state to the other. Almost 470 trained Red Cross disaster workers are helping people in California. Here are some of their stories.

“We enjoy having different scenery from our retired life,” says Lillian, who is serving meals with her husband at the Red Cross shelter in San José that was opened in response to flooding in the area.

“We don’t like sitting around,” says Jeff, and so they volunteer together here and also deliver blood donations to hospitals three days per week for the Red Cross.

“Lots of listening.”

That is what Gale, a retired Nurse, says is a big part of her day as an American Red Cross disaster health services volunteer in San José.

“I am helping people by listening, or helping them get lost medications, helping them get a cane or a walker,” says Gale.

“They want to know that somebody is here to support them.”

Gail Carli, San Mateo Volunteer

“This is my first rodeo,” says American Red Cross volunteer Fernando. It’s his first time volunteering at a shelter set up in response to flooding in San José. 

“I am impressed by how many people are willing to volunteer from other states, to come out from their homes and help us in California,” he says. 

Fernando is part of a team of volunteers from across America who are providing beds and meals to people impacted by flooding.

Red Cross volunteer, Anthony, from West Virginia

“When I go home I lock myself in the house to decompress and think about what I have been through,” Anthony says, of how he deals with the hardest parts of volunteering in disaster areas. 

Anthony has experienced the emotional ups and downs of being an American Red Cross volunteer numerous times, helping in shelters and assessing damage to people’s homes after disasters. 

Anthony flew into San José this week from West Virginia to help at a shelter at Seven Trees Community Center for people who have been affected by flooding. 

But it’s not all tough times as a volunteer. The best parts include travel to new places, sightseeing when off duty and visiting friends in other cities, according to Anthony. 

“I jam in some fun every time,” he says. 

After Lisa finishes her shift as a Disaster Health Services volunteer for the American Red Cross, she will catch a few good hours of sleep and then wake up at 4:30 am to get to her day job as a Registered Nurse in a hospital caring for children after surgery. 
How does she do it all? 
“I just figure out how to juggle it because it’s important to me,” she says. “These people are in an incredibly challenging situation,” she says about the residents seeking refuge from flooding across California.

The Red Cross relies on people like Lillian, Jeff, Gail, Fernado, Anthony and hundreds more volunteers who offer shelter and compassion to people affected by disasters please visit

Stories of Service and An Opportunity to Serve Those Who Serve Our Country

By Julianna Jaynes, an AmeriCorps member

Both of my parents grew up in military families, but with neither of them enlisting, I grew up a generation removed from being considered an immediate family member.  Having been born much later than when any of my family members were active in the military, I did not have the chance to experience their service alongside them but instead was introduced to them when they were already proud military veterans.

jaynes5Sitting at the dinner table, my whole family laughing, my Uncle Sammy once again tells the same story that, in my mind, is paired with the essence of who he was.  He would always smile as he told it, even though I’m quite sure that on the day the story took place, he was doing the exact opposite. See, my Uncle Sammy was a paratrooper in Central America, and in his youth, he was quite proud to have earned the title. Unfortunately for him and his pride, during his very last training jump, he managed to land not on his target, and not even on the ground near his target, but instead, in an unsuspecting and probably quite surprised tree. With that, he managed to break his leg, expel himself from the paratroopers, and was instead sent to Germany to be the assistant of a Jewish chaplain stationed there not long after the end of World War II. Though the story told at the dinner table would usually end here, followed by the continuous teasing of my family, his military experience did not. My Uncle Sammy, a once paratrooper, now chaplain’s assistant and Jewish American soldier, instead went on to help a still-grieving community heal from the recent trauma of the Holocaust.

jaynes3My grandfather passed when I was still relatively young. Yet, I will always remember the tribute the Navy paid to him when he passed, for how much it honored both his memory and his service, even though he had been active many, many years before. Though I only had to chance to know him when I was young, meaning I never got the chance to hear about his service from him, my dad was able later to tell me about his time in the military. He had enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War and spent most of his time repairing ship motors in Japan and Hawaii. Two Navy members came to his memorial service and presented us with the American flag. To this day, every time I see it, proudly framed in a wooden triangle, I always think of him.

jaynes2My mom was born an army brat on a base near Huntsville, Alabama, to my grandmother, an outgoing civil rights activist, and my grandfather, an army engineer, serving during Vietnam. They entered the service right as the sputnik missile was being launched into space, meaning that all the engineers stationed there were working hard to catch up.  Being the critical mission that it was, the debate was rampant in the arsenal, and to encourage the troops to get back on track so that the USA could win the space race, John F Kennedy himself showed up to the base. My grandfather met the president with an outstretched hand and a quiet “wow.” Telling the story now, my grandfather always assures us that this was not in response to meeting the president of the United States, but instead was a reaction to the president’s choice of clothes. “I’d never seen a $1500 suit in real life before.”


When I saw an AmeriCorps position open for “Service to the Armed Forces,” I honestly thought something along the lines of: “Cool. I guess I’ll be teaching them about disasters or something.” As it turns out, service to the armed forces means so much more than that. I had no idea that the Red Cross acted as a verifier to help the military make informed leave decisions. I had no idea that if an active member or a veteran called desperately needing financial assistance, that caseworkers at the red cross would work tirelessly to connect them with organizations and resources that could help them. I had no idea about the work that was put into comfort kits, disaster kits, and events for active military members, veterans, and their families.


One of my very first cases was a MEPS call, meaning I was simply calling the family of a newly active military member to let them know that the Red Cross offers these sorts of services.  I got a very concerned father on the phone, who needed absolutely every crumb of information repeated so he could write it down, even though I assured him the information would again be sent to him in written form.  With this call, I could hear a woman who at one point identified herself as the mother, asking him to then repeat the information to her, so that she could write it down on a separate piece of paper, just in case the first piece of paper got lost, even though, again, I assured them several times the information would be sent to them.  I remember hanging up this call and thinking of my family. Of remembering these stories and realizing how glad I was to know that the Red Cross was there for them, and how glad I am to know that the Red Cross will continue to be there for military members, active or veterans, and their families all across the country.

It’s hard to believe, too, that this is just the tip of the incredible iceberg that is service to the armed forces.  As my grandmother said, when I asked about her time on that army base in Alabama, “Serving our country is one of the most important [things]. Anybody who serves their country – they deserve to be taken care of.” Being a couple months into this position, I feel like that is exactly what the Red Cross does, and I am so happy to be a part of it.

On Veterans Day, the American Red Cross honors all the men and women who have served and sacrificed to protect and defend our country. Every day, the American Red Cross provides 24/7 global emergency communication services and support in military and veteran health care facilities across the country and around the world, and that is only possible because of our dedicated employees and volunteers. Learn more about our Service to the Armed Forces.

Community in a shelter full of strangers

This is another in a series of stories we are posting on this regional blog related to the American Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire disaster:

BLOG - Cots

Red Cross cots and blankets await evacuees earlier this week at the Marin County Fairgrounds shelter.

To see more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire, please go here.

By Taylor Poisall,
American Red Cross

In a room filled to capacity, a sense of community was present.

“It’s actually been really nice. There’s a sense of bonding that makes us all feel like close neighbors” said Cathy, who moved to Northern California a few years ago from the East Coast. This was her first time ever staying in a shelter.My daughter has had a great time; it’s like she has been at camp. She played games with other children, read books from the mobile library, and visited with many elderly residents.” Read more

Reflections on Paradise Lost

By LeeAnn Woodward

Tuesday, September 10 was a day I will never forget.  I had the chance to visit the town of Paradise with some of our donors, 11 months after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, devastated this community.  It took the lives of 86 people, destroyed almost 19,000 structures, and covered over 153,000 acres.


As we drove through the ridge, we saw charred trees, the signs of where a hospital used to be, the local salon, a grocery store, even a McDonald’s with only the golden arches left standing – it was not only emotional but also strangely inspiring to see the rebuilding that’s starting to happen. Read more

Six Month Update on Valley Fire Recovery

Colorado Wildfires 2012

As you know, our friends and neighbors in Lake County and in communities across the state endured a relentless series of devastating wildfires this past summer. Today, our work continues, where Red Cross staff and volunteers continue to collaborate to ensure residents have the extra assistance they need to rebuild, not just as individuals but as a whole community, too.

Click HERE to read a six-month Stewardship Report that provides a first-hand look at your generously donated dollars at work, detailing our continued support and recovery efforts in the community.

Thank you for your support and commitment to help those affected by these wildfires. Your generosity makes the hope of recovery possible at a time when people need it the most.

Volunteer’s Persistence Provides Hope and Hearing


Eleanor Guzik (left), a long-time volunteer Red Cross nurse from Ventura, whose persistence lead to donation of hearing aids and Client Charles Smith (right) at Sonus’ Walnut Creek, California offices, where the hearing aids were presented and fitted.

The wildfires that torched California’s Lake, Calaveras, and Amador Counties last September destroyed more than 1,700 homes and displaced thousands of families. Like many from the American Red Cross who were deployed to one of the fire locations, Eleanor Guzik — a longtime volunteer nurse from Ventura in the Central California Region — was a valuable resource for many of the people who relied on the national organization to help them with food, water, shelter and other critical needs in the first days and weeks of the fire-response operation.

Many months later, Guzik, a Red Cross nurse for more than 10 years, and others in the organization have continued to track the smaller — but still important — needs of hundreds of clients from the fires. The cases of five such clients — four adults and one child — were of particular concern to Guzik, as they had lost hearing aids that they were financially unable to replace.

While considering their plight one day, Guzik recalled a chance meeting she’d had with another Red Cross volunteer, Marilyn Reilly, from the organization’s Desert to the Sea Region. Reilly had worked in the hearing aid field — and after speaking to Guzik, sought help from a leading supplier of the devices, Sonus Hearing Care Professionals.

In February, the persistence of Guzik and Reilly paid off when Sonus, with critical support from Starkey Hearing Foundation, announced that the five victims would get new hearing aids for free.

During an emotional event at Sonus’s Walnut Creek offices on February 11, four of the five were on hand to be fitted for their new devices.

Daniel Smith, who is temporarily residing in Sebastopol, was one of the four who made the trip to Walnut Creek that day.

Having his hearing restored is important to him, he said. But Smith has acquired a lot of perspective since losing his home, vehicles, and other possessions during the Valley Fire.

“In a way, after all that happened to me, my hearing loss was not the biggest of my concerns,” Smith readily admits. But he says the donation he’s received has done more than improve his hearing; the experience has been a big boost to his spirits.

And Smith quickly mentions how thrilled he was that he got some face time with Guzik, who surprised Smith by attending the event in Walnut Creek. “She flew all the way up here from her home, and there she was standing there smiling at me after I received my hearing aids.”

Guzik, Smith says, never lost faith that the Red Cross and its partners could help him and the other four victims. “She kept telling me to just be patient,” he recalls.

“The hearing aids are great. I couldn’t be more pleased — and more humble, Smith adds. “This has been a real light in the darkness for me.”

Guzik, meanwhile, is quick to deflect credit to her Red Cross colleagues, Reilly and division disaster health services advisor Diane St. Denis, who helped shepherd the donation through its final steps — and, of course, to Sonus and the Starkey Foundation. “Their combined efforts provided a total of more than $30,000 worth of hearing aids to these five people so that they could hear again. The people at Sonus and Starkey are the real heroes in this story.”

It’s just the kind of comment one comes to expect from Guzik, whose Red Cross information includes her work experience as Registered Nurse and Nurse Practitioner and her Red Cross roles of Disaster Cycle Services Nurse Consultant and member of the Pacific Division’s Disaster Response Management Team.

“But the important line,” she quickly adds, “is the one that says: American Red Cross Volunteer. It’s a work of the heart, and that’s why I continue on with it.”

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