Berlin Gomez-Muniz stood quietly as a 3-inch diameter “Hero” medal was draped around her neck at the Jan. 16 Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross board meeting, but when it was the most important, the 11-year-old says, she yelled so loud her throat hurt after she alerted her extended family to a fire just before Christmas. Read more
Tag Archives: Disaster Response
Out of the Ashes: The story of a Santa Rosa family that survived the Tubbs Fire — and hopes to help other disaster victims
by Marcia Antipa
The weekend before the 2017 Tubbs fire swept through Santa Rosa, Bill and Lynne Dorsey were visiting their son in Arizona. As their flight home landed on October 8, they noticed the plane was buffeted by unusually strong winds.
Before they went to bed in their Coffey Park neighborhood, they heard there was a fire in Napa, but were not too concerned. However, just a few hours later, they woke up to hear the wind rushing and howling around their house. Then, they looked out the window. “We could see the embers coming out of the sky and emergency vehicle lights.
From the ashes of wildfires rise everyday heroes. Betsy Witthohn is one of them.
After reaching safety, the fire survivor recounts how time stood still two years ago until mandatory evacuation orders were lifted. Her mind was preoccupied with anxiety as she feared for the worst.
Returning to the area, she found the flames spared her residence. Many nearby were not as fortunate. That experience served as a catalyst to becoming a Red Cross volunteer. Her husband joined, as well.
During this time of year, when we remember the special people in our lives, it’s impossible to overlook the amazing work of the many volunteers who are at the heart of everything we do in the American Red Cross.
Dwayne Taaffe is one such volunteer, supporting our Central Coast Chapter’s Disaster Action Team. Following an early-morning response this week in which Dwayne and other members of our team provided “canteening” services to firefighters responding to an industrial fire in Salinas, Dwayne sent me the following email in response to a quick thank-you note. Read more
To see more stories related to the Red Cross response to the Kincade Fire, please go here or see list of stories, below.
[Updated November 4, 2019] More than 400 Red Cross workers alongside government and community partners are providing shelters, meals, health services, comfort and other support for affected residents.
- More than 6,500 people stayed in Red Cross and community shelters in Northern California. With the lifting of evacuations orders, all shelters have been closed.
- With partners, the Red Cross has served more than 51,000 meals and snacks, provided more than 2,500 relief items, and made more than 2,800 individual care contacts.
- This week, at the Local Assistance Center, affected families can meet one-on-one with trained Red Cross caseworkers who will assess their disaster-caused needs, offer recovery information, help with medication and eyeglass replacement and other emergency needs, and referrals to other agencies. Financial assistance is also available to those whose home was destroyed or had major damage.
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:
Local nonprofit and Red Cross partner Corazón Healdsburg offered a crucial point of contact for Latinx families during the Kincade Fire. The organization staffed Red Cross shelters in Sonoma and Marin counties with bilingual volunteers. They met with displaced Spanish-speaking families or those who were adversely affected. For some, it was the only point of contact with whom they felt comfortable.
Since 2016, Corazón Healdsburg has worked diligently in the Latinx community to create resources and a safety net for low-income families to thrive. Their programs range from financial literacy to first-generation college counseling. So when disaster struck, many in the community already knew where to go: The Healdsburg Community Center.
Earlier this year, American Red Cross volunteer Lorraine Jacobs received the 2019 Clara Barton Award given by the Central Coast Chapter. Named after the organization’s founder, the award honors a volunteer for service in Red Cross leadership positions over many years. In Lorraine’s case, one look at her Red Cross resume makes it clear why she received the prestigious award.
Beginning with a deployment in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Lorraine has exemplified outstanding service through her work with the Central Coast Chapter, our region, and beyond. She has devoted her time and care through long-distance deployment in shelters, training, information and planning, fundraising, and Volunteer Management. Lorraine, who has supported Red Cross staff and clients as both a full-fledged volunteer and employee, is currently volunteering as part of the regional Workforce Team.
Before beginning her Red Cross service in response to Katrina, Lorraine first came in contact with the organization following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. When the destructive quake caused significant damage to her and her family’s Soquel area home, Lorraine remembers the Red Cross sharing resources to help them with short-term rental expenses. The memory of that support has stayed with Lorraine in the years since, motivating her to continue to help people facing similar devastation and displacement.
In the following Q&A, Lorraine discusses those and other Red Cross experiences, what inspires her to respond to those in need, and what motivates her now to encourage other volunteers to do the same.
What inspired you to start volunteering with the Red Cross?
I began my work with Red Cross as a volunteer in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. The images of the devastation, scope of the disaster, and the need for volunteers coincided with my ability to deploy at that time in my life. From a young age, I had volunteered for humanitarian causes. So the Red Cross work felt like a good fit.
What lines of service have you participated in?
In the Hurricane Katrina disaster response, I began working in a shelter and continued on to what is now called Recovery. During subsequent deployments, I worked in Information & Planning, Logistics, Staffing, Training, ERV driving, and continued with Recovery. My concentration now is on Training, and I really enjoy it.
What are some of the more challenging and uplifting moments you’ve experienced in your various roles with the Red Cross?
My experience has helped me hone my listening skills. After 14 years of Red Cross work, I am not done developing this skill. But I see it more as an opportunity for growth rather than a challenge.
My work with our clients, with people who have been affected by disasters, has also been both challenging and rewarding. The losses our clients sustain are sometimes life-changing. The challenge has been trying to figure out how I can best work with a client and help him or her move through the maze of other agencies set up to help. The reward is less simple to articulate. In fact, it is somewhat indescribable for me. When I listen to a client’s story, or help a person through difficulty, it translates to a feeling of hope. I really believe that connecting with and understanding others builds a network of common ground for shaping our future.
These days my work is more in the area of preparing other volunteers. After working in many other areas of Red Cross, I feel my skills now are best utilized in the facilitation of disaster training at Red Cross. I treasure the Principles, Values, and Mission Statement of Red Cross. Our learning platforms support these well. The opportunity exists to help volunteers find their way in our large organization by facilitating an understanding of how the Red Cross mission translates into care for others.
It is so uplifting to see volunteers progress through training and their disaster-response experiences, learn how to do the best job possible helping meet clients’ needs, and — in the process — learn a lot more about themselves.
What advice would you give people interested in volunteering with the Red Cross
There are several things I would recommend prospective volunteers do. I would recommend they start by educating themselves by utilizing Red Cross classes to choose a starting place. I think it can be very helpful to find a mentor in their chosen field. Listening to experienced volunteers and staff members is also an important step. I also always tell prospective volunteers to be flexible, as Red Cross disaster work often happens in real-time under pressure. And last but not least, I advise people to regularly re-evaluate how the work is going for them. The Red Cross is a big organization with a lot of different opportunities for service.
What does being a recipient of the Clara Barton Award mean to you?
As this award is in recognition of Red Cross work I have done for many years, receiving it from my local chapter is a particularly great honor. I am more appreciative of it than I can say.
Become a Red Cross Volunteer: You can make a difference in Monterey, San Benito, or Santa Cruz County by becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Volunteers constitute about 94 percent of the total Red Cross workforce to carry out our humanitarian work. Red Cross volunteers are trained to meet the needs of those affected by disasters, providing food, shelter, and comfort for families affected by major disasters such as fires, floods, and earthquakes as well as helping local residents prepare for and recover from emergencies of all kinds. We’ll find the position that appeals to you and allows you to use your skills and talents. Email VolunteerCCC@redcross.org to get started.
About the Author: Fleur Williams is a volunteer writer for the Central Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross. A resident of Aptos, Fleur is a freelance writer with a focus on the arts, culture, and humanity.