Tag Archives: Disaster Response

“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.

Full Circle: Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

On August 2, 2022, American Red Cross volunteers Ron Redmond and Don Powell visited the home of Martinez, California resident, Burnie Gipson, to install smoke alarms.

Burnie, who is deaf, recently moved to the area after suffering a home fire at his previous residence in San Francisco. Following the fire, which damaged multiple homes in Burnie’s residential complex, Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers responded to provide comfort, care and financial assistance to help impacted residents meet their immediate needs.

With an average of 60,000 disaster responses a year, the majority of these home fires, the Red Cross and our partners are every bit as focused on disaster prevention as we are on disaster response.

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

Enter the Home Fire Campaign: a year-round effort aimed at home fire prevention through free smoke alarm installations and preparedness education. To date, the campaign’s efforts have saved at least 1,366 lives since 2014. 

One component of the Home Fire Campaign is the ability for the Red Cross to provide specialized smoke alarms to alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the event of a fire. After moving to Martinez, Burnie reached back out to the Red Cross to set up a free installation in his new home. 

People who are deaf or hard of hearing are particularly vulnerable to home fires because they may not be able to hear a traditional smoke alarm. The specialized alarm, frequently referred to as a ‘Bed Shaker,’ is typically installed next to the bed, and alerts residents using a strobe light and vibrating pad that can be placed under the mattress or pillow. It is activated when an accompanying traditional smoke alarm is triggered during a fire.

Red Cross volunteers Don Powell (left) and Ron Redmond (right) install smoke alarms in Burnie Gipson’s home in Martinez, Calif. on August 2, 2022.
Photo by Marcie Wright-Powell/American Red Cross

“Every day, people’s lives are devastated by home fires,” said Natalie Manier, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Contra Costa County. “We are proud to play an important role in the prevention of home fire-related injuries in our communities, while at the same time, we’re also able to play an important role in the response process when a fire unfortunately does occur. Our volunteers ensure our services are available full circle if they are needed, and that we’re here for our community members – ensuring they do not have to face life’s emergencies alone.”

Burnie’s home now has an added element of protection thanks to his preparedness mindset and the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

All Red Cross services, including smoke alarm installations, are free of charge thanks to our generous partners. During short home visits, Red Cross volunteers and partners install free smoke alarms, and share information on common home fire causes, how to prevent them, what to do if a fire starts, and how to create an escape plan. If you or someone you know needs smoke alarms in their home, visit SoundTheAlarm.org/NorCalCoastal to schedule an installation appointment.

“It’s time for me to give back,” Red Cross Volunteer of the Year says

By Barbara Wood/Red Cross volunteer

Marcia Antipa interviewing a Red Cross volunteer in a shelter in Reno, Nevada during the Caldor Fire in 2021.

Although she became a Red Cross volunteer in November 2019, just months before COVID-19 changed everyone’s lives, Marin County’s Marcia Antipa jumped in with both feet and quickly became involved in Red Cross activities throughout the Northern California Coastal Region.

This year, Marcia, who is retired from a career in broadcast news, was named the region’s Volunteer of the Year for her contributions, which include serving as an active member of the regional communications team, acting as the emcee for volunteer award ceremonies throughout the region, and deploying to Reno for the Caldor Fire in 2021.

Her award nomination describes Marcia as, “the first person to jump in when an opportunity or a need arises. She is absolutely dedicated to telling the Red Cross story not only during blue skies, but she is also dedicated to ensuring that information about vital relief and recovery efforts is shared in a timely and accurate manner with both internal and external audiences during disasters.”

Marcia’s first volunteer experience with the Red Cross was actually more than 30 years ago, in 1991 after the Oakland Hills Fire destroyed more than 3,000 housing units, killing 25 people and injuring 150 others.

“I was in between broadcast journalism jobs and raising our baby when the Oakland Hills firestorm hit,” Marcia said. “It was one of the most terrifying things we had seen in the Bay Area, and shocking really.”

“To think about that now with some of the horrific fires that we’ve had — Paradise, Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, just whole communities going up — it doesn’t seem as shocking now. But back then, that wasn’t happening,” Marcia said.

Marcia Antipa on assignment as a public affairs volunteer during the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe, California in 2021.

In the aftermath of the fire, Marcia said she noticed the Red Cross was helping. “It’s like Mr. Rogers said: His mother always told him ‘Look for the helpers. When you hear a siren, when you hear about bad news, don’t worry, look for the helpers because they’re going to be there. Well that’s the Red Cross.”

 “So I thought, OK it’s time for me to give back.”

Marcia said she was quickly trained and sent to a service center to help those affected by the fire. “To see people walk in with that glazed and frightened look on their face. It was like they were the walking dead because they had just had everything ripped out from under them. When they saw someone was listening and there to help them, they just brightened up.”

“So I thought, I can help them a little bit.”

“Jobs and children got in the way,” of further volunteering until late 2019, when Marcia rejoined the Red Cross. “I had seen all the ways the Red Cross had helped during the fires in California and I wanted to be part of that mission and bring help to people in whatever way I could.”

Marcia and her husband of 46 years, Ron, have an adult daughter and son and three grandchildren, twin 9-year-old girls and a 3-year-old boy. They live in Main County, where she spent most of her childhood, on what Marcia describes as “the knees of Mt. Tam,” part way up Mt. Tamalpais.

She has a degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C. She worked as a writer, reporter and news anchor during her broadcast news career, working in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and San Francisco.

Marcia also loves to sing and throughout her life has performed in choirs and musical theater.

See some of her work for the Red Cross here:

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.

“I Want To Do That!”

Bay Area Clara Barton Honoree Uses her Journalism Skills To Tell The Red Cross Story

Barbara Wood on assignment in Bayou Gauche Island, Louisiana during Hurricane Ida in September 2021.

Barbara Wood is a longtime American Red Cross volunteer from San Mateo County.  She was recently given the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the Red Cross Bay Area Chapter.  It’s the highest honor of volunteer achievement at the chapter level.

Barbara says she was inspired by her aunt Vinnie Bieberdorf, a Red Cross volunteer for more than 50 years.  “She responded after (Hurricane) Katrina, she was managing a mega-shelter. She responded after 9/11. She did all of these things and I said ‘I want to do that!’”

Barbara is a retired professional newspaper reporter, who has served in many positions with the Red Cross.  Now, she is a public affairs volunteer, reporting on the Red Cross efforts to help those affected by wildfires, floods, tornadoes and other disasters.

The Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region Communications Director Cari Dighton says, “She has 30 total deployments under her belt, and she continually brings that knowledge back to the region – co-instructing courses, mentoring our new communications volunteers … and writing multiple, heartwarming stories per year.”

Barbara and her husband raised three children in San Mateo County.  She joined the Red Cross in 2006, volunteering for work close to home.  Once her youngest child had her driver’s license, Barbara began volunteering for the Red Cross at disasters across the country.

Her first deployment was to Hurricane Ike, a powerful cyclone that hit Texas in 2008.  She remembers the camaraderie of living and working with first responders and other community partners in Texarkana and on Galveston Island. 

“There was a huge mess tent where you’d go through a cafeteria line and there was a massive amount of food because firefighters eat a lot. The National Guard was there, there were firefighters and utility workers, and the Salvation Army.”

Barbara’s deployments have taken her all over California and the U.S.

Barbara embraces wildfire shelter residents during the Oak Fire response in Central California, July 2022. Photo by Sivani Babu/American Red Cross

“I went to Santa Rosa after the Tubbs fire. I was in Oroville after the Camp Fire, and in 2018, they were looking for volunteers to go to Hawaii so I got permission from my job to go after the volcano erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii.”

Barbara says she loved working in the shelters and providing other services to those affected by disasters – but as a professional journalist, she realized her skills could be better put to use in Public Affairs.

“She proudly tells everyone she knows that her ‘volunteer job’ is being a Red Cross storyteller,” says Dighton.  “She is incredibly talented and travels all over our region and across the country to support the Red Cross mission.”

This hard working journalist and volunteer combined her two loves: professional writing and helping others. After every deployment, Barbara would write a firsthand account in the form of a column about her Red Cross experiences for her newspaper. On her deployment to Hawaii, she met a group of USGS experts from Menlo Park. “I called my editor and said, ‘Can I stay an extra three days if I write a story about this USGS geologist who is a volcano specialist and I’ll have a story for you?’ So they let me do that.”

Barbara has brought her sharp journalism skills to multiple disaster deployments, writing stories about volunteers and shelter clients. She illustrates her articles and social media posts with her own thoughtful, heartwarming photos.

Eventually, Barbara retired from journalism, but not from her volunteer job as a Red Cross storyteller.  “When I think back over my life about things I’ve done as a reporter, and things I’ve done with the Red Cross, I think the Red Cross things are in many ways more memorable.”

Barbara tears up as she remembers her experiences.

“I sometimes say I think the Red Cross is kind of like a placebo. When you show up someplace, people say “oh look, it’s the Red Cross! And they instantly feel better before we do anything. And whatever we can do to help them, we do.”

Barbara urges anyone who wants to make a difference to volunteer for the Red Cross. “It doesn’t matter what your skills or interests are; there’s a Red Cross job for everybody.”

As this article was written, Barbara was already off on her next deployment: the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park in Central California.  Once again, she is telling the stories of the Red Cross volunteers and the people they help.

Please click on the links below to read just a handful of Barbara’s remarkable Red Cross stories:

Two Bartons: Red Cross founder inspired young relative

Meet April Thacker: Making a Difference, One Family at a Time

By Cari Dighton

April Thacker, 2022 Heart of the Valley Chapter winner of the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership

When glancing through the list of April Thacker’s many American Red Cross volunteer roles, it’s easy to see why her peers describe her as “the Red Cross mission in action.”

“I love working with people and the community,” she says. “I’m motived by knowing I’m making a difference in someone’s life, one family at a time. I love to share our mission and what all the Red Cross has to offer.”

A Merced County resident, April has been a Red Crosser for two decades; she volunteers alongside her mother, Molly, to lead the local Disaster Action Team (DAT). She also guided the Merced County DAT through an organization realignment in 2019, and helped her team learn the ins and outs of RC Care during the implementation of this new disaster response program software.

Through it all, she says her favorite part of the work is being there for families affected by disasters – providing care and comfort in their time of need.

April’s dedication and compassion for those impacted by disasters has also translated to her work as a preparedness educator, where she meets with local communities and county partners to create disaster preparedness plans.

“Through the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing people who have now become part of my everyday life,” April says of the friendships that she has made with local families and community partners along the way. “I cherish them.”

Because she brings so much to the table, so often, she was recognized in June 2022 with the Red Cross Heart of the Valley Chapter’s top honor, the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership. Named after the founder of the Red Cross, this special award recognizes a volunteer for their years of service in various leadership positions.

“I was pretty speechless when I heard I got the Clara Barton Award,” she recalls. “It’s such a prestigious award in the Red Cross world. It’s such an honor to be chosen for it.”

But, in typical volunteer fashion, April says she couldn’t do what she does without her Heart of the Valley team members. “It takes a village to do all we do and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them.”

To anyone interested in becoming a part of this team and carrying out the same type of fulfilling work that April does, she urges them to do it. To learn more. To “find what tugs at your heart and go for it.”

“There are so many different opportunities and areas to help within the Red Cross,” she said. “It is so rewarding in so many ways.”

It is the work of volunteers like April that bring the Red Cross mission to life every minute of every day.

“I strive to make a positive impact in the world every day. Whether it’s just a smile, hug or just a listening ear.”   

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