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.”
By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 89Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.
“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.
“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.
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.
Please join us as we say goodbye to 2021 with a look back at some of our favorite stories of the year from all of our lines of service.
Service to the Armed Forces
Lisa Ann Rohr was one of nine Red Cross SAF Mobile personnel who left the U.S. for overseas duty from August 2020 to April 2021. Lisa Ann was one of two Red Crossers initially stationed in Iraq, at the diplomatic post Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC).
She says: “My entire ‘boots on the ground’ experience providing virtual services in Emergency Communications Messaging Delivery and Service Member follow-up with my peers, to creative ‘no contact’ distribution of incoming holiday donations, gifts and personal care items, to organizing cooking classes, language classes, and cultural history classes for U.S. and Coalition military forces serving their deployment rotation at BDSC, was a dream come true!”
Blood donor Jennifer Sahni credits the Red Cross for saving her life after a challenging childbirth. After delivery, Jennifer’s cesarean incision would not stop bleeding. She received two units of blood, which stabilized her. Two days later, she had to receive a second transfusion with an additional two units of blood. She was able to go home the next day.
“I am so grateful to the people who donated the blood I received,” Jennifer said. “Because of them, I was able to go home and be with my kids. You can read more about Jennifer’s story here.
On Tuesday, March 16, two local residents were honored with American Red Cross commendations in a virtual ceremony hosted by the organization’s Central Coast Chapter.
“These two individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help others in distress.” – Michele Averill, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Central Coast Chapter. You can read more about Linda and Robert here.
Red Crossers and the public at large were invited to a speaker series to learn how the American Red Cross International Services team provides relief and hope in communities around the globe by reconnecting families separated by crises, helping rebuild communities devastated by disasters and working alongside health organizations to eliminated global disease.
Featured panelists included Chris Losavio, Executive Director, Heart of the Valley Chapter American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region; Patrick Hamilton, Head of Delegation for the United States and Canada International Committee of the Red Cross; Koby J. Langley, Senior Vice President, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services American Red Cross; Christine Medeiros, Pacific Division Lead, Restoring Family Links American Red Cross. You can view a recording of the discussion here.
Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke earlier this year to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head.
American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. During the recovery process, Mike says they became “like friends from the past that I never had before – it’s a good feeling all over.”
Joseph Padilla proudly works for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in San Joaquin. There they store and supply everything for all five branches of the military: parts, gear, food, etc. Joseph relishes the ability to serve his community through work, a value instilled in him by his parents. He also counts himself lucky to be alive following a dreadful car accident in 2015.
Three years after the accident left Joseph fighting for his life, he received an alert at work for a blood drive with the American Red Cross. What he recalled from the ER on that terrible night flashed back, and he could see yet another way for him to help.
“I remember when I was rushed to the ER that a lot was going on,” Joseph said. “I had never had anything major before. Unfortunately, I was awake the whole time. I was so cold.”
Because of a storm, medics could not airlift Joseph to Stanford Hospital, so he had to be driven. As they wheeled him into an ambulance, Joseph remembers a bright red cooler sitting on his gurney. He says, “One of the guys shouted, ‘We’re not authorized to send this blood with him.’ But then a woman shouted back, ‘He needs this blood, or he won’t survive.’ It was the moment I realized how bad it was.”
“That memory sticks with me,” says Joseph. “Man, I wouldn’t be here without those donations, and if that one nurse hadn’t sent the blood with me. That act of kindness saved my life, so I’m paying it forward.”
And he did.
Joseph attended the drive at work in 2018 and has been donating blood ever since. He’s even a Power Red donor. A Power Red is similar to a whole blood donation, except a special machine is used to allow you to safely donate two units of red blood cells during one donation while returning your plasma and platelets to you.
“Knowing that I’m helping save someone’s life is all the motivation I need,” Joseph says. “It’s an awesome feeling to know that you are helping people. I wish I could give more!”
This June, individuals from all across the Northern California Coastal Region of the Red Cross stepped up to help lead their respective chapters. Each chapter’s Board of Directors elected new members and most installed new officers.
“As we dive into the next fiscal year, we look forward to the potential of our new members combined with the expertise of our officers,” says Jennifer Adrio, CEO of the America Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region. “Their combined diverse experiences are critical to the work our Region does for more than 10 million people throughout 15 counties.”
The new board members bring a wealth of diverse experience to their roles, including decades of experience in IT, communications, technical consulting, social services, mental health expertise, the field of law, education, communications, design, real estate, government, environmental sustainability and more.
“During the past year alone, Red Crossers responded to 1,342 local disasters — many of them home fires — collected 103,240 units of lifesaving blood and trained 56,943 residents in first aid and water safety,” Adrio says. “And those are just a few of the many ways our region made a difference in our local communities.”
The new members began their terms effectively July 1.
Giving blood is one of the most personal things someone can do. And it’s something that American Red Cross blood donor and volunteer Nancy Houghton does as often as allowed. Nancy has donated blood for years, first as a Red Cross volunteer during the Vietnam war, and then again more recently when someone close to her needed blood.
All blood donors at Red Cross blood centers receive a feedback form asking them why they chose to be a blood donor. Here is what Nancy wrote:
“I know someone who has been getting blood transfusions. Somebody somewhere gave their blood to help him through that. I can do the same for somebody else. We’re all in this together. So simple, so easy, and so important to someone somewhere. It could be you or your loved ones. It made such a difference in his well-being.”
Nancy’s poignant response prompted the public affairs team to reach out and learn more.