Tag Archives: People we serve

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.

“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

A First Deployment: Telling The Red Cross Story During a Wildfire

By Marcia Antipa

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

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer for the American Red Cross during a disaster – take a look back with me at my first deployment experience – to the Caldor Fire in California.

I am a Public Affairs volunteer with the Northern California Coastal Region. After retiring from a career in broadcast journalism, I now tell stories for the Red Cross.

Late last August, I received the call.  I would deploy the next day to the Caldor Fire.  I admit, my adrenaline spiked a bit when I got that phone call, but I was excited to put my career skills and Red Cross training to work.

My first stop was Sacramento, and the offices of the  California Gold Country Region.  This was the  headquarters for the Red Cross response to the Caldor Fire and it was a hive of activity.  Staffing Services, Public Affairs and seasoned disaster volunteers all gave me valuable advice. Then I hit the road for my assignment: a massive Red Cross shelter in Reno, Nevada.

Growing up in Northern California, I’d spent many vacations in the Sierra Nevada. But as I rounded the last turn on Highway 80 and looked across the Lake Tahoe Basin, a murky curtain of smoke blocked the usually stunning views.  

In Reno, I arrived to more smoky skies and 95-degree weather. Armed with my notebook, pen and cell phone, I stepped inside the cavernous Reno-Sparks Convention Center. It was filled with hundreds of cots, evacuees, and volunteers in red vests working nonstop to meet the needs of the shelter residents. 

In no time, one of the volunteers walked up and greeted me with a smile. I knew I had found my first story.

Walter Roberts, Junior is a volunteer from Missouri, with Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services. Walter wears a lanyard that is covered with pins – all commemorating the disasters where he has volunteered for the Red Cross. In 2005, he deployed to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

“I have never left New Orleans in many ways,” he said. “I have worn a fleur-de-lis around my neck for 16 years in remembrance of Katrina and the difficulties, the hardships that people faced.”

This time, Walter was working with fire evacuees. His job was to help people stay calm in an extremely stressful situation, “defusing, deescalating tension. Everyone here – staff, management, has the positive right attitude, focusing on serving the residents.”

Deborah Towers, Disaster Health Services Volunteer

I then met volunteer Deborah Towers, a retired nurse who seemed to be everywhere at once: at the bedside of medically-fragile shelter residents, checking in volunteer doctors, or giving a job to a newly-arrived volunteer nurse.  Deborah joined the Red Cross four years ago. Since then she has deployed to hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters.

“We get compliment after compliment about the love that we exude during an emergency. They feel so well-cared-for and so well-provided-for, that it’s just an amazing experience.”

Sometimes it takes a village to meet the needs of a shelter resident. Take the case of Russell Barton.  In the 1960’s, Russell answered his country’s call and served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. When he arrived at the Reno shelter, his country, and the Red Cross repaid this veteran for his service. The shelter provided Russell with a cot, blankets, food, water restrooms and showers. He told me, “It reminds me of boot camp, but without the bunk beds!”

But Russell had other critical needs. That’s where a team from the Veterans Administration – including a nurse, a pharmacist and a social worker – stepped in. They arranged for supplemental oxygen and prescription medications.

Every day I witnessed acts of kindness just like that. Two veteran Red Cross volunteers who had been evacuated from their own home spent the day cleaning cots, handing out laundry bags, or simply talking with people who needed a friendly face.  Another volunteer organized a talent show among the residents to boost morale.

Then one afternoon, the good news swept through the shelter: fire officials had lifted the mandatory evacuation order for South Lake Tahoe.

Whole families quickly packed up their belongings and headed out. Those with cars were on the road within minutes.  Others lined up for a free ride home aboard a regional transit bus. Red Cross volunteers gave all the evacuees a boxed lunch and water for the trip. One bus rider was Reed Wells of South Lake Tahoe. He had a joyous reunion with his little dog, “Peepers,” who had been cared for at a local animal shelter.

Caldor Fire shelter resident, Reed Wells

Many people stopped to thank the Red Cross volunteers who gave them shelter, food and comfort during a frightening time. I heard one man say simply, “I love you,” to the workers.

The next day, a Public Affairs colleague and I drove to South Lake Tahoe to see how the Red Cross was helping those who returned home. The lake was blanketed with smoke, and teams of firefighters still headed to the front line, but people were happy to be back.

Two Red Cross volunteers handed out water, meals and snacks from a large truck and people stopped by to share their incredible stories. Jeffrey Grell said his house was in pretty good shape – except there was a bear swimming in his pool!

As we cope with another fire season, I will remember these stories, of the people who survived last summer’s fires, and the Red Cross workers who helped them. Despite those butterflies on the first day, I was not alone on this deployment. Many Red Cross staff and volunteers had my back – keeping me fed, sheltered and well-informed. But my secret weapon was the dynamic duo of Dan Halyburton of Texas, and Kim Mailes of Missouri – two seasoned, talented, Public Affairs volunteers who welcomed me onto their team. 

Now my bag is packed and I am ready to deploy again.

To find out how you can help during a disaster, visit: redcross.org.

A mother’s motivation

By John Lindner

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood for surgeries, cancer treatments, chronic illnesses or traumatic injuries. Because less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood or platelets, hospitals in the U.S. are very dependent on donations from those that are eligible to donate.

Elizabeth Crisafulli with her daughter, born prematurely at 28 weeks.

Every blood donor is motivated to do so for different reasons. Elizabeth Crisafulli discovered her personal motivation 22 years ago, when her daughter was born very prematurely at 28 weeks. The baby weighed just 2.5 pounds and needed an emergency blood transfusion. In addition to tapping into the blood products the hospital had on hand, some of Elizabeth’s friends donated blood. Her daughter is now a healthy 22-year-old.

When you speak with her, you get the impression that Elizabeth is on a mission. She has battled cancer twice, which temporarily postponed her ability to donate blood. Once she was cleared to do so, however, she was right back at it. She got frustrated once when she couldn’t donate because “something was too low.”

Like many of us, Elizabeth receives email notifications for blood donations which remind her to schedule her next donation. She goes to the same San Jose red Cross Blood Donation Center each time and sometimes brings her daughter along (her husband is not eligible to donate). Needles don’t bother her but she says, “I don’t watch it going in.”

Elizabeth praises the American Red Cross Blood Donor mobile app, stating that she “loves it,” adding that “it makes donating so simple.” The mobile app is extremely user friendly and helps you find local blood drives and donation centers, schedule and reschedule appointments and keep track of your donation history. “It even tells you where your blood went and how many lives it impacted,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve shared the app with my friends who have used it to donate.”

This writer was unfamiliar with the mobile app (called “Blood Donor American Red Cross” in the App Store and “Blood Donor” in Google Play). I downloaded the app after speaking with Elizabeth and have a feeling I will be donating more frequently, much like the others Elizabeth has influenced to do the same.

The impact of donating blood is huge – one donation can potentially save more than one life. Unfortunately, today the Red Cross is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade. The blood supply is dangerously low, which has forced some hospitals to defer patients from major surgeries, including organ transplants.

It’s hard to say how many lives Elizabeth Crisafulli’s donations have impacted over the past 22 years, but it’s clear she will positively affect many more in the years to come. Thank you for your life saving donations, Elizabeth!

About the author: John Lindner is a Public Affairs volunteer with the Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Looking back on 2021

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!”

You can read more about Lisa’s experiences here.


Lifesaving Blood

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.


Training Services

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.


International Services

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.


Disaster Services

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.”

You can read more about Mike’s story here.


From all of us in Communications, Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!

If you have a story lead for any one of our writers, please email us at NCCRPublicAffairs@redcross.org.

Assistance League of San Jose Donates 50 Hug-A-Bears to American Red Cross

Back Row (Left to Right): Mary Ann Reilly, Red Cross Volunteer (RCV);  Jane Earle, Assistance League (AL): Liz Dietz, RCV; Stephanie Wilde, Red Cross; Michael Nealon, RCV;
Male, left side next to Mary Ann is Shayan Shafikhani (San Jose State Nursing Student – SJSU) | Front Row (Left to Right)
An Huynh (SJSU), Anmol Sandher (SJSU), Monica Bacon-Proctor (AL): Ellen Brooks (AL), Terry Hicks (AL) Nikki Rowe (RC) and Ken Toren (RC)
Front next to boxes Ariane Dacanay (SJSU)

The American Red Cross is pleased to announce that it has received a donation of 50 Hug-a-Bears from the Assistance League of San Jose.

Assistance League of San Jose is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization whose members have had a passion for supporting vital community services since 1983. Their philanthropic programs are designed to serve unmet needs in the community. The Hug-a-Bear program was established in 1983 to provide teddy bears to children in their time of need.

Liz Dietz, 40 year Red Cross volunteer and Silicon Valley Board of Directors member is also a member of the Assistance League of San Jose and recognized how the teddy bears could comfort children who are impacted by disasters.

The bears will be given to children in need of support when the Red Cross responds to disasters. The Red Cross responds to a variety of disasters ranging from Single Family Fires to Wildfires to Earthquakes and floods. The bears will provide comfort to those children in need. The bears will also be provided to military families through the Red Cross Service To Armed Forces (SAF) and in other settings where these comforting toys are appropriate.

Liz worked with Terry Hicks, VP of Philanthropic Services of the Assistance League to coordinate the welcome donation of 50 bears. The bears were presented to the Silicon Valley Chapter on December 6 by Ellen Brooks (Hug-a-Bear Lady), Terry Hicks, Monica Bacon-Proctor, and Jane Earle of the San Jose Assistance League. Accepting on behalf of the Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter were Ken Toren, Nikki Rowe, Liz Dietz, Mike Nealon and Stephanie Wilde. The presentation was also attended by San Jose State Nursing Students An Huynh, Shayan Shafikhani, Anmol Sandher and Ariane Dacanay who are completing their Public Health Nursing rotation at the Silicon Valley Chapter.

About the author: Larry Dietz is a Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army Reserve, as well as a dedicated Red Cross public affairs volunteer in the Silicon Valley Chapter.

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