Tag Archives: Regional

The Spirit of Volunteerism: Celebrating our Volunteers of the Year

The Volunteer of the Year Award is the highest honor a volunteer can achieve within our chapters, awarded annually to the individuals who best exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

The most recent awardees have contributed significantly to the American Red Cross across all our lines of service and worked alongside staff and other volunteers in multiple roles.

Their contributions have enabled the Red Cross to fulfill our mission to the community throughout the region.   
We proudly present:

Cindy Leung
Bay Area Chapter
Alameda County

Cindy has been part of the Community Partnership outreach program in Alameda County since 2020.

Her leadership has made the program a model for similar initiatives across the region. Her professionalism and dedication has allowed the Red Cross to reengage with multiple key partners while developing new relationships.

Cindy is a passionate volunteer who believes that “we can only fulfill our mission as a team and as a community.”

“I’m motivated by the incredible selflessness and dedication of other Red Cross volunteers, the staff and our partners who all drive towards disasters instead of away from them. With climate change, I see more and more human suffering and displacement in our future, and there will be even greater need for our services, before, during and after emergencies.”

Suzanne Garrett
Bay Area Chapter
Contra Costa County

Red Crosser extraordinaire Suzanne Garrett was honored for her service, dedication and time as a large-scale disaster responder and as a Disaster Action Team member. She’s held several key roles in Contra Costa County, including Disaster Chair, Disaster Action Team Lead, Duty Officer and Caseworker.

She also serves as our county  Program Lead for The Pillowcase Project and has kept the program thriving in Contra Costa County, even through the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to thank all the many volunteers I have the pleasure to serve with, in Contra Costa and also throughout (our region.) You have made me feel like part of a true family where we all have a common purpose – Sleeves Up, Hearts Open, All In.”

Ann Bennett Young
Central Coast Chapter
Santa Cruz County

Since joining the Red Cross, Ann has supported blood drives as a Donor Ambassador and as a blood drive coordinator.

She has also been an advocate and champion of inclusion, belonging, equity, and access, and has presented on cultural intelligence on multiple occasions within our region and to regions across the U.S.

Ann has also assisted Disaster Cycle Services, working with community partners and residents to ensure they are prepared to respond to disasters.

“Volunteering with the Red Cross allows me to spend time with people who know that they can make a difference for those around them. Problem-solving and meeting needs become so much more meaningful in a context where others can benefit directly. Additionally, I learn so much and am always able to strengthen my skills by taking on new and different challenges.”

Alisa Zhou
North Bay Chapter
Marin County

Alisa is a kind and passionate volunteer, and a wonderful leader for her chapter’s Youth Executive Board.
From her position on the North Bay Board of Directors, Alisa was inspired to create a storybook that highlights Red Cross volunteers around the world. In addition to her storybook project, Alisa is always thinking of new ideas to engage chapter youth volunteers and promote Red Cross Clubs.

Furthermore, she has invited notable guest speakers to events that allow high school students to learn about the organization’s impact.

“I’m blessed to have found a family among the Red Cross community and look forward to continuing to grow — both personally and professionally — together. The Red Cross community is one that is so special…(t)his organization truly bridges the line between friends and colleagues,” she said.

Matthew Tsai
Silicon Valley Chapter
Santa Clara County

With his determination to serve communities impacted by wildfires, Matthew became an effective advocate for expanding youth engagement in disaster response within our region.

He was the first youth volunteer from our region to be deployed in the staffing function, specifically the Disaster Event Based Volunteer team.

In this role, Matthew supported community members who graciously raised their hands to join our wildfire response. He hosted new volunteer welcome sessions, managed the regional volunteer shift tool, and helped fill open shifts, all while attending school during the day. 

“I am continually inspired by how the collective power of our organization enables us to respond to major disasters and help people across the globe.”

“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 Stuart Chessen. Lifelong Volunteer, Dedicated Red Crosser

By Martin Gagliano

Stuart Chessen knows the value of preparedness, but also the power of helping people in their darkest moments.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Chessen

“I’ve always been one willing to help,” he says. “I like to talk and listen to people when they’re having a problem. You may help them further along by listening to what their problems are and I am good at listening.”

As the Specialty Vehicle Lead for the American Red Cross Pacific Division, Stuart oversees the maintenance of Emergency Response Vehicles, or ERVs, Mission Ready Vehicles and sheltering trailers. He also leads specialty vehicle driver training, getting both the fleet and people ready to respond and reach communities in times of need. He was recently honored with the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership for the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Red Cross. This is the highest honor of volunteer achievement at the chapter level, highlighting the significant contributions of someone who serves in a series of leadership positions held over a period of years.

Stuart was an active volunteer in his community for many years before he joined the Red Cross in 2009. When asked about what it’s like being a Red Crosser, he responds humbly, “That is our mission in action. I like the way we all work together to help people. We are there to ease some of their pain in difficult situations, where they just don’t know which way to go because their world’s been turned upside down.”

Stuart Chessen in an Emergency Response Vehicle

Stuart has deployed to disaster responses multiple times, both throughout Northern California and nationwide; he even crossed the country to New York as an ERV driver after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We took the vehicle here in San Jose and drove it all the way to the East Coast. We had a small delay in Pennsylvania avoiding bad weather and we reached our destination on Long Island after five days. We did mobile feeding around the neighborhoods where people had no gas or power. They were in cold homes, waiting for us to arrive with a hot meal.”

On the preparedness side of Stuart’s Red Cross contributions, his background as a First Aid & CPR instructor makes him an excellent Be Red Cross Ready presenter and he enjoys teaching disaster preparedness in communities across Santa Clara County. In addition to his many roles, Stuart also works as a trainer and coach for Logistics and Disaster Action Team members, recovery caseworkers, ERV drivers and new volunteers.

Stuart is an extremely dedicated volunteer who wears many hats within the Silicon Valley Chapter and the region. He exemplifies the Red Cross values of compassion, collaboration, creativity, credibility, and commitment. Congratulations on this well-deserved award, Stuart, and for all you do on behalf of the Red Cross.

Sound the Alarm: Red Crossers make hundreds of local homes safer throughout the month of May

By Martin Gagliano, Alex Keilty, Jenny Arrieta & Marcia Antipa

Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

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.”  

Richmond, Calif. 05.07.22.
Photo by Brenda Dawson Dove/American Red Cross

Bay Area Chapter

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.

Oakland, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Kane Wong/American Red Cross

North Bay Chapter

Novato, Calif. 05.21.22 – Photo by Marcia Antipa/American Red Cross

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.

Fairfield, Calif. 05.14.22 – Video produced by Nanette Shamieh/American Red Cross

Central Coast Chapter

Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross
Las Lomas, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Jenny Arrieta/American Red Cross

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.

Heart of the Valley Chapter

Modesto, Calif. 05.14.22.
Photo by Martin Gagliano/American Red Cross

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 89 Modesto residents that was provided with safety information and had free smoke alarms installed in their home during this Sound the Alarm event.

Silicon Valley Chapter

“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.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22 – Video produced by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

“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.

San Jose, Calif. 05.21.22
Photo by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

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.

Missing But Never Forgotten: Red Cross Program Reconnects Families

By Alex Keilty

After retiring, some people play golf and some people play bridge, but Christine Medeiros plays amateur detective. 

Christine is a volunteer caseworker and Pacific Division Lead for Restoring Family Links – a program of the Red Cross and Red Crescent networks that reconnects loved ones separated by international crises. Tracking down missing people here and overseas takes lots of old fashioned detective work plus some technical savvy – and Christine has both.

Christine started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018. Her first case (before the COVID-19 pandemic) called for her and a teammate to go door to door in San Francisco searching for an elderly gentleman whose last known address was in the Tenderloin neighborhood and whose family in Ukraine had no word from him.

“We found him!” she says. And that’s a pretty typical result for Christine. After working 40 cases locally and consulting on approximately 30 cases in other Red Cross regions around the country, she is confident about her ability to find people whose last known whereabouts is the West Coast of the United States. As she says, “When they are here [on the West Coast], I can usually find them.”

Once COVID-19 hit, all her work went remote and she became “an online detective,” as she calls it. Nowadays she works from home in Marin County at any time of the day, evening or weekend that suits her schedule. 

Although it may seem unrelated, her professional background (she retired from the technology industry where she worked in marketing and partnerships) has actually been an asset to her part-time sleuthing work as a Restoring Family Links caseworker. Being comfortable doing computer searches, completing online forms, writing letters, being organized, speaking in front of audiences – these are all skills she honed in her previous work life. She says speaking languages in addition to English can be an asset to the role as well. Caseworkers must also be compassionate and offer comfort to family members who may be distressed.

“It takes a little bit of social work because people can be very upset, even angry,” she says.

Christine Medeiros

Families seeking a missing relative can submit requests to the Restoring Family Links program online or by phone. When a Red Cross caseworker is assigned, they gather as much information as possible about the sought person – including full name, date of birth, names of parents, last known address, last known contact location, past telephone numbers, email addresses, any languages spoken, occupation, religion, and a photograph. This information is uploaded to an international case management system that is accessible to the Red Cross and Red Crescent network worldwide. And then the case will be assigned to another volunteer caseworker who is in the country where the individual is being sought.

So Christine may be gathering information from a family member who lives here, or she may be looking for a missing individual who was last seen in this area. 

When the missing person’s last known location is here, Christine will use the information provided by the family overseas to begin a search. She will call all previous phone numbers, send letters to all previous addresses, reach out to former employers, and connect with religious and immigrant groups to see if they know this person. She will also look for Facebook accounts and use Google Earth maps to look for and eliminate addresses and mailboxes. The Red Cross also has access to databases which can provide consumer information and public records. Caseworkers may also do some cultural and historical research to put the missing person’s experience in context and provide more leads as to their current whereabouts.

So who are these missing people? Some cases go back as far as World War II. A majority of the cases come from Central America and Africa, though globally there are 100 armed conflicts and 90 million people displaced due to war, climate change, persecution, violence and poverty.

To protect these vulnerable people, the program is totally confidential and the only people who can initiate requests are family members, not government or other organizations. Once the individual is located by a Red Cross caseworker, they can choose if they want to reconnect with their family or provide no information at all – not even a message that they were found. The American Red Cross respects their privacy. 

To access the Restoring Family Links program, the family member must have been separated internationally as a result of conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency; must have already tried normal channels of communication to reconnect; be able to provide essential information about the sought person, and must have been in direct contact with the sought person before the crisis occurred.

Some cases are resolved quickly and happily; perhaps an individual in a war zone is able to send word to family overseas, or the person is located through the dogged investigative work of the caseworkers. But sometimes the result is sad news that the person has died or is unable to be found.

“Searches can go on for years,” says Christine. And while all cases are important, some haunt her and can’t be forgotten. Like one case she had years ago where she was seeking a person who had fled from South Vietnam.

“The Canadian Red Cross could not find him, but I still look every once in awhile,” she says.  To learn more about the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program visit your local Red Cross chapter, call 844-782-9441 or complete the online form at https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services/reconnecting-families.html.

The Cost of War

Red Cross teen volunteers spread awareness about the impact of armed conflict

By Marcia Antipa

“It’s just better for humanity that everyone knows about it.”

IHL In the Bay, a Youth Action Campaign team from the East Bay.

Bay Area teen Janaki Rakesh is talking about International Humanitarian Law (IHL), a set of rules developed under the Geneva Conventions designed to limit the impacts of armed conflict.

Rakesh and 40 other students in the Northern California Coastal Region are studying IHL through the Red Cross Youth Action Campaign (YAC).   

Kimberly Cui says she signed up for YAC because  “I just wanted to explore more about what other people in the world were facing.”

In past years, the campaign has focused on the effects of war on healthcare workers and on education. This year’s theme is cultural property.

“The destruction of cultural property’s permanent, so when it’s damaged or when it’s destroyed it has a direct impact on that particular community,” says Sarina Vij, Coordinator for the Bay Area YAC.

Vij says cultural property “is something that is of great importance to a particular community. It could be a statue; it could be a monument. “

For example, she cites the Taliban’s destruction in 2001 of two giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan that were 1600 years old.  

Some teens are surprised to learn that the Red Cross is involved in International Humanitarian Law.

Harshita Gabri says, “Initially when I heard about Red Cross I thought of it as an organization that was in charge of blood donations.”

Priyanka Supraja Balaji

“Before I knew anything about the details about Red Cross, I always thought of it as an organization that provides humanitarian aid,” says Priyanka Supraja Balaji. “I wanted to be a part of spreading that mission and really being one of the people who is helping others.”

And Rubikka Satchidanantham says, “I thought this campaign was the perfect opportunity. Not only am I able to learn more about IHL, but I’m also able to educate others.”

Janaki Rakesh said she is passionate about teaching others about IHL, because she has followed the story of Malala Yousafzai. Malala is an outspoken advocate for girls’ education who survived being shot by the Taliban, and won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.

“I read all of Malala’s books. She’s a girl from Pakistan. Her life was destroyed by war.”

The YAC teams spread awareness about IHL through Instagram posts and Zoom game nights, where participants answer questions about war and cultural property.

Sreekrishna Gelle posted on the group’s Instagram feed about a firebombing during World War Two, “where American and British bombers basically flattened the entire city of Dresden in Germany which was a center of cultural, architectural and artistic history.”

 “I have never seen a more creative group of individuals,” says Sarina Vij. “They are very good at coming up with different ways to navigate and problem-solve. “

One team held an online scavenger hunt, sharing food, clothing, and souvenirs from other countries. Victoria Liu says that made her appreciate her own Chinese heritage – and what cultural property means to others. “It represents a lot about people and if you destroy these properties, you’re destroying peoples’ identities.”

And the work doesn’t end when the games do. “We used feedback forms and heard back from people that they want to make it more engaging,” says Shivani Ravindra. “So we’re working on improving those for the next event.”

YAC presentations are all virtual for now,  but team member Tejasvini Ramesh says that is their secret weapon.

“We’re able to spread awareness about it a lot quicker than we would through in-person events because with the power of social media we can reach lots of people from different parts of the world.”

Beyond teaching their classmates about IHL, several teens say they find the concepts comforting.

“During war, we think it’s all chaotic,” says Charisse Zou, “but I found it really fascinating how there were actually laws to protect the people and cultural property.”

“It gives me a really safe feeling,” says  Priyanka Supraja Balaji. “Things that have such a personal attachment to you like a place of worship or anything like that won’t get targeted.”

Anyone can learn about IHL and take part in the teams’ online events.  Just visit:

https://ihlinthebay.wixsite.com/ihlinthebay

https://www.redcross.org/humanityinwar/international-humanitarian-law-youth-action-campaign.html

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