Tag Archives: Regional

“Compassion is a thing of the heart” – Meet Helen Miller, a Red Cross volunteer with over 100 disaster deployments

Photo courtesy of Helen Miller

The American Red Cross mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. When we say “the power of volunteers,” we talk about amazing people like Helen Miller from Eastern North Carolina. She started volunteering with the Red Cross in 1991 and currently has more than 125 deployments as a disaster volunteer. She’s even served more than once during the same disaster response in different roles.

“Compassion is a thing of the heart,” she says. Helen joined the Red Cross when her husband – a Marine on active duty – was deployed to Kuwait. “I had extra time; my employer was cutting my work hours by 10. I decided to reach the Red Cross office and volunteer. I started answering the phones. I felt the need to help others,” she explained.

In January 2023, Helen was one of many volunteers from all over the coutnry who touched down in California and helped both people and communities affected by the atmospheric river storm systems and subsequent floods. She was part of the feeding team, working hard to make sure that everyone – from the shelter residents to other volunteers and staff members – had hot meals every day. She stayed two weeks on this deployment before returning home.

“I have deployed in all the roles of Mass Care: I have operated several kitchens serving over 4,000 meals daily. I have also deployed as a caseworker and even as an Emergency Response Vehicle driver,” she says. When Helen is not deployed, she serves as Mass Care Lead for the Easter North Carolina Region.

After so many deployments, Helen has all kinds of memories. Some of them happy while others left her with a bittersweet sensation: “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our team was delivering meals to affected people. One of the neighbors said ‘be sure to stop at the first house’ so we did. I saw there was a ramp at the entrance. I knew the owner was in a wheelchair. I went up to the door and knocked. I said, ‘This is the Red Cross, we have food’. A woman was living there. She said that her son – who was living in New Orleans – was the one getting her groceries, but she hadn’t heard from him for over a week. We were close to the end of our route, another tornado was coming and our kitchen was closing down until it passed. I asked the lady where her pans were. I went back to the vehicle and filled up the pan with the rest of the food we had and gave her lots of snacks and a case of Ensure. I told her we weren’t going to be available for a few days and this would help her out. She had me lean down to her face to face and put her hand on my forehead and said: “bless this angel that has come to feed me”.

In the Northern California Coastal Region, over 7,000 dedicated and committed volunteers turn their compassion into action, donating their time and energy to serve their communities. Red Cross “everyday heroes” come from all walks of life. Young, experienced, and everything in between: everyone has something special to offer.

“I plan to keep going as long as I am able. I am 76 years of age and very spunky,” Helen says. “My husband served 20 years in the military and now I’m doing my part. He understands and when he hears about a disaster, he knows I will be leaving town soon.”

Sound the Alarm: Red Cross volunteers and partners installed more than one thousand free smoke alarms and made 462 homes safer in April

Red Cross volunteer John Gee has installed more than 2,000 free smoke alarms in homes across the region since the launch of the Sound the Alarm campaign in 2014.
Photo by Ashish “Ash” Mantri/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 five weekends in April, volunteers with the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region, along with local fire departments and community partners, installed 1,294 free smoke alarms and made 462 homes safer as part of the annual Sound the Alarm campaign.

“A working smoke alarm can be the difference between survival and tragedy when a home fire strikes,” said Ana Romero, Red Cross Regional Preparedness Manager. “That’s why the Red Cross is teaming up with community partners to help ensure local residents, especially those most vulnerable, have these lifesaving devices.”
Sound the Alarm events are part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign which has helped save at least 1,664 lives nationwide since launching in October 2014. Working with local fire departments and community partners, Red Cross volunteers visit high-risk neighborhoods, install free smoke alarms and provide residents with information on common causes of home fires, how to prevent them, what to do if a fire starts and how to create an escape plan.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from our regional Sound the Alarm campaign partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company; Arista Networks; CSAA Insurance Group, State Farm; and Gloria and Mike Ipson.

For a full suite of photos from the month’s events, visit the regional Sound the Alarm Flickr album.

Bay Area Chapter

Photo by Martin Gagliano
American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteers and partners installed 396 free smoke alarms and made 190 homes safer in April across the Bay Area Chapter. More than 500 residents of San Francisco, San Bruno, Brentwood and Hayward are now better prepared to face emergencies after receiving education about home fire prevention.

“Every day, our department sees first-hand the damage and destruction that home fires can have on a community,” said Willie McDonald, Fire Chief for the Alameda County Fire Department. “This is why campaigns, like Sound the Alarm, are so important. A little home fire prevention can go a long way toward keeping families and the community safe, and a smoke alarm is one of the most effective tools we have to do that. We are proud to partner with the Red Cross for this very important event.”

Photo by Nanette Shamieh
American Red Cross

Heart of the Valley Chapter

71 homes were made safer in the Heart of the Valley Chapter after two Sound the Alarm events in Stockton and Los Banos.

Red Cross volunteers and community partners installed 169 free smoke alarms and helped 210 residents to create an escape plan and be better prepared in case of a home fire

North Bay Chapter

Photo by Nanette Shamieh
American Red Cross

Community partners and Red Crossers installed 354 free smoke alarms and made 116 homes safer in the North Bay Chapter. Over the three events in Sonoma, San Rafael and Vacaville, the teams shared home fire prevention educational information with more than 230 residents to make the community safer.

Captain Drew Kostal and his K-9 “Kepi” from the Vacaville Fire Department attended the installation event on Saturday, April 29. He spoke with the team about the importance of working smoke alarms.

Silicon Valley Chapter

Photo by Atul Trviedi
American Red Cross

Red Crossers and community partners gathered at Millpond Mobile Home Park on Saturday, April 29 to install 205 free smoke alarms in 85 homes to make more than 140 residents safer.

Red Cross Board and Tiffany Circle Members participated in Sound the Alarm events across the region to help make their community safer.

Sound the Alarm – Signature Event in Hayward (CA) – April 29, 2023
Photo by Martin Gagliano – American Red Cross

A very rewarding experience

Photo by Martin Gagliano / American Red Cross

Rohinton Palkhivala – or Ron as he likes to be called – started donating blood in the late 90s with the Canadian Red Cross. He was looking for opportunities to volunteer and help people affected by the Gulf war. Upon learning how blood donations could potentially save lives, he put aside his fear of needles and became a regular donor.

Many years later, here in the Northern California Coastal Region of the American Red Cross, he has continued with his commitment to helping others, but this time “wearing more than one hat”. Ron is not only a regular platelet donor, but he also volunteers as a Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador in the new Oakland Blood Donation Center on College Avenue.

The need for blood is constant. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood and the Red Cross provides about 40% of the nation’s blood supply. Regular donors like Ron are needed every day to help ensure new moms, premature babies, cancer patients and accident victims have access to safe, lifesaving blood products.

Photo courtesy of Ron Palkhivala

 “It is indeed a very rewarding experience,” he says about his role as a platelet donor. “One leaves the donation center feeling great about having done something to help others. You walk away knowing you have just potentially saved someone’s life and given them a second chance. This is just incredible and very motivating as well.”

After retiring a year ago from his specialty food business, Ron feels that “life has definitely become more relaxing” for him and he is determined to “do something significantly more valuable” with his time, whereupon he decided to take volunteer shifts at the front desk of the Oakland Blood Donation Center once every couple of weeks. He is the friendly face who helps donors with the check-in process and ensures that they have a pleasant experience from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.

Ron is committed to making all donors feel welcome and appreciated. “You must make them feel special because they are doing something special. They are not only giving their blood, or plasma, or platelets, but also their time. While you are at the front desk or working at the refreshment tables, you meet people with the same mindset as yours, strike up a conversation and make friendships.  It is a very rewarding experience,” he says.

More than 25,000 volunteers support Red Cross Blood Services. Besides being a Blood Donor Ambassador, volunteers can also serve as transportation specialists, playing a vital role in delivering lifesaving blood products to nearby hospitals. If you’d like more information about volunteering opportunities near you, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

When Ron is asked about his overall experience as a volunteer he proudly says: “It is always a privilege to be a Red Cross volunteer, particularly because it’s a non-political organization. It is there to serve all humanity. I like the idea to serve anybody and everybody.”

The Difference Between Life and Death. San Francisco Office Workers Learn Lifesaving Red Cross Skills 

Jen Bottalico, Manager at Alex. Brown San Francisco, practices chest compressions.
Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross

One recent afternoon high up inside a San Francisco skyscraper, the sounds of “Are you alright?” and “Clear!” rang out.  Red Cross CPR manikins lay between the office desks, with a dozen office workers kneeling beside them practicing chest compressions. These employees of Alex.Brown, a division of Raymond James*, were learning the basics of lifesaving first aid measures. 

Officer Manager Jennifer Bottalico and Branch Administrative Manager Cheryl Fox arranged the training through the local Red Cross office. “We decided we wanted to try to do everything we could to kind of protect our employees because we view them as family.  So, for us, it’s just that we wanted to be able to go back to them and say if we ever had an incident that we did everything that we absolutely could,” they said. 

Cheryl Fox said she and Bottalico were inspired to take steps after a colleague in another office suffered a medical emergency.  The frightening on-field cardiac arrest of Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin also drove home the need to be prepared. 

“It was scary, because I don’t think you ever think somebody of his age, that that’s going to happen to somebody that’s 20-something years old. Very scary,” she said.  

Instructor Thom Volz of VCT services, a strategic partner with the Red Cross, started the class with a pep talk.  

“Know where the first aid kits are in the places we travel to regularly, so we can get this response going, know where the AED kits are,” he said. Volz also told the class it can typically take ten minutes for first responders to arrive, so it’s important to be prepared with the equipment and skills needed to save a life. 

Volz divided the class into teams of three people, who practiced CPR on the manikins. 
“We’re trying to build habits right now,” Volz told the class, “So arms locked out, lean over the person to give compressions; one cycle of CPR for adults.” 

The team of Alex.Brown in San Francisco practicing CPR and AED use. Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross

Then the teams learned to use an AED, or automated external defibrillator, a device that analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm, and, if needed, delivers a shock to restore the normal heartbeat. 

Office Manager Bottalico says after she took a Red Cross training class, she received approval from their head office to buy an AED for the San Francisco branch. 

“If somebody’s not breathing it’s a matter of seconds, so I think the investment into an AED for the office – hopefully we never have to use it – the investment is worth it. We worked with our counterparts at Raymond James …and they didn’t hesitate.” 

The teams also learned how to save the life of a person who is choking.  Office members Renee Sessa and Samantha Hsu teamed up to practice chest thrusts. For Sessa, a frightening incident that almost took a friend’s life convinced her to take this class. 

“He was 60 and he went into cardiac arrest and luckily there was somebody that was trained and was able to immediately administer CPR to him and saved his life.” 

Renee says she wants to be able to do the same for a family member or co-worker. “I hope to be able to…save someone’s life or help save someone’s life in the event of an emergency.” 

Office Manager Bottalico says the class was a success. “We can always tell by the level of questions that are asked by the team how much they are paying attention,” she says, laughing. “They all were engaged today so I think everyone realizes the value of it. People realize that sometimes it’s going to be up to them.” 

If you would like to learn lifesaving skills, or to arrange a class for your office or organization, visit https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class   


*Raymond James & Associates, Inc., member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 
*Raymond James & Associates, Inc., is not affiliated with any of the above outside organizations. 

DAT Duty Officer Nik Rochnik Answers the Call to Help and Encourages Others to Join the Line

By Lindsay R. Peak

Nik Rochnik helping those affected by Hurricane Ian at the Red Cross office in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Nick Rochnik

Rain or shine. Morning or night. From floods to fires, the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers answer the call for help 24 hours a day. And, for some, they discover their own calling. Meet Nik Rochnik.

Born in Ukraine, he immigrated to the United States for collegiate studies in Boston before making the Bay Area his home. This husband and father of two children and one dog felt the urge to connect with his neighbors by donating what little free time he could find to assist others in times of crisis despite having a full-time job in computer software.

“I joined Red Cross looking for opportunities to directly help people in the community,” says Rochnik. After researching various organizations, his search ended at the Red Cross website. “I was very impressed with Red Cross 100% disaster response coverage and the efficiency of how much donor’s funds are distributed to clients,” he relives.

Nik joined DAT as a trainee a little over six months ago. His hands-on involvement started almost immediately. With unprecedented rainstorms, his boots hit the ground post-training working in emergency shelters and traveling across state lines aiding those in need in their recovery. After four local DAT calls, Nik was deployed in December of 2022 to Hurricane Ian in Florida. He was tasked with registratio onsite as well as on mobile outreach at that Disaster Response Operation (DRO). The most satisfying days were processing high quantities of assistance cards for the people we serve.

“The reactions and interactions are very memorable. They say thank you in different ways. There are tears and hugs, but many times it’s just words that imprint volunteer’s minds and hearts,” he adds.

Learning of folks’s plans for utilizing funds also left a lasting impression on Nik. “I think of myself as a tough guy, but when I think of these things, I choke up a bit,” shares the volunteer. A grandmother shared her intent to use the assistance monies to buy bunkbeds so that her grandkids wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor any longer. A disabled veteran planned to purchase a new scooter to replace the one he lost in a fire allowing him to regain his mobility.

Red Cross’s high percentage of donor funds distributed to the people who needs it most and the opportunity to assist in times of need pulled Nik in. And, he plans to stay hoping to recruit others. Nik has plans to use vacation time to do at least one DRO per year until he retirement frees up his schedule. Future goals include assisting in potential improvements to Red Cross processes and technology, answering DAT calls and responding to DROs.

This mentor keeps motivating prospective and current volunteers. Through personal assessment of one’s own skillset and individual strengths, anyone can add to Red Cross’ functions. “I see it as continuous learning.” His wheels are always turning and finding ways to maximize value to the organization through volunteer work. Now, Nik has advanced to Duty Officer answering the calls from client’s in need and directing responders to the scene.

Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster. Whether it’s being an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a friendly face who aids in meeting immediate needs for shelter or supplies, volunteers ensure during times of crisis, someone will be on the other end of the call for help.

If you are bilingual, empathetic, goal oriented, or have availability or flexibility in your schedule, consider joining the DAT team. Training is online and in-person. The Red Cross can use your skills and compassion, either on the scene, or coordinating remotely.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer/disaster-action-team to find volunteer opportunities in your area and apply now.

Red Cross and community help RV park residents recover from flood waters

Even before an American Red Cross emergency response vehicle dropped off 100 meals at the Mission Farm RV Park in San Juan Bautista on March 21, eager residents lined up for lunch, happy to get some fuel for the difficult job of trying to clean up the damage done by flooding to their community 11 days earlier. 

Mission Farm RV Park homeowner, Kerry Dickie, thanks American Red Cross volunteers for the cleanup kits and food delivered to his neighbors. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Kerry Dickie was among them. Dickie said he lost his mobile home and about 70 percent of his possessions to the flooding and mud that followed. Dickie said that even before waters from several adjacent creeks and a nearby subdivision’s retention pond started pouring into the park, he and his son found their way out was blocked by flooded streets strewn with large underwater rocks.  

As water started to come in, the two tried to move his collections from an enclosed porch into his 1986 Avion mobile home. By the time they got everything into the mobile home, water was knee high.  

The two took one of their vehicles to dry land but by the time they came back to move the other, water had already crept inside the mobile home.  

While the water receded within about 24 hours, when Dickie returned home, he found 1.5 feet of standing water inside. The enclosed porch was totaled as is his mobile home.  

“It’s just a horrible muddy mess,” Dickie said.  

Red Cross volunteer Roberta Jones and Leslie Jordan, mayor of San Juan Bautista, unload meals for residents of the Mission Farm RV Park. Photo by Barbara Wood/American Red Cross

“I’m kind of wondering what my next house is going to look like because this one’s not habitable any more,” Dickie said. He said he will probably look for a used mobile home to replace the one destroyed by the water.  

He’s not one to take handouts, Dickie said, but “when you need help, you need help.”  

Residents of the park have been helping each other recover from the flooding, which affected some of the recreational vehicles more than others. Kurt Kurasaki, whose father built the park in the 70s, says he tried to come out to assess the storm damage on March 10th, but couldn’t get through the flooded roads. When he trudged in through the water he saw the berm he had built to raise the heights of a nearby creek bed by a foot was about to be overtopped. Kurasaki started going door to door telling residents of the 70 recreational vehicles and mobile homes on the property to evacuate.  

Kerry Dickie thanks Red Cross volunteers Mary Marcus and Hideaki Yamazaki for the cleanup kits. Photo by Jaka Vinsek/American Red Cross

Not everyone left. Some people were at work, Kurasaki says, some “opted to ride it out” and some didn’t have a vehicle to get out with.  

Kurasaki said the park had flooded once before, but it was two decades ago.  

Now, those who had less damage are helping those with more damage to remove their trashed belongings.  

Leslie Jordan, the mayor of San Juan Bautista, and other volunteers came in Tuesday and Wednesday to help serve the food and promised to come back as long as the deliveries lasted. Earlier in the week, more San Juan Bautista residents came out for a work party to help their flooded neighbors.  

“This is our community,” Jordan said. 

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