Tag Archives: Silicon Valley

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.”

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.

A Day at the San Jose Blood, Platelet and Plasma Donation Center

Story and photos by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross

American Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador Volunteer Yichen Shi

Our Volunteers

As an American Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador, Yichen can easily fit volunteering into her schedule as a pre-nursing student. “It’s really flexible and convenient to sign up for the time you want to do it,” she says.

She greets people who arrive to give blood at the Red Cross Blood, Platelet and Plasma Donation Center in San Jose and she keeps the donors’ snack table full of juice and cookies.

For Yichen, volunteering for the Red Cross looks good on her resume, and she also feels good about helping an important cause.

American Red Cross Blood Services Phlebotomist Astrid Savov

Our Staff

“The best part is when donors are happy,” says Astrid as she prepares to collect blood from a donor in San Jose. “When they say, ‘That was painless,’ it feels good.”

As a Red Cross Phlebotomist, Astrid collects blood from donors who visit the blood donation center. She admires those who donate because, as she says, “It’s people trying to do good.”

American Red Cross Blood Donor John Ahn

Our Donors

“I saw in the news that there is a nationwide shortage,” said John, as he gives blood in San Jose recently.

John is right, the Red Cross recently faced its worst shortage in more than a decade. Such bad news is what prompted John to make an appointment to donate.

During his donation appointments, John puts on earphones and enjoys the streamed shows available at the blood donation center.

Join us!

If you are interested in volunteering your time in support of your community, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

If you’re interested in joining the Red Cross – where your career is a force for good – visit redcross.org/careers.

To make an appointment to donate blood, platelets or plasma, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Mo Ghandehari – Disaster Action Team Volunteer Extraordinaire

By Larry Dietz

American Red Cross Volunteer Mo Ghandehari is an incredible example of the Red Cross mission – and of the caring and dedicated individuals who do what it takes to accomplish that mission.

Mo started with the Red Cross in 2000, first in Las Vegas, then in Salt Lake City, before moving to California and joining the Silicon Valley Chapter in 2007.

Mo Ghandehari on a Disaster Action Team response.

One of Mo’s first positions as a Red Cross volunteer was on his local Disaster Action Team (DAT). In this role, he responded to the full range of disaster calls ranging from fires in homes, mobile homes, condos, and even a ski resort. He even had the unique experience of responding to a home fire where he and the team installed smoke alarms only a few months earlier.

Red Cross volunteers from the Northern California Coastal Region respond to between 30 and 40 disasters a week where a small handful of local DAT volunteers are some of the first on scene to assist families that have been affected.

The first job of the DAT volunteer on site is to help make the affected residents comfortable and to get them the immediate assistance or materials they might need. This could include simple things like blankets or water. Though, the needs of those affected varies from disaster to disaster, and DAT volunteers also help arrange lodging or financial assistance, which allows families to pay for immediate needs and get back on their feet.

DAT volunteers are also general volunteers and can work in other Red Cross areas. In particular, they can work in their local chapter to perform inventories or make sure that supplies and vehicles are ready to go where they are needed.

There are constant training opportunities for DAT volunteers to learn more about the latest in Red Cross systems, or improve skills with courses like Psychological First Aid: Helping Others in Times of Stress.

DAT volunteers are committed. Many sign up for frequent shifts and are always ready to answer the call, no matter what time of the day or night. When disaster strikes, speed is of the essence, whether it is a major wildfire or a single-family home fire. DAT volunteers have the enthusiasm and confidence to deal with a variety of situations.

Mo advises new DAT members to be proactive in seeking initial training. You can start with your chapter’s DAT lead, or the workforce engagement lead, or the Disaster Program Manager for your area to enroll in training. Though, he says there is no substitute for being on-call and responding.

“It is truly gratifying to help a family that needs a place to stay for a few days, before figuring things out,” he said. “When you are on the scene it is very important to be patient, and respectful of those who were affected and to work closely with your supervisors and managers.”

While the core of being a DAT volunteer is at the local level, there are also many opportunities to expand one’s volunteer career path and deploy to a major disaster as a shelter volunteer as well. It comes as no surprise that Mo has seized many opportunities to deploy and lend his talents across the nation.

When asked about which of his deployments captured the essence of really being on a deployment, he said his time as a shelter supervisor during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 would have to be the one.  It was Mo’s first assignment as a shelter supervisor on a disaster response. The shelter was in an elementary school in Pearl River, Louisiana.

“The experience taught me to treat shelter residents just like you would treat your own house guests,” he said. “Our crew did just that! The shelter experience was a team effort between the Red Cross and local volunteers. They opened and operated this shelter for two to three days, and were exhausted and very happy to see us. Residents had already been pitching in – helping the team to prepare breakfast, cleaning the bathrooms, and doing other chores.  We had no electricity and water for the first few days. The new shelter team, which consisted of four volunteers, plus residents (before others arrived), were literally like a family (the shelter had about 50-80 residents), helping each other to make it through.” 

Not only did Mo develop is shelter management skills and style on this deployment, it also taught him about the satisfaction of serving.

“As I was leaving the job – after two weeks – I noticed a hand-written thank you note on the board, on behalf of the shelter, saying that I provided good care during my two weeks as shelter manager,” he recalls. “This, to me, was heartwarming – a very good rewards for two weeks of hard work.”

When asked about what it takes to be a successful shelter manager, Mo said, “Being compassionate, friendly, and able to relate to people from all walks of life, able to establish trust with supervisors and shelter workers, and being a coach and mentor to other team members.”

Mo is a shining example of a Red Cross volunteer. He has won a number of awards, including the Chapter International Services Award (2021), the Extraordinary Commitment and Dedication Award for Chapter Disaster Cycle Services (2016) and the Chapter Clara Barton Award (2012).

You too can become a Disaster Action Team or Sheltering Volunteer and serve your community in their time of need. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more.

Red Cross volunteer: “This is what we do; we go where we’re needed.” 

Dawson Springs, Kentucky was just one of the communities that was severely damaged by a series of tornadoes that swept through several states on Dec. 11. Photo by Jodi Wallace/American Red Cross

It was Dec. 11, and Jodi Wallace, a 16-year veteran Red Cross volunteer from California’s Silicon Valley chapter, was already tired when she got the call to go to Kentucky after a series of tornadoes had devastated broad swaths of that state.

Wallace, 60, had spent most of August responding to California’s Gold County fires and then moved on to assist with the hurricane response in Louisiana. After that, she had helped with the flood response in Washington state. She had been home for only a little more than a week, ready for a well-deserved break, when the call came in.

She knew the scale of the disaster meant the Red Cross would be needed more than ever, so she asked her husband what he thought. “He always tells me, ‘this is what you trained for,'” Wallace says. He’s even teased her: “Would you like me to pick a better month and schedule a disaster for you?”

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