By Marcia Antipa
This is the story of Lillian Phan, a bright and accomplished young woman, who also happens to be a stellar volunteer with the American Red Cross. Like so many American stories, Lillian’s begins with immigration, determination, and hard work.
Lillian’s parents immigrated from Vietnam, sponsored by a Christian organization that gave them a head start with food and shelter. Eventually, the Phans moved to Santa Clara County. Both had to overcome the language barrier and reinvent themselves.
“My Dad gave up architecture and became a nuclear engineer. My mom gave up her law degree.”
By Debbi Behrman
In March, Marianna Thomas of the Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region, received a call from Luke Beckman, Division Disaster State Relations Director for California. Luke needed someone with Mass Care expertise to develop hotel shelter training for state and local government partners to better manage isolation and quarantine for people experiencing homelessness. The non-congregate shelter sites, which are part of California’s Project Roomkey, include hotels, motels, and trailers. California was the first in the nation to receive FEMA funding to secure thousands of isolation rooms in hotels for our most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness with the intention to protect them from COVID.
Marianna is the Mass Care Co-lead (along with Laura Hovden) for the Northern California Coastal Region, as well as the lead for the National Mass Care Webinars, and the perfect choice. “My first reaction,” Marianna recounts, “was our expertise is with helping people in disasters, not helping people experiencing homelessness and putting them in hotels.” American Red Cross is known for congregate sheltering (like in a high school gymnasium-style shelter), not non-congregate (one person per room) sheltering. Then she realized that the Red Cross is an expert in developing and delivering training and knows more about sheltering than just about any other organization. That’s how she came to lead the team who developed the non-congregate shelter training for partners.
The past six weeks have been unusually quiet in Northern California. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced much of the population indoors on shelter-in-place orders. For many, the 9-to-5 workday is a recent memory; classrooms are eerily silent. Parking lots nationwide sit empty; all but essential storefronts are closed indefinitely. The entire country has seemingly ground to a halt.
And yet, there are segments of the American workforce that forge on stronger than ever: intrepid healthcare workers, food service employees, first responders, and American Red Cross volunteers and employees. As the largest humanitarian aid organization in the country, the work of the Red Cross is constant, as is our commitment to helping those that need us.
(l to r) Eva Marquez, Keith Hoffman, LouAnne Williams, and Jeff Airth. Photography: Kane Wong | American Red Cross
LouAnne Williams keeps it simple. On October 31, 2013, she began to look for ways to give back to her community. She tried to register with a local hospital but felt that they had an overwhelming number of rules and regulations. Craving something simpler and more direct, she sought counsel from friends and family. Her son-in-law suggested she try the Red Cross, so LouAnne walked into the front door of the Red Cross, literally across the street from the hospital. And she has never looked back.
LouAnne began her journey as a preparedness instructor and now leads her peers in multiple capacities. Last year, she received the San Mateo County Volunteer of the Year Award, something that came as no surprise to her colleagues.
Volunteer of the Year Award recipient Tiffany Deneaux (second from right) with Vincent Valenzuela (left), Alzinia Pailin (second from left), and John Ruiz (right).
Tiffany Deneaux first volunteered for the Red Cross in 2017 during the Tubbs Fire after her local YMCA in Marin was converted into a shelter for the fire victims. In two short years, she’s deployed several times and stepped into leadership roles. For this commitment and vigor, Tiffany received the 2019 Marin County Volunteer of the Year.
“[During Tubbs,] I worked in the warehouse. I got in with the planning department and got to see them in action…it just kind of caught me,” explains Deneaux. “The people seemed extremely dedicated and seemed very idealistic and very much in support of the community.”
On September 9, 2019, Stuart Chessen, trained in American Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED, helped to save the life of a gentleman who had experienced a seizure on the sidewalk outside the American Red Cross office in San Francisco, CA. Stuart, a Cupertino resident, was teaching a class of students lifesaving skills when suddenly a bystander ran into the building alerting a gentleman was in distress. Stuart exited the classroom and found a gentleman on the sidewalk. Stuart quickly assessed the situation and placed a jacket under the gentleman’s head as he was striking the sidewalk. Stuart along with bystanders were able to keep the gentleman calm. Emergency Medical Services arrived shortly after to continue care. Without a doubt, the skills learned in the American Red Cross Training Services course helped to save the life of this gentleman. Read more