The U.S. Air Force hosted their annual Wings Over Solano Air Show at Travis Air Force Base on May 14 and 15. The show was open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days and featured a wide range of aircraft from the Pitts Special S13, right on through to state-of-the-art aircraft such has the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber and the F-35 Lighting multirole combat aircraft.
Red Cross volunteers converged on Travis from all of the Northern California Coast Region Chapters – Silicon Valley, Bay Area, Central Coast, Heart of the Valley and North Bay. Under the leadership of Liz Dietz and Marilyn Byington, volunteers offered training, minor first aid supplies such as band aids, water and ear plugs. They also informed show goers about the Red Cross mission and spoke to service members about services the Red Cross offers to them and their families.
Volunteer Stuart Chessen managed logistics for the effort. More than a dozen additional Red Cross volunteers supported the event, and volunteer Salma Samar took great photos and videos.
Mary Ann “Stormy” Reilly and Stuart Chessen taught hands-only CPR, which is a relatively new technique introduced to help save lives through CPR where people are reluctant to give rescue breaths, especially in the COVID-19 era. On these two wonderfully warm days, there were kids aged 7-14 years old and some older adults who stopped by to observe, practice and learn about ‘Hands Only CPR’ and what to do if someone is choking on something. These people got down on their knees to practice, and worked hard to do what they needed, to help save someone’s life.
Peg Geringer taught ‘Stop the Bleed.’ If you are involved in an incident where there is a severe, bleeding wound, the first thing to do is to call ‘911’. After that, Peg explained that you use direct pressure to stop the bleeding by putting your two hands over the wound and pressing down hard with your upper body. If you have a roller gauze, take the end of it and start stuffing the injury with as much gauze as you can. Tie off the roll over the wound and if you have a tourniquet handy, apply it 2-3 inches above or below the wound, but NOT over a joint. Turn the stick or windlass as tight as you can to stop the bleeding. Tourniquets are used as a LAST resort to stop the bleeding. Cover them to prevent shock. You may put a large ‘T’ on their forehead with a Sharpie, so the medics know the person has a tourniquet on their body.
Together these two seasoned volunteers trained about 60 people during the weekend event.
The Red Cross presence at Wings over Solano was another example of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces support. The Red Cross provides the military services with emergency communications services, support to Military Hospitals and Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Facilities as well as by building strong families and resilient communities.
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.
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.
Ebony Jean Daniel has served as a Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassador – and friendly face – at the Oakland Blood Center for two and a half years, much of that time spent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When looking at the good that is done through this role – every two seconds, someone needs blood,” she said. “That’s why I choose to give the time that I have given at the Red Cross, especially during the pandemic. I had the free time and felt that it was worth it to give the hours I give every week – to take the burden off others.”
As a Blood Donor Ambassador, Ebony Jean helps donors check in for their appointments, ensures COVID-19 health and safety guidelines are being followed and keeps the waiting area and canteen tidy. Perhaps most importantly, she is a welcoming presence and the first and last person donors see at their appointments, thanking them for their time and their lifesaving gift.
“People don’t really understand how vital blood products are for women giving birth. When people deal with terminal illnesses on a daily basis, the blood products they require are so important. These are some of the multiple different reasons why I chose to volunteer with the Red Cross.”
Prior to the pandemic, Ebony Jean was also a Red Cross Humanitarian Services volunteer, navigating the disaster recovery casework process in order to support families affected by disasters big and small, and helping local youth prepare for emergencies through The Pillowcase Project.
“Under the umbrella of the Red Cross, there is so much good that takes place,” she said. But eventually, Red Cross Blood Services is where Ebony Jean decided to focus her time and talent.
“As far as Blood Services – people just don’t realize that in the time it takes to snap your fingers, that’s how often people require blood for survival. I never know what could come down the line in my future – I might need to be a recipient someday. We knock on wood that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, but you just never know.”
The Red Cross collects about 40% of the nation’s blood, which is precisely why volunteers like Ebony Jean are so critically important to the overall donation process.
“Looking at the whole picture – coming in, giving my time, taking the burden off other Red Cross workers so they can concentrate on their jobs and we can gather more donations – I focus on customer service, so donors have a pleasant experience. I feel there is a personal obligation, but also it is a pleasant experience for me. I have had a lot of positive interactions, and I definitely enjoy that.”
Thank you, Ebony Jean, for all you’ve done and continue to do for the Red Cross and the community. We are lucky to have you as a volunteer and we know countless blood recipients are grateful for the part you play in the blood donation process.
Red Cross teen volunteers spread awarenessabout the impact of armed conflict
By Marcia Antipa
“It’s just better for humanity that everyone knows about it.”
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.”
“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:
Story and photos by Alex Keilty/American Red Cross
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.
“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.”
“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.
Many Red Cross volunteers and employees say they are inspired by the values and actions of founder Clara Barton, born 200 years ago and known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” after she provided medical services to soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War.
Athena Barton, in her fourth year as a Red Cross volunteer in Northern California’s San Mateo County, says she has an additional reason to be inspired by Clara Barton: they are related. Athena Barton’s great-great grandfather was Clara Barton’s cousin, making Athena a first cousin four times removed.
Athena Barton was a sophomore at Burlingame High School in 2018 when a flyer asking for volunteers to work in San Mateo County’s Red Cross youth program caught her eye. The county has had youth programs for more than 30 years, working with high school Red Cross clubs in a wide range of Red Cross activities.
“I remembered my dad used to talk about Clara Barton,” the San Bruno resident said, including the fact that he volunteered for the Red Cross in high school.
“My dad was always interested in Clara and her life and legacy,” Athena Barton said, and “I was looking for volunteer opportunities. “
After taking some basic training from San Mateo County’s volunteer youth advisors, Betty Fleming and Mary Lee, Athena Barton jumped right in. She helped at a food bank, raised money for campaigns to end rubella and measles, helped put together disaster kits at the Red Cross offices, worked at disaster preparation events, blood drives and smoke alarm installation events, “helping with whatever I could,” Athena Barton said.
Youth advisor Mary Lee said Athena Barton was “very conscientious and learned quickly” and was “very good at teaching young children about disaster preparedness.”
Athena Barton said she loves working with kids. “Seeing all their faces light up, that made me happy,” she said. She also loves teaching academics to younger students by tutoring them in math and English.
Clara Barton also loved teaching, beginning her professional career as a teacher at a time when almost all teachers were men. She established the first free public school in New Jersey in 1853.
For Athena Barton, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of Red Cross volunteer opportunities. But even after graduating from high school in 2021, Athena Barton continued to be interested in giving time to the Red Cross. That’s when she found out about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Services programs. Athena Barton joined a team headed by Chandni Khetrapal and Nikki Rowe that works to engage and motivate new and existing volunteers in those two Red Cross fields.
“From the very first day, (Athena) was eager to learn and know more about the ways she can support,” Chandni Khetrapal said. “She is very enthusiastic and always willing to help.”
Athena Barton said she is especially happy to work in these two areas of the Red Cross because these activities were especially important to Clara Barton.
During the Civil War Clara Clara Barton provided clothing, food and other supplies to sick and wounded soldiers on behalf of several then-existing organizations, and then pressed government officials to give her passes to field hospitals and battle scenes, where she volunteered her nursing skills. After learning about the International Red Cross in 1869, Clara Barton volunteered in the battle zone during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. She went on to found the American Red Cross in 1881, when she was 59.
Today, Service to the Armed Forces helps both active duty soldiers and veterans, their families and caregivers prepare for, manage and respond to the challenges of service.
While the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was mostly devoted to providing humanitarian aid on the field of battle, Clara Barton pressed the ICRC to adopt an amendment in 1864 to provide aid to those affected by natural disasters.
Today, the American Red Cross International Services workers help the International Committee of the Red Cross respond to disasters and prepare communities to respond to crisis around the world. Programs include The Measles and Rubella Initiative working to eliminate measles and rubella, and “Restoring Family Links,” reconnecting those separated by natural disasters, conflict or forced migration.
Athena Barton says she has learned a lot from her Red Cross work. “I was very shy,” Athena Barton says, and could have a hard time connecting with her peers, but through her Red Cross work has learned “not to be as nervous when I’m talking to people.”
Those character traits would be very recognizable to Clara Barton.
Clara Barton (whose full name was Clarissa Harlowe Barton) was herself shy and somewhat socially awkward as a child, according to her 1907 autobiography, “The Story of My Childhood.”
“In the earliest years of my life, I remember nothing but fear,” Clara Barton wrote in the book.
As the youngest of five children, a dozen years removed from her next oldest sibling, Clara Barton was coddled but also taught everything from reading to mathematics and horseback riding by her older brothers and sisters. “I have no knowledge of ever learning to read,” she wrote, “or of a time I did not do my own story reading.” Her brother had her riding bareback on a barely-broken horse at age five, and her father loved to tell her stories of his years of military service.
But she had a lisp and “I was what is known as a bashful child, timid in the presence of other persons,” Clara Barton wrote. “To this day, I would rather stand behind the lines of artillery at Antietam, or cross the pontoon bridge under fire at Fredericksburg, than to be expected to preside at a public meeting.”
That didn’t keep her from leading the Red Cross for 23 years, until she was in her 80s.