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April 18, 2014

Volunteer Profile: J.J. Kellum Carries out Red Cross Mission

Her name is Julielavuna but everyone knows her as J.J.

The day after Christmas in 1992 J.J.s brother and family had a house fire. Their home was destroyed, J.J.s brother was badly burned and life-flighted to Portland. He spent more than two months in a burn unit and the American Red Cross provided assistance and support to the family. The impression this event had on J.J. and the gratitude she felt was lasting and she joined the American Red Cross in North Bend, Oregon. When she was asked if she would be a volunteer, she said, Yes, I want to help carry out the mission and values of the organization. To this day she tells others that her heart is tied to disaster services although there are a lot of different areas and activities with which you can become involved. She pretty well lives her volunteer service according to the motto: Be Ready, Be Prepared and Get Trained. Help others when you can. She reminds other volunteers that they can do as little or as much as they want. In the course of their service, volunteers can change the world, and help eliminate pain and suffering. The Red Cross always needs more interested and concerned volunteers!

s days are spent in Christian Ministry, and she is a volunteer advocate for the cognitive disabled. She says, I want to serve others: to help them to find joy, peace and purpose in their lives. She also volunteers with other humanitarian agencies and organizations in her community, like her 19 years climbing mountains in search and rescue finding the lost or helping in the Salvation Army Thrift store. When she first joined the Red Cross, her greatest challenge was deciding on the one area within disaster services where she most was needed, where she wanted to serve. She looked around, saw lots of different areas of need, and took all the trainings required for the roles and positions needing filled. She reasoned, I want to be the best volunteer that I can be for the Red Cross, to meet and exceed their needs. This will increase my potential value to lots of different parts of the organization: weather disaster assistance team (DAT), disaster coordinator, mass care coordinator, preparedness leader, fundraising, administration, mediator, field manager, community exercises, blood services or disaster instructor. And in my 22 years I have worn many of these hats - locally and nationally.

Today J.J. is the Coos County Disaster Services Lead and she reminds other volunteers that no matter what you choose, remember the mission of the American Red Cross and share it with others. Be flexible and adaptive to change and stay focused. Do more than your best to stay positive. In the midst of pain and suffering, you can bring comfort and joy to others. Looking back, she has really liked client services and field management, plus the joy that teaching brings, along with the good earnest pleasure of driving supplies to clients in box trucks nationally. 
 Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to learn about their Red Cross work and how they got involved with the organization.

April 10, 2014

Volunteer Profile: Brian Anderson - Community service is what he does

Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to learn about their Red Cross work and how they got involved with the organization. Take a moment to read some of these wonderful stories and recognize our volunteer heroes!

Before coming to the Red Cross, Brian Anderson was a policeman with the Josephine and Jackson County Sheriff's Offices for twenty five years. He supervised emergency management, often interacting with local Red Cross volunteers.  When Brian retired from the force in 2012, he wanted to give back to the community. Working as a volunteer at the Southwest Oregon Red Cross Chapter was a logical choice. Learning to work in a larger organization and navigate all the new processes was initially challenging. However, Brian says that the training provided by the Red Cross certainly made things much easier.

Assisting victims of the Colorado flood in 2013 was his first major deployment. Flood waters had spread across almost 200 miles, affecting 17 counties and resulting in catastrophic conditions from Colorado Springs north to Fort Collins. Over 25 inches of rain fell in five days. As soon as Brian indicated his availability, he was called to action. Within days, he flew into Denver and located the large warehouse that provided housing for all the support agencies and 30+ volunteers. It also stored the bulk of the relief supplies: blankets, cots, water, packaged meals and more. The Red Cross was to house and transport these bulk supplies to those affected by the flood devastation. Brian worked in bulk distribution for 13 days before rotating back to Oregon.

He found the operation very well organized. While this was the first deployment for many of the members of this diverse group of volunteers who were trying to learn the ropes, there was no shortage of seasoned staff and supervisors.
 Brian has been a DAT member in Grants Pass since May 2012. In December of that year he was tasked with establishing a shelter when southern Oregon was hit with heavy snowfalls. One of the families he encountered there suffered doubly when one of the a fire started accidentally, burning their home to the ground. Since the family lost everything, Brian connected the family with local social-service agencies that could mitigate their loss and suffering.

His recommendation to new volunteers is to  take advantage of the training that is made available by their Red Cross chapter, and to be patient and flexible. These are valuable traits for victims to see, as it provides a helpful model for them.  
NOTE: Brian recently returned home after participating in the relief efforts for the Oso landslide in northern Washington. There he worked with nearly 350 volunteers, approximately half of whom hail from the Pacific Northwest.

March 27, 2014

Volunteer Profile: Cathy Kuter - Disaster team responder and leader

Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to delve into what they do, and how and why they do it. Take a moment to read some of these wonderful stories and recognize our volunteer heroes!

            Cathy Kuter and her husband joined the Southwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross in February, 2010. Before retiring, Cathy was in a customer service position at a health insurance company. One of the elements of volunteering for the Red Cross she found particularly appealing was the opportunity to continue providing customer service, but in a much more exciting and flexible environment.

            Cathy is a DAT team Captain/Coordinator who responds to disasters both locally and nationally. She also assists with recruiting and the deployment of fellow volunteers to national disasters. 

            When Cathy first joined the chapter, it was rewarding for her to find a very experienced and supportive leadership group. However, as happens periodically at the Red Cross, major staff changes occurred shortly thereafter. This caused a number of volunteers discouraged by the changes to depart. Cathy says, Im glad I chose to stick with it because I was challenged to step up and take on new responsibilities that were out of my comfort zone. She believes some of her most rewarding experiences with the Red Cross have resulted from the most challenging situations.

            As a DAT leader, Cathy focuses on mentoring and encouraging team members toward opportunities that will help them reach their full potential. I think my experiences early on helped give me good insight into the needs of a DAT member. Its been fun learning and growing together.

            Cathy talks a lot about the camaraderie created when teams work together to conquer significant challenges. She reported on one memorable period of service, when, in a 36-hour period, the team was called upon to respond to four house fires, an apartment fire and a request from the State Highway Patrol to canteen during a major highway accident. This was our teams first big test and it was very rewarding to see how we all came together to successfully assist the many clients who needed our help that day.  

             Since joining the Red Cross, Cathy feels she has become much more aware of those in need of help, as well as those who unselfishly volunteer their time and energy to help others.
Volunteering is the perfect way to meet new friends and add structure, self worth and adventure to your life. Its good to know that retiring doesnt have to mean the end of significant personal growth.

March 20, 2014

Ken Rislow: Red Cross Trauma Specialist provides a different kind of support during disasters

Red Cross communications volunteer Patrick Wilson goes behind the scenes to talk with volunteers across the Cascades Region to delve into what they do, and how and why they do it. Take a moment to read some of these wonderful stories and recognize our volunteer heroes!

Ken Rislow joined the Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross in 1995 after attending a trauma workshop where he learned there was a pressing need for trauma volunteers in our area. He serves as a volunteer mental health/trauma specialist, a DAT (disaster action team) responder and an emergency recovery vehicle driver. Ken has served on his chapter’s DAT since joining. He has responded to local fire, earth slide, and building collapse disasters from Manzanita to Raymond. Consoling, relocating, feeding and clothing the survivors of each crisis, he proved that they were not alone in their darkest hour.

Ken has been a Red Cross volunteer at two of nature's worst storms in Oregon history. The first occurred in 1996, when heavy rains caused record high waters in the Nehalem River Valley and resulted in the Willamette River's worst flooding in history. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a national crisis, his role was to triage suddenly dislocated hurricane survivors arriving in Portland. In that role he coordinated their reconnection with loved ones, ensuring their medical, psychological and housing needs were met. He was pressed into action again with the Great Coastal Gale in 2007. This was the result of tropical typhoon winds coming out of Asia and impacting coastal Oregon and Washington. These winds had gusts of over 130 miles per hour and produced flooding throughout the region that was blamed for at least 18 deaths.

In both 1996 and 2007 a large number of communities and citizens in Washington and Oregon were affected when their homes and farms were destroyed by record winds and flood waters. Large segments of the area’s highway and communication infrastructure were destroyed, some for extended periods of time. People became stranded by the quickly rising water. Many people were left cold, wet, homeless and isolated. Support and assistance was urgently needed

During the 1996 disaster, Ken and his team worked more than six weeks providing support and counsel to clients and relief workers, eventually integrating with FEMA services. Many of the people in the eye of the storm managed agricultural and dairy farms. Besides the destruction of their homes and farms, many lost nearly all their animals. Some families even faced the loss of their livelihoods. Besides setting up and operating badly needed shelters and food kitchens, a large part of Ken’s role was to educate people about what to expect and how to best manage the feelings that resulted from experiencing this level of devastation. He provided support to victims and to relief workers who could become overwhelmed by people’s emotional trauma. This enabled responders to be more supportive of disaster victims as well as each other. In some cases Ken and his team delivered food supplies to people in their homes and conducted follow-up home visits to make sure that healing continued.

The damage from the Great Costal Gale saw comparable devastation and hardship along the coast of Oregon and Washington. Again, communication and transportation systems were destroyed, in some cases for lengthy periods of time. People needed to be moved out of the cold and rain immediately. Ken’s team established a shelter for more than 100 victims and provided food service for as many as 200 people daily. Some people in the affected area remained without heat for two to three weeks. To build morale, Ken and other relief workers focused on improving communications, particularly regarding disaster and relief information as it became available. “You are not alone!” was a message repeatedly communicated to ensure morale continued to improve.

The relief work was further complicated by the number of aged and disabled victims affected. Patients and the elderly were dropped-off from local convalescent and retirement facilities with little or no possessions, sometimes without any of their critical medications. Because of the necessity created, Ken and his staff coordinated with local hospital and nursing services to ensure medications were made available within 24 hours. Some victims were living in remote areas. These were homes that had never been recorded in county records so relief workers had to find them before providing services.

Ken’s expertise in understanding the challenges and behaviors of survivors of these kinds of disasters and sharing these experiences with other volunteers helps to provide critical insight for disaster relief operations. Ken is a valuable resource for the Red Cross, especially with disasters of this magnitude, and we are grateful for his commitment to the organization.