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Preparing the Asian American Community is Team Effort

Michael Wong’s job has been a century in the making. As the Asian Community Preparedness Manager of the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter in San Francisco, he serves as the main liaison to the 1.2 million Asian Americans living in six counties. It’s a position he’s held since 2005. But the chapter has had ties to the Asian community since the early 1970s. The American Red Cross first supported the Chinese Red Cross during a famine near the turn of the century. The Chinese Red Cross repaid the effort during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Almost 40 years ago, however, the Bay Area Chapter and the Chinese Red Cross solidified their relationship. In 1972, the Bay Chapter began its Youth for Chinese Elderly Program (YCE), to partner bilingual youth volunteers with monolingual elderly Chinese in order to train them to prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies and disasters. A year later, the relationship was formalized when the Chinese Red Cross asked the Bay Area Chapter to be its sister chapter.

The impact the Bay Area Chapter is making within the Asian American community is nothing short of phenomenal. “Before this program, only six percent of the Asian community in the Bay Area had some sort of preparation plans in case of disaster,” Wong commented. “Only four short years later, that number is 22 percent.”

Many graduates of the YCE program go on to become bi-lingual First Aid/CPR and Preparedness Instructors for the Red Cross teaching workshops in Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Tagalog. Some come back to the chapter later as AmeriCorps volunteers. Wong recently hired a former graduate as a disaster services manager.

The YCE program has grown from 20 youth volunteers from one high school to a 550 member-strong program from nine different high schools. Wong and his team also work closely with community organizations, small businesses and the Asian media to broaden the chapter’s reach. During the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Bay Area contributed more than $20 million dollars towards relief funds, in large part due to this ongoing relationship with the Asian American community.

Michael Wong, Asian Community Preparedness Manager of the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter in San Francisco, traveled to Beijing to assist the Chinese Red Cross with the 2008 Olympics as part of a partnership that has was formalized in 1978. Members of the Bay Chapter's Youth for Chinese Elderly program which partners community elderly with youth for mentorship and preparedness training.

Wong also implemented the Ready Neighborhood program, an innovative four-year initiative sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Company designed to transform fifty Bay Area neighborhoods into models of disaster readiness.

It’s not a surprise then that other Red Cross chapters are reaching out to him when starting their own outreach programs. Meanwhile, Wong and his volunteers are looking to reach even more ethnic groups in the Bay Area.

“I’d like to expand our reach to the Burmese, Laotians and Vietnamese groups,” Wong relayed. “Because our efforts really pay off in ensuring community preparedness.”