Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (Month of May)
During the month of May we celebrate the significant contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to our country and to the Red Cross. We thank them and salute their service as volunteers!
Black History Month (Month of February)
Every February we celebrate the vibrant heritage and significant contributions that Black Americans have made to our country and to the Red Cross. We salute the service of all our Black volunteers.
Hispanic Heritage Month (Mid-September to Mid-October)
During this time period we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting the significant contributions that Hispanic and Latinx-Americans have made to our country and to the Red Cross.
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Monday, January 18, 2021
“Three Questions” with Red Cross Volunteer Bill Chrystal
By Stuart Cubbon and Xavia Malcolm, American Red Cross in Greater New York
Staten Island resident Bill Chrystal joined the American Red Cross in Greater New York as a volunteer in Fall 2019 after retiring from a 35-year career in financial services. In addition to his role as a Red Cross Disaster Responder, Chrystal volunteers with an oyster reef restoration organization and serves on the executive committee of a community garden.
Why did you pursue this volunteer work the Red Cross?
Prior to the Red Cross, I was already involved with a couple volunteer organizations, but there was a certain level of abstraction to the work I was doing. I wasn’t working directly with the people that we helped. With the Red Cross, I was drawn to the immediacy of its mission. You deal directly with the people that you provide relief to, and you’re out in the field doing it.
During my entire career, I’ve always performed well during tense moments and pressure-filled situations. A long time ago, a co-worker told me that the crazier things get, the calmer I seem to become. Out in the field, sometimes that’s a good thing.
Do any of your experiences on scene of disasters stand out?
Recently I had two calls in the Bronx on a single day.
The first call was for a fire at a single-family home. It was windy, rainy, miserable day. When I showed up, there were multiple generations of the family sitting outside under a tarp. They were surrounded by possessions the fire department had thrown out into the yard. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it was a bad situation. You could see through the roof and most of the windows were gone. I helped them call the Red Cross emergency hotline, and we secured a prepaid card to buy food. The woman who owned the home seemed like a tough cookie the whole time, but when I handed her the card, she broke down crying.
The next call was to another fire, this time at a small apartment building. When I arrived, the fire was out and the fire department had left, but the residents were still outside. Two men were arguing, so I stepped in and convinced them that there were more important things to focus on. They calmed down, then we got a lot of people hooked up with relief and hotel rooms.
That was a good day.
How has volunteering with the Red Cross impacted your life?
It’s been positive in a lot of ways, and volunteering allows me to reconnect with my past. When I was growing up, my family was not well-off. Seeing people in bad circumstances kicks back memories from when my family needed assistance, and a lot of times there wasn’t anyone to help us out. So, when I go to certain places in the Bronx, Queens, and other outer-borough neighborhoods, I understand how even one bad thing happening to a family can be a tremendously big setback. It feels good to be out in the field, to offer some assistance, and hopefully help them move forward.
Devoted to Mental Health
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Dottie Brier, A Lifelong Devotion to Mental Health
by Bernadette Casey, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Dottie Brier’s role as a mental health volunteer at the New York chapter of the American Red Cross may have kicked off in the summer of 1992, but her first experience with the organization dates back much further. During World War II Brier knit squares that would be used to create blankets for soldiers fighting in Europe.
To this day she still remembers feeling like she was doing a valuable and important job - something that she feels is a crucial aspect of the volunteer experience.
Brier, who grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and has lived in Manhattan since 1953, says that many of the Red Cross values were very strong in her family. Her father was the president of many philanthropic organizations including a children’s orphanage.
“It was really just my family value to be concerned about other people and philanthropy was an important part of my background,” she said.
Determined to have a career, she went to Radcliffe as an undergraduate and got her master’s in social work from Smith College.
She then embarked on a long and fulfilling career working in the field of mental health. In her first job out of school she worked at a family services agency called the Community Service Society. She followed that up by working at a nonprofit school for severely disturbed children and a youth consultation agency for adolescent and young adult girls. She then returned to Community Service Society in a teaching role for two years.
Next, she landed a job at Lenox Hill Hospital as a supervisor and within a year was promoted to assistant director of social work responsible for quality assurance, programming and education. Brier stayed at Lenox Hill for about 20 years before retiring.
“I always had a lot of compassion for people in difficult situations no matter what the situations were, whether because of mental illness or poverty or disaster. I had a strong wish to have them be in better conditions. I found it very, very gratifying.”
Within a few months of retiring in 1991 she found herself missing social work and working with clients and it was then she joined the Red Cross. After a few weeks, she was sent to Florida to help families impacted by Hurricane Andrew which left more than 175,000 people homeless. She was deployed as part of a program recently formed by the American Red Cross at the national level, Disaster Mental Health.
In 1995, Brier was asked by the head of Disaster Services at the Greater NY Chapter of the Red Cross to assist in standing up a similar mental health program locally. Its goal was to provide specialized emotional support after a devastating event. That help comes in a variety of forms including fostering a positive culture in a shelter or other service site, listening to someone who needs to talk or identifying early signs of stress in someone who has experienced a disaster. TWA Flight 800, which crashed off the coast of Long Island, was the first big disaster after setting up the program in 1996.
For most of her long and committed Red Cross career, Brier has provided emotional support at the front lines of countless national and regional disasters as well as some of the most high-profile emergencies of the past three decades: incidents including the Oklahoma City bombing; Egypt Air Flight 990 which crashed off the Massachusetts coast in 1999; the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001; and Superstorm Sandy.
Brier’s involvement with US Airways Flight 1549, the “Miracle on the Hudson,” led to her first moment in the Hollywood spotlight. In the resulting movie, Sully, which was directed by Clint Eastwood and featured Tom Hanks as Captain Sullenberger, Dottie was an extra, handing out blankets and offering comfort to passengers, just as Red Cross volunteers had done on the cold January afternoon in 2009.
Brier, a pioneer in the field of disaster mental health, believes that developing such a program for the Red Cross has been critically important for the organization’s ability to help in disasters.
“It’s made a tremendous impact. We did a great deal of work educating people about mental health aspects and why they were important,” she adds.
After 9/11 Brier taught a psychological first aid course so Red Cross staff and volunteers could help with direct mental health interventions and referrals to Red Cross professionals as needed. She believes that 9/11 made a big difference in the country when it came to recognizing and understanding grief and mental health issues.
“The Red Cross was a leader in seeing disaster-related emotional reactions not from a pathology perspective, but as common reactions to abnormal situations and also in recognizing that resilience is enhanced when people have support at the time of disaster, lessening the chance of developing long-term psychological problems,” said Brier.
She stressed that each person responds in their own way to a disaster. Feelings of loss and vulnerability are common, but Brier says it’s the loss of a sense of control that upsets most people.
Carrying out this type of work, in such emotionally-charged contexts, can be trying. Brier takes care of her own mental health by employing relaxation methods including yoga and walking and having other interests such as being a guide at the American Museum of Natural History. Brier knows she can also speak to a fellow Red Cross mental health volunteer.
“I love the mission of the Red Cross. They really do what needs to be done for people. They are warm and compassionate and meet people’s physical, practical and emotional needs. I feel this is the kind of work I went into social work to do,” said Brier.
“Another thing I am grateful for are the friendships with the workforce. It is so enriching to meet people from all different backgrounds.” She adds that even though there is such diversity in age and background, the volunteers she works with all share the common bond of wanting to help people affected by disasters.
Brier recently gave up her regional program lead and NYC chapter coordinator positions at the Red Cross, but will remain involved in the organization she loves so much as a senior disaster mental health advisor.
“It’s the best job I ever had except I don’t get paid,” she jokes.
Shonda N. Scott
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Thursday, March 4, 2021
"Three Questions” with Red Crosser Shonda N. Scott
By Christine A. Gipson, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Philadelphia native Shonda N. Scott originally joined the American Red Cross as a volunteer with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Region. In 2019 she was hired as an employee and relocated to New York. Shonda works as the Mass Care Manager in the Greater New York Region. Her expertise is in distribution of emergency supplies, sheltering, feeding and reunification with additional expertise in operations management.
Why did you join the Red Cross?
In the early 2000s, I was an active volunteer with Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and served as a paid-call firefighter. I stopped volunteering for a while to focus on college and working as a General Manager in the automotive industry. While employment was paying all my bills, I was lacking the feeling of fulfillment. In 2017, as a birthday gift to myself, I decided to sign up as a volunteer to help people that were affected by the many hurricanes that year. Two weeks after joining, I was deployed to Puerto Rico in Mass Care. I loved what I was doing so much, I volunteered there for almost four months. That experience was the reminder I needed to see that life is about more than how much money you can acquire, but how you decide to live your life. American Red Cross allows me to not only work but have that fulfillment I was missing before I left the automotive industry.
Where did you deploy last fall what did you find most meaningful about that experience?
My last deployment was to the California Wildfires in 2020 as the Mass Care Chief. I learned a lot during this operation that I can use when working local operations in New York City. I served with an amazing team and mentor. The most meaningful experience I left with was how supportive the entire team was to each other. We cross trained, we helped clients and we also staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do you have one story you think of since joining the Red Cross that reinforces why you are here?
One day I was working to distribute water and food supplies to victims of Hurricane Maria. We were asking the residents to form a line to receive supplies when one resident warned us that a few gang members were present. I was the leader of the operation, so one of the members started walking towards me. I greeted him and he stated he wanted to help but didn’t know how. I passed him a case of water and stated, “start passing out cases of water to the people in line.” That day he became a volunteer and worked hard for his community. That’s what we learn in disasters. We learn who people are within their hearts. One of the best experiences I had there.
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Monday, March 8, 2021
"Three Questions" With Bridgette Espinoza
by Angelina Vasilevsky, American Red Cross in Greater NY
American Red Cross volunteer and AmeriCorps member Bridgette Espinoza currently serves the Latino Engagement program that seeks out ways to better serve immigrant communities in Greater NY and across the country. She was born and raised in the Bronx, is a first generation Mexican-American. Bridgette went to St. John’s University, where she double majored in Psychology and Spanish.
How has your Mexican heritage shaped your identity?
Growing up my dad would really emphasize that we speak Spanish and I can't be more thankful for that because it really cultivated the language. I am able to speak it very comfortably thanks to him. I maintained such a strong connection to my cultural upbringing. I didn’t get to travel to Mexico until I was around 18 years old, but ever since then, I went back almost every year, to the point where I am actually planning on having my wedding over there. When when I first visited, I got to see and meet my dad's side of the family for the first time. It’s interesting because all of the stories that he used to tell us started to make sense. I could picture him running to the corner store and running across the street. We also got to visit the town my mom grew up in, and it's very distinct in the sense that it's very rural. My dad jokes that there are more dogs in that town than there are people. It meant a lot to see where my mom came from. It's interesting imagining her coming from such a small town, to living and doing so well in New York City.
Why did you join AmeriCorps and the American Red Cross?
One of the main reasons I signed up for AmeriCorps is because they offered an incredible opportunity. It's kind of funny because I've come full circle. I knew about it and wanted to apply right out of undergraduate, but it took me about three years to finally send it out. In my immediate work [as AmeriCorps and Red Cross], I am currently supporting the Home Fire Campaign. In New York City we have such a diverse community and a lot of families that ask for fire alarms, also ask for Spanish education pieces. Right now one of our major events is coming up, and we are hoping to assist those families in getting their fire safety education in Spanish. Hopefully that will work out for both our clients and our Spanish-speaking volunteers.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the Latino Engagement Team?
It connects to how I grew up and that relates to a lot of Latino parents, kids and just the community overall. An important factor that I consider, is that English is not everyone's first language. I often think about my mom, who is not tech savvy. Growing up whenever she needed to pay a bill for example, we had to call customer service. So you grow up kind of having to be an advocate for your own parents. Additionally, there are a lot of factors of fear in the Latino community, as well as pride. With my background in psychology I know for the Latino community it is taboo to speak about getting resources or asking for help, especially if it’s related to mental health. I think it’s important to assure families and let them know that it's okay to seek out help in whatever way they need it.
Volunteering with the Red Cross
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Volunteering with the Red Cross: Hebah Ali
Hebah Ali (Queens, N.Y.) shares about her work as an American Red Cross volunteer.
Being a volunteer with the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign was a blessed opportunity for me to interact with our community and help them stay safe from fire accidents.
Not only did I learn how to install the alarms in the right spots of the house, but we had to ensure that all the households and the families we visited were aware of causes of potential fire and that they had a strategy to escape just in two minutes if a fire ever broke out at their home.
The fire safety checklist and escape plan are available on the American Red Cross website. During shifts I would walk through the checklist with the home residents, demonstrate the potential risks and discuss solutions as we walked through their homes. I would also emphasize the use of the escape plan to draw exits that everyone in the house could be aware of and plan to use in case of a fire. The plan should also include a meeting point after the escape to make sure everyone is out of the house.
It only takes these few items on the checklist and planning to save lives. I can’t wait to be out helping make families safe again.
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Friday, May 7, 2021
"Three Questions” with Red Cross Volunteer Margaret Sukhram
By Christine A. Gipson, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Born in British Guyana and educated in England, Margaret Sukhram is a Nurse Practitioner currently living in Long Island. She's been with the Red Cross since 2012. In addition to her work in Health Services, she also volunteers with Services to the Armed Forces, the home fire safety program, Youth Services as well as the Disaster Action Team. And she also gives of her time to other organizations, including A-1 Universal and the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute.
Where have you been deployed to outside of Long Island?
I have done 14 or 15 deployments in person and virtual, including Hurricane Harvey in Texas, wildfires in California and Hurricane Michael in Florida. Big local responses as well, like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene.
Which response out of all those was the most memorable?
Oh gosh, memorable? Memorable could be all of them in different ways. Each disaster is so different, but one memory stands out. There was a lady, at one of the disasters, Hurricane Michael in Florida. She wouldn't sleep at the shelter where I was working. She was sleeping in her car. She was very angry, but she would come in and talk to the nurses but not the Mental Health volunteers. We thought she needed Mental Health support. And I remember her saying, "It's like Kubler-Ross [five stages of grief ]. I'm not ready to move on. I'm still angry." So we talked and we talked and we knew where she was at, in the spectrum of Kubler-Ross. And finally after talking with her, we were able to get her to sleep in the shelter and not in the car. And she eventually was able to talk with a Mental Health counselor. And later, before she left, she said AARP offered to interview her for a story about losing her home and everything. Needless to say, a few months later she was in the AARP magazine. So that was a great thing to see us help her to build some kind of resiliency and move on. She was able to accept her situation and share her story with others. So that was a wonderful experience for me, to know that someone who was hurt in a disaster was able to build some resiliency and share her story so others would know that they are not the only ones. There are lots of different stories. Each disaster is different.
What has volunteering brought to your life?
Such richness. I feel richer everyday for volunteering. I feel gratification. I feel that I'm making a difference in people's lives. And I feel that when you are kind to people, kindness pays off. I love to see people smile. You can see relief in them when they know that people are listening to their stories. It has just brought richness to me as a person, as a human being.
Volunteers for the Red Cross, I feel, are very special people, and I've developed great friendships with people both in different states that we keep in touch with and locally. I love to work with the Red Cross'ers because I feel that they are special people to want to donate their time and energy to this cause of helping others.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Giving Back Wherever He Can: Red Cross Volunteer Ray Enstine
By Alessandro Malave, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Ray Enstine lives a life dedicated to helping others. Originally from Long Island, Enstine is a military veteran who worked for 30 years as a small business owner. In 15 years of service with the Red Cross in his retirement, Enstine has served in many different roles, almost all in Disaster Relief.
Speaking about his work helping communities after fires, floods and other emergencies, Enstine reflects: “A lot of people don’t realize how meaningful it is to people when you feel in the lowest part of your life, and a stranger comes in in the middle of the night and helps you. You feel like you’re not alone, and that’s a very powerful thing.”
Enstine, who has long given back through community service including with his local Rotary Club, initially joined the Red Cross inspired by the work of volunteers after Hurricane Katrina. He connected with the organization soon after, supporting disaster response efforts locally on Long Island and, at times, deployed to large-scale relief efforts, like those that spurred him on to volunteer with the Red Cross in the first place.
One early and memorable experience for Enstine on deployment occurred while working at a service center in Iowa for flood relief in 2007. He encountered a gentleman who did not want to leave his mold-ridden home despite the safety issues he was facing. He connected and carefully engaged in conversation with the man, ultimately assisting him and his family to find housing. The man introduced Ray to his wife and expressed their gratitude after reconnecting with him by chance a few weeks later.
Enstine has also been quite active after local disasters here on Long Island. One role Ray has taken on with the Red Cross locally is representing the organization in Emergency Operations Centers both before and during disasters. In this position he serves as a liaison between the Red Cross and local emergency management officials, communicating requests and information to Red Cross teams to ensure needs on the ground are being met.
He has also served as a caseworker. While working in this role during Hurricane Irene in 2011, he received an inquiry from an individual in Iowa who could not reach two of his older relatives in Long Island who had evacuated due to the storm. Ray was tasked with helping reconnect them, and he did. Ernstine ultimately found the family members and informed them about their worried relative in Iowa. He even helped connect them by phone.
Enstine now splits his time between New York and South Carolina and volunteers with the Red Cross in both places.
“As you get older, you get removed from things,” Ray says about retired life. “But in the Red Cross, you get to see all these different people and learn about all different cultures and things you don’t know. It’s just been a chance to give back and connect to people, and it’s been quite a ride.”
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
"Three Questions" with Sally Nielsen
by Xavia Malcolm, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Sally Nielsen has dedicated her life to helping others. She has cared for many people over the span of her career as a nurse. Today, although she is retired, Sally continues to apply the noble principles of nursing to her role as a health services volunteer with the American Red Cross. Since joining our team in January of 2018, she has provided assistance to countless individuals, and has exemplified compassion.
Why did you pursue a career in nursing?
I fell in love with the Florence Nightingale [founder of modern nursing] story, and nursing has always been a part of my life. My mother was a nurse, I became a nurse, so did my daughter. It is an amazing career that allows me to do what I love the most which is to help others.
How has becoming Red Cross volunteer impacted your life?
I have always admired the work of the Red Cross. What we do is truly unique. Volunteering has given me the opportunity to see resilience and grace at its best, in times of adversity. In 2018, I deployed to Florida following the devastation of Hurricane Michael. The level of destruction was one that you could not imagine. You would have to see it to believe it. Homes were leveled and acres of forest were destroyed. Everything was demolished. Yet people were so grateful that we were there with them. I find it important to let people know that we are truly there to help in any way that we can. One of the first things I say to clients when we arrive is, “You are not alone. The Red Cross is here for you.” With these words people often break down and cry. What we do makes a difference in their lives. I have had clients contact me months after a response saying: "thank you for helping my family find a safe place to stay," "thank you for helping me secure a generator to run my medical equipment," and so on." I admire these people; they are the amazing ones.
The pandemic has changed our way of life, what has been like for you as volunteer?
It’s been hard. The human touch just means so much and it has been challenging in some ways to not physically touch someone to reassure them or make them feel them feel supported. However, I take comfort in knowing that I can still provide assistance by speaking with clients on the phone, offering virtual support and providing referrals online. I am looking forward to the day when I am able to give hugs again- I can’t wait!
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
“Three Questions” with Mary Cueva
By Kenna Beban, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Mary Cueva has been an American Red Cross team member since February 2020 when she decided to use her customer service experience to serve as a volunteer screener. In this role, she interviews prospective volunteers to find Red Cross positions for them that match their interests and skills. Up until September of 2021, most of her work was done remotely; but after Hurricane Ida, she accompanied Red Cross teams distributing cleanup supplies in NYC communities affected by the devastating flooding. Originally from Honduras, Cuevas moved to New York City 2002.
When in your life were you first introduced to the Red Cross?
In Honduras, we have a lot of hurricanes. The one that really left its mark, in my experience, was Hurricane Mitch in 1998. And we had the Honduran Red Cross helping there and I was exposed to their help. As a kid I remember watching how they were cleaning up, and how they had the Red Cross flag. They also brought me food. It was just great.
How did it feel doing fieldwork for the first time, after Ida?
It made it feel real. I saw a lot of houses destroyed, they [the residents] always wanted to tell you what happened to them, how the basement was just gone, how everything got destroyed. It also made it feel like every little bit of work we do as volunteers helps. Because even handing out a cleaning kit meant a lot.
A lot [of the people we helped] were relieved, they said, ‘oh my god, thank you for coming!’ The Red Cross is a worldwide organization. Everybody knows that symbol. So, when people see that, they know that someone is coming to help. It was amazing to see people understand that we are trying to assist them. Help is all we want to give.
There were these two girls I met who couldn’t live in their home anymore. As soon as they opened their door to their basement [apartment], the smell inside brought me back to my home in Honduras, when I had to live through Hurricane Mitch. I was like, oh, my heart! Nothing like the sense of smell to bring the memories back to you. But it’s great to now understand that I am part of the help. Even though I struggle myself, there are people that are in a worse position. Might as well help, right?
Can you talk about the diversity of the Red Cross here, specifically as it relates to language skills?
It’s very important to have people who speak different languages in our volunteer roles. When distributing supplies after Ida, one of my favorite things that we did was when we parked the ERV [Emergency Response Vehicle] announced our services [over the loudspeaker] in four languages. The driver made the announcement in English and Mandarin, I said it in Spanish. And there was someone who said it in Hindi..The ability to speak four languages in that van made a lot more people come out, because now you’re relating to people in their own languages.
This is very important. Especially for immigrant families, who may be afraid to ask for help. So, when they hear the announcement in their own language, they feel more comfortable relating. It’s just great to have that connection. Even though you don't know them, it makes them not be afraid to ask for help, to share with you their experience, and to tell you other things that they need.
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
“Three Questions” With Sergey Pigach
By Kenna Beban, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Sergey Pigach joined the American Red Cross in Greater NY in the spring of 2020, shortly after the onset of the pandemic. He started out by providing food and household supplies to hospital workers and later began responding to disasters in New York and across the country. Last month, Sergey supported our response to Ida flooding across the city by canvassing affected communities, sharing information, talking to residents, and distributing clean-up supplies.
Why did you feel compelled to volunteer during the pandemic?
Obviously, it was an unprecedented situation for all of us. I think, especially in the early days of COVID when no one really knew what it was or how bad it was, there was this sense of helplessness. No one really understood how to deal with the situation. Maybe in some sort of a selfish way, it was also just a way for me to have some sort of illusion of control over the situation in my little portion of the universe. But in the larger sense, I just wanted to help out.
How did working in the field, and seeing firsthand the damage caused by Hurricane Ida in NYC affect you?
It served as a reminder of how concealed all of those individual stories are from the public eye. After New York got hit, where I live, nothing really changed. It rained for a night, but I was fine, everybody around me was fine, I didn’t really see any damage. Once we were deployed to those specific neighborhoods that got affected, it was a stark and crazy contrast. You’re driving down the street and everything looks fine, and then you take a turn, and there’s a sunken alley, or an area with very unfortunate topography, where it just looks like a tornado came through. Just walking around there, it felt like a war zone. There were piles of rubble, and people already starting to rebuild and tear down their walls. It’s very sudden and completely unexpected to see.
We came to one of the neighborhoods in Staten Island where everyone was tearing down partition walls in their houses on the first floor because everything was just reeking of mold. We would come up to the door to hand somebody the cleanup kits and talk to them, and every time they opened the door you could smell the rot and bleach emanating from inside. For a lot of people, this will definitely put them in a very precarious financial position, and for a lot of people, sadly, that will probably mean no longer having a home.
How did they respond to the Red Cross’ help?
I think there was a very genuine sense of gratitude. It was very touching when one of the residents who opened the door, she was an older woman with a very strong Balkan accent, and I could tell that she was probably living in the U.S. only for a few years. When I introduced myself, I said, “Hi, we’re with the Red Cross, we just wanted to give you this clean-up kit if you were affected.” She smiled and said, “oh my god, I love this country!” Because she felt like she was cared for. That was a very touching moment.
Brian & Linda McMullan
Helping people in times of disaster
Surveying Ida: on the Street with a Disaster Assessment Team
By Barbara Gaynes, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Matthew Bush stood outside his flood-damaged basement apartment in Mamaroneck, N.Y., surrounded by the few possessions he and his 9-year-old son had managed to salvage. A waterlogged photo album was drying in the sun along with a baseball glove, a metal file cabinet and a soggy baseball-card collection.
“It was wild,” Bush told Red Cross Disaster Assessment volunteer Brian McMullan, describing the night Hurricane Ida struck. “My son jumped out of bed at like 9:30 and said, ‘Dad, there’s water in the house!’”
The Bushes quickly escaped to the home of a neighbor, helpless to stop the 6 feet of water that rushed into their apartment, destroying or displacing most of the belongings collected during the three-plus years they had lived there.
“My son had about 20 fish,” Bush said. “We found one of them in the bedroom. Don’t know where the other 19 are. He was pretty shook by that.”
A decorative candle that had been displayed on a wooden board was found seven houses down the street. But Bush was most heartbroken to see the ashes of his deceased father “floating in the water” after spilling from an urn.
McMullan, a longtime Red Cross volunteer who has assisted victims of several hurricanes, listened sympathetically to Bush and took photos of his home for the damage report he would file. After Bush said that he’d slept in his mother’s car the previous night, McMullan advised him to go to the nearby Service Center for assistance from the Red Cross and other agencies.
For McMullan and his wife Linda, also a volunteer, stories like Bush’s are sadly all too familiar. During nearly two decades of service, the Suffern, N.Y., couple have teamed up to help people in the aftermath of fires, hurricanes (including Houston’s Harvey) and other disasters. The most memorable parts are often the appreciation of the victims.
Speaking of their work during some large disasters, delivering food to affected communities, Linda recalls, “When you do a route for a few days, you end up getting pictures created by the kids: ‘Thank you, Red Cross.’ One woman (in Houston) was so distraught, and she wanted us to pray with her. She gave us a little prayer: ‘Thank God for the Red Cross. Thank God for the people who are helping us.’ Those moments are really touching.”
On this day in Mamaroneck, more than a week post-Ida, the streets were still littered with storm-related debris including a destroyed oil tank, a shattered front door and a mangled drum set. One woman showed Linda three cars in her driveway that had been damaged by floodwater that rose midway up the vehicles’ windows.
This was the fifth straight day the McMullans had spent on the streets of Mamaroneck, Port Chester, N.Y., and Greenwich, Conn., surveying damaged homes and handing out cleanup kits. Yet they showed no signs of fatigue and stopped to spend a few minutes with every resident who approached them.
“People need to tell their stories,” Brian explained.
At the Bush apartment, Brian classified the damage as “Major” and sent a report in through an app on his phone. It was the first step toward getting financial assistance for Bush and his son — which they soon received— and the harried father was grateful.
“I’m exhausted,” Bush said. “I feel like I went to alien land for a week and am now getting back to civilization. I’m so thankful I saw you guys.”
Alice Farhat and Alex Poku
Prepare with Pedro
Friday, February 14, 2020
Red Cross and Bronx Students “Prepare with Pedro”
by Chris Pyo, American Red Cross in Greater NY
On Wednesday, February 12, 2020, the American Red Cross in Greater New York launched Prepare with Pedro, a new safety program for elementary school students. As part of the event, Red Cross volunteer instructors traveled to P.S. 23 in the Tremont section of the Bronx to teach more than 200 kids (K through second grade) the steps they need to take in the event of a fire.
Among the team members who facilitated the training was Red Cross volunteer and preparedness expert Alexander Poku. “Even with kids as young as these children are, it’s important that we teach them about fire safety procedures as early as possible and have them pass the information we give them on to their parents” said Poku. “New Yorkers could face these dangers every single day, and the more we can do to educate children on how to practice safety in different scenarios, the better protected they are.”
“Prepare with Pedro” is an expansion of an existing Red Cross preparedness program for children 8 to ten years old. This new initiative features a cartoon penguin named Pedro who guides the kids through a series of fun and informative stories about emergency preparedness. Different modules feature different disasters, including home fires, hurricanes, floods and other emergencies. The Red Cross chose to bring the fire safety module to the school in the Bronx due to the high number of home fires that occur in the borough.
During the sessions, students were engaged in a number of activities to help them understand what to do and what not to do in the event of a fire (i.e. get low to the ground, never go back inside, get to safe place outside) and how to stay as calm as possible by taking deep breaths.
Three Questions: Disaster Response in Puerto Rico
Friday, February 14, 2020
Three Questions: Ioana Opris Deploys to Puerto Rico
Ioana Opris, Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager at the American Red Cross in Greater New York, traveled to Puerto Rico last month, where 1,000+ earthquakes have damaged and destroyed homes and disrupted tens of thousands of lives since December. During her two-week deployment to the island, Ioana worked in the Information and Planning section.
Ioana has been part of the Red Cross family for over three years. She started with volunteer roles on the Disaster Response and Information and Planning teams, before taking on her current position as an employee in Workforce Engagement.
This was her fourth deployment with the American Red Cross. Her first was following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. That was followed by assignments in North Carolina (Hurricane Florence) and Northern California (Camp Fire).
Ioana, who lives in West Harlem, is originally from Romania and speaks Spanish, French, Romanian and English.
Interviewed by Maria Sievers, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Can you talk about the impact of the earthquakes?
The magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck Puerto Rico on January 7th and caused the damage that initiated this Red Cross Disaster Relief Operation was part of a series of tremors that began on December 28th. Aftershocks have continued since, with greatest impacts felt in the southwestern portion of the island.
The impact is complex and there are several components: Initially, people have sustained physical damage to their residences and that is a huge loss for families and communities. Unlike a hurricane or an incident that happens and then it’s done, the impact of the earthquakes is fluid, and there is the potential for additional damage to homes as aftershocks continue.
There is a significant emotional toll due to living under the stress of continuing earthquakes, and people fear returning to their homes. Many Puerto Ricans are staying in government-run shelters, but others are choosing to stay outside their homes and have set up temporary living arrangements outdoors. It’s tough, because as the aftershocks continue, they create a constant reminder of fear now associated with going home. The needs for emotional support, mental health care and disaster spiritual care are significant.
And to put things in context, the island is still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. That has a compounding implication, not only materially but in terms of people’s emotional well-being.
What was your specific role in Puerto Rico?
I deployed as the Deputy Assistant Director of Information and Planning. The Information and Planning section covers different areas including coordination of the planning process, information management and dissemination, situational awareness, and disaster assessment. We produce documents that are not only used to plan our future actions, but also reports and products to capture data on our completed actions and current operations. We manage the process of collecting, analyzing and visualizing information and data to support internal decision-making as well as to coordinate with external partners, including government agencies.
One of the ways in which we collect situational awareness from the field is through our Disaster Assessment Teams. They collect information on damages to homes which is then used to support our clients in their recovery process and helps the Red Cross allocate resources. We also use this information to get a clearer picture of where impacts are concentrated and target our service delivery.
My primary role has been to support the Assistant Director of Planning for the local Red Cross operation. He is part of the Info and Planning team in Puerto Rico, and he and I had worked together on the response to Hurricane Maria. The secondary purpose of my deployment was to assist in building capacity for the local chapter. Response to a disaster always starts and ends locally. So, a lot of the work that we are doing here is making sure that the local team has what they need to develop their own capacity while we train even more volunteers to improve their overall planning capacity. They’ve all been doing an amazing job.
Can you share some insight on the Puerto Rican people?
Puerto Ricans are very welcoming to the Red Cross. When our teams are going out in the community they are greeted with warmth and by people who want to share their stories. In disaster, we see people who are experiencing some of the worst days of their lives, and it’s just amazing how welcoming, kind and grateful Puerto Ricans are to us for even coming. People welcome the supplies and services we are providing, but the hope spread by our teams is also so appreciated.
One thing that I see every day in headquarters is that the volunteers in Puerto Rico are absolutely incredible. There are very few deployed staff here compared to [local] volunteers, and local volunteers have been carrying this mission and they have been incredible to work with. They amaze and inspire me every time I work with them.
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
"Three Questions" with Red Cross Volunteer Darya Matskin
When Darya Matskin is not working her day job as a psychologist, she’s serving in multiple capacities for the American Red Cross, primarily as a supervisor for disaster response, mass care and sheltering. The Brooklyn resident is wrapping up her first year with the Red Cross by working both in-person and remotely for the Red Cross.
How do you approach your volunteer work as a disaster responder, helping a family who has lost everything to a fire?
When I go out there, I really go through this crisis with them. I want them to step out of it as fast as they can, to let them just know that we’re there for them. It’s a huge relief, knowing that they’re not by themselves. Losing something that’s really close to their hearts, it can be so difficult. Just explaining to them that "You’re out, you’re here and safe with us," and knowing that they’re not alone.
How has Red Cross work changed since the COVID-19 crisis started, specifically your volunteer work?
Right now, we're doing remote casework where we’re still helping individuals with disaster relief, setting them up in hotels, and we still have teams going out to help people if the situation calls for it. We’re constantly on standby – my job right now is to work 12-hour shifts, so I’m working at home from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. I’m on three days, so 36 hours per week no matter what. I’m also continuing to do fieldwork, usually to drop off CAC’s [Client Assistance Cards with financial assistance] if it’s requested by the ECC [Emergency Communications Center]. On top of that, I’m helping distribute food in-person at hospitals for healthcare workers. Just whatever I can do to give back at the moment. You never know what’s going to happen.
What do you find most meaningful about about supporting NYC healthcare workers?
For me, it’s just a thank you to everybody working at the hospitals. I’m there to make sure they get their bag of supplies and a thank you. And what’s incredible is that the workers themselves are coming out and saying thank you. They all have smiles on their faces, and it’s so rewarding beyond words.
Celia Vollmer and Edras Hidalgo
Help Long Island Resident Recover From Home Fire
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Red Cross Brings Community Together To Help Long Island Resident Recover From Home Fire Amid COVID-19
It’s an uncertain time. In addition to the daily doubts caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Josselyn experienced another emergency: a fire that has destroyed her home and injured her body.
Just eight months after she moved to New York and rented a tiny basement apartment with her son, the lamp near her suddenly caught on fire when she was sleeping. Josselyn tried to quell the fire by pouring as much water as possible on it. Although she managed to get the fire under control, all of her belongings were destroyed by smoke and water, and her right hand and right foot were burned in the process.
Josselyn doesn’t speak English, has no family in New York and was struggling financially, as she is out of work due to the pandemic. She was unsure where to seek assistance from her community because of the language barrier. At the advice of one of her neighbors, she called the American Red Cross on Long Island and explained her situation and fear to her caseworker, Edras Hidalgo, over the phone.
“It was hard to believe the whole picture and the kind of hardship that she and her son have gone through,” recalled Edras.
“I don’t know,” said Josselyn in Spanish. “I have no relatives [in New York]. I have nobody. I don’t know the area. I don’t have food for my son. Red Cross is the only source that I think somebody can help me.”
After hearing Josselyn’s situation, Edras was moved to action. “I kept asking myself: what would I do when this happened to my relative or my sister,” said Edras. He understood Josselyn needed more than just money. “When she said that she didn’t have food for her son, I knew how bad the situation was and what kind of hardships she has gone through.” After calming her down over the phone, Edras promptly called Celia Vollmer, the Disaster Action Team Captain, to find possible ways that the Red Cross can help Josselyn with its network.
Working together, Celia and Edras were able to connect Josselyn with Red Cross resources as well as partner resources to assist her with her recovery. For example, the Red Cross’ Disaster Health Services (DHS) Team provided Josselyn financial assistance to purchase medication and bandaging supplies for her injuries. A local school in the district was able to provide her son a tablet and some school supplies. The Cental Islip Civic Association offered food, and the local police department provided new furniture for the family. A few local police officers even provided her gift cards paid out of their own pockets.
“One of the cops was attempting to give her son an air hug because he had to follow the social distancing protocol,” Edras said, recalling the special way to spread love and warmth during this tough time.
To ensure everyone’s health and safety, each step of the way, this aid was coordinated via the phone, to maintain social distancing guidelines. Throughout the process, Edras served as both caseworker and as a translator for Josselyn.
“They see me as the Red Cross and as a part of the community. This is what links us to provide help and support altogether,” Edras said proudly. “It is rewarding to be Josselyn’s caseworker and to empower her and guide her through the recovery.”
Gian Marco Delle Sedie
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Thursday, July 9, 2020
“Three Questions” with Red Cross Volunteer Gian Marco Delle Sedie
by Yixuan (Shirley) Luo, American Red Cross in Greater New York
Gian Marco Delle Sedie started volunteering with the Red Cross in past May. Among his different Red Cross roles, Gian Marco takes shifts supporting the NYC Healthcare Heroes Initiative, providing food and other supplies to hospital workers helping patients amid COVID-19. He has also supported a Red Cross coronavirus program providing food for elderly New Yorkers. On June 24, 2020, following his Red Cross shift in Far Rockaway, Queens, Gian Marco pulled a drowning boy from the ocean.
Gian Marco works as a short-film director, producer, actor. He also works as a server, bartender, and captain. Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Gian Marco came to the U.S. in October 2017 to study Filmmaking at New York Film Academy. He graduated in January 2019.
What inspired you to join the Red Cross?
In the middle of all these crises, I felt I couldn’t stay at home, just watching TV. I know that it’s safe to stay at home, but I just felt that I could be of more help somewhere else, helping people. So, I got in contact with the Red Cross at the end of March. I took a lot of training courses online. Then I started to take shifts that were available in New York that were for food distribution. Red Cross deployed me to Tropical Storm Cristobal in Houston, Texas. I was there for five days to help with sheltering. After I came back from Texas, I kept doing [COVID-19 program] Red Cross shifts. In June, I normally worked two to three shifts per day and have completed more than 30 shifts last month. I help with bag distribution and food supplies to hospital workers. I also deliver food for senior houses in Far Rockaway on Wednesdays.
Can you tell me about how you saved that 16-year-old drowning boy?
After we finished our shifts at JASA senior home in Far Rockaway, we went to the beach because it was one of our volunteers’, Maria Anguiano, birthday. Suddenly, we saw a lady yelling “Help! Help! There are some kids in the water!” I saw hands outside the water and then they submerged. At first, we thought it was just kids playing. This lady kept shouting and yelling “Help! Help! Help!” In a second, as time passed, I thought I might need to do something because the kid is not coming up and we don’t have much time to save him. So, I ran to the water, but I couldn’t see the kid anymore when I got to the water. I had to dive because he wasn’t on the surface. When I dove, I saw a blur down there on the bottom. I found the kid down there, passed out. He was still floating and going down. I came behind him and started to push him up. Thank God! I was able to push him up in time to get the kid saved. We put him on the sand. Maria arranged him on his side, and he started vomiting a lot of sand and water. Thank God we were there!
What was going through your head during all this?
I’ve been swimming since I was like three years old. I took a lot of swimming classes in my life. I am a very strong swimmer. I never took someone out of the water like this. I may have helped some people in the water but not like this, going to the bottom and bringing someone up. It was kind of scary, but you don’t have time to think about it and you just go.
I was very comforted seeing him breathing again. I felt that night, the boy’s parents won’t be crying because of me and because he is still alive. It was very comforting and nice. I felt very good about it.
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
"Three Questions" with Red Cross Volunteer Robert Manley
by Chris Pyo, American Red Cross in Greater New York
Robert Manley began volunteering for the Red Cross two years ago after being inspired by the help he received after losing his home to a fire. He initially joined as part of the Sound the Alarm Home Fire Campaign before transitioning to the disaster response team. During COVID-19, Manley, a restaurant worker, lost his job and decided to spend as much of his free time as possible volunteering. When he’s not taking disaster response shifts, he’s volunteering at one of our COVID-specific programs. He came to the United States from France nine years ago.
What happened on the night of the fire that destroyed your apartment?
About two years ago, I was living in Harlem with my girlfriend at the time, in a very nice apartment, and it was probably the apartment I invested the most money in, in terms of the time and the renovations. On a peaceful Saturday evening at about nine or ten at night, after we had a nice walk in the park, the fire started in the downstairs neighbor’s apartment, right under ours. The fire started in his living room; the tenants were photographers and they had a couple of things like film and rolls of paper that were easily flammable, and the whole place just caught on fire in a matter of seconds. As soon as our alarm went off, one of them came and knocked on our door like a madman, trying to warn us about the fire. Interestingly enough, a week or two before the fire, I was changing the batteries in our smoke detector, and I went on to ask my girlfriend: “Do we have a plan in case of a fire?” and “Which exit do we use?” We discussed that and made a quick little plan, and that was definitely a good thing for us to do. Our alarm gave us two necessary minutes of warning for us to get whatever we could get and leave.
I immediately let my girlfriend know that we had to leave the apartment, and I grabbed one of my cats and she grabbed the other one. As we quickly came out of my apartment, we saw nothing but a black cloud, and it was almost pitch dark; I couldn’t see the light in the hallway. We ran to one fire escape, but that happened to be where the fire was happening. So, we ran to the other fire escape on the opposite side of the apartment, and we started climbing down this old, shaky fire escape with cats wrapped in our arms, panicking. The firefighters who were responding to the fire actually thought that we had babies in our arms, so we were the first ones to get rescued. When they saw that it was just cats, they were like “thank God.”
After the fire, someone from the Red Cross showed up and offered me the assistance that I now provide every time I go out [as Red Cross responder], and that was really an epiphany for me. It made me realize that you can help your neighbors, that you don’t have to travel to the other end of the world to help out, and this made me want to volunteer locally with the Red Cross. Funny enough, when I started off with the Red Cross, it was with the Sound the Alarm campaign, to install smoke detectors in people’s houses and also teach them about resources to have in the case of fires, such as an escape plan and a meeting point with family, as well as a couple of things to always have around the house.
How have you been balancing work and volunteering throughout this period of COVID-19?
I work in the restaurant business, and when COVID-19 happened and restaurants closed, I was like "I'm not going to go back to the restaurant anytime soon, so why don't I volunteer more for the Red Cross?" The fact that I don't have a professional job right now has given me the opportunity to volunteer a ton. I was initially planning to quit my job two weeks after COVID-19 initially hit, and it just happened earlier. Then, I was planning on traveling around the United States but obviously we can't travel. So, being in New York City definitely makes it a good time to invest yourself in volunteer work, especially when you could be doing a lot more. I've actually been much more satisfied volunteering than actually working.
How have your interactions with other Red Cross responders and clients been impacted by COVID-19?
At the very beginning of COVID, when people were not understanding what was happening at all, everyone was pretty petrified, not knowing what to do at all. People who had fires, it’s always traumatic because those people don’t have a house for the time being, but they were having this happen in the middle of something they didn’t know they were going to live through. They didn’t know where they’d be able to find shelter, how to find groceries. Everything became so much more complicated, and all the resources that used to be taken for a given almost disappeared. You could see the fear of people, not 100% about the fire, but about the uncertainty in the face of COVID. They were starting from zero in a world they don’t know how to fully operate in. That was definitely that I felt in people’s eyes.
The way COVID has changed our work is really just for protective measures. Our job is to make people not feel alone and in despair, and that part of our mission has not changed. We’re trying to smile even bigger so it shows beyond our masks, so that people can see it in your eyes that you’re smiling and ready to help them.
Longtime Red Cross Volunteer
Thursday, September 24, 2020
From the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross to the American Red Cross in Greater NY
Carletha Woodley-Alves has been a Red Cross volunteer since almost as early as she can remember. When she was a young girl living in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a small Caribbean nation, she joined the local Red Cross as part of an elementary school program. She continued on with the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross Society through the rest of her childhood and part of her early adulthood. She moved to Brooklyn in 2001 and joined the American Red Cross in Greater NY a few weeks later.
A few weeks ago, when the Red Cross put out a call for volunteers to deploy to the devastating wildfires out West, she put her thoughts about COVID-19 aside. As she said:
“I think about the people who need help even though it’s in the middle of a pandemic. We need to get them the help and support their needs. I decided that I’m not going to let the pandemic stop me from doing what I enjoy doing and helping people … It makes me emotional when I see people in those situations. I give my life for people, I don’t care who you are, everyone has a right to be treated with respect and dignity. I always try my best to pass that on to everyone.”
Seeking New Ways to Help Others
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Always Seeking New Ways to Help Others
by Alessandro Malave, American Red Cross in Greater NY
Natacha Gomez has always found unique ways to give back and help others. She became a Red Cross volunteer this past last July and just three months later, jumped at the opportunity to deploy to Louisiana to help prepare local shelters for the impending landfall of Hurricane Laura.
Originally from Haiti, where she has lived on and off for most of her life, Gomez remembers her parents prioritizing community service at an early age. Recalling some advice she received as a child, she said: “They told me that unless you put yourself in someone else's shoes you cannot help that person.”
No stranger to disaster, the impact of the 2010 Haitian earthquake was deeply personal to Gomez.
“We really felt the impact,” Gomez said. “We’re from the Northern part of Haiti, and friends of mine and family where lost. I don't think I will ever forget them.”
The year before the earthquake, Gomez created a women’s empowerment organization. She, along with her team members, worked to help women recognize their own value, worth and strength. Gomez still serves as an ambassador for the program today.
A trained chef, Gomez has also used her skill and passion for cooking to help others. A year ago, after the Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian, she joined World Central Kitchen (WCK), a nonprofit (and Red Cross partner) founded by Chef José Andrés (pictured below next to Natacha) that provides meals to disaster survivors around the world. Her role was to cook meals for the large Haitian community on the island that was badly affected by the storm.
“I think that I was showing love by cooking for the kitchen,” Gomez said. She helped prepare 25,000 daily meals for this particularly vulnerable community for several months.
After a second WCK assignment, this time in Southern Texas supporting migrants, Gomez moved to New York. Motivated by the suffering caused by COVID-19, she joined the American Red Cross in Greater NY as a volunteer and quickly took as much training as possible.
“What I should have done in six months I did in one month,” Gomez laughed.
By the time she completed her training to serve as a Disaster Responder, able to manage emergency relief after a local incident in NYC, Hurricane Laura was making its way towards the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross put out a call to volunteers to travel down South to help and Gomez’ desire to put boots on the ground and turn her experience, training and compassion into action led her to raise her hand and deploy, despite COVID-19. She told herself: ‘there is COVID, but these people [impacted by Hurricane Laura] will also have needs.’
In Louisiana, she helped set up shelters for evacuees, some days traveling hundreds of miles between relief sites. On the night of August 23, when the massive storm made landfall, Gomez and her team were sleeping in a church. There was a lot of wind, but luckily, they were not flooded.
After landfall, Gomez and her fellow volunteers worked long days across multiple locations directing people to shelters. They encountered waves of residents every day and worked hard to guide them toward safe locations where they would find relief.
Back in New York after her 8-day deployment, Gomez looks forward to her new volunteer role helping New Yorkers impacted by local disasters.
“It’s the best feeling in the world being able to wake up and help someone else,” Gomez exclaims. “I am grateful every day to be alive.”
Three Questions: About Your Volunteer Work
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
"Three Questions" With Garrison Harward
By Alessandro Malave, American Red Cross in Greater New York
Brooklyn resident Garrison Harward is a volunteer with the American Red Cross in Greater NY, serving as a disaster responder, helping residents impacted by local disasters across the five boroughs. Originally from California, Harward moved to NYC in 2013 and first joined the Red Cross after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto. As part of his three-week deployment there he traveled across the island helping to distribute solar panels and generators. Since COVID-19, Harward has taken on more volunteer hours and added responsibilities with the NY Red Cross.
How and why did you begin volunteering with the Red Cross?
I think I had a really unique entry into the Red Cross. I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I served in Senegal for two years after college. Through the former “Return the Peace Corps” volunteer network, I learned that the Red Cross needed more people to help in Puerto Rico who were used to working in pretty extreme conditions. So my very first interaction with the Red Cross was when I deployed to Puerto Rico. And that's the reason that I kept volunteering with the Red Cross because I had such a positive experience there.
Can you talk about your work responding to disasters during COVID-19?
It's been busy, actually. There are lots of fires, there are still unsafe apartments that people can't stay in, and there are also City services to get people into better situations. We're a part of that system. I've been doing lots and lots of deliveries [of relief items] as well as financial assistance. That often has to be delivered to the clients [impacted residents]. For a lot of people, that financial assistance can be the difference between them being able to get where they’re going to be staying or not. Or sometimes it’s whether or not people are going to eat that night.
Can you talk about teamwork during the pandemic?
There's a lot of good coordination happening, and a lot of people problem solving and willing to help. It's just cool to be in that environment. I've done a couple of overnight sessions at disaster scenes. There was a building collapse, and I was in an ERV [Emergency Response Vehicle] overnight, just to be there for Red Cross in case residents needed help. And then, I got to go into the OEM [NYC Emergency Management] Command Center. This was pretty cool. Being the Red Cross representative for that response, that all these different agencies are also a part of, it was great. It was so cool to be a part of the whole system that's trying to help people out.