A Holiday Mail Story to Warm Your Holiday Spirit

It is always rewarding to give something that means something, especially during the holidays. No matter how big or small the gift is, it is the touching emotions and gratuity that make it all worth it.

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Mr. and Mrs. Claus are definitely watching! Tara and Alexa made it on the nice list!

Rachel Goodrich, Holiday Mail For Heroes Coordinator from our Madison office shares her heartfelt experience delivering holiday cards, celebrating with veterans, and watching her daughters as youth volunteers.

This past Tuesday, Rachel and her two daughters, Tara and Alexa, along with other Red Cross volunteers delivered holiday mail to the veterans at Tomah VA. The holiday mail delivery is part of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. The program gives people the opportunity to send holiday cards to U.S. Armed Forces members, veterans and their families. Cards may include thanks, support and holiday cheer. As Rachel describes it,

“… a magical night of laughter, tears, smiles and dancing. Red Cross volunteers helped serve cookies and punch. We danced the night away with veterans while wheeling, spinning them around in their wheel chairs on the dance floor. We even took some of them back to their rooms after the evening was over.”

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Special Delivery! Tara gives a veteran his holiday mail!

At the beginning of the eventful night, the girls were a bit timid but once they warmed up, they danced and even asked the veterans to dance with them. And how sweet is this? Tara received a kiss on the hand from a veteran and was thanked for dancing with him. She thanked him for his service too.

Rachel recalls the emotions in the room when the veterans received their cards, “We watched tears roll down the faces of some veterans while reading their cards, smiles lit up the room as we shook their hands and thanked them for all that they have done. The sound of laughter and pure happiness filled the air while volunteers danced with Veterans. ”

It is great to know that Tara, 10 on Christmas Day and Alexa, 8, are making a difference in their community as youth volunteers. They are also registered on the American Red Cross Volunteer Connection, where they log in their own volunteer hours and badges and earn certificates. Rachel continues with, “I don’t even know how to put this into words. Kids love the community service and learning how to give back, show their appreciation, there is more to the world than what’s in front of them”.

A total of 63 packs of holiday mail were given to the veterans! Both girls attend Caesar Chavez Elementary School in Madison. Students in their class created cards as well.

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Red Cross volunteers (L-R: Sharon Ernst, Rachel Goodrich and Jane Ramsey) posed with the big Red Cross holiday card! Can you imagine how many notes and signatures were filled with that card?

We thank each and everyone of our volunteers for their time and dedication. Special thanks to those that sent in and created cards for the members of our armed forces and their loved ones.

To learn more about the Holiday Mail for Heroes programs, please click here. For more ways to help and donate, please click here.

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10th Annual Dancing with the La Crosse Stars Shines Bright

Community leaders and professional dancers from Southwest Wisconsin came together on Saturday, November 28th to participate in the 10th Annual Dancing with the La Crosse Stars! Now in its tenth year, the event has raised $141,000 this year which brings the 10 year total to more than $740,000! All funds go right back into the community to support disaster relief, fire prevention outreach, life-saving programs to support of our military members and Veterans.

Eleven local celebrities and their professional dance partners competed to win the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. Each team was raising funds since July to earn “votes” for their team. Final “votes” were cast during the intermission in which “Team Flower Power” (Bob Mock and Heidi Tabbert) raised the most votes, earning them the People’s Choice Award.

Each team received a fundraising score towards their overall total. The top fundraising team was Team “Make it Rain,” composed of Nehomah Thundercloud and professional dancer Amy Garvin. Together, they raised more than $25,000.

The near capacity crowd was treated to outstanding dance routines! In fact, two teams earned perfect scores from the judges: “Team Rock ‘N’ Reed” (Jim Reed and Katie Fish) and “Team Legal Motion” (Gifford Collins and Kate Phillips). “Team Rock ‘N’ Reed” was also selected as the Judge’s Choice Awards Winners.

"Team Rock ‘N’ Reed" (Jim Reed and Katie Fish)

“Team Rock ‘N’ Reed” (Jim Reed and Katie Fish)

At the end of the completion, fundraising scores and judge’s scores were combined to determine the overall winners. “Team Rock ‘N’ Reed” came out on top with a score of 47 out of 50 earning them to coveted Mirror Ball Trophy! “Team Flower Power” came in second with a score of 46. Third place went to “Team Legal Motion” with a score of 45, and fourth place went to “Team ‘You Go Girl’ (Leah Misch and Tiffany Brookman) with a score of 44.

In the end, every dance, professional and supporter is a winner in our eyes as they made our community stronger!

Check-out our photo album!

We’ll be putting our dance shoes back-on for the 11th annual next November! Will you join us?

Share Holiday Cheer!

The Holiday Mail for Heroes program is an avenue for people to share their appreciation of those who have served our country. The goal is to give service members and Veterans a little holiday cheer by presenting them with letters and cards of thanks.

This year, we are collecting hand-made or store bought cards. Plus, we have JUMBO cards around the state and at special events for residents to sign.  We kicked-off the campaign at the state Capitol.  Cards received by December 11th will be sorted and then presented at common Wisconsin venues, military installations, VA Hospitals, State Veteran Homes and more.

IMG_2134Get in the holiday spirit and send us your best cards! We’ll do the rest!  Here are few guidelines to get you going:

What is the Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? Since 2006, the American Red Cross has received and distributed nearly 10 million holiday cards for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans. The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program enables Americans to “Give Something That Means Something” this holiday season by signing and sending cards of thanks, encouragement and holiday cheer to members of our U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans.

I don’t know anyone in the military; how do I participate? You don’t need to know anyone in the military. Red Cross workers will distribute signed cards from the community to members of the military and Veterans right here in Wisconsin.

Cards are not addressed to anyone specific, so who gets these cards? We will distribute cards to service members and Veterans throughout Wisconsin. Cards will be handed to service members and Veterans, or displayed at common venues in military installations and hospitals.

Can I drop cards off at my local Red Cross office? Yes, your created cards can be dropped off by December 11th at your local Red Cross office or even better mail them to: American Red Cross, 4860 Sheboygan Avenue, Madison, WI 53705

Will my card be distributed to our troops overseas? Our National office has shipped cards to military bases around the globe so your cards will make the holiday brighter throughout Wisconsin.

What is the goal for the 2015 Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? The goal is to share season’s greeting and holiday cheer to the members of our Armed Forces and Veterans, creating millions of smiles.

Are there other restrictions and guidelines for cards? In order to make cards as meaningful as possible to a wide audience, choose or create  “Happy Holiday” cards and use generic titles such as “Dear Service Member, or Veteran” when writing cards.  Cards should not contain:

  • Glitter that could aggravate existing health issues.
  • Enclosures such as money calling cards, photos, or other gifts.
  • Complete mailing address.  (City and State are okay)
  • Email addresses.

Can I include money in the cards? Please do not enclose money with the holiday cards. If you wish to provide financial support for Red Cross services to the military, please donate online.

How can I find out more information about the Holiday Mail program?

Volunteer of the Month November 2015 – Laurel Cooper

Cooper, Laurel

Congratulations to Laurel Cooper for being selected as the November 2015 Volunteer of the Month by the American Red Cross.

“Laurel lives for the time of year when she can deploy, ready at a moment’s notice to take the ERV on a new adventure,” shares Wendy Savage, Red Cross Chapter Executive Director. Laurel has been part of the American Red Cross since January of 2006. During this time she has served in the Disaster Services Department as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member trained in Mass Care, Bulk Distribution/Sheltering/Feeding and is also the volunteer ERV (emergency response vehicle) Coordinator for her chapter. “Having things ready and in working order can take more time and attention than people think but, I enjoy knowing that things are well organized, maintained and available for use,” said Laurel.  This is a clear expression of her dedication.

As one of the “go to” people, Laurel is often the first to volunteer, offering administrative office support, providing leadership as a Home Fire Documenter or deploying to help people recover from disasters. Brian Cockerham, Disaster Program Manager says, “Laurel keeps our ERV in serviceable condition and is an essential part of our Home Fire Campaign.  She is an enormous help to our chapter sharing her dedication, trustworthiness, and leadership which have earned her the respect and confidence of her fellow volunteers and chapter staff.”

Laurel has a great appreciation for the support shown to the Red Cross by neighbors, family, friends and businesses. Even her employer kindly allows her to be available for deployments from Labor Day through Memorial Day each year. Laurel’s most memorable Red Cross moment was during a deployment to Tuscaloosa, AL after a tornado. “I was sent to a valley north of Tuscaloosa that was also hit.  For a week I was there helping people who had lost everything yet, on Friday night the community invited Red Cross members to join them for a fish fry! It was really great, we were there to help them and they fed us!” An unmeasurable amount of fulfillment comes from assisting others as a Red Cross volunteer. Laurel stated, “I’m not real sure why I became a Red Cross Volunteer but, I’m sure glad I did, I’ve learned so much! Becoming a Red Cross volunteer allowed me to help others and much more with my training”

Thank you, Laurel for proudly representing the Red Cross in your community!

Right now, the American Red Cross has many volunteer opportunities, including becoming a disaster responder, supporting military troops, and many more. Red Cross volunteers are united by their service and the feeling that in changing others’ lives, their lives are also changed. To learn more, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer or contact the office of Volunteer Resources at volunteerwisconsin@redcross.org.

Mid-Winter Dangers

winter home fire

Mid-December evenings can mean extremely cold temperatures. It is definitely not the time to be out in the elements, especially with a one-year old child. Unfortunately, this was the case for a young family; their dreams were going up in flames, while the temperature was falling to 30 below zero.

The home was their first, and they were remodeling it, putting everything – both money and sweat equity — they had into it. Like many Midwest families, they use a wood-burning stove to keep their home warm. The father was at work, while the mother was home with their son.  The fire began on the lower level of the two-story home and smoke quickly consumed the upper level.

Luckily, the mother heard the smoke alarm, ran to her infant son, called for the dog and escaped safely – barefoot, and with just the cloths on their backs. The fire grew so large that four separate fire companies responded.  Even with their most valiant efforts, the firefighters were unable to save the home. The family lost everything – all their remodeling efforts, all the Christmas presents, already bought and wrapped. The ruin was later bulldozed.

The American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, including Sharon Rohrer, arrived shortly after the firefighters. They had two missions: support the young family through this devastating situation, and provide hot coffee, water and nourishment to the firefighters and first responders. Neighbors opened their doors to keep everyone warm, and the Red Cross was welcomed throughout the neighborhood.

For the family specifically, the Red Cross ensured they took the first step to recovery. This included giving them someone to talk to, help in figuring out what comes next, the community resources that were available to them, and immediate funds to jumpstart their recovery. A client assistance card was provided so they could purchase winter clothing, shoes, and even food.

As for Sharon Rohrer, it turns out this RN has been responding to disasters since Hurricane Andrew (1992) as a Red Cross volunteer! She was also on the Condolence Team for the OSO Mudslides.  Having seen her share of destruction and despair, she is acutely aware of how each emergency affects a family. She stated, “I gained back more than I have given just knowing how my own family was helped.” That’s right; this was the home of her grandson, significant other & great-grandson.  “Recalling the situation in its entirety, our physical and emotional support for all involved plus our presence may have been appreciated more than anything.”

The support of the American Red Cross is only possible due to the dedicated staff and volunteers, community partners and donors alike. For more information on how you can help, please visit redcross.org.

When Letting Go Saves A Life

By Barbara Behling, Wisconsin Red Cross Chief Communications Officer

Baby Adrianna and Mom

Three day weekends for many include family, fellowship, food and fun. For the Garcia family, Labor Day turned into a day of panic, horror and help from the American Red Cross.

In the early morning hours, Felipe Garcia was woken by the faint sound of the hallway smoke alarms, and he smelled smoke. He rose from his bed, went to hallway door, opened it and immediately shut-it. “It was filled with black-smoke so thick I didn’t want to take my family out there,” he stated. He turned, yelled for his two teenage boys to wake-up, and for his wife to get herself and 5-month old Arianna up.

Even though they lived on the second floor of the Middleton, Wisconsin apartment building, he knew they would have to escape out the window. “We did what we had to do. So I lowered the first boy out the window as far as I could reach and then let him go. He hit the ground hard. We repeated this for the second teenager. When I turned to my wife for the baby, we knew it was imminent I would have to drop her too. With the boys on the ground, they caught her softly,” he recalls.

Standing outside their burning building, they watched as the fire department fought to save the building, and assessed their injuries. One of the boys’ ankle, and the others’ wrist, was throbbing and the baby wouldn’t stop coughing, so all went to the Emergency Room for immediate help. X-rays for the boys proved nothing was broken.

Upon returning to the apartment complex, the Garcia family was met by American Red Cross disaster responders. Even with English being their second language, it did not take long to translate the fear and pain in each of their stories. Our bi-lingual responder assured them the Red Cross would be there for them as they asked, “What do we do next?”

The fire investigation was going to take all day, and depending on power and water, residents were likely not be able to return for up to a week, or longer, due to the damage. With the weekend temperatures reaching 92 degrees, and humidity nearing the same level, it was miserable for anyone to be outside for long periods of time. Therefore, the Red Cross opened a shelter in the nearby Middleton High School. This air conditioned building had bathrooms, cool air and places to gather. Not only that, but the residents were greeted with coffee, juice, water and hot breakfasts, plus some donuts too! From the time they arrived, the sense of relief was evident on their faces.

As people started to relax, the Red Cross’ mental health and health services responders went table-to-table to casually strike up conversations, check on everyone’s emotional state, and to ensure no injuries were overlooked.  To a casual observer, the shelter almost looked like a regular family reunion: people were chatting, kids were playing and food and beverages were provided throughout the day. Best of all, little Arianna was smiling, giggling and acting like a 5-month old. As this was happening, the Red Cross team back at the fire site was working with the apartment management and fire and local officials to determine what emergency housing needs would be needed.

As for the Garcia family, they were able to fill clothesbaskets with clothing, medications, a few toys and items they would need. Family and friends stepped in to offer shelter while their apartment underwent cleaning and repairs. In addition, the Red Cross provided financial assistance for food and miscellaneous needs. The Red Cross also provided personal hygiene items and helped them navigate the recovery process.

The support of the American Red Cross is only possible due to the dedicated staff and volunteers, community partners and donors alike. For more information on how you can help, please visit redcross.org.

Stepping into a Client’s Shoes

By Viv Chappell, Red Cross Grants Specialist

MKE Simulation_3 Photo Layout On September 23, 2015, I stepped into the shoes of an American Red Cross disaster client. Fortunately for me, it was part of an emergency training drill, rather than a real event. I took part as an actor in a simulated aviation crisis—the General Mitchell International Airport 2015 Full Scale Exercise. Every three years, the airport and community partners put the Airport Emergency Plan into action, simulating a response to help prepare for the real thing.

In this scenario, a commercial airline—Dairy Air—experienced an emergency when a plane with 120 souls aboard landed short of the airport runway. The impact resulted in several small fires, major damage to aircraft, mass casualties and much scattered debris. In an aviation disaster response such as this, numerous stakeholders are involved, from the airline, to first responders, to the Red Cross. During this exercise, the Red Cross mobilized Health Services and Disaster Mental Health responders to assist with triage, as well as Government Liaisons, Public Affairs, Staffing personnel, and Family Assistant Specialists (FAS).

MKE Simulation_Actor AssignmentFAS volunteers work with specific families affected by an aviation disaster. They assist in the flow of information to and from families and friends of the people on the flight. FAS workers also provide support by listening to the concerns of the crash victim’s loved ones, obtaining or contacting resources, as well as providing logistical support for their needs.

My assignment was that of distraught and angry friend of Mary Jo Noyse, a passenger on the plane that went down. The other loved ones and I were guided to the Family and Friends Center, and each assigned a Red Cross Family Assistant Specialist. My assigned volunteer, Taira Grubb, sat down with me and assured me that she would do everything she could to help me get through the situation. She listened to my fears and angry demands with a soothing calmness. She confirmed that my friend Mary Jo was on the flight manifest, and took down identifying information about her. She helped me contact my friend’s family to notify them of the crash. She brought me water and a snack as we awaited news. As we talked, I thought of a real friend of mine, and imagined what it would feel like if she had really been in a plane crash. When I welled up with emotion, Taira comforted me and patted me on the back, a tear in her eye brought on by sincere compassion.

MKE Simulation_Disaster Vols w VestsI looked around the room filled with Red Crossers in their familiar disaster relief vests, providing comfort to a dozen more people. I hope we never have to activate this response for a real situation. But if we do, I know from first-hand experience that the Red Cross will be there to provide care and support to people in their darkest hour.

To find out more about the Red Cross disaster relief, please visit the Wisconsin Red Cross Disaster Services page.

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