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Posts from the ‘volunteer’ Category

cycling and waiting

Cool, crisp weather and turning leaves are the only performance enhancing substances I need …

Leaves turn and the weather churns up the East Coast.   I ride and wait.  I’m unsure at this time whether or not I will deploy if called up by the Red Cross. The Client Casework  function typically hits the ground later on, after the Disaster Assessment and Mass Care teams – and at this point, the coming month, timing could be tough for me.   So for now it is a game of wait and see.

And so I ride … while I can.  Fingers crossed.

red crossings

Lucy is proving to be a perfect commuter bike for me – functional, comfortable, versatile.  And appropriately red enough for my trips into the Red Cross office (I swear this never even crossed my mind when I was choosing her paint color).

On a national level, the Red Cross is making preparations for the possible landfall of Isaac.  It’s fascinating to see the process unfold, the planning, the deployment of material and human resources – and the ways that numerous local Chapters contribute to the response.   While I have chosen not to be available for deployment at this time due to some personal scheduling conflicts, I continue to stay busy locally with our DAT team and working with new volunteers – work that I enjoy very much.

The continuing reorganizational changes surrounding our local Chapter can be frustrating at times.  While many of the changes to our service model make sense, and should ultimately provide more efficient delivery, the plan for implementation (internally) has not always been so well thought out – and this can be very difficult for a workforce of volunteers.

At the end of the day, I often have to step back and ask myself:  are we helping to the people who need our assistance?  The answer, thankfully, is yes.  Ultimately, this is all that really matters – whether it involves responding to house and apartment fires here at home, or providing relief to our clients after a hurricane.  At the end of the day, I know we have helped.

I get on my bike and ride home, thankful for the chance to unwind and mentally re-evaluate the day to the soothing rhythm of my pedals strokes … and hope that storms, near and far, change course.

cycling, interrupted

The month of March feels kind of like a vinyl record with a scratch in it; there is still a lot of music, but there are skips, repeats, and the tracks don’t always play as they should.  For now, I am starting at the present, and moving backwards – in pieces.

Our son Mason came home from school for a brief weekend visit, as we had missed him over his Spring Break.  We got to catch up, get back on our bikes after too many days absence, and do a little leisurely riding in the incredibly balmy temps that have been setting records across the country.  Mason had spent his break with a team of students from his university; they travelled to the islands of Trinidad & Tobago to work on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village project –  mixing concrete, shoveling sand and helping lay the foundation for a family’s new home.  There was a cement workers’ strike on the islands, so they really had their work cut out for themselves – mixing everything by hand with shovels and a lot of muscle.

He had some wonderful stories (best listened to while we were out on our bikes), made some new friends, got some running in (lol), and I loved that he took some time from his busy schedule to do some giving back.  (Photos from my son’s camera).

 foot race challenge

Habitat for Humanity Global Village, Trinidad & Tobago … the cement mixing

While Mason was off getting dirty and building houses, the rest of us headed to the mountains for our annual week of skiing in Colorado.  It was a well-needed break for all of us.  The snow was wonderful, the skiing fantastic, and like in years past, it was hard to come back home – I always tend to leave a part of myself in the snow and mountains, and someday may be staying for good.  My plan is to post a gallery of snow-mountain-ski pics of this place I love, my second home, later this week.  But for now I’m just including a few of the bike-y ones (and a snowy one … because it’s been so warm everywhere else).

I love the active mountain culture in Steamboat, and especially that they are so bicycle friendly – they are an LAB Gold Level community.  Skiers on bikes, bikes loaded with everything from groceries to snowboards to dogs and kids.  Weather, altitude, snow-covered roads are never a deterrent.  One of these days my dream is to have a little house along the Yampa River, riding on the Core Trail into town for breakfast or lunch, and loading my skis on my Xtracycle for a trip to the slopes.  Oh, perfect life.

And then there was all of the tornado and Red Cross stuff that I had left off with.  Sigh.  I am relieved to report that the damage was not as massive in scope as last April – which is still little consolation to the people who have lost their homes – and we are all grateful that no lives were lost.  Our local Red Cross chapter joined with folks from Chattanooga and Knoxville, and the relief efforts went very well, as you can read in detail here.  (Photo credit for these two shots from my volunteer friend, Sandy; my camera stayed at home).

But very sadly, in the midst of all of the disaster response, our chapter suffered another major blow; due to continuing reorganization and personell changes, we now no longer have a Disaster Services Director in our chapter.  My friend, mentor, and “boss”, Michele – a 10 year Red Cross veteran – is no longer with the organization.   This change in addition to the other personell cuts made earlier in the month, I can’t help but think that the writing is on the wall, so to speak.  It appears our small local chapter has effectively been dismantled at this point, and I am greatly saddened … I honestly don’t know what my own volunteer future will be.

Most frustrating, no one from the upper echelons seems to be providing any communication/direction to the volunteer base.  It reminds me of sitting in an airplane on a runway with no pilot … are they going to cancel our flight?  Are they going to send another pilot?  Or do they just expect one of the passengers to take the controls?  Like I said, it’s just incredibly frustrating – which made my decision to leave for some skiing during Spring Break a little easier.

I am back to my bike, my silly routine.  I am sorry to have not been able to finish the Utilitaire games, but I take my hat off to The Old Guy and my other friends who finished successfully – I applaud you all.  And I thank MG for the dreaming up the whole idea, for I had great fun participating for the weeks that I was able to – which, for me, is what it was all about anyway.  It made me re-think variety in destination riding, and I look forward to incorporating the goals into my riding routine.

Hopefully the remainder of March will be a little more normal, a little less interrupted, no big scratches.  We’ll see.

utilitaire 7.12: the good, the bad, & the windy

You know you’re battling a decent headwind when you have to pedal going downhill.  Such was the case for the day’s Utilitaire ride (which actually took place yesterday, but I was to lazy to post last night).

The destination was to be #1: Work.  And while I am not technically employed by the Red Cross, my volunteer “job” with them is about as close as I get to having to go “to work”.  Heading out today I knew there was rain in the forecast, so as most cyclists know, the best insurance against having it actually rain is to pack rain gear.  I also decided to just leave the “real” camera at home, as I didn’t want to mess with waterproofing measures  (and I apologize in advance for another series of iPhonography in this post, as well my lengthiness today … hit the delete button if you wish.)

I battled a nasty headwind all the way in.  Gusty, brutal and not so much fun.   Decided to stop for coffee and catch up on a little bit of reading before hitting the office.

From coffee stop to the office, the scenery is always fascinating to me.  I like riding through the old industrial district, passing by the old Hardwick Woolen Mill.  Last month, a fire destroyed the Cleveland Chair Company.  The reports have pointed to arson.  Demolition of the remnants of the building(s) have turned the scene into a huge and textured pile of ruins.  (And at this point I was hitting myself for not bringing along my other camera).

riding by the ruins of the Cleveland Chair Co. and the old Hardwick Woolen Mill

I spent the rest of the day at the office, scrubbing disaster response case files – making sure the paperwork is in order and that all of the information has been correctly entered into the computer system.  While I was at the office, I got some very sad and troubling news that had been announced the day before.  Restructuring and funding cuts from both the American Red Cross and United Way are eliminating key positions in our Chapter.  Our tiny paid staff has now been reduced to two.  Two.

 The Bradley County Emergency Aid (funded by United Way, closely connected with our Red Cross Chapter work) has been cut, along with the women who have worked so tirelessly helping people in crisis in our community.  Just as troubling, we are losing our ARC Volunteer Coordinator – the amazing woman who schedules our disaster team rotations, recruits and arranges for training of our volunteers, and holds our volunteer staff together at the seams.  It’s shocking, troubling, and I can’t even begin to envision what the future holds for our local Chapter.  It is difficult enough to recruit capable, willing and trained volunteers to fill all of the positions – from teaching CPR/First Air/AED to fundraising to disaster response – but if they expecting the volunteer coordination duties to be taken over by our stretched-too-thin volunteer staff, I can’t even begin to imagine what is to come.  I think it spells disaster, ironically.

Needless to say, it was a tough afternoon in the office.  It’s difficult to see anyone lose their job, even harder when it happens to friends and people I have so much respect for.

Left the office and headed back into town in fading light.  Decided to hook up with my son (on his way home from tennis practice) and my husband (on his way home from work) for a quick bite to eat.  No sooner did we sit down, I receive a weather-alert text on my phone:  hail-producing severe thunderstorm warning.  Yay.  Storms were already spawning hail, lightning and even a tornado warning directly west of us, and the fun was now heading our way.

So, do I attempt to beat the storms and head home as planned on my bike, or do I give up the night riding and toss the bike in the back of my husband’s car and hitch a ride home?  I had my rain gear.  I had insurance.  I decided to ride.

Now a quick word about night riding.  I won’t go into a full-blown review of bicycular (I like to make up words) lighting – we have a boxful of various lights in our household, but I will tell you a little bit about the lights that work very well for me.

On my helmet, I use a Light & Motion Vis 360, which I absolutely love.  As the name says, visible from all sides – front, rear, sides.  Spotlight in the front (with amber sidelights), and blinking rear light (also with amber sidelights).  On and off the helmet in a snap, long light life, USB rechargeable.

On my bike, I use a Niterider MiNewt 600 Cordless (which replaces an older corded MiNewt Mini that is still in our stash), along with a couple of PB SuperFlash Blinkies on my seatpost and messenger bag.  The MiNewt 600 is a big improvement on the corded Mini; although a little heavier, it is brighter, cordless, easier to mount on and off of the bike, also USB rechargeable.

My own philosophy on night riding is kind of two-fold:

  • In town, among streetlights, storefronts, traffic, it’s imperative to be seen.  Lots of lights front and rear, top and bottom, and my high-vis yellow jacket with reflective striping do a good job making me visible.
  • Outside of town, when I hit the rural two-lane backroads, sparsely populated with no streetlights, and effectively pitch-black under a cloudy sky with no moonlight, it’s not only a matter of being seen, but being able to see.  I find that the two-light system works best for me here – my headlamp to a point further in the forward distance, and my bike-mounted light giving me a bright pool just ahead to better see pavement conditions and road debris.

nightriding: in town and on pitch-black rural roads

Needless to say, the ride home was exhilarating.  The winds that were my foe on the way into town in the morning had now become my friend as a tailwind.  It was like flying home, without much effort.  Record time, I think.  Outside of town I flushed a couple of deer in the roadside woods – fortunately not onto the road in front of me.  The sky would momentarily light up with lighting in distant clouds, and the thunder would rumble a few moments later.  It was an exciting adventure.  But I arrived home before even a drop of rain fell.

Perfect timing; it’s what happens when you pack insurance.  😉

sixteen days

Binghamton, NY ... evidence of the floodline, reaching almost into 2nd story of this home.

I have a book by Clara Barton, and I so love her words – they are as true today as they were when she wrote them:

Since the foundation of the Red Cross in America, many direful calamities have afflicted the country.  In each of these visitations the Red Cross has acted in some degree as the Almoner – the distributer and organizer – of the boutiful measures of relief that have been poured out by the American people.

Its work has been accomplished quietly and without ostentation.  The wreckage has been cleared away, the stricken people have been wisely, tenderly, and calmly guided out of panic and despair on the road of self-help and cooperative effort to restore their shattered homes and broken fortunes; and then the Red Cross has retired as quietly as it came, and few, outside of the people immediately concerned, have realized the beneficent powers of help and healing that have fallen like a benediction upon the stricken wherever that sacred symbol of humanity has made its way.

– Clara Barton, May 15, 1904; Glen Echo, MD

September 10, 2011. Binghamton, New York. Rescuers on a flooded street in Vestal, New York. (Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

Binghamton, NY ... flood-condemned home

Sixteen days, no bicycle.  Sixteen days in New York and northeastern Pennsylvania with the American Red Cross, trying to help people recover from catastrophic flooding from the combined hit of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  Sixteen days where time became a blur – unforgettable, exhausting, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding.

I got the call asking me to deploy on Sept. 6, and within 24 hours I was on a plane to Albany, NY.  My assignment was to be camera-less this time; I would be serving as an individual client case worker  – working with disaster-affected clients on a one-on-one basis, listening to their stories, identifying their immediate needs, and facilitating contact with a variety of other agencies (FEMA, housing assistance, local charitable agencies, etc.) to help them begin their recovery process.  The Red Cross Disaster Assessment teams had identified nearly 9,000 homes that had suffered major damage or had been destroyed … now it was our job to make contact with every one of those residents.

When I first heard those numbers, I confess it felt overwhelming.

On outreach: shoveling out mud-mess from a front porch; Buskirk, NY

Aftermath: when the mud became dusty on the streets (Binghamton, NY)

Outreach calls (when it became safe to do so) within the communities often had many physical challenges.  Consider the aftermath of a flood: mud and silt mixed with sewage as well as spilled heating oil.  When the film of “mud-mess” began to dry, it would become dusty in the streets, and often dangerous to inhale – requiring the use of dust masks.

Our client casework team at our morning meeting; Jennifer Jones, our lead supervisor, was one of the most amazing, skilled, inspiring people I have ever worked with. (Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

In addition to outreach within communities, our casework teams were involved in serving displaced clients within the 5 shelters that had been opened in the region.  The largest shelter, in the Binghamton University Event Center, intially held over 1,600 clients – including a separate section for functional/medical needs clients (at least one nursing home had to be evacuated).   I had never been in a disaster shelter before, so this was an incredible learning experience.

Binghamton University Event Center mass care shelter ... initial shelter population: 1600

Communal living can be extremely stressful, especially when you have just lost nearly everything you own – and are faced with starting all over again, often with limited financial resources.  The social demographic is very mixed.   Patience and tolerance often runs thin, emotions run high.  It is a never-ending effort to comfort and calm, and help make the situation a little more bearable – all while trying to facilitate necessary steps to find housing, replace clothing, obtain medical care and make application to FEMA and other agencies.

Initially, the Red Cross volunteer staff also resided in men’s and women’s staff shelters – located in the gyms of several of local churches.  We had 88 women in our shelter; all sleeping on cots, sharing bathroom facilities for 8.  It was a “symphony of snoring” when the lights went out, and I’m not sure everyone enjoyed the close quarters, but we all knew to expect this is a disaster relief operation.   I think it was a vitally important experience; it really gave us a better understanding of what our clients have to endure when they’ve been displaced from their homes, and it fosters cooperation, tolerance and understanding on a very necessary level.  I happened to have a white noise app on my phone, so I had no problems sleeping – and I had some really great cot-mates around me. 🙂

Red Cross women's staff shelter (and my temporary home) - Binghamton, NY

There are more stories from these sixteen days than I will ever be able to record … and even as I arrived home, the disaster relief efforts continue in the region.  As some of us leave to go home, others arrive to take our place.

My heart goes out to all of the residents in NY and PA who have had to experience such catastrophic devestation; we want to do everything we can to help, and thank you for letting us into your lives.  And to anyone out there who can help with financial donations to the American Red Cross, I assure you it is desperately needed and well-used.

Last night, I slept peacefully in my own bed, in my quiet room.  Today, I hope to take a ride on my bicycle.  I have so much to be grateful for.

A common sight along the streets in Binghamton & Johnson City, NY

(self-explanatory...)

An American Red Cross' Emergency Response Vehicle drives through a damage neighborhood in Vestal, NY passing out hot-meals on Friday. ( Photo by Chuck Haupt /American Red Cross)

waiting for Irene

along the Outer Banks … the battered Frisco Pier, Cape Hatteras (July 2011)

It’s slightly rattling to think that less than a month ago we were enjoying balmy beach days along the Outer Banks on the southern end of Cape Hatteras – and now portions of the Cape are being evacuated in preparation for possibility of Hurricane Irene making landfall.  Today, as I continue to watch the weather forecasts and receive emails from the Red Cross, I find myself feeling anxious … and experiencing that pull that I felt during the tornados back in April.

Since April, I’ve logged over 430 volunteer hours with the Red Cross – a large portion involving classroom  training and local disaster response activities, from serving during the tornados to client casework with local house fires.  And now (at leaset according to my supervisors and the training staff) I am considered to be capable enough, experienced, and trained in the critical response activities necessary to respond to a national disaster should it be required.

And, very sadly, it’s looking as if this could be imminent with Hurricane Irene.

My hat is now “officially in the ring” so to speak, for national deployment – and depending on Irene’s course and resulting destruction, I may be called to deploy for a couple of weeks in September or beyond, somewhere along the East Coast.  I just hope that I will be able to serve well and make a contribution.

the Red Cross is ready …. are you?

Ironically (?) one of the functions I was encouraged to be available to serve in may involve the very stuff of, well, … the types of things I’ve been doing on this blog – they may in fact put me to work taking photos, doing some writing and PR-related work in the field.  Public exposure for purposes of fundraising and to let the public know how the Red Cross is serving is a vital component for the organization during disasters, and there is a need for people with the appropriate skill set.  Apparently they feel I could be useful in this capacity – with my camera, no less.  Who knew?  :-0

But if not serving with my camera, I am also ready to serve in Mass Care and Client Casework – activities that really hit home for me, especially after working during the tornados.

I truly hope that Irene will decide to change course and head far out into the Atlantic.  I hope that the artist’s house, Sea Rider, and all of the places I love along Cape Hatteras will be spared major devestation – along with the rest of the East Coast.   But if Irene should arrive, and if I am called, I will be honored to serve – in whatever capacity I can help with the most.  I’m a little bit nervous, but I am ready and willing.

And a reminder to all of us:  please be prepared, no matter where you live.  Please – be Red Cross Ready: make a plan, have a kit, stay informed.

dear Sea Rider … hold fast, and I hope you ride out the storm once again


Frisco on Dwellable

disaster relief on two wheels

a hawk dropped into the frame

It is a very good thing that I completed #330daysofbiking when I did … I think I have just had the longest stretch of not being on a bicycle in several years.  Twelve days, no cycling; fourteen days of Red Cross Disaster Relief.   And not a moment of regret.  It has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Are things back to normal?  Hardly.  A funny thing about natural disasters  – from tornados, to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods – when cable news has moved on to the next breaking story, the communities that were effected will spend months, even years, recovering and rebuilding.   Healing –  on all levels –  takes a very, very long time.

I have to believe that almost everyone who lives here has been affected, either directly or indirectly.  Colleagues at work who have lost their homes, neighbors who have lost family members, friends at school who were severely injured … everyone is connected to the devastation to some degree.  Lives have changed.   At present, we are simply out of the immediate “crisis” mode.  Now begins the recovery.  And it will be a long ride.

My boys have all arrived home from college (for a few weeks, anyway), and on my first day “off” and away from the disaster efforts, I finally had a chance to take long and much-needed ride with my son Mason.

While too many familiar landscapes have been drastically altered and damaged, and it’s still nearly impossible to travel many of our local back roads without encountering various work crews still continuing the endless repairs and clean-up, I realized that I really needed a change of course.

I needed to leave the piles of rubble and the smell of burning pine behind me.   I needed some open space, green fields and fresh air.  I needed roadside daisies.  I needed to find beauty again.

And my heart lifted when I found that it was all still out there.

Getting out on my bicycle again, seeing green fields, being with my son, feeling the rhythm of  heartbeat, pedals and breath … it was my own personal disaster “relief”.

What lies ahead?  I am not entirely sure.  I have signed on with the Red Cross as a regular volunteer and have enrolled in their Disaster Services Human Resource System.  I’m continuing to help with follow-up work being coordinated through our local Chapter’s office, and am looking forward to continuing disaster response training and becoming an active responder.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with experienced Red Cross Disaster Relief teams who came in from around the country; I learned so much from them, and made some very close friendships along the way.

I also want to extend an enormous and overdue thank you to all of my friends (both local and cyber) who extended so much help and support – from your personal notes, to finding much-needed material items (including a twin bed), monetary donations, offers of manpower, and even mailing a hand-crafted prayer shawl across the country for a woman in our community.  Your generosity and kindness is unparalleled, and has been appreciated more than I can express.

Mostly, I have been forever touched by the individuals and families I have been privileged to serve and have gotten to know over the past few weeks.  You are in my heart, and I will never forget you.

(Slideshow:  amazing friends from Red Cross Disaster Relief)

 

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