Transcending Borders: American Red Cross International Services

By Sydney Stokes/American Red Cross of Alaska

The services provided through the American Red Cross do not just stop within the United States. Volunteers work tirelessly worldwide to aid families affected by natural disasters and give children the best opportunities to live sustainable lives. From delivering relief items to the Americas, to assisting refugees in Europe, to supporting countless countries afflicted by the coronavirus, the Red Cross never ceases to make a global impact. Donations significantly help support towards volunteer work overseas, and in 2018, over 9,200 families were reconnected after being separated by international crises.

Volunteers of all ages contribute to international work, including youth in our society. The Red Cross Youth Action Campaign mission is to educate young adults on the devastating effects of armed conflict. The Youth Action Campaign is an extension of the Red Cross’ International Humanitarian Law Program. International Humanitarian Law sets the fundamental limits on the principles of war, which, in turn, protects civilians and unarmed citizens. These laws in armed conflicts involve forbidding to injure an enemy who surrenders and even prohibiting physical and mental torture methods. Medical workers like the Red Cross must always be able to perform their duties without restrictions or roadblocks.

Rose Geer-Robbins serves as the Service to Armed Forces/ International Services Specialist for the Red Cross of Alaska. She is also a coordinator for the Youth Action Campaign.

Rose Geer-Robbins, November 2020

“I work with local schools and community projects to introduce the YAC into their curriculum,” Geer- Robbins said. She works to ensure that young adults develop a more profound passion for humanitarian work and seek global awareness among other cultures and societies that differ significantly from the United States.

“I help coordinate that effort to make their program as successful as possible, ensuring that they have all the lesson plans, the tools to build an online and in-person presence with their community, and an in-depth knowledge of the program and the topic,” she explained.

Geer-Robbins also said that the campaign aids in evolving the youth’s interest in advocacy. There is also a focus this year and in 2021 on how armed conflict is detrimental to societies obtaining stability within their educational systems. Reaching out to the youth about how laws are in place to protect vulnerable communities in other countries is key to understanding our own country.

July 3, 2019 – South Khali, Bangladesh

“You cannot fully understand your own country until you have reached beyond the borders to interact and engage with the rest of the world,” Geer-Robbins reflected. “People are often afraid of the unknown; they are so scared to travel and be engaged because of what they hear on the news. But that ability to reach out and be a part of something bigger than yourself, to become that humanitarian, is a great goal.”

Allied Partnerships Strengthen Vision and Mission

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska

The American Red Cross has partnerships with other organizations and individuals that believe in very similar values – such as helping those in need and saving lives.

To ensure vast and varied populations receive the assistance they need during disasters; humanitarian organizations often partner with each other to strengthen their support and aid in free shelters, food, clothing, basic hygiene care supplies, social and mental services and more to meet their organizations’ common visions, missions and goals.

The American Red Cross was established in 1881, and the Red Cross of Alaska was established in 1917. One such organization that partners with the Red Cross is Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest, which was established in 1956 in Copper Valley, Alaska. When the organization expanded in 1960, they offered their services beyond one location in Alaska. AmeriCorps was founded in 1993. When they expanded in 1997, Jesuit Volunteer/AmeriCorps, Northwest (JVC/AmeriCorps Northwest) was created.

With all organizations focusing on helping indigenous individuals in rural and urban communities and those affected by disasters, their partnership and the strength of each organization allows for standing strong in knowledge, supplies and other services that may allow for comfort to those being affected by disasters, displacement, anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness and much more. The partnership strengthens all parties’ directives. 

Some of the combined services offered by the Red Cross, JVC Northwest and Americorps are:

  • Diverse Services
  • Education
  • Social Work
  • Trained Volunteers
  • Cross-Cultural Opportunities

A Valuable Partnership

Partnerships, education, preparedness, unity and the love of helping people in their time of need is what makes humanitarian organizations’ programs successful during disasters, no matter the degree of need. 

The Red Cross of Alaska receives two JVC/AmeriCorps Northwest members annually. One is stationed in Anchorage and the other in Juneau, Alaska. This year, from August 2020 to July 2021, Red Cross of Alaska has had the honor of welcoming Nicole Dinovo in Juneau and Lauren Agnello in Anchorage. Both serve as the Preparedness and Casework Specialists for their respective territories.

Dinovo was completing her college career in 2019 when she started searching for possible opportunities after graduation. She learned of the JVC/AmeriCorps Northwest program from one of her college professors. Her first tour was in Ashland, Montana for a year and she fell in love with the values of the program. When her term ended, Dinovo reapplied and was assigned to Juneau, Alaska.

“I have always been interested in disaster response and preparedness,” she said. “I also wanted to be doing something where I know what I am doing is benefiting someone.”

After graduating from college in May 2020, Angello did a little soul searching and decided to apply to JVC/AmeriCorps Northwest program, hoping for the opportunity to be placed in Alaska. Alaska happened to be on a list of possible placements for JVC/AmeriCorps volunteers, of which Angello had no knowledge of prior her submission of the program – a perfect opportunity for someone already interested in moving to Alaska and wanting to work in a humanitarian environment.

“I made the final decision to move here because this position with the Red Cross was such a good fit for me,” Agnello said.

When new employees, partners and volunteers start with the Red Cross, there are courses offered to ensure the best possible chance of success when working with people in need due to disasters.

“The information that I learned from taking courses on sheltering, as well as on COVID-19, greatly improved my ease and ability to serve,” said Dinovo.

Both Dinovo and Agnello have taken a multitude of classes to assist them in their positions.

“I am certified as a Red Cross caseworker and I am also about to begin working with our local Disaster Action Team,” Agnello said. “Additionally, I am also learning to be a presenter for Prepare with Pedro and Pillowcase Project presentations.” 

Both Dinova and Agnello also answered the call of duty soon after joining their new Alaskan workplace to help those affected by the devastating fires in San Jose, California. Dinovo and Agnello’s deployments included aiding in sheltering people who had been evacuated from their homes due to the imminent danger of the fires. Dinovo found it rewarding to actually see her efforts being useful in a time of need. Agnello also found the experience rewarding, as she got to know survivors during her two weeks of service.

“The Red Cross is my first job after college,” Agnello said. “I am really excited to begin my professional life here. I hope I am able to become a small part of Red Cross’s great story! It is such an honor to be a part of an organization that does so much to serve so many people.”

As for their lives in Alaska outside of their volunteer service, everyone needs some down time to regenerate their mind, body and soul, and volunteers are no exception. When asked how they like Alaska, their response was, “Alaska is great! Watching the sunset while rowing past starfish…sea lions…Beautiful! Beautiful mountain views from your home windows…adventure is always awaiting you!”

Alaskans, I think we have won over two newbies. Welcome to Alaska, Lauren and Nickie!

Community leader explains the full sense of volunteerism in his new role


By Rachel Covey/American Red Cross of Alaska

Dedication to lifelong service is not something everyone is born into like Jesse Vizcocho was, coming from a family that was in the Navy and that were leaders in their community in the Philippines. Having been impacted by the Red Cross growing up when disaster struck his area, he came to the U.S. with an obvious eagerness to volunteer and give back. 

The respect he has for his mentors Tanguy Libbrecht and Paton Stott was tangible when he spoke of them, thankful that they asked him to step into a greater purpose in being a leader here in Alaska.  Jesse was recruited to lead in February 2015, but it wasn’t until 5 years later that the American Red Cross officially established the role he had already been active in  – Community Volunteer Leader (CVL).  They did this to recruit quality volunteers and guide them into the perfect role within the Red Cross.

Jesse Vizcocho (center) pictured with his mentors Tanguy Libbrecht (left) and Paton Stott (right).

Representing his culture and community in the National Federation of Filipinos, the Red Cross, and in the wider community, Jesse proudly wears hats or buttons that represent his affiliations to get people talking. He loves that the Red Cross has so many areas in it to serve, it is so flexible that anyone can fit in at least a little time to give, which makes just about everyone a possible prospect for Jesse. His passions are recruiting more volunteers from his culture and other ethnic communities, and international operations – connecting and reuniting families when disaster strikes. Communicating the safety of family members during events such as the November 2018 earthquake and interpreting for people in a disaster makes Jesse “really proud to be a Red Cross volunteer.” He also advocates for more education in using technology, in fundraising, and in recruiting to make that all happen.  Someday he hopes to travel more to serve that greater purpose, but for now is happy to do it well in Alaska.

What really makes him perfect for this role though is not just his passion, but his deep understanding of a volunteer’s purpose. “I have been a case manager before,” he said. “I want to make sure that when I recruit, I want to explain the full sense of volunteerism. It is important to understand our why, our mission. This is what will produce longevity.”

This touched me, realizing that here was a man who understood the difference between asking for help and inspiring someone to want to serve.  He doesn’t look to push people or beg for others to sign up as a volunteer.  If he is talking to someone, he sees value in them and he is looking to grow a stronger team.  It speaks to his true essence as a leader.

There may be only one Jesse Vizcocho, but by his own admission, there is no one set way to lead.  He reminded me of the quote by RJ Palacio, “It is not what we say that is important, but what we do.”  If you have been feeling the call to do more, the Red Cross needs more Community Volunteer Leaders.  If Jesse inspires you like he did me to assist your local CVL in their mission to alleviate human suffering by getting involved in the community, please sign up at redcross.org/volunteer

A Life of Service: From the U.S. Military to the American Red Cross

By Alena Naiden/American Red Cross of Alaska

When Rose Geer-Robbins retired from her 21-year-long military career in March, it was not easy for her to adjust to civilian life.

For more than two decades, she served our nation, and she put her community before all else. Ending a job that lasts so long is never easy, but retiring from the military also means ending the job that encompassed your whole life.

“It’s like losing a limb,” Rose said.

Rose decided to join the American Red Cross — a decision she called life-changing because it allowed her to transition into the new world without losing the one she knew — and loved — best.

Rose became the Red Cross of Alaska Regional Service to the Armed Forces Specialist, where she now supports active military personnel, their families and those whose service has ended. She now, among other things, helps soldiers to communicate with their families, and she also helps their families to stay resilient while their loved ones are away serving.

“I still get to communicate with my military, I still get to be involved, I still get to talk to the soldiers,” she said. “I haven’t been left behind. The Red Cross has made me feel that I have not been left behind.”

Rose is not the only one who has made this transition. She explained that upon retiring from the military, people tend to gravitate toward jobs that bring that strong sense of community and mission, and the Red Cross provides that.

Working for the Red Cross is similar to military service in other aspects, too. When Rose spent two weeks responding to the Oregon wildfires earlier this year, she said it was 12-hour-long days full of stress and extremely quick, critical thinking.

“You are trying to figure out the best scenarios for unique situations, and nothing is going to go the way you think it’s going to go,” she said. “I was back into my element.”

The Service to the Armed Forces program Rose works for supports active military personnel, but also takes care of veterans. So for Rose, this year Veterans Day is not only a holiday to remember her service but to also honor the service of those she now supports.

Veterans are part of the Red Cross family.

In the same way that Service to the Armed Forces takes care of soldiers —reminding them at every step of the way that wherever duty takes them, Red Cross has their back — the program also makes sure that veterans know that they never stop being a part of the Red Cross community, whether that means helping veterans who are in a hospital and need someone to push their wheelchair to their next doctor’s appointment or running to a grocery store for a veteran who can’t go outside after a snowstorm.

“It’s just little things to make sure that if you served, we have you well past your death; you are still a part of the family,” Rose said.

Rose knows that this support is crucial for veterans because it is very easy after finishing service to get that feeling of loss that drives you to a dark place and pushes you to hide from the world.

“We are taught: you face your demons, together with your battle buddies, and then you go home,” Rose said. “But now, once you retire and move on, all your friends are scattered all over the place, and a lot of our veterans don’t get out anymore because it’s too hard. … It’s easier to stay home and think that you are making it easier for everybody else.”

She said that Red Cross staff and volunteers strive to hold veterans from following these thoughts and to remind them about the community and family they still have and will always have.

“You are not alone,” she said addressing the veterans. “Look, we might not have been next to you, but we have empathy for what you went through, and so we are not going to let you be alone right now. We are going to be your new battle buddy. And we are going to show up.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Renee Bossart

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska

The American Red Cross of Alaska has outstanding volunteers that work alongside Red Cross staff members and help the organization run smoothly. Everyone plays an important part in creating a positive and productive whole.

There are times when you stand back and observe the Red Cross team and notice someone that makes you feel compelled to share the story of why they choose to volunteer or work for the Red Cross.

Renee Bossart is one of those people. She has been a volunteer for the Red Cross of Alaska for a year. She started her Red Cross journey when her father Paul Bossart, a Disaster Action Team lead volunteer in the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley, asked her if she would join him in his Red Cross journey as a volunteer. She tried it out and never left.

“I fell in love with the people volunteering and knew I wanted to be a part of their community,” Bossart said.

Bossart has taken advantage of courses offered by the Red Cross to help learn the vision and goals of the organization. She has taken courses ranging from basic overviews to management training. One of her favorite courses is Psychological First Aid. “I take the course every year,” she said. “The information is so helpful for understanding the emotional needs of those around you, and your own needs.”

Desiring to sharpen and utilize information from various courses, Bossart felt the need to  increase her knowledge and understanding of the Red Cross by exploring a number of volunteer positions.

“When I first entered the Red Cross, I didn’t realize how big it was,” Bossart reflected. “I found myself lost by the vastness of the organization.”

Exploring Red Cross Positions

Disaster Action Team (DAT) Member: Bossart describes the Disaster Action Team as the heartbeat of the Red Cross. The goal of this team is to ensure comfort and a safe place to stay are available to those affected by disasters.

Usually, two DAT members respond to a disaster call during any time of the day or night. When the DAT members arrive to offer assistance to those in need, they are able to provide emergency supplies, information, safe shelter, personal hygiene kits and more.

The personal hygiene kits – or comfort kits as they are commonly referred to – may contain oral hygiene items, basic hair products, blankets, winter outerwear such as gloves, and hats. There are even stuffed animals for children. Not all relief efforts are the same and Red Cross volunteers must be ready for the unexpected.

“I remember going to a home fire, and a child didn’t have shoes, so one of the DAT responders left to buy that child some shoes,” Bossart recalled. “This is where our love for our neighbor shines.”

Shelter Supervisor: When there is a call to provide assistance, Bossart responds as a DAT member first. Once things have stabilized, she then puts on her supervisor hat. She and a team of volunteers start setting up the shelter, organizing snacks and cots, hanging signs, organizing paperwork for the front desk and training new members.

“Watching volunteers and staff work together to accomplish the same goal is beautiful,” Bossart said.

She said she is grateful to have had the opportunity to be introduced to the DAT program, evacuation centers and shelters. “I liked that realm,” she reflected. “Sheltering isn’t a consistent need, thankfully. That geared me to start looking for other opportunities within Red Cross.”

The Pillow Case Project Lead: Bossart loves public speaking, so she then started volunteering with a Red Cross youth preparedness education program called The Pillowcase Project.

Bossart felt the program was a need in her community. As a presenter for The Pillowcase Project, she has traveled to local schools and given presentations to students on being prepared for disasters. She ensures her teachings are on home fire safety and the importance of having an emergency supply kit. Seasonal disasters such as wildfire or flooding are also discussed.

The lectures allow the students to have a platform to ask questions and share their experiences during a disaster. This method of teaching engages students and allows them to learn as well as teach their schoolmates. The students are given a packet of information about disaster preparedness and a pillowcase to create their own emergency supply kit and pass that knowledge on to their family members and friends. When students help spread the word to their families and friends, they are in turn helping Alaskan families be better prepared for an emergency.

As a result of COVID-19 in-person learning has been postponed, though online preparedness opportunities are now available.

Feature Writer: While still trying to find her perfect ‘fit’ at the Red Cross, Bossart became involved with the communications team and has written a handful of articles on topics she’s passionate about, including preparedness. Understanding the importance of disaster preparedness is what Bossart wants to convey to readers. When considering the preparedness needs of her own family, she said, “There is no way I could pack all our needs in a short amount of time. I need to prepare beforehand. I hope to encourage others to do the same.”

Among her written pieces, you’ll also find articles on how to save a life, home, or anything you may hold dear. You may read information on how to limit damage to property or where to go to get assistance during a disaster.

Continuing the Red Cross Legacy

Each position is unique at the Red Cross, and Bossart has found pride in each of them. “Being a part of both Red Cross and my community, you meet giving people,” she said. ”Meeting those individuals has motivated me to proudly continue my path as a volunteer.”

COVID-19 does not change the Red Cross mission – we are still providing the same types of support as we always have. And even with internal and external adjustments to keep people safe during the pandemic, the Red Cross still stands strong and ready to aid those in need before, during and after a disaster.

“There is something beneficial about wearing the Red Cross vest. People trust you, and trust is both heavy and humbling,” Bossart said. “It is a legacy that you are becoming a part of, a stitch in the fabric that so many have contributed to.”

To learn more about how to join the American Red Cross of Alaska as a volunteer, please visit redcross.org/Alaska.

Emergency Communications: How the Red Cross Supports Military Members and Their Families

By Sydney Stokes/American Red Cross of Alaska

The American Red Cross of Alaska supports military members, veterans and their families through the Service to the Armed Forces program, which provides critical community services such as resiliency and reconnection workshops for service members and their families, Holidays for Heroes events, and assistance at Veterans and military hospitals. Locating family members and loved ones to deliver notifications regarding family members in the military is another vital service that the program takes great pride in.

Those who serve or have served in the military carry the love and support from their families. This brings unique challenges to parents, children, and other family members with close military personnel relationships. Deployment, finances, and mental health challenges contribute to stress and depression among some military families. Aiding these individuals and their families has been a focus of the Red Cross since World War I. 

December 17, 2019. Louisville, Kentucky. Hero Care Call Center. Photo by Bill Wine/American Red Cross

If a service member or Department of Defense employee needs to have a message sent out to family members or loved ones, the first step is to call the Red Cross Hero Care Center (HCC). The crisis communication runs through the Hero Care Network, and the Hero Care Center receives the necessary information, such as the service members’ name, unit and phone number, along with what the emergency is about (it could be a birth, death, or severe injury). The HCC then verifies that the emergency is valid and, in turn, calls the unit that the service member is assigned to. It is then up to command if the service member will be granted the leave.

Rita Conley, Red Cross of Alaska Service to the Armed Forces Regional Program Manager, integrates her committed connection to military families and veterans through this casework process.

“As follow up caseworkers, we are the ones reaching out to the families to see if the service member was granted leave or if they have talked to their loved one before they passed,” Conley said. “Some cases get you right in the heart and make you thankful that your loved ones are here with you.”

Conley appreciates the military lifestyle due to her personal experiences. She served over 21 years in the Air Force, starting fresh out of high school. Conley enjoys the moments when clients are happy with the program’s services. This can range from handing out clothes to newborns to following up on emergency messages.

Rita Conley with her family following her retirement ceremony. Conley served 21 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Leslie Robertson is also a caseworker with the Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Network. She has experience in behavioral health and as an art therapist, which she incorporates into her Red Cross volunteering position.

“Mostly, I am contacting the service member or their family once their emergency has been processed to make sure they have all their questions answered and, if not, I get them in contact with others who can provide the help they need,” Robertson said. “Volunteer work is a great opportunity to do this.”

Robertson also has a close connection with military families from her father, who served in the Air Force for 23 years, and two uncles who served in the Army.

“My advice towards working with the Service to the Armed Forces program would be to connect with those who give you strength and pass it on to those who might need a kind word and an open ear,” Robertson said.

To learn more about American Red Cross emergency communications and the Hero Care network, visit redcross.org. To download the free American Red Cross Hero Care App, visit redcross.org/apps.

Red Cross partner provides comfort and warmth to home fire survivors

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska

The American Red Cross of Alaska has partners throughout the state that offer unique assistance to individuals or families in need due to an array of disasters, one being home fires. The Red Cross is known for responding to home fires – working closely with first responders, and offering shelter, food, mental health services, financial assistance, medication and even eyeglasses replacements to those affected.

Although the Red Cross offers all of these free of  services to those who have suffered through a disaster, there are several additional services that community partners have become champions in, in their effort to assist the Red Cross and help those that are affected or displaced by home fires.

One such partner is the Cabin Fever Quilters’ Guild. This organization was established in 1979 in Fairbanks, Alaska. The primary focus of the organization, since the beginning, has been to donate quilts to those involved in home fires.

Elaine Thompson McGee is the Committee Chairman of Community Sewing for the quilters’ guild. She has diligently served with the organization for 26 years and she continues to support the creation and donation of quilts for those in need today.

“After September 11, 2001, [Cabin Fever Quilters’ Guild] started donating their quilts to their local Red Cross for home fire victims,” said Thompson McGee.

Thompson McGee has been the liaison between her organization and the Red Cross of Alaska Far North and Interior team for six years.

“Direct contact to hand out quilts to victims of house fires is why we chose to partner with the Red Cross,” said Thompson McGee. “The quilts are given out to all the cities and villages that our local Fairbanks Red Cross chapter services.” 

Between September and May, guild members work on the quilts once a month; however, the project is annual. Some quilters work from home and donate to the cause. A few local organizations like Faith Baptist Church, Host Lions Club and Davis Hall donate space for the committee to meet and sew their quilts.

Donated material is preferred for the creation of the quilts; however, when you need that ‘perfect’ color to pull out other colors within the top of the quilt or the border to make it a masterpiece, sometimes you just have to purchase what is needed. The quilt will never be complete if you are unable to complete your vision for it. After your vision is complete, the quilt tops, batting and a quilt back are pressed together on a long arm quilting machine. The long arm helps keep the material in place and secure while sewing. Once the quilting is complete, a binding and label are attached.

This process is how the guild replenishes quilts for home fire survivors, which they donate to the Red Cross as well as other community partnerships to provide to community members when there is a need. 

Why are the quilts and the people creating them so important to the Red Cross, and to their community? The answer is – it is a labor of love, no matter the day, month or year.

As humans, we all have the same core needs – security, warmth, and a sense of calm, knowing someone cares about us during everyday life and especially during and after a disaster. The Red Cross, with the help of our partners, offers those same effective techniques through the power of kindness: offering a quilt and other disaster relief services to those that are affected by a disaster. 

There are individuals that may consider a disaster in their lives to be one of the most devastating and lowest points they could possibly experience. Having the ability to support that individual immediately with a quilt, just by gently placing it over their shoulders, and offering a little one-on-one personal care just for a moment, provides a special kind of comfort and relief. Thank you to our partners, quilters and donors for your hard work in creating and providing quilts, and comfort, to those in need.

Tax Smart Giving Strategies and the CARES Act

Like you, the American Red Cross of Alaska is adapting and changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic uncertainty. We are grateful for the generous support our donors have provided for our work over the years. As we adapt to our new reality, we would like to bring new tax rules for charitable giving included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act to your attention. 

You may deduct gifts of cash to most public charities to offset as much as 100 percent of your income!  For the 2020 tax year only, you may deduct cash contributions to the American Red Cross and most other public charities to offset up to 100 percent of your income. Ordinarily, the income tax charitable deduction for cash gifts is limited to 60 percent of your income. This 100 percent limit allows especially generous donors to reduce their 2020 federal income tax to zero. If you are even more generous, you can carry forward unused cash contribution deductions for up to five years. Contributions to donor advised funds or supporting organizations are not eligible for this deduction. Your ability to deduct up to 100 percent of your income with cash gifts is reduced by your gifts of appreciated assets such as publicly traded securities and real estate.  That means your charitable deductions in 2020 cannot exceed 100 percent of your income, but you may be able to carry unused charitable deductions forward to future years. 

It may not be the tax-wise choice to deduct up to 100 percent of your income.  Because federal income tax rates are progressive, it is not a given that it will be to your advantage to deduct 100 percent of your cash contributions in 2020. Check with your financial or other advisors to determine whether the 100 percent deduction makes sense for your specific circumstances. 

If you don’t itemize, you may reduce your taxable income by $300 for your charitable contributions in 2020.  If you do not itemize your deductions in 2020, both single and married joint filers are allowed an “above the line” adjustment that deducts up to a total of $300 for charitable contributions of cash to public charities. 

Required minimum distributions from retirement plans are waived for 2020.  Most required minimum distributions from retirement plans have been eliminated for 2020. Check with your financial advisor to see how this temporary rule will apply to you. Minimum distributions that have already started are still required from some defined benefit pension plans, but some required minimum distributions that would have started in 2020 may not have to start until 2021. 

Qualified charitable distributions are still a great way if you are 7) and a half years of age or older to make contributions.  If you are 70 and a a half years of age or older, a qualified charitable distribution (“QCD” or “IRA charitable rollover”) allows you to make a tax-free gift of up to $100,000 to the Red Cross from your IRA. While the benefit of using a QCD to satisfy your required minimum distribution has been waived for 2020, a qualified charitable distribution remains a great way to make tax advantageous contributions, especially if you don’t itemize your deductions. 

The CARES Act, which was necessary to address the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, provides additional tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. You have important priorities for your family and loved ones, and we know that their health and financial well-being come first. When you are ready, we will be here to help you shape a charitable gift plan that suits your needs and allows you to keep helping with our important work.  Please contact Carol Eames at Carol.Eames@redcross.org or call (503) 502-5877 to learn about the many ways you can support the American Red Cross. 

Sophia Metters: Helping Others Save Lives

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska          

Many jobs require up-to-date lifesaving skills – from health care providers and first responders, to teachers and babysitters. Though, those of us who do not face health emergencies every day can also benefit from American Red Cross lifesaving skills training. With a wide array of first aid, babysitting, and swimming and water safety courses available, the Red Cross can provide you with the training and skills you need to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

American Red Cross Training Services aims to provide students with best-in-class health and safety training programs, products and tools, to prepare them to react and possibly save lives during emergencies. The ultimate goal of the Training Services program is to educate class participants on the skills needed to improve their confidence to save lives in emergency situations in the workplace or in their communities.

Sophia Metters is an American Red Cross Training Services instructor that teaches a variety of courses at the Red Cross of Alaska Regional Headquarters in Anchorage, as well as at additional locations throughout Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, course protocols have been altered to care for the safety of both instructors and Red Cross class participants nationwide. Even with these modifications, the Red Cross continues to offer essential Training Services courses, which help medical professionals and other health workers stay current on their certifications during the pandemic.

Metters continues to teach in person three to four times a week, while exercising current federal and state-recommended COVID-19 safety precautions, such as: 

  • The number of class participants has been cut in half
  • Proof of screening must be in place before taking an on-site course
  • Participants must have their temperature taken and hands washed before entering the lecture room
  • Participants must maintain a distance of six feet from others
  • Participants must wear a mask and gloves

Red Cross training courses help participants develop a strength of knowledge and confidence, while building trust within the realm of safety awareness and preparedness for disasters. In order to build that level of strength, a uniformed curriculum nationwide is not enough.

Training Services programs across the nation must also integrate instructors with a number of qualities – compassion to help others, a desire to educate students with the hope of saving lives, a sense of pride in the services they offer, and last but not least, an assurance that the mission, values and vision of the American Red Cross are met.

The Red Cross of Alaska has the privilege and the honor of working with Metters. Her passion to help others is beyond the regular standards of being an instructor.

“I love helping people save lives and I love meeting new people,” Metters said. “One of the most rewarding things about being an instructor is hearing stories of people responding to emergencies because of the training they received from me.”

Some of the Red Cross courses Metters instructs are:

  • Instructor training courses that satisfy the requirements of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), such as a bloodborne pathogens training course, which is designed for those who are at risk of exposure to blood and other bodily fluids in the workplace. The course teaches how bloodborne pathogens are spread, how to avoid exposure and what to do if exposed to infectious material.
  • Basic Life Support (BLS) course provides participants with the knowledge and skills they need to assess, recognize and care for patients who are experiencing respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, airway obstruction or opioid overdose.
  • Babysitting courses teach that though every situation is unique, there are some universal skills and techniques that every babysitter should have:
    • Care for Infants and Children
    • Basic First Aid
    • Child Behavior
    • Age-Appropriate Activities
    • Emergency Protocols
    • Professionalism
    • Leadership
    • Growing Your Business
  • Adult and Pediatric First Aid, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), Automated External Defibrillator (AED) courses incorporate the latest science and teach students to recognize and care for a variety of first aid emergencies such as burns; cuts; scrapes; sudden illnesses; head, neck and back injuries; heat and cold emergencies; and how to respond to breathing and cardiac emergencies to help victims of any age – adults (about 12 years and older) and pediatric (infants and children up to 12 years of age). Students who successfully complete this course receive a certificate for Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED, which is valid for two years.
  • Wilderness courses are designed to teach individuals how to deal with emergency situations by using first aid skills in delayed-help environments.

Other in-person and online courses offered include:

  • OSHA-compliant CPR, AED and First Aid
  • CPR/AED for Professional Rescuers Instructor Bridge
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Training                              

Any instructor in our society hopes to fill a void in their community. That hope feeds their passion. “I believe the courses I teach meet the needs of the community,” Metters said.

To learn about and sign up for available Red Cross Training Services courses, please visit https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class.

“Do you have any smoke alarms, and are they working?”

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska

Ms. Sarah Leonard, a Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and AmeriCorps Member, has been serving as a full-time volunteer with the American Red Cross of Alaska for the past year. Leonard is mostly responsible for the preparedness programming in the Southcentral territory, but she also serves as a duty officer on a Disaster Action Team (DAT), and handles casework and recovery planning in order to assist residents displaced by disasters. She has presently volunteered over 1,000 hours in less than a year.

Sarah Leonard, Preparedness & Casework Specialist

JVC Northwest and AmeriCorps is a supportive organization to Red Cross that has programs to help individuals desiring to learn more in-depth about different humanitarian cultures. Candidates are sent to a specific location within a specific geographic area as a volunteer for a year.

The Red Cross has partners, donors, employees and volunteers that form a powerful support system to assist in providing whatever may be needed to support individuals and families before, during and after disasters, and each group offers support to the humanitarian cause in their own way. The most significant common thread among the supporters is their shared passion for the vision, mission and values of the Red Cross.

“Sarah has thrown herself into Red Cross over the last year, approaching all aspects of her position with energy and enthusiasm, which has been picked up by volunteers and staff alike,” said Maria Caruso, Disaster Workforce Manager for the Red Cross of Alaska.

Teaching youth preparedness courses is one activity among many that Sarah has done in her tenure with the Red Cross as a Preparedness and Casework Specialist. Red Cross youth preparedness programming includes courses and resources like The Pillowcase Project and Prepare with Pedro, which are part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Red Cross volunteers work closely with schools and youth-serving organizations to raise awareness of disaster risk and build resiliency among young people.

Sarah teaches The Pillowcase Project to youth ages 3rd through 5th grade in Southcentral Alaska.

Also in support of the Home Fire Campaign – a nationwide Red Cross program created in 2014 that aims to reduce home fire deaths and injuries – Leonard teaches families about home fire safety and installs smoke alarms, free of charge to residents.

“Her willingness to help with anything and everything has been a huge asset to our program,” said Caruso. Leonard has visited over 100 homes in the Anchorage area in less than 10 months.

“I have replaced fire alarms older than me!” Leonard laughed.

“One rainy afternoon, a fellow volunteer and I had a smoke alarm appointment in a quiet part of town. We trudged up to the front door, equipped with our ladder, electric drill, a box of new smoke alarms, a clipboard, and some screws. An elderly couple greeted us at the door and welcomed us in. The two of us politely took off our boots to avoid dirtying their carpets, and we started with the usual exchange of ‘Hello, how are you? What a rainy day!’ And finally – ‘So, do you have any smoke alarms, and are they working?'” reflected Leonard.

When carrying out this outreach program, Red Cross volunteers can go into the community and spend time building relationships and trust while sharing home fire safety information and installing new, 10-year lithium battery smoke alarms, free of charge to any individual or family that needs them.

Volunteers Sarah and Irene prepare to make home visits to share home fire safety information and install free smoke alarms in homes in the Anchorage area.

As Leonard remembered the elderly couple from that day, she remarked, “It was so fun to share a bit of time with them, meet their dog and talk about our own pets at home, and talk about why we volunteer with the Red Cross.”

“I enjoy explaining how much I love the commitment, dedication, kindness, and compassion of Red Cross volunteers and staff, and how I have loved my time serving with the Red Cross of Alaska,” said Leonard. “I hope to continue volunteering with the Red Cross in the future!”

If you’d like to learn more about Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, visit their website at https://jvcnorthwest.org. To learn more about the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, please visit redcross.org/homefires.