Akiak Reflection: A Red Cross Volunteer Shares Stories of her Time Spent in the Rural Alaskan Village

By: Rachel Alda, Red Cross of Alaska Volunteer

Group Shot- Rich Yvonne Rachel Steven
Red Cross volunteer Rachel Alda, third from the left, along with Red Cross volunteers Rich and Yvonne, and Red Cross Preparedness Specialist Steven Fisher. 

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to get to visit Akiak, a small village in rural Alaska, with the American Red Cross of Alaska.

Our visit was part of the ongoing Home Fire Campaign, which aims to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent. The campaign educates people about fire safety through door-to-door visits and installing smoke alarms at no cost.

Through the help and guidance of Red Cross of Alaska Preparedness Specialist, Steven Fisher, who has prior experience visiting rural villages all over the state, I was able to catch a glimpse of life outside of the “big city” I was accustomed to. This included my first time flying in a 207 aircraft, seeing salmonberry jam being prepared, and staying in school for more than 24 hours, just to name few.

During our short stay there, we met the Campfire counselors. They welcomed us warmly, showed us around the school where we stayed and introduced us to the children of Akiak, who were full of positive energy. I was able to talk to the kids and learn their names, their favorite color, and eventually, all the hottest gossip around camp.

steven and Rachel's name written on pillowcase
A child in Akiak personalizes her pillowcase by writing the names of her new friends from the Red Cross.

As Steven and I established ourselves as familiar faces with the kids, we presented the Pillowcase Project with ease as the kids eagerly participated and demonstrated their knowledge about natural disasters and preparedness.

Our game of Disaster Simon Says, followed by decorating the pillowcases with the kids was the most memorable part of the trip.

I was personally touched when a little girl pulled me towards her pillowcase to show me that she had written our names on hers. To be able to walk around town and see the kids’ faces light up as they recognized us made my day.

Along with meeting the children and educating them about flood, earthquake, and fire safety, we were also able to explore the town by going house to house and installing smoke alarms for those who needed it. The residents welcomed us into their homes with a smile and answered any questions had. In doing so, I was able to learn about their culture through the stories they told us as well as the art and food that we were shown.

Volunteers exiting home
Red Cross volunteers Yvonne and Rich finish installing smoke alarms in a home in Akiak.

Overall, I’m glad that I was able to go on this trip. It opened my eyes to a community different from my own, and I appreciate everything that they have taught me. Hopefully in the future, I will be able to visit more rural villages in Alaska with the Red Cross and experience a new side of the state while informing its residents of preparedness and safety.

senior pic
Red Cross volunteer, Rachel Alda

 

 

Ride for Red 2017 Raises funds for Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces

Twenty-four bikers hit the road on Saturday in sunny Fairbanks, Alaska, riding in support of the American Red Cross of Alaska’s Service to Armed Forces. The Ride for Red included a poker run and a 50/50 raffle, with proceeds helping the Red Cross of Alaska support veterans, military members, and their families.

“It’s a fun way to raise money,” said organizer and Far North/Interior Executive Director Lori Wilson. “It’s a great way to get outside and enjoy our Alaska summer.”

IMG_7737
Biker Kirk Haman at Outpost Alaska.

The ride kicked off at noon, with bikers picking up their first card at Outpost Alaska before traveling through the Goldstream business district to Ivory Jack’s and heading north up the Steese Highway to Chatanika Lodge. After picking up their fourth card at Howling Dog Saloon in Fox, bikers returned to the Outpost where they took a look at their hands and enjoyed an Outpost-sponsored barbecue.

IMG_7733
Chatanika Lodge was the third stop in the Ride for Red.

A number of Ride for Red bikers were from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, including David Goldfarb, who said the purpose of the ride was especially significant for him. “Anything I can do to help fellow veterans,” he said, standing in the parking lot of the Chatanika Lodge.

Eric and Ruth Claus from Missouri were stopped at Chena Lake, one month into a five-month road trip when they heard about the event on the radio. “Everyone was very friendly, very welcoming,” Ruth said after completing the ride. She added that the Ride for Red included stops at the “coolest pubs ever. Lots of character and charm!”

IMG_7754
From left: Doug Chambers of Outpost Alaska, Red Cross Far North and Interior Executive Director Lori Wilson, and raffle winner Lawrence Springer.

Organizer Lori Wilson expressed gratitude to both the participants and sponsors of the Ride for Red. “The stops didn’t bat an eye,” when asked to help out, Lori said, referring to Outpost Alaska, Ivory Jack’s, Chatanika Lodge, and the Howling Dog Saloon. Due to the success of this year’s ride, Lori is already planning for next year. “We made a lot of great connections, so hopefully we’ll see our (participation) numbers double or grow even more!”

IMG_7759
Many thanks to Ravn Alaska for making coverage of the Ride for Red possible!

Stay Safe and Have Fun on the Water this Summer

This blog was originally posted to the Alaska Children’s Trust blog page, and we have re-posted to share with our readers. 

By Lisa Miller, Red Cross of Alaska Regional Communications Officer

 

In Alaska, we are great at capitalizing on these short but precious summer months. With nearly 24 hours of sunlight and endless exploration opportunities, adults and children alike are itching to get out and get on the water.

Whether you’re heading out for a day of deep sea halibut fishing, or kayaking around your neighborhood lake, take a few moments to consider these aquatic safety tips from the Red Cross of Alaska before you and the kids head out to make a splash.

Plan Ahead

First thing’s first. Before making plans to spend time in or around water with your children, make sure you all know how to swim.

It is the mission of the Red Cross to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety program helps fulfill that mission by teaching people to be safe in, on and around the water through water safety courses for individuals of a wide range of ages and abilities. American Red Cross Aquatics and Safety Classes are offered at many pools across the state of Alaska. Call your local pool to learn more about classes.

Once the entire family knows how to swim, you’re ready to plan your first trip out on the water. As your trip draws near, remember to check the weather. Weather conditions can change suddenly, so always check the forecast before heading out.

In the event you run into bad weather or an emergency situation, Ray Miller, a Red Cross of Alaska volunteer and member of the United States Power Squadrons (USPS) in Fairbanks, says it’s a good idea to pack some means of communicating, such as a whistle and signal mirror that can be used to alert a rescuer. A hand crank radio is a good item to have packed away in a wet bag as well. It will ensure you always have a way to tune in to local weather reports and emergency messaging.

You can build your own boat first aid/survival kit, or shop the Red Cross Store for a ready-to-go kit.

Miller also suggests telling someone when you go out on the water. If you are going out for just a few hours, let someone know where you plan to go, and when you will return. If you are planning a boat trip longer than a few hours, Miller says to file a written float plan. According to the USPS, a float plan includes a description of your boat, who is on board, a description of the safety equipment you are carrying, where you expect to be, and when you expect to be there.

You can download a USPS float plan here: http://www.usps.org/o_stuff/fp_form.html.

USPS says the person holding your float plan should notify the Coast Guard or other appropriate agency if you do no not return within a reasonable time.

circle of drowning preventionLife Jackets. Life Jackets. Life Jackets … Did We Mention Life Jackets?

There’s a lot involved in boating/water safety, especially for children, but a key factor is that everyone, especially children, use properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are on, in and around the water.

“The best tip I would have for parents of kids is to set the example for your kids and always wear a life jacket when boating,” Miller says. “Second suggestion would be to buy your child a life jacket that fits them and is appropriate for the activity they will be engaged in and most importantly one they will wear. Third, take your child to a pool or other swimming area and let them try out their life jacket to gain confidence that it will keep them afloat.”

Miller added the water in Alaska can be very cold and even on warm sunny days it will not take long for even the strongest swimmer to become unable to swim to shore, pull themselves back into the boat or help a buddy.

How do I choose a life jacket?

When choosing a life jacket:

  • Make sure it is the right type for the activity.
  • Make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Look for the stamp on the life jacket.
  • Make sure it fits the intended user. Check the label on the life jacket for weight limits.
  • Check buckles and straps for proper function. Discard any life jacket with torn fabric or loose straps.
  • Put it on and practice swimming with it.
  • Water wings, swim rings, inflatable toys and other items designed for water recreation are not substitutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or adult supervision.

Life Jackets Aren’t Just for Boats

Young children and weak swimmers should wear life jackets whenever they are in, on or around the water, even at a pool or a waterpark. Put it on at the dock, deck or shore and don’t take it off until you are on dry land.

Finally, this Kids Don’t Float Activity Book from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is a great way to get the kids excited for your boating trip while also teaching them to be safe around water.

May you have a safe and happy summer with your loved ones!

LMheadshotLisa Miller is the Regional Communications Officer for the Red Cross of Alaska.

June Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.cupcake_june

Crab Fest Redux: A Red Crosser’s First Time Experience at the Iconic Kodiak Festival

 

Crab Fest 2017

When asked a couple of weeks ago to help with the Red Cross of Alaska booth in Kodiak during the Crab Festival, I imagined it as a chance for a behind-the-curtain look into a world of crab you don’t see on popular television shows. There was a place in my heart to crab pâtés, crab soufflés, crab canapés,  anything with an accent over the e. I hoped there would be a booth that made something edible from the shell. Something analogous to the bone broth my friend would make when I was sick.

The first of several surprises that day began at the Ravn Air desk. It was my first flight with Ravn and I’ll admit to being a bit nervous. To begin, as I went through their check-in routine, there was not one iota of the ritualistic hazing I’ve come to associate with air travel. Literally (in the proper use of the word) my experience was so streamlined—ID check, questions about baggage, receipt of boarding pass, polite directions to gate—that I spent the following 20 minutes in a pleasant state of bewilderment. Another passenger assured me that what I had experienced was normal.

0528171855a_HDR(1)

As usual, the first Red Cross person I saw was Steven. His smile and wave from the back of the Kodiak airport was the brightest part of an otherwise overcast morning. As we drove towards town, he described the atmosphere of Crab Fest as something closer to a carnival than the crab-based gustatory adventure I was anticipating.

“You can get crab at a few booths and you can also get cowboy fries, go on fair rides, have your face painted with an airbrush, lots of stuff,” he said. “We’re sharing a tent with other emergency people and it’s been really good.” Sensing the silver lining went a bit deeper, I asked him if I could get some meat on a stick. He gazed for a moment out the windshield before smiling and nodding emphatically.

All things considered, Steven indicated that Crab Fest had been a success. The people were easy to talk to and the town was gorgeous rain or shine. But after three straight days at the booth, he was glad to have a chance to step away to explore the more of the town.

On the surface three days in a booth might not sound so trying. But it only took a few hours before the drizzle, the dampness in the air, and gazing out on wet pavement started to pull me down emotionally. From my own experience, I can attest to how difficult it can be to find out if someone has working smoke detectors without first coming across as either lecture-y or someone whose trying to sell something. Watching people pull away and still finding it in yourself to keep trying takes kind of heroism you don’t normally associate with Red Cross volunteers.

And to push this a bit further, boothwork is a side of the Red Cross that’s often overlooked in all the gabble about deployment to disaster zones. While they’re degrees of the same community-minded volunteerism, Red Cross volunteers aren’t out there cajoling people to stop by a shelter. Luckily, the people we were sharing tent space with, the Kodiak Island Local Emergency Planning Committee (KILEPC), already had this problem worked out.

Wheel of Misfortune
Playing Wheel of Misfortune at Crab Fest 2017

Like the Red Cross table, KILEPC also had an alluring scatter of candy, chapstick, and novelty bracelets across informational pamphlets. By themselves, such attractants can only do so much in the short time it takes to decide between chewy or sour candies to facilitate a meaningful dialogue about safety. A while back they had invested in a loud spinning wheel game that could be modified for any occasion with a dry erase marker. For Crab Fest, each spin of the aptly named Wheel of Misfortune would ultimately stop on one of several natural disasters that will inevitably strike Kodiak. As Jack Maker, the project manager for KILEPC, put it, “sometimes you need things like this wheel just to slow people down long enough to get the conversation going.” Pause. “Thanks Amazon.”

As kids came to play Wheel of Misfortune, Jack would engage them and their parents simultaneously. Over the racket of the spinning wheel, he would casually ask the parents if they were ready for fire season. Then as the wheel came to a stop on, say, forest fire, Jack would disengage, make eye contact with the kids, and ask his question. In the milliseconds he had before the flood of answers, he would hand out brochures about how to prep your property for forest fires. As the parents looked at the brochures, he would ask leading questions to encourage more correct answers. Then address some minutiae in local planning. All the while laughing and joking. And so on, all day long.

What made this strangely thrilling to watch was how there wasn’t the slightest whiff of disingenuity about these interactions. It was clear he and the other people I met from KILEPC wanted to help people develop a broad understanding of emergency preparedness and this game provided an easy way to intersect with a large cross section of their community.

0528171308_HDR
The crowds clear out as rain begins to fall heavily at Crab Fest.

Each time the drizzle let up and it began to rain in earnest, Crab Fest would draw to a standstill. I don’t know where all the people went, but each time it happened it felt a little magical. The avenues separating each row of booths would suddenly clear out. In those moments of silence, and in the close quarters of our tent, I learned a bit about life in Kodiak.

Jack filled me in on how an uptick of forest and wildfires on the island had caused some challenges at a local level. Part of it was the tendency of Kodiakians to put their shoulders to the collective wheel and push. Jack told me how in true Kodiak fashion, lots of people would come out to feed and help the firefighters. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of food people would bring,” he said, shaking his head. “It was amazing.”

And on an island where the population of official emergency personnel can fluctuate, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jordan Kirby, a fire investigator with the Bayside Fire Department and volunteer at the KILEPC booth, described a cycle in which people would arrive in Kodiak, become involved, and then leave after a few years.

Jordan was quick to point out that because the number of people arriving and departing doesn’t always balance out, “There’s always room for volunteers. Right now there are definitely some positions all the departments need help filling. It’s not as though you have to be as fit as the firefighters to be a volunteer. People can help with communications or working with the engines or otherwise providing support.”

Red Cross Booth
Red Cross Booth at Crab Fest 217

This need for volunteers was echoed by Kodiak resident and long-term Red Cross volunteer, Geri Ford-Roberts, who was able to list a variety of projects and positions—pillowcase project, safety campaigns, fire alarm installations, shelter workers, disaster action team people, government liason, and case workers—the Red Cross in Kodiak could fill.

She pointed out how in a place like Kodiak someone could do just about anything they wanted with the Red Cross. “There’s not a lot of pressure on us to do things we don’t want to do. I got started because I was interested in shelter activities. If someone wanted to do computer stuff or go to schools, they could do that. For a lot of people in the community, the training and experience you get with the Red Cross could open all sorts of doors.”

“There are so many good people live here in Kodiak,” Geri said to me before heading off to get her kids tickets for the fair rides, “And any one of them will be there to help in an emergency—whether they’re official volunteers or not. But for some of the more complicated responses, for us to work efficiently, it’s good to have people with similar training.”

 

 

 

 

100 Smoke Alarms for 100 Years Centennial Challenge

Lori-Tanguy 100 Smoke Alarms for 100 Years Challange

Announcing the “100 Smoke Alarms for 100 Years Centennial Challenge.” We are almost at the half way point of our Centennial Year at the American Red Cross of Alaska. So we’ve started a friendly competition between Lori Wilson, our Executive Director in Fairbanks & Tanguy Libbrecht, our CEO in Anchorage.

Challenge rules:
1. Challenge begins today!
2. You must install or assist in the install of each smoke alarm in order for it to count.
3. The challenge ends once the two of you combined reach 100 smoke alarms installed.
4. The winner is the individual with the most installs.
5. In the event you have clinched the win…..just keep going anyway.
6. In the event of a tie….everyone wins!!

Challenge starts now! Thank you to our donors who’ve made 100 years of service possible!

For more information on how you can support our Home Fire Campaign and other efforts, please visit: http://www.redcross.org/support

 

Disaster Response Summary May 2017

redcross-ak-imageThe American Red Cross of Alaska responds to calls for assistance, on average, almost once a day state-wide. In May, 77 people were assisted; of those assisted, at least 19 were children under the age of 18.  Including, 5 who were listed as young children (0-5).

VOLUNTEERS, all across the state, give up their free time to make this amount of help in their communities possible.

Breakdown of service by area:

Anchorage: 10 individuals received aid

Eagle River: 2 individuals received aid

Fairbanks: 1 individuals received aid

Delta Junction: 6 individuals received aid

Juneau: 12 individuals received aid

North Pole: 6 individuals received aid

Chugiak: 3 individuals received aid

Wasilla: 24 individuals received aid

Teller: 1 individuals received aid

Kwethluk: 4 individuals received aid

Copper Center: 2 individuals received aid

Anaktuvuk Pass: 4 individuals received aid

Big Lake: 2 individuals received aid

While at the Anchorage Fire Department’s Open House…

Lucy Jaws car
Red Cross correspondent Lucy looking skeptically at the Jaws of Life car at the Anchorage Fire Department Open House on Saturday, May 20. 

On May 20, two of your correspondents from the Red Cross of Alaska’s Anchorage office visited the Anchorage Fire Department’s open house. Originally conceived, we thought this outing was going to be more about how our community’s emergency response system functions. It was clear from the moment we arrived that our day would have less to do with Powerpoint presentations and more with stuff kids and adults both find engaging: watching cars get dismantled with the Jaws of Life kind of stuff.

 

We arrived about 45 minutes after the open house started and didn’t expect much of a crowd on such a drizzly day. We were guided to a distant section of the parking lot by groups of young men in matching grey on drab blue uniforms with reflective sashes and authoritative ball caps announcing their association with the Anchorage Military Youth Academy. They had the unglamorous but important role of greeting the public at the gate, serving food, and providing what looked like safety patrols in the parking lot.

By trailing a slow-moving pod of parents and kids, we eventually found ourselves in a large warehouse-like structure full of people eating hotdogs and chips. The only seats we could find were next to this exercise where a fire fighter sounded a fire alarm that would signal to a kid who would be feigning deep sleep on a mattress on the floor to promptly lose their minds—with excitement—before being guided through an obstacle course to escape a house fire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Fire Fighter Meghan McClain helping a young girl escape

Over the ten or fifteen minutes we spent watching, it was difficult to see what made it so exciting. After some vigorous discussion, your correspondents concluded it was likely the adrenaline rush that comes with playacting plus the simulated taste of danger plus all the soda, caramel apple suckers, and external stimuli. (Did I mention there was a near constant ratter-ratter of a jackhammer station where kids got a chance to chisel away parts of reinforced concrete?) Regardless, and through no fault of the fire fighters running this exercise, some of the children didn’t make it. A few veered off course to play with the orange cones separating their “bedroom” from our table. Others simply finished the first few obstacles before doubling back to the front of the line.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Red Cross Informational Booth

We eventually found our way to the Red Cross booth that was sandwiched between a rope rescue station, a blood bank mobile, and the very, very, very popular dress-like-a-fire-fighter-and-blow-away-an-orange-cone-with-a-firehose station. I’m not sure what the Red Cross volunteers could have done to compete with that. Still, they were busy fielding questions and providing information about what we do in the community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The very popular dress-like-a-fire-fighter-and-blow-away-an-orange-cone-with-a-firehose station.

There was, however, a nagging feeling that there was still something else to find beyond the Jaws of Life demonstration and a spectacular fire engine that’s been repainted Breast Cancer Awareness pink and named Ms. Linda in honor of a Fire Captain’s mother who passed from the disease. We eventually found ourselves at a booth for the Anchorage Safety Patrol that, in the world of emergency services, felt like kindred spirits to the Red Cross.

Not quite knowing how to jump start a conversation with two fit-looking men who just watched me make a beeline for a ziplocked bag of brownies on their table, I hesitatingly asked a moustachioed man named Jason Cates how the Safety Patrol fit into things at the open house. He pointed to what your correspondents had assumed was a corrections-related van—with a variety of open compartments, grill-covered windows, and interior color scheme that felt like the visual equivalent of the word institutional—and asked if we’d ever seen it before. After some obvious hedging on our part, Jason then asked if we’d ever seen anyone too intoxicated to be in public. To this we could unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. He pointed to the man next to him and then to the van and said, “we help those people.”

p1010565.jpg
One of your correspondents with Shane Cates and Chris Taylor of the Anchorage Safety Patrol

Jason then went on to describe how the Safety Patrol, in ways similar to the Red Cross, bridges gaps between other emergency services. Jason spoke passionately about how the safety patrol has an explicit focus on providing medical help to people, who, for a variety of chemically-induced reasons, are in need of assistance. This was an interesting parallel to some of the basic functions performed by the Red Cross. Where the Red Cross provides comfort and assistance to families after a house fire or at shelters during disasters, ASP responders transport people to a safety center where their recovery can be monitored by medically-trained staff.

One gobsmacking fact Jason hit us with was how in the last year alone ASP took nearly 30,000 calls. Prior to the formation of ASP, fire or police units—and sometimes both—might be dispatched. Now calls are taken by the Anchorage Fire Department Dispatch and routed as appropriate.

At some point, the arrival of new people interrupted our conversation and your correspondents felt it necessary to leave Jason and his co-workers to spread their message with new people. For all of those who dedicate their time and energy and health for the sake of public safety, we thank you.

 

April & May Volunteer Anniversaries

Volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Our vital work is only possible because of people like you.

Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things.

cupcake_aprilcupcake_may

Julie’s Journal: Day 4 on Call, Thoughts on Red Cross Volunteers

Day 4 of being on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and another wonderful night of Anchorage being safe from disaster and home fire.

My thoughts this morning turn to our volunteers. I am a paid staff member and of course, I’m just volunteering for a week. But I thought about how these hours really do add up.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Someone is doing this job on Christmas. Someone is doing this job when they could be doing other things. Volunteers abstain from alcohol when on call. They can’t leave town spur of the moment. They do always have to be aware that they may be needed at any  minute.

IMG_6416
Red Cross of Alaska volunteers gather from all across the state at the University of Anchorage Alaska for the Alaska Disaster Leadership Institute. 

They really do sacrifice a small part of their life to be on call for DAT.

These volunteers are ESSENTIAL to Red Cross. The average value estimate of a volunteers time is $22.00 an hour. Imagine if paid staff had to be on call 24/7. It would cost the Red Cross of Alaska approximately $192,720.00 per year to pay for these services from staff.

Instead, we are able to rely upon volunteers who SELFLESSLY give their time, talents and hearts to help those in need.

I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of how much is given to us and the community by our volunteers. They are the definition of INVALUABLE!!!

Thank you, Volunteers, for giving so much to so many!

-Julie Kent, Regional Chief Development Officer Red Cross of Alaska