It’s the worst flooding the community has seen in 40 years.

And as always, the Red Cross will be there to assist.

By Taylar Sausen

On May 13, 2021, Buckland residents were woken by the sound of car-sized ice chunks hitting houses, cars, and other buildings. They knew this was coming, but they didn’t know just how bad it would get.

Every spring, the National Weather Service, alongside the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center, monitors rivers throughout Alaska using planes and anecdotes from residents. For many villages alongside waterways, it’s not a matter of if their town will flood; it’s a matter of when. Buckland, Alaska, is located on the Buckland River and is one of those villages prone to flooding.

Arial view of the community of Buckland. Photo credit: Steven Clegg

The American Red Cross of Alaska is briefed on any potential flooding by the River Watch group. They knew a situation could arise in Buckland and were already prepared to respond. Once they received notification of the severity of the flooding in early May, our Disaster Cycle Services director Steven Clegg started gathering information and preparing a targeted response.

Steven Clegg, Director of Disaster Cycle Services

“Visiting Buckland firsthand really put into perspective the suddenness and severity of the flooding that inundated the community,” says Clegg.

When Clegg and team arrived in Buckland, they immediately got to work assessing homes. They noted several homes had been inundated with water and were still drying. Houses in Buckland are built for river flooding; many of them are elevated on stilts. The fact that so many homes were damaged is a testament to just how much water flowed into the city from the river. And if the flooding wasn’t enough, several homes were pushed off of their foundation as a result of the flowing water, debris, and large ice chunks.

“I was impressed at the coordination and the all-hands effort that the people of Buckland showed to save lives and to protect their community”

Clegg and his team met with the clients and learned of the resiliency of the community. With a little financial help and support from the American Red Cross of Alaska, the eight impacted families are on the road to recover.

“The Buckland community was overwhelmed by this flood,” says Clegg. “But their high level of emergency preparedness saved lives and ensured statewide emergency responders knew of the situation.  Their organized efforts enabled the Red Cross to provide quick assistance to those most impacted by the flood.”

Celebrating Military Spouses Day

Honoring our single service members during the holidays

by Taylar Sausen

The American Red Cross was founded as a service to the military services members of the United States. Since its inception, our Service to the Armed Forces has evolved into a variety of services including emergency messaging, helping new service members transition into the life in the armed forces, and even providing joy through out Pet Partners to those healing in a military hospitals.

 Red Cross workers from Camp Doha visit the tent cities once a week, bringing soap and shampoo, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hard candy (chocolate doesn¹t survive in the 100-degree heat) and, most popular, newspapers, magazines and games.

But one long forgotten and not enlisted member of the armed forces is those that choose to spend their lives loving their service members through marriage. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan recognized the important role loved ones in the military play and the large commitment they make to the men and women that protect our great nation. On April 17, 1984 Congress officially made Military Spouse Appreciation Day a celebrated holiday and it officially became part of National Military Appreciation Month in 1999.

There are currently 1.9 million family members of active duty services members whole there are only 1.4 million service members themselves Approximately 56 percent are married: 70 percent of officers are married, and 53 percent of enlisted personnel have spouses.

So, while it is easy to see these husbands and wives should be honored … it may seem that the single service members can be forgotten. And that is where the American Red Cross of Alaska stepped in this holiday season.

 For the past 3 years, ARC Alaska has invited single service members to our Holidays for Heroes Christmas tradition. We’ve invited more than 100 people in Fairbanks to enjoy a gourmet meal and our community partners shower the guests with gifts. And like many things in 2020 the pandemic caused a change of course in the way we showed our service members we care during the holidays.

“Because of the crazy pandemic, we decided to change our focus from all single service members to the Coast Guard members who are in our remote locations in Alaska. We sent stuff to Adak island, Ketchikan, Sitka, Kodiak, and Juneau. We delivered smiles to places that we normally only serve through providing messaging services. We wanted these single service members of the Coast Guard to know that we are there for them even when it is not an emergency,” says Rita Conley Service to the Armed Forces Director, American Red Cross of Alaska.

Of course, we couldn’t have 100 people in a small ballroom eating and celebrating. So, we brought the celebration to each non-married service member serving in the U.S. Coast Guard across the state. The service to the armed forces team along with 7 volunteers stuffed hundreds of bags with over $10,000 worth of gifts. From gift cards, to handwarmers, and even two round-trip tickets on Alaska airlines. That 10k consisted of $3,000 worth of monetary donations and $7,000 of in-kind donations from our generous sponsors. The teams were able to distribute these gifts through organizations that support the Coast Guard at military installations from Sitka to Fairbanks.

Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Rubenstein:

American Red Cross Board Member Highlight

By Sydney Stokes

In 2010, Ellie worked towards her graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Integrated Medicine in the Military, when a traumatic brain injury altered her life. This pivotal moment required Ellie to relearn how to walk and talk. Her abdomen nearly stopped functioning as well. Being in the city prevented the much needed improvement in her health, so her mother convinced her to get back to what she knew best, the outdoors. It wasn’t not only nature that healed her, but also the love from her mother.

When Ellie’s mother was pregnant with her, her father was building his company. Despite his first investment deal being in Alaska, he decided to move forward and on to the next sale. After nearly ten years of traveling overseas, Ellie’s mother, an avid pilot at the time, decided to take her kids to Alaska for eight weeks. Ellie was around ten years old and reluctantly followed her mother to the great outdoors. If you ask Ellie where her home is, she will immediately tell you it will always be Alaska. Being raised in Alaska kept her grounded. Skiing, hunting, and fishing helped her enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Ellie during one of her many deployments with SAF

“The rest of the world doesn’t have this culture of getting away from people and appreciating the outdoors. It was completely different from my urban city life with my dad.”

Ellie Rubenstein

As Ellie continued her education, her graduate research project was on integrating medicine within the military. In April 2014, Ellie met Tanguy Libbrecht Chief Executive Officer of The Red Cross Alaska Region. He introduced Ellie to the ‘Real Heroes’ event through Red Cross. The ‘Real Heroes’ annual event is a celebration for the everyday individuals that happens to be at the right place at the right time to act and save a life or lives.

 “I was 23 at the time and was absolutely mesmerized. I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization,” said Ellie.

Ellie was particularly interested with helping the military when she became a Red Cross volunteer due to her personal life. Despite wanting to go back and get a Ph.D. in neuroscience, she continued her volunteer work in LA. This led her to becoming the first volunteer through Marty Goldberg CEO, of the Traumatic Brain Injury Center. She created a yoga program, which she always looked forward to teaching, despite it being at 8:00 a. m. This all took place at the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Traumatic Brain Injury Center through the Red Cross.

’Having more of a spirit towards civic responsibility and giving back to your country is beyond meaningful.”

Ellie Rubenstein
Ellie assists during a disaster call in Nepal

Ellie joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Alaska in late 2014, joined Real Heroes in 2015, and soon started volunteering with the Emergency Communications Messaging Division of the Red Cross for the Service to the Armed Forces. 

Libbrecht remembers distinctly how many hours Ellie poured into the organization. She would come in and go to a DAT call in the middle of the night, in the morning she would work with the Services of the Armed Forces (SAF), go to the Traumatic Brain Injury clinic, then work her full time job. Within four months of moving to Alaska full time, her family wanted her to move on and follow her dad’s footsteps in investing. Ellie was not happy with her investing job, so she did the unthinkable. She made a will and flew to Nepal through the International Services Department. 

“If you’re someone like me that values intellectual curiosity, once you get to be part of an organization that has so much depth behind it, you want to do more internationally,” said Ellie.

Ellie with ARC President Gail McGovern

“It’s not just volunteerism but finding ways to serve our country, The Red Cross is the most well-respected and recognized brand in the world.”

Ellie Rubenstien

Now, at 32, Ellie feels like a young CEO. She credits the Red Cross for giving her an identity away from family. One year she logged in over 1,000 hours, and at that point, she viewed Red Cross as her life. She also credits Libbrecht for supporting her journey volunteering for the Red Cross, especially in 2015 when she was at least 20 years younger than the other staff. At the time, there weren’t as many volunteers.

“The Red Cross is like my kid! I wish more people would appreciate these types of organizations,” stated Ellie, “My personality matches with the sense of urgency from Red Cross. The more you get involved, the more enjoyable the work is.”

In 2021 Red Cross has increased the volunteer base substantially compared to 2015. Awareness of services and programs are an important tool for reaching those in need. Ellie’s number one goal is to generate awareness of Red Cross programs and services involving our Alaskan military families. She is looking forward to reaching new populations, helping the Coast Guard, and meeting new caregivers as a Red Cross volunteer.

Trained Disaster Responders: Humans and Canines

By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska

The American Red Cross was established in Washington D.C. on May 21, 1881 by Clara Barton. Barton led the Red Cross for 23 years in the United States and during that time, the Red Cross conducted its first domestic and overseas disaster relief efforts, and aided the United States military, along with assisting with peacetime relief work as part of the International Red Cross Movement.

The Red Cross of Alaska was established in 1917. The Alaska Region has a long, rich history of providing vital, life-saving programs and services, and more so with evolving and staying current on what is best needed for those in disaster or life-threatening situations today.

Eight years after the Red Cross was established in Alaska, 1925; the Serum Run to Nome, Alaska, was a lifesaving effort. It was a transport of diphtheria antitoxin by dog sled relay across the U.S. territory of Alaska. Twenty mushers and about 150 sled dogs crossed almost seven hundred miles in 127.5 hours. The race is also known as the ‘Race of Mercy’, because it was vital to reach Nome and the surrounding communities to save lives. The challenge for the mushers and dogs were extreme but the call of saving lives outweighed the fear of challenging obstacles. The mushers encountered gale force winds, negative 85-degree weather and whiteout conditions. With all that, no vials were broken, and lives were saved.

Dr. Boris Levinson, a psychologist used his dog to assist him during counseling WW ll veterans. He noticed the positive benefits of a human and animal bond. During the 1970s, Dr. Sam and Dr. Elizabeth Corson developed a program where the practice of human and animal bonding could grow in a medical setting (any medical facility that housed people with any degree of medical issues (i.e. mental, or physical factors). 

Animals have found a place in assisting the human healthcare professionals; this activity is referred to as “animal-assisted therapy” (AAT). Red Cross chapters or regions are permitted and encouraged through the Disaster Cycle Services to use certified therapy dogs on disaster operations and to utilize local therapy dogs to assist the Service to the Armed Forces Animal Visitation Program, which provides support to disaster survivors and disaster responders with agreed parameters for activation during a disaster. The dogs must be trained and be able to achieve certain criteria to participate in the program.

During disasters sometimes the canine must take charge and get in the driver’s seat while understanding the goal of assisting in saving lives; they must save all lives if possible. And make them feel safe and comfortable.

With a wall of trained humans and canine disaster responders to assist in life-threatening disasters, you as a community can know that someone out there will answer the call of duty and put powers in place to do their best to help you find your way to a safe place.

With the Red Cross and the certified therapy dogs’ organizations working with their local first responders the young, younger and man’s best friend can rest and feel safe during a disaster.

Featured

Spring is on the Horizon

By Angela Wilson

Many of us are tired of seeing snow and feeling the winter wind trying to rip through our jackets. Most Alaskans are smelling Spring in the air. People are starting to plant seeds to start their veggie and flower gardens and we know it’s still a bit early, but who cares!

Many are already planning their summer outings like camping locations, new hiking trails, finding any reason to purchase that new fishing pole you been eyeing. All of this is wonderful as we need to look forward to something fun for ourselves and/or family members. 

However, to get to that place ‘your spring and summer odyssey’ we first must complete our winter adventure with its cold temperatures and all. 

With that said, we must continue to be aware of

  • Cold Weather Safety- Stay wrapped up in warm clothing when outside and caution when walking or driving on our winter streets/roads.
  • Winter Pet Safety-Ensure your four-legged family member is kept safe and warm during those harsh winter days and nights.
  • Home Heating Safety- Please make sure you check your home heating source to ensure safe heating.
  • Cooking Safety- Most people focus more on cooking safety during the holidays. Please know that anytime anyone cooks there’s needed caution for safety.

To learn more in-depth safety information about these issues, what better place to stay up to date on these issues than reviewing the American Red Cross website to find information and/or classes if necessary, to ensure safety for you and your family? http://www.redcross.org/alaska

Photo Courtesy Britt Tonnessen

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.