Monday, July 25, 2011

Memories Linger

Pictures. There is nothing I have found to be more precious to people than documented memories of adventures, weddings, vacations, birthdays, and various special occasions. When a fire engulfs a home these little treasures can be lost forever. On a drizzling day in Chicago, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” rang true for me.

One Friday morning the disaster response team and I strapped on our American Red Cross vests and arrived at the home of Omar, a young soft spoken father of two. The fire, which had started and was contained to the attic, had been put out by the firemen. While the fire marshals secured the premises, the Red Cross provided comfort to the family and listened to their story.

“I saw the fire; I grabbed and carried my granddaughters out of the home. In just a couple of minutes the firemen came, I did not call them a man driving down the street stopped his car and called the firemen,” stated Omar’s mom.

Omar said, “I saw the firemen and I ran to the house to make sure that my mom and daughters where ok. Thankfully my mom had grabbed the girls and got out of the house as soon as she saw the fire.”

After speaking to Omar and his mom, the fire marshal let the family and the Red Cross know that it was safe to enter the home and asses the damage from the fire. This was my first time going into a home along with the family. When Omar and his family first saw the fire damage their expression turned from shock to that of sadness and loss, and left me breathless. The flames had scorched the entire content of the attic. The main floor was in disarray and flooding rapidly from the ventilation holes that the firemen created on the roof.

As I walked through the flooded home, I saw pictures lining the walls of the living room, dining room and bedrooms. I gazed upon Omar’s family photos as they silently told me the story of their life. I became a part of their birthday celebrations, graduations, family cook-outs, weddings and quinceaƱeras. I began to feel their sadness and their loss and I connected with the family on a deeper level. Now I view a fires aftermath with new eyes and this has strengthened my commitment to the Red Cross mission.

Pictures tell us so much about a person and a family. They showcase their essence and allow us to share in their memories and life. Omar and his family were happy to see that these treasures where not damaged by the fire and expressed their gratitude to the Red Cross for helping.

Today, with a single click, you can join a movement on Facebook to honor those who aren’t so lucky.

Visit and get a glimpse of what it’s like to lose your most precious memories. At the end of your visit, all of your photos will be fully recovered. Make a donation for every photo you can’t imagine life without.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prepare Your Kids to Stay Afloat

“When that summer sun starts beatin' down
And you don't know what to do
Grab your swimming trunks
Ice up that old igloo
Drive until the map turns blue”

-Brad Paisley

As an avid fan of live music, I always strive to learn the words to new songs before I see my favorite artists perform. Brad Paisley stops by Chicago in August and I will be especially proud to sing every line of his new single, “Water.”

While listening to my favorite country artist croon about fun times near the water, I think about the great memories I have of spending hours at the local pool with childhood friends. Even though I have grown out of my floaties, I still enjoy swimming now. Just like Brad’s song, “Water,” when the “summer sun starts beatin’ down” I have been “driv[ing] until the map turns blue” to get to the pool or beach during warm summer days. At the beach this summer I have seen a lot of close calls where lifeguards stepped in at just the right moment to prevent accidents, so I reached out to a good friend to learn about how to stay safe in and around water.

Barbara Nichols became Red Cross Certified in lifeguarding in 2005 because, as a child, she admired her cousins for working hard to protect patrons at the aquatic center in her hometown. She is currently head lifeguard at her local pool, a position that she has held for 5 years. In her years of service, she has seen firsthand that children who are introduced to swimming by their parents are more open to taking swimming lessons and are less afraid of the water.

Barbara says that the most important thing parents can do is be proactive about their children’s safety. She recommends that parents “take safety precautions and follow facility rules” to set a good example for their kids.

Barbara stresses that “it’s important to just enter the water safely and stay in areas where you are comfortable swimming.”

Make your own memories this summer by enjoying warm weather swimming and aquatic activities with just a few helpful hints in mind from an experienced lifeguard.

Barbara and the Red Cross offer a few extra tips to make the most out of your time in the water:

• Use and reapply sunscreen liberally.
• Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
• Cover all cuts and scrapes properly before entering the water.
• Avoid alcohol consumption as it impairs judgment, balance and coordination, and affects swimming and diving skills.
• If you go boating, wear a life jacket! Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.
• Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone. Even at a public pool or a lifeguarded beach, use the buddy system!
• Never leave a young child unattended near water and do not trust a child’s life to another child; teach children to always ask permission to go near water.

The best way to prevent disaster in the water is to learn how to swim. Enroll in age-appropriate Red Cross Learn-to-Swim courses. Young children or inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket around water. Lifejackets are one type of Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) and can vary depending on weight and size. Further instructions about the proper use of PFD’s can be found here.

If you are interested in learning more about water safety and lifesaving like Barbara, Lifeguarding courses and Red Cross Certification programs are offered at local aquatic facilities.
To find courses contact your local Red Cross Chapter.

Be Red Cross Ready.

Written by Blair Janis

Monday, July 11, 2011

Red Cross Presents Kid Safety Zone

Check out the video below:

"What are some road safety rules?” asked Katie, an AmeriCorps Safe Family Member. “Wear a helmet, make sure you have a night light on your bike, and stay on the right side of the road,” yelled a student. Wow these students really know a lot about road safety. From hearing that first kid’s response at the Kids Safety Zone showed me I would be shocked more about what other students already knew.

I knew the load of information Red Cross AmeriCorps Safe Family members were going to share that day would never be forgotten.

As we pulled up to the elementary school with the AmeriCorps team and I walked through the halls, we entered into a room that the team set up for kindergarteners through sixth graders. The team was setting up five different stations for the AmeriCorps service project: Kids Safety Zone.

Having the group of kids rotate to each station, I knew it would be interesting to watch. AmeriCorps set up stations so all the kids could get a hands-on interactive experience and learn helpful information all at once. From 9a.m. to 2:15p.m. the students’ excitement and thrill to learn more never faded away.
Students waved their hands frantically to answer a question or to volunteer in acting out a scenario. They bounced from table to table and interacted the entire seven minutes they had at each station. I tried to figure out how learning could be so fun and then a light bulb clicked in my head: interact and engage the students and you cannot go wrong with teaching.

The five stations the students rotated to throughout the day were healthy living, stranger danger, first aid for you, road safety, and home safety. At the “health living” station one of the members discussed having a proper diet, knowing the proper techniques for chocking, and what it means to wash your hands thoroughly. The members at the “stranger danger” station taught how you should communicate with strangers (what to say and what not to say). At the “first aid for you” station how to control bleeding, what’s an emergency, calling 911, and an emergency action plan was taught. At the “road safety” station the AmeriCorps team member talked about how one stays safe when riding a bike or walking. The last station was about how to stay safe in your own home based on having fire alarms and avoiding dangerous fires in the house with electrical appliances and outlets.

Overall the students enjoyed themselves with the interactive stations. They were able to interact and learn about safety and healthy tips. AmeriCorps members also took a lot from teaching a wide age range of students because the members had to change how they presented the information every time groups rotated. Before each class left the room the teachers were given FACT (First Aid for Children Today) booklets to pass out to their students.

This event also showed me that elementary students will take away a lot from what they learn if you make it engaging and relate the activities to them so they can make connections of what they’re learning.

To learn more about the Red Cross AmeriCorps program or to join the team visit this link:

Story and Video Written By: Rachel Moten

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20

I could still smell the smoke. It lingered in my hair and clothes as the CTA train came to a stop at my station. A June breeze swept through the opening doors making the smell more apparent, a reminder of the day’s events. I never imagined when I locked my apartment door and left for work that beautiful Wednesday morning that I would unlock it later that day feeling so appreciative.

That morning, I responded to my first home fire as an intern at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. When the Disaster Services response van pulled up to the scene, the neighborhood appeared charming and quiet. The van blocked my view of the affected home, so I stepped from behind it and saw the devastation. My heart stopped. The front door and window frames were strewn across the front lawn. In the back yard, a young family stood staring up at their home, as calm as could be.

As I approached the mother, Nancy Buckles, she stepped forward to explain the morning’s events. At around 9:30, Nancy and her little daughter, Bella, went to the neighbor’s house for coffee. The persistent sound of a car horn from the street brought Nancy outside to see thick, heavy smoke hanging in the air surrounding her rented home on the south side of Chicago. Once we arrived at the scene, her husband John had returned from work and the emergency crews had left the scene.

Walking through the front door with the family, I saw where the fire began: a light fixture hanging by a damaged wire. Bad wiring caused the fire to start in the front hall and spread through the walls, completely consuming the rooms on the top floor of the house. Water poured from broken pipes in the ceiling flooding the floors. It was hard to believe that a few hours earlier this was someone’s living room, a safe haven. Bella ran up to her mother and asked why everything was burnt up. It was heartbreaking to see Nancy search for the right words to tell her daughter what had happened to all of her things.

Bella turned to me and said, “My fish made it out safe,” with a huge smile on her face. The family, including Bella’s fish, made it out unscathed. I could tell that this knowledge alone would see them through the disaster.

I walked down the hall to the stairwell and looked up. As I climbed, I noticed blue sky and sun shining through the wreckage where the roof used to be. The room at the top of the stairs held small pieces of evidence that this was a little girl’s bedroom. A small, broken purple chair, a tiny bed with princess sheets covered in ash and debris, and a pink story book were items that miraculously escaped the flames. As the Disaster Action Team provided the family with shelter, clothing and food, a fellow intern and I stood on the street with John taking in the scene in silence. I couldn’t imagine what the man standing next to me was feeling. After a few moments he broke the silence, “You know how they say hindsight is 20/20?” he asked. “All of the pieces are starting to come together. Some of the outlets didn’t work.”

His comment got me thinking. Hindsight really is 20/20, and regret is one of the worst possible emotions. You don’t want to look back and know you could have done something differently. A home fire can happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone. This is why it is so important to be Red Cross Ready. Everyone should Be Prepared by getting a kit, making a plan and taking a class to be ready in case a disaster occurs.

As I walked into my apartment that afternoon, it hit me. My home is where I come after a long day at work, where I feel safe and comfortable. A home is so much more than just walls or shelter, and losing something that meaningful is unimaginable.

To learn more visit:

Written by: Katie Donabedian