Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Local Outpouring of Support for Japan

Since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan of March 11th, the people of our region have demonstrated tremendous generosity and support. This has taken the form of individual donations, large corporate gifts and initiatives by school groups, churches, civic organizations and more. In addition to events organized for the sole purpose of raising funds to support recovery in Japan, some organizations have utilized existing events as opportunities to heighten awareness and generate donations. One such event was Matsuri 2011, A Festival of Japan.

The Japan-American Society of Vermont invited the VT & NH Valley American Red Cross to join them for Matsuri 2011, a festival celebrating the art, culture and history of Japan. We were pleased to participate and to serve as a resource of information and an avenue for support of the Japanese people.

At a booth, run by staff and volunteers, we saw a steady stream of festival goers throughout the day. Pictured (from left to right) are Beth Bloomberg, Haley LaBonte, Max Levy and Alison Levy. For more on this event and the Red Cross participation, click http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=14330530 for WCAX's coverage or, for WPTZ's story, click http://www.wptz.com/news/27338250/detail.html.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Time to Catch up on a Busy Week

It has been a busy week for the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross. Allow us a few minutes to catch you up on what has been happening.

It started last week in Montpelier with the help and support of Governor Shumlin. At a ceremony in his ceremonial office in the State House, the Governor signed a proclamation declaring March as American Red Cross Month and he urged all Vermonters to support our organization.

While at the State House, we also took a moment to confer the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit upon Mr. Ned Kirsch of Essex Town, VT. The award is given to a person who uses their Red Cross training to save or sustain a life. Through his work as an educator, Mr. Kirsch had learned CPR and renewed his skills several times through recertification. Ultimately, it wasn't a colleague or student who needed his help; it was his own brother. After his brother was felled by a heart attack during a family gathering this past summer, Mr. Kirsch jumped in and administered CPR until EMS arrived. His actions are credited with saving his brother's life. To highlight the importance of the award, the Governor helped us to present this award to Mr. Kirsch.

While winter may have come to an end on the calendar, we all know better. Unfortunately, this past week looked much like the rest of this winter with regard to a great demand for Red Cross disaster services. Members of our Disaster Action Teams went out on response in Enfield, NH and Colchester, VT. In both instances, assistance was provided to people whose homes were struck by fire. For our Central VT/NH Valley Chapter, their rate of response has already exceed all of last year, with over 3 months still remaining in the current fiscal year.
As noted, March is Red Cross month and while it may be marked by well-deserved proclamations, the heart of what we accomplish is seen in the quick action of Ned Kirsch and the compassion and dedication of our Disaster Action Teams. Thank you to everyone who supports the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WCAX Places Spotlight on Animals During Disasters

Click here to view today's WCAX story on the new partnership between the VT & NH Valley American Red Cross and Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team (VDART). Anchor Keagan Harsha interviewed Chief Response Officer Tim Stetson . . . and don't miss Max, the disaster dog.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tune in to WCAX on Tuesday, March 15th at 6:55am

At the beginning of the month, we shared with you the formalization of a partnership between the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross and Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team (VDART). The two groups established a framework of cooperation to provide emergency response resources for animal owners and their animals. The Channel 3 News has a weekly segment, Everything Animals, that airs Tuesday morning at 6:55am. Tomorrow, they will devote the segment to this issue. Tune in tomorrow, March 15th, to catch Tim Stetson, Chief Response Officer for the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley Region Red Cross.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Swimmers Sought to Help "Swim" the Long Trail in Support of Red Cross Disaster Services

In an effort to raise funds to support critical disaster relief services, the American Red Cross announced today that they are recruiting swimmers to help “Swim the Long Trail.”

Adopting a novel approach to “hiking” the Long Trail, the goal is for volunteer swimmers to raise funds in advance of taking to the pool on April 2nd and then, as a group, for their combined efforts to cover a distance equal to the 273 mile iconic trail. Swimmers can do their part at one of two locations, The Edge in Williston and the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction.

The goals of event organizers is to bring attention to the vital disaster services mission of the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross and raise funds to ensure that the necessary resources are available to support the people and communities in our region during times of disaster.

“Swim the Long Trail is a great way for swimmers of all ages to enjoy a swim, while also knowing that their efforts are lending much needed support for the American Red Cross,” said Larry Crist, Red Cross Regional Executive for the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley Region. “We are putting out the call to all swimmers, swim teams and local organizations to join us for this fun event.”

The Vermont and the New Hampshire Valley region of the American Red Cross plays a vital role in helping people to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. In addition to training thousands in lifesaving skills across our region each year, the American Red Cross provides disaster assistance, at no cost, to community members at their hour of greatest need. These services range from shelter and food, to clothing and medicine. Red Cross disaster services are supported by the generosity of donors.

“With the support of the Upper Valley Aquatic Center, The Edge, Mascoma Bank, Best Buy and Price Chopper, there will be two wonderful sites to swim, prizes, food and fun for all participants,” Crist added.

Interested swimmers and volunteers can find more information at www.vermontredcross.org or by contacting Eric Cochran at 802-660-9130 x113 or via e-mail at ecochran@nvtredcross.org.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Local Red Crossers in Haiti focus of News Story

Published February 26, 2011
‘From Relief to Disaster Recovery’
Valley News staff writer

Port-Au-Prince — George Sykes was alert, poised to cross the street as a turbulence of tap-taps and mopeds swept past.

“I’m just really cautious,” Sykes said.

Suddenly, he plunged into the traffic, ignoring the honks, then hustled down a side street toward the American Red Cross annex in Petionville, a suburb of the capital. He passed a collapsed concrete building where children stood outside begging and tossing pebbles at passersby.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment for the former Lebanon city councilor. Sykes and two others with Upper Valley ties — Meg DiCarlo, of Woodstock, and Cristina Hammond, of Hanover — are working for the Red Cross in the capital long after many workers from non-government organizations have closed up shop.

They’re helping to implement and expand Red Cross programs aimed at assisting the displaced Haitians dwelling in makeshift encampments. Progress is creeping along, they say.

“It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been here a while to see, but we’re moving from relief to disaster recovery,” Sykes said.

After the earthquake struck a year ago, the former career firefighter said he watched the television coverage of the disaster with his wife, Jayne, who was in tears over the scale of the suffering. Jobless at the time, he was inspired to take action.

“Honestly, there’s a little bit of selfishness,” said Sykes, 59, who claims to be the oldest American Red Cross delegate in Haiti. “I feel really good about me here.”

A short-term commitment has become, now, open-ended. Sykes took on a one-month volunteer stint in April. He’s since renewed his commitment three times and will be in Port-au-Prince until at least May 31, managing the American Red Cross facilities in the Port-au-Prince area.

After that, he may renew again. In the best case, Sykes and the others say, they work themselves out of a job.

“The hope is, they don’t need you anymore and you go home,” he said.

That outcome at present seems distant. About 800,000 people still reside in encampments, according to Red Cross numbers. Still, that’s half of the 1.5 million people in camps after the quake. And the camps are a bit improved from the early days when sticks and bed sheets were called tents. Many are living in sturdier canvas tents now or metal shanties covered in tarps. NGOs supply the camps with potable water, latrines, vaccinations and other forms of health support. The Red Cross alone says it provides daily drinking water for about 317,000 recipients.

The Haitian government asked organizations to stop providing food last April, saying it was slowing the recovery of farming and commerce, said Julie Sell, American Red Cross spokeswoman in Port-au-Prince.

Other signs of progress are more mundane. Sykes recalled having to drive around a gaping hole in the road for months. Recently, he noticed a new grill over the sewer opening.

“It’s a small example but that’s progress here. You have to remember how it was here before the earthquake, too,” Sykes said.

‘A Certain Style’

Jonas Sainta, 40, was a plumber before the earthquake and made a decent living.

“Before the earthquake, there was a certain style of life. We had the power to buy things. When the earthquake happened, we lost the fight we had before,” Sainta said, speaking through translator Julien Rodolphe Fils Debrosse.

“Now, there’s a new style of life. ... Out of job,” Sainta said.

On a dry, rocky hillside, in the camp known as Acra III, Sainta volunteers in a Red Cross cholera prevention center. The domed tent is nestled amongst tarp-covered shanties that are home to more than 2,000 Haitians. The camp is on a bony knob that overlooks the Gulf of Gonave, the sprawl of Port-au-Prince, and in the distant haze, the Central Plateau to the north. Sainta was one of three volunteers staffing the tent, ready to provide oral rehydration solution, information on correct hand-washing or information about nearby cholera treatment centers. The volunteers typically see anywhere from five to 10 people a day seeking help or information, Sainta said.

One day in late December, shortly after the cholera outbreak, 78 people visited the tent fearful for themselves and their families, Sainta said. He credited Red Cross preventive measures for there being no more than seven confirmed cases in the entire camp.

“This was a disease that scared many people here, especially in the camps. They didn’t understand it, didn’t know where it came from, and it’s a disease that can kill you in the matter of hours,” said Hammond, the Hanover resident and health delegate who oversees the cholera program in Port-au-Prince.

Here in the capital, where disasters seem to stack up on top of one another, cholera actually falls in the success category for Red Cross officials, including Hammond and DiCarlo, who have played pivotal roles in minimizing its impact. After the outbreak, the Red Cross set up cholera tents in more than 50 camps and doubled its number of “promoters,” typically young Haitians, trained to go into the camps to educate people about cholera and other diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.There are now 200 promoters venturing out with backpacks of supplies and information each day, said DiCarlo, who oversees all of American Red Cross health programs in Haiti.

“We were able to scale up very quickly,” she said.

Hammond and Debrosse, cholera program manager, visited Acra III Thursday to leave a stretcher at the cholera tent. Previously, sick people were carried by hand down a steep embankment.

Life in the camp is squalid and discouraging, Sainta said. More than anything, people need jobs. But Sainta said his new volunteer role gives him solid footing.

“It’s not easy but I try to help people and begin a new life. It’s a new style of life but I am hopeful,” he said.

‘Place of Paradoxes’

“If the toilets are working, that’s one less thing people have to worry about,” Sykes said.

It’s not the most glamorous job in disaster response, but Sykes said it’s important. He manages two office buildings, a warehouse and five apartment buildings. Basically, his duties are making sure everything works, including the toilets, and improving cost and energy efficiencies where possible.

He manages a staff of about 10 janitors and maintenance workers, “some of the least appreciated staff here,” he said. Sykes said he would consider another extension if it’s offered.

“This is a place of paradoxes. A place where wonderful things can happen,” he said. “There are warm-hearted generous people here. … It will get better.”

For Hammond, who has a background in biostatistics and epidemiology, volunteering in Haiti presented a unique opportunity to practice the international health programming she had long studied. And the work fit her criteria for happiness: making a difference, learning new things and having fun.

“I love the work that I do. I feel incredibly humbled to be doing it,” said Hammond, whose husband is Bill Hammond, a Hanover High teacher.

Having spent seven years in Tanzania, DiCarlo is the Red Cross veteran of the group.

“These things are a little addictive,” she said.

Woodstock is her hometown but DiCarlo gave no indication she was moving back home any time soon. There’s still much work to be done in Haiti.

“Progress is never as fast as we want it to be. It frustrates me. I want things to be faster,” DiCarlo said. “But we are seeing progress here. ... And being in the trenches, it’s very fulfilling.”

Gregory Trotter can be reached at gtrotter@vnews.com, or 603-727-3210.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Relief Organizations Partner to Care for Animals During Time of Disaster

Red Cross Partners with Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team (VDART)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Burlington, VT – March 1, 2011) While we might all understand how the upheaval caused by disasters impacts the basic human needs of disaster victims, two local organizations have given a great deal of thought as to how such events impact the needs of animals. After considerable work, the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross and Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team (VDART) have announced a partnership that focuses on how to best meet the needs of animals during times of disaster. The two groups have entered into an agreement, establishing a framework of cooperation between the organizations to provide emergency response resources for animal owners and their animals.

With over ninety years of disaster relief experience in the region, the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross knows a thing or two about disaster response. What they have learned is that times of disaster are no time to go it alone. This applies not only to those helped by the Red Cross, but for the organization itself. The human element has been the focus of the Red Cross, who provides shelter, food, clothing and more during times of disaster. What the Red Cross is unable to do is shelter and feed animals.

“The compassion and dedication Red Cross volunteers bring to their work to alleviate human suffering during times of disaster is matched by the passion of those who never forget the suffering of animals at such times,” said Tim Stetson, Chief Response Officer for the Vermont & the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross. “Partnering with VDART was a natural fit for both organizations,” he added.

VDART, like the Red Cross, is a non-profit organization. Their mission is to provide for a coordinated effort in preparing for, preventing, responding to, and recovering from any emergencies affecting animals. In fulfilling this mission, VDART supports the development of a system of Regional Operating DARTs. Currently there are three DARTS, with more in the planning stages to permit optimal coverage of the State. VDART provides assistance to regional DARTs during their formation, along with training, operational and logistical support.

VDART works with partners at many levels, including its work with the State of Vermont in which it assists with responsibilities for implementing the State’s Animal Disaster Emergency Plan. Since VDART is not a direct response agency itself, the work of VDART during a disaster is through its system of regional response team affiliates across Vermont and could range from providing referrals for animal care to the operation of shelters for companion animals that are established in close proximity to the human shelters.

VDART’s sheltering capabilities are aided by resources such as the Companion Animal Mobile Equipment Trailer, or CAMET, that VDART purchased through grant funds provided by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The trailers provide immediate shelter when disaster strikes and contain items such as crates, a generator, first aid kits, a pressure washer, power cords, animal ID bands, dog bowls and more. Once unloaded, the trailer also serves as a local command center. The State of Vermont has a second CAMET that may come to VDART for assignment.

Due to health and safety concerns, the Vermont & New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross does not allow animals, other than service animals, inside its disaster or evacuation shelters. The Red Cross does, however, recognize the importance of pets to their owners and appreciates the sense of responsibility and interdependence that pet owners feel toward their pets. “By partnering with VDART for the protection and care of people’s pets, the Red Cross knows that we are also serving the needs of the people we are sheltering,” Stetson said. “The peace of mind gained from knowing that a pet is cared for can be as important for many as the cot we provide or the meals we serve.”

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two organizations covers not just a working relationship between VDART and the Red Cross, but also the affiliated regional Disaster Animal Response Teams (Regional DARTs) and the Red Cross. The coordination of services during times of disaster and may include:

 Communication between the organizations before and during disasters;
 The inclusion of VDART personnel at Red Cross shelters;
 Referrals for services between the organizations;
 Animal sheltering;
 The promotion of community awareness of preparedness; and
 Future work on the development of emergency response plans.

This first of its kind agreement in this region has a four year term, but both organizations believe that this will be a relationship that has a much longer future.