When we think of the American Red Cross, what often comes to mind is this, “It’s where we can go to donate blood.” But that’s only a fraction of what they do to fulfill their stated mission, “The American Red Cross connects us to people and communities around the world. The common bonds of humanity and compassion unite us together, not just in the face of emergencies and disasters, but in helping our neighbors every day.”
Three dedicated team members of the local American Red Cross, and stellar examples of compassion, live right here in South Burlington, Dan Lavilette, Disaster Program Manager since 2011, and Glenn Sproul, and his wife Marga, both Chittenden County Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers for the past five years.
What drew each one of them to the Red Cross? For Dan, as the former business owner of a commercial contracting company, he wanted to do something to give back to his community, and started out as a volunteer. Three years later, he accepted full-time employment with the organization, becoming the youngest Disaster Program Manager in the country. “I like action,” he shared with me during our meeting last week. “I’m a skydiver.” What better place for Dan to be than the Red Cross?
For Glenn, a retired math teacher from Johnson State College, Chair of South Burlington’s Recreation and Parks Committee, and Senior Warden of All Saints Episcopal Church, he and Marga, a practicing physician, participated in a Vermont Public Radio drive to help raise funds for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. After the campaign ended, they asked one another, “What else can we do?” When they learned that the Red Cross needed volunteers they signed up.
This is what I learned from Dan and Glenn about the breadth of services on which the organization has prided itself for the past century: In addition to collecting blood from donors, they provide educational training such as CPR and first aid; they reach out globally to reconnect families torn apart from wars and disasters; and offer 24 hour, worldwide communication services that keeps military personnel and their families in touch during an emergency or other significant event.
Dan, Marga, and Glenn, Chittenden County DAT Captain, exert their humanitarian efforts toward disaster relief, fires being the most common tragedies to which they respond, along with many other volunteers. Ninety percent of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross is carried out by volunteers. Between 50 and 75 volunteers are located in Chittenden County, with about 24 of those people currently active. Because the Red Cross is a support agency, though, volunteers only respond to disasters when requested by the fire department, police, or clients themselves. Typically volunteers distribute “comfort kits” containing personal items such as shampoo and toothbrushes; hand out food and water to rescue workers and clients; offer financial assistance like pre-paid cash cards; connect clients with 211, a confidential information and referral service for Vermonters; and provide overnight shelter.
In the case of the Shelburne Farms fire this past September, which leveled a historic barn, a team of volunteers, including Glenn and Marga, provided beverages and donuts to 100 fire fighters and other first responders. That same day, they responded to yet another fire, in South Burlington, which displaced a family of two from their apartment. “We see some sad outcomes,” Glenn noted. “I saw my first fatality at a house fire in Panton.” According to Dan, there is a “robust team” of mental health counselors available for volunteers, and for clients who suffer untimely losses. “It’s not easy,” he admitted. Since he’s been with the Red Cross, he’s witnessed 15 fatalities. But there’s an upside. Over the past calendar year, the Red Cross was able to provide financial assistance to 11 individuals from four different South Burlington families.
Dan is on call 24-seven, his vital work involves oversight of DAT captains in eight Vermont counties, and sometimes throughout the entire state. It isn’t unusual for him to be called to duty far beyond Vermont. This past August, when catastrophic floods deluged southern Louisiana, resulting in the worst U.S. national disaster since Hurricane Sandy, Dan was deployed to the state as Recovery Chief. He’s been deployed a total of six times, to five different disasters, as part of a national senior leadership team.
Between the Louisiana floods, and other disasters in West Virginia, 12 Vermonters were deployed. It costs as much as $3,000 to deploy just one volunteer, the reason why the Red Cross organizes what they call “virtual deployments” as much as possible. In such instances, volunteers work from their home base making phone calls to clients in need of services. While smaller virtual deployments are more common throughout Vermont, the Red Cross executed one on a much larger scale for the first time during the Louisiana floods. Glenn, who is also available 24-seven and engages in daily communication activities for the Red Cross, was part of that “virtual” team as a quality control volunteer.
Also integral to the Red Cross mission is to act pre-emptively. Their Home Fire Campaign is just one example. With the goal of reducing injuries and deaths from fire by 25 percent by 2020, they’re installing battery back-up smoke detectors at no cost. So far, 766 have been installed in homes throughout Northern Vermont. They also partner with other agencies, such as the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, in a collective effort to work toward solutions and locate resources for Red Cross clients.
Now that we know the scope of services the Red Cross provides to our community, and beyond, let’s share that knowledge with our neighbors. Glenn and Dan left me with this thought, “Be visible, and audible … create as much awareness as possible.”
And for those in need of Red Cross services, I pass on to you a heartfelt invitation from Dan, “Call us early. Call us often.”
For more information about the Red Cross and volunteer opportunities go to http://www.redcross.org/local/new-hampshire-vermont.
SOURCE: Melissa Cronin, Contributor