Friday, April 20, 2012

2011 Volunteer of the Year - Mike Sewell

Humanitarian - committed to improving the lives of other people; somebody who seeks to improve the lives of others; somebody who believes in the philosophical theory of humanitarianism.

Mike Sewell (center) accepts the Virginia T. Keene Volunteer of the Year Award for Humanitarian Services at the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon on October 27, 2011.
Last October, before Mike Sewell received the Virginia T. Keeney Volunteer of the Year Award for Humanitarian Services, he had participated in four major 2011 disaster operations. He traveled within his home state of Kentucky and as far away as Minot, North Dakota.

“I’ve got friends all over the U.S. now,” Mike said. He keeps in touch with volunteers he has worked with on disaster operations via Facebook, and he looks forward to reuniting with them on future operations.

Mike has met hundreds of people while volunteering and has supported a variety of areas, even blood services. He has taken the majority of disaster training courses offered by the Red Cross and during the past year, has had several opportunities to put his training to use.

“The learning process never ends,” he said. “I try to soak up everything I can on disasters.”

Mike stays sharp by volunteering with the Louisville Area Chapter on a weekly basis. He is a member of the chapter’s Disaster Action Team (DAT). DAT members are Red Cross first responders for home fires and other disasters. Their primary role is to interview families and individuals affected by disasters to learn what their immediate emergency needs are and determine how the Red Cross can help. Meeting with the families one-on-one is Mike’s favorite part of the job.

“There’s nothing that really drives me except knowing it might make a difference in someone’s life,” he said. “The Red Cross does make a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes it’s small; sometimes it has a big impact.”

Mike and fellow LAC volunteer Kenny Settles drove the local Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) to North Carolina in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. They waited out the storm at a hotel on the way to their destination.
The one regret Mike has about working with the Red Cross is that he didn’t get involved sooner. But the work he has done for the Red Cross over the past two and a half years is a testament to his dedication to the organization as well as his commitment to our humanitarian mission.

“Mike provides assistance above and beyond that expected by responding to requests for emergency supplies and logistic resources any time, day or night, when needed,” Tim Oldham, Manager of Disaster Response for the Louisville Area Chapter wrote in a Volunteer of the Year nomination for Mike.

Mike was very appreciative of the award he received last October, but he also felt a little embarrassed.

“It’s not only me,” Mike said. “It’s a whole group of us that go out and do the work.”

Eventually, Mike would like to become a Red Cross reservist, responding to major disasters when called. It seems like a natural next step given his work over the past year. In the interim, he plans to continue volunteering at the chapter, responding to disasters, and training a new generation of volunteers that will help carry out the Red Cross mission.

“I’m always willing to take the inexperienced under my wing,” he said. “The more people we have educated, the better we’ll be able to serve our clients.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

From Mother to Daughter - Brenda Bliss

Brenda Bliss accepts the Bill Hartz Volunteer of the Year Award for Blood Services at the 2011 Red Cross Volunteer Recognition Luncheon.
When Brenda Bliss is out and about in her local community of Harrison County Indiana, she often runs into people who want to share the fond memories they have of her mother.

“If the community needed something, she was there,” Brenda said of her mother, Savilla Bliss who was a 4H Leader and an active member of the church. Savilla was also a Red Cross volunteer for 43 years, serving as the Harrison County Bloodmobile Coordinator. Her dedication to the organization earned her the Virginia T. Keeney Volunteer of the Year Award for Humanitarian Services in 1996.

In 1995, Savilla was diagnosed with leukemia. While undergoing acute leukemia treatments, she used more than 50 pints of blood and 110 pints of platelets over 11 months. She was unable to overcome the cancer. Still, Brenda says, she and her family learned the importance of blood and platelet donations.

“When any of us can give, we do,” said Brenda who also has a brother that has been on the receiving end of blood donations due to cancer. “We appreciate the fact that the blood is there when we need it.”

The constant need for blood donors and volunteers inspired Brenda to take over her mom’s job of scheduling volunteers for blood drives and bloodmobiles. While that remains her chief role at the Red Cross, Brenda also works many blood drives to help register donors and occasionally assists neighboring Crawford County with volunteer schedules.

“About the only time you don’t see Brenda at the blood drives is when there are two drives on the same day, and she hasn’t figured out how to be at both places at the same time,” said Buffalo Trace Service Center Manager Karen Cook. “It doesn’t matter what day or what time of day the bloodmobile is scheduled, we can rest assured that Brenda will get the event covered.”

It has now been more than 15 years since Brenda began volunteering, and she has made a name for herself within the organization. In 2011, she received the Louisville Area Chapter’s Bill Hartz Volunteer of the Year Award for Blood Services. She was surprised by the honor since she knows there are many others that dedicate their time to helping the Red Cross collect blood and deliver other humanitarian services.

“I think the Red Cross is a wonderful organization that helps people in many ways,” Brenda said. “Few organizations cover the same spectrum of services.”

“What keeps me volunteering is knowing that somebody always needs something that I can help provide. The Red Cross has always been there for everybody that I know, so I like to be there for it.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Volunteer Gets Wrapped in Red - Erin Hall

The revival of an annual Red Cross gala in 2011 gave the Louisville Area Chapter an opportunity to involve volunteers in new activities. Both new and veteran volunteers worked together to make the inaugural Wrapped in Red Gala a memorable event to raise funds for Red Cross community disaster programs.

Erin at the 2012 Gala
After a six year hiatus, the Louisville Area Chapter gala returned to the Derby City. Renamed the “Wrapped in Red Gala,” the event’s planning committee was determined to make it bigger and better than its predecessor – “The Gatsby Gala.”

“It was a great opportunity to make a statement and get the gala off on the right foot,” said Erin Hall, Chair of the Gala’s Design & Décor committee.

Erin and her team made the look and layout defining elements of the inaugural Wrapped in Red Gala, creating an ocean of red to welcome guests as they entered the ballroom of the Louisville Marriott Downtown. Red fabric draped every table, chair and corner and glowing candlelight created a cozy setting among the tables.

The 2011 Wrapped in Red Gala
“We really tried to convey, through the gala, the warmth the Red Cross provides to the community,” she said.

Receiving rave reviews from guests and Louisville’s social enthusiast Angie Fenton of the Voice-Tribune, Erin agreed to lead the Design & Décor committee for a second term. Expectations were high following a successful first year, but Erin and her team rose to the occasion, adding new, unique touches to create a new look and experience.

The Chivari chairs and centerpieces added a bit of silver to this year's Gala. Guests of the Red Lounge were invited to participate in extra fun at the Magnolia Photo Booth.

Erin has become a regular volunteer at the Louisville Area Chapter. She joined the young professionals group Crossing Generations in March of 2011. Through the group, she has helped with fundraising events such as Louisville Uncorked and the Old Kentucky Home Tour Sag Stop operated by Red Cross workers. In October, Erin received a Volunteer Rookie award at the annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon.

During the March tornado response, she helped with local telethons. In the future, she hopes to become more involved with disaster response. Erin has also become a regular blood donor, something she said she would not have done before becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

“The more you learn about the Red Cross, the more ways you see how to get involved,” she said. “You can make a difference as an individual, a couple of hours at a time.”

Erin plans to continue to volunteer with the Red Cross because she sees a need in the community and enjoys working with the Red Cross staff.

“Once you step foot in the building and understand the impact Red Cross has on the community, it’s hard to walk away."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Hand Helping Another Hand - Marcos Cabrera

Red Cross volunteers represent a variety of cultures and backgrounds. When they dedicate time to our organization, they bring along with them a unique skill set, forged through their own life experiences.

Louisville Area Chapter Board Chair Dick Swope presents Marcos Cabrera with a Volunteer Rookie Award at the 2011 Volunteer Recognition Luncheon on October 27.

Volunteers in our path are the blaze
that move us ahead with a strong gaze.

The words above are an excerpt from Marcos Cabrera’s poem “Red Cross Volunteers.” Marcos began writing poetry in 1965, just after moving to the United States from the Dominican Republic. He has  written more than 2,000 poems about love and life, carrying a notebook and pen with him at all times, prepared for inspiration to strike at any moment.

Marcos has published three books of poems. He is currently promoting the third in the Dominican Republic. Writing poetry keeps him busy, but after retiring, he felt the need to give back to the community and finally had the time to do so.

In March of 2011, Marcos visited the Fort Knox Red Cross Service Center to become a volunteer. He was first asked to work with “Helping Hands,” a program that provides food, clothing and household goods to qualified military families in the Fort Knox area. In a matter of a few months, Marcos went from spending one or two hours with “Helping Hands” to dedicating the majority of his free time to Fort Knox special events and programs including the Run for the Red 5/10K, the Xtreme Youth Volunteer Program and the Camp Red Challenge where kids participate in outdoor activities while learning disaster preparedness and basic first aid.

His positive attitude and motivation to help wherever needed earned him a Volunteer Rookie award at the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon on October 27, 2011.

"His dedication to serving the soldiers and families on Fort Knox show his greatest ability, selfless service," said Fort Knox Service Center Manager May Giulitto.

Marcos served in the U.S. Army for 20 years and has been assisted by Red Cross services to armed forces. In July of 1984, while Marcos was stationed in Greece, his father passed away. The Red Cross helped him communicate with his family and helped cover travel expenses in order for him to return to the Dominican Republic for his father’s funeral.

“I feel good when I can help a soldier because I was a soldier," Marcos said. "I know the things they go through."

Marcos said he volunteers for the Red Cross because he gets a chance to help others and work with a group of positive people willing to give something back to the community.

“The main idea is a hand helping another hand,” Marcos said. “You can’t always give what people need, but you can give what you have.”

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spreading the Word - Allen J Corbin

Red Cross volunteers are often seen delivering food after a disaster, teaching CPR, or handing out cookies and juice following blood donations. But there are also volunteers that work to raise awareness of these services helping the community understand the many aspects of the Red Cross mission.
Louisville Area Chapter Board Chair Dick Swope (left) presents Board Member Allen Corbin (center) with the 2011 Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership at the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, October 27, 2011.
In March of 1997, after days of heavy rainfall, the Ohio River swelled well beyond capacity, flooding surrounding neighborhoods in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Allen Corbin’s home was one of many affected. Once flood water receded, Allen’s family was visited by Red Cross workers traveling through neighborhoods delivering cleaning supplies to help residents recover.

During July of the same year, lightning struck Allen’s home igniting a fire that took his entire house. It was following this second incident that he came up with an idea for a program that encourages people to keep a record of their belongings in case of a fire, flood or any other disaster. He met with his local Red Cross—the Oldham County Service Center in Buckner, KY—to develop a partnership.  He donated funds for the service center to purchase a video camera that could be borrowed by community members to make a visual record of their belongings.

“Having a visual record of your personal belongings and household goods streamlines the recovery process when dealing with insurance providers,” said Oldham County Service Center Manager Rick Bissmeyer.

Allen Corbin has now been a part of the Red Cross for nearly 15 years. He currently serves as Advisory Board Chair of the Oldham County Service Center and is a Board Member for the Louisville Area Chapter. Last year he was given the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership at the annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon.

“In general I believe that Allen Corbin takes a personal responsibility to make sure that his community is the best place to be safe, secure and that the vital services of the Red Cross remain relevant to those we serve,” said Rick.

He describes Allen as the service center’s “public affairs staff person,” constantly out in the community meeting with public officials and partner organizations to improve Red Cross service delivery, fund raise, and raise overall awareness.
Allen Corbin acts as auctioneer during the 2009 Oldham County Chef Challenge.
Just last week Allen hosted Crossing Paths, a monthly “lunch and learn” offered by the Louisville Area Chapter that teaches guests about Red Cross programs and initiatives. The one-hour program is free and open to the public.

“The number one goal of a board member is to raise community awareness of what the Red Cross does,” Allen said. “[Crossing Paths] lets friends and family know why you’re involved with the Red Cross and hopefully gets them involved, too.”

To raise awareness of the Oldham County Food Bank, Allen proposed the Chef Challenge which is now an annual event at the service center. In the Challenge, a local chef visits the Food Pantry to create a 4-course, gourmet dinner consisting solely of pre-packaged, non-perishable food. The community is then invited to a fundraising dinner and auction benefiting the Red Cross. This year’s dinner was held March 5 at the Glen Oaks Country Club and raised nearly $10,000 for Red Cross services.

Of his work with the Red Cross, Allen says it is his duty to volunteer.
“I feel you should give back to the community,” Allen said. “The Red Cross helped me, and I, in turn, feel I should help the Red Cross.”

To learn more about how you can become a Red Cross volunteer, visit

Sunday, April 15, 2012

National Volunteer Week

Each April, a week is set aside to honor the men and women that support organizations like the American Red Cross through a donation of time. Volunteers make up 93% of the Red Cross workforce. They teach life-saving skills, help military members connect with their loved ones during emergencies and respond to disasters day and night. And that is only a portion of the tasks they take on to help deliver Red Cross services.

While they all come from different backgrounds, exhibit various talents and help in countless ways, they all share a passion for helping others. In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, the Louisville Area Chapter blog is highlighting local volunteers and their work with the Red Cross. Beginning Monday April 16, visit our blog for daily profiles introducing you to a few of our dedicated volunteers. We hope you take a few minutes of your day to read their stories. They might even inspire you to become a volunteer yourself.