Moving Out From Behind the Desk

Moving Out From Behind the Desk

by Haleigh Kopinski, Volunteer

In my three years as an intern with the American Red Cross, I have been involved in various opportunities. I have seen supplies be distributed during Hurricane Sandy, seen coworkers and volunteers hurry to get to a house fire in the Pittsburgh area, but I had never seen what happens on the frontlines of disasters.

From my desk, I deal with training and class scheduling more than anything else. The most I saw volunteers and workers do directly to help the public in our area I had only seen on the news. However, one slow day in the office there was a house fire in a nearby area and I was asked if I would like to come along.

I had no idea what to expect. I had never been on a fire call. I wasn’t exactly sure what the Red Cross did once on site and I wasn’t sure what to do myself. Upon arriving, I immediately noticed the restoration company boarding up the woman’s house who had been partially destroyed. The fire crew had clearly been scene for a while as smoke was now gone and all that was left was the blackened ghost of what was once a home. Right away the rest of the Red Cross volunteers and employees who had come to help got into action as I stood dumbfounded.

Throughout the next hour or two, the house’s damage was assessed, a room was found in a nearby hotel for the client, and other types of basic assistance were given. There was a clear change of mood in the client. They were in a sheer state of astonishment – one that I couldn’t help but share with them. In just a few short hours prior to our arrival, a life had been devastated. In a few even shorter hours after our arrival, hope had been give back to this life. The volunteers and employees of the Red Cross had made all of this possible by simply helping out.

There are very few things that you can see on the news, hear from other people, or read in a newspaper, that you can fully grasp without witnessing them yourself. In my three years with the Red Cross, I had never seen a life change first hand. After almost three hours witnessing a fire call, that had all changed.

The amount I have learned from this experience is unimaginable. The Red Cross will not only help humans who are in need of short-term shelter, but animals as well. Volunteers or workers who are on call will respond as soon as possible, not the next day or next week. There are other companies and organizations involved in helping the Red Cross make decisions in how to approach handling the client’s need (such as local fire departments, police departments, and restoration companies).

For someone who was starting to lose sight of the “bigger picture”; the impact that simple things such as data entry and class scheduling have in the long run. Trainings must be available for volunteers to become able to go on these calls to help others. There is a long chain of jobs that make these helping calls possible. It’s hard to find people to hold a door for you anymore, let alone help once their house has burned down. The Red Cross doesn’t just help with major disasters; they also help with minor ones as well.

There’s a sense of community when there’s someone there to help your neighbor, or a friend. With volunteers and workers like the ones who respond to these calls everyday, that will be something that is reassured over and over.

February Volunteer Spotlight: Keystone Chapter (Part 3 of 3)

By Sean Corrado, Intern

As February comes to a close, volunteers share their stories of how the Red Cross acts like a family for them and how this family environment keeps the Red Cross Keystone Chapter running smoothly and effectively.

Sandy Cook felt a big void in her life after her children went off to study at Penn State University two years ago. She was the mother bird with an empty nest and wanted to be a part of something significant in the community.

Originally from Birdsboro, Pa., Cook also graduated as a Nittany Lion and earned a degree in Communication. She had a successful job near Mt. Pocono, in which she worked happily in advertising and marketing.

She left her job in the Poconos because her husband, now a retired national park ranger, received a job in the Keystone area. Therefore, the Cook family settled out in Western Pennsylvania on a 200-acre farm.

But when her two children grew out of the farm and made their way to State College, those 200 acres seemed even bigger and Cook had to find a new way to keep herself busy.

“I fell into the Red Cross because of the integrity of the organization,” Cook said. “They seemed to have their act together with their volunteers.”

Cook’s one-year anniversary with the organization passed last month, and she has already proved to be a significant ingredient to the volunteer community. Her keen writing ability and background in marketing has propelled the success of many ideas in the Keystone Chapter. Cook assists with volunteering events, interviews, marketing plans, in-house mail, securing items for silent auction and representing the chapter in many events.

“It was a unique fit,” Cook said of her position with the Red Cross in relation to her previous job experiences and her educational background. “It has been a pleasure working with the organization and to go out in the community and interact with all sorts of people.”

Cook, like Wilson and Rodgers, enjoys the family-like stability in the Keystone Chapter. Cook was able to fill the void left by her growing children with the service that the Red Cross environment brings. Rodgers noted how the organization’s friendly environment allows for the volunteers to work as a team and close together, while Wilson admitted that the Red Cross has been a backbone in his life for several years.

As an organization, the Red Cross may play an important role in each of these volunteers’ lives, but the service and commitment the volunteers have shown the organization are definitely worthy of being spotlighted.

The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information on becoming a volunteer at your local chapter, please visit

February Volunteer Spotlight: Keystone Chapter (Part 2 of 3)

By Sean Corrado, Intern

The local Red Cross in Western Pennsylvania is highlighting the extraordinary work taking place throughout the region with a volunteer ‘Get to Know Us’ series this year, and this month three office volunteers of the Keystone Chapter are being spotlighted.

As February comes to a close, volunteers share their stories of how the Red Cross acts like a family for them and how this family environment keeps the Red Cross Keystone Chapter running smoothly and effectively.

Jill Rodgers is a woman of her community. She was born and raised in Johnstown, Pa., and wanted to continue to help out in the local area after she retired from her full-time position.
“The people of Pennsylvania keep paying my pension, so I want to give back for what I have gotten,” Rodgers said.

Prior to her retirement, one of Rodgers’ co-workers was a Red Cross volunteer, so Rodgers was recruited to come onboard the Keystone Chapter as soon as she finished her time in the workforce. She enjoyed how easy it was to volunteer with an organization like the Red Cross.

“It just felt like a familiar environment. It’s like a family. Everyone is really close together,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met an unfriendly person with the Red Cross. There has always been someone that I am glad to be around.”

In her five years with the organization, Rodgers has done everything she can to help out the local chapter. Because she has struggled with various health issues and she cannot drive at night or long distances, she is somewhat limited on what tasks she can perform for the Red Cross.
But her limitations do not mean she does less for the organization.

Rodgers has done everything she can to help the Keystone Chapter grow. She works as a receptionist, assists the bulk mailing coordinator with in-house mailing, helps out with special events and programs and conducts research for the organization when needed.

Rodgers has accumulated many long hours of volunteer work since her retirement, but is very humble about what she has personally done to give back to the community. On the other hand, her pride is held in being a part of a generous organization.

“Taking calls from victims of fires and families of military personnel always touches me,” Rodgers said. “I am glad that there is an organization that can help such people.”

February Volunteer Spotlight: Keystone Chapter (Part 1 of 3)


By Sean Corrado, Intern

The local Red Cross in Western Pennsylvania is highlighting the extraordinary work taking place throughout the region with a volunteer ‘Get to Know Us’ series this year, and this month three office volunteers of the Keystone Chapter are being spotlighted.

As February comes to a close, volunteers share their stories of how the Red Cross acts like a family for them and how this family environment keeps the Red Cross Keystone Chapter running smoothly and effectively.

Seth Wilson, 51, immediately found a home with the Red Cross when he first walked into the organization more than 14 years ago.

He was laid off in 2000 and was not anxious to jump back into the workforce. One morning, Wilson was watching TV and saw a Red Cross advertisement urging local residents to volunteer for the Keystone Chapter. He thought that volunteering with the Red Cross would be the perfect way to utilize his free time, meet new people and give back to the community.

Wilson, who was born and raised in Johnstown, Pa., dialed the Red Cross and inquired about volunteering. Shortly after the conversation ended, he was already training for a new, exciting position: receptionist.

While some employees or volunteers may find the position uneventful and not satisfying, Wilson redefined the opportunity as one of the most integral pieces to the organization. He speaks to countless new people every day and puts forth an effort to get to know exactly who he is talking to and how he can make a positive impact on that person’s day.

Other volunteers in the office say he speaks with a warm, energetic tone, almost as if every word he says comes out of a full cheek-to-cheek smile. He takes time to ensure that all Red Cross needs are met and that nothing else is preventing someone from having a good day.

Eventually, Wilson had to go back out into the job market and took a few temporary positions with various companies for about three years. These positions demanded a huge portion of Wilson’s time, yet he still found time to do what he could at the Keystone Chapter.

“I befriended so many people over the years,” Wilson said, “so I never wanted to fully stop my time with the Red Cross.”

But he had to temporarily step back from the Red Cross in 2006. Wilson’s experience with handling phone calls at the Red Cross helped him land a full-time job performing advanced phone work for a large company. He credits the Red Cross for helping him enhance his communication skills to a professional level and begin a new chapter in his life.

Although he could no longer take time to volunteer for the Red Cross, he never considered his time with the organization to be over.

In 2010, Wilson was laid off again and began to struggle with some personal health issues, but once he was able to work again, he knew where he wanted to return.

“The Red Cross was always a kind and stable thing to come back to,” Wilson said. “It has been the backbone to my life for many years.”

Wilson is retired now and is volunteering full time with the Keystone Chapter. He does whatever the Red Cross needs and makes sure he goes above and beyond to ensure that everyone he encounters leaves with a smile on his or her face.

Disaster Response: Oil City Flooding

OIL CITY, Pa. An ice jam along the Oil River in Oil City has caused minor street flooding, and local emergency management officials have evacuated numerous homes and a senior apartment complex along the river.

The local American Red Cross opened a shelter for displaced residents at the Seventh Street Elementary School in Oil City last night. Four residents sought refuge in the shelter overnight.

The evacuation order remains in effect at the time, and the shelter will remain open until further notice. Red Cross disaster assessment teams will be out in the community later today to assess any flood-caused damage to homes.

Any individuals who have been evacuated due to the flooding, are welcome to seek refuge at the shelter. For more information on the local Red Cross, visit

The Empowerment of Being Red Cross Ready – #PrepareWPA


As Youth Preparedness Week comes to an end, it is important to reflect and make sure each bullet point on the Be Red Cross Ready Checklist is checked off.

Be Red Cross Ready Checklist:

  • I know what emergencies or disasters are most likely to occur in my community
  • I have a family disaster plan and have practiced it
  • I have an emergency preparedness kit
  • At least one member of my household is trained in First Aid and CPR/AED
  • I have taken action to help my community prepare

If each of the above are checked off, it is safe to say that you have completed the three-step process in preparing for possible disasters. You now:

Have a Kit. At minimum have the basic supplies (water, food, cell phone chargers) the entire family or household

Made a Plan. Plan what to do in case you are separated during an emergency and what do to if you have to evacuate.

Are Informed. Learn what disasters or emergencies may occur in your area.

These three steps do more than just prepare you with safety tips and goals. When you are Red Cross Ready, you give yourself peace of mind.

Natural disasters and human-caused disasters can strike suddenly, at any time and anywhere. Knowing that you and your family are prepared to handle these emergencies provides a sense of comfort as well as strength.

You find comfort in knowing each household member is on the same page when it comes to potential crisis. You find strength in knowing you have done everything in your power to prepare for disasters and knowing you will be able to make the best of any unfortunate situation.

You are now more prepared for any sudden emergency. You are now Red Cross Ready.

For a full list of recommended items and more information on being prepared for disasters, visit:

Step 3: Be Informed – #PrepareWPA


Written By: Sean Corrado, Intern

The best way to be prepared for any kind of disaster is to know as much as you can before it happens. That is why it is imperative to complete the final step in being Red Cross Ready – Be Informed.

Households should learn what disasters or emergencies may occur in the area. These unfortunate situations could include family disasters, such as a medical emergency or house fire, or community-wide emergencies, like a flood or an earthquake.

After you learn what kinds of disasters you may face, there are a few more questions you should be able to find the answers to:

How will local authorities notify you during a disaster? Whether it is through local radio, television or online, you should know the easiest way to access potential urgent information in a time of need.

What is the difference between multiple weather alerts, like watches and warnings? You should know what each alert means in your community and what actions to take in each of them.

What actions will you take to protect yourself during a disaster in an unfamiliar area? If you are traveling or new to an area, make sure you take the time to research the area and its resources. Do not let unfamiliarity in a new community plague your safety.

Who is going to act quickly if immediate aid is required? When a major disaster occurs, your community can change in an instant. Loved ones may need care and emergency response will most likely be delayed. Make sure that someone in the household is trained in First Aid and CPR and knows how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Who else knows the answers to these questions? Share what you know with your friends, family and neighbors and encourage them to “Be Informed”.

Once you complete Step 3 and gather as much knowledge as you can for potential emergency situations, you are now Red Cross Ready!

For a full list of recommended items and more information on being prepared for disasters, visit:

Step 2: Make a Plan – #PrepareWPA

It does not take too much time to draw up a quick plan in case of an emergency!

It does not take too much time to draw up a quick plan in case of an emergency!

Written By: Sean Corrado, Intern

Disasters do not tend to give fair warning prior to their arrival. In most cases, people don’t have the chance to develop an evacuation route, prepare an escape destination or even chose an emergency contact. It is the sudden arrival of disasters that prompts panic and, in turn, creates the most damage. Therefore, it is important to follow the second step of being Red Cross Ready – Make a Plan.

There are four actions a household should take in advance to a threat of disaster:

– Meet with all family or household members to collaborate as a team
– Discuss how to prepare and respond to emergencies most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play
– Learn how and where to turn off utilities like natural gas, water and electricity
– Identify and divide responsibilities for each member of the household

First, every household should choose two places to meet in case of a disaster. One meeting spot should be right outside your home in case of an immediate disaster, like a house fire. The other location should be outside of your neighborhood, just in case you cannot return home or the area must be evacuated.

Next, choose a person to contact in case of an emergency and fill out an Emergency Contact Card. The contact should be out-of-area because it may be easier to text or call long distance if local phone lines are out of service. Keep the Emergency Contact Card with each household member and program the information into your cell phones.

Finally, decide where you and your family would go and what route you would take to get there. Safe places for your destination could include a nearby hotel, the home of a relative or an evacuation shelter. Practice your plan twice a year and plot alternate routes on your map in case roads are impassable.

Once you plan ahead, you are another step closer to being Red Cross Ready!

For a full list of recommended items and more information on being prepared for disasters, visit:

Step 1: Make a Kit – #PrepareWPA


Written By: Todd Smith, Volunteer

When a natural disaster strikes, our attention needs to be focused on getting somewhere safe. The last thing we should be worried about is what to bring. That is why it is important to be prepared. The first step to being Red Cross Ready – Get a Kit.

Let’s say you have five minutes to leave your home. If you have to figure out what to take with you in that time, it’s going to be stressful, especially when everything is spread throughout the house. So the solution is find some time beforehand, consolidate these items into a kit, and make sure your kit is easily accessible.

A kit can be as simple as a pillow case, but if you have backpack, that will be more comfortable. Your kit should not be heavy; you may have to travel extensively before arriving to a safe place.

What we should pack in our kit? Everybody’s kit will look different, but these are some of the essentials we recommend:

  • Food/Drink: Who knows how long it will be until you eat your next meal. So it is important to pack non-perishable foods that will provide plenty of nutrients and calories. Energy bars are a great example. They are light and take up little space. Dried fruits are good, too. In addition, you should have water. They say you should have a gallon of water a day per person. If you have a pet, then you should pack extra fluids and pet food.
  • Documents: Bring some form of identification, such as copies of your license or passport. In addition, you should include a list of contact phone numbers. The Red Cross recommends having three numbers: family member, friend and relative. Most people have phone numbers stored in their phone, but what happens if your phone is out of battery? You should also pack cash, since banks and ATMs may be affected during a disaster. It is important to safeguard all the documents in a plastic bag (example: zip lock bag) to keep them dry.
  • Clothing: Who knows what the weather will be? It is important to have extra clothes to keep you warm and dry. An extra pair of socks, a blanket, gloves, a warm hat and/or a poncho will come in handy when it is cold and wet outside.
  • Utilities: You are without electricity and it may be dark outside, so you should pack a flashlight and some extra batteries, too. A crank flashlight comes in handy as it doesn’t require batteries – it something to consider for your kit. Additionally, make sure to pack a First Aid kit, to prepare for any potential injuries who or someone in your family may incur. In addition to a First Aid kit, it’s important to bring your medications with you – a week’s worth is the recommendation.
  • Entertainment: Once you have made it to safety, there may be a lot of waiting. This can get boring, so pack a deck of cards or bring a book. It’s good to have something that keeps you occupied.

Now that you have an idea of what a kit may consist of, it’s time to make your own. You will appreciate that you took the time to get one together. A disaster is not an everyday happenstance, so it’s a good idea to update your kit at least two times each year.

For a full list of recommended items and more information on being prepared for disasters, visit:

Don’t forget, we want to hear about your family’s preparedness kit! Share stories and/or pictures with us using social media and the hashtag #PrepareWPA.

Today Begins Youth Preparedness Week – Do you have a family plan? #PrepareWPA

Written By: Anna Drenning, Youth Volunteer Specialist, American Red Cross Western Pennsylvania Region
Anna Drenning and two members of the National Youth Council (Taylor Waters and Eddie Zitnik). The National Youth Council is made up of youth leaders of the Red Cross.

Anna Drenning and two members of the National Youth Council (Taylor Waters and Eddie Zitnik). The National Youth Council is made up of youth leaders of the Red Cross.

Happy Youth Preparedness Week, Red Crossers!

Today we not only celebrate the life of an inspirational and selfless man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we celebrate the beginning of Youth Preparedness Week.

As many around the country engage in acts of service today, I invite you and your family to take today, and this entire week, to become better prepared for emergencies and disasters. The impact of taking a few small steps to be prepared can truly be life-saving AND life-changing.

Encourage the youth in your lives to be leaders in helping your family and community become more resilient. Today, sit down with youth in your family and discuss disasters and emergencies that can happen your area. Over the next several days, encourage them to help you gather items for your family preparedness kit, think of ideas for your family plan and ways you can all be better informed.

Already have a family plan? That’s great! Take time this week to practice your plan and revisit your family information to make sure everything is up to date. And then, SHARE the information you have with someone else or another family.

Be part of the movement. Let’s work together, as a team, to build a more resilient community so that we can be prepared for anything that comes our way!

How can you begin the journey to being prepared? Visit: for more information and the steps to being Red Cross Ready: 1) Get a Kit, 2) Make a Plan, 3) Be Informed

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.