Red Cross training coming to the area

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Tue., Feb. 26, 2013
Workers load breakfasts into the Emergency Response Vehicles, for responders helping with the tornadoes in Massachusetts. Approximately 20 people stayed up all night and cooked a fresh, hot breakfast for the first responders. Photo courtesy of Doreen Brown. - Contributed Photo

When disaster strikes, we can usually count on the American Red Cross to be on the scene distributing food, water and care packages, and tending to those in need. The large white blood collection trucks can be found at houses of worship, hospitals, social halls and just about anywhere else a blood drive can be put into operation. The organization is a familiar and comforting presence, and yet many people do not truly know what a vital role it plays in the community.

On Wednesday, March 13, the American Red Cross will hold a volunteer orientation session in Stafford Springs at 1 p.m. “The orientation and training in Stafford will acquaint potential volunteers with the full range of Red Cross services, as well as our mission and values,” said Paul Shipman, chief communication officer with the American Red Cross. “They will get an overview of our local activities here in Connecticut and Rhode Island, where we respond to an average of more than 700 local disasters each year and provide life safety training and community disaster education to approximately 300,000 people each year. Volunteers will also have an opportunity to learn more about the blood donation process and how they can help with blood drives,” he said.

“I first became involved as a volunteer with the Red Cross in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit,” said Doreen Brown, of Ashford. “I took an advertised mass-care training class for big disasters, then went down to Biloxi, Mississippi, for two weeks before Christmas as a Disaster Action Team member.”

Brown said a good deal of her work involved cooking meals for volunteers helping out in the area and distributing meals to area residents impacted by the hurricane from an Emergency Response Vehicle.

“We also spent time driving around the area, talking to people and finding out what they needed,” said Brown. “You’d be surprised how much it means to people who have been in a disaster just to have someone listen to you and allow you to vent. It can be very calming for people.”

Shipman said it is important for people to know that there are Red Cross volunteer opportunities for every age and ability, and in-depth training is available in many areas, such as disaster response, first aid, Certified Nurse Assistant training, and lifeguard training, to name just a few.  “Don’t worry about whether you have disaster response skills or familiarity with Red Cross blood drives. We can give you the training you need to become an active volunteer and can offer opportunities for a wide range of time commitments,” he said.

Brown said the variety of opportunities is one of the best things about volunteering with the American Red Cross. Since becoming a volunteer, she has taken a number of classes and is now trained to be a shelter manager. She has participated in disaster simulations, including one held at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, where she learned how to deal with radiation contamination in the case of a nuclear plant leak. As a Red Cross volunteer, she has provided hot food and coffee at a train derailment in Willimantic, dispensed mops and buckets for cleanup with a flooding situation in Griswold, and has helped many individual families with temporary housing after a fire left them homeless.

“There was a situation in one Connecticut town where a mom had been away for the weekend and her house burned down while she was gone,” said Brown. “The family lost everything. We came in and got a place for her young adult children who were living at home find a place to stay, and we got them clothing and shoes. We met up with the mother when she came back, and she pulled up with all she could salvage from the fire packed in her car. It was very emotional. They were so grateful for our help. People have to be there for people in need,” said Brown.

“Volunteers are the heart and soul of the American Red Cross. Local volunteers are part of their communities and are able to use their training to quickly respond to emergencies,” said Shipman. “They are the compassionate presence of the Red Cross when a family loses their home to a fire, when someone seeks shelter from a storm, when a military spouse reaches out for help, or when someone steps forward to make a donation of lifesaving blood.”

“The American Red Cross is a great organization to volunteer for. At times it definitely is the hardest volunteer job we love to do,” said Brown. “We work hard together, cry together, train together, and hold each other up along the way until whatever the job may be is done.”

Pre-enrollment for the Stafford session is required. To get started, visit and click on “Adult (or Youth) Volunteer Application.”

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