Berrien has 45 Red Cross instructors

Published 1:31 pm Thursday, May 25, 2006

By Staff
Over the years, the American Red Cross has continued to make additions to its humanitarian mission, sensing emerging needs - usually before the government or other agencies - and responding with new and unique services. In its early years, the American Red Cross introduced first aid training, then water safety training and public health nursing programs. All of this set the stage for what has become one of our most important roles - helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Prevention and preparation have long been shown to have far-reaching impact on reducing the severity of disasters in a community, both economically and emotionally.
Here in Berrien County, the local Chapter offers health and safety training to the community 72 times a year and has 45 independent instructors teaching Red Cross courses at their place of employment each year. Have you been to a local pool or beach with a lifeguard on duty? Most likely the lifeguard was trained by Red Cross.
The American Red Cross has been active in our nation for 123 years - 89 here in Berrien County. That is a long time for any organization to survive, let alone stay vital and relevant to people's lives. But the American Red Cross, for all its history and tradition, has never stood still - it has always evolved and adapted to the needs of the times and the American people.
Our long history with the military is a perfect example. Although the Red Cross is not part of the U.S. government, we were chartered by Congress in 1905. Part of that charter gives the Red Cross the responsibility for being a vehicle of communication between service members and their families - something Clara Barton started by writing letters for the wounded during the Civil War. It's a service we provide even today, but in a much more sophisticated manner. Red Cross caseworkers are on call 24 hours a day every day of the year for local military families with emergencies, providing fast and accurate information to those overseas.
For the first half of our history, it was the Red Cross nurse, providing care and comfort to the troops, that was perhaps the most recognized symbol of Red Cross service. During World War I, for example, the Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to care for the wounded. The Red Cross was one of the first to diversify its nursing work force, with Frances Reed Elliott becoming the first African-American woman providing nursing services in July 1918.
Over time, the Armed Forces built up their own nursing staffs so that they were less dependent on Red Cross nurses. During World War II a new challenge arose, and the military turned to their old colleague, the Red Cross, to save lives in another way. What they needed was blood!
During the war, the military asked the Red Cross to develop methods to collect and store the large amounts of blood and plasma needed to treat the wounded. The Red Cross program, led by Dr. Charles Drew, was remarkably successful. By the war's end we had collected 13.4 million pints of blood from 6.6 million donors, all of which saved untold lives. The procedures that we created for the war made modern blood banking possible, and became the model for our civilian blood program. The Red Cross still provides the universally accepted Type O blood for military field hospitals when needed. So, even as the role of the wartime Red Cross nurse was beginning to fade, a new need arose, the Red Cross filled that need, and a new symbol of the Red Cross was born-the bloodmobile. And another war time effort was converted to peace time use.
Our local Chapter has spent over 50 years building a blood collection program for our County - recruiting churches, employers, schools and community groups to host blood drives and recruiting over 100 volunteers to help run the drives. The result is an average of 14 drives and 500 units collected each month, with volunteers again as the heart and soul of the program.
Angie LaVanway is executive director of the Berrien County Chapter of the American Red Cross
To many, the bloodmobile is synonymous with the Red Cross. Nationally, we collect and distribute just about half the nation's blood supply. But sometimes the impact of a blood transfusion received by one person really hits home. You may remember 12-year-old Kyle Zelmer (featured in the H-P in 2005) to whom the Red Cross provided anitbodies from 20,000 pints of blood — to save his life from a virus he could not fight alone. Kyle is a healthy and active teenager today thanks to Red Cross blood transfusions. Maintaining a safe and sufficient blood supply saves lives each and every day. Someone in America needs blood every two seconds, and that every time someone donates blood, up to three lives are saved - all by volunteer donors! An easy way to start making a real difference right now is to become a regular Red Cross blood donor.
The Red Cross is a huge, well-coordinated, surprisingly nimble organization, staffed mostly by volunteers, that has many different parts that all support one mission - to save lives. Most people think of the Red Cross as responding to major disasters like the gulf coast hurricanes, or international disasters like the tsunamis. However, we also respond to the immediate human needs that result from smaller, local disasters each week-most of them single or multi-family house fires. Berrien County averages about 75 single family home fires per year. Our local Chapter also helped 116 hurricane victims who evacuated to Berrien County after Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck in 2005. These stories did not make national news, but have great meaning to the people who are victims, their families and the surrounding community. The speed of their recovery and extent of their recovery affects the quality of life in our entire community.
Today's Berrien County Red Cross touches so many people in so many ways that few understand our real scope and impact. They don't realize that the local Chapter quietly helped 173 people here in Berrien that were victims of house fires last year. They don't realize the American Red Cross does most of the first aid, CPR and Lifeguard training in the area. So when you see your local pool has a trained lifeguard on duty, and someone where you work or go to school knows CPR, you can probably thank the Red Cross. Almost 5,000 people completed Red Cross health and safety training here each year, in subjects such as preventing disease transmission, preventing workplace violence, First Aid, oxygen administration and automated external defibrillator (AED) essentials and, of course, CPR.
The Red Cross knows that suffering knows no age or borders, and from the very beginning it has worked to provide relief to suffering all around the globe. This was never more evident than following the deadly tsunami in Asia and Africa. Americans stepped up swiftly and generously while the American Red Cross, as part of the 186-member International Red Cross-Crescent Society, provided water, water purification equipment, family tracing services and food and supplies to tsunami victims.
The Red Cross is also working with various governmental and nongovernmental partners in a campaign to immunize millions of African children against measles, a disease nearly forgotten in America, but still a deadly killer in other parts of the world. When the current program concludes this year, we will have helped immunize more than 200 million children and saved more than 1 million lives. Can you imagine what it feels like to know you played even a small part in saving the lives of a million children? That's why Red Cross volunteers do what they do — because they know through the Red Cross, they can help save a life.
The Red Cross begins saving lives long before disaster strikes by helping whole communities learn to prepare for disasters. In fact, the Red Cross is America's leader in disaster preparedness and prevention training. Nearly 15 million people enroll in American Red Cross Preparedness training every year. Here in Berrien County, over 40 clubs, civic groups and churches have completed Together We Prepare training and committed themselves to being better prepared for local weather and other disasters. The Chapter now has 102 Red Cross disaster team volunteers are trained and qualified to respond — not only to local disasters, but to national-level disasters like hurricanes.
Looking forward, we all agree that disasters are not going away. If anything, September 11th taught us that we need to continue to adapt and learn how to prepare for and respond to new and startling threats. We've learned that partnerships are the key to the futureathat we can do more and do it more efficiently when we do it together.
The Red Cross is partnering more and more with our fellow charities and other organizations to increase our outreach in ways we couldn't have imagined years ago. The Berrien Chapter serves with local fire departments, law enforcement, medics, The Volunteer Center, hospitals, public health and mental health agencies to make plans and practice responding to various types of disasters.
We're also partnering with government, particularly the County Emergency Management Department, with whom we've built a strong and dynamic relationship. Although the Red Cross is not a government agency, we are the only non-profit organization with a mandated role in the national response plan to provide care — food and shelter — to those affected by major disasters. That national plan trickles down to the local Red Cross Chapter providing food and shelter in the unlikely event of a local nuclear plant emergency.
We like to say that the Red Cross is always at its best when times are at their worst. This was true again last year, when the hurricanes came and the Red Cross was able to provide shelter for nearly 425,000 people and served more than 16 million meals. It's a great feeling, knowing that you played a role in the largest humanitarian response to a domestic natural disaster in Red Cross history. Fifty-four volunteers from Berrien County went to the gulf coast or Florida to work in the relief effort. They were trained and deployed by the local Chapter here in Berrien County. Disaster training for 102 individuals was provided free of charge by the Chapter.
We always have a place for more volunteers. The Berrien County Red Cross disaster training is free. You already know us — we're your friends, neighbors and family members. Get to know us a little better and find out what you can do to help us make Berrien County a safer, stronger, more resilient place to live.
In its 89th year, the Berrien County Chapter has much to celebrate — a high-quality team of volunteers, great strides made in training and equipping those volunteers, strong partnerships with public and private agencies who also have a responding role in disaster and unparalleled programs in training and blood collection to prepare for and prevent local emergencies. The challenges are maintaining and building those two program areas which support those provided free to those in need. Blood collections and Health and Safety training are two areas from which the Chapter receives a small amount of income. Without this revenue, United Way funding partnerships and gifts from private individuals, the Chapter could not exist. Disaster relief and military services must be provided free in keeping with national Red Cross policy.
In Berrien County we do not all look the same, dress the same, or sound the same, but we share a common spirit that binds us together when times are tough and unites us in action when someone is suffering. Like a mirror of America, our local American Red Cross shows us the best possible reflection of ourselves. In celebrating Red Cross Month, we are celebrating the humanitarian and voluntary spirit across America and right here in Berrien County. In the words, again, of President Ronald Reagan, "No one can predict when the next river will flood or the next storm will hit. No one can foresee the next threat to our nation's health. What is predictable is that we will face such threats and emergencies, and that the American Red Cross will be there to offer help and hope."