My Year So Far

Hey my name is Grant and I’m an NPRC member here in New Orleans. There’s about three months left in my term, and its been a great year. My favorite part about working with the Red Cross has been working with the Disaster Action Team, or DAT. Most of the time working with DAT means responding to fires in and around the New Orleans metro area. We respond to fires and work with the affected families so they can start their recovery. We can help by giving money for food and clothing or other essential items. We can also put the family in a hotel for a few days if they can’t stay with family or friends. This is amazing because it gives the family a little time to plan out their next move and start the process of recovery. My house burned down when I was in seventh grade, and without friends and family around to help we would have been lost. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that experience without having close ties to anyone in the area. Through meeting each family’s immediate needs at the scene of the fire and following up throughout their recovery process, I really feel like I am making a huge difference in this community. Also, another focus of this term has been working to add new shelters and updating records on existing shelters for our region in case of a natural disaster. In the event of a hurricane this upcoming season, I will be able to rest easy knowing that thousands of people have a safe place to stay due in part to my efforts this year.

AmeriCorps is serving here!

AmeriCorps is serving here!

NOLA NPRC Members with our resident DAT Captain and “Canteen Queen.” Application time is only a month away! For more information about signing up for a year of service with the NPRC (not just in New Orleans), call (504) 620-3182 or e-mail Carolanne.Fernandez@RedCross.org

Behind the Scenes in Volunteer Services

Hello, loyal (and new) readers! Carolanne here!

I wanted to take a few moments to talk about the behind-the-scenes work that is done by the Volunteer Services Department. There are big changes going on and our plan takes a great deal of planning, execution and follow-up. Typically the sort of Red Cross work that comes to mind goes along with the unofficial AmeriCorps motto “boots on the ground,” but a lot of the work done in Volunteer Services is never seen. The work being done, however, means that we’re able to get those boots on the ground in the first place. The AmeriCorps NPRC Members are playing a big role in these changes.

Last year was a (pleasantly) quiet hurricane season here in Louisiana, which gave us the chance to regroup and really put some thought into planning for the future. While we hope that the quickly approaching 2014 hurricane season will be just as peaceful, you can never be too careful. In order to be able to respond both pre and post disaster, we need to know our volunteer base. How many volunteers would we need to effectively respond to a Category 1 storm? What about a Category 3? Category 5? You need people to talk to work staffing, logistics, public relations- you need multiple shelter workers on multiple shifts at who knows how many locations, plus people to take their place every so often so your volunteers get a day off. You need volunteers to cook and give out food, volunteers that represent the ARC in meetings with other organizations, volunteers to recruit, fundraise and complete a myriad of other tasks. Long story short- we need a lot of volunteers. Bold, underlined and exclamation point. The more local volunteers we have trained, ready and willing to help, the more time and money we can put to our community- it means flying in less people from other parts of the country and lets the local people run the local disaster.

Right now we have about 1,200 volunteers in Southeast Louisiana. What we are undertaking between now and June 1st (the beginning of hurricane season) is a complete overhaul of our volunteer database. That means reaching out to every single one of those 1,200 volunteers. We’re confirming information we already have (such as correct contact information), figuring out who is a disaster responder, what roles each person would like to play and what training courses are missing. In addition to that information, we are simultaneously linking every volunteer profile with their Red Cross training account, cleaning up and creating opportunities and making sure that every one of volunteers has current Red Cross identification.

It’s a lot of work, right? It might not be the most interesting project or the most public or entertaining, but what the team is working on right now is priceless. Once this overhaul is complete, we will know exactly how many volunteers we have, what groups we need to recruit for, what trainings to offer our community and we will be ready for anything. This is the building block for every other change coming to Volunteer Services, from logging hours to recognizing volunteers for their contributions in new and exciting ways to using our website as a hub of information for each disaster career path. I think that this is a beautiful beginning to using our database and our volunteers to their greatest potential.

Working hand in hand with other departments, we will be engaging these volunteers in many new events, including our upcoming (and first annual) Hurricane Drill. We will also use the information we gather to create new ways to keep our volunteers engaged and fresh. For example, our Mardi Gras volunteers can have the chance to practice their first aid skills during other city-wide festivals and our Red Cross Clubs can take on a DAT group of their own.

Great things are happening behind the scenes here in South Louisiana. It is an amazing feeling to be part of something so big and useful. While the first step of this (the clean-up of our system) will be done during this AmeriCorps term, there will be a lot to be done afterwards. Will you be part of the Volunteer Services drive to be better prepared, have a better relationship with our volunteers and engage our community?

To volunteer or find out more about becoming an AmeriCorps NPRC Member, contact me at (504) 620-3182 or at Carolanne.Fernandez@RedCross.org

Mardi Gras: Laissez les bon temps rouler

…et le travail portent leurs fruits.

Pardon my (possibly incorrect?) French, but just wanted to let you know that Mardi Gras is upon us! Mr. Shawn, one of our Red Cross volunteers who comes into the office every Thursday, has been talking about the carnival season since we got here in August, yet it still seemed to sneak up on us!

New Orleans NPRC members Julie and Grant  have been to Mardi Gras before, but NPRC members Ursula and Amanda are new to the sights, sounds, and smells (yes, those too) of New Orleans’ Carnival season. Mardi Gras with the Red Cross has been a unique experience, as Lou Kennedy, Volunteer Services Director, promised in the interview for the NPRC position.  The Southeast Louisiana Red Cross sets up first aid tents at specific points along parade routes for the larger parades in New Orleans, with teams of volunteers walking on foot offering basic first aid in certain sections. These tents and foot teams are meant to assist (but not replace) EMTs and Paramedics on the ground in highly congested areas during the parades, to alleviate pressure on the emergency medical infrastructure. There were over 325 shifts comprised of volunteers trained in first aid and first responders over the course of a week and a half, in addition to staffing and logistic shifts. Mardi Gras is a huge undertaking for the SELA Red Cross and there was a great deal of planning and work that went into Mardi Gras: ensuring that the tents had the appropriate permits from the city, transporting medical supplies, ordering T-shirts for volunteers, making sure Red Cross vehicles were all in top notch condition, even arranging bathroom facilities for volunteers at the tents… The list goes on! While we did see other parts of the larger picture, the NPRC were primarily involved in volunteer recruitment and staffing, as well as working shifts at the first aid tents themselves. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Red Cross Mardi Gras is as impressive as any multi-story float or perfectly synchronized drumline.

Some general first impressions and recommendations:

  • Planning a large-scale special event like Mardi Gras can be very similar to planning a disaster operation, including amassing a trained and dedicated workforce and deploying them in shifts as needed. In the weeks and months before Mardi Gras, we had been contacting volunteers all over southeast Louisiana who had done the first aid tents in the past by phone and email (everything short of carrier pigeon). The NPRC from Baton Rouge also came down and helped out at with the first aid stations, along with some other volunteers from Baton Rouge and other parts of Louisiana. We had been recruiting heavily during past tabling events and through the Red Cross College Cubs at local universities and community colleges. It’s a fun experience, and we get many repeat first aid volunteers, but it’s also an understandably busy time of the year, with friends, family and acquaintances dropping in to visit. Without these amazing volunteers that are willing to get trained, show up for shifts, and help people, these first aid tents wouldn’t be possible. A thousand thanks to them all! (and sorry for all the voicemails we left).
  • Finding volunteers was one thing, but ensuring that everyone is first aid trained and has current certification is also important. During February, there was a big push to get people trained or re-certified in First Aid; Carolanne and Grant also taught a First Aid class to some new volunteers! Keeping everyone and their certification status, shift assignments, and volunteer database profiles organized is a challenge. We used multiple spreadsheets, google docs, and rosters.  So. Many. Spreadsheets.   
  • Catch the throws (or they will hit you). Julie’s least favourite part of Mardi Gras are the beaded necklaces, cups, doubloons, and other things lobbed from the floats at the audience. While an awesome souvenir of the experience, these “throws” may be more accurately called “fast moving and often hard projectiles aimed at your head” (but that’s understandably too long). Because the first aid tents are located right on the parade routes, the first aid tents get quite a few throws.  Catch or duck.
  • Have fun! After all the preparation and hard work that goes into Mardi Gras, it’s a good feeling to see the tents and supplies in place, staffing volunteers checking people in at the beginning and end of parades, and volunteers in Red Cross T-shirts assisting people at the stations. When you’re at the first aid station, enjoy the decorations of the floats, the costumes of the Krewes, as well as the music and theatrics of the marching band. Talk to your fellow volunteers; they all have interesting backgrounds and ended up with the Red Cross in different ways. Take pride in the first aid and comfort that you are able to give people; what you do matters and people appreciate it. Of course, things may come up last minute, but hey, you all work in disaster response and management, you’ll handle it!  

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!

Hello from the NPRC Supervisor!

DoS:Katrina Anniversary 2012

DoS:Katrina Anniversary 2012


Hello, all!
It sure has been a long time since this blog was updated! Well, this year I aim to bring this blog back to life with the help of the New Orleans NPRC team. Hopefully we will have guest bloggers from the other Louisiana teams as well!

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Carolanne and I’m the Volunteer Specialist for Southeast Louisiana. I am also the supervisor for the New Orleans NPRC team. I started shortly before our most recent term and I’ve been learning a lot. I grew up in New Jersey (North, if you’re from the state) and earned a degree in Social Work from a small college there. I came to New Orleans on a relief trip and fell in love with the city. I worked with the St. Bernard Project and discovered the world of AmeriCorps. In 2011 I became an AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) Member for Class XVII. My campus was located in Perry Point, Maryland. The first time I responded to a disaster was as a Corps Member- a tornado in Springfield, Massachusetts. I fell in love with emergency management and response. After my term, I changed it up a little and spent a year working with delinquent teenagers in California. I then spent a second year in AmeriCorps NCCC, this time as a Team Leader for the brand new FEMA Corps. I was based in the Southern Region (Vicksburg, Mississippi). Being a TL for the first class of FEMA Corps in the nation was the most stressful, difficult year I’ve ever had, but I would do it again in a second. The things I learned and experienced that year are invaluable. My team worked many disasters, starting with Hurricane Isaac, followed by Hurricane Sandy and six winter storms, then finally ending with the Boston Marathon bombings. I graduated in June of 2013, moved to New Orleans and started working for the Red Cross.

I’m a new supervisor. It’s a learning process, I know. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I’m doing or I mess up my wording or I’m unsure of myself. I’m quick to remind my Corps Members that I’m new at this and ask for their patience. But I care a great deal about this program and believe in its benefits and its future. I love everything AmeriCorps and I’ve picked up a lot of Ameri-knowledge along the way. I love Days of Service and volunteering, so I want to give the team as many opportunities to get involved in New Orleans as possible. I know the tough parts of being an AmeriCorps Members so I try to stress out the Corps Members the least amount possible and give them as much time off to enjoy themselves as is realistic. I love personal development and team builders and even though I’m still learning the ins and outs of New Orleans myself, I want to encourage the NPRC Members to inflate their resumes and set themselves up for the future as much as they possibly can over their 11 months of service. I’m still working out the bugs of the program, learning about new projects and picking up ideas as I go, but I think that everyone reading this should consider joining the team. The team this year (I call them Class 1 in my head) and I are going to carve out a comfortable place for you. We’re already working on the details, the guides, the suggestions and the tips already!

It’s been a long, crazy 6 months since I started. I’m incredibly proud of the New Orleans Corps Members (and the other 7 members in Louisiana) and I feel lucky to be part of this chapter. Like any job, there are challenges. Sometimes I feel like I’m going in blind since I’m just as new to NPRC as the members this year, but I think that we’re a good team. At first everything was training and shadowing, but now they’re leading dispatch for our Disaster Action Team, getting great feedback while deployed on disaster, giving pillowcase presentations to local students, and founding / running College Clubs. I absolutely believe that this group is going to leave their mark for the next term, which is will be strong, better and more fun than any before. Below I’m going to share a few (of what are my favorite) highlights of the first half of the year.

If you have any questions about the program, are in search of the right AmeriCorps experience for you, want to know more about the city, or just want to say hello, I encourage you to reach out to us. You can get in touch with me by phone at (504) 620-3182 or through e-mail at Carolanne.Fernandez@RedCross.org. You can follow the team on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/nprcLA.

Highlights (in no particular order):
1) The team came back with tons of stories and friendships from their week in Washington, D.C., where they met all of the other new NPRC members from across the country.
2) Sleeping on cots in a conference room of the Baton Rouge office for the 2nd week of training. It was great eating together, bonding and doing the kind of ice breakers that end up with at least 2 people in tears.
3) Our first Day of Service- the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We got together with Baton Rouge and helped repaint a house in the city. Shuniqua (the Volunteer Specialist in Baton Rouge and supervisor of the BR team) and I presented everyone with gold AmeriCorps shirts with the logo in the middle of the chest (like a superhero). Our pictures that day are bright and cheery!
4) Deploying to Colorado. That was long and complicated time, but well worth it. I responded with 2 CMs from NOLA and 2 CMs from BR. It was beautiful there. I will always remember the moment when Amanda and I walked out of the Denver airport and took our first breath of crisp, clear air in three months (no offense, New Orleans). We day off in the Rocky Mountain National Park is my favorite day.
5) Our Introduction to Humanitarian Law class. I’m sure not everyone feels so great about it, but I found it amazing! Long discussions about our duty as citizens and as countries, about controversial topics and what the Red Cross was founded on (and how those roles have adapted since)? Sign me up!
6) Becoming a certified Red Cross Chapter with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Points of Light Institute! Now I can present our Corps Members with the President’s Volunteer Service Award (http://www.presidentialserviceawards.gov/index.cfm).
7) My first DAT response (I was shadowing with Julie). It was eye-opening.
8) My first time as a DAT dispatcher. I feel like I understand the role of NPRC so much better now. It’s a hard job and I have a lot of respect for the team!
6) Looking forward to future volunteer experiences (we try to do AT LEAST 1 a month). This month we’re partnering with the Coalition to Preserve Coastal Louisiana and taking boats deep into Jean Lafitte National Park to plant trees. Next month we’re participating in a Kaboom! build here in New Orleans.
7) Learning to drive the ERV. Thomas took us on what I can only call an obstacle course through the city- from the pot-hole filled roads on the outskirts of the city to the highway where people don’t use their blinkers to driving down Bourbon Street, full of people and cars parked on both sides of the road. It was scary but I am much more comfortable behind the wheel of an ERV now and know that I could take it anywhere in the city if we need to canteen.
8) Baking 20 dozen cookies with Amanda, Julie and Ursula for our annual Cookie Drop (a project organized by NPRC in which we thank our city’s firefighters by delivering cookies to all 31 fire stations). We made them FROM SCRATCH!
9) Bringing some life to the Volunteer Services side of the office with photos, charts and maps! It’s much homier now =]
10) Finally taking the chapter’s intake queue down to 1 page (this is a personal one, but it’s too exciting now to share)!!!! Now Julie is helping me clear up the groups. It’s not very exciting but it immensely satisfying once you’re finished.

ATTENTION ALL POTENTIAL 2012-2013 RED CROSS NPRC APPLICANTS

First of all, we’re excited that you’re interested in the Red Cross National Preparedness and Response Corps AmeriCorps program!   Applications will be available soon (on www.americorps.gov) and we’re sure some of you may have questions about the program or even just the application process in general.  Confession: we don’t keep up with this blog as well as we should (in case you couldn’t tell…), so if you would like to contact us with any questions or just to learn more about the program, your best bet is to contact us on Twitter @arc_nola_nprc or you can email us:

Community Outreach:

Erin – erin.bernhard@redcross.org

Jane – jane.bowler@redcross.org

Volunteer Services:

Lisa Dahlke – lisa.dahlke@redcross.org

Angel Elza – angel.elza@redcross.org

Emergency Services:

Aimee – aimee.mankins@redcross.org

In addition to our Monday-Friday office jobs, all five of us are part of the Disaster Action Team and have worked on national disaster relief operations, so feel free to ask us about that stuff, too!

We hope to hear from you!  Good luck!

Erin: Mardi Gras Madness and Lisa Dahlke Appreciation

This weekend is the first of the two big weekends of Mardi Gras and I couldn’t be more excited!  I can’t wait to see what all the hype is about and to experience the parades that I’ve heard so much about.   For the past several years, the Red Cross has assisted EMS by providing first aid stations at the parades.  By handling the smaller injuries, we free up EMS to respond to major health threats and emergencies.  This year, around 100 volunteers will work at nearly fifty stations over the course of the next two weekends.   Coordinating an effort of this magnitude takes an incredible amount of work and time, and props go to those here that have worked tirelessly for countless hours to pull the first aid stations off without a hitch, especially Lisa (she’s one of the NPRC members, but you might not know that since she never blogs *cough cough*).   Actually, the truth is that Lisa has been so busy lately working on the Mardi Gras stations that she hasn’t had time to blog.  In fact, most of the time she doesn’t even have time to break for lunch.  She has stayed late after work almost every day over the past week or so and has put in more than a handful of weekend hours as well.   Her hard work has been and will continue to be key to the success of the Red Cross first aid stations and it is greatly appreciated!   Awesome job, Lisa!  Thank you for all that you do!

Lisa practicing her splinting skills on me at our first aid training this past weekend.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 72 other followers