On the Front Lines Again: Veteran Volunteer Roberto Mendoza

Roberto Mendoza served as a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force (circa 1980).

The Red Cross is proud to acknowledge the large number of U.S. veterans who are choosing, once again, to serve on the front lines. Veteran volunteers are applying their unique, professional skills in a variety of ways during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history – whether fighting COVID or back-to-back disasters – as part of the Red Cross team.

Here in North Carolina, retired Air Force veteran Roberto Mendoza serves as Disaster Action Team Coordinator for the Cape Fear Area Chapter, which serves 12 counties in Eastern NC.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Roberto graduated from high school during the height of the Vietnam War and joined the Air Force in 1968. Robert’s dream career was aircraft maintenance, and he was fortunate to be sent to Shepard Air Force Base in Texas to attend technical school to complete this training.

Over the next several years, Roberto’s career took him from his first duty station in Kedena, Okinawa, to Thailand, where his squadron fought in the Vietnam War. The following years included deployments to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC (where he and wife Wenonah bought a house and currently reside).

Roberto spent much of his time in the Air Force as an aircraft maintenance instructor, and this is where he was introduced to the Red Cross. Instructors were required to become certified in CPR, and Roberto went on to teach CPR/AED and First Aid for the rest of his Air Force career. Roberto retired as a Master Sergeant after 20 years of service.

Today, Roberto serves on the Disaster Action Team (DAT), which provides emotional support, financial assistance, and information to families affected by house fires, floods, and other disasters. Volunteers on the team respond to emergencies within two hours, night or day, rain or shine, either on the scene or coordinating remotely to provide immediate compassion and care.

Roberto loves helping others in any way he can through the Red Cross, and he encourages other veterans to consider stepping up as a volunteer. “It’s an ideal fit, because as a Red Cross volunteer, you learn that things must be done in an orderly fashion, and that’s what the military teaches you,” he says. “In addition, veterans are accustomed to leaving their families from time to time, they are willing to go out and serve in the field when needed.”

During his free time, Roberto enjoys spending time with his family, photography, and flying drones. Thank you for your service, Roberto, and your continued commitment to your community.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with the Red Cross, click here.

Red Cross Has Always Been “Home” for this Volunteer

Vicky Wisnom works to send affected people out to area hotels after Hurricane Isaias in August 2020.

It was the start of the Gulf War in 1990, and after Vicky Wisnom donated blood late one evening after work, she knew she wanted to help more. A North Carolinian now, at the time she was living in Philadelphia, where many of the troops came through for Operation Desert Storm. “The day after I donated, I went to the Red Cross and asked: ‘What do you need me for?” The Red Cross then trained her as a case worker, leading her to volunteer for a range of tasks, such as participating at canteens. This volunteer work ended up turning into a long career for Wisnom. She switched from working in retail to a job in Red Cross’ Services to the Armed Forces Unit and has since come full circle to volunteering again.

Wisnom, who currently lives in Nash County, now volunteers as a blood ambassador, as well as during disasters for Eastern North Carolina Red Cross. She explains that disasters “picked me more than I picked it.” After her career with Services to the Armed Forces, for which she traveled and lived all over the globe, she wanted to help in a different capacity. Still, Wisnom will recall working with troops when you ask her to describe one of her most meaningful Red Cross volunteer memories.

Vicky deploys wiht a unit from Texas to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.

“Made me feel like I could give back”

She describes planes with troops landing at night in Philadelphia; when the Red Cross needed someone for a canteen at the airport she would go. “I thought about what these guys had been through. Here I am giving them a cup of coffee or a donut, and it made me feel like I could give something back to them,” she said. “You can’t imagine how much a hot cup of coffee can be appreciated.”

These days, volunteering with disaster recovery, Wisnom helps by getting information to those people who are affected and referring them to the appropriate agencies. “We make sure that they’re not sleeping on the side of the road and that they know where to go to get assistance.”

And as a blood ambassador, Wisnom works at blood drives, registering donors. Wisnom can’t count the number of times she’s donated blood herself, but she estimates that she’s donated “multiple gallons” of blood.

For all of Wisnom’s involvement with the Red Cross, she had only vaguely known of her family’s history of working with the Red Cross. She recently came across a photo of her father driving a blood truck as a volunteer for Red Cross in Brooklyn, where her family lived. “When I was little, I was unsure what he did, but I knew he and his parents were involved. Finding that picture was a gift.” Her paternal grandmother served as a Red Cross volunteer during both world wars and beyond (while her grandfather served in World War I). Wisnom adds, “I think that my grandparents would be proud of me.”

Above: A certificate and pin presented to Vicky’s grandmother, Olive Wisnom, for her service to the Red Cross during World War II. Vicky’s father, William F. Wisnom, volunteering for the Red Cross circa mid-1950s.

Always Have a Home

All of Wisnom’s frequent moving around working for Red Cross—from Philadelphia to Texas, Korea, back to Texas, Japan, Turkey, and Oklahoma—made her undaunted to finally settle after retiring in 2017 to North Carolina, where she didn’t know a soul. She had been ready to leave Oklahoma for a location that was closer to relatives in both the Northeast and Midwest.  “When I started volunteering with the Red Cross, it was like finding another family,” she explained. So, while Wisnom didn’t know anyone when she first moved to North Carolina, she added: “When you’re in the Red Cross, you always have a home.”

Become a Volunteer

Volunteers like Vicky make it possible for the Red Cross to respond to an average of 60,000 disasters each year. More than 25,000 volunteers support blood services. You, too, can make a difference. Visit redcross.org to learn how to become a volunteer in your area.

Story by Melissa Kaye| American Red Cross

Red Cross Delivers Relief to Hurricane Survivors in North Carolina

During the tornado, Keyarta and her children lost the family home her grandfather built 80 years ago. Keyarta and her daughter Azhiya shares their story and shows Northeastern NC Executive Director Mace Robinson the damage to their home.

Across the country, American Red Cross disaster responders have been working for weeks to help people affected by an unprecedented hurricane and wildfire season.  One of those hurricanes, Hurricane Isaias, made landfall in North Carolina spawning more than 23 tornadoes along with flooding and even fires as it moved north. It left a wake of devastation for several communities, took at least seven lives, and left about 3.7 million without power as it swept up the Eastern Seaboard.

The Red Cross swiftly mobilized trained disaster responders to aid impacted North Carolina residents. Along with our community partners, we provided a safe place to stay and food to eat for those seeking shelter from the storm. In addition, the Red Cross provided health services, relief items, comfort, and direct financial assistance to help as people plan their next recovery steps.

More than 100 homes were destroyed or sustained major damaged during the storm; one of those hit hardest was the city of Windsor, in Bertie County.  This rural community is very closely knit and has a strong local team of Red Cross volunteers who typically respond to local home fires, but now were supporting a large disaster in their small community.

Over the last two months, the Red Cross and our partners are provided emergency lodging, meals, relief supplies, and emotional support for survivors. To date, the Red Cross and our partners have:

  • Met with 78 families to provide financial assistance, referrals, and recovery planning.
  • Served more than 5,000 meals and snacks.
  • Distributed more than 2,960 supplies such as clean-up kits, brooms, rakes, gloves, and shovels.
  • Made more than 560 health, emotional, and spiritual care support contacts.
  • Responded with more than 258 trained disaster responders virtually and in the community

Right now, the Red Cross is responding to disasters with support, supplies, and compassion as affected communities assess the damage and attempt to return to daily life. Recovering from a disaster can be a challenging, emotionally draining and complicated process. Each family and community will have unique needs that require support.

Please donate to the Red Cross now to support hurricane relief wherever it is needed. Your gift to Hurricanes 2020 enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word HURRICANES to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Story and Photos by Cally Edwards | American Red Cross

From Blood Donation to Convalescent Plasma Donation: The Red Cross is in this Young Donor’s Blood

Kees Heetderks, left, with his friend Alexander Tanas at a blood drive while in high school.

Volunteering for the Red Cross is nothing new to 19-year-old Kees Heetderks. After all, as a junior in high school, he started to donate blood and organize Red Cross blood drives. Most recently, though, Heetderks became a convalescent plasma donor to help critically ill COVID-19 patients.

His desire to help fight the pandemic this way came after he and his family recovered from the disease. They all contracted COVID-19 starting last March: First, his 21-year-old brother felt ill after a trip to Copenhagen; Heetderks developed symptoms a week later. His father, a critical care physician at Wake Med who attended to COVID-19 patients, also became sick, along with his mother and younger sister. “My brother, sister, and I had flu like symptoms that lasted a few days,” said Heetderks, “My parents had a tougher time.”

He had been tested for COVID-19 at UNC and subsequently heard through UNC about the effort to collect convalescent plasma to help other COVID-19 patients. When he learned about the effort, he jumped at the chance to participate. “I wanted to help out,” he said. “For people who are fortunate enough to recover, it’s a great opportunity to help others.”

How It Works

Heetderks, who has donated blood about a half dozen times, said that his experience donating blood and donating plasma wasn’t all that different. An actual blood donation takes about 10 minutes, while donating plasma takes a bit longer—about 50 minutes. As a neuroscience major at Duke with a certification as an EMT, he was interested in the process. “It was cool to watch,” he said, adding that while the plasma donation was a bit tiring, he didn’t feel the lightheadedness that comes with donating blood. “I was able to exercise again pretty quickly.”

During a plasma donation, blood is drawn from an arm and sent through a high-tech machine that collects your plasma and then safely and comfortably returns your red cells back to you, along with some saline.

Doctors will then transfuse the donor’s convalescent plasma into a patient ill with COVID-19, providing antibodies that can help them improve—a treatment that can’t be manufactured.

“Great role model”

Heetderks says he’s been inspired to help the Red Cross from a young age through his grandfather, a longtime supporter. “He’s been a great role model,” said Heetderks. Also, Heetderks’ favorite teacher at East Chapel Hill High School served as head of the school’s Red Cross club, driving him and his best friend to participate. Now, Heetderks is head of the Red Cross club at Duke, while his friend is head of UNC’s Red Cross club. “We have friendly competitions now between our clubs,” he said, jokingly.  As head of the Duke Red Cross Club, he said he’s always looking for ways to promote Red Cross efforts.

Heetderks’ mother and brother are now also both donating their plasma. “It’s a great way to help,” he said. “Even if you’re afraid of needles, just realize how many people you can help out. Working together through drives, research, and donations, we can be a part of the fight against this virus.”

How to Help

Donors who have fully recovered from the new coronavirus have antibodies in their blood plasma to help protect against future infections. The Red Cross is working with the FDA to collect plasma from fully recovered coronavirus patients to provide to clinicians for patient care.

Eligible donors who complete the Donor Request form can make an appointment to donate convalescent plasma at a Red Cross or non-Red Cross collection site.

The Red Cross is encouraging individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate convalescent plasma by registering on RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4covid. Their donation may be able to help seriously ill coronavirus patients and provide hope to families. Individuals may qualify if they meet specific convalescent plasma and regular blood donation eligibility requirements:

  • Have a prior, verified diagnosis of COVID-19, but are now fully recovered and symptom free from COVID-19.
  • Are at least 17 years old and weigh 110 pounds. Additional weight requirements apply for donors age 18 or younger.
  • Are in good health and generally feel well, even if being treated for a chronic condition. View blood donation eligibility FAQ.

Story by: Melissa Kaye | American Red Cross

COVID 19: American Red Cross Works with Partners to Offer Spiritual Resources for Families Hit by Pandemic

Rev. Cameron Barr, United Church of Chapel Hill

Faith-based partners in Red Cross’s Virtual Family Assistance Center offer spiritual help

The United Church of Chapel Hill is one of the partner organizations working with the American Red Cross’s recently launched Virtual Family Assistance Center. The Red Cross launched the virtual center in order to offer an array of services for families struggling with loss and grief due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These services range from grief, to legal, to spiritual support. The United Church of Chapel Hill is one partner in the effort offering spiritual resources specifically.

“COVID-19 is requiring us to support one another and communities in ways that we hadn’t imagined,” said Reverend Cameron Barr of the United Church of Chapel Hill, a denomination of the United Church of Christ. “Local churches aren’t able to be present, but we want to find other ways to be there for folks during this difficult time. I appreciated that the Red Cross reached out to us with this opportunity to meet spiritual needs,” Barr said of the Virtual Family Assistance Center.

Barr said that as part of the effort, the Church is available to take calls and field questions from those in the community who need spiritual help during this difficult time. “Those calls may not only come from our particular congregation community, but also from others that need spiritual help that our community can provide.”

The Chapel Hill church, which holds the largest congregation of its faith in the Southeast, is not sponsoring in-person worship or memorial services during the pandemic. “Faith is dispersed with people in quarantine,” said Barr. “But if there are people who need to connect with the community, we want to be there for them.”

For spiritual help and questions, people can call the United Church of Chapel Hill at 919-942-3540. People can follow the United Church of Christ on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UnitedChurchofChrist or Instagram @unitedchurchofchrist.

Story by: Melissa Kaye | American Red Cross

Virtual Family Assistance Center-Providing Help and Hope

Amidst the stress and turmoil we are all facing during the COVD-19 pandemic, the Red Cross is providing a place of practical help and hope through our Virtual Family Assistance Center (VFAC). VFAC is staffed by volunteers trained in behavioral health, spiritual care, and health services who can provide immediate information and resources to callers in crisis.

We are offering several options for individuals experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19, or any disaster:

  • A general toll-free number to connect with the Red Cross: 833-492-0093
  • A 24/7 national hotline that provides access to immediate crisis counseling for individuals experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19, or any disaster: 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • A 24/7 Suicide Prevention Lifeline that provides support, prevention, and crisis resources: 800-273-8255
  • A toll-free number that provides access to individual and group emotional support for frontline workers: 833-492-0094

Here in North Carolina, the Red Cross has several partners providing assistance through VFAC:

Hope4NC: Connects North Carolina residents to mental health support that helps them cope and build resilience during a time of crisis.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Provides educational programs, support groups, advocacy, and public awareness so that all affected by mental illness can build better lives.

North Carolina Department of Human Services: Provides assistance with health insurance, Medicaid, food, and housing.

Transitions LifeCare: Provides workshops, support groups, and counseling to individuals five years or older who have experienced a death-related loss.

Catholic Charities: Provides disaster services, emergency assistance, food assistance, and more.

Kellin Foundation: Provides free or reduced behavioral health services.

Vaya Health: 24/7 access line to assist anyone in their 22 county area experiencing crisis.

Eastpoint Human Services: A behavioral health (MCO) agency serving Medicaid uninsured populations.

Disability Rights NC: A legal advocacy agency that fights for the rights of people with disabilities in North Carolina.

Jewish Federation of Raleigh/Jewish Family Services: Provides human and financial resources to support and stregthen the local Jewish community.

Social Security Administration: Find out how Social Security can help you when a family member dies.

North Carolina Vital Records: Virtual copies of death certificates.

NC Prisoner Legal Services: A nonprofit law firm dedicated to ensuring access to the courts for peopole incarcerated in the North Carolina state prisons.

North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church: Providing spiritual, social, and cultural needs during this challenging time.

United Church of Christ: Providing spiritual, social, and cultural needs during this challenging time.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare:  Behavioral Health (MCO) agency active in 20 Counties

American Red Cross: Provides information and referrals, resiliency workshops, advocacy and support to military members, veterans and their families.

To find out more about the VFAC or to volunteer, please visit us here.

Story by: Amy Gottholm | American Red Cross

Sickle Cell Fighter: Justina Williams

Justina Williams of Raleigh, NC

At age 27, Justina Williams is living her dream. She supports sickle cell warriors across the Carolinas, by helping them work through health-related challenges. It’s work she’s been passionate about since she was a child navigating through life as a sickle cell warrior herself.

Diagnosed with sickle cell disease SS at birth, Justina was six-months old when she experienced her first sickle cell crises. She required her first emergency blood transfusion at age three. Blood transfusion is a common treatment for patients whose red blood cells, which are usually soft and round, sometimes harden and form a C-shape, like a sickle.

“Doctors said they could have lost me had I not gotten to the hospital and got that transfusion.”

That was the first of many blood transfusions to help relieve Justina of the pain she endures during a crises.

“I was one of the sickest babies at Duke University Hospital,” Justina recalls.

After that frightening incident, life got better for Justina. She remembers a childhood filled with joyful experiences. Her parents and doctors supported and encouraged her to do try things that made her happy, so she began dancing and cheerleading.

To manage her sickle cell disease today, doctors require that Justina receives monthly blood transfusions. But the blood she receives can only come from volunteer donors, and to reduce complications sickle cell patients rely on donated blood from individuals with a similar ethic background.

“For the African American community, it is very important that we do donate due to our genetic makeup. I think it’s very important that we do donate a lot of blood, during these times and in the future as well.”

To date, Justina estimates that she has received blood on more than 100 occasions.

“I’ve been doing very, very well on blood transfusions so far,” Justina says of her monthly treatments over the last year. Not only is she an advocate for sickle cell patients, but blood donors too. She continues to rally family and friends to donate blood in honor of patients who depend of lifesaving transfusions.

Want to become a Sickle Cell Fighter? Click here to find out how to help patients like Justina today!

Story by: Maya Franklin | American Red Cross

Life Saved at Wilmington Pickleball Game

For members of the Cape Fear Pickleball Club, November 4, 2019, was an ordinary day of sport and fellowship. Until one of the members of the club who was preparing to take part in a match suddenly collapsed on the court.

Photos by New Hanover County, NC – https://flic.kr/s/aHsmP5oZRL

Jackie Sage, an off-duty registered nurse, responded immediately. She quickly dialed 9-1-1 to alert emergency personnel and took control of the scene. Jackie was joined by Rudy Thurman, a former respiratory therapist, who helped to assess the man. After the assessment, it was determined the he needed CPR. Rudy began chest compressions. Tammy Frieberg, also a registered nurse, came to aid the gentleman by audibly counting chest compressions as they were conducted. Once Rudy had begun to tire, Tammy relieved him and resumed compressions. Leigh Grainger assisted by providing rescue breathes in conjunction with the compressions. Jackie continued to control the scene while on the phone with 9-1-1.

The man was not responding, so Jackie sent a bystander, Kevin Devol, to obtain an AED. Kevin retrieved the AED with help from Malik Glaspie from the MLK Center. Once the AED had arrived, Jackie and Tammy connected the pads to his chest. The AED analyzed and suggested administering a shock. All stood clear as a shock was delivered. Emergency Medical Services arrived on scene as the shock was delivered.

Without a doubt, the skills learned in the American Red Cross Training Services course helped to sustain the life of this man. The American Red Cross is honored to award the lifesaving actions of these extraordinary individuals

For their heroic and lifesaving actions, Jackie Sage, Tammy Frieberg, Rudy Thurman, and Leigh LaGrange were awarded the following American Red Cross Lifesaving Awards at a ceremony on Friday, June 26, 2020, at Robert Strange Park in Wilmington, NC. The American Red Cross Cape Fear Executive Director James Jarvis and New Hanover County Emergency Manager Rob Zapple presented the awards to these deserving individuals.

The Certificate of Merit is the highest award given by the Red Cross to individuals who save or sustain a life using skills learned in a Red Cross Training Services course. “We’re extremely proud to present a Certificate of Merit to Jackie and Tammy,” said James Jarvis, Executive Director, American Red Cross Cape Fear Chapter. “Their actions exemplify our mission  to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.”

“The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is given to individuals, like Rudy and Leigh who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life,” said Jarvis. “These individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help others in distress.”

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

If you or someone you know has used skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course to help save or sustain the life of another individual, visit LifesavingAwards.org to nominate, recognize, or be inspired.

No Ordinary Day

September 9, 2019, started out an ordinary day at the Keihin North America location in Tarboro, NC – until an associate team member collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest.

Seeing their colleague in distress, John Foster, Jeremy Judd, and Julia Sheff immediately called 9-1-1 and began intervention with CPR and an AED. They continued their efforts until emergency responders arrived on the scene – approximately 12 minutes later. Fortunately, EMS was able to regain a pulse before the patient was transported to the hospital. Their quick efforts enabled their colleague to survive this cardiac arrest incident and begin their recovery.

Plant Manager Robert Bass nominated John, Jeremy, and Julia for their incredible actions. The American Red Cross is honored we honor them with the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.

The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is awarded to individuals who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life.  These individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and we commend you for your willingness to help others in distress.

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

If you or someone you know has used skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course to help save or sustain the life of another individual, visit LifesavingAwards.org to nominate, recognize, or be inspired.

Keihin Lifesaving Awards - Jeremy Judd - John Foster - Mace Robinson 6-15-2020
Pictured (L-R):  Jeremy Judd, John Foster, and Mace Robinson, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Northeastern North Carolina.

Cancer Does Not Quarantine

“It’s a small thing that helps someone in a big way. It’s especially important right now,” stated Heather Vahdat, a Red Cross Board Member of the Central NC Chapter in Durham.

Inspired by her parents, Heather has been a long-time blood donor. Due to health concerns, her mother had received many blood transfusions over the years and her father routinely donated blood in his community. “Now, I have a family member with leukemia, and I would do anything to help him. While I may not be a match for him, I know I am a match for someone.” Heather recently decided to donate platelets and her second donation was made during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Before I donated, I thought ‘cancer does not quarantine.’ There are people fighting cancer and need platelets. I can help.”

Heather also serves as chair of the Biomed Committee with fellow board members, they strive to promote and influence successful blood drives and partners.

Red Cross Board Members like Heather play a critical role across Eastern NC.  These volunteers serve as advocates in their communities, strategic advisors, and connectors to philanthropic resources.  From recruiting volunteers and blood drive partners, connecting communities to resources, and meeting with donors, Board Members are connected to every part of our mission.

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