Red Cross hosts 2018 Eastern North Carolina Disaster Institute at Nash Community College


Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers from across Eastern North Carolina gathered March 2-4 to brush up on their disaster response skills at the 2018 Disaster Institute.

Volunteers at the institute, held at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, NC, had the opportunity to take courses such as Psychological First Aid, Shelter Operations, Government Operations, and Emergency Response Vehicle training.

“At the Red Cross, we stand ready to respond to our neighbors in need. The Disaster Institute allows us to build our volunteer capacity and train volunteers to be ready for any situation,” said Mary Donny, regional disaster officer of the Red Cross in Eastern NC.

New volunteer Virginia Cox-Daugherty kicked off her weekend at the institute by learning how to be interviewed by media during a disaster.

“I enjoy working in the community and serving others,” Virginia said. “I [joined Red Cross] because I wanted to do something that was worthwhile.”

Morning classmate Barbara Barrow echoed Virginia’s enthusiasm. “There’s so much that [Red Cross does] in the community,” Barbara said. “And there’s so much to do for the community, I’m so excited!”

The more than 280 volunteers also had the opportunity to participate in a surprise shelter simulation drill that required  setting up a shelter for 500 people during a large disaster scenario.

A big thank you to our 2018 Disaster Institute supporters: Nash Community College, Disaster Relief USA, Smithfield, Coca-Cola, and Sanderson Farms. You made our institute possible!

Missed the institute? Check out our Facebook live videos from the weekend, or view the photo gallery.

We hope to see you next year!


Nearly 100 homes made safer in Kinston by Red Cross

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Kinston, Feb. 12, 2018 — Nearly 100 families in the Sand Hill area are safer because of a partnership between the American Red Cross and the Sand Hill Volunteer Fire Department to install smoke alarms in local homes.

Every day in the U.S., seven people lose their lives to a home fire, most often children and senior adults. The Sand Hill community knows this too well as they recently lost a resident to a tragic home fire.  As a result, Sand Hill Fire Chief David Jones, and local resident, Charlie Broadway, a Red Cross volunteer, wanted to make homes in their community safer by joining together to install smoke alarms in homes.

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Sand Hill Fire Chief David Jones (left), and Red Cross volunteer Charlie Broadway.

Jones and Broadway planned to take advantage of the Red Cross nationwide Home Fires Campaign to save lives and help in the local area.  After coordination and planning, the idea became a reality and on Feb. 10, 40 volunteers gathered for a day-long smoke alarm installation in the area.

The group included Red Cross volunteers from Onslow, Craven, Lenoir and Wayne Counties; Marines from Camp Lejeune and the Air Station; and local firefighters from the Sand Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

After being trained day-of, the volunteers divided into 11 small teams equipped with ladders, drills, and smoke alarms, and went into their assigned areas of the community to install alarms.

One resident, Curtis Moore, had smoke alarms, but they were old and did not work. He was most appreciative of the new installs and said, “I can’t believe there is no cost to me for this service. I am so thankful.”

By early afternoon, the teams installed 200 smoke alarms in 98 homes. Follow up information was left on the doors of residents who were not home.

Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out.  Every household should create a fire escape plan and practice it until everyone can escape in less than two minutes.

For additional information or steps on how to protect your family, contact your local Red Cross or go to


The Red Cross provides free smoke alarm installations. To request a free alarm, call your local Red Cross office, or visit and fill out a request form.

Story and photos by Char Rodriguez / American Red Cross


A candle changes the lives of a Durham family

pexels-photo-373988.jpegCottis Dickens, of Durham, spent her Tuesday afternoon just as any other – stopping by the grocery store, then to the bus stop to pick up her granddaughter.

But on this particular Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, the 78-year-old didn’t realize she’d forgotten to take her granddaughter to a scheduled appointment until they pulled into the driveway of their home.

“When she got out of the car she told me I forgot to take her to the dentist,” Cottis said. “I sure did. She was just going to be fitted for retainers because she had just lost them.”

The two brushed it off and planned to reschedule. Cottis unloaded groceries from the car, and her granddaughter went inside to drop off her things and visit with her grandpa.

Moments later, Cottis said her granddaughter bolted out of the house and said, “the house is on fire!”

The second-floor bedroom filled with smoke and flames, Cottis said. The fire started from a lit candle in a glass jar. She points out, the bedroom was directly above the living room where her husband happened to be sitting at the time.

“If I wouldn’t have forgotten to take her to the dentist, you see what could’ve happened…” Cottis trailed off.

But Cottis and her family weren’t alone during this disaster.

“I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to use the Red Cross,” she said. “But when I turned around, there they were. They were standing there [at my home]. They were very kind and polite and they told me they were there to help our family in any way they could.”

Cottis said Red Cross provided her family with direct financial assistance to help purchase a hotel room, food and other emergency needs, and gave her family comfort kits filled with hygiene necessities. In the days following the fire, they also checked in with the family to make sure they were doing ok.

“They were there when I needed them and I really do appreciate it,” Cottis said.

Cottis and her family will be out of their home for an estimated three months while repairs are made.

To others who may find themselves in a similar situation, Cottis offers this advice: “Be calm. You will get help. And you will get help from Red Cross.”

For information about home fire safety, visit

‘If it weren’t for the blood supply, we wouldn’t have our two little girls’

Genevieve Skinner appears to be a typical 15-year-old girl who keeps a calendar full of activities and enjoys spending time with family and friends. To her parents, Gary and Ann, she is very special. She is a miracle.

Ann suffers from a rare blood disorder called hypofibrinogenemia/Factor I deficiency. The disorder put her at high-risk during her pregnancy with Genevieve. Doctors worried she wouldn’t carry to term. But Ann and Gary took a chance at making their dream of having a family come true. They agreed to a treatment requiring Ann receive multiple infusions of cryoprecipitate each week through the duration of her pregnancy. Cryoprecipitate is one of several components of whole blood that can be transfused from plasma.


The treatment Ann received was a success. Thanks to Ann’s infusions, she was able to deliver a healthy baby girl. Nearly five years later, the Skinner family experienced another miracle when they welcomed their daughter Claire. Ann had more blood transfusions while carrying Claire.

Gary Skinner credits blood donors for helping bring his babies into the world. “If it weren’t for the blood supply, we wouldn’t have our two little girls.”

Now the Skinner family pays it forward by hosting blood drives at their church. Genevieve leads the charge to collect blood donations by recruiting donors and educating the congregation about the importance of blood donations.

“I enjoy leading. I always try to give back to the community, and there is pride in knowing that I was a part of it,” Genevieve said. It’s her goal for others to understand the importance of giving blood. “It’s amazing how people [are] impacted and helped. I feel like I should do what I can to help.”

The Skinner family hosts three blood drives at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church every year and have been doing so for more than a decade. In the last 10 years, the church has collected about 2,750 units of blood and hopes to continue this effort for years to come. The next drive will be held on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 4, from noon to 6 p.m.

Genevieve has a simple message for those who have considered giving blood but are afraid of needles: “Donating blood helps people more than it hurts you.”

Wake Forest



What’s it like to be a disaster team intern?

Greg Watts_2After graduating from high school, Gregory Watts chose to pursue a disaster services internship with the Red Cross of Eastern North Carolina. And in the fall, he became fully immersed in disaster relief operation work. The then 19-year-old deployed twice to Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, and once to Puerto Rico to help assist victims of Hurricane Maria. When Gregory returned home, we spoke with him about his deployments. Here’s what we learned!

Q: First, why and how did you choose to work for the Red Cross in disaster relief?

A: I always enjoyed giving blood and platelets, so I called and inquired about an internship. I chose disaster relief because it sounded exciting. One deployment turned into three with the recent hurricane season!

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Gregory Watts speaks with a reporter before deploying to Puerto Rico.

Q: What were your assignments on deployments?

A: In Texas, I was delivering food and water to victims. In Puerto Rico, I was the warehouse distribution supervisor in charge of coordinating water, tarps, baby food, meals, toilet paper, etc. to be delivered appropriately.

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A shelter area in Texas. 

Q: What was most rewarding about deploying to help?

A: The best part was delivering supplies personally to people in Texas. It was incredible to be able to actually shake people’s hands and see their faces light up in the midst of everything going on. In both places [Texas and Puerto Rico] it was really great to see how in disaster all hidden agendas are stripped away for the good of the whole. The focus of the Red Cross is being there to help and it was amazing to be associated with such a worthy cause.

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Devastation in Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

Q: What was your greatest challenge?


A: Beside the overall stress of [being on a disaster relief operation], there were occasional conflicts between those who were deployed. Time and kindness resolved what was at first most difficult. Then we were faced with the other big challenges of power outages and insufficient resources at times. In Puerto Rico I learned so much about making quick decisions in order to be sure people got what they needed as quickly as possible. There’s not much time to think so you have to think fast and have a good plan. I learned it saved a lot of time to have my graphs, forms, and charts organized.

Q: Is there anything you wish you brought with you that you did not?

A: We were advised to bring five days worth of food and water which fortunately we didn’t need at the time. I really wish I had brought bug spray. The mosquitoes in Puerto Rico were bad! There was not enough bug spray.

Q: Any comic relief in the midst of disaster relief?

A: All I can say is as hard as we all tried to stay organized, there were days the truck would run out of gas then we would lose the keys – but it would be so ridiculous we would wind up laughing in the end. 

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Gregory Watts stands in front of what used to be a beach-side resort in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Story by Phoebe Fulkerson/American Red Cross

Photos courtesy of Gregory Watts

Make the right play on Super Bowl Sunday

Make the right play on Super Bowl Sunday. Give blood to help save lives!

Wake Forest Presbyterian Church will host a blood drive on game day, Feb. 4, from noon to 6 p.m. To make an appointment, visit and enter sponsor code: WFPCWake Forest


UNC-Chapel Hill student balances school with Red Cross disaster volunteer work

Just as the first week of classes for the 2017-18 school year began at UNC-Chapel Hill, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, leaving tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes.


UNC-Chapel Hill history and political science major Lars Knapp, 22, didn’t waste time volunteering to help those affected by the largest flooding event in U.S. history. And this wasn’t his first hurricane response. Lars signed up to become a Red Cross volunteer after Hurricane Matthew struck Eastern North Carolina in October 2016. Lars said he felt the need to help those suffering from Hurricane Harvey because he understood the need for support following a major disaster.

So on Aug. 25, 2017, Lars and another Red Cross volunteer drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle from the Durham Red Cross office to Texas. Severe weather forced the two drivers to make an initial stop at a shelter in Livingston, Texas. It was not a Red Cross shelter, but the management there welcomed the guidance of Lars and his colleague.

Lars immediately put himself to use. In the shelter, there were several Spanish speakers and Lars was the only one who could translate. He used his bi-lingual skills to help a diabetic lady get her insulin, and another to get basic necessities for her children.

After spending four days in Livingston, Lars and his colleague made the drive to their planned destination of Houston, Texas. There, Lars helped again in a shelter. He met one shelter resident who had a job interview the day after the hurricane made landfall. With the opportunity in front of him, the man was now faced with a lack of transportation or proper clothing. Determined to help, Lars set up an Uber ride for transportation, and helped the man find proper attire. The man landed the job.

In Houston, Lars said he had never seen sheltering on such a large scale. He also witnessed kindness, and said there were so many people who wanted to volunteer. He said on one Saturday in his location, the Red Cross processed 600 event-based volunteers who were able to start helping immediately.

“You never know when a natural disaster is going to strike your family. Be there for other people’s family so someone will be there for yours,” Lars said.

In a shelter, Lars said Red Crossers provide services such as mental and physical health screenings, spiritual care, food, hygiene items, and any other necessities to help families on the road to recovery. Before leaving a shelter, many are assigned a case manager.

Lars said balancing volunteer work and school isn’t easy, but he values both his education and the practical skills he gains volunteering. He said if he could get any job out of college it would be with the Red Cross.

If you, like Lars, enjoy meeting people and want to give back, check out

Photo: Lars Knapp reads to children at a shelter in Texas.

Story by Nichole Nettleton/American Red Cross