Thursday, June 20, 2013

Celebrating World Refugee Day

The American Red Cross Central Valley Region proudly provides disaster relief, emergency preparedness education, service to the Armed Forces, and courses in health & safety to seven counties in California’s San Joaquin Valley. As of last weekend, and just in time for World Refugee Day, they can also add Restoring Family Links (RFL) to their list of services.

Restoring Family Links is service of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that reconnects families who have been separated internationally due to disaster, migration or other circumstances. Having this program both locally and globally greatly benefits refugees around the world who have already gone through many challenges in their lives and, on top of those challenges, have found themselves separated from their family.

To quote the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. There are millions of refugees around the world. In honor of them and their fortitude, the Central Valley Region is proud to finally have the ability to lend a helping hand and ease some of the hardship in their lives. 

Thanks to a generous grant from American Red Cross National Headquarters, the Central Valley Region was able to train their first 12 RFL Caseworkers over the weekend, with some driving up to 2 hours to attend the class.   The enthusiasm of this group was infectious. They are eager to start building this new program by working as a team to provide constructive outreach. With good outreach, we hope to reach people who need our services. The success of a RFL Caseworker is surmised by the amount of compassion and determination they hold, and this newly formed team of caseworkers is full of it.

Bringing the RFL program to the region is important not just for World Refugee Day, but for everyday. The Central Valley is made up of a multitude of ethnic groups. 50% of the region is of a race other than White. After English, Spanish and Hmong are the most widely spoken language. Out of a population of 2.3 million, 700,000 people speak Spanish and 4,200 speak Hmong. Having an active RFL program in the Central Valley will provide a broader range of services to people within our diverse region.

Even within the Central Valley Red Cross, we have several volunteers and staff who can identify first hand with how it feels to be separated from their families. Some have come to America as refugees to escape armed conflict or leave behind tense political situations; and everyone came because of the promise of a better life. It takes a devastating toll on people when they do not know the fate of a family member. Oftentimes the unknown is more agonizing than the truth. As anyone in the RFL network can attest to, there is an extraordinary relief found in learning the fate of a loved one after months, years or decades of no contact.

World Refugee Day is an opportunity to reflect on the people you have in your life as well as a time to provide a spark of hope for those that may be less fortunate to have their loved ones by their side or a phone call away. That is what being an RFL Caseworker is all about.
There is no better way to show compassion and support for people across the globe and within our region than to bring the Restoring Family Links program to the Central Valley on the eve of World Refugee Day.

Congratulations to our first RFL Casework team:
Cayce Baierski, Debby Dailey, Drew Rosado, Jackie Dickinson, John Ortiz, John Supino, Kevin Matsuyama, Linda Benjamin, Mark Bryson, Michael Lam, Patty Dunn, and Tiffany Tryon.

Many thanks to RFL Mentor, Mike Farrar, for making the drive to Fresno and teaching the RFL Casework course to us.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fire Safety with your kids

I’m no stranger to emergency preparedness. As a City employee charged with responding during disasters, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) graduate, ARC supporter, and with a family of firefighters, I’m well aware that community and personal disasters can strike at any time. My husband and I have discussed our emergency plan and we know where we would go and what we would do.

Recently, however, I was talking about fire safety with one of the Fire Stoppers Preparedness Specialists when I had a simple, yet salient “Ah-ha” moment: I know what to do in case of a fire, but does my three-year-old?

That following weekend I pulled out the Fire Stoppers coloring book with my daughter. We colored our way through the book, talking about what to do in a fire.  Then it was time for some hands on practice.

After an explanation of Stop, Drop, and Roll, we took turns exclaiming “Your clothes are on fire!” dropping to the ground, and rolling out the fire. We were quickly joined also by her crawling baby brother and the dog, invoking giggles all around.

Next, we talked about evacuating. I showed Skylar the smoke detector, explaining that it will beep when there is smoke or fire in the air and that when she hears that, she needs to crawl to the nearest exit (or as she says the “secret exit”), always feeling the door before opening it in case there is fire on the other side. We picked a designated safe spot in both the back yard and the front yard and talked about who would meet her there in an emergency.

My step-mom, a long time volunteer firefighter, noted that many times kids are scared of firefighter in their full gear, so soon we will be planning a trip to the local fire station for that experience. For now, I’ve shown her pictures from the internet of what a firefighter looks like in their full gear so that she knows that they are there to help.

It turns out, fire safety and preparations with a 3 year old was much easier than I had thought it would be. And my daughter’s new favorite activity? Playing ‘fire drill,’ of course!

-Shannon M. Simonelli

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