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The American Red Cross: A Continuing Tradition of Service to the United States Armed Forces

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The American Red Cross is synonymous with helping people, a tradition that includes everyone. And that arm of care extends to military members and their families. In fact, the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces, or SAF, program dates back to the organization’s founding in 1881 by Clara Barton, the Angel of the Battlefield. Today’s Red Cross workers proudly carry on Clara Barton’s tradition of serving the U.S. Armed Forces. Before service members are deployed, when they come home and at needed times in between, the American Red Cross offers training, information and support.

24/7/365 Emergency Communication
They are revered for their much-needed emergency communications services, and 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Red Cross Hero Care Network is available to help current members of the military and their families by relaying urgent messages to service members stationed anywhere in the world. Red Cross workers verify these messages, which may include news about the birth of a child or a serious illness affecting an immediate family member. They then relay these messages to active duty members of the military wherever they may be, even at sea or in the most remote locations in the world.

Red Cross services extend well beyond emergency communications. The Hero Care Network is also active in helping veterans with critical community service needs. Kimmy Venter, Director of Communications, affirmed, “Dedicated volunteer caseworkers provide support to local veterans and military families in a myriad of ways, and our local Red Cross chapter, the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York, develops and maintains relationships with a wide array of community partners to support these efforts.”

Totes of Hope
In recent years, services to support veterans in the Capital Region have been expanded with the Totes of Hope campaign. Volunteers collect donations of personal hygiene products throughout the spring and summer months and distribute them year-round to local veterans in need. During the colder months of the year, they run their Winter Warmth Project, collecting cold-weather apparel and accessories to support veterans who may be homeless or struggling to stay warm. In the last three years, these two programs alone have resulted in thousands of donated products being delivered to local veterans when they need them most.

Hero Care Network
In Northeastern New York, requests for veteran assistance through the Hero Care Network pour in almost daily. In the last six months, they have opened nearly 200 new cases to provide support services to local veterans; caseworkers served approximately 550 families during the 2016 calendar year and expect these numbers to grow in the months ahead.

The compelling story of Velda Watts expresses the important impact the American Red Cross has with veterans in our community. Velda Watts is a U.S. Army veteran who lives in the Capital Region. She attended an American Red Cross Reconnection Workshop designed to help local veterans cope with unique challenges that can linger long after leaving the military. Red Cross staff and volunteers got to know Velda quite well and soon recognized a number of other needs that could be met through their network of partner organizations. In a matter of months, the team was able to connect Velda with resources for help with her groceries, her utility bills and even some minor home repairs. Through the annual American Red Cross Winter Warmth Project, Velda also received a beautiful handmade blanket specially made to fit her wheelchair. In a note she sent to the Red Cross office soon after all of this, Velda wrote, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for your lifeline. You have no idea what your help has done for me.”

Opportunities for Volunteer Service
Dianna Rios is the Service to the Armed Forces Regional Program Director, and she is passionate about this service to the community. Her grandmother and her great-grandmother, as well as her aunt, were all Red Cross volunteers supporting the program Dianna now runs in Northeastern New York. Her husband is retired from the United States Marine Corps, and several other family members have also served in the military.

“There are many ways to serve our nation’s heroes as a Red Cross volunteer, including facilitating emergency communications between active-duty service members and their loved ones at home; providing local, state and federal resources aiding military members, their families and veterans; and supporting homeless and hospitalized veterans through challenges they may face,” Dianna shared.

“In times of critical need, our volunteers provide compassion, support, information and referral services and a touch of home to military families. We need people of all ages, with varied backgrounds, skills and interests to help fulfill our mission to always remember those that serve. Service to the Armed Forces training includes an Introduction to Core Services, Case Management, Family Follow Up and an introduction to the case management system. Volunteers will meet local Red Cross SAF caseworkers who will guide them through the training.” ■

Persons who are interested in volunteering or helping should please contact Dianna Rios at 518-694-5160 or at A training workshop will be held February 18.