By Andy McKeever
09:43AM / Sunday, March 23, 2014
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Sure, the Red Cross will be at the scene of a fire providing services to the victims. And sure, it will be collecting blood.
But the local chapter wants people to know that it does a lot more than that.
The Berkshire County chapter of the American Red Cross invited legislators and mayors into their office Friday morning to show them exactly what they contribute to the county.
The chapter is supported by donations from local businesses and individuals to provide an array of services from nursing classes to helping families connect with service members overseas, to preparedness and CPR training. And, of course, it still provides disaster relief and holds blood drives.
“Everything we do from a service standpoint and a fundraising standpoint stays right here,” said the chapter’s board President Tim Dolan, highlighting that the donations do not go to the international or national organization but instead stay with the local chapter.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Gailanne Cariddi and Paul Mark, and Mayors Richard Alcombright and Daniel Bianchi got a glimpse of those services with presentations from each aspect.
“It’s personally and professionally appreciated that you are here,” said board member David Bissaillon. “When I first joined the board, I knew about the blood drives and fire response. But they do a lot more than that.”
Cindy Hahn, who heads the disaster services aspect, began the series of presentations. Hahn said volunteers are called out to disaster scenes by local fire chiefs to help the victims of a tragedy. The team provides gift cards and other resources a victim needs immediately following the event.
“We go out and work with the people affected by the fire; we call them our clients. We work with them and figure out their needs,” Hahn said. “It could be clothing; they could have lost all of their clothing. It could be food. They could be going to stay with friends and family but that taxes their grocery dollars. We can help them out with some of that. And of course, a place to stay. We work with the local hotels. We pay for the rooms.”
Otherwise, Hahn said the team does preparedness training to help people have the resources needed in case of an emergency.
Meredith Griswold heads the armed forces team, which helps keep families in contact with those who are serving overseas.
“We want to make sure that the families with a service member deployed — most of them on active duty — if something happens back home like someone is ill or there is a sudden death in the family. Or, it could be something joyous like a birth; those messages need to be relayed to the service member,” Griswold said.
The Red Cross is able to track down overseas members to relay messages. In the process, the Red Cross goes out to bases and meets with families to make sure they know what it provides. Additionally, the Red Cross does community service such as providing hydration stations for the people paying tribute to a fallen soldier — at it during the the tribute to Spc. Michael DeMarsico in North Adams in 2012.
Meanwhile, the organization provides blood for Berkshire Medical Center through more than 85 donation drives a year. Last year, the organization collected 2,735 pints of blood, according to Suzanne Singer, who heads that aspect of the chapter.
“That’s about 304 a month. However, given the population, we could increase that,” she said. “People don’t understand how much blood is needed at a given time.”
The blood is used in transfusions during surgery or emergency situations. Each donation, she said, could save three lives.
“Every second someone in the United States needs blood. Forty-one thousand donations are needed daily,” Singer said, adding that the organization is planning to further increase the number of drives held locally each year.
Janet Read, who heads health services, said the chapter actively teaches residents how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Through classes, presentations and hands-on training, the organization seeks to train people to “save a life.”
“We want to be the first person on the scene should that situation arise,” Read said. “CPR does save lives. What we do at the American Red Cross, at every chapter in the commonwealth, in the nation and around the world, is we teach the opportunity to save a life.”
Not only are they training people to be on their toes during an emergency, but the organization also trains people for jobs in health care. Darlene Seckler runs a nursing assistant programs that leads students to jobs as certified nursing assistants at nursing homes and with home health care companies.
“The program is really comprehensive. I learned a lot more than I thought I would,” said Rachel Seckler, who went through the program and later got a job with Epoch Assisted Living at Melbourne. “The best part is the care that we give residents… we’re the people keeping people’s mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles clean and happy and comfortable.”
Kristin Killbary said she received a job within a month of graduating the course. And that job, she said, is the most rewarding she has ever had.
Darlene Seckler said the day courses are a month long during and that there are plans soon to launch an evening program.
“They get jobs. They can help support families. They’re in the community and now their going to be spending that money in the community. Some students will use this as the foundation for a career as a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant,” Seckler said.
That service particularly stood out to Alcombright, who volunteered to help find locations for the Red Cross to expand the program up north.
“If there is anyway that I can help you bring a program north, I certainly would want to do that,” Alcombright said.
The legislative breakfast was one of a series of outreach efforts the chapter has held this month as part of “Red Cross Month.”