Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sevier County Couple Volunteers to Help with Wildfire Response


By J. Suzanne Horsley/American Red Cross

Robert Ishee points to the stream of
melted aluminum from this burned-out
car in Gatlinburg. These stone columns
 mark the former entrance to a home
overlooking the town of Gatlinburg.
In the intense heat of the fire,
glass shattered and fused into
abstract snowflake designs.
After Robert Ishee retired from the military, he and his wife, Karla, who is a nurse, made the Eastern Tennessee mountains their home. They both felt compelled to help their community when the wildfires destroyed homes throughout the Sevier County region. Right after the fires, they signed up with their local chapter of the American Red Cross, completed their initial volunteer training, and went to work helping with disaster assessment.

Disaster assessment (DA) is a critical part of the Red Cross response efforts after a disaster, whether it’s a single-family house fire or thousands of homes destroyed by a natural disaster. DA teams visit affected areas and determine how many homes were destroyed or damaged. In the case of the Gatlinburg wildfires, the DA teams have supported client casework by verifying the extent of damage to the homes
owned by those who sought help from the Red Cross.

Robert and Karla took me on their route through the Gatlinburg mountains to show me where they had been working. The neighborhoods, which were built along narrow, winding roads, were once heavily forested and dotted with homes of all shapes and sizes. They are now reduced to ash-covered concrete
foundations, spindly blackened trees, and unrecognizable skeletons of vehicles. Occasionally we would drive past a home that was completely untouched and could see where the fire had skipped over it like a giant game of checkers. The Ishees explained that winds in excess of 80 miles per hour had blown melting strips of vinyl siding up into the trees and over the power lines. The intense fires melted the aluminum in vehicles and fused shattered glass into abstract snowflakes.

The pungent smell of burned wood, rubber and metal floated in the air as we stopped to chat with a
family of tourists who went to see the remains of their favorite rental cabin. Further down the road, a
construction crew had started work to clear the remains of a house to start rebuilding.

The Ishees said they have enjoyed their experience and plan to complete more Red Cross training
classes so that they can continue to serve as volunteers. All disasters are local, and organizations like the
American Red Cross depend on volunteers to fulfill their mission in disaster relief. Get involved, get
trained, and get ready for the next disaster by visiting your local Red Cross chapter, or call 1-800-REDCROSS to find the chapter nearest you.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nurses Help East Tennessee Prepare for the Next Disaster Response

By J. Suzanne Horsley/American Red Cross

As Red Cross volunteers work to clean up their areas of responsibility before they leave a disaster relief operation, they are careful to leave everything organized for the local chapter to continue its daily work. Carol Smedberg, a volunteer nurse with Red Cross health services, will be headed home to Oregon soon, but right now she’s thinking about how she can make things a little easier for the local staff and volunteers in East Tennessee.

Smedberg had just returned from a volunteer service trip to Morocco where she worked with disabled children in an orphanage when she got the call to deploy with the Red Cross to Gatlinburg. During her time here, she and other nurses have worked with disaster shelter clients, individuals at the multi-agency
resource center (MARC), and with Red Cross volunteers to help everyone stay healthy and happy.

In this photo, Smedberg is restocking the healthcare kits that go to each shelter and checking off the inventory lists to be sure everything is there when the next disaster hits. Smedberg said that a new item that was recently added to these kits was different strengths of reading glasses for those who lost their glasses in a disaster event. Thanks to her careful work, East Tennessee will be ready to open a shelter the next time it’s needed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Red Cross Volunteer Bill Jacobus Is Brains, Brawn & Heart

By Patricia Kemp / American Red Cross
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – December 17, 2016

Bill Jacobus has got both brains and brawn, but he feels all you really need is heart to be a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

In his academic life, Bill was known around campus as Professor Jacobus. At the Pigeon Forge shelter, he’s simply known as Bill with the Beagle.

Bill and his four-year-old service dog are more than one week into their first assignment with the Red Cross responding to wildfires in East Tennessee. The Charlotte, North Carolina resident wanted to help his neighbors to the north. He quickly completed the online volunteer application and training at and Bill and Max were on their way to the Smoky Mountains.

Bill met a survivor at the shelter who drove a carload of people in his van off the mountain to escape the blaze. He went back two more times and rescued about 30 people that day.

“He was an average guy who did a heroic thing,” Bill said. “He saw the crisis and responded.”
Red Cross volunteers are heroes too. More than 90 percent of the workforce are compassionate people, like Bill, who put their life on hold and answer the call to help.  

“People feel helpless and hopelessness and the Red Cross gives them help and hope,” he said.
At the shelter Bill, does the heavy lifting. The retired bio chemistry and physiology instructor, who earned his PhD at Ohio State and taught at several universities including 20 years at Johns Hopkins, set up cots, blankets, tables and chairs. Max served as a greeter and made residents feel at ease with the wag of his tail.

“The kids just loved him,” Bill said. “That’s why I brought him. Max makes everyone feel a little better.”

Now that Bill’s retired from academics, he and Max have been on several adventures together traveling around the country to 32 states in 17 months living in tents.

The Red Cross is their latest adventure and they recently said good-bye and good luck to those they welcomed during their stay at the shelter. As residents move on to new homes for the holidays, Bill’s still busy washing and packing up cots and supplies.

Bill and his Beagle are ready to help the next time volunteers are needed.

“The Red Cross has been doing this for a long time,” he said. “I have the ability to help. It’s as simple as that.”  

Red Cross Offers Assistance & Hope in Wake of Tragedy in East Tennessee

Red Cross disaster responder Bob Wallace listens as Red Cross shelter residents Rev. Riley Fenley and his wife Patricia share their ordeal in escaping the wildfires. The Fenleys are visiting Gatlinburg from Griffin Circle, Georgia. “We’ve come up here for 21 years,” shared Particia. But this time, their chalet was directly in the path of a wildfire. We got out safe, and everyone here has gone out of their way to take care of us,” said Rev. Fenley, who went on to say that his congregation back in Georgia is praying for them. Photo by Sarah Basel for the American Red Cross.

On the evening of Monday, November 28, wildfires forced the evacuation of thousands of people from the Great Smokey Mountains, including the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN.  The Red Cross immediately sprang into action, opening evacuation centers and shelters for the residents and tourists who fled their homes.

As dawn broke on the morning of the 29th, it was evident that the damage was widespread. Many people remained in shelters, not knowing if their homes were still standing, let alone if loved ones had made it out safely.

Working together with community partners, the Red Cross managed three shelters, providing meals, snacks and a place to sleep for those displaced for days after the wildfires hit.  Red Cross volunteers also helped to fill lost prescriptions, provided mental and emotional support and began disaster assessment of homes that were damaged or destroyed.

Meanwhile in Southeast Tennessee, an outbreak of severe storms and tornadoes impacted eleven counties, with several counties reporting multiple collapsed structures and downed power lines.
Again, the Red Cross was there, mobilizing a damage assessment team, mobile feeding unit and bulk distribution unit, and opening cases to assist those affected.

By the first week of December, there were over 300+ Red Crossers from across the nation in East and Southeast Tennessee providing assistance to people affected by disasters.  Volunteers helped with all aspects of a disaster operation, from sheltering and feeding, to logistics and mental health, to meeting  with community and government officials to ensure residents were being well taken care of.

It is because of our volunteers and the generosity of the public that the Tennessee Region of the American Red cross was able to provide the following combined services in East and Southeast Tennessee:

48,385 meals and snacks
3,000+ shelter overnight stays
526 cases opened to help provide additional needs
1,094 comfort kits

All with the help of nearly 500 staff and volunteers!

Many people affected be the disasters in Tennessee over the past month have a long road ahead.  Because of your support, the Tennessee Region of the American Red Cross is able to be there now, and when the next disaster strikes, providing assistance and hope when it is needed most.

Letter from Northeast Tennessee Executive Director, Glenda Bobalik - December 2016

'Tis the season for hurrying about, spreading good cheer, and sharing time with family and friends. A wonderful spirit is present as we gather to celebrate the holidays.

As we come to the end of this year, I want to thank each of you for the support you have provided to the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee during 2016.  You have made our communities stronger with the dedication and commitment you deliver each day.

Those who support us financially made it possible for us to help the family who lost their home to fire or severe storms. The residents of Northeast Tennessee proved once again that they are caring and supportive as they responded to the devastating wildfires by making a financial donation, which makes our services possible.  Thank you.

Others provide support by giving their time and talent to serve those in need, like the family who lost their home to falling trees during a recent storm.  At all times day and night, volunteers respond when called to help people impacted by emergencies.  A phenomenal response occurred as we responded to Gatlinburg and Chattanooga disasters, all while ensuring those affected by disasters here at home were assisted as well.  Thank you.

Last week, volunteers delivered holiday cards to veterans as part of the support they provide to active duty, retired and veterans of military service all year long. Emergency communications provided to active duty military helps to keep our families strong.  Thank you.

Building a more resilient community is an important role of the Red Cross.  Preparedness presentations educate people on steps to take to prepare for emergencies.  Disaster education, First Aid, CPR, water safety, and so much more are provided in our communities by volunteers making our community safer. Thank you.

So many volunteers do a variety of unique activities that support our ability to provide Red Cross services in the community.  Data entry, vehicle management, facility upkeep, special projects, administrative support, and many more critical services are provided by these dedicated volunteers.  Thank you.

Whatever your role with the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee, you are an important member of our team.  Together you are an unbeatable force for good in our community making this an even better place for all of us to live.

‘Tis the season for giving thanks and so, I wish you a very happy holiday season and a heartfelt THANK YOU for all you do!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Innovative Problem-Solver Helps Red Cross Clients Move Forward for Christmas

Sherry Sparks, right, client casework supervisor, discusses cases with team member Anthony Kraljic at the Pigeon Forge Red Cross shelter.  Photo by J. Suzanne Horsley/American Red Cros

By J. Suzanne Horsley/American Red Cross
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee --December 17, 2016

Three weeks after the first American Red Cross disaster shelters opened for Gatlinburg fire victims, a few shelter residents remained without another place to stay. This is where Sherry Sparks, a client casework volunteer from Pennsylvania, does her best work.

“It’s the last that need the most,” said Sparks of the clients who tend to stay at shelters the longest. Generally, those are the ones who are already struggling financially or may have lost their jobs after a large disaster. These clients have the most difficulty starting over.

Sparks worked with the last seven shelter residents to help them “get off a cot and into a bed.” She met with each client individually to listen to their stories, understand their challenges, and help them develop a plan to move forward.

“I get personally involved so that I can really understand their needs,” said Sparks. She empowers them to take charge of their plans to get into a more comfortable and sustainable housing situation, and then she works with them to find housing, additional resources, or even a job or vehicle – whatever they need to have a successful new start.

“I tell them, ‘I need you to help me help you,’” she said. “I can make a plan for them, but that might not be what they want.”

One of Sparks’ last clients at the shelter in Pigeon Forge lost her home and 14 cats that she had rescued. In addition, this client struggled to keep two jobs after her car broke down. Sparks said that after she spent some time with this woman, she learned that she went back to her burned-out home each day to leave food just in case any of her cats survived the fire. She worked with this client to help her develop a strategy to move on from the temporary state of a disaster shelter and into an apartment. This plan included applying for FEMA disaster recovery funds as well as Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund.” She is also working to find local resources to get her back into a car.

“A lot of what I do is above and beyond the job description, but sometimes you have to understand their stories in order to provide the most help,” she said. Some other unusual assistance has included getting someone a bus ticket to reunite with family members, finding ways to keep multi-generational families together when they transition to new housing, and helping a chronically homeless person who was passing through Gatlinburg take the next step to more permanent living conditions.

One man she met was a traveler from North Carolina who found himself “stuck” in Gatlinburg after the wildfires. When she met him, he had no plan in place to leave the Red Cross shelter. After they got to know each other a bit and he began to understand her role with the Red Cross, he said to her, “I want you to be home for Christmas.” Sparks said that his desire to help her finish her job and return to Pennsylvania motivated him to make plans to return to North Carolina. “His concern for me made me cry,” she said, “but that’s part of the Red Cross transition plan – getting our clients in a position where they can make their own choices to move forward.”

Sparks has laughed and cried with her clients, but she was happy when the last person left the Red Cross shelter because that meant everyone had found a place to live before Christmas. The last shelter at the Pigeon Forge Community Center transitions back to the city on Sunday, December 17, at noon. Anyone who still needs Red Cross assistance can call 1-800-Red-Cross.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wears Valley Couple Makes Volunteering With the Red Cross Part of Their Routine

By Patricia Kemp/American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 16, 2016

A ritual morning walk through downtown Gatlinburg Nov. 28 was cut short for David and Rosemary Morgan, but it was a path that would lead the couple to find a purpose in their own backyard with the American Red Cross.

The air was thick with smoke that morning and cinders were falling from the sky.

“We went home, packed one bag, and got off the mountain,” David said.

The Wears Valley couple checked into a hotel near Knoxville where they watched news reports of the growing wildfire and hoped for the best. The next morning they called a neighbor who chose to stay put and told the Morgans their home was still standing.

In the days that followed, David and Rosemary grew restless as thousands of other Sevier County residents were displaced. They wanted to help the community they had grown to love.

The Morgans settled in the mountain town two years ago to enjoy retirement after raising four kids in South Carolina and working more than 30 years – she as a teacher and he as an industry plant worker.

“We’re not rich and we’re not poor, but we are blessed,” David said. “We’re too blessed to sit here and watch this. We got to get involved.”

David and Rosemary volunteered at a distribution center where they sorted clothes and other donated items, but didn’t feel they were making a personal connection. They walked into the Smokies Welcome & Discovery Center in Kodak where the Red Cross set up a temporary command post for the disaster response. They asked how to help.

Kristin Manuel, a volunteer services specialist from the Red Cross East Tennessee chapter, told the couple about the casework teams that help disaster victims navigate the recovery process – a role that would allow the Morgans to have that one-on-one interaction with people in crisis.  

“It’s a success when we find volunteers like Rosemary and David who have a heart for this,” Manuel said.    
Nearly 400 Red Cross workers from East Tennessee and far as Oregon have come to the Smoky Mountains to help. They’re trained to drive emergency response vehicles, manage shelters and provide health services and emotional support.

Many of those volunteers will return to their hometowns, but the Morgans will stay as part of the Red Cross in their community. Like their downtown walks, volunteering is an activity the Morgans are eager to become part of their life routine.

“You see the Red Cross in action – in (Hurricanes) Katrina, Hugo and Matthew,” said Rosemary. “The Red Cross is about helping people, people who really need help. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Want to volunteer? You can help people affected by disasters big and small. Go to or call 1-800-RED CROSS to get started.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Letter from Southeast Tennessee Executive Director, Julia Wright - December 2016

In the span of only a few short weeks, disaster after disaster have left our communities across southeast Tennessee facing great loss and devastation. Wildfires, a tragic bus accident, and most recently, damaging storms and tornadoes touching down in multiple counties have left many of our neighbors and friends with immense heartache and in great need of our support. It’s hard to believe so many tragedies could unfold in our area in such a short time.

The storms in early December that included severe straight line winds and three confirmed tornado touchdowns impacted hundreds of individuals and families in the McMinn, Polk, Sequatchie and Bradley county areas. Nearly every resident of one subdivision sustained damage, leaving many homes completely destroyed with only the foundations intact.

Within hours of these tragic disasters, the Southeast Tennessee Red Cross responded, and more than 70 volunteers nation-wide deployed to our area to lend their support. In the immediate aftermath of the storms, our teams were on the ground conducting damage assessments and opening shelters in Polk and McMinn counties where the majority of the storm damage was sustained.

In the weeks ahead, the Red Cross will continue to lend our services and support to these areas and the families who have lost so much. Our recovery services teams will provide mental health and counseling support, clean up supplies and hope to families who have been greatly impacted this holiday season.

Living in a disaster-prone area, the recent storms and their path of devastation in southeast Tennessee are a critical and very real reminder of the importance and need of preparedness and community support every single day. Our volunteers and the ongoing support from our community are the reason the Red Cross can continue administering care and support for our friends and neighbors impacted by these devastating tragedies.

While we can’t know exactly when disaster will strike, we do know that emergency preparation can make a life-changing (and life-saving) difference in the event that it does. As the director of our Southeast Tennessee Red Cross, I encourage you to be ‘Red Cross Ready’ so that you’re prepared for a potential disaster. If you’re not sure where to start, the Red Cross will guide you through the three steps that are key to good preparation: 1) Get a Kit, 2) Make a Plan and 3) Be Informed.

I encourage you to click the link below, test your preparedness and get started creating an emergency plan for your family today:

Julia Wright

Letter from Tennessee River Executive Director, Faye Anderson - December 2016


#Blessed…I wonder how many of us tweet or post about our blessings? For many of us, we focus on what is going wrong and therefore Facebook and Twitter become a place to complain instead of a platform to share the good things in our lives.   For many of us, our list of blessings could go on forever.  For others, the list would consist of only a few words.

Often times, experiencing a disaster is one way that brings people together.  As I think about counting my blessings this Christmas season, my heart turns to the families that are struggling to find something to be thankful for.  They may have lost their homes, their livelihood and for some, a loved one.  My heart breaks for the ones who will have an empty chair at their table because of a disaster that was out of their control.  So many times we take for granted the roof over our head, the food on our table, and the smiling faces of our healthy children and loved ones.

We volunteer for the Red Cross because of the mission.  We show up in the middle of the night, on weekends and holidays to make sure that we give hope to those in need.

Disaster brings us together.

For each and every one of my volunteers, you are and continue to be a blessing to those you serve.  Your heart for others is what makes this organization vital in each community.  Thank you for blessing the Tennessee River Chapter with your talents and for using them to help others. You continue to be the beacon of hope in the midst of a dark reality for many people.

Thank you for allowing me to lead such a wonderful, talented group of individuals with hearts of gold!  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, and may this holiday season bring peace and joy.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Thank You to a Red Cross Friend

by Maggie Buckenmayer and Bob Wallace/American Red Cross

I just want to thank you my friend! You don't know how great you have been, 
This time of my life has been a strain, and I know I've probably been a pain, 
You've kept us company and safe with a smile and always go that extra mile. 
So now I thank God for sending us [to] you because your heart is pure and true. 
I'll miss your friendship when you’re gone but in my heart you'll always belong. 
Thank you Red Cross!!! 

Misty Southard and her son Nathaniel
just a few days after their ordeal
with the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge
wildfire and their stay in a Red Cross shelter. 
Misty Southard, the author of this beautiful poem, along with her family escaped the intense flames and penetrating smoke of the wildfire that recently ravaged Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas of Tennessee. After escaping the flames she, along with her husband and son Nathaniel, found respite in a Red Cross shelter. But all was not well.

“I was frantic. My son was sick and hadn’t slept in days. I didn’t know what to do,” said Misty as she described the night her son’s coughing at the Rocky Top Shelter sent her into a tizzy. “I was so lucky. David Ortiz, the Red Cross night supervisor and his crew were on duty to help.”

“I have kids myself and I can’t let them suffer. Nathaniel hadn't been able to sleep in two days. I saw Misty pacing and asked her if I could help,” said David, a Red Cross volunteer and leader of a Disaster Action Team from Monroe County, Tennessee. Once David learned of Nathaniel’s situation, he went to his truck and pulled out a jar of Vicks VapoRub and a package of herbal tea. He brewed the tea and brought it along with the VapoRub to Misty and her son. After the Vicks and tea, Nathaniel’s coughing eased up and he was finally able to fall asleep.

Misty and her family were three of the more than 1200 evacuees that sought refuge at Red Cross shelters the evening of Monday, November 29, from fires that rapidly and unexpectedly swept through the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas in what is being called the worst wildfire disaster in Tennessee in one hundred years.

Misty loves to write poems, so she surprised David with, in his words, “a hug that almost knocked the wind out of me and a poem that brought tears as she read it aloud to me.”

“I wrote this poem for the awesome Otto David Ortiz and the other Red Cross people.  My son was sick and they went the extra mile to get Vicks for my son. I'm so appreciative of everything him and everyone has done,” said Misty.

After a disaster, communities and families turn to the American Red Cross for help, and we stand ready to provide comfort and care by providing safe shelter, hot meals, essential relief supplies, emotional support, and disaster health services. Trained Red Cross workers often meet one-on-one with families to develop individual plans to assist in their recovery.

You can help too by making a donation to American Red Cross disaster relief, which allows the Red Cross to respond to disasters both big and small. To make a donation go to, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 for a $10 donation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pets are Family Too

by Maggie Buckenmayer and Bob Wallace/American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 9, 2016

Chuck Jenkins enjoys quiet time
at Rocky Top Shelter with his dogs,
Cocoa and Oscar.
 Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer
 for American Red Cross
“I told the police I wouldn’t leave unless I could take my dogs,” said Red Cross shelter resident Chuck Jenkins. He made this declaration when police officers urged him to evacuate as deadly wildfires bore down on and eventually destroyed his Maples Forge community and over 2000 additional structures in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s a declaration that disaster responders have heard many times. Pets become cherished members of families, and all too often people refuse to evacuate incredibly dangerous situations unless their pets go too. It’s a decision that can lead to tragic consequences.

Melissa Loveday, another Maples Forge resident and the first to be evacuated, made sure police officers knew about other members of this community who needed help. With flames rapidly surrounding them, police officers found themselves assuring multiple families that they would be allowed to bring out and stay with their pets. As a result, Chuck escaped with his dogs Cocoa and Oscar. Melissa got out with her dog Peanut along with numerous other residents, some of whom where accompanied with the four-legged members of their family.

Once at the shelter location, the Red Cross, the American Humane Rescue, and other partner agencies created a plan where the evacuees with pets could stay in an area separated from other shelter residents. Their dogs and cats were placed in crates where they lived next to the beds of their people. Melissa and Chuck were thrilled to be with their pets. They were also pleased that their pet-less friends from their community, Olga Alvarez, Bobby Jo Jarrett and her husband made the decision to reside in that same shelter area with them, creating a tight-knit shelter community of friends and pets. At one point, the pets-allowed side of the shelter included 60 dogs, 9 cats, and 1 lizard.

”We will never be able to thank the Red Cross enough for giving us shelter and letting us remain together with our dogs next to our beds,” said Melissa.

Together in the shelter, their five cots and three dog crates laid out side by side, this group of survivors continued to support each other throughout their stay.

Melissa Loveday, evacuee from
Maples Forge, takes a moment to
cuddle her dog, Peanut.
Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer
for American Red Cross
“Where else could we go and have our dogs with us.  My dogs and my friends are my life. Thank you Red Cross,” said Chuck.

“The Red Cross and other animal partners created a unique living situation for the evacuees in the Red Cross shelter located at Rocky Top Sports Center. We were excited to see the success of this shelter, which allowed the evacuees an easier shelter stay and also added purpose for them in caring for their pets,” said Jeff Eyre, from American Humane Rescue.

The best way to ensure the safety of your entire family is to be prepared with a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan includes your pets. Make sure you have a “Go Kit” that contains critical papers, including the papers showing that your pets have been vaccinated and treatments for any critical ailments. Being prepared can help save lives. Please visit for Pet Safety or download the Red Cross Pet First Aid App for your android or iPhone devices.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Red Cross Mental Health Volunteers Help Wildfire Survivors Cope with Loss

American Red Cross volunteer Karen Bussell of Knoxville talks to a resident at the Red Cross shelter in Gatlinburg after a wildfire swept through the area. Karen is a mental health counselor who talks to those affected by disaster to help them cope with what they have been through. Photo by Carl Manning for the American Red Cross

By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Dec. 8, 2016

When fire roared through the hills surrounding Gatlinburg in the darkness of a Monday evening devouring everything in its path, many families had only minutes to escape and some did not make it. Such harrowing experiences can trigger emotional distress that is hard to shake.

Helping people deal with the emotional distress triggered by disaster falls to American Red Cross mental health counselors like Karen Bussell, who has been spending her days in Gatlinburg talking to residents whose homes have been destroyed or damaged.

On a recent day, Karen, a retired school psychologist in Knoxville, approached a man at the Red Cross shelter in Gatlinburg and asked how he was doing. He didn’t want to talk so she moved on. But a couple hours later, he returned and they had a conversation about his experience.

“Having someone who will listen validates self worth,” Karen said. “People need to tell their story. That’s part of the healing process and it also helps relieve the emotions to discuss.”

It turns out the man had a harrowing story to tell. When the fire started, he loaded his vehicle with as many of his neighbors as he could and literally drove through the flames to safety. But he couldn’t get everybody out, and that was a failure that gnawed at his soul.

Karen said that was classic survivor’s guilt – a feeling she said is common among those who escape unharmed from a disaster, while others they know perish.

“He couldn’t help everybody and that messed with his self worth,” she said. “He felt he had let people down. He had helped a lot of people but he couldn’t help everyone.”

After awhile she got him to see things from a different perspective.

“He was focused on what he couldn’t do rather than what he did and we got him to start thinking about what he did which was to save a lot lives,” she said.

Often, talking is a good first step toward healing.

“Talking through your traumatic experience helps you organize your thoughts and process what happened and helps the healing. Sometimes it helps with the healing process to say it out loud,” she said.

Karen pointed out that children often mirror the feelings of their parents. As long as parents seem OK, then so will the children. Also, as long as children have something to do to keep their minds active, they will be distracted from what happened. That’s why at the shelter the Red Cross and its many partners have organized numerous activities for the children.

People under stress feel physically and mentally drained, getting frustrated more quickly and more often. To help manage these feelings, the Red Cross provides people with coping tips during events over which they have no control.

Eat properly and maintain a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and get some rest.
Stay connected with friends and family. Support reduces that feeling of being alone.
Be patient with those around you and recognize that everyone is stressed and may need time to put their feeling and thoughts in order.
Remain positive and remember having successfully gone through other tough times.
Reach out when support is needed and help others when they need it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Red Cross Reconnects Friends and Family After Wildfire Disaster

American Red Cross shelter worker Louie Keeling peruses a bulletin board at the Red Cross shelter located at the Rocky Top Sports Center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. People who are searching for missing friends and family members often post notices about the missing person on the board. Louie routinely surveys the board and uses the Red Cross “Safe and Well” database to help make the reconnections possible. Photo by Maggie Bukenmayer for the American Red Cross

By Maggie Buckenmayer/American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 9, 2016

The recent wildfires that inundated the East Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge forced mountainside residents to literally run for their lives. During the exodus, members of families and close friends were separated during the chaos as they struggled to escape the rapidly approaching wall of flame.

As the fires spread toward Gatlinburg, one local resident raced to the home of a beloved friend with special needs to make sure he had a way out of the developing inferno. But before she could get there police stopped her; the roads were impassable due to the fire. Frantic, she called the Red Cross asking for help.

“We are desperately trying to locate a friend. The police assured us he was taken to a Red Cross shelter. Can you help us find our friend?” was her plea.

It was not long before her friend reconnected. While registering at the shelter, the Red Cross staff encouraged him to make a call to let his family know that he was safe and his location. With that encouragement, he picked up a phone and made the call.

“We are so relieved he was okay and evacuated to a Red Cross shelter. Thank you Red Cross for all your help,” said a family spokesperson.

The scenario described above was not an unusual occurrence as wildfire evacuees poured into Red Cross shelters. When people registered they were urged to call loved ones and informed about “Safe and Well,” an easy to use Red Cross online tool for notifying family members and friends that a safe haven has been found.

Red Crosser Louie Keeling talks with resident Terrence Ramsey in the Red Cross shelter at Rocky Top Sports Center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Louie takes pride in connecting with each of the shelter residents, a process he refers to as “Cot to Cot, and making sure that they have reconnected with their loved ones.
 Photo by Maggie Bukenmayer for the American Red Cross
Red Cross worker Louie Keeling is the person in charge of the “Safe and Well” reunification program for the Red Cross shelter operating at the Rocky Top Sports Center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Louie is a big advocate of the program.

“Registering for Safe and Well helps loved ones know you are safe and out of harm’s way and
can bring peace of mind,” he said.

Louie spends a lot of time in the shelter, visiting each resident at their cot in their personal space. He listens to their stories, which are often terrifying, and encourages each one to reach out to love ones. It’s a process he refers to as “Cot to Cot” and one that brings results. “Reuniting loved ones is one of the major ways the Red Cross can help,” says Louie.

By logging onto Safe and Well at concerned family and friends can conduct a search through the list of people who have previously registered. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message. All the people who have registered other than the one for which the search was conducted remain confidential.

Louie has also encouraged shelter residents and those looking for loved ones to leave a message on the shelter community bulletin boards.  Daily, Louie checks the bulletin boards for new messages so he can help with the search process to reunite missing persons.

 After the wildfire swept through Gatlinburg, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also established a hotline to coordinate reports of missing persons and received more than 200 reports in less than a week. As part of the effort to locate each person, agents would consult with Red Cross workers a couple times each day to determine if anyone reported missing had checked into a shelter.

"This is a perfect example of how working together pays off. Being able to utilize the resources offered by the Red Cross certainly helped agents locate a number of individuals faster," said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Leslie Earhart.

Louie and other Red Cross workers, along with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, have had great success in helping separated family and friends reconnect. Of the 200 missing persons listed at one point during the disaster, 199 have now been reconnected.

In addition to, displaced persons can call 1-800-Red-Cross to register on “Safe and Well”. Another resource is the “I’m Safe” button on the free Red Cross Emergency app available for all android and iPhone users to let family members know that they are out of harm’s way. They can even use the ‘I’m Safe” button to post a message on their social media accounts indicating that they are safe.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Spiritual Care Team Important In Disaster Recovery Process

Lee Ragsdale,  a member of the American Red Cross disaster spiritual care team, talks to Carol Lilleaas, whose home was destroyed by the wildfire that swept through the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area. Carol said the only thing she regretted losing in the fire was the United States flag that covered the coffin of her career Army husband who died 12 years ago. (Photos by Carl Manning/American Red Cross) 

By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 7, 2016

Carol Lilleaas was sitting on her cot in the American Red Cross shelter where she has been since her home, and just about everything in it, was reduced to ashes from the wildfire that swept through the area.

Lee Ragsdale, a member of the Red Cross spiritual care team, saw her sitting there and joined her on the cot. Their talk started with a few words that in short order blossomed into a fully animated conversation. In a few minutes she was smiling for the first time since she had arrived at the shelter.

She explained that the only thing she really regretted losing in the fire was the United States flag that covered the coffin of her career Army husband when he died 12 years ago.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, thought about it and start crying. It was the only thing that made me cry,” she said.

While Lee wouldn't discuss specifics of his conversation with her, he did say that she’s a strong woman.

“I just reminded her of her strength and reassured her that she was capable and that she shouldn't feel ashamed asking for help,” Lee said.

An ordained Episcopal deacon, Lee also is a Knoxville Police Department chaplain. This is his first time to serve as a member of the Red Cross disaster spiritual care team and said he’s enjoying being able to help those in need.

“It was everything that I thought it was going to be and more. I’m essentially in awe of what’s going on,” he said.

Spiritual care is about reaching out to people and helping them overcome their adversities, whether it’s with a conversation or helping with such things as getting a wheelchair fixed or finding food for the family dog.

All spiritual care responders are trained to provide appropriate and respectful disaster spiritual care in line with Red Cross fundamental principles of impartiality and neutrality.

“Praying isn't necessary. If they don’t ask, then I don’t push it,” Lee said. “Whatever brings comfort to them, I’m always willing to facilitate,” he said. “The first thing is to be there for them and really listen and understand and let them know that.”

He said when people feel they are being understood, it enables them to open up and discuss their emotions and other issues.

“If I can help them to move from awareness to acceptance and finally to action, then I've helped to promote that healing they need,” he said.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Official Sevier County Government Website and Recovery Hotline Established for Disaster Relief

The Sevier County Economic Development Council, in conjunction with Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, created a website that is as a one-stop-shop for information related to the recent wildfires in Sevier County. You can visit it at

County officials have also collaborated with United Way of Greater Knoxville to announce the transition of all Sevier County wildfire recovery-related calls to East Tennessee 2-1-1.   Local residents can dial 2-1-1 toll free, and concerned citizens outside the local area can dial 865-215-4211.  The call center will operate Monday through Friday between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST.

The website and 2-1-1 can provide current and accurate information on the following:

Non-profit organizations that are accepting monetary donations and information on those organizations.
How do you contribute in-kind donations such as food, clothing, toys and school supplies.
How to schedule a drop-off of in-kind donations.
An updated list of items currently being accepted and items that are not being accepted.
Information on warehouse locations and victim relief centers accepting in-kind donations.
Updated video of Gatlinburg and the area as it recovers.
Current updates and press releases.
A link to GIS mapping of the fire damage.
How to volunteer to assist in the recovery efforts.
How your organization or group can sign up to help with the recovery efforts.
And much more.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Red Cross to Provide Cleaning Supplies, Additional Resources to Sevier Co. Residents affected by Wildfires

The Red Cross will have a service site at 309 Reagan Drive in Gatlinburg from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, December 7, for residents to pick up free cleaning supplies (like rakes, trash bags, shovels, gloves and more) and also receive information about additional Red Cross services.

The Red Cross responds on the scene of emergencies to help provide for the urgent needs of disaster victims.  In the immediate aftermath, we focus on providing safe shelter, feeding victims and emergency workers, providing mental health and emotional support services, providing first aid and health services, and distributing emergency relief supplies such as comfort kits and cleaning supplies.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A One-Year Anniversary, A Devastating Loss, A Treasure Found, And Gratitude

Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross
Photo by Daniel Cima for the American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 3, 2016

“We bought this home…just one year ago-yesterday…just one year….”, his voice trails off.

Brian Myers, young husband and father of two, struggles to maintain his composure after viewing the ashes of what was once his family’s home.

“It’s gone now….all of it.” Myers pauses a moment, and choking back tears continues, “But we got out. All of us, and we’re safe.”

Myers is the general manager of the Mountain Mall in Gatlinburg. Five days ago, he had been watching the press conference about the local fire on the television at work.

“It was the afternoon and everything was okay in our neighborhood, but within 30 or 40 minutes, that all changed. I ran home. My wife and I grabbed our kids and pets, piled them into the car and fled. It all happened just so fast!” he recalled.

Myers pauses in his conversation. He starts walking around the rubble of his property, very slowly, kicking aside charred debris and ashes, then suddenly stops. He stoops down and finds a ceramic mug in the ashes. He wipes the ash away and cradles this treasure as tenderly as if he were holding the most fragile flower.

He then looks over to what is left of the swing-set belonging to his 4-year-old daughter and 12- year-old son. The heat from the fire has melted the plastic slide. It’s a painful reminder of how he and his family’s lives have changed since that afternoon.

The holidays are upon us, and one wonders how this family will cope. But Myers instead, thinks of others in his community and adds, “We got out and we’re all safe. I’m so thankful for that. But there are folks in worse shape than us, and they need a lot of help right now. Thank you to the American Red Cross and to everyone who’s helping us, truly. Thank you.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions: Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge Wildfire Response

So many of us have been touched by the devastating wildfires here in Tennessee—whether directly as residents or indirectly as concerned citizens with big hearts. At this crucial hour, timely and accurate information is critical. Here are the top questions we've gathered from social media, as well as answers that we hope will be helpful.

Please note this post will be modified as new information comes in. (Updated 12/6/16)

Q: Is it true Red Cross took everything that has been donated from the community and sent it out of state?

A. No. The Red Cross honors donor intent regardless of whether it’s a financial gift or goods like clothing. With regard to the generous donations of clothing and goods from the public, we are working in close partnership with community organizations to store, clean and distribute these items. Everything that has been generously donated at shelters is being brought to a central distribution point for those in need. Local officials are encouraging people to call 866-586-4483 for questions about donations or other issues. Residents affected by the fire who need donated items can visit the central distribution point at Boyds Bear, 149 Cates Lane, Pigeon Forge.

The Red Cross works with government and nonprofit partners, helping agencies to develop community recovery strategies and plans together as a group.  For additional resources, please visit:

Q: Why did you stop taking donated items – you said you had enough?

A. There has been an outpouring of support from the community and we are working with Gatlinburg community leaders and other local organizations as additional items are brought in to help those in need. Donations may be dropped off at Boyds Bear, 149 Cates Lane, Pigeon Forge.

Q: Red Cross seems to be taking credit for all hard work the locals have done in TV interviews.

A. Not at all, the Red Cross fully understands that large disasters like this create more needs than any one organization can meet on their own.  We are thankful for the outpouring of support and all of the organizations helping people affected by the wildfire. Disasters are complicated and it will take all of us, working together, to help Gatlinburg recover.

Q: Where is my financial donation going, is it staying local?

A. Financial donations to Disaster Relief support current relief and recovery efforts in response to the tragic wildfires in Tennessee, and response efforts following days of deadly tornadoes across multiple states in the Southeast. By giving to Disaster Relief, you support our response to current disasters and keep us ready to respond to any and all disasters in the future – from house fires to massive hurricanes - around the country. The Red Cross honors donor intent and the best way to designate your donation to a specific disaster is to write the disaster name in the memo line of a check. We also recommend completing and mailing the donation form on with your check.

To honor donor intent, all donations that were raised during last week's telethons will stay here in Tennessee.

We appreciate that this is a challenging and difficult time for the residents of Tennessee, and the American Red Cross is committed to do all that it can to support those affected.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge Wildfire Response - December 2, 2016

We wanted to address some comments and questions we have received regarding the wildfires.
Here are the facts:
Over one hundred Red Cross workers are on the ground in Gatlinburg and surrounding areas to provide support and response to a devastating forest fire that has destroyed homes and forced the evacuations of thousands of people.

This is a difficult time for many families. Red Cross volunteers have opened shelters, and are providing meals, relief supplies and other assistance. Health workers are helping to replace needed items like prescription medications and eyeglasses, and Red Cross disaster mental health workers are helping people cope.
With regard to the generous donations of clothing and goods from the public, we are working in close partnership with community organizations to distribute these items. Everything that has been generously donated at shelters will stay in the community and is being brought to a central distribution point for those in need. Local officials are encouraging people to call 866-586-4483 for questions about donations or other issues.
Items can be dropped off or picked up at the central distribution point at Boyds Bear, 149 Cates Lane, Pigeon Forge.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Red Cross Wildfire Evacuee Story: The Youngs

Sevier County residents Jayne and Scott Young, along with their pet poodle Sassy, have spent the past two nights in the Red Cross shelter at Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg. The Youngs told a harrowing story about how the wildfire flames quickly converged on their home. It was dark and smoky. They had lost electrical power in their home, so they could not get their car out of the garage and they couldn’t find Sassy.

“It was the flashlight app on our phone that saved us,” said Jayne. “Using it was the only way we found Sassy and made our way walking down the mountain.” Finally, a local resident driving by gave the Youngs a ride, and they made their way to the Red Cross shelter.

“Everything is gone. Forty years of our life is gone," said Scott as he wiped away tears.

You can help disaster victims like the Youngs by making a monetary donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. To donate, visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Photo by Bob Wallace for the American Red Cross.

Red Cross Serves 10K Meals & Snacks to Wildfire Evacuees; 1K Meals to Firefighters

So far, more than 10,000 meals and snacks have been served to wildfire evacuees at Red Cross shelters in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area of East Tennessee in the past couple of days. Additionally, nearly 1,000 meals have been served to firefighters battling the devastating wildfires. This Washington Post story below highlights what has been happening during the past couple of days.

Thanks to everyone who has donated, reached out with offers to help, and shared our Facebook and Twitter posts. Your support and generosity is greatly appreciated.

The Red Cross is still accepting monetary donations for wildfire relief efforts. A financial donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief can help provide shelter for someone who has had to leave their home as well as food and water for them to eat. Help people affected by disasters like wildfires in Tennessee and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. To donate, people can visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

TN Wildfires Drop-Off Locations and Accepted Items

Here is an updated list of drop-off locations and items currently being accepted to help people affected by the wildfires in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and surrounding areas:

Clothing donations:

* New Hope Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, 865-310-8153 (Brother Ron Cashwell)

Cases of water, Gatorade, individual pre-wrapped snacks, hygiene items:

* Regal Cinemas, Turkey Creek (11240 Parkside Drive, Knoxville)
* SMARM in Sevierville (203 Court Avenue)

Pallets of water and Gatorade:

* Second Harvest 136 Harvest Lane, Maryville; and 1741 Triangle Park, Maryville
* New Hope Church of God, 2450 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville, 865-932-4673

#GivingTuesday Started Early in Tennessee!

#GivingTuesday started early in Tennessee!

At 2 a.m., 17 people met at the Blount County Red Cross office to help load a truck to deliver supplies to Sevier County, where devastating wildfires have forced evacuations in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park area.

Even if you're not a Red Cross volunteer, you can be a big help to us today on Giving Tuesday like these folks did. You can apply right now to become a Red Cross volunteer at, or you can make a monetary donation, which will help us help folks in times of need like this, by visiting here.

Wildfires Force East Tennessee Residents to Evacuate

Evacuations have forced many from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as the resort mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in East Tennessee. The East Tennessee chapter of the Red Cross is working overnight to assist in the disaster relief efforts and has opened evacuation centers for the numerous residents and tourists evacuating the area. Learn more about the wildfires and evacuations in this report from NBC News.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Red Cross Feeding Firefighters Battling TN Wildfires; How You Can Help

Red Cross volunteer Micah Bean loads food to be delivered to firefighters battling wildfires in Campbell County, one of many Tennessee counties affected by the devastating wildfires. Red Crossers have helped feed wildfire firefighters since the disaster began earlier this month.

Help people affected by disasters like wildfires in Tennessee and countless other crises by
making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to
prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Monetary donations enable us to purchase exactly what is needed for this disaster. 

If you'd like to join us by becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please apply at

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Latest Tennessee Wildfire Information and Important Links

Here are a couple of wildfire photos taken by East Tennessee Red Crossers in Walland. Wildfires are still affecting many parts of the eastern half of Tennessee. For the latest update (as of 3 p.m. Central Time) on the wildfires throughout the state, check out this link from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry.

We'd also like to share the following important links again which we shared last week. Even if you're not currently in an area affected by wildfires, these are good resources to share with family and friends and to save for future reference:

* - This site from the EPA offers a regularly updated map of the Air Quality Index (AQI). There's currently a Code Orange Air Quality Alert for much of East Tennessee, meaning "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

* - Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) - TEMA issued a Level 3 State of Emergency last week due to the wildfires, and it's currently still at that level.

* - The site from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry offers a daily fire report, maps of the current wildfire situations in the state, and burn ban information.

* - The Red Cross shelter locator. While there are no shelters currently open in Tennessee, this map will indicate if ones do open. You can also search for shelters away from home with our free Emergency and Wildfire apps, which you can learn more about at

* - This shortened Red Cross link offers info on how to prepare for, respond to, and recover from wildfires. It also provides a map showing the active wildfires in the state.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Regional Executive Corner with Joel R. Sullivan - November 2016

Mark Lazarus Announced as Keynote Speaker for 2017 Lifesaver Breakfast 

Chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports to address attendees at annual event

I am pleased to announce Mark Lazarus, Chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, as this year’s keynote speaker for the HCA/TriStar Health Lifesaver Breakfast. The event will take place on Friday, March 31, at 7:30 a.m. at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville.

As Chairman and CEO of NBC Broadcasting and sports, Lazarus is the primary relationship between NBC and the NFL, NHL, EPL and NASCAR.  He is responsible for all of NBC’ sports programming and that of their 29 owned stations, as well as all business operations for the PGA and the Olympic Committee. He has overseen production of 3 Olympics and untold football, hockey, golf and NACAR telecasts.

The HCA/Tristar Health Lifesaver Breakfast will host Nashville’s most influential business and community leaders, sharing the mission of the American Red Cross and raising the financial resources necessary to provide their core humanitarian services.  The 2017 event is especially monumental for the Red Cross in that it will mark 100 years of service in Tennessee.
Richard Patton will serve as chairperson of the 2017 HCA/TriStar Health Lifesaver Breakfast. Patton serves on the National Board of Governors of the American Red Cross and previously served as Board Chairman for the Nashville Area Red Cross.

For more information on the HCA/TriStar Health Lifesaver Breakfast or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Flint Clouse at 615-250-4305 or

Letter from Northeast Tennessee Executive Director, Glenda Bobalik - November 2016

Here we are in November again.  Time is flying past as we look at the holiday decorations going up all around us, football teams heading to final games, and nights actually getting cold!

For those of us in the Red Cross, this time of year also means an increase in home fires - the most prevalent disaster of all.  Home fires are always a devastating event, and the holiday timing often creates an added sense of loss when homes are destroyed.

Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fire and home fire injuries.  The holidays are a time when cooking increases as we gather together and share time honored traditions that include dining with family and friends.  There are steps that we can take to lessen the risk for ourselves and if we take the time to share the information, for our friends and family as well.

  • Never leave cooking food unattended.
  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food.  If you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
  • Keep anything that can catch on fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains – away from your stove top and oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  • Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.
  • Smoke alarms save lives.  Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedroom if you sleep with doors closed.
  • Visit for more information on how to prevent cooking fires.

As Red Crossers, we not only need to follow these steps to a safer holiday, but spread the word to others.  Thanksgiving is a time to pause and think of all the wonderful people that make our world better.  What better way to celebrate the people we love than to help ensure that they have a safe holiday season?    Take time today and share the tips above with a friend.


Monday, November 14, 2016

American Red Cross Announces Mark Lazarus as 2017 Lifesaver Breakfast Keynote Speaker

Chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports to address attendees at 8th annual event

The Tennessee Region of the American Red Cross is pleased to announce Mark Lazarus, Chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, as this year’s keynote speaker for the HCA/TriStar Health Lifesaver Breakfast. The event will take place on Friday, March 31, at 7:30 a.m. at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville.

As Chairman and CEO of NBC Broadcasting and sports, Lazarus is the primary relationship between NBC and the NFL, NHL, EPL and NASCAR.  He is responsible for all of NBC’ sports programming and that of their 29 owned stations, as well as all business operations for the PGA and the Olympic Committee. He has overseen production of 3 Olympics and untold football, hockey, golf and NACAR telecasts.

In the event’s eighth year, the HCA/Tristar Health Lifesaver Breakfast will host Nashville’s most influential business and community leaders, sharing the mission of the American Red Cross and raising the financial resources necessary to provide their core humanitarian services.  The 2017 event is especially monumental for the Red Cross in that it will mark 100 years of service in Tennessee.

“We are honored to have Mark Lazarus join us for our eighth annual breakfast as we highlight our successes and the impact our volunteers and donors have made in Tennessee over the past one-hundred years,” said Joel Sullivan, Regional CEO of the Tennessee Red Cross.  “Much like the Red Cross does during disasters, Mark often deals with complex situations and frequently complex people; and making it all seem simple has been the hallmark of his career.”

Richard Patton will serve as chairperson of the 2017 HCA/TriStar Health Lifesaver Breakfast. Patton serves on the National Board of Governors of the American Red Cross and previously served as Board Chairman for the Nashville Area Red Cross.

For more information on the HCA/TriStar Health Lifesaver Breakfast or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Flint Clouse at 615-250-4305 or

Nashville Area Volunteer of the Month, Lissette Lister - November 2016

Our November 2016 Volunteer of the Month is Lissette Lister. Lissette jumped head first into supporting the Red Cross mission when she came on board as a volunteer in late September. Not only is Lissette the Lead Volunteer Engagement Manager and Lead Disaster Relief Operations Staffing Manager, she also is a Spanish interpreter for disaster case work and our Home Fire Campaign.

Lissette first heard about the opportunity to volunteer with the Red Cross through her job when an email was sent out to employees that the Red Cross needed Spanish-speaking volunteers for the Home Fire Campaign. Always eager to help others, she said yes right away to the opportunity. Home Fire Campaign volunteers go door-to-door to install smoke alarms and educate the community about fire safety. Spanish-speaking volunteers are extremely valuable, so we can help prepare Spanish-speaking families in our community.

Lissette and Regional Executive, Joel Sullivan
Lissette is a phenomenal asset to the Red Cross. She is always willing to lend a helping hand, and spent four Saturdays this past October volunteering with the Home Fire Campaign. Her passion for her community and public service shows in her dedication to the Red Cross mission. She said, “I am an Army veteran. I served this wonderful country for 6 years and now I want to continue to serve our awesome community.  The satisfaction to help others and deliver hope is my motivation.”

Originally from Puerto Rico, Lissette came to the United States in 2005 when she joined the US Army active duty. She was stationed at Fort Campbell for her six years of service, and deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for a year in 2006. She is currently in school for Criminal Justice and plans to continue her education in Emergency and Disaster Management. She is married and has a two and half year old daughter.

Following Home Fire, Nashville Family Turns to Red Cross for Support

Dorothy Beasley was busy at work when she learned that her Nashville home was on fire.

Taking a phone call from neighbors, Beasley was stunned to hear about the smoke pouring out of her house. None of her family was home, but the fire damage—caused by the kitchen stove, which had unknowingly been left on earlier that October day—was so severe that they could no longer live there.

Stripped of her home and belongings, Beasley needed to figure out where she and her loved ones would sleep, how they would get their next meal.

Bobby Young, disaster program specialist, and Dorothy Beasley
“I’m used to taking care of myself and not relying on others,’” said Beasley, who lives with her disabled son and five grandchildren. “But my friends and family said, ‘Let go of your pride and allow others to help.’”

They referred her to the American Red Cross for support. Meeting one-on-one with a Red Cross disaster program specialist, Beasley received financial assistance to help cover her family’s immediate needs and began developing a plan for their recovery.

“I didn't realize the Red Cross helps people after home fires,” she said. “Some of my coworkers and friends told me to reach out to the Red Cross for assistance. I was reluctant at first, but I’m glad I did. You are a blessing.”

Letter from Heart of Tennessee Executive Director, Mike Cowles - November 2016


It is hard to believe that the holiday season is upon us!  Just last week I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and this week I am wearing jeans and jackets.  I don’t know about you, but my family is busy heading in different directions every day- school, soccer, jobs and committees that my wife and I are on - it is a busy world.  Carrie (my wife) called me yesterday and asked if I had time to eat lunch, just she and I (I about fell out of my chair), this was a rare occasion and I absolutely took her up on the offer.  I met her at a restaurant near our office where we saw some friends of ours as well.  What was supposed to be a quiet lunch soon turned into visiting with folks.

Once we were seated, our waitress came up to take our drink order and was one of the friendliest people I've met.  She had a great attitude, recommended the special and did it all with a smile.  She came back and took our order and was very friendly throughout our meal.  When we got ready to pay our bill, my wife decided to strike up a conversation which led to the waitress sharing her life’s story.

As it turns out, she had served in the Army for 4 years and had 2 children and 2 step children.   Her husband had passed away and she was now a single mother.  She began to tell us about her fiancĂ© who has 4 children and is currently in the Army at Fort Campbell and how he has struggled with PTSD and is in a tough financial struggle.  She told her story with a smile and said she is the luckiest person alive.

I tell you this story to remind us all that when we have a tough situation, there is likely always someone else less fortunate.  The one thing that came to mind was “how can we help this young lady”? I gave her my business card and talked to her about our Service to Armed Forces program and that there may be some things we can help her with.  The SAF program has helped so many military families throughout the existence of the Red Cross and I am so proud of what we can do to support those who protect us here and abroad.  I am also very fortunate that my wife decided to strike up a conversation with our waitress.  We need to go to lunch more often!!

As we take time to remember our Veterans on November 11th and throughout the month, please remember Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and keep us in mind as a resources to family or friends who may need assistance.

Wildfire Preparedness & Safety

What should I do to prepare ahead of time?

•       Build an emergency kit well in advance:  Don’t forget to include critical documents, medications, and food and water for your entire family.

•       Make a Family Evacuation Plan:  Select a place for family members to meet outside of your neighborhood in case you cannot get home or need to evacuate.  Familiarize yourself with at least two different evacuation routes out of your neighborhood. Practice often, and include everyone in your household.

•       If you or a member of your household is an individual with access or functional needs, including a disability, consider developing a comprehensive evacuation plan in advance with family, care providers and care attendants, as appropriate. Complete a personal assessment of functional abilities and possible needs during and after an emergency or disaster situation, and create a personal support network to assist.

•       Protect your home:  Keep your gutters clean, store firewood and other combustible materials at least 30 feet from your primary dwelling, use fire resistant materials when building decks and porches, and make sure your address is clearly visible from the street or main road.

What should I do if there are reports of wildfires in my area?
•       Stay informed.  Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.

-          Fire Weather Watch:  The National Weather Service (NWS) issues a fire weather watch when potentially   dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 24 to 36 hours.
-          Fire Weather Warning / Red Flag Warning:  A fire weather warning or red flag is issued when fire danger exists and weather patterns that support wildfires are either occurring or expected to occur within the next 12 to 24 hours.

•       Don’t wait, Evacuate!  If ordered to evacuate, leave immediately and head to your identified shelter - this can be with family or friends, or at a hotel, Red Cross shelter or other location you select.

•       Limit exposure to smoke and dust:  
•       Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
•       Use the recycle or recirculate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car.  If it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
•       When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution.
•       If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider’s advice and seek medical care if symptoms worsen.