American Red Cross Responds to UNO Dorm Fire

UniversityNyaguok Fal and Lanicka Clark of Nebraska-Omaha students, Lanicka Clark and Nyaguok Fal hold American Red Cross comfort kits that they received after meeting with compassionate caseworkers following a devastating fire. On Wednesday, February 26th, a team of six-well trained disaster responders answered a call to help 42 students who lived in the Scott Village Building G dorm, after a cigarette torched the building displacing them all. That night and over the following weeks, the Red Cross met one-on-one with each student who suffered a loss. Thanks to generous people who open their pocketbooks and supported Red Cross Disaster Relief, 30 students were helped. The financial assistance from Disaster Relief allowed each student to fulfill their immediate basic needs like replacing their burnt winter clothes, boots and coats. That night, Red Cross volunteers also helped the countless number of first responders, by giving them hot coffee and or a snack. In the weeks and months ahead, the Red Cross will work with UNO to help students and campus leaders prepare for another disaster, such as another dorm fire.

Communications Manager

Communications Manager

Finding Hope through the American Red Cross

Written by: Liz Dorland, Communications Manager

I believe I can say this with confidence – for most United States citizens, the thought of being separated by war from our family is simply unfathomable. I don’t know about you, but, I can’t imagine being forced to leave my mother, father, brother, sister, cousins – everyone behind just to insure my children would have a safe place to grow up. What would that look like? How would that feel? I met two women who know all too well the answers to these questions.

The pain of making that choice is visible on Nyakong Machougo face.

As tears swell in Nyakong’s eyes, the 32-year old sobbed, “I cry every time I talk about it.”

From left to right: Nyakong Machougo and Shweta Goswami.

From left to right: Nyakong Machougo and Shweta Goswami.

Nyakong’s hometown is Bentiu in South Sudan. She and her family became separated when the government stormed Bentiu “because it was rich in oil” and the fighting escalated. Nyakong was able to flee, the rest of her family couldn’t. The last news she received about Bentiu was on TV – her town was burned down. While war and genocide continue to escalate in South Sudan, she worries even more for the welfare of her family. It’s that constant fear that brought her to the American Red Cross in Omaha

Nyakong met with Shweta Goswami, a Red Cross volunteer trained in reconnecting families around the world with the help of many people. “I’m trying to find my loved ones. So I’m trying to call and can’t get in touch. I came to the Red Cross so they can help”.


Many know the Red Cross helps during times of disasters and collects blood, but the American Red Cross is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. The American Red Cross is part of a global network of other Red Cross societies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. These humanitarian agencies work together to reconnect families who have been torn apart by disaster, war or migration; it’s a process called “Restoring Family Links”.

For about an hour, Nyakong tells Shweta about her family: where they last lived, how old each person is, what color eyes they have, physical characteristics – anything that could help a caseworker with the South Sudan Red Cross find this person. Nyakong isn’t the only person searching for family. Rhoda Naylera Gatlek’s story is woefully similar.

Rhoda Naylera Gatlek works with American Red Cross caseworker Dena Howard.

Rhoda Naylera Gatlek works with American Red Cross caseworker Dena Howard.

Rhoda is from Leer, a small town in Unity State in South Sudan. For over a decade Rhoda and her family would flee on foot from the rising violence in Leer to Ethiopia (as the violence waxed and waned they would return to Leer then walk back to Ethiopia). In 1999, Rhoda, her husband and two children left South Sudan and came to Omaha. From time to time Rhoda said she would receive a phone call from her sister Anna who was still in Ethiopia. On December 17, 2013, Anna placed her last call to Rhoda. Rhoda explained that Anna again returned to Leer, “she said it was becoming very dangerous and they would need to flee (to Ethiopia). She had no money and was unsure where she would go because it was too dangerous.”


Rhoda added, “All our homes in Leer were destroyed. They were burned down.”


Just as Nyakong had done, Rhoda met with a trained Red Cross caseworker to describe her missing family members, where they had lived and handed them a picture of her sister, Anna.


Rhoda Gatlek and Nyakong Machougo work with the American Red Cross to find their family in South Sudan.

Rhoda Gatlek and Nyakong Machougo work with the American Red Cross to find their family in South Sudan.


Both women know and understand the Restoring Family Links process takes time; time for their cases to arrive in Washington D.C. before being sent to Geneva, Switzerland (home of the International Red Cross) and then on to a caseworker with the South Sudan Red Cross. While time may not be on their side, these two women say they now have hope because they came to the American Red Cross.

American Red Cross New Flood App Can Save Lives

Flood Icon

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. The American Red Cross developed its new Flood App to help save lives and reduce losses from floods and flash floods.

This free app gives iPhone, iPad and Android smart phone users instant access to local and real-time information, so they know what to do before, during and after a flood. The content is available in English and Spanish based on the user’s language settings on their mobile device.


The app includes location-based, audible NOAA flood and flash flood watches and warnings – even if the app is closed. Other features include:

  • One-touch “I’m safe” messaging that allows users to send a message letting family and friends know that they are out of harm’s way;
  • Preloaded content that gives users instant access to critical action steps, even without mobile connectivity;
  • Toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm to let others know where you are;
  • Locations of open Red Cross shelters;
  • Real-time recovery resources for returning home and cleaning up; and
  • Badges users can earn through interactive quizzes and share on social networks.



The app is the latest in the series of Red Cross emergency preparedness apps that put lifesaving information right in the hands of people whenever and wherever they need it. The expert advice in Red Cross apps, which also include apps for First Aid, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and other services, has been used to help save lives during disasters and medical emergencies. Red Cross apps have been downloaded on nearly 4 million mobile devices.

The Flood App, along with the others, can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross or by going to Apps can help prepare people for disasters, but they are not a substitute for training. Red Cross First Aid and CPR/AED training empowers people to know how to respond to emergencies in case advanced medical help is delayed. People can visit for course information and to register.

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A Deeper Meaning for the Day of Love

Written by Liz Dorland & Randy Eshelman

For many Americans, Valentine’s Day is a day centered on gifts of flowers, chocolates and jewelry. But at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home, the day is more than just that, it’s a day to show others how much they are loved simply by spending time with them and getting back to the basics, like good old conversations. The Stern's with the American Red Cross

The feeling of love was clear on Valentine’s Day as Jan Stern wheeled her husband, Ivan (fondly known as “Ike”) down the hallway toward the dining room. Wearing a bright red shirt under a gray Husker sweatshirt, Ike, a WWII Veteran lovingly gazed at his wife of 66 years before greeting me. This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure to meet the Sterns but they’re no stranger to the American Red Cross. You see, three years ago, Ike sat down with the Red Cross and shared his story for the Veterans History Project. Just one week after sharing his story of how the Red Cross helped him while serving as a Marine, Ike suffered a heartbreaking stroke, that stroke stole decades of priceless memories. Despite Ike’s loss of memory and the ability to complete his sentences, his true love Jan fills in the blanks about the day’s plans, a day not only special because it’s another Valentine’s Day with his sweetheart, but also his 90th birthday.

 “What are we going to do today? Who is coming to see us?” she cordially prompts her husband.

Ike Stern celebrates his 90th birthday with family

 Ike doesn’t say much, just smiles at her.

 “We’re going to see Ray and his wife for dinner” she says. Ray is one Ike and Jan’s two sons.

The Stern family is just one of many faces who pack the dining room for the annual Sweetheart Lunch at the Veteran’s Home. On this day, Red P.J. Savage decorates for the Sweetheart LuncheonCross workers, like P.J. Savage and Paul Loede transform the expansive cafeteria room into a warm, upbeat place for families, friends and 
volunteers to enjoy a meal prepared with love by chefs.

Bob Arsenault plays the piano

Jovial sounds of piano music played by Red Cross extraordinaire Bob Arsonault amplify the quiet hum of conversations among families and friends.

Patti Hopp says family is much more than blood relatives at this home for our heroes. “Our dedicated volunteers spend hours with our residents. Many times they become very close and consider them to be like family.

From left to right: Jen Epperson, Barbara Lamb, Sue Sheely, Eric Epperson.

From left to right: Jen Epperson, Barbara Lamb, Sue Sheely, Eric Epperson.

Eric and Jen Epperson are a perfect example of this bond. Jen, a Master Sergeant serving with the 55th Wing, and Eric, a Technical Sergeant also with the 55th, devote hours with residents of the Veterans’ Home.

 Sitting at a table obscured by a vase filled with a dozen pink roses delivered by Eric, they caught up on the week’s events with beloved friend and veteran Barbara Lamb.

The friendship between Barb and the Epperson’s began when Jen walked into the Veterans’ Home to share a meal with one of the residents. That’s how she came to know Barb. The surprise friendship between generations began with a game of Cribbage, before long Jen’s husband Eric joined in on the fun, spending hours with Barb every Sunday.

Lamb worked in administration during WWII. She nearly completed one year of service before she got pregnant and was forced out of the military. “I would have liked to stay a while longer in the service,” Lamb admitted.

Jen affectionately looks at Barb, who sits next to her at the table, and says, “I call her Queen B.”

Jen says Barb the girls often win Sunday games of Cribbage.

Jen says Barb the girls often win Sunday games of Cribbage.

For the Eppersons, giving time to veterans like Barb is especially important. “It’s nice,” stated Eric. “Here you come full circle. They served in the military for us, and now we’re serving time to protect the rights they fought so hard for in the first place.”

And “paying it forward” is what volunteering at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home through the American Red Cross is all about. It’s an opportunity to give of yourself, to get to know those who have served. Whether it’s by playing cards on a Sunday afternoon, buying a dozen roses on Valentines Day for a friend or simply sharing a cup of coffee over conversations and piano music the dining room at Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home truly (at least in my mind) embodied the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

The American Red Cross invites you to become a Red Cross volunteer and support our Service to Armed Forces. You too can give your time to a veteran at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home. To become a volunteer, register online by visiting:

Lifesaving service warms more than a furnace on a cold winters day

Posted by: Liz Dorland

In my one year stint with the American Red Cross, I’ve learned truly anyone at any age, can be a lifesaving hero. And becoming an everyday hero takes two things: desire to learn and the willingness to act upon it if needed. This story came to me today and I think, it shows both those things. I am personally challenging readers to step up to the plate and become an everyday hero for our community. Think about it – if everyone knew how to save-a-life, wouldn’t our community be an even more incredible place? Taking the first step is easy, sign-up for a class today. Be that person, that lifesaver, a true hero. Visit today.
I congratulate Ryan Blythe for being a everyday hero. Ryan, you did an amazing thing!

Ryan Blythe, Service Tech with Black Hills Energy.

Ryan Blythe, Service Tech with Black Hills Energy.

“Employee’s quick thinking, first-aid training help customer”
Written by: Brandy Johnson, External Affairs Manager Black Hills Energy
“Nebraska Gas employees recently participated in first aid training from the Red Cross. We practiced bandaging wounds and performing CPR, and we learned how to use an AED, but we all hoped we’d never need to use the training.

Last week, as we experienced more cold, winter weather, Service Tech Ryan Blythe arrived at the home of two customers, planning to work on their furnace. But thanks to his first aid training, he helped with something even more important than a warm home.

While he was working on the furnace of an elderly Lincoln couple, he heard a large boom and went looking for the cause. What he found was the husband, who had somehow fallen in the garage and was bleeding profusely from his head.

Blythe’s recent training kicked in, and he helped the man into the kitchen and performed first aid to control the bleeding. Seeing the large laceration and assuming stitches were needed, he asked the man’s wife to call for an ambulance.

After being transported to the hospital and receiving 32 stitches, the grateful couple called Black Hills Energy to let us know that they could not express enough gratitude for his actions and did not want him to go unnoticed for his kindness.

“Ryan, being modest, says ‘it was no big deal’, but I’m sure the customer appreciates the help,” said Supervisor Paul Johnson. “I am proud to have Ryan as an employee.”

“I was just being a good Samaritan and a neighborly Nebraskan,” Blythe said. “It was the right thing to do and customer service/care is a big value of mine.”

Ryan’s right: it was the right thing to do, and this couple truly appreciates him going above and beyond repairing a furnace on a cold winter day.”


More Than a Blanket and a Cup of Cocoa

Written By:  Randy Eshelman and Liz Dorland

Ray Family  PictureJust one week after a fire took nearly all of her family’s possessions, Karen Ray sat in a sparsely furnished new-to-her apartment as tears welled in her eyes. However, unlike the sad and fearful tears of just a few days ago when she received the call that the home was on fire, her tears on this day were of the happy kind. You see, on this day, Karen was relating how the American Red Cross was there for her family in their hour of need.

In the early afternoon of Friday, the 24th of January, Karen was at work at Children’s Hospital when she received a call from her eldest son, Brandon. Brandon lives in the same apartment complex in west Omaha. His message was simple: a fire had broken out in the apartment above Karen’s and her youngest son Justin’s home. Brandon immediately relayed the great news that Justin and their beloved tomcat George were both safe outside but of course, losing one’s home and memories to the ravages of fire (and subsequent deluge of water), is beyond traumatic.

Karen rushed home to find firefighters on ladders high in the air, spraying water onto and into her building within the Hillsborough Pointe apartment complex. “It looked like they were prying the roof open at one point and then poking holes in it to make sure the water was getting through” said Karen. And, “It looked like chaos.”

Yet, during the ordeal that confronted Karen and her family, a situation none of us expect or think will happen, Karen saw the familiar Red Cross logo emblazoned upon an emergency vehicle (colloquially called the “ERV” by Red Crossers) and upon hard hats and vest-clad volunteers as they worked through the stressful scene. The Red Cross Disaster Action Team canteened firefighter but more importantly, were there to help displaced residents.

Even after seeing the Red Cross on site, it’s perhaps understandable that Karen, suffering her first (and hopefully last) home fire, expected that, “…they were going to give me a pat on the head, a blanket and a cup of cocoa.” But instead, “They were so nice to me! They put me and my son up in a hotel, one that I was able to pick from a list and near where I grew up in Millard even!” The Red Cross also provided immediate care in the form of food and clothing for both Karen and her son Justin. “I mean, I knew the Red Cross helped in big disasters and with blood drives but I was oblivious to the fact that they were ready and able to respond to home fires. It meant everything to me and I don’t usually like to accept help.”

Peter DeAngelis volunteers for the Red Cross and was one of those who answered the call for help that afternoon. “Often, folks are left without a lot of options [following a home fire] because they’ve lost everything. The immediate assistance we’re able to provide means a lot,” said Peter.

Did you know that American Red Cross workers respond 190 times a day to help a family affected by a home fire or other disaster? Sadly for the residents of Hillsborough Pointe Apartments, they are all too aware. You see, the fire that took Karen’s home is the third such blaze to consume an entire building there since December 2012. All three fires have been attributed to careless smoking according to published reports.

However, there is a silver lining to this string of tragedies. Jobeth Devera of Omaha’s KETV 7 reported that, “…a new smoke-free policy is in place [at Hillsborough]. The new policy at the complex prevents smokers from lighting up within 25 feet of any building. Hillsborough Pointe joins some 80 properties that have implemented smoke-free policies in Douglas County.”

While Karen penned out her thoughts about the wonderful American Red Cross workers on a white board, Justin turned and said, “I can’t thank you enough. I want to pay you back, I want to volunteer. Without you I don’t think she’d be doing as well as she has through this fire.”

What Justin probably hasn’t realized is that he and his mother are both paying back and paying it forward simply by sharing how the Red Cross helped their family following an everyday home fire. By telling their story of loss and hope, Karen and Justin are spreading the word to others that whether a disaster happens down the street, across the country or around the world, the American Red Cross is there; ready to help with so much more than just a blanket and a cup of cocoa.

Chilled but Chivalrous: Red Cross Volunteers Walk for Fire Prevention

Written by: Randy Eshelman


On a day when no one would blame Nebraskans or Iowans for huddling over a cup of hot chocolate while wrapped in their favorite infomercial snuggle-thingy, I joined nearly 80 local Red Cross volunteers and walked Council Bluffs to raise fire prevention awareness.  In keeping with the spirit of service so often attributed to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the American Red Cross, along with other community service volunteers, teamed-up with the Council Bluffs Fire Department over the MLK Day weekend to provide lifesaving fire safety information and free smoke detectors to local residents.

Volunteers met at the Red Cross office on the Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus in Council Bluffs where they were divided into teams, given Red Cross packets full of fire safety information, walkie-talkies, and then bused to assigned streets within the Playland Park neighborhood.  Braving the cold, dedicated teams set out on a mission to make sure residents in their community had a working smoke detector. If the homeowners didn’t know whether their smoke detector worked or not, the Red Cross requested firefighters to either check the battery or install free smoke detectors.

Alex BuzzettaThe installation of free smoke detectors is a bitter sweet reminder of the death of little Alex Buzzetta. Alex tragically died in his second story bedroom when the family home caught fire in the fall of 2010– the family did not have a working smoke detector.  “Project Alex” is dedicated to insuring all homes in Council Bluffs have a working smoke alarm.

Liz Dorland of the Nebraska/SW Iowa Red Cross drove home the point that prevention goes a very long way toward avoiding tragic loss of life when she said, “On average, the Red Cross responds to a home fire every eight minutes across the United States,” but, working smoke detectors, “…reduce the risk by half that an injury or a fatality happens within that home due to fire.”

Did you know that every day in America, an average of seven people lose their lives in home fires? I didn’t. Well, not until I began volunteering with the Red Cross some two short weeks ago. The real tragedy I’ve also learned is that 50 percent are preventable by simply having working, appropriately placed smoke detectors installed in homes.

Thanks to the resiliency of the many volunteers, and the professionalism of the firefighters, (and let’s not forget to be thankful for hand warmers, stocking caps, and moon boots), 21 homes received new smoke detectors. 21 families. 21 neighbors, most with children, are now less likely to die in a fire.

Playland Park resident, Marsha Siraj received a new smoke detector. Marsha said she knew the Red Cross did blood drives but that until Saturday, she was unaware the Red Cross helped prevent home fires through these types of efforts. When asked what she would tell people about the Red Cross after her free smoke detector was installed, she said she’ll, “Tell people to support your Red Cross!”

Truthfully, I knew the Red Cross did more than “blood and floods,” but I certainly didn’t know they reached out to the community to prepare them for (and helped prevent!)  other potential disasters – like the everyday home fire.