Do­ing their best when things are at their worst

Red Cross vol­un­teers in South­ern Mary­land share their sto­ries

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­

In the mid­dle of the night, smoke wakes up fam­ily mem­bers as a fire spreads, burn­ing through their house, de­stroy- ing cher­ished mem­o­ries. They es­cape and watch help­lessly as fire­fight­ers bat­tle

the en­gulf­ing flames. The sin­gle mother and her six chil­dren stand next to the smol­der­ing ru­ins, dev­as­tated.

Then, a friend they never knew they had ar­rives.

A Red Cross vol­un­teer has been dis­patched to pro­vide im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance to the fam­ily. And two hours later they are set up in a ho­tel with a Red Cross emer­gency funds debit card that will help them through their cri­sis for the next few days.

“They lost ev­ery­thing,” St. Mary’s Red Cross vol­un­teer Dan Skel­ley re­called.

“The kids were wear­ing what­ever they were sleep­ing in,” he said. “And I was able to meet with her and get her one of th­ese as­sis­tance cards.”

In the fol­low­ing days, Skel­ley worked with the mother, help­ing her con­tact agen­cies that would as­sist the fam­ily in the long term while he ad­dressed their im­me­di­ate needs.

“I kind of talked her through it and made a plan for that day. The next morn­ing, I met her again and we made the plan for the next day,” he con­tin­ued. “The first day plan was all about the chil­dren, get­ting them shoes, so they could get to school. When we met the next day, we had met the chil­dren’s needs and then we started talk­ing more long term.”

Skel­ley is one of about 315 ac­tive Red Cross vol­un­teers through­out South­ern Mary­land.

Tony Colan­to­nio vol­un­teers his time as an on-call dis­as­ter re­lief spe­cial­ist in Charles County, while also rep­re­sent­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion at community events, as well as many other be­hind-thescenes du­ties.

Amanda Hollins, a board mem­ber of the South­ern Mary­land branch, vol­un­teers in dis­as­ter re­lief in Calvert County, par­tic­i­pates in community outreach ini­tia­tives and typ­i­cally teaches two CPR/ first aid classes a month.

The Red Cross is best known for its dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts and blood do­na­tion ser­vices, but for new vol­un­teers “the sky is the limit,” said Ja­son Mar­shall, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Red Cross’ South­ern Mary­land branch. “It’s just up to the per­son and where their in­ter­ests lie, but we have lots of train­ing for lots of dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties … and we’re al­ways look­ing for vol­un­teers.

“We’re ac­tu­ally very ac­tive with the mil­i­tary, and not a whole lot of peo­ple know that,” he con­tin­ued, adding that the Red Cross has of­fices on al­most ev­ery ma­jor U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion world­wide, pro­vid­ing a wide ar­ray of ser­vice.

From data-en­try work from home, to driv­ing a Red Cross blood trans­port ve­hi­cle, to de­ploy­ing with the mil­i­tary, there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties for vol­un­teers to give back to the community.

“I’m what the Red Cross calls a ‘Ka­t­rina baby,’” said Colan­to­nio, who was in­spired to join the or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast in 2005. Since he could not take off work for a month, he said, he sup­ported the dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts lo­cally, while his wife, Linda, flew down to help in Louisiana and Mis­sis­sippi for sev­eral weeks.

Now re­tired, Colan­to­nio is an ac­tive mem­ber of a dis­as­ter ac­tion team.

“The great­est dis­as­ter in our area is the fam­ily house fire,” he said. “I’ve been serv­ing in that ca­pac­ity for the last 10 years [in Charles County]. Go­ing out and help­ing peo­ple get over the first hours and the first cou­ple of days of their ma­jor dis­as­ter af­ter los­ing their homes.”

Colan­to­nio has spent a decade help­ing those in need.

“It’s very re­ward­ing that I’m able to take care of some­one in an hour of some of their worse need,” he said. “I know that we all have life events and some of them are more trau­matic than oth­ers, but a house fire is pretty trau­matic for peo­ple.”

Hollins’ story is dif­fer­ent but springs from the same im­pulse. She wanted to help peo­ple.

Af­ter learn­ing the skills ac­quired through a CPR/first aid class of­fered by the Red Cross, she de­cided she wanted to get in­volved in the or­ga­ni­za­tion as well. Hollins went through the re­quired train­ing and be­gan teach­ing the course her­self, and her role con­tin­ued to grow as she learned more about the Red Cross.

“The more I talked to the folks that worked with the Red Cross, the more I learned about the or­ga­ni­za­tion and what they did, and my role ex­panded based on their needs and my in­ter­ests,” she said.

Soon, she joined a dis­as­ter ac­tion team and be­gan help­ing dis­placed fam­i­lies in Calvert County, who are of­ten sur­prised that such help ex­ists.

“They’re al­ways very grate­ful. And to be able to meet that need in ways that they maybe didn’t ex­pect. I think they’re kind of sur­prised when we show up some­times,” Hollins said. “And it’s not the Red Cross that’s just dol­ing out their own money. This is money that peo­ple have do­nated; this is gen­eros­ity of your neigh­bors that make this pos­si­ble. It’s hum­bling for me to be able to give those ser­vices, and they’re very grate­ful when they re­ceive them.”

By pro­fes­sion, Hollins is a senior busi­ness an­a­lyst and helps man­age the fi­nan­cial op­er­a­tions of the com­pany she works for. When Mar­shall learned of her skill set, he asked her to join the board of direc­tors of the South­ern Mary­land branch of the Red Cross.

“It’s an or­ga­ni­za­tion that I be­lieve in and that I feel pas­sion­ate about,” she said.

In St. Mary’s County, Skel­ley joined the Red Cross af­ter his re­tire­ment.

“How do I want to help and give back to my community?” he asked him­self. “I did a lot of re­search, and the Red Cross was work­ing to re-es­tab­lish more of a pres­ence in South­ern Mary­land.”

And so, he be­gan to take the Red Cross on­line train­ing mod­ules in his spare time.

“The Red Cross is re­ally great about this,” Skel­ley said. “They have lots of on­line train­ing to get me up to speed. They’re very or­ga­nized. I could do it at home. I could do it at my pace.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing his gen­eral train­ing, Skel­ley de­cided he wanted to spe­cial­ize in dis­as­ter re­lief and community en­gage­ment, though he is will­ing to help when­ever an ex­tra hand is needed.

On one oc­ca­sion, Skel­ley par­tic­i­pated as a ca­su­alty in a mock-bomb­ing train­ing ex­er­cise in Bal­ti­more in which po­lice, fire and EMS per­son­nel re­acted as they would in real time. The vol­un­teers were given cards, ex­plain­ing their in­di­vid­ual roles.

To be able to help the first re­spon­ders in the train­ing was a great ex­pe­ri­ence, he said.

Skel­ley’s com­mit­ment is spurred by the feel­ing he gets from help­ing peo­ple, one of the rea­sons why dis­as­ter re­lief seemed ideal to him.

“It re­ally gives you a chance to help peo­ple when they don’t even know where to turn,” he said. “Just hav­ing the abil­ity to get out there to a small dis­as­ter like a house fire or a flood vic­tim and to be able to talk to them ... and im­me­di­ately hand them as­sis­tance … I feel pretty good do­ing it. It’s some­thing that I think is unique.”

Those in­ter­ested in vol­un­teer­ing with the Amer­i­can Red Cross can call vol­un­teer spe­cial­ist Glo­ria Coli­ton at 410-627-5369 or email glo­ria.coli­ton@red­

“What would I say to some­body who wants to vol­un­teer for the Red Cross?” Hollins asked. “When can you start?”


Charles County Red Cross vol­un­teer Tony Cola­na­tio shares a brochure with a mil­i­tary vet­eran who vol­un­teered for a time as a mobile blood bus driver with the Red Cross af­ter his ca­reer.


Calvert County Red Cross vol­un­teer Amanda Hollins demon­strates how to as­sist an in­fant who is chok­ing dur­ing a CPR/first aid class.

Left, Calvert County Red Cross vol­un­teer Amanda Hollins demon­strates how to as­sist some­one who is chok­ing dur­ing a CPR/first aid class. Right, Hollins demon­strates how to as­sist an in­fant who is chok­ing.

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