After being forced out of their apartment in the middle of the night by a fire, Michael Steele and Starr Patterson were left without any personal belongings, clothes, furniture or even a home.
``We weren't able to save anything," Patterson said.
The fire chief told Steele and Patterson to contact the American Red Cross. They did, and the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross helped Steele and Patterson and other residents affected by the fire.
"They gave us money right away to get clothes," Patterson said. "You don't think about what an expense clothes are because you just gradually acquire them."
Fortunately for Steele and Patterson, they were able to live with Steele's parents in Lawrence. But many residents were left without anywhere to go. The night of the fire, Red Cross volunteers helped them find and pay for hotel rooms.
In addition to providing disaster relief to victims such as Steele and Patterson, the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross, 2120 W. 25th St., provides educational programs for everything from AIDS to water safety, conducts courses in CPR and first aid, and provides services to families in the military.
Gary Sampson, acting director of the Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said his organization's goal was to develop an efficient unit to respond to the needs of the community. Sampson filled the role of director until Thursday, when Michelle Jantz replaced retiring director Jo Byers.
The Red Cross is a private charitable organization founded in 1882. It was designed to be the nation's chief agency in providing disaster relief to the public and offering support services to soldiers.
The Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross was founded in 1917, when servicemen returned from World War I.
The organization received $71,000 last year from United Way. The Red Cross' current budget is $179,000.
Jo Byers, who retired after serving as the director of the Douglas County chapter for more than 30 years, said that one of her most memorable achievements with the Red Cross was a project for children in Eudora who had no activities in the summer. Byers wrote a grant to the national organization headquarters to receive funds for a program. Started in 1966, Project REACH evolved into a recreation program that still serves children in Eudora.
Byers said that the Red Cross needed to be more involved with children's programs.
"If you get volunteers when they're younger, they'll stay with you forever," she said.
Volunteers play an extremely important role in the Red Cross. The Douglas County Chapter has about 350 regular volunteers and about 400 additional part-time volunteers.
Red Cross volunteer Janet Kelly teaches training courses in first aid, CPR and water health and safety. She also serves on the organization's board of directors.
This year, Kelly won the Galluzzi Award, given by the United Way to a volunteer in each of its agencies for exceptional service to the community.
Kelly estimated that she spent a minimum of two hours a week volunteering for the Red Cross. During a fund-raising drive, she said that she would put in as many as 60 hours in one week.
Kelly, a school teacher in Baldwin, said that the most rewarding aspect of being a volunteer is passing on her knowledge of CPR and first aid to others. She also said she was proud that she felt confident enough to administer CPR services.
"I don't have to be one of those people who stands back and says, 'Oh, what should I do?'" she said.
As a result of the work by Kelly and other volunteers, the Douglas County Chapter received four Certificate of Merit awards last year from the national organization. The award is given to individuals who save or help save a life. Kelly said that it was rare for a chapter to even receive one award in a year.
Part of Kelly's work with the Red Cross involves giving CPR training to school bus drivers. While Kelly was supervising a driver who was in the training program, a child on the bus began to choke. The driver administered CPR and saved the child's life.
"To actually see someone saving a child's life and to know that you had a part in that person's training makes all the long hours worth it," she said.