Restoring Family Links: Connecting Susan Stevens

Restoring Family Links: Connecting Susan Stevens

Hugh and Susan Stevens are on a mission to preserve part of their family history. A few years ago, the couple visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin and after reading about the people and families impacted, she felt it was time to dig further into her own untold family story.

While cleaning out some items that belonged to her late aunt, Vera Rosenthal, Susan stumbled upon two well-preserved typed letters emblazoned with the American Red Cross logo.

Dated June 14th and November 30th of 1943, the letters showed the Chicago Chapter of the American Red Cross was trying to reach Susan’s father, Hans Friedman, to deliver personal messages. These letters would show the lengths family members went to in hopes of reaching loved ones across the sea they feared had forgotten them.

Hans left the city of Berlin as well as his mother, Lotte, and his sister and her husband, Vera and Kurt Rosenthal, in 1938 to begin a new life in America. Hans did not believe Vera nor Lotte had survived the war in Germany.

It wasn’t until a few years later when the Red Cross aided Lotte and Vera in trying to locate Hans that he even knew they were still alive. Susan says her father was so happy to learn his mother and sister had survived, and amazed that the Red Cross was able to track him down.

“It gave them great hope,” said Susan Stevens. “It was very exciting for my parents to receive these letters and then obviously significant since they kept them all these years.”

About 70 years after the letters were delivered to Susan’s father, her husband Hugh noticed another personal connection to the Red Cross. Listed under the Board of Directors was Elmer T. Stevens, a relative of Hugh.

There is much more to this family’s story of survival, but the Red Cross was there to help reconnect them when their fate was uncertain.

The American Red Cross has been working to reconnect families after the chaos and confusion of war and disasters for decades. Whether it has been weeks or years, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago can help you find and reconnect with loved ones around the world after natural disasters, armed conflict, migration or other humanitarian emergencies. The American Red Cross works with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations to reconnect nearly 5,000 families each year through tracing, certificates of detention, migration and other forms of documentation.

To learn more about the Red Cross mission to Restore Family Links, please visit our website at redcross.org/familylinks.

 

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Red Cross Monitoring Airports and Ports of Entry

Red Cross Monitoring Airports and Ports of Entry

Executive Order on Immigration and Impact on Travelers

On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order on immigration indefinitely barring refugees from entering the United States, suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days, and blocking citizens of seven countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. As a consequence of the order, some travelers to the United States were stopped at airports in the United States and abroad.

American Red Cross Response

The American Red Cross is monitoring conditions at airports and ports of entry in collaboration with local emergency management officials in order to assess the need for food and canteen services for stranded travelers and detainees affected by the executive order. Health, mental health, and spiritual care services are also at-the-ready.

“Our fundamental principles guide us to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found,” said Celena Roldan, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois. “We are working with local officials to continue to monitor the situation. First and foremost, we are a humanitarian services organization, dedicated to the inclusion of and aid to all people.”

The Red Cross is also prepared to utilize the Reconnecting Family Links (RFL) program for detainees, stranded travelers and families that have been separated internationally.

Fundamental Principles

The American Red Cross is governed by a set of fundamental principles. These principles are reviewed in preparation for a potential response in order to ensure that it is guided by important tenants.

Humanity

The Red Cross, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavors—in its international and national capacity—to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.

Impartiality

It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavors to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

Neutrality

In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Red Cross may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

Independence

The Red Cross is independent. The national societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with Red Cross principles.

Voluntary Service

The Red Cross is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.

Unity

There can be only one Red Cross society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.

Universality

The Red Cross is a worldwide institution in which all societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other.

By: Cat Rabenstine, Regional Marketing Programs Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Placing Humanity back on the Map

Placing Humanity back on the Map

Over the course of just a few hours on a Friday afternoon, 20 volunteers in Chicago helped map the future of emergency response efforts across the world without having to step foot on an airplane.

In an age where we heavily rely on GPS, digital technology and Googling for instant results, it’s a shock to many thCloseUp mapat much of the world does not officially live on a map. This makes it especially difficult for first responders to navigate (literal) uncharted areas when they need to deliver help quickly.

In the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois’ fifth “Mapathon,” on December 11th, a handful of public volunteers alongside employees from Discover worked together to map out a town in Kenya, where traffic accidents are one of the most common and deadly disasters. Without reliable maps, it makes it very hard for organizations like the Kenya Red Cross  to accurately track where most accidents happen and how to create plans to prevent them in the future.

“It’s actually pretty relaxing! And it’s way more satisfying spending time doing this instead of playing Candy Crush,” Discover employee Keenan said while plotting a new road on the grid.

The concept is simple: the American Red Cross together with the British Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team formed Missing Maps—a project to put more than 20 million people onto a free and editable map of the world.

Anyone with internet access can help trace sections of a community using satellite imagery as a guide on a digital map. Zero technical training, course requirements or traveling is required. Mapping experts then double-check volunteer work to make sure it’s accurate, and the maps become usable.

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It’s also a convenient solution to one of the most frequent questions people ask the Red Cross after an international disaster happens: “How can I help from where I am?”

American Red Cross volunteers continue to map communities in response to several disasters like the Nepal and Haiti earthquakes and the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in West Africa.

A few volunteers even said they’d continue the Mapathon at home.

“I’ll definitely be telling my friends about this,” Keenan added. “I get now how important maps are in the world.”

Story and photos by Katie Wilkes, Regional Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

To participate in the Missing Maps project, or to organize a Mapathon of your own, contact Jim McGowan or Ryan Bank at jim.mcgowan@redcross.org. 

Bridging the Path to Preparedness in Ecuador

VeronicaPreparedness.  I talk about it often as part of my job.  I share tips and helpful information about how to better prepare, and often wonder if people actually feel confident about what to do in case of an emergency.  But I am now content to know that in South America, specifically Ecuador, families and communities know exactly what to do in case of an emergency.

I was fortunate to travel with another staff member from the Red Cross International Communications team to Ecuador in late March where we visited coastal areas, since earthquakes and tsunamis are big threats there. The American Red Cross, in partnership with USAID, funds preparedness programs to teach communities everything from first aid, and lifeguarding skills to disaster preparedness.  We also visited a few rural communities where flooding is their big threat, and I was in awe at how prepared everyone was.  Ever since these programs were implemented, the culture among the community has become all about preparedness.

We spoke to community residents who were so proud of the skills they had learned from the Red Cross.  I was particularly impressed when we visited a school in Manglaralto named Escuela Alfredo Sanz Rivera.  The kids were on vacation, but came to the school to greet us and show us everything they had learned through the program.  I was in awe as these kids, who were not much older than 12 years old, knew so much about first aid, how to use an extinguisher and how to carry a patient on a stretcher.  They told us how they had already put their skills to good use by helping out their siblings when one of them was burned.  I have a 15-year-old son and am sure his first instinct would be to use Google.

photoSome of the areas we visited had to great creative with their evacuation plans. The town of Briceño de Afuera is a small community outside of Guayaquil. People were excited that we had come to visit. They were eager to share their evacuation plans with us. This town is prone to flooding, but not from rain, rather from the nearby bodies of water that rises.

There is only one convenience store for the whole community and you must cross a bamboo bridge to get to the store. There were several of these bamboo bridges which looked like they could fall apart at any given moment. I actually had to cross one of the bamboo bridges and was scared to death.  The water below me looked muddy and dirty. But it helped me to think about the people that I had just met, that lived there and how it was their way of life.

They showed us the community evacuation plan they had created with the help of the Red Cross.  A member of the community had drawn the map and plan by hand. They went through every detail and were proud of the plan they had created. They demonstrated to us how they use a homemade firecracker to announce to the town that there is an evacuation. Yes, a firecracker!  It looked like a bottle rocket that I use to light up when I was a kid. It apparently works well as an early warning system for community members. The whole town attested to the fact that they knew exactly what to do when they heard the loud pop.

We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have so many resources and help at our fingertips.  However, it is extremely humbling to know that we, at the Red Cross are helping in other parts of the world.  Communities are being resourceful however they can.  I’ve never been more confident about the importance of teaching preparedness.  Because even if we think we know it all, our mission is still helping others, somewhere in the world in getting better prepared.


Written by Veronica Vasquez, a member of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, who traveled to Ecuador in late March 2014.

Red Cross Nourished a Bright Future for Prisoner of War

Vince Kucharski’s youth in Poland was plagued by turmoil and war, but in the difficult moments of his life, acts of kindness provided by the global Red Cross would nourish a bright future for him.

“They were very good to us,” said Vince. “I still donate to the Red Cross and I like the Red Cross because they did help us. If they didn’t send us the packages we would be awfully hungry.”

IMG_2031Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1929, Vince lived through a tumultuous period, one that separated him from his family for 24 years. Germany had invaded Poland in 1939 when Vince was 10 years old. It was dangerous to walk the streets, especially if one did not carry the right documents.

The uprising in Warsaw lasted many days and the city was completely destroyed. He witnessed one of his friend’s from the platoon getting hit and he couldn’t do anything for him because he had to keep running. If it wasn’t for the International Red Cross, he would have gone hungry as well.

“One day I came home, and my mother was very upset,” said Vince. “My neighbors asked me where was my brother Ted, and his friend? I said I don’t know, I saw them last night and they went home. A half hour later across the street from my apartment building, there were two bodies that were just lying there. They were my brother and his friend. My brother was only 16 and his friend was 18.”

Amidst the hardships his family endured, the Kucharski family received relief. Vince’s first encounter with the Red Cross was in 1940 when he was a teenager. The Red Cross provided his family with food and medicine.

Sometime after his brother died, a man approached Vince with an invitation to join the Polish Resistance movement and form part of the Polish underground forces. This was the only way one could become part of the army, because it was so secret.

No one could know, not even his family. It was during his time with the Underground Army that Vince would once again come in contact with the Red Cross, helping him bear the brutalities of war.

On the day Vince set out to unite with fellow members of the Underground Army, his mother stopped him to ask where he was going.

“She told me, ‘I have a feeling I won’t see you for a long time.’ I said, ‘Oh ma.’ At that time, I didn’t even know where I was going,” he said.

His mother was right. Vince thought he would be gone for two days. It would be a total of 24 years before he saw his mother again.

In early October of 1944, Vince went to a Prison Camp in Germany called Stalag 11A. During his three months there as a laborer, the Red Cross would send packages once a month. After the three months, he signed up to be a laborer at a prison camp in another part of Germany and still received Red Cross packages.

The Stalag 11A Prison Camp fell into the Russian hands sometime after Vince left to the new camp and all of the prisoners were sent to Siberia. The new camp that Vince had moved to was later freed. He was sent to Hamburg, Germany which was under English control to work as a guard.

The packages helped Vince and others to keep going and alleviated their suffering. Furthermore, the food that he received from the Red Cross nourished a bright future that lay ahead of him.

scan0006Vince was given a ticket to Chicago in 1950 where he raised a family and bought a house where his family portraits hang on the walls. He has four daughters and many grandchildren. In looking back at his past, it is astonishing to see how that led to a fruitful present, one that is filled with much joy.

Written by Diana Brokop

Spreading the Word: Restoring Family Links

RFLOutreach Mini-Grant volunteer lead, Whitney Trumble, and International Programs Support Manager, Michelle McSweeney, presented on the ‘Restoring Family Links’ (RFL) program at DePaul University’s Law School in April.

The event was hosted by DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law (SAIL), a student organization that looks to expose law students to asylum and immigration law through guest speakers, presentations and firsthand experience in the Greater Chicago area.

Students from SAIL gathered during their lunch hour to gain perspective on the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program.

The Restoring Family Links program helps locate and restore communication between families separated internationally by conflict, disaster or other humanitarian emergencies. By using the global Red Cross network the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world each year.

After receiving a mini-grant through the Red Cross, Whitney, together with a team of both new and experienced RFL members, developed a strategic plan to increase outreach in the Greater Chicago area. By connecting with local student groups, community organizations and public resources they are spreading awareness of RFL services.

DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law provided an excellent outreach opportunity, as many of the students in attendance are also involved in DePaul University’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic (AILC) that works to assist clients on legal cases relating to asylum, justice or immigration issues. Students expressed that RFL services could be of use to clients they are now working with through the AILC.

Over the next few months, the Restoring Family Links outreach team will be scheduling more events like this one to increase knowledge on RFL services throughout the Greater Chicago region. The RFL team is specifically targeting Chicago neighborhoods with large immigrant and refugee populations such as Rogers Park, Pilsen, Uptown, Bridgeport, Humboldt Park and more. By focusing on these neighborhoods the outreach team hopes to connect with as many community members as possible, always with the ultimate goal of helping others reconnect with their loved ones throughout the world.

The Chicago Restoring Family Links team will be hosting a series of community events in Spring 2014 to share information on this program and how you can connect to the mission. If you are interested in attending one of the three upcoming events, please contact Mini-Grant Lead, Whitney Trumble at Whitney.Trumble@redcross.org.

To learn more about the Restoring Family Links program and to connect with the local program team, please visit us at http://www.redcross.org/il/chicago/local-programs/reconnecting-families.

Written By: Michelle McSweeney

Syrian Conflict Separates Sisters – Red Cross Reconnects Them

Syria%20Map%201I recently had the opportunity to speak to members of the Restoring Family Links Advocate Committee at their annual meeting in DC.  It was an honor to be invited and I was grateful for the opportunity to share about some of my cases.

One of these cases involved a family tracing effort for a woman named Sara (pseudonym) in Chicago who had lost contact with her sister. This scenario is fairly common for the Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross, but what was difficult about this case is that my client’s sister was living in war-torn Syria.

Sara came to our office with her daughter, and together they told us the story of their family. Sara’s sister was living with her children in a remote region of Syria. Normally Sara would call her sister daily—just to have a quick conversation and make sure that the family was all right.

One day Sara called and the phone lines were down. This had Syria%20Map%202happened before, but normally the lines would be operating within a few days. However, this time, that did not happen. She started calling more frequently, not just once, but multiple times a day. Every time, the results were the same: the phone lines remained down.

Through Internet research, the family discovered that the area had come under fighting and attacks had destroyed the phone lines. What the family could not find through these searches, however, was any information about potential deaths through these clashes. They simply had no way of knowing the fate of their family members.

Since the start of the civil war, over 2 million refugees have fled Syria for the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq with millions more displaced internally.

There was additional concern. Various sides were trying to recruit Sara’s young nephews. Her anxiety had become unbearable. Sara wanted to start a family tracing case, but was worried that efforts to locate the family might bring unwanted attention that could harm the young boys who had thus far avoided joining the fighting.

The story was heartbreaking. The details and levels of concern were very difficult to hear. Despite a desire to help and a sincere compassion for the family, my RFL team and I worried about logistics.

Would National Headquarters be able to accept the case?

Would the Syrian Red Crescent be able to conduct RFL work at this time?

How long would the family have to wait to find other any news?

After a frantic phone call with a caseworker in DC, I was encouraged to submit the case. Not only was it accepted, but it was also marked as high priority and released for tracing work to begin. Within weeks, we received notice that the family was found! Through already established religious networks, we were able to contact the family and confirm that they were ALIVE and well!

I cannot describe to you the relief that Sara expressed when she was told the news! In time, the phone lines were restored, and she was once again able to talk to her sister.

I have checked in with the family, and the story remains the same. Life in Syria is still incredibly hard, but what has changed is that the family now knows that they have an ally. They know that if the phones go down again, someone can help.

There are many instances where I have been unsure if a case can even be accepted, yet, a family reconnection occurs. This is why I do tracing work and love being an RFL caseworker.

Written by: Christa Kuntzelman