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Vivi Mannuzza describes her experiences volunteering after Super Storm Sandy.

Berkshire Red Cross Chapter Honors Disaster Responders

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Paul Johansen, Robin Avery, Glenn Wheeler, Vivi Mannuzza and Candida Cooper pose for a photo following Thursday's ceremony.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — American Red Cross volunteers are known for arriving to disaster scenes with arms full of supplies for victims. But sometimes their desire to help goes beyond that.

For Candida Cooper, helping meant dancing in the rain with a police officer as the scene of a disaster.

Recently, Cooper arrived at a scene at which a storm had knocked a tree into a home. She met a mother with a young daughter who was overwhelmed with fear of the thunder and lightening. The home was too damaged for the family to go back into it.

Cooper told the girl that the rain is good because not only does it help flowers grow but that one can dance in it. She and the police officer then offered up a demonstration, bringing a smile to the young girl's face and calming her.

That story is one example of Cooper's dedication to the Berkshire County Red Cross' Disaster Action Team. She is in charge of coordinating and rallying Red Cross volunteers' response.

On Thursday, the Berkshire County chapter honored Cooper for her efforts with an Exceptional Volunteer Service award at the organization's annual meeting on Thursday. She was one of four to receive the honor.

Glenn Wheeler also received the award for becoming a mentor and role model for his fellow incident supervisors. Wheeler joined the Red Cross Disaster Action Team in 2001 and has taken a leadership role while being available in the wee hours of the night to assist at scenes.

Wheeler has gone above and beyond his role in his 12 years by helping and welcoming new volunteers and providing suggestions and ideas to help the organization.

In 2001, Robin Avery followed in her father's, William Linscott's, footsteps by joining the Red Cross Disaster Action Team. She responds to fires in the middle of the night and is a "caring person with a great sense of humor." Her commitment to the Red Cross earned her the honor, too.

Also known for responding the middle of the night, Paul Johansen has become an exception volunteer in his five years since joining the team. Johansen was most inspired by his fellow volunteers when he worked in a shelter during Hurricane Irene.

John Wood, director of environmental health, safety and security for SABIC, accepted an award on the company's behalf for their support of the Red Cross.

There he gained a greater appreciation for the volunteer efforts and clients' reactions that he has dedicated himself to the mission of the organization and preparing himself to respond to the next natural disaster — efforts that earned him the award on Thursday.

Those are four of 45 residents in Berkshire County who volunteer with the nonprofit organization's local Disaster Action Team. The residents from all over the county respond to incidents such as fires, storms and other natural disasters to provide additional supplies and comfort for victims.

Often those volunteers are deployed outside of the county to help in other areas. Last November, volunteer Vivi Mannuzza was one of seven Berkshire County residents who were deployed by the Red Cross to help the victims of Super Storm Sandy.

Mannuzza was deployed to Rockaway Beach, where she joined a team of volunteers providing meals to the New York residents. On Thursday, she recalled a story about a retired nurse who would receive meals every day because her home had partly flooded, damaging her heating and electrical systems. When those were repaired, she couldn't move in because mold had begun to grow.

But despite the frustration of nearly losing her home, she was always appreciative of the help, Mannuzza said.

"There is a lot of chaos when you are on a deployment but it is worth it," she said.

Local Chapter President Kate Leene also responded to the hurricane and recalled driving down darkened streets and residents coming out of their homes and hugging the volunteers for providing them with food and supplies.

"I will never forget being part of that team and being the only light visible," Leene said. "I am very proud to work for an amazing organization to truly helps people every day."

Leene said 17,000 Red Cross workers responded to Sandy and 90 percent of them were volunteers. The volunteers are what make it possible for the organization to provide the services it does. While Thursday focused on the disaster response, the organization also offers services including blood donation drives and teaches classes locally such as CPR and swimming.

"We truly appreciate all of our volunteers," Leene said.

At the annual meeting, the organization also recognized SABIC Innovative Plastics for its support — both financially and encouraging employees to volunteer. John Wood and Cecilia Shea accepted a plaque from the Red Cross on SABIC's behalf.

Tags: awards,   recognition event,   Red Cross,   volunteers,   

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