SOM Pod: American Red Cross Volunteers, with Andrew Sindell and Rabbi Stephen Roberts

On this episode of the Seekers of Meaning Podcast, the guests are Andrew Sindell, manager-volunteer services, and Rabbi Stephen Roberts, spiritual leader for Red Cross disasters, to discuss volunteer and chaplaincy opportunities with the American Red Cross.

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Seekers of Meaning Podcast 2/1/2019: Andrew Sindell, manager of volunteer recruitment, and Rabbi Stephen Roberts, spiritual leader for Red Cross disasters.

Rabbi Address: [00:00:08] Shalom, welcome again to another edition of Seekers of Meaning, the podcast of Jewish Sacred Aging and I'm your host Rabbi Richard Address. And we welcome you to these podcasts. These are explorations of the impact of some of the work of the longevity revolution that is now fixating our Jewish community and you can contact us at, or myself personally, And again, you can like the Facebook page, The Jewish Sacred Aging on Facebook. We have a very, very interesting podcast for you today. Very contemporary, and to lead us through that we welcome to the microphones Andrew Sindell, the manager of Volunteer Recruitment for the American Red Cross, and a colleague of mine, Rabbi Stephen Roberts, who's been associated with Red Cross for about 20 years. He's also a past president of the American Jewish Chaplains Association, the National Association of that, and we had the executive director on here a couple of months ago, and Rabbi Roberts is also a past associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. So Rabbi Roberts, and Mr. Sindell, welcome, welcome to Seekers of Meaning and very, very thankful that you've given us your time to be with us. How are you doing.

Andrew Sindell: [00:01:28] Doing very well. Thank you so much for having us.

Rabbi Address: [00:01:30] Thank you. Andrew, let's just jump into this because this really emerged, the desire, and I thank you for for giving us your time, after the Pittsburgh shootings, and colleagues who were delegated to be chaplains, and go to Pittsburgh, and deal with this, and then, another chaplain contacted me about saying that this would be a, probably a really good idea to have a Seekers of Meaning podcast around this. So could you, could you just, since you are the manager of Volunteer Recruitment, could you talk to me about what it means to be recruited, and what it takes to go through the training, and what that training is all about?

Andrew Sindell: [00:02:15] Sure absolutely. So thanks again for having me. I really appreciate the time to talk a little bit about the Red Cross program and volunteers. In our organization, actually, about ninety one percent of our staff are volunteers. So that's a huge component of how we do our work, and our biggest area of volunteers is in the disaster relief area, like you mentioned, responding to large disasters such as what happened in Pittsburgh, large hurricanes, floods, power outages, and then we also recruit volunteers to respond to those local emergencies, which a lot of people might not think about, such as home fires, and power outages, and local floods. So the process for someone who wants to volunteer, we provide a series of training classes for folks who are interested in going out in the field and responding to disasters to help clients. So our training is done both online and in person. And then we have folks that sign up to be on call to respond in their local community. And then of course, there is the opportunity once someone kind of gets some local response, to have that opportunity to go to the larger part of the country, for larger disasters when those occur.

Rabbi Address: [00:03:34] So Rabbi Roberts, you work with clergy in your chaplaincy work and obviously with the Board of Rabbis. Is there a specific nuance of training? Suppose there's a colleague who may be listening to this and saying this is something that I've been inspired by listening to colleagues who went to Pittsburgh. This is something I would really like to do, in either my retirement or if I have spare time. What is the training of a rabbi or a cantor? How does that, what is that like?

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:04:05] So to do disaster spiritual care which is different than chaplaincy. It's open to all leaders of faith communities, which a leader of a faith community is who we normally think of as a rabbi, a cantor, a priest, or an imam. And one of the reasons that we don't require additional training is a key part of the services that disaster spiritual care provides to American Red Cross is really grief work, and clergy who are in the field day in and day out, that's one of the areas of expertise that clergy really have and that's dealing with making meaning of death and dying and tragedy. So we don't really require extra training. There are some criteria that we screen for. So we screen to make sure that all clergy can work in a multi-faith environment, that they can work in a hierarchical, bureaucratic environment, very different than working in a congregation, where you are the head honcho. When you volunteer with American Red Cross, it's very bureaucratic. The majority of the people who actually provide disaster spiritual care through the American Red Cross are actually congregational clergy.

Rabbi Address: [00:05:27] So in other words what I'm hearing you say is if there's a rabbi or a cantor listening to this, and they want to, they want to get involved and do this, they don't have a special class that they have to go, to assuming that they meet the qualifications. So who do they call, do they call Andrew? How does that work?

Andrew Sindell: [00:05:48] I could give a little overview just on how kind of the application works. Folks could absolutely reach out to me,, or they could always go to our Web site, Our application is actually available online for anyone across the US that wants to apply to volunteer, and then it kind of guides you through the application steps. And then once someone applied, if they were interested in the spiritual care area, there would be that, you know, additional screening and requirements that we would follow up with them, once they get that initial application started.

Rabbi Address: [00:06:30] So let's assume, let's play this out. I want to do this. I go to the Red Cross dot com backslash I get my slashes mixed.

Andrew Sindell: [00:06:43]

Rabbi Address: [00:06:49] backslash volunteer, I get my slashes mixed up. So I fill out the application, I push send and then what happens?

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:06:57] So then what's going to happen is Andrew's team is going to do an initial screen. They're going to screen. Red Cross is very person to person. It's a it's a people organization. So the very first thing that happens is someone will pick up the phone and they'll either email but ultimately you're going to do this through the phone or face to face, is an initial screen, just to find out more about who you are, and volunteer opportunities that we have within American Red Cross. And by the way for your listeners, I want to emphasize, there are so many volunteers, and this is one of the most amazing and deeply spiritual ways for somebody who's aging to continue to make an amazing spiritual difference in life. There's so many volunteer opportunities that Red Cross has, whether it's with what we normally think about in disasters, which is mass care. Or, let's say you worked in government. We have something called a government liaison. We have people who, if your expertise was in accounting, yes we can use you. If you are a teacher, we have a whole teaching department. So would you think about American Red Cross in ways that you could really help with disaster response? It's it's a whole large group, and we want you, and the majority of the American Red Cross volunteers actually are retired. Out in the field you see people who are driving these big trucks of ours. They're all retired. And it keeps us young. And so I want to emphasize that this is, this is such an amazing opportunity, it's a great way to stay young and again and again, whether people like me, who are retired, or semi retired, and talk about why they work at Red Cross, this always says it keeps them physically emotionally and spiritually young. So getting back to your question, after that initial screening, somebody is interested, let's say, in my function, which is known as disaster spiritual care, if it sounds like they meet the criteria, they would then be referred on into my function. If it doesn't sound like they'll meet the criteria, they'll be told at the time, most of the time, and say it's a closed function, it's something not open to everyone, you actually have to qualify for it, and if you're not qualified, they're going to refer you somewhere else. Then it would come to me, I would get in touch with you. We do an additional screening to make sure that while you may feel this is a great volunteer opportunity for you, we want to make sure that it really is that that you're actually qualified and understand what it means to be, not a rabbi per se, but a volunteer providing disaster spiritual care in a multifaith environment to people of all faiths and of no faiths. And that's what I've been doing. After that we do a bunch of internal orientation into American Red Cross. You have to go through four different courses, which are really orientation to our work, and then we put you in the field.

Rabbi Address: [00:10:11] So you get put in the field. And so Andrew the deployment is, do you do you keep people in a local area or do you really say or do you ask them if you're willing to travel a lot or how does that work?

Andrew Sindell: [00:10:28] That's a great question. So it's really up to the volunteer. You know, when someone first starts, we do want them to do some, preferably some volunteer work, in their local community, understand the Red Cross processes, and how things work and understand the local team. But there is that very unique opportunity to respond on a larger level, which I think is, you know, very special for some folks to be able to provide their services to those in need, especially during a larger crisis situation. So there is that opportunity, when there are larger events, I know folks in the spiritual care area generally are asked to respond for about 10 days at a time when they're going, or seven to 10 days and the Red Cross coordinates that for you. So they would arrange your travel. They would arrange a place for you to stay, and then you would volunteer in that role, wherever you traveled, whether it was for a hurricane, a mass casualty type of event, flooding, tornado, you know, those types of events. So it's really up to the volunteer. There's no requirement to travel to other parts of the country but there definitely is that opportunity for folks that have that time, especially someone who is retired, that might be able to take a week or two at a time, to leave their local area to a really very satisfying opportunity to be able to do that.

Rabbi Address: [00:11:48] And so when somebody does that, I just want to make sure, that I heard you correctly that that's just for the sake of argument that there is something a disaster. And I volunteer and you say, we need you in Cleveland for six days. The Red Cross then picks up to travel and the hotel cost?

Andrew Sindell: [00:12:12] Absolutely. So the Red Cross will pick up travel and lodging, the lodging depending on the situation, could be a hotel. It could be a staff shelter where you're staying with other volunteers depending on the situation. And then you also would get a stipend, a daily stipend that would cover your expenses for food and other necessities as well. So the Red Cross does cover all the expenses, as long as you're willing to give the time and volunteer, you know, with that disaster.

Rabbi Address: [00:12:42] Could you give me an estimate of the time somebody submits an application on How long from that time I submit that application until I'm eligible to be called? Is it six months? Is it three months? Is it a week?

Andrew Sindell: [00:13:02] So yes it's a our region. I mean we're part of the Greater New York region. So we cover all New York City, Long Island and then multiple counties north of New York City. So in our region, the turnaround is actually extremely fast. So once an application is completed, from start to finish, within 48 hours someone will get a contact where they'll receive information to sign up for that screening. So there's a calendar and the person can look at the calendar, and choose what screening time they want. The screening usually takes about 10 or 15 minutes with one of our volunteer services specialists, one of our screeners, and then from there, like Rabbi Roberts said, we would pass the information on to the program lead. So if it was spiritual care, it would go to Rabbi Roberts, if it was one of our many other volunteer areas, we have managers for those programs who would have a more detailed meeting with that volunteer. So let's say you were interested in supporting our local blood drive and providing support there. Our manager of blood services would meet with you and go through a more detailed training for those roles. So there are multiple, multiple roles and plenty of ways to give back, especially like Rabbi Roberts said, if this is someone that's retired, we really have a real great breadth of opportunities.

Rabbi Address: [00:14:20] So but but for somebody living outside the metropolitan New York area, you know in this, so somebody is living in, perhaps, wherever, Texas or North Dakota, is it the same rapid response or is it easier to go to a local regional offices?

Andrew Sindell: [00:14:38] Absolutely, so, our our national application is standardized across the country. So the initial application, someone goes online, finds their local chapter, submits to some opportunities they're interested in, so you can read about some of the opportunities on the Web site, and then from there, it does go to the local chapter and most chapters are very similar to us. Within 24 to 48 hours, someone would contact you at that local chapter and set up a time for screening, and then the same type of referral process. So the nice thing about the American Red Cross is most of our opportunities and trainings are standardized, so if you signed up in Texas like you mentioned, you would be able to volunteer really anywhere in the country, once you do some training and get accepted as a Red Cross volunteer.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:15:24] One of the nice things is that a lot of our training is online. It's both a plus and a minus. And so oftentimes how quickly you can get into the field is based upon how much time you want to put in, going to our trainings. In our three what we call really developed professional areas, which is disaster spiritual care clergy, disaster mental health, which is a licensed mental health professional, and disaster health services which is a licensed health clinician, they normally, there's an additional -- unless we're in the middle of a disaster -- it's normally an additional four to six weeks to get all, because there are multiple courses that you have to take, those normally take between four and six weeks. Additionally, just because those professional areas have additional training and they take a lot of time. In a disaster though, we have been able with some of the hurricanes, we've been able to process people have in the field from once accepted in our system, trained and out the door in 48 to 72 hours. When we're in a big crisis, we do an all hands on training and we get people in and get them out.

Rabbi Address: [00:16:37] So we're speaking with Andrew Sindell, the manager of volunteer recruitment for the American Red Cross and Rabbi Stephen Roberts, who deals with, is the manager, I guess, of the spiritual care disaster relief program for the American Red Cross and the past president of the North American Jewish Chaplains Association, former associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. Stpehen, talk to me a little bit about what happens when you send a clergy person, a rabbi, cantor, clergy person into a disaster area? For example, the Pittsburgh thing or a hurricane. It's different than providing medical care. You mentioned a lot of emphasis on grief, but it can't just be on grief. Walk me through some of the things from your experience that a clergy person who may be thinking about this would be expected to encounter?

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:17:39] Different disasters, we're going to provide different services. So with the Paradise fire disaster in California, which we're still doing ongoing work providing disaster spiritual care, the work that we do initially in the earliest days is helping when they deploy disaster spiritual care in our earliest days, some of what we do is we hand out water and food like everyone else, and begin to educate those going through the system in the earliest days, of what they can expect in the coming hours, days, weeks. We help them understand what may be common reactions to a very uncommon situation. As it develops, we then really do help them begin to make meaning of the situation in which they find themselves in. And people, really, we work to help them draw upon their spiritual, emotional, and religious resources at times of great tragedy. And, and we really are there to walk with them at great times of difficulty, and why it's so important is that oftentimes, congregational clergy in big disasters, their flock and they are separated. And so we are asked to provide some of this spiritual care that a congregational clergy [person] would provide on their own, but in very large disasters, people are scattered all over, or in the case of the Pittsburgh shooting, we have expertise. So we actually deployed some of our experts to support our congregational clergy in Pittsburgh. We sent some people in who really were there to work with the congregational clergy to help them as they spiritually dealt with the issues and tried to make meaning. But we also did a lot of behind the scenes support and training and helping members really support their own congregations. And so it really just depends. If there's a large loss of life. sometimes we help to make sure a memorial service takes place where the needs of those families who lost loved ones are what drives the memorial service and not government and politics. So it really depends on the situation, but it is so spiritually fulfilling to help people in those moments where they're really asking the deep spiritual questions and the deep religious questions. And to have somebody there to help them process that...and we do it in a way that honors American Red Cross National Red Cross. There are seven standards that we have including We're impartial, We're neutral, and that's key in the way that we work within American Red Cross in disaster spiritual care, is that we, those common foundations of American Red Cross are essential to the work we do.

Rabbi Address: [00:20:45] How how difficult it while difficult maybe the wrong word but as you're describing it a clergy or a rabbi, or a cantor would be thrust into a situation where he may or she may be dealing with multifaith issues. So is there an opportunity to have that processed out in the training? Say well look you may be not dealing with anybody who's Jewish or very few people but you may be dealing with a huge Pentecostal or Southern Baptist or whatever whatever denomination. And do you work with them in trying to understand some of their vocabulary and processes that they may encounter.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:21:23] So part of what we do, and we do this in all the functions of American Red Cross, it's not just in spiritual care but it's also in mass care. We try to understand the population that American Red Cross is actually working with, and meet those specific needs, and those needs may be, if we're working with an Islamic community during Ramadan, American Red Cross this time says make sure we got Halal food and served it before and after the break fast. When we've been in the deep south, working with communities there, it's making sure that food is what they're used to doing, versus if we're working with an Asian community, the food that we prepare or the languages that we use, American Red Cross always tries to assess who we're working with and meet their needs. The focus is on those who've been impacted by the disaster. And so, yes, we do trainings, oftentimes to say, in this situation that you may never have encountered before, how would you handle it? Just last week Andrew and I were both at what we call a tabletop exercise. We had 40 American Red Cross volunteers and staff and went through a scenario where we were asked how do we respond. What are the issues that we need to think about, such as you just raised.

Rabbi Address: [00:22:42] Andrew First of all, real fast, the contact information, the website for somebody who wants to get involved is what?

Rabbi Address: [00:22:53] Sure. So the Web site for someone wants to volunteer you can go to, or simply go to the Web site and click on ways to help. And it will guide you through the volunteer process, and folks that have questions about volunteering, they can feel free to email me directly anywhere that they're living, I can answer questions or pass them onto the correct person. It's And like I said about ninety one percent of our support is from volunteers. So any time people are interested in giving we'd love to talk with them and have them join our organization.

Rabbi Address: [00:23:32] Now. I mean we live in such a difficult environment of change and many times division. How does Red Cross keep itself positioned as this super helping caring supportive agency?

Andrew Sindell: [00:23:49] Yeah absolutely. You know what we try to do is, we try to profile the positive work we do, and often the work of our wonderful volunteers, like someone like Rabbi Roberts, we try to talk about the time people are giving back and what they're putting into it. So, you know, when we're out on a disaster, of course, there could be negative press, first you know, something that someone perceives the Red Cross didn't do. But we try to really highlight what work we're doing for clients. So our goal is really to be there to meet the needs of the clients. So on a local disaster, within that first 24 to 48 hours, we're there, no matter where someone may have a disaster. Anywhere in the US there is a Red Cross that can respond with volunteer support within those first, within that, you know, those first couple hours after disaster, to help them get through that initial process, and then on a larger national event, we're there for months or even multiple years to support those folks. So our goal as an organization is really to meet the needs of the clients, regardless of what their background might be, regardless of their religion, their sexual orientation, their economic status. We help anyone and we don't take sides, so that's really, you know, we always try to talk about our mission to provide that support for those in need, whatever and all the work that we do. And of course with the support of our wonderful volunteers.

Rabbi Address: [00:25:11] I mean in the last couple of months, you've dealt with hurricanes, the massive fires in California, the shootings, could you, I mean, I'll throw this out to both of you. Could you just encapsulate one vignette, one encounter, that really summarizes the power of what you're doing?

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:25:33] Richie, I'll go. You may or may not remember that my home was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. Even though I was the senior Disaster Responder, I ended up needing the services of American Red Cross. And I can tell you specifically who and when provided me disaster spiritual care through American Red Cross. It was a colleague and that colleague really helped me ground myself, to take stock of my life at a horrible time, allowed me to see the positive and also the losses, and reminded me I wasn't alone in all of this. And I tell you, I have a fairly large network, the person, after the loss of my home, who really helped me when I needed it most, was a colleague who was a volunteer with the American Red Cross providing disaster spiritual care. And it was because of that person, that I'm probably still doing the work I do as a chaplain today, and still a volunteer with the American Red Cross, because I needed somebody at that moment, somebody who could listen, somebody who represented God, higher power Creator, the Source that Transcended, was there and really helped me look within and look without. And as somebody who's been both a giver, but more importantly a recipient, a receiver. It changed my life.

Rabbi Address: [00:27:14] My sense is that, from listening to, and really trying to understand the program, Andrew, is that the bottom line of all this it's it's really making sure as Stephen was saying that nobody really feels that they're alone. And I would imagine when you're dealing with some of this total devastation as well as, let's say, the shooting disasters, there's this real sense of, this has happened to me, a feeling of isolation and aloneness, and, and being cut off. So my sense is, Andrew, that really at the end it's part of this really touching human relation one on one. You're not alone,, that you're part of a greater whole. Am I correct on that?

Andrew Sindell: [00:27:57] Yes, absolutely. That one on one, I think, is so key, that we have folks that are going to talk with you give you the time listen to someone about what their needs were. Quick story I'd like to share was when recently when I was down in North Carolina, you asked for an experience that really encapsulates what it means to be a Red Cross volunteer and how we serve. I was at Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, and we had a shelter that we had opened, and I was working in that shelter with a couple other folks. And I'll never forget a gentleman I met, who was in his mid 90s, and he had just lost his wife about a month or two before the hurricane took his entire home. And we had opened the shelter, and I remember him getting off the bus, they had transported some of the residents from another location, and he was in his 90s, and I helped them off the bus, and I remember him turning to me and he said "If it wasn't for the Red Cross at this moment," he would have nowhere to be and no one to talk to. His wife had just passed. He was an Army veteran, so he would talk to me a little bit about his work when he was in, and the war, and just the the graciousness and the words that he shared with me, I'll never forget about how important it was that he had folks that cared about him, that we're gonna give him a safe place to stay, provide a warm meal, and just provide support for him, now that he had lost his home. And like I said, he had recently lost his wife in the month before. He was in his mid 90s and was just such a delight to have at the shelter, and really touched a lot of the other residents and volunteers that were there as well with his stories.

Rabbi Address: [00:29:38] Andrew, before we conclude, you subsist on predominantly donations, and if somebody who hears this who wants to do something. How did they do that? You write a check and send it to, or how do you fund the Red Cross now?

Andrew Sindell: [00:29:58] You know, there's really a couple of ways to give back to the Red Cross. Of course, volunteering is one, donating blood is the other, if someone was interested in donating blood, they can go to the website,, again, and search for a local blood drive to donate. And of course, another way, like you mentioned, is to support the organization. We are totally reliant on the generosity of donors, so individuals, some corporate grants, but it's really individual donors that help us do the work and provide the support to the clients in the field. So if someone was interested in donating and supporting the work of the Red Cross, they could either do that online, go to the Web site and make the donation to whatever area they were interested in, whether they want to support the Disaster Relief Fund, we have an overall fund that will support all disasters that we respond to, or they can designate that money for their local community. Another way to do that is, you can call 1 800 Red Cross and do that on the phone with your credit card. So again 1 800 Red Cross is also a national number to get any resources for the Red Cross, if you're involved in a disaster and need our support, or if you want to make a appointment to donate blood, or if you want to make a financial contribution, you can always call 1 800 RED CROSS or go to our website.

Rabbi Address: [00:31:17] And real fast, the volunteer Web site again to somebody wants to volunteer its what's the slash? Go ahead.

Andrew Sindell: [00:31:22] Backslash volunteer, or just go to Red Cross dot org and click on ways to help. And that will guide you through the application process and how to volunteer in your local community.

Rabbi Address: [00:31:33] Rabbi Stephen Roberts and Andrew Sindell, thank you very, very much for a lot of great information. Continued success and good luck, Godspeed, for what the the real God's work that you're doing, and continued success with that, and thank you for your time and really sharing your expertise, and hopefully as a result, to some people listening they'll get a hold of that website and you will have some more people. So thank you. Thank you very much guys. Appreciate it.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts: [00:31:59] Thank you Richie, for all the work you do.

Andrew Sindell: [00:32:02] Thank you so much.

Rabbi Address: [00:32:03] To all of you, I want to thank you very much again for joining us on today's edition of Seekers of Meaning, the podcast of Jewish Sacred Aging. Our podcast posts a new one every Friday. You go to Jewish Sacred Aging dot com, and they also crosspost to our Jewish Sacred Aging on Facebook and LinkedIn. Again, you can contact us at, or myself directly, Seekers of Meaning is produced by Lubetkin Global Media and our producer Steve Lubetkin here in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. To all of you, thank you for listening. This is your host Rabbi Richard Address. We'll see you at the next Seekers of Meaning podcast. Thank you. And Shalom.

About the Guests

Andrew Sindell is volunteer recruitment manager for the American Red Cross-Greater NY Region. He currently develops and supports volunteer recruitment and retention strategies for the Greater New York Region, which covers Greenwich, CT, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Sullivan Counties in New York State, Long Island and New York City. Andrew has been with the American Red Cross since 2007 in various volunteer management roles.  He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Development from Binghamton University and a Graduate Certificate in Emergency Preparedness from New York Medical College. He is a New York State and nationally registered EMT-Basic. He has extensive experience in volunteer management during large disasters throughout the country including Hurricanes Katrina, Florence and Sandy.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts, MBA, BCC, is the lead chaplain for disaster spiritual care for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. He is president & CEO of ChaplainDL (Chaplain Distance Learning), a past president of Neshamah – Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and a past associate executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.

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