By Ryan Teller, executive director for Integrated Marketing Communications
Wes Carle and his fellow Red Cross Club emergency responders arrived as flames engulfed the house and a family watched their home burn to the ground. The international rescue and relief students braved the late hour and cold to practice what they’ve been learning in class. “We were able to help them out and give them some money to get them back on their feet,” said the sophomore IRR major who serves as president of the Union College Red Cross Club.
At the sixth Community Appreciation Breakfast on Thursday, January 25, Union College will honor the American Red Cross of Capital Area and Eastern Nebraska with the Community Partnership Award. The award is given to recognize a local business, foundation or organization’s steadfast dedication in helping Union College accomplish its mission—to create a personal, student-focused community, which empowers students for a lifetime of learning, service and leadership.
The Community Partnership Award was created to demonstrate how much Union College appreciates organizations and businesses in the Lincoln community that have consistently shown their dedication toward helping provide the best possible education for Union students.
The American Red Cross is one of America’s oldest and most well-known non-governmental aid organizations providing health safety services and training; blood donation and distribution; support for military families; and disaster relief. The local chapter covers most of eastern Nebraska with the exception of the greater Omaha area.
“The American Red Cross has been a great community partner for the international rescue and relief program,” said Rick Young, IRR program director. “The Red Cross Club and the many internships the local Red Cross chapter has provided allow our students to live out what they learn in the classroom and gain vital experience that will help them be effective in their careers.”
The Red Cross proves to be a perfect match for a degree program that prepares students for careers in public safety, emergency management and the medical field. Each IRR student earns level 2 emergency medical technician certification, spends five weeks in Colorado for survival and wilderness rescue training and a semester in Nicaragua learning jungle survival and running medical clinics in remote areas.
For Carle, who plans to become a physician, his Red Cross Club experience meant learning that responding to a disaster was about more than simply saving lives. “I learned about the personal side of disasters,” he said. “Helping people through a life-changing event and to begin the recovery process is just as important as the physical rescue.”
One week each month, the Union College Red Cross Club is assigned to respond to all disaster events in the area—from residential fires to tornados. They use the Red Cross emergency response vehicle to distribute blankets, food and other items needed immediately by families who have lost everything. “We also assess the needs of the victims and are able to give them debit cards from the Red Cross donation system to help them get back on their feet,” said Carle.
In 2014, the first year of Union’s Red Cross Club, the local chapter honored Union’s club during their annual Tribute to Heroes event for their work responding to disasters in Eastern Nebraska.
The Union club has also been very active in installing smoke detectors in the community. Besides hosting several door-to-door education events in different areas of Lincoln, students also do all detector installs in the Lincoln area for requests that come in to the local Red Cross chapter.
Kiana Meyers Kabanje, who graduated in 2017, helped lead the smoke detector initiative for the Red Cross as a part of a six-month internship as Disaster Preparedness Intern. Kabanje facilitated two ongoing projects—the Pillowcase Project, where volunteer Union nursing students gave emergency preparedness presentations in local elementary school classrooms, and the Home Fire Campaign.
As part of the Home Fire Campaign, Kabanje organized community awareness events where volunteers went door-to-door handing out fire safety literature and installing smoke detectors for those who needed them at no charge.
“I really enjoyed the experience of meeting Union’s neighbors throughout Lincoln and connecting with our community,” said she said. “Many houses I visited did not have any functioning smoke alarms and usually had many young children. Some residents did not speak English, so I enjoyed being able to explain in Spanish why it was important to have these alarms and how to keep their homes safe.”
For Kabanje, who now works as a law enforcement dispatcher for the Wisconsin State Capitol Police, her internship provided vital experience that helped her get jobs in emergency management in California and now in her current position. “My internship with the Red Cross gave me the opportunity to connect person to person with my surrounding community,” she said. “I believe God wants us to be active in our communities, not to promote ourselves or our affiliated organizations, but to share kindness. As an IRR disaster professional, I can only be effective in my job and my role as a Christian if I am engaged with the people around me, understand the cultures and values in my environment and can sympathize with people’s needs.”
Carle believes what he has learned will help him be a better doctor. “I think it is good to have a measure of empathy and sympathy for the person you are caring for,” he said. “It’s important to know how to fix them physically, but knowing how to relate to them so you can make them feel better emotionally as well is worth consideration.”
The Community Partnership Award will be presented at Union’s annual Community Appreciation Breakfast for local organizations and businesses that support Union College and the Lincoln community in a variety of ways. The event will be hosted by Union College supporters Kelly Krueger of Rainwood Interiors and Jason Hellbusch of Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corporation.