Volunteer Turns Compassion into Action for Restoring Family Links

Elissa Maish, International Services Volunteer and RFL Mentor, with colleague Vicente Baamonde at an RFL Mentor Meeting.

Elissa Maish, International Services Volunteer and RFL Mentor, with colleague Vicente Baamonde at an RFL Mentor Meeting.

Story by Richard White, Tucson Region, Regional CEO

For 13 years, Elissa Maish has been a tireless, determined and compassionate volunteer for the Southern Arizona Regional Chapter.

Elissa began her Red Cross career as a Disaster Volunteer and subsequently served as the Chapter’s Director of Volunteer Services and Community Outreach.  Since 2006, Elissa has been the Chapter’s volunteer Program Manager for International Services.

Elissa assists in reconnecting refugee family members who have been tragically separated due to armed conflict, disaster or other humanitarian crises.  She has been very successful in conducting outreach to the refugee community to introduce this unique service that provides hope to those who believe their family members may have disappeared forever.   Elissa has also developed strong associations with organizations that support refugees.  She conducts sessions on a regular basis to communicate the importance of referrals and because she is witness to the suffering of those who believe they are the last of their family; Elissa will participate in almost any activity to get the word out. It is not unusual to see Elissa holding open houses at apartment buildings where refugees reside or attending baptisms, picnics, naturalization ceremonies and other refugee gatherings.  She recently spoke to the United Nations Association of Southern Arizona about the activities of International Services.

Elissa demonstrates sensitivity and respect when working with people of diverse cultures and oftentimes is awestruck at the courage and resilience of her clients. Her caseload is one of the largest among all Chapters.  It is also not unusual to get a request from her for household goods, diapers, toys or any other needed item she identifies when visiting refugees at their homes.

In 2013, American Red Cross partnered in a pilot project with No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization serving the migrant community. The pilot was established to facilitate a short, one-time, well-being call from migrants to their families, desperate to hear from their loved one.  Elissa, who was involved in the pilot also attended an International Services staff meeting at National Headquarters in Washington D.C. comprised of Red Cross leadership from Mexico, Canada and the ICRC to develop best practices when serving the migrant community.

Elissa has been invited to participate in a Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance) observance at a local synagogue to remind the community that Red Cross has open Holocaust and World War II tracing cases, and continues to accept new ones for survivors and families who still hope to learn the fate of their loved ones.

Elissa is a Red Crosser who has a huge heart and is a volunteer who continues to demonstrate her ability to convert her compassion into action.

Restoring Family Links Program Welcomes New Mentors

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This year, the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program has had the pleasure of welcoming three new mentors (click here for the full roster). RFL mentors serve as subject matter experts and champions of the program. They provide guidance and training on Restoring Family Links casework to American Red Cross staff locally and nationwide. They also provide feedback to national headquarters on the Restoring Family Links program and provide input and connection to local caseworkers and national headquarters. The new mentors’ bios can be found below as well as links to the stories that they have contributed to the blog. Please join us in welcoming the new mentors!

Cayce Baierski and the Restoring Family Links team at the Central Valley Region.

Cayce Baierski and the Restoring Family Links team at the Central Valley Region.

Cayce Baierski - Central Valley Region (Fresno, CA)

Cayce’s passion for International Services started the first time she helped out at a medical clinic in Mexico at the age of 13 with an organization called LIGA. Later in life, she was sent to the Saharawi Refugee Camps in Algeria where she spent a summer researching their best practices. In the camps she saw the ICRC in action and that was the moment she decided to turn her passion into a career. After completing a Master’s in Human Rights from Kingston University London, and volunteering at non-profits and NGOs around the world, Cayce joined the American Red Cross in her hometown of Fresno, CA as an AmeriCorps NPRC member. The region did not have an International Service program until May this year when she applied for a grant from NHQ. With the funds, they were able to train 12 RFL caseworkers and start the Restoring Family Links program. Currently, she is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Central Valley Chapter, but also leads and develops the RFL program. International Services is truly where her heart is and she feels incredibly honored to be selected as a mentor for Restoring Family Links in 2014.

Cayce’s blog on her chapter’s Restoring Family Links training for World Refugee Day can be found here.

Jen Pierce

Jen Pierce

Jen Pierce - Northeast Pennsylvania Region (Bethlehem, PA)

Jen was born and raised in central Florida, where she graduated from University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s in Psychology and met her husband in Army ROTC. Following graduation, she attended Augusta State University and earned a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology and held internships at the Augusta VA Medical Center PTSD Unit and Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit. Jen and her husband became an Army family in 2006 and have been stationed at Fort Benning GA, Fort Bragg NC, and Camp Casey in Dongducheon, South Korea. Jen not only crossed over the North Korean demilitarization line while pregnant with her first child, but also became a Red Crosser, volunteering with Service to Armed Forces program while at Camp Casey.  After her husband left the Army, Jen was given the position as Service to Armed Forces and International Services Director for the Northeast PA Region.  Jen loves to travel and loves learning as much as she can about other cultures.  As a result of her experiences with the Restoring Family Links program, she now has particular interest in refugee trauma, but plans to stay with the Red Cross for a very long time.  Jen resides in Allentown, PA, with her husband Zach, her son Jackson and her 8 month-old daughter, Berlin.

Jen’s blog about outreach to Filipino communities after Typhoon Haiyan can be found here.

Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson - North Texas Region (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX)

Jack is the Service to the Armed Forces and International Services specialist for the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area in the North Texas Region. He is fortunate to lead a wonderful team of volunteer RFL caseworkers in one of the most active regions in the country. He is more than happy to help fellow caseworkers and leaders throughout the country with efforts to expand and improve RFL programs. He doesn't always have the answer, but he’s does his best to make sure he knows all the people who do.

Jack’s blog on his work with Iraqi refugees and certificates of detention can be found here.