LaForice Nealy, a Champion CEO for Restoring Family Links

Story by Devin Olmack, Southeast Michigan Region, Volunteer

Detroit, Michigan is ranked second in the nation for volume of Restoring Family Links (RFL) cases and in the past five years has opened nearly 550 cases. Dearborn, a city just north of Detroit, is home to the largest Iraqi immigrant population in the United States. This community has made providing certificates of detention for Iraqi refugees from the Persian Gulf War a majority of the casework the chapter handles. I began volunteering with Restoring Family Links at the Southeastern Michigan Chapter in Detroit last September and can whole-heartedly say RFL in Detroit would not be what it is today if it were not for the support from LaForice Nealy, the CEO of Southeastern Michigan.

Shortly after I began volunteering for RFL in Detroit, I realized what a massive challenge I had taken on. Before LaForice was CEO of Southeastern Michigan, the Restoring Family Links program of Detroit struggled to receive the support and resources necessary to address a large, culturally diverse community with acute family reconnection needs.  When LaForice became the chapter’s CEO, he understood these challenges and then when I came on, he set out to help me succeed by focusing on how to best deliver RFL services to clients.

He scheduled meetings with me to address the needs, goals, and direction for RFL in Detroit. After the meeting, with a plan established and objectives in mind, he made sure to stop by my desk to check in every week when I was in the office.  The conversation always started out light but he always made a point to ask "how is Restoring Family Links going, how are you, and what do you need?”  From this point forward, I knew I had a champion behind me.

LaForice has ensured that I have the resources necessary to build a team of volunteers.  He has also realigned the program under Volunteer Services to guarantee that someone was accountable for the program 24 hours a day, seven days a week.   He makes sure people throughout the chapter know about RFL and are continuously aware that RFL is a service the Red Cross provides.  He has even personally seen that mail for Restoring Family Links does not get lost in the mail room, but is on my desk Monday mornings, assuaging my fears that client information would get lost.  Without the unbelievable support from LaForice, Restoring Family Links in Detroit would not be on its way to becoming a robust service the community can trust.

LaForice, thank you standing by the Restoring Family Links program from day one.  Your impeccable support, advocacy, and dedication to Restoring Family Links has made the program what it is today and what it will be in the future.

Three Life-Changing Words: I am Okay

Story by Devin Olmack, National Headquarters, RFL Intern

Devin Olmack, RFL Intern

Devin Olmack, RFL Intern

 In May, I packed my belongings in Michigan and hopped on a plane to Washington, DC to begin my summer internship at the American Red Cross (ARC).   As expected, my passion and attachment to the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program has continuously grown over the past two months.  However, I never expected to have a life changing story to tell about my summer internship.

My primary role as an intern at National Headquarters is to assess and send search requests and Red Cross messages (RCM) for clients between ARC chapters and Red Cross National societies around the world.  Then, it is the responsibility of the chapter and national society staff and volunteers to find the sought persons and deliver the RCM’s to the clients. 

I began that morning like any other, a cup of coffee on my right and lots of case numbers on my computer screen.  As I began the casework for the week, an oral RCM from a brother to his sister stared me in the face.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) often collects an oral RCM when they visit detention centers which allows for quicker delivery and response to the sought person than a written RCM.  These messages are expected to be delivered within two days with the hope that the sought person will send a reply message back to the inquirer the next time the ICRC visits the detention center.

Delivering RCMs is usually a chapter’s duty however, that day, responsibility fell to headquarters. My supervisor, Mark Owens, asked if I felt comfortable calling the sought person to deliver the message - something I had never done before.  While I wanted to jump for joy, I managed to squeak out an “uhhhh okayyy” and frantically prepared for the phone call. 

Mark sat next to me as I dialed the phone number of the sister.  Running through my brain were all the possible outcomes to this phone call; what if the sought person doesn’t speak English, what if this isn’t the person we are looking for? Just to name a few.

 My thoughts were interrupted by a “hello” from the other end of the line.  After introductions and confirming this was in fact the sought person, I said, “We have a message from your brother we would like to deliver to you.”  What happened next changed my life.

The brother’s simple words, “I am okay,” that I was able to deliver to her gave her peace of mind.  Before the phone call, she was questioning whether or not her brother was even alive.  Through her tears you could feel the appreciation and happiness she felt in receiving this message.  I collected a reply message to her brother and she couldn’t thank me enough as we concluded the conversation.  To actually hear the appreciation and happiness from this sister solidified my passion for the RFL program.

I am proud to be able to share my own RFL success story and to be a part of the Red Cross family. I see the Red Cross and the Restoring Family Links program in a completely different light now.  I no longer think of them as just a program or organization, but a lifeline for families, communities, and nations around the world.