Union students named heroes by American Red Cross

For students in Union College’s new Red Cross Club, being a hero doesn’t always mean committing acts of selfless bravery such as rescuing someone from a burning building or raging river.

Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

At their annual Tribute to Heroes banquet on May 1, the Cornhusker Chapter of the American Red Cross honored the Union College students with the Tribute to Heroes Disaster Relief Award for “unconditional service and support to the Cornhusker Disaster Action Team.”

The campus club, formed this school year by International Rescue and Relief program director Rick Young, assists with Red Cross disaster response throughout the state of Nebraska—supporting first responders fighting fires, helping to provide for the immediate needs of disaster victims and assisting with tornado damage assessment.

“I don’t have the coolest of stories,” said Jonatan Rojas, a senior IRR premed major. But Rojas was deployed in the aftermath of several tornados last fall. “Mostly, we reviewed damages done to communities and were available to help out however we could.”

He finds the experiences as preparation for his life calling. “Being in the club allows me to be more focused on serving others while at the same time giving me valuable experience for my future as a medical doctor.”

Nursing major Shelby Hayes also understands the value of serving her community. “The importance of a cup of water is huge,” she said. “Most the calls I’ve responded to have been canteening calls.”

Canteening refers to providing first responders, such as firefighters, with water and food during an emergency response.  During the winter months, this usually means making coffee and hot chocolate at a time most people are sleeping soundly.

“One canteening call came around 2 a.m., and the temperature had dropped to a horrible minus 22 with the windchill!” Hayes remembered the firefighters covered in ice. “A house had caught fire and we went out in the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle. We had snacks, chocolate and coffee, and one of the firefighters later told us they couldn’t do it without us.”

Union College’s International Rescue and Relief Program is a baccalaureate program that combines survival, rescue, emergency medical and disaster response training into a unique degree that prepares students for careers in health care, law enforcement and emergency management.

As part of their training, IRR students already had to take the American Red Cross courses in Shelter Operations and Disaster Services Overview. Young thought it would be a great idea to not only allow students to put those skills to work, but provide another way for Union to connect with and serve the Lincoln community.

Thus, the Union College Red Cross Club was born in the fall of 2013. The club usually handles all Red Cross emergency calls one week each month. Active members include IRR staff members Young and Tyler Anderson and students Arelli Dicken, Emilian Grigore, Jeremy Howard, Connor Kraegel, Amy Matsuda, Megan Prescott, Tobias Watson and Lauren Young in addition to Rojas and Hayes.

For Hayes, being a hero isn’t always doing the big things that get noticed. “These experiences have shown me time and time again the importance of the little things,” said Hayes. “In service, no matter whether you go on a mission trip far away or next door, you can share those little things.”

“I’m very proud of these students who give of themselves to serve the Lincoln community,” said Young. “They embody the spirit of Union College and truly are heroes.”

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