Episode 03: Izumi Hara - What you need to know about the Red Cross

I’m always fascinated by people who choose to be of service to others. Reading Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, I wrote down this quote because it deeply touched me:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Izumi Hara is one of those people who responded to the calling. She is currently retired from serving as Senior Vice President, at General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Warner Chilcott PLC, now a division of Allergan.


Izumi has been involved with the American Red Cross since 2008 when she volunteered for the gala committee. She joined the board of the Montclair, Glen Ridge, Nutley chapter shortly after that and has been on the Board of the Northern NJ Chapter since it was formed by merger in 2011. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Izumi volunteered and ran the call center in North Jersey for two weeks and deployed on a roving Red Cross truck to distribute snacks, MREs and clean up supplies in South Fords, which was devastated by flooding in the storm surge.

Currently, she serves on the Boards of the American Red Cross, Northern NJ Chapter, Chautauqua Institution and the YMCA of Montclair where she is the Board Chair. An avid choral singer, Izumi sings when she can with the Oratorio Society of New Jersey and the Yale Alumni Chorus and rings in the bell choir at Union Cong.

Izumi will talk about how the Red Cross started in Europe, the complexity and trustworthiness of their operations, and what we can do to support, no matter how little we may be able to offer.

A little bit from a lot of people can have a powerful impact.

Contact me if you wish to speak further to Izumi.
[email protected]



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Sharman 0:00
Thank you all for coming to the podcast live your bloom. My guest today is someone I've known for quite a while actually through my church. Her name is Xu Izumi hora. I met her in the choir because she's a fabulous singer, besides all the other things that she does, and I'm just going to introduce her right away and let her tell you all about herself. Welcome.

Izumi Hara 0:23
Thank you. So just a little bit about my background. I grew up in Tokyo and in Southern California, and I attended college at Long Beach State. I went on to Georgetown University and earned my law degree there. I practice law for 27 years, most of that time in the pharmaceutical industry. And I retired in 2012, as Senior Vice President and General Counsel from Warner Chilcott PLC, which is now part of allegan. Since 2012, I focus on volunteering and philanthropy, and serve as board chair at the YMCA of Montclair, and on the boards of the Chautauqua institution, and the northern New Jersey chapter of the Red Cross.

Sharman 1:05
This must keep you really busy, because I also know you sing with a fabulous choir that tours occasionally as well, right?

Izumi Hara 1:12
Yes, yes, I do. So you know, I do love to sing. And I sing in a number of different courses. Sometimes I sing in three. But I sing regularly with the Yale alumni chorus, which is kind of a long story because I didn't go to Yale, but I do sing with them. And they do tour. So it's fun.

Sharman 1:29
That's wonderful. In fact, the first time I was I saw..., well, I'll let you talk about the Red Cross. And then I'll tell you the place that I visited in Europe. So thank you for telling us your background. It's good to know you went from being busy to being more busy.

I know you're active in the Red Cross. And so what inspired you to volunteer for them?

Izumi Hara 1:53
Well, you know, it's funny when I when I first got involved, it was because a friend asked me to help organize. The Red Cross's fundraising gala was almost 15 years ago. And you know, I just thought, oh, that'll be fun to spend some time with friends and help plan a party for a good cause. So that's how I first got involved.

Sharman 2:12
But then you get you decided to commit deeper further?

Izumi Hara 2:15
Yes. Yeah. You know, while I had some knowledge of the Red Cross's mission of disaster relief in supplying much needed blood, getting involved on the fundraising side helped me learn much more about the critical services the Red Cross provides, and the amazing volunteers who make it happen. I joined the board of the local Red Cross, which at the time was the Montclair glenridge Nutley Red Cross around 2008. And I stayed on the board with that chapter, merged the northern New Jersey chapter in 2011. And went in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit, I volunteered and I wound up running the North Jersey call center for two weeks.

Sharman 2:53
Whoa, what was that like? 24 -7? I mean, it must have been...

Izumi Hara 2:58
No, yeah, no, it was during the you know, it's probably like, you know, eight to six. And then in the morning for that particular call center in the morning, we would then have to clear the voicemails and come in, you know, over the overnight and try to respond to all of those. So I had at least one volunteer doing nothing but calling everybody back.

Sharman 3:22
And then you went further with your commitment.

I, you know, I've been serving on the board since 2008. And continue. You know, whenever there is a calamity, a catastrophe. There are so many organizations that pop up that I'm sure all are well meaning and intend to help. But I was raised to always turn to the Red Cross. Can you speak to their their validity that if I donate $100, it's going to the cause? Yes, so the Red Cross responds to an emergency every eight minutes, and no one else does. It's not the government, not other charities from small house fires to multi state natural disasters.

Izumi Hara 4:09
The Red Cross goes wherever it's needed, so people can have clean water, safe shelter and hot meals when they need the most. The Red Cross is co responsible, along with FEMA, for providing mass care after a disaster. And what I mean by mass care is primarily sheltering and feeding people who are impacted by disaster. And yet, the Red Cross doesn't receive funding from the federal government for its operations. The Red Cross is funded almost entirely from donations, and from expense recovery charges for biomedical products and services. The Red Cross responds to about 60,000 disasters each year 90% of them are fires, and about 90% of disaster workers are volunteers.

To give you an idea of scale, Hurricane Katrina was the largest sheltering operation in Red Cross history. The Red Cross opened nearly 1400 evacuation shelters in 27 states and the District of Columbia. More than 3.8 million overnight shelter stays were provided more than 90 kitchens were set up to prepare meals. Five days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the Red Cross serves nearly 1 million meals in a single day, more than 68 million meals were served during the response, and more than 244,000 disaster workers 95% of them volunteers responded to help the hurricane survivors, more than 4 million people received emergency assistance through the Red Cross. There's no other organization in this country that can provide that kind of response in an emergency. And about 90 cents for every dollar that's donated goes directly to the mission.

Sharman 5:55
I'm so glad you shared all of that. Because for anybody who's listening, and I do promote this, I'm looking for more people to volunteer and more people to get involved more people to donate. And they can be assured that their money is being put to good use, there always has to be some portion of it that has to go to operational course costs. I know that and I was going to ask you are you involved with at the border?

Izumi Hara 6:22
Yes, the Red Cross is involved. But I actually don't know a lot about you know what they're doing there. But I do know that the Red Cross is there.

Sharman 6:32
It started in Europe, can you share with us the story of how it actually evolved? And when it actually came to this country?

Izumi Hara 6:39
Um, yeah, it's a really interesting story.

Sharman 6:42
And that's where I went, to the museum just blown away, as were all the students that I traveled with, to know that one person can make that kind of change.

Izumi Hara 6:53
Right. So back in 1859, there was a guy named Henri Dunant who was a Swiss businessman. And he'd been granted a concession by Napoleon, the third in Algeria to grow some crops, but he ran into some trouble and he contacted Napoleon the third and said, I need to talk to you about this. And so Napoleon said, "Come on over. I'm in Italy." Well, he was in Italy, because the second Italian War of Independence was being fought at the time between the French and Sardinian armies on one side, and the Austrians on the other, and Napoleon the third had his headquarters in a place called Solferino Italy. So Dunant arrives in Solferino on June 24 1859. For his meeting, and unbeknownst to him earlier that day, the Battle of Solferino had raged for nine hours, and when he arrived he found it horrifying.

There were 23,000 wounded soldiers from both sides, basically lying everywhere, not to mention 1000s of dead, there was no organized effort to help the wounded. And so to organize the local people, especially women and girls, and rally them around the local expression, 'tutti fratelli' - all brothers - to convince them to help care for the wounded, no matter who they were. Dunant was so profoundly affected by what he experienced that he wrote a book called "Memories of Solferino" and he toured around promoting his book and the concept of a neutral independent organization to care for wounded soldiers. Four years after Solferino the International Committee of the Red Cross was formed in Geneva. at the urging of the Red Cross, the Swiss government organized a conference with 11 other nations. And in 1864, the first Geneva Convention was signed, and although Dunant later went on to face personal ruin and poverty, in 1901, he was recognized with the first Nobel Peace Prize for founding the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In terms of how it came to the United States, your audience has probably heard something about Clara Barton. She was a teacher, a patent clerk, a self taught nurse, a suffragette and a civil rights activist. She was a truly remarkable woman, challenged in almost every part of her working life by sexism and misogyny. She was a visionary way ahead of her time. She was living in DC in 1861. At the time of the Baltimore riots, which is said to be the first bloodshed of the Civil War. She heard the wounded were being brought by train to Union Station and she rushed there to offer help. She began work, collecting supplies for the Union Army and eventually gained permission to bring supplies to the frontlines of the Civil War. She was basically embedded with the Union army with her mule drawn cart loads of medical supplies for much of the war. And during that time, she kept copious notes about every wounded soldier she encountered.

When the war ended, President Lincoln asked her to open the Office of missing soldiers in DC. Her office received 63,000 inquiries about missing sons and husbands. And by 1868, they were able to identify by more than 22,000 missing soldiers. She also traveled around the country speaking about her experiences during the Civil War. But by 1868, Clara Barton was absolutely exhausted. And her doctor ordered her to go far away from where she could work so that she could recover. So she traveled to Europe. And while she was in Geneva, she became familiar with the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross. And she volunteered with them during the Franco Prussian war.

She ended up remaining in Europe for about four years, she returned to the US determined to organize an American National Red Cross. And she lobbied several presidents to try to obtain federal recognition. Even then, there was a lot of politics going on. And it took about eight years. But at last, the American Red Cross was formed in 1881, and has been working to alleviate human suffering since that time, Clara Barton was 59 at that time, and she went on to lead the American Red Cross for the next 23 years.

Sharman 11:06
So I tear up sometimes when I hear stories like this, because I'm marvel at the drive of some people to just effect the change that we take for granted now. Yes, no, the humanistic side of war. Yep. If they hadn't done that, these families would still not know where their loved ones were. Right? I mean, of course, we hope someday, we won't be having more but surely does look that way. You know, so far. What a great story though. Now, that's, I know that I think they have made that into a movie, but I think it's time for a remake, the originator, that would be an interesting movie to, to see it through his eyes to see the horror or to see that through his eyes. And then there's people like you, and I'm sure all the other volunteers, if somebody wants to volunteer, what's the best thing to do to to volunteer a couple hours or money or donate or what?

Izumi Hara 12:03
Right. So there are three ways that you can help the Red Cross, you can volunteer, you can give blood or you can give money. And so in terms of volunteering, you know, we have five areas of service, we talked mostly about disaster relief today, there's biomedical services, being about, you know, donating blood and have it being processed into different products for use by healthcare providers, to help people who need it. There's the service to the military, which is another service that the Red Cross provides, we support soldiers and their families from the time they enlist on including when they become veterans. And there's also the training arm of the Red Cross, about four and a half million people are trained every year in CPR, first aid, lifeguarding and other important life skills. And finally, the fifth area that the Red Cross is in and can have volunteers is international human and humanitarian aid, which is international disaster response. And also a big part of what they do is reconnecting families that are separated by conflict, disaster migration, and things like that. And, you know, there's, as

I said, in the beginning, they're 90% of the workers inside the Red Cross are volunteers. So there's really no job you can imagine that, that you can't do as a volunteer in any of these areas. You know, from working in a shelter, to driving a truck, you know, there's just so many different things you can do. And in some of the things you can do, as you said, you know, a couple hours, you can, for example, you could volunteer at a blood drive to be a greeter, you know, who just, you know, greets people as they come in, and make sure that they fill out the paperwork and, and things like that, or, you know, we provide snacks to people after they give blood and you know, think volunteer positions like that don't require a huge amount of time.

The second thing you can do is give blood. The Red Cross supplies about 40% of the nation's blood supply, and is the largest supplier of blood in the country. In order to keep up with demand, the Red Cross has to collect 13,000 units of blood and 2600 units of platelets every day. people with serious illnesses, accident victims, mothers giving birth, and those with certain chronic illnesses receive the life saving blood they need because of the generosity of donors. So if your audience is able, in about 30% or 38% of the population is eligible to give blood, they should. The way I look at it is this. If someone told you that you could if you gave one hour of your time, you could save three lives would you do and you can do that every 60 days or so.

So it's a really wonderful way of you know, of helping people and then the final thing, of course, is to donate. The Red Cross can always use cash donations. And one of the ongoing challenges for the Red Cross is that it's most famous for large scale disaster response. And people tend to donate to the Red Cross when they see images of widespread destruction and misery. And they tend to give for a specific disaster. But the problem with that is that the vast majority of disasters are local, you know, about 90% of the 60,000 disasters that the Red Cross responds to every year or fires. But earmark donations for specific disaster can't be used for anything else. So we know when you donate, please consider giving an unrestricted gift so that the money can go where it's needed most. And the easiest way to volunteer to give blood to donate is by going to www.redcross.org. And there you will find everything you need in order to do any of those things.

Sharman 16:02
No amount is too small to do. That's right. That's right, people can do a monthly donation of 20 bucks or 25 bucks and still feel they're contributing.

Izumi Hara 16:12
Yes. And you know, you can even there's a there's a number you can text to that I don't I don't have handy right now. But there's a number you can text to that will give an automatic $10 donation to the Red Cross.

Sharman 16:23
I just wanted people to know how trustworthy Red Cross is, that still is one of the main is probably the main agency to philanthropic agency that is, you know, your money is going where it needs to go to do that kind of operation, how do they keep up with the infrastructure, the updating of the computers and all of that that's like a whole nother thing? Right?

Izumi Hara 16:49
Yes, you know, the Red Cross has been through a lot of change in the last decade. In terms of infrastructure, or organizationally, the Red Cross has really reorganized, you know, since about 2008, or so, to be much more centrally managed, you know, originally, when I, when I first got involved, you know, we had management, local management that was in charge of, you know, HR, and it, and, you know, all of those things, right. And, and about 10 years ago, when there were about 20 chapters or so in New Jersey, we were told, we were consolidating down to six chapters, and that the board, the local boards would cease to oversee the management functions as the National Red Cross centralized management for more consistent operation and client experience. So, you know, that was kind of hard for us as a local board, because we had been doing all of this ourselves at that point. But when you think about it, the efficiencies are obvious, right? So having six executive directors instead of 20, consolidating back office operations, such as HR payroll, it marketing resulted in significant savings.

And, you know, at that point, 2008, you know, was financially The country was in a terrible place financially, the Red Cross was in a terrible place, they were losing money. And, you know, and making these changes, help the Red Cross, come out of its deficit position, repay its debt, and invest in much needed infrastructure in the organization that would allow the organization to be more organized and more responsive. And you you mentioned it, and it is a huge thing, because it's one of those things that if you don't keep up in the IT area, you all of a sudden find yourself unable to do a lot of things that are possible, you know, so in the last 10 years, they've been five key upgrades to the Red Cross IT infrastructure is really brought it into the 21st century, and enabled far more efficient processing of blood products, more accurate preparation and response to disasters, quicker delivery of financial assistance to victims, and access to key safety information for everyone through smartphone apps.

So the Red Cross upgraded all of the biomedical operations, computer systems equipment and processing. And with a more stable blood banking software application, the Red Cross was able to implement a world class compliance system providing enhanced efficiency and safety. In 2006, there was a fundamental change in how the Red Cross prepares for a looming large scale disaster. By using the latest geospatial and digital technology. The Red Cross can make data driven decisions to improve efficiency and speed. So 15 years after Katrina, eight years after Sandy and many ways you couldn't compare where we were to where we are now. As a Volunteer now when a potential hurricanes identified by NOAA and the spaghetti models show that landfall or a Sideswipe with flooding is likely a countdown clock begins and we get updates and calls to volunteer and logistics experts at the Red Cross, many of whom are volunteers get to work.

And there are all kinds of things to be done, you know, six days delay or five days to landfall, and then about two to three days to landfall. W e see that the shelter supplies 1000s of cots, blankets, tables, comfort kits, and other supplies have been delivered in shelters set up just outside the danger area. You know, which is doable because of the technology along with tractor trailer sized mobile kitchens capable preparing 10,000 meals a day. And ERVS, the iconic Red Cross emergency response vehicles, are positioned by huge warehouses or tractor trailers that have been stocked during the countdown with hundreds of 1000s of cleanup kits, MREs, snacks, bottled water and comfort kits. You know, as soon as it's safe to go in those ERVS will start rolling in to the affected areas. And you know, as you're listening to all this, remember 90% volunteers.

Sharman 21:09
I'm going to give a shout out of my brother in law who sadly passed away last year, but when he retired, he put himself to service and was always involved with food banks and feeding the homeless and dressing up like Santa Claus and going around Christmas and giving gifts because I used to plop down before him. And that was Tom Pisack. And I know he wasn't feeling well this one time. And I went to visit him - 'cause he had been a chef, he had been a cook. And there he was in the kitchen making a VAT like that of chili, I think turkey chili. I said "What are you doing? You just get out of the hospital?" Yeah, but you know, I think he was getting ready, there was a food truck. And Tom felt that he could run that food truck and be of service. And there he was.

And this is the thing that I'm featuring on our podcast, he wanted to be of service, he wanted to be of service. And if he felt and if he wasn't doing it, he didn't feel right about himself. And I am trying to inspire everybody to know that you can have a great retirement or you can be working while you're you're still given that two hours that 25 that whatever. Because $25 from 1000s of people is a lot of money. You know, right? I'm sure you were involved with the the Texas climate disaster that happened recently.

Izumi Hara 22:43
Yes, you know, basically any kind of disaster like that, you know, the Red Cross is there.

Sharman 22:50
There's just so much and I'm sure what this entire pandemic, you've been indispensable. And these are things that we take for granted. Oh, you know, the Red Cross Red Cross. But I wanted you to talk about what do you do? How does it run, the fact that it's run by, you know, we need we need to do a big Rock on to raise a lot of money. That's what we need to do, we need to get some celebrities behind it , that's what we do in this country, when we need money, we throw a rock concert or some kind of concert, you know,

Izumi Hara 23:23
Right, right. And those things, you know, those things I mentioned earlier, they tend to happen when there's a big disaster somewhere where you see a lot of images of, of, you know, destruction and misery. But, you know, the need is, is local to I mean, you know, as I mentioned, most of these things are house fires, where people lose everything, but it's, you know, it might be an apartment building or 20 families are affected, or it could just be a single family. But, you know, they like their house burns down and they lose everything. So the Red Cross is always there for them.

Sharman 23:56
So, people make donations, they should check what to not as specific.

Izumi Hara 24:03
So sometimes, you know, like, if you see that, you know, a big hurricane has hit you send the money for hurricane relief for that for that hurricane. And in a lot of ways, it's better to just give it a designated so that the Red Cross can figure out where to put that money to work. Yeah. But you know, I'm really glad you gave a shout out to your to your brother because volunteers are the heart and soul of the Red Cross. And of many, many other, you know, nonprofits.

Sharman 24:35
And it's a certain kind of philanthropic feeling it not everybody has it and I actually learned from Tom, I learned from Tom to consciously give back volunteer and be of service we, you know, be of service. We're you know, we're in a time right now where there's just so much polarization and unkindness that has demonstrated us to us and lack of respect. And I think we just have to consciously rise above and blown all my blowers, we have to Bloom, we have to find our joy and some of our joy is going to happen from being involved in philanthropic organizations, like the Red Cross, give them that site once more where they can go.

Izumi Hara 25:22
It's www.redcross.org.org.

Sharman 25:27
I want to thank you so much. I'm fascinated by this. So I know I'm going to get involved in it. And I haven't decided how but but I'm definitely going to do it now that it's been explained to me in detail, I'm compelled. And I'll do it for my brother in law, too, because he was he was a big loss, but what a human being. So he inspired so many people. And you do too. What's next on your plate? Have you any pure fun lined up for you?

Izumi Hara 25:56
I'm not sure. I do have two daughters graduating from college. So we're making plans around their graduations. Oh, that's

Sharman 26:06
Wow. And I've known them for a long time too. So that's, that's cause for celebration. Thank you so much.

Izumi Hara 26:12
Thanks so much for having me.

Sharman 26:14
Yeah, my pleasure. And I'll see you soon. All right.

Izumi Hara 26:17

Sharman 26:17
Oh, my Thank you so much. I appreciate it. All right, bloomers. This is it for this podcast. We learned a lot. Let's see if we take any action. Bye bye.

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