Life has become pretty easy for those who have made friends with the smartphone. With agendas, audio reminders, email and the Web right at the world's fingertips, it is hard to miss a beat when connected in so many ways.
Perhaps one of the most important things that has come out of this digital boom is the communication gap it has filled for those family members who are far away, whether by choice or as a result of military service. Programs like Skype and FaceTime allow long-distance conversations to take place in real time and "face-to-face."
Some would ask, then, why do we need services such as the Service to the Armed Forces, an American Red Cross program that has been offered since long before the origination of cellphone and laptop use? The program, according to Thomas Szulanczyk, chapter executive of American Red Cross North Central Pennsylvania, has the primary mission of serving as emergency communication between family members living in the area and service members serving anywhere in the world.
"If there is an illness, death or birth, something that needs to be transmitted from the family to the service member, we have folks who are dedicated to transmitting the emergency communications," Szulanczyk said. "Many times it is good news, but many times it is not good news, in the event of a serious illness or death."
It is true, he said, that service members typically know the information before the Red Cross transmits it, but protocol must be followed.
"The military requires that (the emergency communication) must be relayed through the Red Cross for verification," he said. "If there is a request to send someone home, it must go through the Red Cross."
Lycoming County United Way has supported the Service to the Armed Forces for many years, providing at least $5,000 annually to help fund the program.
"We get strong support from the community and the United Way is part of that community," Szulanczyk said. "We do rely on that United Way funding. If we didn't have it, we would find ways to do some of the programs, but they would have to be done on a much smaller scale. We would have to be far more selective as far as the services we can provide, as well as how many people we can reach."
"Raising funds to address the human service needs of our community is our everyday mission. But while we are going about this task daily it is the men and women of our Armed Forces stationed at locations all around the globe whose mission is even more important - protecting our everyday way of life," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "Providing the Red Cross with funding to help our military in their time of need is something we are proud to do."
In addition to its primary role as communication transmitter, the program also houses efforts like Totes for Hope, which provides hygiene and personal items for veterans in military hospitals, nursing homes and extended care homes. Right now, members of local banks, as well as Community Arts Center visitors, can participate in the Holiday Mail for Heroes. Blank holiday cards have been provided by Red Cross, which can be filled out and dropped in a box at the location. The cards will be delivered to veterans and deployed servicemen.
Red Cross also offers pre- and post-deployment sessions for family members called Get to Know Us Before You Need Us.
"Post traumatic stress disorder is a huge concern for those coming home from serving in the military," said Valerie Whyman, director of donor relations for American Red Cross, serving south central Pennsylvania. "If the family knows what to look out for, they can easily head off a dramatic turn of events like suicide. Now, the Red Cross is needed more than ever because coming home is more of an adjustment. If they come back and they're qualified for work, but they can't find work after having a very impressive responsibility, they start to fall into depression."
Through the Service to the Armed Forces, Whyman was able to help a county veteran who became a victim of one of the many email scams that surface from time to time.
"I had the privilege of dealing with a World War II vet who came to the office," she said. "His daughter called to set up the appointment because she didn't know what else to do. This 80-something veteran was a real sweetheart. He was living alone and he'd always thought he'd saved up enough to take care of his family. And then the email scam came out."
The older population is extremely vulnerable to them, she added. Over the course of a couple of months, the gentleman had sent the scammer thousands of dollars.
"It was the people of Wal-Mart who stepped up after noticing he had been wiring large amounts of money," Whyman said. "He lost all of his money and there is no way to get it back. He then was diagnosed with diabetes. The plan was for him to move in with his daughter, but her house was not equipped for his needs. Red Cross was able to help fix the house with grab rails, a walk-in shower, things to make it habitable and handicap accessible."
Help for this ailing veteran was made possible because of the Service to Armed Forces program, supported by Lycoming County United Way. It goes without saying that the program steps in to help in areas that are not offered in the community, similar to other programs offered by American Red Cross like its emergency services and blood drives.
Please consider a donation to the Lycoming County United Way campaign this year. Your dollars will help support local veterans and those who are actively serving, or the many other individuals who are in need in the area.
For more information, visit lcuw.org.