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Red cross: Another agency aided by United Way

The MIT United Way campaign aims to raise $322,000 for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay. Many members of the MIT community donate their time as well as money to one or more of the more than 200 non-profit social-service agencies helped by UWMB. During the campaign, Tech Talk will periodically profile some of these people.

Among volunteers for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay, Richard Basch may hold some kind of record for involvement. He teaches first aid and CPR, works at first-aid stations during public events, helps people displaced by fires and other emergencies, and is in charge of training other volunteers in disaster services.

Mr. Basch, a 1990 MIT graduate who is a system programmer in Distributed Computing and Network Services, has been called to as many as five fires in one night to help people who suddenly found themselves homeless. Although house fires don't displace a great many people at one time the way a major event like an earthquake or flood would, "fire is the most common disaster there is," he said.

Providing services to disaster victims also takes the lion's share of the ARCMB budget, which was $7.6 million last fiscal year, according to Barbara Platt, director of public relations. The organization received a contribution of $1.16 million from United Way of Massachusetts Bay in 1993-94.

After a fire, people are often left with nothing, so Mr. Basch and other volunteers arrange for them to stay in shelters or hotels (ARCMB rents rooms at discounted rates from various hotels). The organization also provides necessities such as toiletry items, clothes, blankets and food, all of which are purchased or donated by vendors.

The biggest fire that Mr. Basch assisted at recently was the Huntington Avenue fire last January, which displaced about 120 people. Many of them stayed temporarily at the Boston YMCA and in Northeastern University dorm rooms, he said.

Mr. Basch wears a beeper when he is on call to help in emergencies, and he has sometimes had to brave the elements in getting to the scene, especially in instances of damaging winter storms or nor'easters. "It's definitely interesting trying to get to some of these places in the ice and snow," he said. But such trying situations provide the satisfaction of "knowing I'm actually able to help and get people immediate shelter and relief out of a winter night at 2am," he added.

When he's not dealing with disasters himself, Mr. Basch sets schedules and arranges for instructors for disaster services. He also teaches CPR and first aid and helps out at events such as the Boston Marathon and the Head of the Charles Regatta, where he can use his EMT training if necessary ("I figured it would be a useful set of skills if I were ever at an accident scene," he said).

In addition to disaster services and CPR/first aid training, ARCMB provides HIV/AIDS education, classes in English as a second language, a nursing assistant and home health aide training program, two food assistance programs, and international social services. This includes a Holocaust and war victims tracing service, an international message and location service for families separated by natural or man-made calamities such as war and famine, and legalization services for immigrants (administering the written citizenship exams and classes and helping with citizenship applications).

Some operations such as the home health aide, citizenship and CPR/first aid training programs aim to run on a break-even basis by charging fees. Disaster relief requires the most funding; "there's no dollar amount we limit people to," Ms. Platt said.

ARCMB is one of 20 Red Cross chapters in Massachusetts. It serves 79 communities bounded by Salem, Framingham and Hingham, as well as Nantucket.

A version of this article appeared in the November 30, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 13).

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