The Red Cross House, located at 40th Street and Powelton Avenue in West Philadelphia, is one of the most unique branches of the well known humanitarian organization. The mission of the House is to help people recover from any fire, disaster or other catastrophe they may have endured by providing a place to stay.
For up to 21 days, the Red Cross House offers its impacted guests one of the facility’s 26 suite-style rooms and three free meals daily while aiding the guests in picking up the pieces so they can confidently return to their normal lives. This process is much longer than the three nights in a hotel that the American Red Cross typically provides the afflicted. This unique facility prides itself on taking each case personally.
Dave Schrader, the House’s Communications Director, said approximately 90 percent of the more than 3,000 families that the House has helped in it’s ten year history have been affected by a fire, a problem that is all too common for West Philadelphia residents.
The House “is located here in University City mostly because when it was built, in a one mile radius from this point, is where the most fires were,” Schrader explained.
The Red Cross House holds a myriad of seminars and classes in order for those in their care to regain a sense of normalcy and learn to avoid mistakes. A mandatory fire safety seminar providing instruction and education to families on the importance of keeping up with codes and regulations plus ensuring that their smoke detectors are working is a part of that instruction program. Additionally, financial literacy programs that help families develop money management skills such as budgeting and balancing a checkbook is provided.
The House’s Director of Recovery, Chad Lassiter, noted that while displacement is what brings people through their doors, his goal is to make sure that families can get back on their feet by themselves in the event that another disaster strikes.
“Essentially what we do is repair clients. We repair them in a sense that when they leave here they can become self-sufficient,” Lassiter said.
While skill building is a big part of what is offered at the Red Cross House, fun and entertainment for their clients is also provided. The House has multiple partnerships throughout the city of Philadelphia with family friendly organizations like the Please Touch Museum, the National Constitution Center and the Betsy Ross House, among others.
The final step in a family’s rehabilitation is to ensure that they have enough money to make it on their own. The House is home to a training center and computer room where people can seek a new or better employment. Lassiter noted that those who have endured a disaster are often discouraged and dismayed, but the House makes an effort to instill a can-do attitude in all who stay under their roof.
“People that come here are depressed and fragile because of a fire or disaster,” Lassiter said. “From a therapeutic, cultural and sometimes spiritual sense, we build back up that sense of self-esteem.”
Lassiter, who is also a member of the Philadelphia Prison Board of Trustees, has found that his work at the prisons and at the House sometimes overlap. He has taken a personal interest in cases where a person has a criminal record.
“I’ve helped people get their record expunged,” Lassiter explained. He added, “If you’ve been incarcerated it can be hard to find work, so I try to contact people to help” guests get a job.
In order for the Red Cross House to do the important work it does, the facility is fueled by the generosity and support of volunteers. With only 16 paid employees, the House would not be able to be nearly as accommodating without people donating their time.
“Volunteerism is the thing that drives us here,” Lassiter said. “We look at volunteers at the Red Cross House as part of the fabric of what we do. They are a part of our professional family.”
Anybody can get involved and work as often as they can because it is the volunteers who make up their own schedule. Prospective volunteers only have to undergo a background check before they are cleared to work at the House.
Once volunteers are registered at the local level, they are given the opportunity to move up the ladder until they eventually get placed on a call list to help out with a major disaster anywhere around the world. The Red Cross House recently deployed three of their volunteers to Oklahoma to help out with relief efforts following the tornadoes that hit in recent weeks.
The very nature of the crisis management work the Red Cross House does makes it necessary for the facility to remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, some volunteers have to work late, odd hours, and Lassiter is on call at any given time.
“If you have the will and time, we will find a place for you,” Schrader said.
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