Less than a week after beginning her role as executive director for the southwest Michigan branch of the American Red Cross, Breeze Ettl was tasked with an enormous project: organizing efforts to help with the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“It’s really quiet around these offices right now,” the Stevensville resident said during a phone interview from her Kalamazoo office, a little more than one week after the first hurricane made its way through Texas. “Our volunteers and a few of our staff members are down in Texas and Florida helping man shelters, giving out meals, working with local officials to make sure we are coordinating our efforts with efforts there.”
As southwest Michigan residents watched the headlines helplessly, Breeze and her team at the American Red offered opportunities to help.
“My role is to coordinate efforts and help with fundraising and to make sure that our local communities know what we’re doing,” Breeze says. “One of my greatest roles is making sure that I’m helping to recruit volunteers, because that’s the basic thing — that’s why we’re successful. We utilize the generosity of our volunteers.”
Founded in 1881, the American Red Cross is one of the most reputable national nonprofits in the U.S., known for its national and international outreach. The organization was founded by female trailblazer Clara Barton, a fact of which Breeze is extremely proud.
“Throughout the organization’s history we have developed relationships with people within our communities that know that we’re putting their donated dollars to really good use,” Breeze says. “Ninety-one cents of every dollar donated goes into making sure we can provide that relief.”
Throughout the large area, Breeze sees a common thread of generosity, as a large portion of the population donates to the organization in a variety of forms.
Funding comes to the American Red Cross in the form of partnerships with organizations like United Way, from corporations who set aside money specifically for the Red Cross, and from individuals who feel inclined to contribute.
“There are a lot of very generous individuals in the United States particularly who donate annually or when there is a major disaster like what is occurring now [following Hurricane Irma]. … They’re episodic donors,” Breeze says. “And then we have people who donate on a regular basis. There are even people who have donated to us in their wills.”
Breeze said donors can choose how they want their dollars to be designated.
“Some say, ‘use where the need is greatest,’ or people can say, ‘I want my dollars to stay in Berrien County,’ or ‘I want my dollars to go to Hurricane Irma victims,’” she says.
People can also aid the American Red Cross by participating in any number of blood drives hosted throughout the year. People can take advantage of health and safety courses, or help sponsor military families and veterans.
Breeze leads American Red Cross efforts throughout Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties, as well as in the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek areas. Despite the large territory, Breeze feels confident in her new role, as she knows she is surrounded by kind, charitable people throughout the communities she serves, and a network of support throughout the American Red Cross.
“We have dedicated volunteers throughout the entire region who are really holding down the fort and are on call 24/7,” she says.
As Texans, Floridians and Puerto Ricans work to rebuild after the torrential hurricane season, Breeze knows these volunteers — and the American Red Cross — will be there to provide support.


How to give:

To donate, visit redcross.org/donate, donate to a local American Red Cross blood drive, or call (269) 353-6180 for more information.


Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios