Then and Now: Celebrating Black History Month, recognizing African American contributions to Red Cross

By Doug Bardwell – American Red Cross volunteer

Editor’s note: This article originally posted in February, 2022 to recognize Black History Month.

It’s 1860, and there’s an outcry from voters who can’t accept the results of that year’s election. Abraham Lincoln is declared winner, without carrying a single southern state. Before his inauguration, seven southern states secede from the union, followed by others soon thereafter. Civil war ensues.

As the Civil War concludes in 1865, Clara Barton is commissioned by Abraham Lincoln to locate missing soldiers. She sends 63,000 letters and locates 22,000 missing men. The American Red Cross is founded 16 years later in 1865 in Washington, D.C., and is still in charge of contacting armed service members.

With Lincoln gone, Reconstruction effectively fails, and thousands of freed slaves are forced to return to the plantations and their former owners. Many stayed along the eastern coastline. In 1893, the country’s largest recorded hurricane hit the coastal islands with a storm surge of 10 to -12 feet and 20-foot waves on top of that, killing up to 3,500 inhabitants, 92% of which were Black.

Sea Islands Hurricane – 1893

Clara Barton answered the call to this huge disaster, the biggest to date for the Red Cross. The U.S. Congress refused to provide any aid short of some seeds, tents, and a couple deep-draft boats. All the funds to care for 30,000 displaced persons had to come via requests for donations from Clara, who got newspapers to run the story across the entire eastern half of the U.S.

Frances Reed Elliot Davis

Possibly motivated by Clara’s efforts, 10-year-old Frances Reed Elliott Davis was
growing up in North Carolina and had lived through that storm. Despite being
orphaned, she taught herself to read and write. Wanting to become a nurse, she
entered nursing school in 1910. She was the first African American to pass the
final board exams in Washington, D.C. Eight years later, she became the first
officially recognized African American nurse to be accepted into the Red Cross
Nursing Service.

Frances Reed Elliot Davis

That same year, Red Cross nurses combated the worldwide H1N1 influenza epidemic. With the returning injured troops from World War I, and the raging pandemic, Red Cross volunteers grew to 20 million adults and 11 million junior members.

Later, in Michigan, Davis helped organize the first training school for African American nurses at the Dunbar Hospital. In the 1940s, Davis established a childcare facility that caught the attention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped plan for and fund the center.

Mary McLeod Bethune

About this time, Mary McLeod Bethune was serving as an advisor to President
Roosevelt. She became the highest ranking African American woman in government when the president named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, making her the first African American woman to head a federal agency.

Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was one of five committee members who made recommendations on the blood plasma project, the use of African American staff in overseas service clubs, the enrollment of African American nurses and the representation of African Americans on local and national Red Cross committees and staff departments.

Dr. Jerome Holland

During his time as president of Hampton University in 1964, Dr. Holland became
a member of the American Red Cross Board of Governors. He served as a member until he resigned in 1970 to become the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. He was the second African American to lead a delegation in any European nation.

Dr. Jerome Holland

Dr. Holland was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors in 1979, and was the first African American to hold this position. Because of his commitment to the Red Cross, he was appointed again in 1982.

While serving on the board, Dr. Holland showed a passion for blood research and took the lead in consolidating growing laboratory operations for the Red Cross Blood Services program. He also encouraged Red Cross regions to integrate their volunteers so important services could be extended to the entire community, regardless of a person’s ethnicity or background.

We salute them

History has a way of repeating itself. Whether it was a pandemic flu, a giant, slow-moving hurricane, or the need to improve blood research, the same needs are still being met by the Red Cross today. To contribute to the cause, click here. To volunteer and do your part to help others in need, click here.

Other African American contributions

To read more about the contributions of other African Americans to the American Red Cross, you might like these articles:

Steve Bullock – Acting President of American Red Cross in 1999

Frederick Douglass – Friend of Clara Barton

Gwen T. Jackson – American Red Cross Board of Governors

Dr. Charles Drew – Blood Bank Pioneer

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

No more donor deferrals related to ‘mad cow’ concerns

John Dowell, blood donor

By EILENE E. GUY, American Red Cross volunteer

During this National Blood Donor Month, I’d like to salute American Red Cross blood donor John Dowell, even though he out-ranks me.

John, who makes his home in Lakewood, finished his service in the U.S. Air Force as a senior airman/sergeant. When he returned to civilian life, he tried to donate blood but couldn’t because he had been at RAF Upper Heyford near Oxford, England, from March 1981 to March 1983.

For decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from folks who had spent time in certain European countries during the 1980s and ‘90s, to prevent transmission of a deadly brain infection commonly known as “mad cow disease.”

The Red Cross, of course, respected that ban, which meant turning away potentially hundreds of thousands of donors, including many in the military community who had served overseas.

Last year, the FDA lifted the final section of its “mad cow” ban after finding there had been no reported cases of the brain disease associated with time spent in the United Kingdom, France and Ireland.

“As soon as I heard about it (lifting of the ban), I was right down there to donate the next day,” John said.

John comes from a family of dedicated blood donors – mom, dad and sister – so he started donating when he was in high school. “I was just a couple of pints short of a gallon when I went into the air force,” he said.

John Dowell donating blood 2022

“I believe in it. It’s important to have that spare blood on the shelf,” he said. “I don’t try to recruit people – if you want to donate, fine. If not, I’ve got your back,” he added with a chuckle.

But John is active in a couple of Facebook groups populated by the military community. When he posted about the lifting of the “mad cow” donor ban, “I got a big response, an overwhelming response. ‘Hey, that’s great to know. Thanks for putting out the word’,” his Facebook friends replied.

So, I want to salute Sgt. John Dowell for his service, in uniform and as a civilian, doing his bit to be sure there’s “blood on the shelf” for those who need a lifesaving transfusion.

If you, or someone you know – military or civilian – has been deferred from giving blood because of the “mad cow” (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) criteria, you can contact the Red Cross Donor and Client Support Center at 1-866-236-3276 for more information.

During National Blood Donor Month, please consider joining the ranks of folks, young and old, who serve their country in a profound way. I salute you.

To find a blood drive near you, go to http://www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer and board member

Day of service in Newcomerstown

Neighborhood where family perished in home fire made safer

Dozens of residents in Newcomerstown, Ohio are safer in their homes, after Red Cross and community volunteers banded together on Saturday to install free smoke alarms and share home fire safety information.

The effort targeted the neighborhood where six people died – four children and their parents – in a fire on the day after Christmas. Investigators found no evidence of smoke alarms in the home.

Newcomerstown Mayor Patrick Cadle and five village council members gathered with about two dozen Red Cross volunteers, some coming from as far away as Cleveland, for a brief training session prior to splitting into teams of three or four and going door to door on several streets in the neighborhood.

Newcomerstown Mayor Patrick Cadle

“I was unaware that the Red Cross did this,” said Mayor Cadle, referring to the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which includes making homes safer with the installation of free smoke alarms.

“If I had known they didn’t have smoke alarms I would have contacted you for them,” said Kitty Clay, who lives on Spaulding Avenue, next door to the home that burned. She said she and other neighbors were outside for several hours, watching firefighters battle the blaze. “There was nothing we could do,” she said.

Village Councilmember Michael Wise shares home fire safety information with Spaulding Avenue resident Kitty Clay

Village Council member Michael Wise was on the team that inspected Kitty’s home on Saturday. He made sure there was a working smoke alarm on every level of the home. It was one of 52 homes made safer that day, as 136 smoke alarms were installed.

“We’re not stopping there,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer for the Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “We plan to come back in April, when we include Newcomerstown as part of our Sound the Alarm event,” he said. Sound the Alarm is an annual campaign that targets neighborhoods at high risk for home fires nationwide for home fire safety visits and smoke alarm installations.

“This is just the beginning,” said Elizabeth Cante, Disaster Program Specialist with the Heartland, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter. “We will also be helping students at the elementary school whose classmates lost their friends with preparedness education. Our job has only just begun.”

See more photos from the day of service in Newcomerstown here.

Visit soundthealarm.org/noh for more information on how to make your home safer, and to request free smoke alarms.

This is the way to start a New Year

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

If this were a typical January, we’d still be talking about how difficult it is to maintain New Year’s resolutions, how The Ohio State Buckeyes coulda/shoulda won the NCAA College Football National Championship, and who’s going to make it to the Super Bowl. (Spoiler alert – not the Browns.)

January is also National Blood Donor Month, celebrating all those who volunteer to donate blood and platelets to help save lives. But due to recent weather events, those precious donors are even more critical than ever.

Approximately 10 Red Cross blood drives across Northern Ohio were canceled due to extreme weather during the week of Christmas in December. These cancellations resulted in a shortfall of more than 260 blood donations.  Many more blood drives were canceled elsewhere across the country due to the weather, resulting in even more potential donations going uncollected.

Christy Peters, blood donor and Regional Communications Manager with the American Red Cross

This isn’t a typical January

Instead, our thoughts and prayers tonight were centered on those on the west coast. Four years ago this week, I volunteered with the Red Cross for the horrific Paradise fire outside Chico, California. It was so dry there that the fires spread faster than firefighters could manage, and there wasn’t enough water to save the town.

Now it’s too much water, as California braces for repeated ‘atmospheric rivers’ and ‘bomb cyclones,’ where 10 percent of the US population is under severe storm advisories. Think about that – 10% of our entire country is in fear of weather catastrophes, from flooding to sinkholes to landslides.

Red Cross workers outside a shelter in Northern California

For the Red Cross, many more blood drives could be canceled over the next week as those gigantic rain events cross the state and people try to find safe roads to escape the floodwaters.

But the need doesn’t stop

Winter is typically one of the most challenging times to collect blood products, even without the insane weather. So, now would be an ideal time to make a New Year’s resolution that can save up to three lives with each of your donations. A typical whole blood donation takes less than 30 minutes.

Donors of all types are needed, particularly type O donors, the most needed blood type by hospitals for emergency surgeries. Statistics show that one in seven patients entering a hospital needs a blood transfusion, yet only 3% of Americans actually donate.

Now’s the time

Whether you are a first-timer or a returning hero, everyone who donates before January 31 will be automatically entered to win a trip for two to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona, with pre-game activities, game day tickets, airfare, three-night hotel accommodations, and $500 gift card.

Join a winning team – make a blood or platelet donation. Book now using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Resolve to volunteer in the New Year with the American Red Cross

By Ryan Lang, Red Cross volunteer and board member

Bernett L. Williams, H. Peter Burg Award recipient with Ryan Lang, Red Cross Volunteer and Board Member (Photo credit: Debbie Chitester, Red Cross)

I’ve been a board member with the American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley chapter for three and a half years now. Initially, I figured I would show up to a meeting once a quarter, give a little blood, and call it a day. Little did I know how quickly I would find myself immersed in the Red Cross mission. The more I was exposed to the work the Red Cross was doing, the more I wanted to help. 

But what did I have to offer the Red Cross?  

For one, my time! And while I don’t have much of it, I had enough that I could carve out a bit for the Red Cross. It helped that the Red Cross was flexible and worked around my schedule. I told them what time I had and they told me where and when I could help.   

The Red Cross also worked with my particular skillset, finding the best way for me to help. Given my background in multimedia and the news, the Red Cross placed me with their Communications team – writing for and posting to the Northern Ohio Red Cross blog site, recording interviews for our region’s podcast, emceeing events, and more. To say it’s been rewarding is an understatement.  

Through my work with the board, I’ve found countless other opportunities to help. I’ve stuffed goodie bags for blood donors, canvased Akron neighborhoods hanging door hangers for smoke detector installation info, and so much more. I’ve felt needed and I’ve felt that my small contribution is a part of something greater – the Red Cross mission.  

While I would recommend volunteering for the Red Cross to anyone, it’s probably better to defer to the people who commit their lives to the mission. Gail Wernick, Regional Volunteer Services Officer says, “Volunteers are an essential piece of the Red Cross lifesaving mission and help people when they need it most. As we start a new year, many people begin to think about new year’s resolutions. This is a great time to remind people that volunteering is a wonderful option. Please join us in Northern Ohio and Resolve to Volunteer in 2023!” 

To find out more how you can volunteer for the Red Cross, click here.  

The Woman Who Won – Clara Barton

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

“They don’t make them like they used to” is a well-worn phrase, but it could be true regarding American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton. As we honor her 201st birthday on December 25, it’s fun to take a quick look at several of her achievements.

Wage negotiations – WIN

She successfully obtained equal pay as an in-demand teacher during her early career. As she said then, “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

Breaking into a man’s world – WIN

After teaching, Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and worked at the U.S. Patent Office, where she was one of the first women to work for the federal government.

First woman granted permission to travel to the frontlines – WIN

Driven by a desire to be helpful and help those in need, she sprang into action when the Civil War broke out, earning the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” for her work in caring for soldiers on the frontlines. In 1862, Clara was granted the privilege by the U.S. Surgeon General to travel to battlefronts under the guidance of Generals John Pope and James S. Wadsworth. 

Oil Painting of Clara Barton by Mathilde M. Leisenring, 1937.

Founded a reunification program for missing Union soldiers in 1865 – WIN

After the war, Clara began to set up a program to find and gather information about missing Union soldiers to give to the soldiers’ families. 

Founded the American Red Cross in 1881 – WIN

Inspired by her experiences in Europe with the International Red Cross, when Barton returned to this country, she spent years lobbying to establish a similar organization. In 1881, Clara founded the American Red Cross and, the following year, convinced President Garfield and Congress to adopt the Geneva Treaty.  

Your turn…

After all those firsts, how can you help but be inspired? Working for the Red Cross from age 60 until she was 84, it’s impossible to say you’re too old to volunteer – you aren’t.  Sign up here. 

You also can’t say you can’t help our military members – you can. Learn more here.

And if you can only spend an hour or two – you can donate blood.  Dozens of appointments are open here.  

Be like Clara – be a winner with the Red Cross. 

One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time – Resolve to volunteer today

Jack Higley has been volunteering for more than 60 years

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Still looking for a last-minute gift in honor of that hard-to-please person? Or thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution that will really mean something?

How about something only you can give? How about the gift of your time?

American Red Cross volunteers give their precious time every time they help a family displaced by a home fire, donate blood or take a Red Cross first aid/CPR/AED course so they can save a life in an emergency.

Jack Higley, American Red Cross volunteer

Jack Higley of Aurora, Ohio, has racked up an uncountable number of hours over the span of 60-some years of volunteering with the Red Cross. He first stepped up when a fraternity brother was in a serious accident and urgently needed blood. “Back then, it was direct donation,” he recalled. “They took it out of my arm and right into him.” The experience inspired his fraternity to start scheduling regular blood drives.

Four years later, he started teaching Red Cross life guarding classes at a YMCA. Then, he went to donate blood in Madison, where he taught high school government. W; when the staff learned he had experience organizing blood drives, they asked for his help. He’s been at it ever since: he’s credited with donating just shy of 40 gallons of life-saving blood and for organizing countless drives.

“It makes me feel good,” he said, adding, “There’s always a need. My dad had 17 heart attacks and he used a lot of blood for the surgeries he had – stents, by-passes.

“People live because somebody donated.”

Although Jack can no longer donate because of health conditions, he enjoys staffing blood drives as a blood donor ambassador. “I like to be around the canteen (the refreshment area where blood donors are invited to enjoy juice, water and cookies immediately following their donation). I can relate to the people, talk to them. Some of them donate faithfully every two months. They’re my people.

“Jack’s Red Cross experience is an example of the generosity of spirit our volunteers show every day,” said Susan Gordos, who coordinates volunteers in support of blood drives and blood services across Ohio. “We have so many opportunities for people to give the gift of their time, to be sure life-saving blood is there when it’s needed.”

So, how about giving the gift of your time? The Red Cross of northern Ohio is always looking for blood donor ambassadors and blood transportation specialists.

As an ambassador, you’re the friendly face that greets donors, helps them sign in , and answers questions. You might even staff the canteen, like Jack, to chat with donors after they give blood.

Watch this video to hear from others about why they’ve volunteered in this role. Training is free, but the hospitality you provide is priceless.

Or you might find that being a blood transportation specialist is a good fit. These folks are a critical link, driving blood products to hospitals.

If you have a valid state driver’s license and at least three years of licensed driving experience, you are eligible to volunteer as a blood transportation specialist. You can choose regular routes, stand-by emergency deliveries or both. It’s a great opportunity for couples, friends or family members.

As Jack said, “Many of us are going to need blood, unfortunately. If you need it, the Red Cross has it, but everybody has to work together to make it happen.”

To take the first step of giving the gift of time, visit www.redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Have a happy, healthy holiday season. And may you have a rewarding 2023 – perhaps as a new Red Cross volunteer.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer

Reasons to give – in the words of Red Cross blood donors

By Samantha Pudelski, American Red Cross volunteer

Everyday people across the Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross go to neighborhood drives to give blood. Several drives are scheduled this week. Throughout the year, many donors share their reasons for donating, and explain why others should consider donating blood. The stories they share are inspiring, touching and sometimes, their reasoning is simple.

We wanted to share just a few of the reasons why our blood donors made their first donation, and continue to give blood.

As we wrap up 2022 and look forward to 2023, consider adding “donate blood” on your New Year’s Resolution list. Or if you have donated in the past, put it on your to-do list for next year. Whatever your motivation, whatever your reason, we hope you share it with your family, friends, colleagues and if you feel so inclined, please share why you donate with us. Your stories and those of the individuals who receive blood continue to inspire the Red Cross every day.

For more information on donating blood, and to find an upcoming blood drive near you, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive.

Monica Bunner finds meaning, adventure, and fuel for the soul as a Red Cross volunteer

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

A truck navigates through areas devastated by Hurricane Ian, some previously inaccessible, arriving at a Florida camp. People of all ages and backgrounds wait, others emerge from their homes. Many are migrant workers. American Red Cross personnel, among them Monica Bunner, had worked with community members to ensure those here, like all who needed aid, receive it.

Monica Bunner, American Red Cross volunteer, in Florida after Hurricane Ian

As Monica opens the truck’s doors to distribute supplies from the Red Cross and partner organizations, she notes people’s expressions. Faces convey the realization they have not been forgotten; that people care. Monica describes the feeling as what Red Cross founder Clara Barton must have experienced caring for soldiers—, as fuel for the soul.

This was during Monica Bunner’s third deployment of 2022; her second to Florida after Hurricane Ian. She estimates she has deployed around 20 times since joining the Red Cross in 2017. Based in the Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley chapter, she also serves in several capacities here in Northern Ohio.

I am often awed by the dedication, caring, competence, and experience of fellow Red Cross volunteers and staff. I recently spoke with Monica, who brings a lifetime of volunteerism, caring, and dedication to her work with the Red Cross.

Monica has volunteered throughout her life. Even before joining the Red Cross, her activities included helping people in women’s shelters, caring for animals, working with national organizations, and serving on local zoning boards. Her work helping animals is what brought her to the Red Cross.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Monica was deployed with an animal welfare organization where she worked alongside Red Cross volunteers and decided to join.

Monica Bunner, Red Cross volunteer

Monica has since helped a tremendous number of people in many roles, including the three 2022 deployments. The first was to Puerto Rico in a disaster technology capacity role, where she assisted with flooding and helped prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.

Shortly after Ian, Monica deployed to Florida to supervise family reunification efforts. She spoke of the intensity of helping families reach loved ones, many of whom had medical issues. As several areas were not reachable, she worked with search and rescue personnel, a realtor, and others to help locate people. Monica described connecting the dots and reunifying a family as elating and sharing in the joy.

After taking a short break to celebrate her 32nd wedding anniversary, Monica returned to Florida and worked with community partnerships and engagement, particularly with Latino communities, as she is bilingual. She, her team, and partner organizations worked to reach those in need who may not have realized assistance was available. This deployment was when she brought supplies to the camp.

Monica said adventure has always been part of her approach to life, as well as a love of learning, and the Red Cross offers both. She said her Red Cross work is an opportunity to go out and do good with like-minded and like-hearted people. It also offers the ability to align belief with actions and fuel the soul.

For those interested in volunteering, Monica pointed out there are opportunities for all ages and backgrounds, but to be flexible as each deployment is different, and to “Go for it!” Visit redcross.org/volunteertoday to learn more.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer

Help fulfill wish list for hospitalized veterans

Holidays for Heroes with a twist

Toothpaste, body wash and skin cream are not the most likely items for a typical holiday gift wish list.  But for those heroes who are being cared for in the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, the Ohio Veterans Home and the Toledo VA Outpatient Clinic, they are essentials.  And generous supporters of Northern Ohio’s hospitalized veterans can purchase these items and others on the Northern Ohio Heroes Wish List, created by the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region.

“People are generous and always willing to help our nation’s veterans, so we’re working with our partners at the VA and the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky to make sure their patients have what they need – and want – this holiday season,” said Jessica Tischler, Regional Service to the Armed Forces Program Director. “In years past, people sent holiday cards to veterans and service men and women around the world, but once again this year, we are asking people to help our veterans in a different way.”

Adult coloring books and crayons are other items on the Northern Ohio Heroes Wish List, which can be accessed on Amazon here.

“We put this wish list together after consulting with the VA’s amazing health care providers,” said Jessica. “We hope that these items will help bring some comfort to men and women who can’t be home for the holidays by letting them know Americans care about them and appreciate the sacrifices they made.”

Items purchased from the Northern Ohio Heroes Wish List will be delivered to Red Cross regional headquarters in Cleveland, and will be dropped off at facilities throughout the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare system, the Ohio Veterans Home, and the Toledo VA Outpatient Clinic throughout the holiday season.

Learn more about Red Cross Service to the Armed forces here.