Red Cross Latino initiative in Northern Ohio

By Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

As October is National Hispanic Heritage month, it is the perfect time to highlight the American Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Latino initiative, explain why we need to focus on this cultural group and share ways to get involved. The Northern Ohio Red Cross is one of many local chapters across the United States that was designed to help all people in times of need.

Latino initiative

Our Northern Ohio Latino initiative’s mission is to deepen our relationship with this diverse community, to educate on what services we can provide, offer tools and support regionally and to partner with local groups to bridge trust. 

Why?  Our short answer is that the growing Latino community has varying levels of connectivity to Red Cross services from urban to rural communities that could benefit. One gap we discovered is that there is a large percentage of Spanish-only speaking people who are disconnected from the Red Cross based on language barriers.

Luckily, we have some passionate leaders in the Northern Ohio chapter like Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer, and Monica Brunner, disaster volunteer/member of LET (Latino Engagement Team).  Tim and Monica work as part of the Disaster Action Teams. Their Disaster Action Teams provide disaster relief services on an on-call basis. They may provide free emergency food, clothing, shelter assistance, and assist disaster victims in planning their immediate and long-term recovery from disaster. 

Bridging the gap

Tim gained a firsthand perspective while he was the assistant director for the recent Oregon wildfires. His experience taught him that Red Cross services were not being extended into the Latino communities based on communication challenges and a disconnect of what services were available.  Furthermore, Tim and his team discovered that an underlying cultural independence of not wanting to ask for help, some fear of a police officer present at shelters mixed with the perception of the Red Cross being a government group created a reluctance to accepting our services. Tim understands that we need to focus on teaching about all the resources and services that the Red Cross provides, but a level of trust is needed to really bridge the gap.

Monica is in the process of taking her local volunteering role to a national level through multiple positions, extensive culture training and her personal approach based on Argentinian roots. She is taking local level experiences and teaching successful best practices at the national level.   

Partnering to prevent home fires

Recently, Monica and other Red Cross volunteers and employees teamed up with Painesville, Ohio-based HOLA Ohio and their local fire department to install smoke alarms in the Latino community. HOLA was founded in late 1999 as an informal group of Hispanic women in Lake County who wanted to help the growing Latino community, comprised of Mexican immigrant workers employed by area nurseries and their families. Few services were accessible to this demographic, and HOLA worked to bridge gaps. Today, HOLA is an award-winning, 501c3 charitable nonprofit organization that works with families across the state. A team comprised of Spanish-language interpreters from HOLA Ohio joined members of the Painesville Fire Department and staff and volunteers from the American Red Cross Northern Ohio region on Oct. 9 to provide fire safety education and install 62 smoke alarms in 25 homes in Painesville and Perry. HOLA’s support provided a trusting platform for the Red Cross to go into their homes, to provide a positive program with action and to teach that the Red Cross cares about their community. This partnership was a wonderful first step of this type of co-op programming in Northern Ohio. Read about the effort on our blog HERE

HOLA’s work has been spotlighted in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Telemundo, and has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Torchlight Prize, a prestigious national award honoring community-driven work that empowers the Latino community. Recently, founding executive director Veronica Dahlberg was named a 2019 Crain’s Cleveland Business Woman of Note.

Learn more about HOLA’s work in the community

Click on the donate link to make a secure donation online:  You may also mail a check to: HOLA Ohio
PO Box 3066 
Ashtabula, OH 44005-3066

If you have questions about your donation, please contact Kelsey at

Seeking Latino volunteers and blood donors

The Northern Ohio Red Cross has a need for Latino volunteers to help us grow our mission in their communities.

You can learn about being a volunteer here:

Every day, blood donors help patients of all ages: accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those battling cancer. In fact, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.

There is a constant need for all blood types, but the demand is often higher for types O and B blood.  Some ethnic groups have higher frequencies of these blood types and play a key role in ensuring availability for patients.

Latino populations have a higher frequency of type O blood than other ethnicities.

  • Type O positive blood is the most transfused blood type.
  • Type O negative is the universal blood type which can be transfused to patients of any other blood type and is routinely in short supply.
  • More than half of all Latinos in the U.S. have type O blood.

Consider donating blood today:

Web resources

Did you know that the American Red Cross has a full accessible Spanish website called

For information related to the Northern Ohio Latino initiative, contact Tim O’Toole at

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