Memorial Day 2022: A message from Michael N. Parks, Regional Executive

By Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio, Rear Admiral, USCG (Retired)

Mike Parks, Rear Admiral, USCG (Retired)

Northern Ohio Red Cross Family: 

May is an important month for those men and women, and their families, who have chosen to serve our nation as members of the Armed Forces.   In 1999 Congress designated May as Military Appreciation Month to ensure the nation was given the chance to publicly show their appreciation for troops past and present.  Each year the President makes a proclamation reminding Americans the important role the U.S. Armed Forces have played in the history and development of the United States.  May was chosen because it has many individual days marked to note our military’s achievements including Loyalty Day (observed on May 1st and established in 1921 by Congress as “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and the recognition of the heritage of American freedom”) and Victory in Europe (VE) Day (observed on May 8th commemorating the end of WWII in Europe in 1945).

We also observe Military Spouse Appreciation Day every May on the Friday before Mother’s Day (this year on May 6th).  President Reagan first recognized Military Spouse Appreciation Day in 1984 when he said, “Throughout the years, as the numbers of married men and women in uniform have grown and as their military missions have become more complex and dispersed, their spouses have made countless personal sacrifices to support the Armed Forces.  In many instances, they subordinated their personal and professional aspirations to the greater benefit of the service family.” 

Gold Star Families Memorial Monument – Cleveland, OH

On the third Saturday in May, we celebrate Armed Forces Day which was created in 1949.  Not to be confused with Veterans Day, which honors those who wore the cloth of our nation at war, or Memorial Day, which honors those who died wearing the cloth of our nation at war, Armed Forces Day honors both the men and women currently serving as well as those who have previously served and sacrificed to defend our nation’s freedom—which we all hopefully know has never been “free.”

That brings us to the last Monday in May—Memorial Day—which is next Monday, the 30th—when we honor members of the Armed Forces who have died in military service to our nation.  Much like our beloved American Red Cross, Memorial Day has roots dating back to the post-Civil War era when citizens would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers.  Memorial Day is one of the six recognized holidays we all celebrate in the Red Cross (an official day off)—appropriately so I might add.  That said, many Red Cross staff and volunteers will be participating in Memorial Day events around the country–in Northern Ohio, we’ve got folks supporting the ceremonies at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville and Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo.  As well, Red Crossers around our Region and the country will be responding to those in need throughout the holiday weekend.  Thank you to those serving!

Today, when many people hear “Memorial Day” they think of the unofficial beginning of Summer, backyard barbeques, sales, and maybe even parades.  The word “memorial” means “intended to commemorate someone or something.”  I’m concerned that many are losing focus on what this special holiday is all about—are we truly commemorating those who paid the ultimate sacrifice?  I recently attended some events where our National Anthem was played and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited.  I must admit I was saddened to see so many people failing to show the proper respect by placing their hands over their hearts in tribute to our flag and our nation, and by extension, those who have sacrificed for both. 

I think we all, especially as members of the premier humanitarian organization in the world—the American Red Cross–with its roots in the blood and mud of the battlefields of the Civil War, are well-suited and have an obligation to set the right example—year round.  Please join me in committing to stand tall, remove our caps, and place our hands over our hearts when the National Anthem is played or we recite our Pledge of Allegiance.  We should also do the same when the American flag is “paraded” by us, both indoors or outside.  These small gestures will go a long way to acknowledge those who have fallen as well as those who remain to deal with their loss—we owe them that much—not just on Memorial Day but throughout the year! 

Thank you for all you do to support this wonderful organization—I’m proud to serve alongside each of you.  I hope you get to enjoy this special holiday with your family and friends while remembering those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  God bless America!! 

Honoring our commitment during Military Appreciation Month

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

June 20, 2018. Washington, DC. Development SAF Stock Photography Project 2018. Photo by Roy Cox/American Red Cross

In 1776, our founders signed the Declaration of Independence, but without a military to back up our claims, the British Crown could have quickly regained control of our country. Fast forward to 2022, and one needs to look no further than Ukraine to see why our country needs a well- trained, well-equipped, always-prepared military.

Our military guarantees our entire way of life, so we need to do all we can to be there for our fighting men and women, along with their families. That was the original aim of the Red Cross founder, Clara Barton when she began caring for the wounded during the Civil War.

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF)

Since 1881, the American Red Cross has deployed alongside our military in every U.S. conflict since the Spanish-American War. The Red Cross also provides in-person support on more than 100 military installations and deployment sites worldwide, leveraging the services of 14,700 SAF volunteers around the globe.

“Members of the military, veterans, and their family members all make sacrifices,” said Jessica Tischler, Regional Program Director, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services.  “From emotional wellness workshops to emergency communications, our staff of volunteers works hard to help provide valuable service to the armed forces.

Red Cross services for our military and their families include:

Before deployment:

 “Get to know us before you need us” sessions inform the military family about the variety of Red Cross services available to them.

During deployment:

 Delivering verified emergency messages to active-duty personnel worldwide
 Facilitating financial assistance and resources through Military Aid Societies
 Military hospital services – providing comfort and help with therapy
 Coping strategies for families at home
 Mind-body stress reduction workshops

After deployment:

 Assistance at local VA hospitals and facilities
 Hero Care Resource Directory
 Information and referral services to community programs
 Military and Veteran Caregiver Network
 Reconnection workshops
 Assistance with veteran’s assistance appeals

Since 9/11, Red Cross and its volunteers have served more than 1 million military families, providing 24/7 emergency care and communications. Would you like to support military and veteran families in your community? Don’t take your freedoms for granted. Sign up to become a Red Cross volunteer or donate on our Support Military Families webpage.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Northern Ohio Red Cross volunteer awarded for a lifetime of service to others

If you had 4,100 hours to do whatever you wanted, what would you do? If it helps, that’s almost 175 days. Would you take a vacation? Or a few? Catch up on sleep? Finally read all those books on your nightstand?

American Red Cross Northern Ohio volunteer Sharon Nicastro took her hours and spent them helping others. In fact, she took exactly 4,172 hours working to assist the military and their families as a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Services (SAF/IS) volunteer. During a virtual ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr., Day this past February, Sharon was awarded the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a civil award bestowed by the President of the United States. Also called the Presidents Call to Service Award, a volunteer must give 4,000 hours or more over a lifetime of volunteering to receive this prestigious award.

Admiral Mike Parks, CEO of the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region, presents Sharon Nicastro with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award

During the ceremony Koby Langley, Senior Vice President, Red Cross International Services and Service to the Armed Forces, said “This level of achievement represents a person who’s dedicated their entire life to improving the world around them. They’ve dedicated themselves to being a humanitarian, to help others in need.”

Sharon Nicastro volunteers at the Cleveland VA Medical Center on Pearl Harbor Day (Photo taken prior to COVID-19)

With how busy life seems to be for everyone these days, many may wonder why Sharon has spent so much time in serving others. She says her lifelong commitment began with her father, who encouraged his children to volunteer. “If dad went to the clambake to help, all us kids went to the clambake to help,” said Sharon. For Sharon and her family, it wasn’t a question of will you help but why wouldn’t you?

During her time as an SAF/IS volunteer, Sharon has supported military families during deployments and emergencies. She has also helped our nation’s veterans after their service ends. Sharon has taught CPR and hands only CPR classes in Northern Ohio and volunteers at the VA Medical Center in Cleveland. “Sharon is an inspiring woman to work with. Her dedication to support service members, veterans and their families is humbling,” said Jessica Tischler, SAF/IS Regional Program Manager. “She is also a force multiplier as she engages and leads new volunteers in delivering services and works with community partners. Winston Churchill said ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give’ and that encompasses what Sharon has shared with the Red Cross.”

Sharon Nicastro and volunteer Jackie Otte teach a CPR class in Cleveland. (Photo taken prior to
COVID-19)

The Northern Ohio Region is incredibly fortunate to have Sharon Nicastro on our team. We congratulate her on this outstanding achievement. And we look forward to what she does next because, of course, Sharon doesn’t plan to stop volunteering anytime soon!

If Sharon has inspired you the way she inspires all of us, learn how you can become a Red Cross volunteer and start working your way to that 4,000-hour milestone, at RedCross.org/VolunteerToday.

Tiffany Circle members in Northern Ohio help support female military serving in Africa

By: Donna Gracon, American Red Cross Philanthropy Officer

The Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross recently gathered on Zoom to hear regional leaders, including CEO Mike Parks and Tiffany Circle member Patty Flowers, describe their deployment experiences as they helped communities by responding during the unprecedented wildfire and hurricane season in 2020.

During the virtual session, the region launched its Holiday Mission Project to help female members of the U.S. military serving in Djibouti, a country in East Africa. Learning of the difficulties these military heroes face in securing personal care and hygiene products due to inaccessibility caused by COVID-19, Tiffany Circle members stepped up by purchasing items from a locally created Amazon Wish List.

Donna Gracon, Red Cross Philanthropy Officer, stands among the packages of items purchased for female members of the military serving in East Africa.

“How special it is to be a part of a group of women who so willingly volunteer their resources and join together to support others during the holidays and also during all seasons,” said Northern Ohio Tiffany Circle Chair Laurie Laidlaw Deacon.

In attendance was Julia Bianchi, who immediately engaged help from Tiffany Circle sisters in South Florida and the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region of the Red Cross who also contributed to the effort. In total, 450 items were shipped to the Red Cross office at Camp Lemmonier, the primary base of operations for the U.S. Africa Command in the Horn of Africa.

“It sometimes becomes apparent that women in the military feel overlooked or forgotten,” said Kelsey Smith, senior regional program specialist/site lead for the American Red Cross at Camp Lemonnier. “Generous donations that specifically target the needs of women are uniquely impactful, as they remind our female service members that their sacrifices and dedication do not go unnoticed. Females that serve deserve to be heard, supported and celebrated equally. By ensuring their health and wellness are maintained, we create a stronger and more resilient military community as a whole.”

Lt. Andrea Wright, Capt. Ellen Bramblee and Lt. Col. Abigail Lee at the Red Cross office at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, East Africa.

To learn more about the Tiffany Circle and how the philanthropic power of its women leaders advance the mission of the Red Cross, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

Consider resolving to volunteer in the new year

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer 

January 1, 2021- I first stepped into the American Red Cross’ Cleveland office three years ago on a frigid, vibrant January morning. A few weeks earlier, I had resolved to do more to help others, to take part in making the world a bit better. Since then, I have taken on various volunteer roles, each of which has been challenging and exceptionally rewarding. I have gotten to see the relief and hope on people’s faces when assisting after a disaster, had the honor of sharing extraordinary life stories on this blog, assisted first responders during major events, and have seen communities pull together to donate blood or begin to move on after a disaster. I have also seen the incredible levels of dedication and caring from Red Cross staff and fellow volunteers. Through it all, I have learned a great deal about myself, our community and humanity.  

As you consider your New Year’s resolutions, please consider volunteering with the Red Cross. While there are several opportunities, depending on your skills and interest, below are brief overviews of needed roles in the Northern Ohio region: 

Disaster Response

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), several positions are available. To give a sense of DAT’s vital importance, in 2020, members responded to nearly 1,200 events in Northern Ohio, most of them home fires, and provided more than $1 million dollars in financial assistance. Several DAT members also deployed nationally following major disasters. Several safeguards are in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, including responding virtually when possible. For more information, click here

Biomedical Services

There are several roles for those interested in helping the Red Cross collect and transport blood. In fiscal year 2020, the Northern Ohio Red Cross created 506,000 life-supporting blood products to help patients in 80 hospitals across Northern Ohio, all with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Open volunteer roles include:

  • Blood Donor Ambassadors (must be at least 16 years of age) to assist during blood drives
  •  Blood Transportation Specialists to deliver blood products to processing labs and hospitals
  •  Blood Donor Transporters in Holmes and Wayne counties to drive donors to appointments

For details on Biomedical Services, visit redcrossblood.org

Services to the Armed Forces (SAF)

If you would like to help support those in the U.S. military, veterans, and their families, there are several opportunities. These include facilitator roles for mental health professionals as well as caseworker and other roles. In 2020, the SAF group completed 5,500 case services for military families and delivered “Get to Know Us” briefings to nearly 5,400 military members and their families before deploying from Northern Ohio. Many positions are currently operating virtually during the pandemic but will return to in person when possible. More information on how the Red Cross serves the military community is available here

If you are interested in these or other volunteer positions, visit this web page. More information on assistance provided in 2020 is available here. To read the national Red Cross “Resolve to Volunteer” press release, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

A V-E Day remembrance: Charles Buccini saw each day as a gift

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

May 8, 2020- May 8 marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe during World War II, known as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). To help honor it, I spoke with veteran and American Red Cross volunteer Jim Buccini about his father, Charles Buccini, a WWII veteran and former Prisoner of War (POW).

Charles Buccini’s life and outlook are inspiring. Orphaned at a young age, Charles went between foster homes until, at 13, a family in Bellevue, Ohio, took him in. Charles lived and worked at the family’s farm until he was 21, when his foster brother was drafted. To help the family, Charles took his place.

Charles-Buccini-Photo-cropped-orig-lower-size_edited-1

Charles Buccini

Charles saw action in Europe with the United States Army 9th Armored Division, 73rd Artillery Battalion, until he and around 900 others were captured on December 18, 1944.

Charles spent the next six months as a POW. Food was scarce, and the POWs were often moved through long marches and packed box cars, staying in stalags and bombed-out buildings. Charles dropped from 165 pounds to 100 pounds, and nearly half of his group did not survive.

Charles rarely spoke of his time as a POW. In fact, Jim first heard many accounts in 1978, when he took his father to visit John Taibi, a friend and fellow POW. While the two often communicated, they hadn’t seen one another since being liberated. Jim relayed how emotional it was to witness their first meeting in over 30 years, hearing the stories, and realizing the extent of his father’s heroism.

Jim learned more through John Taibi’s diary, which describes hardships, relief of a Red Cross package and the day they were liberated. They woke, saw no Germans, heard American voices, and realized they were free.

Although his time as a POW caused lingering issues, Charles never complained and took pride in his service. Jim said when asked about difficulties, his father was spiritual and pragmatic. Charles explained that some things are left in God’s hands, it was all part of life and you deal with it.

Jim Buccini- tank at 145 family day

Jim Buccini

Charles saw each day after liberation as a bonus, a gift. Following the war, Charles worked as a pipefitter for 36 years, focused on his family and helped others. Charles passed away in 1991. On April 11, 2019, several family members and friends gathered at his gravesite for his 100th birthday.

Charles inspired many, especially his children, and helped instill confidence and caring. Two of them, Jim and his older brother, Chuck, are also Army veterans. Chuck’s service included a year in Vietnam. Jim was stationed near the Berlin Wall. Like many in his family, Jim helps others. After retiring in 2016, he volunteered with the Red Cross where his duties include Services to the Armed Forces.

People like Charles Buccini helped overcome one of humanity’s greatest challenges. For Jim and Chuck, his lessons help during another crucial time. As we now face a pandemic, Jim looks to his grandchildren, remembers his father and remains confident. Throughout this time, it may help us to follow Charles’ example and see each day as a gift.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

A Donut Dollie recalls her year spent serving the armed forces in Vietnam

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

Rosanna Sprague is fearless. She was a Donut Dollie.

“After generals and congressmen, no one scares me,” the Cleveland Heights woman said, recalling the year she spent in Vietnam, from 1970 to 1971. She served her country with the American Red Cross in a program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO).

IMG-1394

The American Red Cross SRAO team in 1970.  Rosanna Sprague is second from the left.

“Armed with nothing but cookies and homemade entertainment programs, the Donut Dollies risked their lives every day as they tried to fulfill their mission and cheer up the U.S. troops,” according to the website promoting a documentary called The Donut Dollies.

On average, more than 280,000 servicemen participated in recreation activities in Vietnam and neighboring countries every month during the eight years of American combat activity (1965-1972). Many took place at Red Cross recreation centers, where there would typically be a piano, books, pool and ping pong tables, and a kitchen, “to make snacks for the guys. Kool-Aid was very popular,” Sprague said. That was confirmed by Allen Lynch, a Medal of Honor winner who recently visited Red Cross headquarters in Cleveland while promoting his memoir.

“Those girls played a crucial role in Vietnam,” Lynch said. “It was just a comfort to see someone from home.

That’s what many of the men called the Donut Dollies, according to Sprague. “99% of the time, the CO of the firebase wanted us there, so he did everything necessary to make us feel welcome and comfortable.”

The Donut Dollies split their time between forward firebases and Red Cross Recreation Centers, like the ones at Cam Ranh Bay and Danang, where they brainstormed ideas for games and fashioned whatever pieces and parts were needed to make the games work. They also worked up song and dance routines.

“During Christmas of 1970, my unit at Long Bing created a parody of the Bob Hope Show, with a story line, singing and dancing, some jokes . . . just a special way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the guys on the firebases who didn’t or couldn’t get into the main city for the real show,” Sprague said. They performed about seven shows a day for the week leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Day, they performed in three hospitals.

IMG-1391

Rosanna Sprague, left, played the role of Bob Hope during a Christmastime parody of the comedian’s USO shows.

 

“I do believe we made a lot of military a little less homesick that Christmas,” she said.

The Red Cross provided other services to members of the military in Vietnam, including more than 2 million emergency communications between servicemen and their families. Red Cross field directors and chapter staff at home assisted an average of 27,800 servicemen each month with personal and family problems. Vital service to the Armed Forces continues today, with volunteers providing humanitarian support to service members, veterans and their families around the clock and around the globe.

Back home, Rosanna Sprague now serves as an Ambassador at the Destination Cleveland Visitor’s Center, where people from around the world come to learn about the city. “I have so much fun welcoming them and relating easily to all kinds of people on so many levels. I learned that in Vietnam, too!”

The third Saturday in May is recognized each year as Armed Forces Day.  For information about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org or call 216-431-3328.

This article was edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Former active duty social worker helps military families combat stress

A volunteer profile will post here each day during National Volunteer Week

By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

April 9, 2019- Military life can be stressful for those in the service as well as for their families. Former Air Force social worker Sally Falasca strives to help military personnel and their loved ones by teaching them stress-relieving strategies.

Sally is a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer with the American Red Cross Lake to River Chapter. She has been volunteering as a mind-body workshop facilitator for the past year. She is one of eight mental health volunteers who are trained to deliver Red Cross resilience programs, according to Jessica Tischler, Regional Service to the Armed Forces Manager.

Sally Falasca

“Having volunteers like Sally allows us to meet the requests we receive from local units to support their service members and their families,” Jessica said.

A licensed independent social worker who lives in Youngstown, Sally currently works in a private practice setting. However, for more than nine years, Sally served in the United States Air Force as an active duty social worker.

“There were many times during my active duty career that I reached out to the Red Cross to assist service members and they were always there for our armed services personnel,” she explained. “Once I left active duty, I knew I had to continue to serve the armed forces population any way I could. The Red Cross is providing me with amazing opportunities to do just that!”

Through the Red Cross’ Mind-Body Workshops, Sally teaches service members, veterans and their families easy-to-use skills to manage the stresses of military life, helping them cope with stress and trauma. Workshops are free and offered in small groups.

“Sally has a unique combination of personal and professional experience working with the military, veterans and families,” said Jessica. “It is heartwarming to hear service members say how valuable they find Red Cross resilience programming, and that is especially true when Sally facilitates.”

Sally encourages others to volunteer their time and talents with the Red Cross.

“The Red Cross gives so much to communities,” she said. “Even if you only have a little bit of time to donate, the Red Cross can benefit from your time. There are so many different things you can do . . . they truly have a volunteer opportunity for any interest.”

To learn more about Red Cross Mind-Body Workshops or to register for one of the group workshops, visit our website at https://www.redcross.org.

NEO Red Cross collecting supplies to support military service members and veterans in need this holiday season

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist,American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Communications volunteer.

This holiday season, the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio is teaming up with the Ohio Troop and Family Assistance Center (TFAC) to provide supplies to military families and veterans in need.

During the holiday season, to give thanks to our military for everything they do for us each day, the Red Cross is collecting toiletries and paper goods. The TFAC has a “pantry”/ “care room” at the North Canton National Guard Armory but supports all 22 counties of the Red Cross’ Northeast Ohio Region. The pantry is in need of feminine products, diapers (all sizes), laundry detergent, toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap and men’s razors. It is recommended that items be smaller in size but not trial size

The Red Cross has a long history of assisting military service members, their families and veterans. Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, risked her life during the Civil War to bring supplies to soldiers in the fields. This service and the continued need to support and protect the sick and wounded during wartime led Clara to establish the Red Cross in 1881.This commitment to the military and those in need in times of conflict and humanitarian crises led to the Red Cross receiving a congressional charter in 1905 to fulfill provisions of the Geneva Conventions. These responsibilities are to provide family communications and other forms of support to the U.S. military and to maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief. Despite this close relationship with the federal government, the Red Cross is an independent nonprofit that does not receive federal funding.

Today, the Red Cross continues our strong commitment to our service members, their families and veterans, which began with Clara on the battlefields. Service to the Armed Forces remains one of our five service areas. From the first day of enlistment, service members and their families are eligible for Red Cross assistance. Every day, the American Red Cross provides 24/7 global emergency communication services and support in military and veteran healthcare facilities across the country and around the world. Some of the services the Red Cross provides are helping to cope with deployment, delivering verified messages during emergencies at home, keeping in touch with military families and informing them that help is always available, helping find access to financial assistance, providing information and referral services and assisting with veterans appeals, building skills for successful reintegration and much more. 

If you are interested in donating items to military members, their families and veterans in need in Northeast Ohio, Red Cross chapter locations in Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Elyria, New Philadelphia,Wooster and Youngstown are accepting donations. Donated items will be delivered to TFAC pantry. You can find the addresses to each drop-off location by visiting the locations page at redcross.org/neo.

Regional CEO Remembers 9-11

Like most Americans, Mike Parks, Chief Executive Officer for the American Red Cross, Northeast Ohio Region has poignant memories of the events of September 11, 2001.

Unlike most Americans, Mike attained the rank of Rear Admiral while serving with the United States Coast Guard, and was the commanding officer of a Coast Guard Cutter when the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 occured.

Mike was asked to share his memories on the 14th anniversary of the attacks at the annual USO of Northern Ohio Golf Outing and Clambake at Sweetbriar Golf Club in Avon Lake.  He also offered his observations about how the U. S has changed since that day.

You can see and hear Mike deliver his remarks here.

Services to the Armed Forces is a primary focus of the Red Cross.  You can learn more about those services at http://www.redcross.org/what-we-do/support-military-families.

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