Volunteers share their pets to help members of the military and veterans

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

So, you thought the dog days of summer were over? Wrong! Today is National Dog Day.

At the American Red Cross, we celebrate every day as Dog Day, in honor of our animal volunteers and their human teammates.

Pre-deployment event at Youngstown Air Reserve Station

Bree, a Goldendoodle, and Shane, a Rough Collie, are trained members of the Red Cross Animal Visitation Program (AVP) here in northern Ohio. They – along with their owners, Paul and Katie Svasta of Canfield – bring comfort to members of all branches of the military who deploy from or return to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. The dogs are also welcome at family days at the air base.

Paul and Katie Svasta with Bree and Shasta

“Bree is spot on,” Paul said. “She can identify somebody who needs her. She’ll pull me over to the person, and if that person gives me the go-ahead, she’ll lean right up next to them, for
them to pet her or hug her.

“It breaks the tension, the anxiety. That unconditional connection,” he said. “It’s rewarding, that something so simple can give so much comfort.”

Paul and Katie began acclimating Bree to therapy work five years ago, when she was a puppy, so she’s the pro of the pair. Shane got a slow start because pandemic protocols interrupted the conditioning all therapy dogs go through. “But he’s coming along,” Paul said affectionately.

The animal visitation program has been operating at the Youngstown base, which hosts the 910th Airlift Wing, for a number of years. The Svastas are part of a team of more than three dozen handlers and their dogs who attend events there.

Red Cross volunteer Kate Mazzolini and Sully

Recently, Jessica Tischler, manager of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces in northern Ohio expanded the visitation program to send canine therapy teams into the northeast Ohio VA healthcare system, to lift the spirits of hospitalized veterans.

“We’re so grateful that our volunteers are willing to share the love these animals offer during their visits,” Jessica said. Now she’s looking to make contact with more dog owners who already have therapy experience, as the Svastas did.

The Red Cross has been training and dispatching therapy dogs into military hospitals to comfort wounded warriors and veterans undergoing treatment since shortly after World War II.

Red Cross volunteer Michael Falatach and Macee

At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Jen O’Keefe and her Leonberger (“They were bred to look like lions.”) Digory carry on the tradition. Digory is a three-legged cancer survivor, so he’s a uniquely positive presence, especially for amputees.

“We (Digory and I) can’t fix people, but we can help lift the anxiety, the stress, for patients, their families – and for the staff,” she said. “The staff is a huge part of our job.

“For me, this is the highlight of my week,” she said. “This is how I de-stress from my job as an emergency veterinarian. I don’t often get to bring good news, but with Digory, I know we’re welcome.”

If you’d like more information about the animal visitation program or any of the other volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, go to redcross.org/volunteer.

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross volunteer

Reflections of a local veteran and volunteer

Veterans Day remarks from Mike Parks follow

By Chiane Martin, American Red Cross Volunteer, Service to the Armed Forces

Veterans Day is a day, when as a country, we can sit back and reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is a day of remembrance, gratitude and honor.  As a veteran, I reflect on the personal sacrifices all veterans have made and we honor our brothers and sisters that we have lost along the way. Veterans Day is about showing homage to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The sacrifice of leaving everything they know and love behind to fight for their country. There is an immense sense of pride that a service member feels when they put on that uniform. That pride comes from knowing that they are fighting for something bigger than themselves.

Red Cross volunteer and US Army veteran Chiane Martin

The work that I do with the American Red Cross makes me feel that sense of pride again. I am honored to provide my fellow service members and their families with the support they need during some of the most difficult and trying times in their lives. Having someone understand the challenges you’ve faced or are facing can make all the difference and I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to do just that.

There is an immense sense of pride that a service member feels when they put on that uniform. That pride comes from knowing that they are fighting for something bigger than themselves.

Chiane Martin

The Red Cross is a phenomenal organization and were helpful when I was in the military. I respect the work and dedication that I see put in by the Red Cross and couldn’t be more happy to be a part of it. Thank you to all the men and women past and present, who have made that ultimate sacrifice. Those that understood and upheld the mission of service before self. Those that took that oath and those who understand that the world is more important than themselves.

Happy Veterans Day,

Mike Parks’ Veterans Day message

By Mike Parks, Rear Admiral, US Coast Guard (retired)
Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

This Thursday, November 11th, we will remember Veterans Day, which evolved from Armistice Day and was first proclaimed in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson.  The term “armistice” refers to when warring parties agree to stop fighting.  President Wilson’s Armistice Day recognized the end of World War One when hostilities ceased at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month).  The United States Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 to recognize Veterans of all U.S. wars. 

In this poster, a Tomb Guard carries out his responsibilities with
unwavering dedication, alone on the quiet plaza at dawn.
There have been Tomb Guards of all races, genders, religion
and creeds, so I wanted to keep the identity of this Tomb Guard ambiguous. 
By placing the Tomb Guard off to the side I hoped to remind the viewer
to look past the sentinel and focus on the tomb itself and the unknown
soldiers who died in service to our nation.
(Artist Matt Tavares)

This past year has been yet another year of remarkable events in our nation’s history—not the least of which was the conclusion of our military’s 20-year engagement in the war in Afghanistan—a war that saw thousands of American Veterans serve our country—many making the ultimate sacrifice or suffering debilitating injuries they will live with for the rest of their lives.  We should not only remember and thank those Veterans who served in that two-decade long war, we should also recognize and thank their families and loved ones. 

I’d like to highlight this last point just a bit more on this Veterans Day.  Veterans past and present put themselves in harm’s way to protect our way of life; many endure severe hardships while serving our country; they sacrifice significant time with their families and loved ones during long deployments-often in far-away lands and on the high seas; and they frequently uproot themselves and their families to undertake moves of entire households—many times cross-country.  All of these facets of a Veteran’s everyday life, also take a huge toll on their families and loved ones as they support their Veterans.  I speak from personal experience, and feel confident I speak for other Veterans, when I state I would not have been successful without the love, support, and prayers of my family—they were, and always will be, a true blessing.  Let us all make a special point this year to also remember to express our sincere thanks and appreciation to the families and loved ones of our Veterans.

In closing—I challenge all of us to not just remember our Veterans and their families on November 11th, but remember and thank them whenever the opportunity presents itself.  None of our Veterans only protected our freedoms one day a year—I hope we can express our gratitude on more than one day a year as well.  To all those Veterans that are reading this—“Thank you for your service!”  Please also thank your families and loved ones for their support of you and their sacrifice as well!  Let us never forget. 

Best regards…Mike

P.S. Please also take a moment to view our Virtual Resiliency Workshops website to learn how to access these resources, which are open to anyone with a military veteran affiliation (including partners, donors, service members, spouses, friends and staff members, those 18 years and up). 

The forgotten gift of service of the military child

By: Sue Wilson, American Red Cross Volunteer

When most of us think of military service, the first thing that comes to mind is the men and women in uniform who selflessly chose to serve our country. We pass them in public places, and thank them for their service. We understand that when they take the oath, they do so knowing they’ll be away from their families, work long, hard hours to complete their mission, and always, they risk injury or death. But what we don’t often think of is the sacrifice made by the children in military families, and that they, too are deserving of our appreciation.

April is the month of the Military Child, and the American Red Cross is honoring special individuals who were born into a life a service by the decision a parent made to serve our country, and the extra special ones who have used the unique challenges of their childhood to serve others in a special way.

Red Cross volunteer Zoë Day is one such person. Both her mom and dad served 20+years in the Army. Zoë is currently on the Service to Armed Forces Team for the Northeast Ohio chapter, while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

Being a military kid is not always easy. They experience multiple moves, schools, interruptions of friendships, parental separation and always, a fear of the risk their parents service entails. Zoë has moved 7 times, and lived in places as varied as Anchorage, Alaska, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and her favorite, Fort Jackson, SC. She believes that while her many moves have presented challenges, she’s learned useful life skills. “I’ve developed a thick skin when it comes to daily stressors,” says Zoë. “Being a military brat taught me how to feel at ease in any environment and adapt, despite quick changes and challenges. I’ve learned resilience and a sense of fortitude, a ‘get the job done’ attitude.”

Zoë’s supervisor. Jessica Tischler, Regional Program Director of Service to the Armed Forces, believes it is that attitude that makes Zoë so valuable. “Zoe’s background as the child of military parents gives her a sensitivity to the needs of service men and women, veterans and their families,” she said. “We are so fortunate that she is lending her talents as a volunteer to our Service to the Armed Forces casework.”

Friendships are another unique challenge facing military kids. “I am so used to moving that it is hard to keep in contact with old friends and try to make new ones at the same time,” Zoë said. The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t made that part any easier for the kids of military families.

Zoë said that one of the benefits of being a military kid is that her family likes to explore the state they are in and enjoy that region’s culture as much as possible. She said the virus has given everyone cabin fever, forcing us to be resourceful. This is true of other military kids, too.

“My friends, also mainly military brats, have struggled as their usual way to enjoy life is related to traveling to visit each other in new states, and continuing the tradition of seeing new places every so often. These trips are now facetime bound,” says Zoë

Zoë is currently pursuing her master’s degree in social work while she interns at the Red Cross. Did she ever consider following in her parent’s footsteps? “I thought I would, then I realized my passion lies in supporting those who have protected our country either by serving directly or by being their support system during duty. I see myself getting to know the military veteran and family population a lot better by being a boots-on-the-ground social advocate and fighting for their social-welfare.”

Zoë Day, the Red Cross salutes you, and offers a collective “Thank You” for YOUR service.”

Show your support: Since 1900, the American Red Cross has been entrusted by Federal Charter with providing care and support for our military. Your support enables us to continue this proud tradition for our military and their families. Learn more, and donate here.

Caring for our troops never gets old…even after 140 years

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

While not as high profile as conducting blood drives and setting up disaster shelters, the American Red Cross’ origin was taking care of military personnel.  Clara Barton, who founded the Red Cross, made a name for herself by her heroic volunteer efforts comforting and providing assistance to fallen soldiers during the Civil War.

Even now, as we celebrate Red Cross Month, Service to the Armed Forces is still a key pillar of the five service branches of the Red Cross. Not only do we care for the troops, but the Red Cross provides an indispensable range of services for the families of the servicepeople while deployed…and afterwards.

Worldwide Effort

The Red Cross provides 24/7/365 emergency communication services for military personnel and their families, no matter where on the globe they might be located. In addition:

The Commitment Never Ends

Since 9/11, the Red Cross has cared for more than one million military families. Today, we continue to provide support for those families before, during and after deployment. 

Besides emergency communications while deployed, military members and their families benefit from information referrals, some financial assistance, and other non-emergency resources.

“The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families in a wide variety of ways,” said Jessica Tischler, Regional Service to the Armed Forces Program Director.  “And we are continuing to provide services, thanks to our volunteer caseworkers, despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic.”

During Red Cross Month, download the free Hero Care App (for both iOS and Android) to learn more about the services available, consider helping us with this work as a volunteer, or make a contribution to the Red Cross to help with this continuing need.  

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

Help fulfill wish list for hospitalized veterans

Holidays for Heroes with a twist for 2020

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, 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 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 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 at https://www.amazon.com/registries/custom/7A8FY4ZJHLSM/guest-view

“We put this wish list together after consulting with the VA’s amazing health care providers,” said Tischler. “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 throughout the holiday season.

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

Veteran Air Force combat rescue officer recalls how Red Cross provided critical assistance to military families in times of need

By Brinton Lincoln, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio Board Member and Chair, Service to the Armed Forces Committee

In the middle of 2006, deep within Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province where the great Kunar and Kabul rivers conflate, I was jostled awake by our outpost’s on-duty watch sergeant. The American Red Cross was on the phone, looking to pass an urgent message to one of my team members. His sister, just a junior in high school, had been critically injured in a car accident. Unable to contact him directly, his mother and father called upon the Red Cross and the emergency contact services that the humanitarian organization provides. Within an hour, my service mate and his family were together on the phone. No more than 24 hours later, with the financial and logistical assistance of the Red Cross, he was on his way home to be with his sister. 

Brinton Lincoln

On three occasions, including the aforementioned, I bore witness to the benefits of the emergency communication services provided by the Red Cross. In each instance, the world’s most recognized nonprofit humanitarian organization served as the interlocutor between a family in need and their loved one deployed a world away. I, and my fellow service mates, so very much appreciated the support provided by the Red Cross.

As vital as this service is, it is just one of many things that the Red Cross does to support our nation’s military members, veterans and their families. The organization provides nearly a half million services every year to our military constituency. Though not widely recognized, the Red Cross has a presence on every military installation within the U.S., on 36 bases overseas and within your local community.

Chapters across the country brief more than 787,000 service members and their families each year through the “Get to Know Us Before You Need Us” program. For the deserving military demographic, the Red Cross provides support programs within military hospitals and clinics, informational and referral services at a local level to assist veterans with unmet needs, mind-body workshops, educational programs to help military families cope with deployments, reconnection workshops, and various programs within our VA hospitals. 

Brinton Lincoln and Regional CEO Mike Parks at the annual meeting of the Greater Cleveland Board of Directors in June, 2019

The wonderful volunteers of the Red Cross work tirelessly every day to provide comfort and care to service members, veterans and their families the world over. In doing so, they embody, quite literally, the spirit of Clara Barton who, during the Civil War, founded the Red Cross to care for combat wounded soldiers.   

Should you wish to contribute your time to support the military community, contact your local Red Cross chapter and ask to speak with a representative on its Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team. Perhaps you will be the one to assist an anxious family in their time of need by connecting them with their loved one serving in a far-off land.  

For more information on the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces, visit redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Photo credit: Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

Mike’s Veterans Day message for 2020

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

Greetings Northern Ohio Red Cross Family:  2020 has been a year filled with enormous challenges for our country and the American Red Cross including a devastating global pandemic, significant economic downturn, civil unrest brought about by social injustice, an unprecedented hurricane season, deadly Western wildfires, and a contentious election season.  All of these things, as well as countless others, have impacted our workforce, families, clients, donors and partners, bringing some degree of concern, anxiety and uncertainty.  One thing that has remained constant throughout this tumultuous year, has been the American Red Cross—the Red Cross you serve—has continued to meet mission each and every day!!  Thank you!!

Mike Parks

This week, despite all of the challenges, we can also gain comfort and certainty, as well as have confidence, in those men and women who have served, and are serving, in our Armed Forces to keep us safe and ensure we never lose the freedoms that have been won at such a high price.   As we all know, the American Red Cross has its roots in serving those who served in our military—our Veterans.  In honor of Veterans Day 2020, which we commemorate on Wednesday the 11th of November, I’ve included a link to a video clip that I encourage you to watch.  The clip shows the Texas Tenors singing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” 

I think its lyrics and the images are far more inspiring than anything I could offer in this message.  I know I felt my spirits lifted as I listened and watched it—I hope yours are as well.  In closing, please take time to reach out to a Veteran, past or present, and thank them for their service to our country—please show them by your actions that they served, or are serving, a grateful nation.  Please stay safe and well. 

Best regards…Mike

Mental health professionals: please help the Red Cross assist service members, veterans, and their families

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

October 7, 2020- As part of their extraordinary service and commitment, members of the US armed services, veterans and their families face an array of challenges, some of which can impact mental health. In addition, 2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year for all of us. To help with vital mental health services, the Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross is seeking additional volunteers to serve as mental health facilitators as part of its Service to Armed Forces.

The Red Cross, which has served the military for over 135 years, provides services on all military installations in the US as well as 36 overseas installations. An important component of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces is providing mental health and emotional support. Two such services are reconnection and mind-body workshops.

Reconnection Workshops focus on assisting service members, veterans and their families with the transitions that come with military service. Topics include building strong and effective communications skills, managing stress, discussing and finding methods to cope with trauma, emotional grit, connecting with children and defusing anger. There are also workshops which help children effectively cope and communicate. Another important workshop helps non-professional caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans.

With Mind-Body Workshops, the Red Cross teaches easy-to-use skills that connect the body with the mind to help participants cope with stress and trauma. Topics in the introductory course include breathing, mindfulness techniques, stretching and movement, body awareness and functioning, and guided imagery. A module to use mind-body skills includes drawing, journaling, meditation and mindfulness, body awareness through body scan, progressive muscle relaxation and mirroring, and self-directed imagery.

These workshops are free, confidential and offered in small groups.

Due to the pandemic, mental health facilitator roles are currently virtual but will return to being in-person once it passes.

If you are a mental health professional with a current and unencumbered license and hold a master’s level or above mental health degree, please consider volunteering to help the Red Cross provide these crucial services. Volunteering with the Red Cross provides a multitude of professional and personal benefits. These include training; professional development opportunities; remaining clinically active; the ability to advocate, provide feedback, and promote information in your area; and, most importantly, assisting those in need. For more information on volunteering please visit this page or call one of the numbers listed here.

More information about Red Cross Service to Armed Forces is available here.

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