Another Northern Ohio life saved thanks to volunteers

Arlington, Ohio woman credits fire safety information for helping her escape in April

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

Ramona Martin of Arlington in North Central Ohio safely escaped her home after fire broke out in the early morning hours of April 14, 2021. She was awakened after smoke alarms installed in 2018 by Red Cross volunteers Steve and Valerie Mahler of Findlay sounded.

Ramona Martin, left, with Red Cross volunteers Stephan and Valerie Mahler, standing in front of Ms. Martin’s fire-damaged home in Arlington, Ohio

The installation was part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which was launched in October 2014.  Since then, 875 lives have been saved following the efforts of volunteers and partners.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” said Ms. Martin.  She credits the fire safety information she received from Steve and Valerie when they installed her smoke alarms for giving her the knowledge she needed to safely escape.  “You have to have an escape plan.” She said she had only about two minutes to get out.

“When we started installing smoke alarms, I contacted my neighbors, family members, people from church, everyone I know,” said Steve.

See additional photos here.

Residents can visit SoundtheAlarm.org/noh to request a virtual education session on home fire safety and to request smoke alarm installations.  While the Red Cross has postponed in-home visits due to COVID-19 concerns, we will contact residents to schedule an appointment when we resume our in-home visits or if we are able to offer in-home installations with local fire departments.

Celebrating World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day May 8

By: Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

May 8th is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, in which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) collectively thanks its 13 million volunteers worldwide—about 2,000 of which are in Northern Ohio—for their dedication, bravery, kindness, and selflessness.

This day also coincides with Sound the Alarm, as American Red Cross volunteers and staff are helping area residents develop fire safety plans through doorstep visits. Please read this article for more information.

May 8th is the birthday of Henry Dunant, who was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1828, founded the IFRC, and received the first Nobel Peace Prize. After witnessing one of the bloodiest battles of the 19th century, Solferino, and assisting in its aftermath, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino, published in 1862. After detailing the horrors of the battle and describing efforts to care for the wounded, Dunant offered a plan that the world’s nations form relief societies and appeal to everyone to volunteer. The following year the Geneva Society for Public Welfare appointed Dunant and four others to examine putting the plan into action. This began the foundation of the Red Cross. More on Henry Dunant is here

It would take more than a century, two world wars, and the 1918 flu pandemic before a Red Cross day would be created, however. During that time, the need and effectiveness of Red Cross societies became even clearer. Following World War II, the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies requested the study of an International Red Cross Day. It was approved two year later, and May 8, 1948 became the first commemoration of what we now know as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Further details are here.

In 2021, the Red Cross’s mission and services are as needed as ever, and the resilience, dedication, flexibility, and selflessness of its volunteers and staff has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the past year has been especially active. In the US, 2020 had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. Here in Northern Ohio, the Red Cross has continued to respond to disasters—including more than three home fires every 24 hours, on average—collect and distribute much needed blood, teach life-saving skills, assist members of the armed services and their families, and help educate the community on home fire safety, virtually and with doorstep visits during tomorrow’s Day of Action.

We recently profiled a few extraordinary volunteers during Volunteer Week. As a Red Cross volunteer, I have been privileged to see such caring and dedication firsthand and have been honored to work alongside some of the kindest, most effective, and remarkable people I have met. Please see here if you would like to join us.

On this World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, we celebrate those who put the Red Cross’s mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering into action, each day.

Red Cross employees walk to raise funds, build friendships

By: Mary Williams, Events Specialist, American Red Cross

There is a certain something that drives every Red Cross volunteer. There is much to be said about the focused care they give to each disaster client, blood donor, military member/veteran/military family member from the first moment until the last.

That is not necessary a trait that you attribute to your co-workers.

But on April 30, four of my co-workers and I found ourselves at the Wooster office to (social distance style) walk the “last mile” of a 75-mile journey we had started together on April 1. The office had been identified as the central point to our scatter-shot lives, with each of us driving anywhere from 45-minutes to 2-hours to gather in celebration.

There were eight of us who walked 75-miles to promote the mission of the Red Cross (though only five of us could get together in Wooster); Erica van Pelt, Carolyn Wild, Sarah Leonhard, Staci Thomson, Emily Probst, Cheryl Wolfe, Maggie Lenhart, and myself. Through our own family and friend networks we earned a total of $1,510. And beyond that, we began to form a bond that came from encouraging each other each step of the way.

Each time I would think, ‘it’s cold and I don’t want to go out to walk two-miles’, there would be a picture of one co-worker or another, bundled up and outside. We shared pictures of our walking companions – dogs, children, and lots of sarcastically earnest gifs of encouragement. Little by little we learned more things about each other, that we would not have learned otherwise. Time and geography have long conspired to keep many of us perfect strangers, but these 75 miles have brought us closer together. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

And what amazes me the most about this group is that they truly don’t see what an amazing accomplishment it has been for each of them to push beyond what they do as part of their day-to-day work responsibilities, to further blur the lines of work-life and home-life by completely steeping themselves in that thing – that heart – that volunteers demonstrate. For each of these women, it seems that to work here, is to fully encompass the mission and values of the Red Cross as part of your own essence.

It’s just what they do.

It’s just what we do.

Volunteers to share free fire safety resources with residents this spring

Sound the Alarm campaign this year features doorstep visits for home fire safety

This spring, Red Cross volunteers will Sound the Alarm in Northern Ohio neighborhoods as part of a national effort to educate 100,000 people about home fire safety. Volunteers will meet with residents by appointment outside their homes to share fire safety information and help them create an escape plan to practice their two-minute fire drill.

“Home fires remain the most frequent disaster during COVID-19, yet most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to safely escape,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “As families spend more time at home during the pandemic, it’s critical that we help our vulnerable neighbors protect themselves from these everyday disasters.”

To schedule an appointment for a doorstep visit to learn more about keeping your home and family safe from fire, visit the registration page on our website at soundthealarm.org/noh.  Residents can also ask for a virtual visit from local volunteers to review fire safety for their household. Home fire safety visits are part of a national effort to educate 100,000 people about home fire safety nationwide this spring.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR FAMILY SAFE Help protect your family against home fires by taking two simple steps: Practice your two-minute escape drill and test your smoke alarms monthly. Visit SoundTheAlarm.org for more information and to pledge to prepare your family against home fires.

  • Create an escape plan with at least two ways to exit every room in your home. Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet.
  • Practice your escape plan until everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes.
  • Place smoke alarms on each level of your home, including inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas. Change the batteries at least once a year if your model requires it.
  • Check the manufacturer’s date of your smoke alarms. If they’re 10 years or older, they likely need to be replaced. Follow your alarm’s manufacturer instructions.

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Pete Ulrich remembered as dedicated trainer and great guy who saved lives

By: Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Everyone on the American Red Cross Transportation Specialist and Disaster Program teams knew Peter Ulrich simply as “Pete.” He was well known across Northern Ohio for being an excellent teacher with a natural teaching talent who trained countless volunteers for the Red Cross. Pete was based out of his hometown of Akron, Ohio, but his influence reached across the region. Volunteer transportation specialists deliver lifesaving blood products from Red Cross distribution facilities to hospitals. 

My first time meeting Pete was just over a year ago to learn my role as a transportation specialist. From the start, I was truly impressed with how professional, organized and genuine Pete was. We worked together for about four hours that night. Pete was not only an incredible trainer but he was a lot of fun to work with, hard to keep up with and had a quick-witted sense of humor. 

Over this past year, I would run into Pete while on my routes. He would take to time to say “hi,” ask how I was doing and offer to help if needed. Pete said two things that come to mind whenever I am working in the Akron Red Cross office and delivering to Akron General Hospital. He would say, “This is the world’s slowest elevator,” referring to the Akron Red Cross building each time we were in it. (He just wanted to keep moving!) Second, Pete was showing me around at Akron General Hospital and I feel he was starting to trust me because he said in a witty way, “You will learn really fast that I like to do things my own way,” meaning he had a creative style to get the job done. He made volunteering fun.

Sadly, Pete, age 63, passed away March 13. The retired high school band director and high school administrator was a lifelong learner. In retirement, he earned his Doctor of Education and continued to consult with colleagues. An enthusiastic volunteer, Pete served as an usher for the Akron Civic Theater and E.J. Thomas Hall before becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

“Pete was great guy. That is what everyone says about him that he has touched,” said Debbie Chitester, disaster program manager for the Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley Red Cross. “He was always someone who would go out of his way for someone. Even during COVID, I would see him there on Sundays making sure the vehicles were all set to go for the drivers. He always took that extra step. Pete trained many of the Biomed drivers, so his legacy will live on.”

“Pete Ulrich was a Red Cross hero. In his volunteer role, he saved lives every day. He took great pride in volunteering for the Red Cross and the transportation program,” said Shelby Beamer, transportation coordinator for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region. “The organization will forever be grateful for having Pete Ulrich on our team and his hard work and dedication in helping grow the transportation program in Northern Ohio.”

Pete, you will be missed because you were a good human being, dedicated to your family, an educator, volunteer and hero. In his obituary, Pete suggested taking time each day to communicate with someone you love, be they near or far.

Your time and talent can make a real difference in people’s lives. To learn more about volunteering, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Carol Schemmer is dedicated to helping others

By: Sam Pudelski, American Red Cross volunteer

Carol Schemmer of Ottawa County is no stranger to the amazing work that the Red Cross does here at home and abroad.

“When I was in the military, I saw the work of the Red Cross firsthand — when military members needed support to get back home in an emergency or to communicate with loved ones,” said Carol.

Carol has spent her life helping others. She has held many distinguished roles in her life, including spending 22 years serving as a nurse in the United States Navy, leading an emergency room in Connecticut and teaching at Lorain County Community College, just to name a few.

Currently, she spends her time as a volunteer with the State of Ohio Medical Reserve Core (MRC) administering COVID-19 vaccines and as a leader for Club Red, a local organization that supports the Northern Ohio Region of the Red Cross through fundraising and advocacy efforts.

“Carol is an idea person and an action person. She’s always willing to step up and offer advice or help coordinate boots on the ground. She is highly organized, extremely reliable and caring,” said Rachel Hepner-Zawodny, executive director of the Red Cross of Northwest Ohio.

As part of Club Red, Carol has led the group to fundraise for the Red Cross but also expanded its effort to teach CPR to communities. She believes that CPR is so easy to learn, yet can be so vital to saving a person’s life during an emergency.

Carol admires the Red Cross volunteers who coordinate and deploy to disasters to offer relief to those affected. When disaster strikes, volunteers are there to provide basic necessities to communities impacted by a flood, storm or other natural disaster—supplying food, water, medical care and more. These efforts are possible thanks to donations and the support of volunteers—who make up over 90% of the Red Cross workforce.

We cannot do the work that we do abroad and at home without the support of people like Carol. Her dedication to supporting others in need throughout her life as a nurse and as a volunteer has helped countless people. We are truly honored to call her a supporter.

If you aren’t a volunteer but are interested in how you could support the Northern Ohio Red Cross, there are many opportunities available for a variety of skill sets. You can visit our website or click here to learn more.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Recovery Coordinator Debbie Ziss aids victims after disasters

By: Olivia Wyles, American Red Cross volunteer

Today we recognize Debbie Ziss, one of the American Red Cross recovery coordinators for the Northeast Ohio Region who also serves on the Disaster Action Team. The Disaster Action Team (DAT) is a group that is dedicated to helping their communities respond to the scene of disasters. The DAT does this not only by responding to the immediate needs of individuals after a disaster, but also by guiding them as they navigate what their life will look like post-disaster and assisting them in accessing resources they need. Debbie has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for about two years and typically manages the recovery for 50+ people every week.

“Debbie is a fearless advocate for the client in assisting them to find resources for overcoming barriers in their recovery,” said Tom Revolinsky, disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio.

One of the common disasters that the DAT group responds to is home fires, and Debbie has recounted helping individuals who have experienced house fires, entire apartment fires and fires resulting in the unfortunate death of a family member. Although it is challenging to help individuals work through the experience of losing the most important things or people in their lives, Debbie feels that it is an honor to be able to help them through.

“Whether you work at the Red Cross or you’re a client of the Red Cross, you have a story,” Debbie said. “As a volunteer, I’ve learned to make their story my story as well.”

Debbie serves the DAT mostly through casework assignments. She is constantly looking to get things done as well as she can and take the lead in new cases. When asked about some of the skills needed as a DAT volunteer, Debbie said that it is important to pay close attention not only to what people are saying, but how they say it.

“Everyone handles trauma differently,” Debbie explained. She hopes to be able to make a difference in the lives of the individuals who she is able to work with.

Volunteers with an open heart and dedicated spirit like Debbie’s are crucial to the work of the Red Cross. We thank Debbie for her impactful work with us. If you would like more information on the Disaster Action Team and would like to assist the Red Cross advance its mission, visit: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/disaster-action-team.html.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Roger Barton of North Central Ohio

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, we are featuring profiles of some of the dedicated volunteers who help the American Red Cross fulfill its mission in Northern Ohio.

Roger Barton fills a pivotal volunteer role with the Red Cross: Leadership.

In his second year as chair of the North Central Ohio Chapter of the Red Cross, Roger is enthusiastic about the nonprofit organization and its many services: blood collection, disaster response, support for the armed forces and emergency preparedness.

But as an executive in private enterprise—he’s general manager of Reineke Ford Lincoln in Findlay—Roger understands that none of those activities would be possible without the financial support of the American people.

“I’ve been active in fundraising,” he said, explaining how he feels he’s making a difference. “It takes money to run an organization.”

“Roger is well known in the community and he knows how to inspire people, to get them enthusiastic about helping others,” said Todd James, executive director of the Red Cross’ North Central Ohio Chapter, who has worked closely with Roger since he joined the chapter board six years ago.

“Not many people appreciate the importance of raising the dollars it takes to pay the people who draw blood or buy the gasoline for disaster vans or provide AED and CPR training equipment.”

Roger had personal experience with the Red Cross long before he stepped into his current role. “I’ve always given blood,” he said, and when he was in the U.S. Navy, he learned that if he or a family member needed emergency messaging, it would go through the Red Cross.

In 2007, the Blanchard River overflowed, flooding Roger’s basement along with scores of other homes in Findlay. “The Red Cross had a pickup truck going through the neighborhood and they were handing out cleanup supplies.

“That really hit home,” he recalled.

Roger is looking forward to the easing of pandemic restrictions, when “normal” activities can resume, including fundraising events that he knows are important to meeting needs that never end.

“The more you get involved, the more you understand how vital the Red Cross is,” he said.

If you’d like to get involved in a vital organization—as a leader, donor, trainer or responder (on-the-ground or virtual)—contact your local Red Cross chapter or visit https://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Ralph Lee of Heartland, Stark & Muskingum Lakes

By: Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, we are featuring profiles of some of the dedicated volunteers who help the American Red Cross fulfill its mission in Northern Ohio.

Regional offices of large organizations are fortunate when they have representation on the governing councils at national headquarters. Such is our fortune, having Ralph Lee as chairman of the National Diversity Advisory Council (NDAC) for the American Red Cross. Meeting quarterly with Red Cross CEO and President Gail McGovern, NDAC sets the direction and policies of inclusiveness with all that the Red Cross does nationally.

If you’ve ever had the chance to take some of the excellent Red Cross classes like “Uncovering Unconscious Bias,” like I did recently, these are just part of what NDAC brings to our employees and volunteers.

“We are also working hard to make sure that our disaster responders look like the communities they serve, especially now with the Asian and Hispanic communities, so people feel comfortable when our volunteers show up and say they want to help. That’s really been my challenge and my guidance since I became chairperson,” said Ralph.

Ralph, who serves as Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Kenan Advantage Group, started as a volunteer in 2013 in Cincinnati, helping recruit 150 community volunteers for a Sound the Alarm event there. Ralph and his wife Janelle now live in Canton. They have two sons – one living in St. Louis and one in Cincinnati, where they still go frequently to see their two grandchildren.

In Canton, he has organized a “My Story” event for their local chapter, where each meeting, someone introduces themselves and tells a bit of their personal story. “Through learning more about our fellow volunteers, people find that despite skin color or background, we are all more alike than we are different,” explained Ralph.

When Ralph moved to Canton, Kim Kroh, executive director for Heartland, Stark & Muskingum Lakes, admits to “stalking and seeking him out” to join their chapter.

“Ralph Lee is a driving force when it comes to being a Red Cross volunteer, and is currently the chairperson of NDAC. Ralph was actively involved at the Red Cross’ regional board in Cincinnati before moving to Canton where he joined our board. Ralph has used his connections to assist us in strengthening partnerships throughout our chapter footprint, leading to sponsorships, board representation and blood drives. Our chapter has been made stronger thanks to Ralph’s efforts.”

If you’d like to help your local community but are unsure of how you can help the Red Cross, fear not, there is a role for everyone to play to fulfill the Red Cross mission. Find out more at: https://nohredcross.org/volunteer/.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

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.