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.

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: 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: 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.

Celebrating Red Cross Month: Volunteer shares reasons why role is fulfilling, invites others to join

By Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Throughout the month of March, we honor people like you who make the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross possible — the individuals across the country who turn compassion into action, helping others in times of crisis. Our Red Cross Month celebration has been an annual tradition since 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first Red Cross Month proclamation.

 My Volunteer Story

For close to a year, I have been an American Red Cross Transportation Specialist. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically challenged all of us in our daily lives but has also resulted in many learning what is important in their personal lives—family, friends and local communities. I was searching for a way to give back with the extra time I had during the stay-at-home orders. The Transportation Specialist role was a great match.

Volunteer Transportation Specialists deliver lifesaving blood products from Red Cross distribution facilities to hospitals, using a Red Cross-owned vehicle. Simply put, you pick up processed blood at a distribution center, drive it to assigned hospitals and return to drop off empty boxes that you collect.

Chris Chmura delivers blood to a local hospital in his role as a volunteer transportation specialist with the American Red Cross.

My commitment is two to four shifts per month (or more if I can) based on my personal and professional schedule. Typical shifts are about four hours, so I usually schedule to cover routes in the evening /night after work. The Red Cross offers training online and then time spent with a veteran driver to shadow a few days. The amazing employees at the Red Cross support you by answering questions, helping to work with your schedule and steer you in the right direction as you learn your role.  

A few reasons I enjoy the role:

  • My day job is not in the medical field, and I find visiting the Red Cross lab and various hospitals interesting to learn about. You get to experience “behind the scenes” how the Red Cross collects donated blood, how they prepare it for hospitals and see first-hand who it goes to. My favorite route is delivering to Akron Children’s Hospital.
  • You feel a pride and satisfaction volunteering.
  • When I donate blood, I feel a connection to the group who supports the whole process.
  • Other volunteers are welcoming, fun to connect with and build relationships with.
  • I enjoy meeting various people throughout the Red Cross and hospitals that I visit across Northeast Ohio.
  • A large percentage of my time volunteering is drive time, so I relax by listening to podcasts, sports radio or music. 

 Is this Position for You?

Do you enjoy helping your neighbors, giving back to your community and want to enhance your life by using your talents? The Transportation Specialist position might be a good fit for you. You will also need to meet these qualifications to become one:

  • Have a valid state driver’s license and proof of insurance
  • Have three years driving experience and a clean driving record
  • Ability to lift up to 45 lbs.

Check out more details here: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities/deliver-blood.html.

The Men and Women Behind Our Mission

 We invite you and others to join the Red Cross mission by volunteering, giving blood, learning lifesaving skills or making a financial donation. We are ordinary individuals with the innate desire to do extraordinary things. Red Cross staff and volunteers bring their diverse backgrounds and skills to the table, united by the passion we share for our mission—to prevent and alleviate suffering in the face of emergencies.

 Safety First!

Interested in serving to meet essential service needs in the public? Be sure to review the CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness, consult your health care provider and follow local guidance. The number one priority of the American Red Cross is the health and safety of our employees, volunteers, blood donors and recipients, and the people we serve. 

Blood Donations

Don’t forget to donate blood! You don’t need a special reason to give blood. You just need your own reason.

  • Some of us give blood because we were asked by a friend.
  • Some know that a family member or a friend might need blood someday.
  • Some believe it is the right thing to do.
  • Some do it for the free cookies and juice.

To find a blood drive near you, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive.

Everyone can experience and enjoy the great feeling of helping save lives!

Service to Armed Forces Among Many Roles of Volunteer

By Sharon Nicastro, American Red Cross Volunteer

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays written by volunteers for the American Red Cross in the Northeast Ohio Region)

Sharon Nicastro

My first exposure to the Red Cross was in the 1960s when I took a first aid course in middle school.  I maintained my connection to the Red Cross through the 70s and 80s by taking additional training.  By 1990 I had become a member of the first aid team and blood drive recruiter at my workplace and a Red Cross volunteer instructor. I graduated from the Cleveland Red Cross EMT-Basic program in 1999.  The next year I joined Disaster Services as a member of the Disaster Action Team and Disaster Health Services.  I have since added Government Liaison, Disaster Assessment, and Training to my disaster activities.  Last year I became an instructor for Volunteer Services and a volunteer partner of the Regional Director for Service to the Armed Forces (SAF).  For SAF,  I participate in outreach events to acquaint service members, veterans, and their families with Red Cross services and coordinate Red Cross volunteers who serve at Veterans Affairs medical facilities.

SAF is especially important to me because of my family’s military service.  My five great-uncles served in World War II.  My father was one of the pioneers of the U.S. Army Air Forces where he was a navigator on a B-17.  One of my uncles served during the Korean War with the U.S. Air Force; another uncle was in the U.S. Army; my brother-in-law was in Thailand during the Vietnam War; and my nephew did a tour of duty in Saudi Arabia with the U.S. Air Force.  Especially because of my father’s stories and patriotism I have some understanding of the courage and sacrifice that is required of service members and their families.

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Sharon Nicastro, assisting in a smoke alarm installation event in Maple Heights on 4/22/17

The American Red Cross has a long, distinguished history of service to military members and their families.  At outreach events I meet people who were helped by the Red Cross and are grateful to this day.  At the American Red Cross I can do my part by ensuring that services – sometimes life-altering services – are available to the men, women, and families of our military.

Sharon Nicastro lives in Independence, and serves residents of the Greater Cleveland Chapter. She has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1990.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, or to begin an application, visit our volunteer page or call 216-431-3328.  To help the Red Cross train volunteers and provide them with the resources needed to assist people who experience disasters, big and small, visit our Giving Day page.

Red Cross Volunteer Offers “Priceless” Service

By Chuck Victor, American Red Cross Volunteer

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays written by volunteers for the American Red Cross in the Northeast Ohio Region)

Chuck Victor

Throughout my adult years I have had a passion for volunteerism and helping others.  I prefer the behind the scenes work as opposed to the out front spokesperson.

During my working years, I had the opportunity to work with some great non-profit organizations and their boards; which taught me the value of the front line volunteer.

I was fortunate to retire at an early age but not yet ready to retire from being active. I had a colleague who I had always admired for their drive, commitment and dedication to the American Red Cross. I inquired as to how I could serve local needs through Red Cross.

That was over four years ago.  Today I apply my time and talents as a Local Disaster Action Team (DAT) Lead in responding to fires, shelter situations and unfortunately plane crashes.  As part of a team of initial responders to a disaster scene, I am able to help provide assistance to both those affected as well as first responders.

The job DAT members do is, as they say, priceless. We provide needed comfort and necessary reassurance to those who have just experienced tragedies that most hope they will never see. It goes beyond the monetary value of the financial assistance provided for housing and immediate needs.  The greatest value comes from a listening ear and a caring heart. Victims of fires, floods, storms and other such disasters appreciate someone who can hear what they say, even if they don’t have the words to express themselves. We provide direction and re-assurance.

Likewise, I am grateful for the opportunity to support our first responders by offering a hot cup of coffee or a snack when they need to know that their efforts are appreciated. I always make sure to thank them for their service and to remind them to be safe. Too often, they are taken for granted.

Why would anyone want to get a call at 2:30 in the morning and get out of bed on a cold winter night to respond to a fire and a family displaced? Trust me, when I say the reward derived from helping someone in need at his or her worst moment far exceeds the minor inconvenience of losing a little sleep.

Akron ResponseVolunteer Chuck Victor providing assistance to first responders at the scene of a plane crash in Akron, November, 2015

Disaster Action Team may not be your thing, But I would urge anyone with time on his or her hands and a desire to serve others to consider volunteering with the American Red Cross.  Many great opportunities are available.

(Chuck Victor has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than four years.  He is a resident of Tallmadge, and serves residents in the Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Chapter.)

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, or to begin an application, visit our volunteer page or call 216-431-3328.  To help the Red Cross train volunteers and provide them with the resources needed to assist people who experience disasters, big and small, visit our Giving Day page.

Former Trucker Loves Logistics

By Michael Shipley, American Red Cross Volunteer

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays written by volunteers for the American Red Cross in the Northeast Ohio Region)

Hello. My name is Michael Shipley and I am a Red Cross volunteer. My Red Cross story is probably typical.Mike Shipley

I was a working trucker for eighteen years, and logged approximately 1.8 million miles. Then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I suffered a major “attack” and lost the use of my legs for three months, which ended my career as a trucker.

I was at  an MS walk and met a lady who actively recruited me to volunteer for the American Red Cross. I went to a meeting and signed up that day.

I am a Disaster Services volunteer. I started with casework, meaning I helped people who experienced a disaster by introducing them to the services offered by the Red Cross, including initial financial assistance, mental health services, and community referrals to help them with their recovery.  After about nine months of case work I decided to start doing logistics and I absolutely love it!

Mike ShipleyII

American Red Cross volunteer Mike Shipley

I take care of logistics for the Red Cross in seven counties and three offices. I have met some really great folks and been on five deployments in one year! I stay busy and I am very happy to find an organization that lets me be me.

(Michael Shipley has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for nearly three years.  He is a resident of Mansfield, and serves residents in the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter.)

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, or to begin an application, visit our volunteer page or call 216-431-3328.  To help the Red Cross train volunteers and provide them with the resources needed to assist people who experience disasters, big and small, visit our Giving Day page.

Disability Doesn’t Deter Disaster Services Volunteer

By Mark Cline, American Red Cross Volunteer

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays written by volunteers for the American Red Cross in the Northeast Ohio Region)

From my earliest memories, I can remember volunteering with my family, which taught me the value of giving back.  In Boy Scouts I obtained the rank of Eagle Scout. I was also an Explorer Scout with the Wickliffe Fire Department. That turned into a 20 year job of being a part-time fire fighter/EMT.  I later went to work for Continental Airlines, where I was on their Emergency Response Team, and I was an Explorer Post Adviser working with teens in an Aviation Post sponsored by Continental Airlines.  On one of my assignments, I worked an aircraft crash in Buffalo, NY, where 51 souls were lost.

After working some very physical jobs over the years,  my back developed issues and I began to receive Social Security Disability, but I wasn’t ready to retire to a rocking chair.  Working with Lake County RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), they introduced me to the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team in the Greater Cleveland Chapter.  All my emergency training and experience pulled together in one organization. I currently hold a number of positions with Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services (DCS).  I’m a Disaster Action Team (DAT) Leader, Administrator-on-call, DAT Induction Trainer, Pillowcase Presenter and DCS Volunteer Partner to our Disaster Program Manager.

Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services Volunteer Partner Mark Cline, assisting residents who were affected by home fires in Greater Cleveland 

All of these positions allow me the chance to give back in many different ways.  Being on call I get a chance to be instrumental in someone’s life.  When the team responds, we help people who hours before didn’t know what hit them.  Then we train and plan for the next response.  I am able to work along side WONDERFUL co-volunteers and employees, knowing that whatever challenge comes around the corner, we’ll be able to respond.

I may be on disability, but that doesn’t make me totally disabled.  Someday a rocking chair may be a major part of my day, but not right now.  The Red Cross gives me the ability to help and enjoy life, being part of amazing team or even more like a family. There will be another disaster around the corner.  I don’t know when, I don’t know what, I just know I’ll be part of the team responding to it.  Tomorrow there maybe time for that rocking chair and sleeping in, but today I’ve got things to do and places to go, and people to see!Mark Cline

Mark Cline just celebrated his first anniversary as a Red Cross Volunteer.  He lives in Euclid, and serves residents of the Greater Cleveland Chapter. 

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, or to begin an application, visit our volunteer page or call 216-431-3328.  To help the Red Cross train volunteers and provide them with the resources needed to assist people who experience disasters, big and small, visit our Giving Day page.