Cynthia Skidmore climbed on a tank and felt at home. A U.S. Air Force veteran and military family member, Cynthia had recently volunteered with the American Red Cross as a member of the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team. While assisting at a military family picnic, she climbed the tank, saw the families, remembered the times she and her husband served when their children were young, and thought, “This is awesome!” She wanted to keep helping, to reach as many as possible, and knew the effectiveness of the Red Cross’ SAF team in assisting military service members, veterans and their families.
After an exceptional Air Force career, Cynthia left in 2007 to focus on raising their five children while her husband, who was deployed in Saudi Arabia during 9/11, continued to serve. He retired from the Air Force in 2018 after 25 years, and her son Josh joined about the same time. Following the pandemic and her children becoming young adults, Cynthia, who has always been driven and full of purpose —“Going 90 MPH with [her] hair on fire”— found the house empty, felt lost and wanted to help others.
The Red Cross came to mind. Cynthia knew the tremendous feats a dedicated team can accomplish and the feeling of doing something bigger than oneself. She began volunteering with the Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley chapter in 2022 and quickly made an impact.
Cynthia brings extraordinary skills and experience to the Red Cross. Having taught chemical warfare classes and focusing on disaster management while in the Air Force, she is skilled in public speaking and understands many elements of being in an armed forces family, as a veteran, spouse, mother, daughter and granddaughter.
Cynthia’s father, who recently passed away, helped inspire her sense of purpose and drive. A U.S. Navy veteran who served during Vietnam, Cynthia’s father was giving and deeply caring, often helping others, and loved Cynthia’s work with the Red Cross, both as a volunteer and blood donor. Her grandfather was also a Navy veteran. Thus, Cynthia continues her family’s tradition of giving.
In our conversation, Cynthia spoke highly of her Red Cross team and how much can be accomplished when people work together to help others. She enjoys being part of such a team and getting things done.
When asked about her favorite volunteer experiences, she said she has many. One that stood out was assisting at a deployment briefing when several volunteers brought in dogs. Cynthia, whose family has four dogs, said the service members’ children lit up upon seeing them. The dogs helped dispel fear, brought peace, normalcy and joy.
Another favorite event is the Summit County Veterans Stand Down, where homeless and displaced veterans interview for jobs, receive haircuts, medical assistance, food, clothing and additional assistance. It is a tremendous help to those who have served and currently need assistance, and Cynthia is looking forward to the next one.
Cynthia also enjoys her regular volunteer work and being able to help, whether in person or being a compassionate voice on a telephone line.
For any veterans considering joining the Red Cross, Cynthia says volunteering is exceptionally rewarding and presents the opportunity to serve others in ways you never imagined. “It’s the next best thing to wearing a uniform,” she said.
For more information on the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces or to volunteer, please visit this link.
Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer
By Christy Peters, Regional Communications Manager
As the mom of a 7-year-old boy, I spend a lot of time thinking about superheroes. We read lots of stories about Black Widow and Thor and Spiderman, swooping in to save the day. My son loves to ask me what my superpower would be if I had one. And more than once, I have battled an evil superhero in my living room with a Captain America shield strapped to my arm.
While superheroes are fun, I’d be thrilled if my son aspired to be like the real-life heroes I recently met instead of Spiderman. I had the privilege to attend the American Red Cross Greater Akron and Mahoning Valley Acts of Courage Awards on March 2. Nine local residents were recognized for acting courageously and selflessly in a time of emergency. The organization also honored Joe and Pam (of blessed memory) Kanfer of GOJO industries with the 2023 H. Peter Burg Community Leader Award. You couldn’t help but be inspired after hearing the stories these everyday heroes. Their stories are shared below.
2023 Acts of Courage Award Winners:
Easton Spann, 5-year-old hero Michelle Barlow awoke one morning, her body racked by seizure-like spasms caused by a reaction to a medication she had taken. The episode passed and Michelle insisted her husband Kenny, go to work. Before he left, Kenny showed Easton, their 5-year-old grandchild how to call for help in case of an emergency. Shortly after Kenny left, Michelle had another seizure. Easton, who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum, called his grandfather and explained what had happened. Kenny called 911 and with his instruction, Easton got the house key and opened the door to watch for help. “He was so brave,” said Michelle. Watch Easton’s hero video here or here.
Darby Baumberger, Assistant Principal, Betty Jane Community Learning Center hero
After being a teacher for 26 years, Darby Baumberger began a new role as a vice principal. On the first day in her new job, she was in the cafeteria overseeing the lunch period. Suddenly, a student started coughing and stood up. Darby quickly walked over and saw the child make the universal sign for choking. Darby lifted the student’s arms above his head and smacked him on the back, to no avail. She realized she had to act quickly and began performing stomach thrusts. Finally, a piece of corn dog flew out of the child’s mouth, and he began to breathe. Emergency services arrived and, after checking the child, said he was fine. Watch Darby’s hero video here or here.
Lindsey and Nicole Bechter, Cuyahoga Falls heroes
Lindsey and Nichole Bechter are sisters and part-time volleyball referees at Clutch Lanes in Cuyahoga Falls. During a game last summer, a player collapsed on the court. Hearing people yell for someone to call 911, Nicole ran down to the court with her sister close behind. After assessing the situation, the sisters began administering CPR. They continued until emergency services arrived. Watch the Bechter hero video here.
Jim Kuhn, Medina County Public Transit hero
Jim Kuhn was driving the Fixed Route Transit bus in Wadsworth and stopped to pick up one of his regular riders, named Bruce. Bruce was about to step on the bus when he passed out, falling straight back onto the pavement. Concerned Bruce had hit his head, Jim jumped off the bus to help. After finding no head injury, he saw Bruce turning blue. He began to perform chest compressions. Finally, Bruce let out some weak breaths. When first responders arrived on the scene, they were able to find a faint pulse and loaded Bruce in an ambulance. Jim continued his route, hoping he’d done enough. Weeks later, Jim was thrilled to found out Bruce was alive and recovering. Watch Jim’s hero video here or here.
Aaron Williams, Logan Stinson and Andrew Gauer, Akron Police and Fire Department heroes
On November 25, Akron police officer Aaron Williams was the first responder on the scene of a house fire. Learning there was someone inside, Williams kicked opened the front door and was unable to see clearly, due to the smoke filling the room but heard someone respond to his voice. Officer Williams ran out to catch his breath as firefighter/paramedics Logan Stinson and Andrew Gauer arrived on scene. The men ran back into the smoke-filled house to rescue a wheelchair-bound woman from the first floor. Firefighters arrived shortly after and rescued another individual from the home. Watch the first responder hero video here or here.
Jennifer Torres, 3rd grade teacher, Anne T. Case Community Learning Center hero
While teaching her third-grade class, Jennifer Torres heard a strange sound and saw one of her students stand up. The student put her hands around her neck, making the universal sign for choking. Jennifer shouted to her students to go get another adult while she rushed to the student’s aid. Jennifer gave the student a few quick stomach thrusts, and a piece of candy flew out of her mouth, and she began to breathe again. Watch Jennifer’s hero video here or here.
Congratulations to all the winners! Do you know someone who acted in an emergency to help save a life? Share their story with us for possible recognition at upcoming Acts of Courage and Hero awards events across the Northern Ohio Region. And make sure you’re prepared like to help save a life like these heroes! Find a Red Cross training course near you and sign up at RedCross.org/takeaclass.
Annual H. Peter Burg Community Leader award also presented
By the American Red Cross and Ryan Lang, Red Cross Volunteer
Two police officers, an off-duty firefighter, an assistant middle school principal, a municipal recreation worker, a vacationing teenager and a professional model will be honored for bravery and acts of heroism, at the 26th annual Acts of Courage awards, presented by the American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley.
The annual dinner and award ceremony will take place on Thursday, March 3, 2022, at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn, 3180 W. Market Street, Akron, Ohio 44333.
As a special feature of the Acts of Courage awards, the Red Cross takes an opportunity to present a community member, who has spent a lifetime pursuing good deeds, with the H. Peter Burg Community Leader award. This year, the award will be presented to Bernett L. Williams, Vice President External Affairs at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Acts of Courage Award Winners:
LaDonya S. Williams, day care provider and model, Akron, Ohio While sitting at a traffic light at V. Odom and Raymond St., a motorist careened wildly down the street, crashing into the car in-front of LaDonya Williams and her father, off-duty Akron Police Department detective, Donny Williams.
A woman leapt out of the vehicle, screaming that her 7-month-old baby was choking. Working quickly, LaDonya pulled the 7-month old child out of the car and successfully performed infant abdominal thrusts, taught by the American Red Cross.
LaDonya, who in addition to being a licensed day care worker, is a professional model, and was supposed to be in Chicago on a modeling job, but canceled at the last minute. It was a decision that may have saved that baby’s life.
Tim Haas – Asst. Chief, Brunswick Hills Fire Department On just the second day of a family vacation to Mexico, Brunswick resident Tim Haas played the hero. While at the main pool of the resort where the family was staying, Hass, saw a 2 year-old girl being taken out of the pool.
The child had drowned. She was not breathing and had no pulse. Tim utilized his extensive training and performed CPR until she was revived, about two minutes later. Emergency personnel at the resort then responded, and later told Haas the girl was “doing well.”
Anthony Hermann, Assistant Principal, Barberton Local Schools Eighth grade Assistant Principal Anthony Hermann was helping clean up on a Taco Tuesday during lunch at Barberton Middle School. As students were getting ready to return to class, Mr. Hermann was called on to use the first aid training he and other administrators are required to learn.
A student was choking on his meal and unable to verbalize his distress. Mr. Hermann could tell immediately what was wrong and moved into action. As he patted the child’s back, trying to dislodge the food that was blocking his airway, the student passed out.
As the situation unfolded, Mr. Hermann called for the room to be cleared and began to perform abdominal thrusts to dislodge the food. Eventually, the student regained consciousness.
John Doyle, Recreation Supervisor, City of Macedonia During Macedonia’s SummerFest 5K in 2021, Recreation Supervisor John Doyle was clearing the trails toward the end of the run and noticed a man face down on the trail. Recognizing him as the runner who had just passed him, John immediately radioed for EMS and approached the man. After performing multiple rounds of CPR, several other workers arrived with an AED and LUCAS device.
The runner regained his pulse and was breathing before being taken to the hospital.
Officer Lenny Kunka, Officer Kyle Auckland – Kent Police Department A 14-year-old girl was babysitting a 1-year-old around 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, when she heard someone trying to get inside. Unable to get away, she hid in a bathroom and bravely called 911. Through whispered exchanges, she spoke with dispatch.
Two Kent police officers, officer Lenny Kunka and officer Kyle Auckland, responded to the call. Almost immediate shots were fired by the intruder. Officer Kunka was shot in the hand. Officer Auckland’s bullet-resistant vest saved his life when he was shot in the chest. Both officers have recovered.
The suspect was subdued and arrested.
Travis Shrout, College Student, Stow, Ohio While vacationing in Topsail, North Carolina, 19-year-old Stow resident Travis Shrout went swimming. While at the beach, he noticed a mother and young child in distress in the water.
Travis pursued them using his body board. He first reached the mother and gave her the body board. He then swam toward the boy, who was struggling to stay above the waves some 10-yards away. Travis used his Red Cross lifeguard training to calm and rescue the boy, navigating both mother and son out of the rip current and safely to shore.
My first Acts of Courage Awards as a Red Cross Board Member:
Working in radio news for the past six years in Akron, I’m very familiar with the Red Cross Acts of Courage event. In fact, I’ve covered a lot of these heroes in the news over that time.
But this year was my first in-person Acts of Courage event as a Red Cross board member, and the experience was even more rewarding that I could have imagined.
Prior to Thursday night’s ceremony, I had the chance to meet several of this year’s heroes and hear their stories firsthand. That was a few weeks ago, and as emotionally affected as I was then, I figured I was prepared to keep my composure during the main event.
I was not.
Hearing these stories from the men and woman that lived them was once again an emotional experience for me. LaDonya’s selflessness, Tim’s training in action, Anthony’s sense of duty to his student, John’s quick reaction, Lenny and Kyle’s bond, and Travis’ maturity and composure… Every single story moved me as if I was hearing them again for the first time.
These folks are heroes. They represent the best parts of our community and the Red Cross is proud to recognize them for their extraordinary acts of courage.
And then there was Bernett L. Williams, this year’s H. Peter Burg Award recipient, who was presented the award by her two sons, Todd and Jacob; two impressive young men who spoke so highly of their mother.
Bernett’s resume and long list of contributions to the community speak for themselves, but from where I was sitting, it was the testimony of her sons that truly spoke to Bernett’s character and her impact on the people around her. The way those young men carried themselves and spoke of their mother was beyond impressive and as the son of a remarkable woman myself, I could feel the pride swelling within them.
From her work with Akron Children’s Hospital to her leadership role in the Akron Urban League to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and the Women’s Endowment Fund, Leadership Akron, Summit for Kids, and the list goes on, Bernett is the epitome of selflessness in the community.
The H. Peter Burg Community Leadership Award was made for Bernett L. Williams.
I was honored to be there last night and I’m honored to represent the Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley, if only from my small seat at a very large and distinguished table.
The 25th annual Acts of Courage, featuring the H. Peter Burg Community Leadership & Spirit of the Red Cross awards was not the norm this year, but what has been? Nonetheless, on March 4, 2021, courage and recognition did not stop! Due to precautionary measures during COVID-19, the annual honorees made history streaming virtually together for this edition. It is regarded as the greatest celebrated acts of courage, compassion, character and humility in which the American Red Cross proudly honors our region’s deserving recipients each year.
Seven individuals captured Acts of Courage through reactive giving.
Dustin Nist – a Kent State business management student was returning home when he witnessed a car plunge into the Tuscarawas River near the Clinton fire station. He broke a window of the sinking car with a railroad tie after seeing an older woman with water up to her neck in a desperate situation. “I was talking to the lady, letting her know it’s alright,” before responders were able to extract the woman from the car with only minor injuries. He remains modest and said he was acting out of instinct and only glad he could help. Watch Dustin’s story here.
Yamil Encarnacion –a Twinsburg police officer, earned praise after he crawled into an overturned car in the eastbound lane of I-480 to rescue a 4-year-old child pinned in a car seat after an end over end traffic accident. The little girl’s legs were losing color, so officer Encarnacion jumped into action, crawling into the wreckage, cutting the child free. “I remember seeing an officer carrying my daughter, then he went back for my son and there was just blood all over his arms,” according to Emma Johnson, the mother. She says she will never forget what officer Encarnacion did for her and her family. Watch Yamil’s story here.
Richard Santucci & Jim Shepherd – On February 2, 2020, while at work at Nordson Xaloy Inc. in Austintown, Jim Shepherd helped save a life. A man lost consciousness, fell to the ground and began to have a seizure. Jim immediately assessed the man and alerted his team of the escalated incident. Richard Santucci also came to the man’s aid with an AED. Richard began to perform CPR while administering shocks to the gentleman until EMS arrived on scene. The skills learned in the Red Cross Training Services course helped to save the life of this man. Watch Richard and Jim’s story here.
Clarissa Gagne –a journalist with the Akron Beacon Journal, recounts when Clarissa was pregnant with her daughter, she learned CPR as part of her parenting classes. “It’s one of those skills you learn, and you pray you never have to use it.” But the second-grade teacher did so eight years later. Clarissa’s neighbor had collapsed in front of her when she and several neighbors rushed to help. “It was really a whole neighborhood event,” she said. One person called 911, while another watched the woman’s family. Each link in the chain—the person giving CPR, the 911 caller, the dispatcher, the paramedic, the hospital worker, worked together. Watch Clarissa’s story here.
Natalie Weisler – The Portage County 7-year-old woke up at home early Sunday morning November 8, while her parents and brother were still asleep, she went into the living room to watch television. Only a short time had passed before she heard a startling crash from the kitchen. Upon investigating, she found the breezeway in flames. Remaining calm, Natalie woke her parents and older brother to get out safely. Though the damages were extensive, she was brave under pressure and as her father, Justin Weisler, boldly stated, his daughter simply saved their lives. Watch Natalie’s story here.
Joanne White – The 80-year-old suffers from multiple health issues and has been confined to her Boardman home since March 2020, due to COVID-19. Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she began making masks. She made a bundle of masks weekly in all different fabrics, styles and seasonal designs to distribute to anyone who needed them. On a fixed income and never asking for any money or credit to buy materials, she only wanted to make people smile. She cannot imagine making money off those who may not have the means for something so important. Joanne has has made over 1,200 masks and has shipped them all over the country, essentially “covering” our community. Watch Joanne’s story here.
2021 Peter H. Burg Community Leadership Award – Honorees of this year’s philanthropic legacy award are an inspired couple who have embraced their adopted hometown, Nick and Cindy Browning. Nick is the president of Huntington National Bank and Huntington-Akron Foundation. Nick engages leaders, colleagues, customers and communities in improving the lives of families. Cindy is a dedicated community volunteer, having retired after a 35-year nursing career. Her passion for Hospice of Summa and Grace House Akron continues as she serves as a volunteer member and coordinator on the capital and policy committees. The couple’s past work includes youth, health, nonprofit and many other community projects. They were honored for the difference they make in the lives of those in our communities.
The 2021 Spirit of the Red Cross Award Winners – Through their success in the automotive industry, Greg and Alice Greenwood and their family of companies have become synonymous in the Mahoning Valley with devotion for over 36 years. The Greenwoods serve by following the core values the Greenwood dealerships were built upon: Respect, Trust, Honestly, Loyalty and Professionalism. The Greenwood family and its dealership teams are agents for philanthropy and community contribution by supporting the Red Cross in Youngstown, where Greg was an active board member and speaker. Their dealerships support many diverse organizations and events, including local schools, youth clubs, family healthcare and nonprofits. The Greenwood family and dealerships follow the example that Greg and Alice set in raising their three children, with selflessness and generosity.
Thank you to all the deserving award winners for placing others first and, like the Red Cross, being there when help is needed. You, too, can be a local hero. If you are interested in volunteering or to learn more about what caring folks and the Red Cross do on an ongoing basis, visit redcross.org.
Edited By: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer
By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio
January 25, 2021- Over the past year, our lives have been consumed by news and updates regarding the coronavirus. We have experienced school closures, canceled vacations, social distancing and mask wearing.
Many of us however have either experienced the virus firsthand or know someone who had COVID-19. For Debbi Grinstein, both experiences are true.
On December 10, 2020, Debbi began to experience postnasal drip, feeling achy and had a slight fever. That is when she found out that she would join the list of millions of Americans who had COVID-19.
Despite the diagnosis, Debbi considered herself lucky because despite the slight symptoms, she was able to continue to work and exercise at home, and her recovery was quick.
In addition to herself, Debbi experienced the virus through a loved one, as her son, who lives in New York City, also was diagnosed with COVID-19.
During her recovery process, Debbi decided right away that she was going to donate convalescent plasma once she was fully recovered, to try to help others overcome the virus because “it was the right thing to do.”
Convalescent plasma comes from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus. Plasma is the part of blood that remains after red and white blood cells are removed. It is rich in proteins and antibodies. Hospitals and research labs around the country are working to see if these antibodies can help the immune system fight COVID-19.
On January 15, Debbi attended her scheduled appointment at the Akron Donation Center to donate her valuable convalescent plasma.
To those who have recovered from COVID-19 but are on the fence about whether they should donate their convalescent plasma, Debbi has a message for you: “Convalescent plasma is helping a lot of people and it does not hurt when you donate.”
Those who have received a verified COVID-19 diagnosis, have fully recovered and have been symptom free for at least 14 days are urged to sign up to give convalescent plasma by completing the donor information form HERE.
To hear more about Debbi’s COVID-19 journey and about her convalescent plasma donation, be sure to follow our Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages for an upcoming video conversation with her.
By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio
January 20, 2021- Have you ever wanted to get CPR and AED training, but you thought you would never have an opportunity to use your training to save a life? Well, hopefully today’s post will change your mind.
On January 11, 2020, while working during an indoor track meet at the Stile Athletic Field House, a spectator in the stands began to experience chest pains.
John and Kalie quickly responded to the aid of the gentleman. Instantly their Red Cross training kicked in as they delivered breath and chest compressions and administered an AED, until first responders were able to arrive to assist.
Thanks to the quick thinking and responsiveness of John and Kalie, the spectator survived and made a full recovery.
During a virtual ceremony last week, the American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley presented John and Kalie with the Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders, the highest award given to an individual, or team of individuals, who saves or sustains a life, outside of a medical setting, as part of their employment or while on duty.
“I am always amazed when someone takes the wherewithal to act. That is the hardest step,” stated Phil Ormandy, American Red Cross Training Services, during the presentation. “I am very proud of you [John and Kalie] and thankful that you put your training in action to save a life.”
“Thankfully John and Kalie were at the right place at the right time. I am proud of them and the University of Akron for holding these trainings,” said Max Elder, John and Kalie’s coworker, who nominated them for the award.
The American Red Cross offers training programs in various areas from first aid, CPR, AED administration, water safety, babysitting and more. Learn more about Red Cross lifesaving courses here.