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

Honoring our commitment during Military Appreciation Month

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

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

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

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

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF)

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

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

Red Cross services for our military and their families include:

Before deployment:

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

During deployment:

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

After deployment:

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

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

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

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). 

Tiny Hands, Huge Hearts Help Heroes Celebrate Holidays

Caring Cubs Make Cards for Red Cross Military Mail Campaign

From the hands of babes.  Members of the Armed Forces will receive some holiday cheer this year thanks to the artistic abilities…and the service-oriented parents…of the children of Caring Cubs.

Dozens of families gathered on Saturday, November 7th in the Main Gallery of Cuyahoga Community College West in Parma, prepared to decorate holiday cards with pictures and messages to military men and women who will be away from home for the holidays.

“This is a perfect project for the children to engage in hands-on community service,” said Kelly Rudloff, a Caring Cubs Board Member.  “They like to color and draw, so they are doing an activity they enjoy while at the same time helping the Red Cross bring some holiday joy to members of the military.”

More than 375 cards were decorated by the Caring Cubs for U. S. service members.

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Photo credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

Caring Cubs was formed six years ago by parents who wanted to teach their children about philanthropy and service at a young age, by engaging them with age-appropriate activities.  Children as young as two years old are invited to be Caring Cubs.  Monthly events are held, with the aim to teach the children lessons on social responsibility.

The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program enables Americans to “Give Something That Means Something” this holiday season. “We invite the public to send cards of thanks, encouragement and holiday cheer to members of our Armed Forces, veterans and military families,” said Jessica Tischler, Director of Service to Armed Forces for the American Red Cross, Northeast Ohio Region.  “Many of our service men and women will be separated from their loved ones this holiday season.  These cards will help brighten their holidays.”

Holiday Mail for Heroes is just one way the Red Cross honors and serves the military. Our unwavering commitment to members of the U.S. military, its veterans and their families continues to grow and develop more than a century after Clara Barton first recruited nurses to support the U.S. Army.  We provide three types of assistance beginning on the first day of enlistment: Emergency Services, Service to Military Families and Service to Military and Veterans Hospitals, including the Louis B. Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland.

If you would like to “Give Something That Means Something” for the holidays, you have until November 30 to create your cards for members of the military and get them to your local Red Cross office for distribution.  Click here for more information.

Get to Know Us Before You Need Us: Our Service to the Armed Forces Program

The American Red Cross’ unwavering commitment to members of the U.S. military, its veterans and their families continues to grow and develop more than a century after Clara Barton first recruited nurses to support the U.S. Army. Today, the Red Cross is meeting the needs of a changing military and expanding services to veterans. Red Cross support of military members and their families enhances morale and contributes to increased operational capability in several ways.

The Red Cross provides critical services with a caring touch to men and women in all branches of the United States military, active duty personnel, reservists and members of the National Guard, and their families. Through our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, service men and women are eligible for three types of assistance beginning on the first day of enlistment: Emergency Services, Service to Military Families and Service to Military and Veterans Hospitals.

In Northeast Ohio we have a number of opportunities to support our Service to the Armed Forces program:

  • Casework follow up for emergency communication and financial assistance cases
  • Support Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) at various locations such as: Louis Stokes VA Medical Center and outpatient clinics (Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Lorain, Mansfield, Parma, Youngstown and the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery) and the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky
  • Represent the Red Cross at military and military family outreach events
  • Conduct family briefings at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Cleveland as new recruits get ready to leave for training
  • K-9 Action Team pet visitation

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering with our SAF program apply via Volunteer Connection.

  • Current volunteers: sign in, click “opportunities”, apply
  • New volunteers: visit https:redcross.org/neo
    • Click on “volunteer” tab in left margin
    • Submit application profile and complete remaining application checklist

For general questions regarding the application process, please contact Volunteer Services at 216-431-3328 or NEOVolunteer@redcross.org.

For detailed questions about our Service to the Armed Forces program, please contact Jessica Tischler at Jessica.tischler@redcross.org or 216-426-7525.