Man of many talents shares them with the Red Cross

By Christy Peters, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager

Doug Bardwell was already volunteering to help people in need when he first encountered the American Red Cross. In 1983, Doug and his sons drove to St. Genevieve, Missouri to help during a devastating flood. They stayed in a Red Cross shelter while helping sandbag the town. After that experience, Doug was hooked and decided to become a Red Cross volunteer after he retired.

March 7, 2020. Donelson, Tennessee. Homeowner Linda Bennett tells Red Cross volunteer Doug Bardwell that she can’t thank everyone enough that’s stopped to check on her since the tornado hit. She related to Doug about being sucked through her house when the twister hit. “I felt things hitting me as I was thrown about the house,” said Linda. “When the wind stopped, I went outside, and a neighbor lent me a pair of his shoes. “ Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Fast forward several years and Doug has become an integral part of the volunteer team in Northern Ohio. You can’t mention the name “Doug Bardwell” without someone saying how much he has helped them meet the Red Cross mission.

In September 2016, Doug became a communications volunteer in the Northern Ohio Region. His first assignment was a bit of a tall order…photographing and writing about a smoke alarm installation with the Harlem Globetrotters. He continues to contribute articles to the Northern Ohio region blog and takes fantastic photos of many different events whenever needed.

Regional Red Cross CEO Mike Parks and Senior Disaster Program Manager Emily Probst observe, as Harlem Globetrotter Zeus McClurkin installs a smoke alarm in a home in Cleveland

Doug also joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT), which helps residents affected by local fires and severe weather events around northern Ohio.

“The day Doug Bardwell walked into my office was my lucky day,” said Jim McIntyre, Regional Communications Director. “It was OUR lucky day, because Doug has such a broad array of skills he shares so freely, in the Northern Ohio Region and at the national Red Cross level.”

Doug also serves as a lead volunteer for the Volunteer Services department. In that role, he welcomes new volunteers, helps troubleshoot IT issues volunteers may face navigating Volunteer Connection, the online portal for volunteers, as well as writing and publishing the NOH Notables, a weekly wrap-up of local and national Red Cross stories that are published on Volunteer Connection.

March 7, 2020. Nashville, Tennessee. Red Cross volunteer Doug Bardwell listened as (L to R) Machaela , Raniesha, Terriona , and Ray Shawn told stories about all that happened as the tornado hit their home. They are now staying at the Red Cross shelter at Centennial Sportsplex. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

In addition to all the support Doug provides the Northern Ohio Region, he also serves as a national communications volunteer. As part of the national Advanced Public Affairs team, Doug has helped manage communications and gather stories and photos for multiple disasters, including the California Camp Fire in 2018, floods in Texas and Louisiana in 2020 and deadly tornadoes in Tennessee in 2021. In fact, anyone clicking around the RedCross.org site will see photos of Doug in action, helping the victims of these various disasters.

Bardwell family

For all the amazing volunteer work Doug has done, his greatest delight is his family. He and his awesome wife have seven children and 19 grandchildren who keep them quite busy! His grandchildren provide never-ending opportunities to attend baseball, basketball, football, soccer, cross country and track and field events. And there’s also marching band, orchestra, jazz band, choral, drama and the list goes on and on. When he’s not busy with family or the Red Cross, he also helps at his church and takes photographs for Properties Magazine.

When asked what he would say to someone looking to volunteer, Doug feels giving back to the community is something everyone should do. “The Red Cross is so big and does so many things, there is bound to be a use for whatever talents and availability you bring with you,” he said. “From volunteering at one blood drive, to sitting at home and making phone calls, there is literally a role for everyone.

Thank you, Doug, for all you do. We are so fortunate to have you as a Red Cross Northern Ohio Region volunteer!

Weekend disaster responses include helping people affected by flooding

Jewett Flooding

Flooding during the President’s Day weekend kept some Red Cross disaster workers busy across the Northern Ohio Region. Heavy rains in some parts of the region, along with melting snow caused flood damage that brought a Red Cross response to Lorain, Stark, Wayne and Harrison counties.

The village of Jewett in Harrison County was especially hard hit. Red Cross disaster program managers Tim Reichel and Mike Arthur were accompanied by volunteers Dan Best and Arden Tohill on Saturday, when they distributed clean-up kits to nearly two-dozen affected residences.

Jewett Flooding

“Those buckets have everything they need to get a good start,” Tim said during an interview with WTOV 9 news. “They’ve come out of their homes, they’ve welcomed us, we’ve gotten a few hugs along the way,” Tim continued. “It’s what we do and it’s a pleasure to do it.”

Weekend responses also included home fires in Cleveland, Akron, Wooster, and Masury, Ohio in Trumbull County. More than 60 children and adults received Red Cross assistance throughout Northern Ohio.

February has been a very busy month for Red Cross Disaster Action Teams. Responses are up more than 30% over February of 2021, and Red Cross caseworkers are continuing to help hundreds of people find a path to recovery.

While President’s Day is a federal holiday, the Red Cross remains ready to respond to emergencies, today and every day of the year.

“While many will be relaxing with family and friends, our teams remain vigilant,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer.

Jewett Flooding

If you’d like to help neighbors in need following a home fire, flooding or some other disaster, visit redcross.org/volunteer to apply for a spot on our Disaster Action Teams. The Red Cross is also in need of trained medical and mental health professionals to assist people following disasters big and small. A virtual information session for licensed healthcare and mental healthcare providers will be held this Thursday, February 24, from 12:00 to 1:00 pm. To RSVP for this event, email neovolunteer@redcross.org, or call 216-431-3328. A Microsoft Teams meeting link will be emailed to you prior to the event. A conference call option will also be available.

Red Cross issues call for volunteers

Help needed as winter increases the risk of home fires
Support also needed for Red Cross Blood Program

Winter weather has arrived and with it an increase in the number of home fires. The American Red Cross of Northern Ohio is recruiting new volunteers to help respond to these local emergencies by supporting people in their time of greatest need.

Nationally, the Red Cross has already responded to more than1,900 home fires since 2022 began, providing assistance to more than 6,500 people. In the Northern Ohio Region, trained Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) members have responded to 60 home fires so far this year, helping 215 people impacted by a fire in their home.

LOCAL RESPONSE HELP NEEDED DAT volunteers help families with their immediate needs after a fire in their home and offer support during a very difficult time. As a DAT team member, you will provide emotional support, access to financial assistance and information to help families begin to recover. DAT team members respond to emergencies to provide immediate compassion and care. Training will be provided.

Home Fire Response

“Our Red Cross volunteers support their community and neighbors in need each and every day by responding to local emergencies,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “We need more help so no one faces this heartbreaking situation alone.”

Ruth Davidson Gordon – Red Cross Volunteer Blood Donor Ambassador

BLOOD SERVICES VOLUNTEERS ALSO NEEDED The Red Cross also needs volunteers to support blood collections as the country faces an ongoing critical need for blood products and platelets. Blood donor ambassadors play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals in our communities.

Blood Transportation Specialist

COVID-19 AND STAYING SAFE The need for volunteers is constant and continues to evolve as the Red Cross navigates the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The safety of everyone is our top priority and our guidelines reflect the latest CDC safety recommendations. COVID-19 vaccination is required for in-person volunteer roles beginning February 15, 2022. When considering volunteer opportunities, review the CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness, consult your health care provider and follow local guidance.

Please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer today and bring help and hope to people in need. Vaccination verification required for in-person roles. Find out more at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

The power of personal connections: Transitioning back to in-person disaster response

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many American Red Cross services are transitioning back to being in-person, especially in Disaster Response and Sheltering. While virtual response and other safety measures helped the Red Cross effectively respond to disasters during the height of the pandemic, in-person assistance was missed. As Mike Arthur, regional mass care and logistics manager for Northern Ohio, explained, the ability to provide hot coffee and a hug can mean a great deal.

In addition to Mike, I spoke with Tom Revolinsky, Red Cross disaster program manager for Northeast Ohio, and volunteer Mark Cline, whose many responsibilities include serving as lead for Disaster Action Team (DAT) and Sheltering Applications in Northern Ohio. Each spoke about how effective an in-person connection is for Red Cross responders and clients recovering from a disaster.

Red Cross volunteers respond to an apartment fire

Tom said the transition began a month ago and is going very well. The DAT team is ensuring volunteers are comfortable with the change, and it is safe. As we learn more, he said, we will adapt to ensure everyone’s safety.

Currently, 80% of disaster responses in our region are in-person. For the other 20%, virtual response remains the best option. Northern Ohio DAT has been highly active. Over the past two weekends they responded to 14 home fires, assisting 73 people.

Mark said an in-person meeting gives a chance to better connect with those in need of assistance, as it is much more personal. Similarly, Tom spoke of how meeting in-person better provides the opportunity to give hope, show someone cares and help with recovery. 

Tom recalled how after an exceptionally busy day, he received a late-night call to respond following a home fire. Upon arrival, he met a woman, in tears, sitting in front of her burned-out house. His being there greatly helped, provided comfort, and she soon moved from tears to smiles. Tom said it was empowering for him.

Disaster responder Jan Cooper assists resident Gabriella Asseff after a condo fire in Westlake

I had similar experiences during my time with DAT. The instances when I could see a person begin to recover, to smile and hope again, remain with me.

As for sheltering following a large disaster—fortunately not common in our region—Mike and Tom said congregate housing is now the first option. This will ensure enough space is available, as many hotels are currently near capacity. Safety protocols will be in place. Both Tom and Mike said the Red Cross remains flexible and adapts to each situation, and non-congregate housing remains an option.

Such adaptability has been a hallmark of the Red Cross. When the pandemic necessitated virtual responses to disasters, the DAT team responded. Additionally, technology implemented during the pandemic is also helping with in-person responses.

For many of us, the pandemic underscored the importance of personal connections, especially following a disaster. Thankfully, Northern Ohio DAT responders can provide that again, offering financial assistance along with comfort, hugs and hope.

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

In Northern Ohio and nationwide, Americans support one another a year into COVID-19

Please take part in Red Cross Giving Day as #HelpCantWait

Tim Poe, American Red Cross Volunteer.

As a Northern Ohio-based American Red Cross volunteer, I have seen how quickly disaster can strike. How a fire, tornado, lightning strike, flood, or other event impacts lives. And I have seen the effectiveness of your donations. How a comfort kit, meal, blanket, or financial assistance helps those affected begin to recover, to look toward the future. I have also seen the dedication and compassion of many Red Cross volunteers and staff members across several service areas, including Disaster Response, Blood Services, and Service to the Armed Forces. As today is Giving Day, please consider joining thousands of caring people and taking part, whether through financial support, a blood donation, or volunteering.

Red Cross services have been especially needed in the past year. In addition to the COVID-19 global pandemic, 2020 had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. Many from our region helped; nearly 200 Northern Ohioans deployed to 24 large-scale disasters during the year.

Locally, just since July 1, the Red Cross’s Northern Ohio region responded to 848 disasters, assisting 1,249 families (2,074 adults and 1,122 children).

Through it all, the Red Cross effectively continued its mission, with safety protocols in place.

Emotional, spiritual, and mental health support during the pandemic have been one focus area. In 2020, disaster mental health and spiritual care volunteers had more than 53,000 conversations, and free counseling is available through the Red Cross’s Virtual Family Assistance Center for grieving families during COVID-19.

I spoke with Red Cross volunteer Mark Cline, whose numerous responsibilities include Region Program Lead for Northern Ohio’s Disaster Action Team (DAT).  Mark focused on how the Red Cross has continued helping people recover from disasters using safety measures like virtual responses where possible. Mark lauded his fellow volunteers and staff, saying, “Being part of the Disaster Action Team proves to me a team working together will get the job done, even in a pandemic!”

Here are some examples of what a financial gift can provide:

  • $500: Help families affected by disasters. In Northern Ohio, the Red Cross responds to an average of more than three disasters each day, mostly home fires.
  • $200:  Deploy an emergency response vehicle (ERV) for a day. ERVs deliver food, supplies, comfort, and information to those in need.
  • $100: Cleaning supply kits for five families.
  • $95: A day’s worth of food and essential supplies for a family in urgent need after a disaster.
  • $60: Warm meals for six.
  • $35: Essential relief items for two.

To participate in Giving Day with financial support, please go to redcross.org/GivingDay. A gift of any size makes a difference.

For volunteer opportunities, please visit redcross.org/VolunteerToday.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please consider donating blood. Visit RedCrossBlood.org.

To learn lifesaving skills like CPR and First Aid, consider taking a class at redcross.org/TakeAClass. Online options include Psychological First Aid for COVID-19.

When the world stopped, the Red Cross didn’t

Reflections on the response to the pandemic on the one-year anniversary

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

March 2020 would prove to be one of my most memorable volunteer months with the American Red Cross. Within weeks, the world began to see signs like this everywhere.

Everywhere, except at the Red Cross.

Let’s go back to March 1, 2020. This was the day the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States, in New York. By then, we had heard about the 400 Americans trapped on a ship in Japan, but we didn’t really consider that the virus was a U.S. problem at the time.

Two days later, everyone forgot about that story when multiple tornadoes ripped through central Tennessee, killing at least 25 people. I recall getting the call that morning and leaving immediately for Nashville to cover the details of the cleanup effort, the sheltering and feeding of hundreds of now homeless people and the mobilization of hundreds of truckloads of supplies.

As I drove home on March 10, New York Governor Cuomo had called on the National Guard to stop traffic around New Rochelle, where 108 cases had been discovered. COVID-19 was now a United States problem.

Just one day later, March 11, the WHO (World Health Organization) would declare this to be an official pandemic with more than 120,000 cases worldwide. That started a landslide of events, and before day’s end:

  • The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season until further notice
  • The NHL paused its 2019-20 season
  • The Dow Jones Industrial 30-day average plunged 20%, ending an 11-year bull market

But what didn’t come crashing to a stop…the Red Cross. 

That same day, President of the American Red Cross Gail McGovern, issued a long memo to all Red Cross volunteers.

In it, she detailed how we would be making all sorts of changes to our day-to-day operations, but what would not change, was our mission to deliver services to those in need.

Blood drives needed to be rescheduled as many businesses closed down, but the need for blood didn’t slow down. By finding larger venues where people could be scheduled and kept socially distanced, the flow of blood continued.

Fires and disasters didn’t stop, but our Humanitarian Services division devised new ways to house people in motels instead of congregate shelters, and our Disaster Action Teams learned to respond virtually using electronic funds transfers to get money quickly into the hands of those left homeless from fires and floods. 

As the rest of the world came to a virtual standstill one year ago today, the Red Cross quickly pivoted to maintain our services to those most in need. If you’d like to help, consider becoming a volunteer or make a contribution to the Red Cross to support our ongoing mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. 

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross Volunteer

Fires force families to flee their homes

Disaster workers respond to nearly a dozen home fires in Northeast Ohio over the weekend

Nearly three-dozen people, including nine children were left homeless – at least temporarily – following weekend fires in Cleveland, Lorain, Eastlake, Mansfield and Cadiz, Ohio.  Disaster action team members responded, tending to their immediate needs by providing financial assistance, comfort kits that include personal hygiene items, and hope for finding a way forward.

fire3

One of the fires near downtown Cleveland forced eight adults to flee in the middle of the night on Saturday.  Ben Bellucci, disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Greater Cleveland, said the tenants and property owners expressed heartfelt appreciation for the help being offered.

fire6“They had no idea we do this,” Ben said. “When I told them we respond to fires like these 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they were shocked.  They could not have been more appreciative.”

Financial assistance totaling more than $6,300 was distributed to the 34 people who found themselves out in the cold.  Additional assistance was also offered, including help replacing prescription medications and eyeglasses, and making connections with other community resources.

Only by the power of our volunteer workforce and the generosity of our donors are we able to provide such assistance.  There is no government funding for the help residents receive – on average, three times every 24 hours in Northeast Ohio.  To make a financial contribution, visit www.redcross.org/donate.  And to volunteer to help your neighbors by responding to home fires and other disasters, apply here.

Photo credit: Ben Bellucci, American Red Cross

Home fires keep NEO disaster responders busy

Weekend disaster report, November 1-3, 2019

More than three-dozen people in Northeast Ohio were chased from their homes by fire over the weekend.  They received comfort and care from trained Red Cross disaster responders, volunteers who, in some cases, traveled far from their homes to help those in need.2019 Euclid fire response

“Our volunteers worked long and hard this weekend to make sure people in need received immediate assistance,” said Renee Palagyi, senior regional disaster program manager. “Some drove an hour-and-a-half to get help to the people who needed it.  Some stayed after their shift was scheduled to end; some started before they were scheduled to start.  I can’t say enough about the dedication of our volunteers.”

Disaster Action Team (DAT) members are on-call during scheduled shifts, and when a call comes to the Red Cross from a fire department, a neighbor, or another source, the volunteers on-call respond.  They provide immediate financial assistance, comfort kits filled with toiletries and other necessary supplies, and other help for those affected by fire.

This weekend, Red Cross disaster responders distributed nearly $8,200 to folks affected by home fires in 11 separate cases, impacting residents in Cleveland, Canton, Youngstown, Sandusky, Ashtabula Chesterland, Lisbon and East Liverpool.

There is always a need for trained disaster responders to help people during their darkest hours.  Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more, and to apply to become part of the regional Red Cross workforce in Northeast Ohio.