Something that will never go away: Two Red Cross responders on the 20th anniversary of 9-11

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

For those of us old enough to remember, the September 11 terrorist attacks have left a lasting impression. This is especially true for two American Red Cross staff members deployed following the attacks: Debbie Chitester, disaster program manager for Greater Akron and Mahoning Valley, and John Gareis, regional manager, Disaster Preparedness, Northern Ohio Region. Debbie was in New York placing volunteers where they were needed, mostly to respite centers near Ground Zero. John was across the river in New Jersey assisting those impacted. I spoke with both about their experiences.

During our discussions, clear memories vividly emerged. John recalled photographs of those missing posted everywhere as loved ones searched. Smoke rising from the rubble when the wind was still. A woman, covered in soot after escaping one of the towers, using a magazine cover photo taken of her as identification. Hearing Ray Charles perform “America the Beautiful.”

September 12, 2001. New York City, New York. The day after the World Trade Center collapse, an American Red Cross disaster worker joins rescuers at Ground Zero. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Debbie remembered people from all walks of life volunteering to help. Being able to see and hear people with flags and signs thanking the Red Cross and others as she traveled to the volunteer processing center each day.

Both recalled the concern of their families, as at the time much was unknown, including whether there would be further attacks. But they focused on their jobs. How nearly everyone had either been deeply affected or was close to someone who was (not more than “two degrees of separation,” as Debbie put it).

Both also recalled how many sought to help any way they could, including here in Northern Ohio. While they saw the effects of a terrorist attack firsthand, they mostly spoke of the resilience and good they witnessed.

After news of the attacks, Debbie and John immediately responded. Debbie, then a disaster specialist, returned to the Cleveland office. While John, then the Wayne County chapter executive, was at a first aid station at the Wayne County Fair.

They saw Ohioans quickly respond. At the fair, 4-H children donated proceeds from animal auctions, over $30,000, to the Red Cross. Blood donors also responded. The Wooster office alone processed about 300 pints of blood the Saturday following the attacks. People in Akron donated a fire engine, The J.M. Smucker Company sent trucks filled with sandwiches, and several Red Cross volunteers and staff members deployed.

When commercial flights resumed, both Debbie and John deployed to New York for three weeks.

At the volunteer processing center, Debbie met people from the world over coming to help. They included chefs, teams from Microsoft and IBM, businesspeople, cabbies, stagehands, celebrities who did not publicize their involvement, and two French men who had been on a backpacking trip, all doing whatever was needed. So many, in fact, that the volunteer processing center operated 24 hours a day.

Across the river, John assisted those directly impacted and recalled different ways they dealt with the events. Some were methodical, others clearly traumatized. He worked with each, listening, caring, helping. The Red Cross also learned lessons still in use today, such as providing more flexible financial assistance.

Both emphasized the need to remember those we do not talk about enough. While those in the World Trade Center and firefighters are rightly remembered, we mustn’t forget those in the Pentagon, those who sacrificed themselves to save others on Flight 93, nor those in surrounding areas.

Even with their decades of Red Cross experience, Debbie’s and John’s post-9/11 experience remains with them. Both are grateful they were able to help and remarked that, while the scale may be different, the core mission, to alleviate human suffering, remains the same.

As Debbie put it, the post 9/11 deployment will always be a part of her life. “The Red Cross was there,” she said. “We did the job, and it is something that will never go away.”

Volunteers and blood donors are currently needed. If you would like to volunteer, visit this link. To give blood, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Rd Cross volunteer

To learn more about the Red Cross’ response following September 11, please read the following previous blog articles of reflection and remembrance:

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Emergency preparedness programs remain virtual

 A variety of virtual programs being offered online to help you better prepare for emergencies

Despite pandemic restrictions being lifted in so many areas of our daily lives, our efforts to be sure you can Be Red Cross Ready remain available to you free of charge, and from the comfort of your own home.

Be Red Cross Ready is a national, standardized, FREE preparedness education curriculum for adults taught by certified presenters. The program is designed to help people understand, prepare for and respond appropriately to disasters big and small.

“We offer people good reminders about being prepared and staying safe,” said John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager. “It’s common sense information that people may not think about, like not opening a door when there’s fire burning on the other side.”

John said attendance numbers vary. He said 175 employees of First Energy were in attendance during one of the emergency preparedness sessions.

All you need is a laptop or smart phone to access the online classroom. This month, topics being covered include General Preparedness and Tornado Safety, Summer Fire Safety Tips, Smoke Alarm Safety, and Summer Pet Safety.

Visit our calendar of events to view the days and times for each session, and visit our website for more information on each topic.

Another holiday season – another holiday door decorating contest

And more entertaining comments from the judge

By John Bernard,  Crossroads Division Disaster State Relationship Director

(Editor’s note: The winner of the annual Northeast Ohio Region Disaster Cycle Services (DCS) Holiday Door Decorating Contest has been announced by John Bernard, the Crossroads Division Disaster State Relationship Director.  Like last year, we found his comments to be so entertaining that we are including them, along with photos of all 9 doors entered in this year’s competition.)

door 1Emily Probst, Regional Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager
Dept of Misfits.  This is Mike Park’s office door isn’t it? But, I zoom in and see a bunch what I think are disaster personnel.  Tim as Santa Claus. That fits, given his RDO (Regional Disaster Officer) exception rate! There’s Renee as Bumble. Not sure who did this door– but Renee – you do realize they pushed Bumble over a cliff and later removed his teeth a la Old West style?

door 2Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager, Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Santa Down the Chimney.  Wonderful use of space – vertical door/chimney– Santa. Kicked it three dimensional with the smoke alarms.  Kind of ironic, isn’t it; smoke alarms down the chimney?

door 3Renee Palagyi, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager
Birth of Hope.  To quote the late, great Stan Lee, “’Nuff said.”

 

door 4Mike Arthur, Disaster Program Manager, Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter South 
Oh wait, THIS is Mike’s door. Nope, couldn’t be, otherwise it would be white with an orange stripe and a star on it.

 

door 5Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer, AKA Batman
What am I seeing here?  Is this like Halloween costumes tacked up on a door?  Can’t decide if the door is a chimney Santa is scaling up or he’s going Airborne and parachuting with a quick release on his pack before he hits the dirt.  I was going to make Buffalo Bill/Silence of the Lambs reference but thought that might be too dark.  Moving on…..

door 6Jeremy Bayer, Disaster Program Manager, Greater Cleveland Chapter
Ah, the good ole “Wrap the door as a present – wait, it needs more – here, let me hot glue this Christmas stuff up there – perfect” routine.  This just screams “I spend an inordinate amount of time at Hobby Lobby and they call by my nickname at the checkout – ‘Craft-alicious.’”

door 7John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager
A Christmas Story. First off, you’ll shoot your eye out with that thing.  Second, you can expect that ATS (American red Cross Training Services) will release “How to stay safe and healthy during the Holiday Season” talking points two weeks AFTER someone has injured their tongue by sticking it to a frozen light post.

door 8Rick Whitehead, Regional Community Partner and EMA Manager
Aloha.  How very Christmas-y.  The three stockings really bring it home, ya know?  Can you feel the eye-rolling from Cincinnati?

door 9
Tim Reichel, Disaster Program Manager, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter
Wow – two actual elves.  They sure do look seasoned…..I mean, seasonal.  I can see they took a long time to tape up that red table cloth left over from the Regional Training Institute and then add some basic Christmas stuff.

So, that’s the overview.  Now for round 2.

  1. Credit for tying the holiday to the team – build camaraderie! It’s in the TOP 3!
  2. I count four smoke alarms for that one house.  It’s supposed to be 2.5 per house.  You’re not fooling anyone, Gareis!  I’m ratting you out.  TWO POINT FIVE!
  3. As a believer in Hope, this entry took some consideration; it is, after all, the reason for the season.  What I arrived at is this; like the baby born in the manger, this door – because of its message – is set apart and therefore above judgment.
  4. 8.5 x11 worth of printed out Christmas.  Minimal effort – minimal comment.  Better hope this isn’t tied to your merit increase!

Hands down, A Christmas Story wins it! You knew it when you did it.  Fantastic job!  Second place, is the Department of Misfits! Third place – against my better judgment – Santa down the chimney…2.5.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

JB

Preparedness in a Pillowcase

Milestone reached for the Pillowcase Project

One million elementary school students across the country have now learned how to prepare themselves, their households and their communities for emergencies by participating in The Pillowcase Project. More than 11,000 of those children live in Northeast Ohio.

 

Originally created in New Orleans, The Pillowcase Project is a free program inspired by the story of local university students carrying their belongings in pillowcases during Hurricane Katrina evacuations. During the presentation, participants receive a pillowcase to decorate and then take home to use as a personal emergency supplies kit.

The curriculum, targeted at 3rd to 5th graders, is structured by a Learn, Practice, Share framework. Students learn about the science of a locally relevant hazard and how to best prepare for it. They practice what to do if a disaster occurs and how to cope with related fear and stress. Afterwards, they share the information and skills they have learned with their family and friends so everyone in the household knows what to do.

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John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager was assisted by AmeriCorps worker Rachel Steiner at a Pillowcase Project presentation at the Cleveland VA Medical Center                                         Photo Credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

“It’s exciting to see young people in Northeast Ohio and across the country learn how to prepare themselves, their households, and their communities for emergencies and save lives by participating in The Pillowcase Project,” said John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager.

To date, 11 lives have been saved by four students who put into practice what they learned through the program. Last year, 9-year-old Camryn Sarnie of Ramona, Oklahoma was startled awake at 3:00 a.m. by a smoke alarm sounding in his home. The sound scared Camryn, but he recognized it and knew that it was alerting him to a fire. He knew that he had less than two minutes to escape, so he quickly woke up his parents, alerted them to the fire and instructed them to evacuate immediately. Camryn saved three lives that morning, including his own, by putting into practice what he learned just a few weeks earlier from The Pillowcase Project presentation at his school. According to Camryn’s mother, Lora, “Camryn told us all about what he learned in class after the presentation. Camryn is a true hero.”

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The Red Cross has engaged more than 35,000 volunteers and partnered with more than 13,000 schools, community organizations and partners to deliver this program to students across the country and at more than a dozen U.S. military stations abroad. The Walt Disney Company is the founding sponsor of the program.

Contact John Gareis at 216-431-3219 to schedule a Pillowcase Project presentation for your school, or email john.gareis@redcross.org. .  Additional information about The Pillowcase Project is available at redcross.org/pillowcase.

Red Cross Reminiscing

By Jorge Martinez, Regional Chief Operating Officer

“The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to swing open widely for me.”  -Clara Barton

That is exactly what happened at the Regional Headquarters on Wednesday, April 25th. Our doors swung open and in came a wonderful band of brothers and sisters.  Our cherished Red Cross retirees met for their annual meeting and in attendance were nearly 15 retirees with over 300 years of dedicated Red Cross service.

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Red Cross retirees pose with Regional CEO Mike Parks on April 25, 2018

Together with staff members, bread was broken, stories were shared (most of them true) and hearts were warmed.  One of the highlights occurred when John Gareis – our Preparedness Lead Specialist who has been with the Red Cross for 42 years – joined the group.  He knew many of the retirees and collectively they shared their stories.  The stories were wonderful and entertaining, but at heart was the obvious humanitarian and volunteer spirit that is the Red Cross.  And yes, the retirees appreciated greatly having John serve as a bridge from their Red Cross of years gone by to the same and different Red Cross that exists today.

We are nothing if we don’t remember our past or fail to honor the giants on whose shoulders we stand.  The comradery in the room was palpable and it truly is a testament to the great organization which we all have the privilege of being a part of.  It was humbling to be in a room of Red Cross giants!

To quote William Shakespeare, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters).”

Festival of Trees Celebrates Silver Anniversary

Holiday Tradition Continues with Annual Fundraiser in Wooster

The room was beautiful, the food was abundant, and the mood was festive for the 25th Anniversary of the Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for Red Cross disaster relief in Wooster.

Highlights included a live auction of the beautifully decorated trees ringing the room, a special award given to John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager, and a special mission moment delovered by Nick Cleveland.  His family survived a home fire in Wooster last summer, and he called the immediate assistance provided by the Red Cross at the time extremely helpful.

See a photo gallery from the Festival of Trees on the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter Facebook Page, at  https://www.facebook.com/RedCrossLakeErieHeartland/.

If you missed the Festival this year, but would still like to help the Red Cross help families like the Clevelands, #GiveWithMeaning by donating to Red Cross disaster relief.  Log on to redcross.org, call 1-800 Red Cross, or text RED CROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.