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

Memorial Day 2022: A message from Michael N. Parks, Regional Executive

By Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio, Rear Admiral, USCG (Retired)

Mike Parks, Rear Admiral, USCG (Retired)

Northern Ohio Red Cross Family: 

May is an important month for those men and women, and their families, who have chosen to serve our nation as members of the Armed Forces.   In 1999 Congress designated May as Military Appreciation Month to ensure the nation was given the chance to publicly show their appreciation for troops past and present.  Each year the President makes a proclamation reminding Americans the important role the U.S. Armed Forces have played in the history and development of the United States.  May was chosen because it has many individual days marked to note our military’s achievements including Loyalty Day (observed on May 1st and established in 1921 by Congress as “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and the recognition of the heritage of American freedom”) and Victory in Europe (VE) Day (observed on May 8th commemorating the end of WWII in Europe in 1945).

We also observe Military Spouse Appreciation Day every May on the Friday before Mother’s Day (this year on May 6th).  President Reagan first recognized Military Spouse Appreciation Day in 1984 when he said, “Throughout the years, as the numbers of married men and women in uniform have grown and as their military missions have become more complex and dispersed, their spouses have made countless personal sacrifices to support the Armed Forces.  In many instances, they subordinated their personal and professional aspirations to the greater benefit of the service family.” 

Gold Star Families Memorial Monument – Cleveland, OH

On the third Saturday in May, we celebrate Armed Forces Day which was created in 1949.  Not to be confused with Veterans Day, which honors those who wore the cloth of our nation at war, or Memorial Day, which honors those who died wearing the cloth of our nation at war, Armed Forces Day honors both the men and women currently serving as well as those who have previously served and sacrificed to defend our nation’s freedom—which we all hopefully know has never been “free.”

That brings us to the last Monday in May—Memorial Day—which is next Monday, the 30th—when we honor members of the Armed Forces who have died in military service to our nation.  Much like our beloved American Red Cross, Memorial Day has roots dating back to the post-Civil War era when citizens would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers.  Memorial Day is one of the six recognized holidays we all celebrate in the Red Cross (an official day off)—appropriately so I might add.  That said, many Red Cross staff and volunteers will be participating in Memorial Day events around the country–in Northern Ohio, we’ve got folks supporting the ceremonies at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville and Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo.  As well, Red Crossers around our Region and the country will be responding to those in need throughout the holiday weekend.  Thank you to those serving!

Today, when many people hear “Memorial Day” they think of the unofficial beginning of Summer, backyard barbeques, sales, and maybe even parades.  The word “memorial” means “intended to commemorate someone or something.”  I’m concerned that many are losing focus on what this special holiday is all about—are we truly commemorating those who paid the ultimate sacrifice?  I recently attended some events where our National Anthem was played and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited.  I must admit I was saddened to see so many people failing to show the proper respect by placing their hands over their hearts in tribute to our flag and our nation, and by extension, those who have sacrificed for both. 

I think we all, especially as members of the premier humanitarian organization in the world—the American Red Cross–with its roots in the blood and mud of the battlefields of the Civil War, are well-suited and have an obligation to set the right example—year round.  Please join me in committing to stand tall, remove our caps, and place our hands over our hearts when the National Anthem is played or we recite our Pledge of Allegiance.  We should also do the same when the American flag is “paraded” by us, both indoors or outside.  These small gestures will go a long way to acknowledge those who have fallen as well as those who remain to deal with their loss—we owe them that much—not just on Memorial Day but throughout the year! 

Thank you for all you do to support this wonderful organization—I’m proud to serve alongside each of you.  I hope you get to enjoy this special holiday with your family and friends while remembering those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  God bless America!! 

Caring for our troops never gets old…even after 140 years

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

While not as high profile as conducting blood drives and setting up disaster shelters, the American Red Cross’ origin was taking care of military personnel.  Clara Barton, who founded the Red Cross, made a name for herself by her heroic volunteer efforts comforting and providing assistance to fallen soldiers during the Civil War.

Even now, as we celebrate Red Cross Month, Service to the Armed Forces is still a key pillar of the five service branches of the Red Cross. Not only do we care for the troops, but the Red Cross provides an indispensable range of services for the families of the servicepeople while deployed…and afterwards.

Worldwide Effort

The Red Cross provides 24/7/365 emergency communication services for military personnel and their families, no matter where on the globe they might be located. In addition:

The Commitment Never Ends

Since 9/11, the Red Cross has cared for more than one million military families. Today, we continue to provide support for those families before, during and after deployment. 

Besides emergency communications while deployed, military members and their families benefit from information referrals, some financial assistance, and other non-emergency resources.

“The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families in a wide variety of ways,” said Jessica Tischler, Regional Service to the Armed Forces Program Director.  “And we are continuing to provide services, thanks to our volunteer caseworkers, despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic.”

During Red Cross Month, download the free Hero Care App (for both iOS and Android) to learn more about the services available, consider helping us with this work as a volunteer, or make a contribution to the Red Cross to help with this continuing need.  

Romance scams: don’t fall for one

By Jim McIntyre, Regional Communications and Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

We’ve been warned by the Better Business Bureau, law enforcement officials and others about the proliferation of scams this time of year.  Sadly, not everyone has the holiday spirit.  A scam that recently caught our attention involves a scammer impersonating someone in the military, finding a sympathetic soul online, and asking for cash under false pretenses.

“It happens too often,” said Jessica Tischler, Regional Director, Service to the Armed Forces, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio.  “Scammers try to take advantage of vulnerable people who think they’re giving assistance to a member of the military.”

Armed Forces 2011Romance scams are the most commonly reported scams, according to the U. S. Army.  The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) receives hundreds of allegations a month from victims who say they got involved with someone who claims to be a U.S. soldier online, on a legitimate dating website or other social media website.

Suspicions should arise if:

  • There are requests for money
  • If social media is the only means of communications
  • If the .mil suffix is not a part of an email address.

Other red flags include the scammer saying he/she is on a peace keeping mission, saying he/she can’t talk on the phone due to security reasons, and professes his/her love almost immediately, using terms of affection like “my love” or “my darling.”

An obvious warning sign is when someone who claims to be a U.S. military member does not have English and grammar skills that should match those of someone born and raised in the United States.

“While the Red Cross can’t help someone who has been victimized by a scam, we do offer vital services to members of the military, veterans, and their families,” Jessica said.  Among those services are emergency communications, for members of the military who are currently serving on active duty. Armed Forces 2011

“Loved ones must have some specific information about the family member they need to contact, like name, rank, branch of service, social security number or birth date, and the address of their military unit. Non-disclosure of this information is another red flag that you may not be dealing with a legitimate service member.”

The Army CID urges anyone who feels they have been scammed by a someone claiming to be a member of the military to contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.  The FTC Identify Theft Hotline is 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338.)

Holidays for Heroes Program Getting Ready to Launch in NEO

Annual Program Helps Cheer Men and Women Serving in the Military

By: Jessica Tischler, Service to the Armed Forces Manager

We have begun collecting cards for our annual program – Holidays for Heroes. As with last year, we are looking for more generalized cards that can be used throughout the year.  These cards will be delivered to service members, veterans and their families in Northeast Ohio.

We are asking that you provide a couple of cards with thoughtful, heartfelt messages instead of large numbers with only a signature.

This year, we are partnering with the Troop and Family Assistance Center to collect items that are needed by service members in Northeast Ohio.  A donation of these small items with a note of appreciate will be welcomed by those serving us here in Northeast Ohio.

  • Toilet paper
  • Dish soap
  • Baby wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Kleenex
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Shaving cream and razors
  • Canned meat
  • Canned fruit
  • Pastas
  • Breakfast foods
  • Coffee
  • Drink Mix

Each of the five chapters in Northeast Ohio are collecting the items and cards for local distribution to service members, their families, and veterans through military units, area VA service locations, VFWs, and other military organizations. Through this program, cards may be delivered individually, included in care packages or displayed at common venues in military installations and hospitals.

A few rules:

  • The Red Cross does not provide cards to sign. Instead, please feel free to make cards or use any favorites that you have on hand.
  • In order to make cards as meaningful as possible for a wide audience, we recommend that you use generic titles such as “Dear Service Member,/Veteran/ Military Family Member” when writing the cards.
  • Please, no personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses
  • Cards should not contain glitter because some cards may end up at the bedside of a wounded service member and the glitter could aggravate existing health issues.
  • Please do not seal in individual envelopes. It is easier for our volunteers to screen and sort the cards if they aren’t individually sealed in envelopes.
  • Individual cards can be dropped off or mailed to the Red Cross chapters in a large envelope or mailing box.
  • We ask that people not enclose any items with the holiday cards. Any items enclosed with the holiday cards will be removed, including photos and other gifts. If you wish to provide financial support for Red Cross services to the military, please donate online.
  • Chapters cannot accept cards after November 30– we still need time for our volunteers to sort and deliver!

You can mail cards, or drop cards and items off (between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.) to the following locations:

Greater Cleveland Chapter
3747 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115

Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter
244 West South Street
Wooster, OH 44691

Elyria Office
2929 West River Rd. N.
Elyria, OH 44035

Mansfield Office
39 N. Park Street
Mansfield, OH 44902

 Lake to River Chapter
3530 Belmont Avenue
Suite 7
Youngstown, OH 44505

Stark County & Muskingum Lakes Chapter
408 9th Street, SW
Canton, OH 44707

Muskingum Lakes Office
734 Fair Ave NW
New Philadelphia, OH 44663 

Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties Chapter
501 West Market Street
Akron, OH 44303

How can you get involved in the Holiday Mail program beyond mailing a card?

Word of Mouth: Host a card signing party as part of your Thanksgiving Celebration!

Social Media: Connect with fellow card senders through social media channels and help us get the word out through Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to use the hashtag #holidaymail.

Help Sort and Deliver Cards: If you are interested in helping sort and deliver cards, please contact Jessica Tischler at 216-426-7525 to see how you can help.

Family Grateful for Emergency Military Communications

The message below was sent to a Red Cross volunteer, who provides Service to the Armed Forces:
Thank you soo much for getting my son home with my dad having a massive heartattack whom we were told was not going to make it. Thankfully with all the prayers and support my dad is recovering. The Red Cross is truly a blessing working with the men and woman whom are serving our country. Thank u red Cross for ensuring that my son made it home. I give u a 5 plus rating.
Linking military families during a crisis through Emergency Communications is only part of what we do for members of the military, veterans and their families.  We also link military families to local resources and support services.  We provide training that promotes resiliency and preparedness to help families cope with the challenges of military life. And we support wounded warriors in Veterans Administration (VA) and military hospitals across the nation and around the world, including the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland.
If you are in the military, or have a child serving our country, or are a veteran, download the Hero Care App.  It will connect you to important resources that can help you through both emergency and nonemergency situations.
herocare-app2
For more information, contact Jessica Tischler, Regional Director of Service to the Armed Forces, at 216-426-7525.

Caring Cubs Create Cards to Help Heroes Celebrate Holidays

Children Use Artistic Talent to Say “Thank You” to Service Members, Veterans 

The annual American Red Cross Holidays for Heroes Campaign is in full swing, and  Caring Cubs is making its annual contribution. The Northeast Ohio-based organization holds monthly events for children ages 2 and up, designed to teach various lessons of social responsibility.  On Saturday, November 5th, dozens of children and their parents gathered in the Main Galleria at Cuyahoga Community College Western Campus in Parma to create cards to send to members of the military.

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Bryn and Elle with mom Anne

“It’s great to partner with organizations like Caring Cubs,” said Jessica Tischler, Regional Director of Service to the Armed Forces.  “The cards they created will no doubt bring smiles to many faces this holiday season.”

Unlike previous campaigns, this year we hope to solicit cards that can be sent to service members and their families at every holiday during the year.  We are asking for personal, heartfelt messages in every card, even if it means collecting fewer cards.  See our earlier post, which includes a video highlighting the need for meaningful messages, as well as a list of items we are collecting for patients at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

Log onto our Flickr page to see more photos of the Caring Cubs’ efforts to brighten the holidays for our heroes.

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.

Feel the Heat, 2015

Working With the Military on a Disaster Drill

The firefighting abilities of the 910th Airlift Wing Fire Department were on full display at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station on Thursday, October 22, 2015, as were the services provided by the American Red Cross during times of disaster.

Video credit: Cal Pusateri/American Red Cross Volunteer

The second annual “Feel the Heat” exercise involved a simulated airplane crash, to demonstrate the response of firefighters and Red Cross staff and volunteers.  The drill also showcased how the Red Cross cooperates with the military to respond to the needs of family members and others.

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Photo credit/Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

As flames shot from the hull of the simulated wreckage, members of the 910th Civil Engineer Fire Department raced to the scene, fought the fire and searched for “survivors.”  It is those survivors and their loved ones who the Red Cross serves in the event of an aviation disaster.  The American Red Cross is responsible for tracking victims and their families, and providing them with counselling and support.  Staff members and volunteers would be activated to set-up necessary shelters, coordinate family and childcare facilities, arrange suitable non-denominational services, and make referrals to mental health professionals and support groups.

The American Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters every year, big and small.  Most are home fires.  Victims are given emergency financial assistance, food, shelter, clothing and assistance with medicines, eyeglasses, even dentures they may have lost in a disaster.

It takes the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors to help the victims of disasters.  You can learn more about volunteering, and make a donation at redcross.org, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.  You can also text the words “Red Cross” to 90999 to make a $10.00 donation.

The American Red Cross also serves members of the military and their families through the Service to Armed Forces program.  Learn more about the ways in which the Red Cross is committed to helping the U. S. Military here.