Red Cross salutes nurses, ‘angels’ of its mercy mission

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Nurses are vital to delivering the lifesaving services of the American Red Cross – an organization founded by Clara Barton, whose own nursing during the Civil War earned her the title “Angel of the Battlefield.”

“Nurses fill so many roles in the Red Cross. We couldn’t function without them,” said Barb Thomas, recovery manager for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region.

Nationwide, more than 20,000 Red Cross nurses – both paid and volunteer – do everything from caring for disaster victims to working in military hospitals to collecting lifesaving blood. They teach CPR/first aid and disaster preparedness, and even serve in the management and governance of the Red Cross itself.

“Nurses are integral to what we do at the Red Cross, so we try to keep them engaged and be sure they know how much we appreciate them,” Barb said. “We don’t just salute them during National Nurses Week (starting today), but all year long.”

Barb introduced me to two of the dozens of nurses in northern Ohio who apply their time and skills to those who need them, near and far.

Phyllis Esposito of Massillon, Ohio, is enthusiastic about her role in Red Cross disaster health services.

Phyllis Esposito, Red Cross volunteer, with Tim Reichel, Disaster Program Manager, Heartland, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter

“I can honestly say, I talk up the Red Cross every time I can,” she said. “It’s such a rewarding thing. My only regret is, why didn’t I do this 10 years earlier?”

After more than 50 years as an emergency room nurse, Phyllis understands how stressed people can be in the wake of an emergency. She knows how to help calm them, assess their health-related needs and – most importantly – fill those needs.

That can range from getting glasses, dentures or refills for medications lost in a fire evacuation to replacing a child’s aerosol machine or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine destroyed by a tornado or flood.

Early in her Red Cross “career,” Phyllis was glad to travel to disaster sites, to look after the medical needs of home fire victims, shelter residents or even Red Cross volunteers. But she said as she’s gotten older, she’s glad to be able to serve virtually, reaching out by phone all the way to victims of a hurricane in Louisiana, for example.

This kind of long-distance service is a vital and efficient way for the Red Cross to help local disaster survivors or even a whole community where medical resources are overwhelmed.

“Phyllis is a disaster health service star,” Barb said. “She’s eager to learn as we evolve our ways of helping people, especially as we adjusted to COVID. And her personality just lets people know, there’s light at the end of this dark tunnel they’re in, after a disaster.”

Jennifer Dremann of Deerfield, Ohio, has a special rapport with those who’ve experienced tragedy in the course of a disaster.

Jennifer Dremann, Red Cross volunteer

“I lost my brother in a house fire in 1996; he was 19 years old” when he succumbed to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide, she said. “He’s why I became a nurse.”

When Jennifer heard about what the Red Cross does, particularly for home fire victims, she knew this was a fit for her. “I’ve lived it; I’ve lost somebody. I’ve done several cases where somebody has passed. It’s got to be the absolute worst nightmare, especially when a child has perished.”

She’s also moved by cases involving an elderly adult who doesn’t have family or social support nearby.

Like Phyllis, she works with folks by phone, day or night, finding out what their disaster-related medical needs are and helping them replace prescriptions and/or medical equipment, navigating insurance and then dipping into Red Cross funds if necessary.

But perhaps the most important help she can give is to listen, not just to survivors’ physical needs but to their emotional wounds. “People are like, ‘You volunteer to do this?’ she said. “I don’t think most people realize what the Red Cross does, and how rewarding it is.”

The Red Cross is proud to have tens of thousands of skilled, compassionate nurses like Phyllis and Jennifer on the team, ready across the country and around the clock to help people prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

To learn more about the many services of the Red Cross and how you can be involved as a volunteer, financial supporter or blood donor, go to redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Dedicated volunteer of 12 years delivers customer service with a smile

By Ryan Lang, Red Cross Volunteer

What started as more of a convenience for Red Cross volunteer Anita Hicks , quickly became one of the most fulfilling parts of her life.

Anita is one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers dedicated to the Red Cross Mission and providing an invaluable service to the community. Working at the front desk at the Akron Red Cross headquarters, she spends most of her days answering phones and greeting blood donors, volunteers and others as they walk through the doors, helping them find where they need to go. With her background in customer service, Anita says it was a match made in heaven from the moment she walked through the doors at 501 West Market Street 12 years ago.

Anita Hicks, Red Cross Volunteer

Before that, though, Anita says it was simply the location that drew her in, as the building was within walking distance of her apartment. She was recently retired and needed something to do, so she walked next door. And then, she says, she “immediately fell in love with it.”

Now, after 12 years of walking to work (at least on sunny days), Anita has developed a bond with so many of the blood donors, volunteers and Red Cross staff in the building. “They should be met with the Red Cross standard,” which Anita describes as “120% customer service,” adding, “Nothing beats a smile and a cheerful hello.”

But over the past two years, in dealing with COVID-19 protocols and even shutdowns, it’s been more of a challenge than ever before. The office has been more desolate and for nearly a year and a half, Anita was at home due to pandemic protocols. “I was a fish out of water,” she said of her time away from the office she loves so much.

Today, she’s back in the office two days a week.

“Anita has been a front desk volunteer as long as I can remember, always greeting everyone with a smile and willing to help chip in on any task that needs to be done,” said Rachel D’Attoma, executive director of the Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley. “She will drive through a snowstorm to get to the building and still be smiling when she arrives.  It is wonderful to have Anita and know that the Red Cross can count on her!”

“It’s just a pleasure. It’s always been a pleasure and it has continued to be a pleasure to be able to give a little bit of myself to someone else.” Anita adds, “I’ve bought into the Red Cross Mission 100%, and it means the world to me to offer my time to the Red Cross.”

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

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!