International Women’s Day: Women and the Red Cross

By Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

March 8 is International Women’s Day, when we focus on the leadership, expertise, nurturing and down-and-dirty sweat labor that women contribute around the world, 365 days a year.

Coincidentally, Women’s Day falls in March – Red Cross Month – when we focus on the wide range of humanitarian services that Red Crossers contribute around the world, 12 months a year.

Red Cross volunteer Eilene Guy speaks with a resident of seaside Heights, New Jersey who refused to evacuate during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

I’m proud to be part of the American Red Cross, which was launched by a woman, is headed by women, and values the talents and dedication of women at every level.

Women like my friend, Red Crosser extraordinaire Winnie Romeril. A volunteer for nearly 30 years, she has taught first aid and CPR, coached International Humanitarian Law classes, and served as a bilingual communicator at disasters all over the United States and across the world:

Sri Lanka and the Maldives; Peru; Haiti, carrying cash from the Red Cross to kick-start earthquake relief efforts with the Haitian Red Cross; the Philippines, where she even helped build a hanging bridge to get relief supplies to a remote village; Canada; Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

She’s been posted to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva, Switzerland, to tell how the Red Cross brings hope across the world, and to Sierra Leone in Africa at the height of the Ebola outbreak, representing the World Health Organization.

Winnie Romeril, a Red Cross disaster response volunteer, carries a child in Croix Desprez towards a First Aid Post.

Winnie’s courage and skill reminds me of Clara Barton, who started out as a teacher, became one of the first women to work in the U.S. Patent Office, and then took to the battlefields of the Civil War, ministering to the wounded and suffering on both sides of the conflict.

After attending to civilians during the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, she returned to the United States to found the Red Cross, which for more than 130 years has mobilized women – and men – to help prepare for, prevent and respond to emergencies.

Currently, two-thirds of our Red Cross volunteers are women, nearly 70 percent of the paid workforce is women and nearly half of the executive ranks are women.

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the board, and Gail McGovern, president and CEO, top the leadership team.

It’s no small job to head a $2.65 billion organization that Americans rely on to respond to more than 60,000 natural and human-caused disasters a year; collect and test some 40 percent of the nation’s lifesaving blood supply; train millions of people in first aid, CPR, AED, water safety and youth preparedness; and provide more than half a million services to our men and women in the armed forces.

People like me are the hands and heart of the Red Cross too: donating blood, responding to disasters, helping install smoke alarms to make neighborhoods safer, providing leadership at the chapter level and keeping my first aid, CPR and AED skills up to date.

I’m happy to celebrate International Women’s Day by focusing on women – past and present – who provide vital services. I know it happens all over the world every day, in actions big and small.

To investigate what you – woman or man! – can do, please check out redcross.org during Red Cross Month.

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross Board Member and volunteer


2023 Acts of Courage Awards honor local heroes

By Christy Peters, Regional Communications Manager

As the mom of a 7-year-old boy, I spend a lot of time thinking about superheroes. We read lots of stories about Black Widow and Thor and Spiderman, swooping in to save the day. My son loves to ask me what my superpower would be if I had one. And more than once, I have battled an evil superhero in my living room with a Captain America shield strapped to my arm.

While superheroes are fun, I’d be thrilled if my son aspired to be like the real-life heroes I recently met instead of Spiderman. I had the privilege to attend the American Red Cross Greater Akron and Mahoning Valley Acts of Courage Awards on March 2. Nine local residents were recognized for acting courageously and selflessly in a time of emergency. The organization also honored Joe and Pam (of blessed memory) Kanfer of GOJO industries with the 2023 H. Peter Burg Community Leader Award. You couldn’t help but be inspired after hearing the stories these everyday heroes. Their stories are shared below.

2023 Acts of Courage Award Winners: 

Easton Spann, 5-year-old hero  
Michelle Barlow awoke one morning, her body racked by seizure-like spasms caused by a reaction to a medication she had taken. The episode passed and Michelle insisted her husband Kenny, go to work. Before he left, Kenny showed Easton, their 5-year-old grandchild how to call for help in case of an emergency. Shortly after Kenny left, Michelle had another seizure. Easton, who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum, called his grandfather and explained what had happened. Kenny called 911 and with his instruction, Easton got the house key and opened the door to watch for help. “He was so brave,” said Michelle. Watch Easton’s hero video here or here.

Darby Baumberger, Assistant Principal, Betty Jane Community Learning Center hero 

After being a teacher for 26 years, Darby Baumberger began a new role as a vice principal. On the first day in her new job, she was in the cafeteria overseeing the lunch period. Suddenly, a student started coughing and stood up. Darby quickly walked over and saw the child make the universal sign for choking. Darby lifted the student’s arms above his head and smacked him on the back, to no avail. She realized she had to act quickly and began performing stomach thrusts. Finally, a piece of corn dog flew out of the child’s mouth, and he began to breathe. Emergency services arrived and, after checking the child, said he was fine. Watch Darby’s hero video here or here.  

Lindsey and Nicole Bechter, Cuyahoga Falls heroes 

Lindsey and Nichole Bechter are sisters and part-time volleyball referees at Clutch Lanes in Cuyahoga Falls. During a game last summer, a player collapsed on the court. Hearing people yell for someone to call 911, Nicole ran down to the court with her sister close behind. After assessing the situation, the sisters began administering CPR. They continued until emergency services arrived. Watch the Bechter hero video here.

Jim Kuhn, Medina County Public Transit hero 

Jim Kuhn was driving the Fixed Route Transit bus in Wadsworth and stopped to pick up one of his regular riders, named Bruce. Bruce was about to step on the bus when he passed out, falling straight back onto the pavement. Concerned Bruce had hit his head, Jim jumped off the bus to help. After finding no head injury, he saw Bruce turning blue. He began to perform chest compressions. Finally, Bruce let out some weak breaths. When first responders arrived on the scene, they were able to find a faint pulse and loaded Bruce in an ambulance. Jim continued his route, hoping he’d done enough. Weeks later, Jim was thrilled to found out Bruce was alive and recovering. Watch Jim’s hero video here or here

Aaron Williams, Logan Stinson and Andrew Gauer, Akron Police and Fire Department heroes 

On November 25, Akron police officer Aaron Williams was the first responder on the scene of a house fire. Learning there was someone inside, Williams kicked opened the front door and was unable to see clearly, due to the smoke filling the room but heard someone respond to his voice. Officer Williams ran out to catch his breath as firefighter/paramedics Logan Stinson and Andrew Gauer arrived on scene. The men ran back into the smoke-filled house to rescue a wheelchair-bound woman from the first floor. Firefighters arrived shortly after and rescued another individual from the home. Watch the first responder hero video here or here.

Jennifer Torres, 3rd grade teacher, Anne T. Case Community Learning Center hero  

While teaching her third-grade class, Jennifer Torres heard a strange sound and saw one of her students stand up. The student put her hands around her neck, making the universal sign for choking. Jennifer shouted to her students to go get another adult while she rushed to the student’s aid. Jennifer gave the student a few quick stomach thrusts, and a piece of candy flew out of her mouth, and she began to breathe again. Watch Jennifer’s hero video here or here.

Congratulations to all the winners! Do you know someone who acted in an emergency to help save a life? Share their story with us for possible recognition at upcoming Acts of Courage and Hero awards events across the Northern Ohio Region. And make sure you’re prepared like to help save a life like these heroes! Find a Red Cross training course near you and sign up at RedCross.org/takeaclass.

View photos from the Acts of Courage event.

Celebrating our Volunteers and Supporters this Red Cross Month

By Samantha Puselski, American Red Cross communications volunteer

For 80 years, March has been declared American Red Cross Month with a presidential proclamation. The tradition started in 1943 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to recognize all those who have answered the call to help others through the American Red Cross.

This Red Cross Month, we celebrate the work of the Northern Ohio Red Cross volunteers – who make up over 90 percent of the Red Cross’s workforce. We also celebrate the supporters – those who have donated blood, donated funds, taken a course, shared their story or contributed to the mission in other ways. The work of the Red Cross is not possible without those who volunteer, work and provide support.

American Red Cross volunteers Callene Derrick and Jeff Mann

While the Red Cross is a national and international organization, they also have a profound impact locally every single day. Here are just a few facts that represent the history and magnitude of the work that has been done thanks to the support our communities and partners provide:

 The Red Cross and our partners have installed more than 100,000 smoke alarms and helped create more than 37,400 escape plans in Northern Ohio households through the Sound the Alarm campaign.
 The Red Cross responds to disasters providing support to those affected. Most recently the Red Cross provided more than 100 overnight stays and nearly 400 meals to those in East Palestine, Ohio.
 The Red Cross helped survivors of the Titanic.
 Service members in every U.S. conflict since the Spanish-American War have been supported by the Red Cross.
 International Committee of the Red Cross was won the most Nobel Peace Prizes.
 The Red Cross has responded to 3 million U.S. disasters since 1881.

Take Action this Red Cross Month

There are many ways you can support the Red Cross. Celebrate Red Cross Month by supporting your community through one or more of these activities:

 Donate Blood. About 40% of the nation’s blood supply comes from Red Cross blood donors. Blood drives are held every week in locations across Northern Ohio. Find an upcoming drive.
 Become a volunteer. The Red Cross offers many different opportunities to volunteer in Northern Ohio. These roles include administrative support, clinical support, disaster response, IT support, blood donor ambassadors and more.
– Interested in becoming a volunteer? Join the upcoming volunteer information session
on March 10th
.
 Make a Financial Donation. Donations of any amount can make a difference. The Red Cross offers several different ways that you can make a financial contribution.
 Take a Class. Get trained and certified in a lifesaving skill. Find a class.

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross Board Member and communications volunteer



The power of platelets in fighting cancer

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

Platelet donations are crucial in the ongoing fight against cancer. Their importance is movingly illustrated by a recent quote we received from Mandi Kuhlman, an American Red Cross blood donor in Putnam County, Ohio. Mandi said, “My 2 ½ year old son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and through the course of his treatment he needed transfusion after transfusion. Between red blood cells and platelets he received 25 transfusions within the first few months of treatment as the chemo severely impacted his counts. Without the generosity of donors his outcome could have been much different, so I started donating to give someone else the precious gift of life saving transfusions.”

Mandi’s quote sums up the need and effectiveness of platelet donation for cancer treatment, the love of a parent, and the inspiration to help others. As February 4th is World Cancer Day — and February is National Cancer Prevention Month — we wanted to share her quote and highlight the need for platelet donation.

Platelets are a vital component in treating patients with cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as those recovering from traumatic injuries, as they stick to the lining of blood vessels, help form clots, and stop bleeding.

Nearly half of donated platelets go to cancer patients, as cancer and cancer treatments put them at risk for low red blood cells and low platelet counts, known as thrombocytopenia. In addition, some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, which lowers the production of platelets. Cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma attack the bone marrow as well.

In addition, hospitals have a continual need for platelets, as they must be transfused within just 5 days after donation. In fact, on average a U.S. cancer patient needs a platelet transfusion every 30 seconds, and new cancer cases are expected to increase more than 36% by 2040, increasing their demand.

Platelet donation is a little different than regular whole blood donation. They need to be donated at select Red Cross Donation Centers and require an appointment.  

During the donation:

  • A relatively small amount of blood is drawn from a donor’s arm and goes into a blood cell separator. ​
  • This blood is rapidly spun, which forces the platelet cells to the bottom. ​
  • These cells then go into a sterile, single-use plastic bag. ​
  • Meanwhile, the rest of the blood — the plasma, red cells and white cells — is returned to the donor.
  • This cycle is repeated several times. A single donation of platelets often constitutes several transfusable platelet units.​

The Red Cross is especially seeking platelet donors with the following blood types and a high platelet count:​ A positive​, B positive​, AB positive​, AB negative​. (Type O negative and type B negative can make the most impact by giving whole blood or a Power Red donation.)

For more information or to make an appointment to donate platelets, please visit this page. You can also visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the Blood Donor App, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Then and Now: Celebrating Black History Month, recognizing African American contributions to Red Cross

By Doug Bardwell – American Red Cross volunteer

Editor’s note: This article originally posted in February, 2022 to recognize Black History Month.

It’s 1860, and there’s an outcry from voters who can’t accept the results of that year’s election. Abraham Lincoln is declared winner, without carrying a single southern state. Before his inauguration, seven southern states secede from the union, followed by others soon thereafter. Civil war ensues.

As the Civil War concludes in 1865, Clara Barton is commissioned by Abraham Lincoln to locate missing soldiers. She sends 63,000 letters and locates 22,000 missing men. The American Red Cross is founded 16 years later in 1865 in Washington, D.C., and is still in charge of contacting armed service members.

With Lincoln gone, Reconstruction effectively fails, and thousands of freed slaves are forced to return to the plantations and their former owners. Many stayed along the eastern coastline. In 1893, the country’s largest recorded hurricane hit the coastal islands with a storm surge of 10 to -12 feet and 20-foot waves on top of that, killing up to 3,500 inhabitants, 92% of which were Black.

Sea Islands Hurricane – 1893

Clara Barton answered the call to this huge disaster, the biggest to date for the Red Cross. The U.S. Congress refused to provide any aid short of some seeds, tents, and a couple deep-draft boats. All the funds to care for 30,000 displaced persons had to come via requests for donations from Clara, who got newspapers to run the story across the entire eastern half of the U.S.

Frances Reed Elliot Davis

Possibly motivated by Clara’s efforts, 10-year-old Frances Reed Elliott Davis was
growing up in North Carolina and had lived through that storm. Despite being
orphaned, she taught herself to read and write. Wanting to become a nurse, she
entered nursing school in 1910. She was the first African American to pass the
final board exams in Washington, D.C. Eight years later, she became the first
officially recognized African American nurse to be accepted into the Red Cross
Nursing Service.

Frances Reed Elliot Davis

That same year, Red Cross nurses combated the worldwide H1N1 influenza epidemic. With the returning injured troops from World War I, and the raging pandemic, Red Cross volunteers grew to 20 million adults and 11 million junior members.

Later, in Michigan, Davis helped organize the first training school for African American nurses at the Dunbar Hospital. In the 1940s, Davis established a childcare facility that caught the attention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped plan for and fund the center.

Mary McLeod Bethune

About this time, Mary McLeod Bethune was serving as an advisor to President
Roosevelt. She became the highest ranking African American woman in government when the president named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, making her the first African American woman to head a federal agency.

Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was one of five committee members who made recommendations on the blood plasma project, the use of African American staff in overseas service clubs, the enrollment of African American nurses and the representation of African Americans on local and national Red Cross committees and staff departments.

Dr. Jerome Holland

During his time as president of Hampton University in 1964, Dr. Holland became
a member of the American Red Cross Board of Governors. He served as a member until he resigned in 1970 to become the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. He was the second African American to lead a delegation in any European nation.

Dr. Jerome Holland

Dr. Holland was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors in 1979, and was the first African American to hold this position. Because of his commitment to the Red Cross, he was appointed again in 1982.

While serving on the board, Dr. Holland showed a passion for blood research and took the lead in consolidating growing laboratory operations for the Red Cross Blood Services program. He also encouraged Red Cross regions to integrate their volunteers so important services could be extended to the entire community, regardless of a person’s ethnicity or background.

We salute them

History has a way of repeating itself. Whether it was a pandemic flu, a giant, slow-moving hurricane, or the need to improve blood research, the same needs are still being met by the Red Cross today. To contribute to the cause, click here. To volunteer and do your part to help others in need, click here.

Other African American contributions

To read more about the contributions of other African Americans to the American Red Cross, you might like these articles:

Steve Bullock – Acting President of American Red Cross in 1999

Frederick Douglass – Friend of Clara Barton

Gwen T. Jackson – American Red Cross Board of Governors

Dr. Charles Drew – Blood Bank Pioneer

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

The Woman Who Won – Clara Barton

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

“They don’t make them like they used to” is a well-worn phrase, but it could be true regarding American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton. As we honor her 201st birthday on December 25, it’s fun to take a quick look at several of her achievements.

Wage negotiations – WIN

She successfully obtained equal pay as an in-demand teacher during her early career. As she said then, “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

Breaking into a man’s world – WIN

After teaching, Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and worked at the U.S. Patent Office, where she was one of the first women to work for the federal government.

First woman granted permission to travel to the frontlines – WIN

Driven by a desire to be helpful and help those in need, she sprang into action when the Civil War broke out, earning the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” for her work in caring for soldiers on the frontlines. In 1862, Clara was granted the privilege by the U.S. Surgeon General to travel to battlefronts under the guidance of Generals John Pope and James S. Wadsworth. 

Oil Painting of Clara Barton by Mathilde M. Leisenring, 1937.

Founded a reunification program for missing Union soldiers in 1865 – WIN

After the war, Clara began to set up a program to find and gather information about missing Union soldiers to give to the soldiers’ families. 

Founded the American Red Cross in 1881 – WIN

Inspired by her experiences in Europe with the International Red Cross, when Barton returned to this country, she spent years lobbying to establish a similar organization. In 1881, Clara founded the American Red Cross and, the following year, convinced President Garfield and Congress to adopt the Geneva Treaty.  

Your turn…

After all those firsts, how can you help but be inspired? Working for the Red Cross from age 60 until she was 84, it’s impossible to say you’re too old to volunteer – you aren’t.  Sign up here. 

You also can’t say you can’t help our military members – you can. Learn more here.

And if you can only spend an hour or two – you can donate blood.  Dozens of appointments are open here.  

Be like Clara – be a winner with the Red Cross. 

One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time – Resolve to volunteer today

Jack Higley has been volunteering for more than 60 years

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Still looking for a last-minute gift in honor of that hard-to-please person? Or thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution that will really mean something?

How about something only you can give? How about the gift of your time?

American Red Cross volunteers give their precious time every time they help a family displaced by a home fire, donate blood or take a Red Cross first aid/CPR/AED course so they can save a life in an emergency.

Jack Higley, American Red Cross volunteer

Jack Higley of Aurora, Ohio, has racked up an uncountable number of hours over the span of 60-some years of volunteering with the Red Cross. He first stepped up when a fraternity brother was in a serious accident and urgently needed blood. “Back then, it was direct donation,” he recalled. “They took it out of my arm and right into him.” The experience inspired his fraternity to start scheduling regular blood drives.

Four years later, he started teaching Red Cross life guarding classes at a YMCA. Then, he went to donate blood in Madison, where he taught high school government. W; when the staff learned he had experience organizing blood drives, they asked for his help. He’s been at it ever since: he’s credited with donating just shy of 40 gallons of life-saving blood and for organizing countless drives.

“It makes me feel good,” he said, adding, “There’s always a need. My dad had 17 heart attacks and he used a lot of blood for the surgeries he had – stents, by-passes.

“People live because somebody donated.”

Although Jack can no longer donate because of health conditions, he enjoys staffing blood drives as a blood donor ambassador. “I like to be around the canteen (the refreshment area where blood donors are invited to enjoy juice, water and cookies immediately following their donation). I can relate to the people, talk to them. Some of them donate faithfully every two months. They’re my people.

“Jack’s Red Cross experience is an example of the generosity of spirit our volunteers show every day,” said Susan Gordos, who coordinates volunteers in support of blood drives and blood services across Ohio. “We have so many opportunities for people to give the gift of their time, to be sure life-saving blood is there when it’s needed.”

So, how about giving the gift of your time? The Red Cross of northern Ohio is always looking for blood donor ambassadors and blood transportation specialists.

As an ambassador, you’re the friendly face that greets donors, helps them sign in , and answers questions. You might even staff the canteen, like Jack, to chat with donors after they give blood.

Watch this video to hear from others about why they’ve volunteered in this role. Training is free, but the hospitality you provide is priceless.

Or you might find that being a blood transportation specialist is a good fit. These folks are a critical link, driving blood products to hospitals.

If you have a valid state driver’s license and at least three years of licensed driving experience, you are eligible to volunteer as a blood transportation specialist. You can choose regular routes, stand-by emergency deliveries or both. It’s a great opportunity for couples, friends or family members.

As Jack said, “Many of us are going to need blood, unfortunately. If you need it, the Red Cross has it, but everybody has to work together to make it happen.”

To take the first step of giving the gift of time, visit www.redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Have a happy, healthy holiday season. And may you have a rewarding 2023 – perhaps as a new Red Cross volunteer.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer

On Veterans Day and every day, Red Cross helps active-duty military, veterans and families cope

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Today is Veterans Day, when we honor those who have served in our military. But tomorrow and every day after this national holiday passes, the American Red Cross will continue to honor and support veterans, military members and their families. For more than 100 years, the Red Cross has been helping active-duty men and women in uniform, their families and veterans deal with the unique challenges of military service.

It’s no secret that military life is stressful. Those of us in civilian life can only imagine the toll it takes to be in combat or challenged with heavy responsibilities, leaving and reuniting with family and home, being uprooted, adjusting to assignment after assignment.

Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces has a whole catalogue of programs to ease those burdens – everything from a reassuring presence on battlefields, deployment stations and military hospitals across the globe to reunification and readjustment workshops here on the home front.

There are even Red Cross programs designed specifically for children who have to deal with the unique social and emotional challenges of military life.

Northern Ohio Region Red Cross volunteer Tom Adams of Cleveland uses his education, training and skills as a clinical social worker to facilitate free, confidential resiliency
workshops on bases around the country. He recently returned from Texas, where he has done sessions at Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Fort Tyler. Some of the highlights of his assignments over more than a dozen years include assisting service members at Fort Pickett in Virginia, Orlando, Fla. and Wright-Patterson here in Ohio.

Tom sees genuine gratitude in the people he works with. Explaining why he volunteers he said, “I can give up a weekend without pay to give them a thumbnail sketch of how to handle what life throws at them. I find it really humbling to be able to do this.”

Tom structures his small-group workshops as conversations, encouraging participants to share the challenges they face in a safe space. “Then I suggest options for handling these situations,” Tom said. “I’m not there to ‘teach.’ My goal is to give them tools they can use, when they need them.”

Here in northern Ohio, the Red Cross is also active with National Guard and Reserve units, conducting workshops to help ease the transitions of deployment and reconnection after active duty.

Jessica Tischler, regional director of Service to the Armed Forces for the Northern Ohio Red Cross recruits and trains volunteers with certification in mental health and social work fields for that program.

“I have the privilege of interacting with veterans every day and hearing their stories of service and sacrifice,” she said. “It’s gratifying every Veterans Day to see the American public come together as a community to thank the men and women who served our country.”

The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the public. Our support for the U.S. military dates back to World War I, and we’re proud to maintain our founders’ commitment to the men and women who have served or continue to serve.

For more information or to volunteer or donate to support the Red Cross mission of helping active and retired military members, visit redcross.org or our Spanish site, CruzRojaAmericana.org, or follow us on Twitter at @RedCross.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross board member and volunteer

Northern Ohio volunteer delivered supplies and hope in the wake of Hurricane Ian

By Michael deVulpillieres, American Red Cross

Destruction was everywhere as a large truck with an American Red Cross logo taped to its side made its way slowly through Coastal Estates, a small Fort Myers neighborhood lined with single family homes, most either wiped out entirely or badly damaged by Hurricane Ian.

On one side of the street, a stray cat wandered inside a blown-out manufactured home. A few doors down, the driver paused at the sight of a metal roof wrapped around a palm tree.

“Within 30 minutes, we had five feet of water here,” Reba Fennessy told Red Cross volunteers Lisa Mize and David Tolander. “It was so scary.”

American Red Cross volunteers David Tolander of Iowa and Lisa Mize of Huron, Ohio deliver relief supplies to a small neighborhood in Fort Myers, Florida, hit hard by Hurricane Ian. Photo credit: Michael deVulpillieres, American Red Cross

Mize, who is from Huron, Ohio, and Tolander, from Waterloo, Iowa, first met a week earlier after arriving in Southwest Florida to be part of the hurricane relief efforts. They were assigned to deliver supplies together in some of the hardest hit parts of the state.

Their presence meant more than the much-needed free relief items like tarps, bins, brooms, rakes, batteries, bleach and trash bags that filled their truck. Mize and Tolander also represented the reassurance that help would continue to be available as long as needed.

“We’re here where the Gulf (of Mexico) meets the Bay (of the Caloosahatchee River), so we got a double whammy,” Catherine Casby said. The storm surge, pushed by 160-mile-an-hour winds, destroyed so many of the homes around hers. Though damaged, her small house is still standing.

Catherine Casby, a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., hit hard by Hurricane Ian, speaks with Red Cross volunteer Lisa Mize. Photo Credit: Michael deVulpillieres, American Red Cross

Casby spends her days clearing debris, cleaning up inside, and keeping an eye on her neighbors. “We look after each other,” she said of her tight-knit community. In fact, the night Ian made landfall, Casby braved the winds and flood waters to check on residents next door, injuring her leg in the process.

While Mize, who works as a nurse back home, was handing out supplies, she asked Casby about her noticeable limp. Casby said she spent a few days in the hospital after the storm and is slowly recovering.

“That’s the hardest part, the stories,” Mize said of the physical and emotional scars left by Ian. Yet during her Red Cross deployment, Mize has learned how to “laugh and smile, even in the worst of it.” Her positive disposition and sense of humor lifted the spirits of those around her.

“The people are so appreciative of seeing anyone here,” Tolander said. “Many told us the Red Cross was the first and only people they’ve seen (helping).”

Fennessy recalled how, a week after landfall, the Red Cross was in Coastal Estates providing warm meals. “It made us feel that someone cared,” she said, her voice breaking up with emotion.

Before accepting some cleanup supplies from the truck, Fennessy looked up at Mize in the back of the vehicle and said, “If I could come up there, I’d give you a hug.” Mize promptly climbed down to share an embrace.

Despite having just met a week earlier, Mize and Tolander talked and joked as if they’d known each other for years. There was a seamlessness about the way they worked together.

“We’ve clicked really well,” said Mize, who recently joined the Red Cross. “This is my first deployment. But Dave has been on a lot, so he’s taught me quite a bit.” She paused. “He taught me that it’s OK to cry sometimes.”

American Red Cross relief is free to anyone with disaster-caused needs, thanks to the generosity of the American people. To become a trained disaster volunteer, like Mize and Tolander, go to redcross.org/volunteer or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

If you would like to support the Hurricane Ian response financially, visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, text the words IAN to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW.

Edited by Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross board member and volunteer

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs through October 15

By Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Our weather has started to cool in northern Ohio as we to shift from summer to fall. One of my favorite months is October, with its dramatic changes in weather, kids back in school, and the holiday season beginning to ramp up.

The American Red Cross celebrates this important time by acknowledging our strong relationship with the Latino community in recognizing National Hispanic Heritage month.

Last year, I was fortune enough to write about the American Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Latino initiative, explain why we need to focus on this cultural group and share ways to get involved. The fundamental principles of the Red Cross instruct us to help all people in times of need.

Latino initiative

The Northern Ohio Latino initiative’s mission is to deepen our relationship with this diverse community, provide education about services we can provide, offer tools and support regionally, and partner with local groups to bridge trust.

Why?  The short answer is that the growing Latino community has varying levels of connectivity to Red Cross services. One gap we discovered is the large percentage of Spanish-only speaking people who are disconnected from the Red Cross based on language barriers.

One way we continue to build on our momentum is to have strong partnerships with groups like HOLA Ohio, with their incredible leaders and strong members.

HOLA was founded in late 1999 as an informal group of Hispanic women in Lake County who wanted to help the growing Latino community, comprised of Mexican immigrant workers employed by area nurseries and their families. Few services were accessible to this demographic, and HOLA worked to bridge gaps. Today, HOLA is an award-winning, 501c3 charitable nonprofit organization which works with families across the state. HOLA is currently developing a Commercial Kitchen Incubator and Hispanic Community Center in Painesville.

HOLA’s work has been spotlighted in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Telemundo, and has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Torchlight Prize, a prestigious national award honoring community-driven work that empowers the Latino community. Recently, founding executive director of HOLA Ohio and the HOLA Hispanic Community Center Veronica Isabel Dahlberg was named a 2019 Crain’s Cleveland Business Woman of Note.

HOLA’s work in the community

HOLA and volunteers and employees with the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio have partnered in the past to install smoke alarms in the Latino community.

“HOLA is a key partner in helping us provide assistance to Hispanic residents who have been affected by home fires,” said Tom Revolinsky, Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. “They help us with translation, give additional financial assistance and help overcome any cultural barriers to recovery.”

In October 2021, working with HOLA and the Painesville Fire Department, the Red Cross installed 62 smoke alarms in 25 homes in a largely Latino neighborhood.   Fire safety information was shared in Spanish and, according to Tom, was very well received by the community.

“HOLA is very grateful for our partnership with the Red Cross,” said Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, Executive Director HOLA Ohio and the HOLA Hispanic Community Center. “Working together, we have been able to assist Hispanic families in crisis, and also help with fire safety education and prevention, such as the installation of smoke alarms in the homes of Spanish-speaking families. There is no doubt that our combined efforts will save lives.”

Seeking Latino volunteers

The Red Cross of Northern Ohio has a need for Latino volunteers to help us grow our mission in their communities.

You can learn about being a volunteer here.

Web resources

Did you know that the American Red Cross has a Spanish language website? You can access it here.

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer