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.

Red Cross employees walk to raise funds, build friendships

By: Mary Williams, Events Specialist, American Red Cross

There is a certain something that drives every Red Cross volunteer. There is much to be said about the focused care they give to each disaster client, blood donor, military member/veteran/military family member from the first moment until the last.

That is not necessary a trait that you attribute to your co-workers.

But on April 30, four of my co-workers and I found ourselves at the Wooster office to (social distance style) walk the “last mile” of a 75-mile journey we had started together on April 1. The office had been identified as the central point to our scatter-shot lives, with each of us driving anywhere from 45-minutes to 2-hours to gather in celebration.

There were eight of us who walked 75-miles to promote the mission of the Red Cross (though only five of us could get together in Wooster); Erica van Pelt, Carolyn Wild, Sarah Leonhard, Staci Thomson, Emily Probst, Cheryl Wolfe, Maggie Lenhart, and myself. Through our own family and friend networks we earned a total of $1,510. And beyond that, we began to form a bond that came from encouraging each other each step of the way.

Each time I would think, ‘it’s cold and I don’t want to go out to walk two-miles’, there would be a picture of one co-worker or another, bundled up and outside. We shared pictures of our walking companions – dogs, children, and lots of sarcastically earnest gifs of encouragement. Little by little we learned more things about each other, that we would not have learned otherwise. Time and geography have long conspired to keep many of us perfect strangers, but these 75 miles have brought us closer together. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

And what amazes me the most about this group is that they truly don’t see what an amazing accomplishment it has been for each of them to push beyond what they do as part of their day-to-day work responsibilities, to further blur the lines of work-life and home-life by completely steeping themselves in that thing – that heart – that volunteers demonstrate. For each of these women, it seems that to work here, is to fully encompass the mission and values of the Red Cross as part of your own essence.

It’s just what they do.

It’s just what we do.

Tiffany Circle members in Northern Ohio help support female military serving in Africa

By: Donna Gracon, American Red Cross Philanthropy Officer

The Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross recently gathered on Zoom to hear regional leaders, including CEO Mike Parks and Tiffany Circle member Patty Flowers, describe their deployment experiences as they helped communities by responding during the unprecedented wildfire and hurricane season in 2020.

During the virtual session, the region launched its Holiday Mission Project to help female members of the U.S. military serving in Djibouti, a country in East Africa. Learning of the difficulties these military heroes face in securing personal care and hygiene products due to inaccessibility caused by COVID-19, Tiffany Circle members stepped up by purchasing items from a locally created Amazon Wish List.

Donna Gracon, Red Cross Philanthropy Officer, stands among the packages of items purchased for female members of the military serving in East Africa.

“How special it is to be a part of a group of women who so willingly volunteer their resources and join together to support others during the holidays and also during all seasons,” said Northern Ohio Tiffany Circle Chair Laurie Laidlaw Deacon.

In attendance was Julia Bianchi, who immediately engaged help from Tiffany Circle sisters in South Florida and the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region of the Red Cross who also contributed to the effort. In total, 450 items were shipped to the Red Cross office at Camp Lemmonier, the primary base of operations for the U.S. Africa Command in the Horn of Africa.

“It sometimes becomes apparent that women in the military feel overlooked or forgotten,” said Kelsey Smith, senior regional program specialist/site lead for the American Red Cross at Camp Lemonnier. “Generous donations that specifically target the needs of women are uniquely impactful, as they remind our female service members that their sacrifices and dedication do not go unnoticed. Females that serve deserve to be heard, supported and celebrated equally. By ensuring their health and wellness are maintained, we create a stronger and more resilient military community as a whole.”

Lt. Andrea Wright, Capt. Ellen Bramblee and Lt. Col. Abigail Lee at the Red Cross office at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, East Africa.

To learn more about the Tiffany Circle and how the philanthropic power of its women leaders advance the mission of the Red Cross, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

Giving blood gives time to those fighting cancer

By Sue Wilson, American Red Cross volunteer

February 4, 2021- If you or someone you love have gone through a health scare of any kind, you know firsthand how your perspective changes in the blink of an eye. When my husband got his cancer diagnosis, we were shocked. We thought there was a simple explanation for his symptoms. We thought the biopsy was a routine test they were doing along with some others. We were in a state of disbelief when the doctor said that not only was it cancer, but it was advanced. He died a year later.

Cancer has a way of making time an all-consuming obsession. The realization that every minute is important, every day should be cherished, and that time is a precious commodity is never far from my thoughts. 

When you think about fighting cancer, the first thing you may think of is chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. What so many don’t realize is that many cancer patients undergoing chemo will likely have a need for blood. In fact, five units of blood are needed every minute to help someone going through cancer treatment. Patients fighting cancer use nearly one quarter of the nation’s blood supply – more than patients fighting any other disease. And, yet, only 3% of people in the U.S. regularly donate blood.

You may not have put the two together before but giving blood can help patients fight cancer. There simply aren’t enough people regularly donating blood to meet the ongoing need. That’s the message the American Red Cross wants to spread.

We know that not everyone is eligible to donate blood, so a financial donation is also encouraged. By making a financial gift in any amount, you’re helping to give patients and their families time, resources and the hope they need to fight back.

My grief had me vacillating between a depressive despair that made me want to do nothing and a manic desire to do anything and everything to help others who were suffering. But I didn’t know where to start. Donating blood is a start. It’s a meaningful way to honor someone you love who is battling or has battled cancer. To learn more and to schedule a blood donation appointment, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

To make a financial gift, visit redcross.org/donate.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteers

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

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

February 1, 2021- 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.

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 Elliott 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.

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.

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. 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 is 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

Northeast Ohio donors and nurse see firsthand how simple act of donating blood saves lives, urge others to give to make a difference

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

January 28, 2021- Jennifer Bowen of Tallmadge, Ohio, rolled up her sleeve at an American Red Cross blood drive recently and donated for the first time. “I wish it didn’t take a tragic event to make me realize how simple it is to help save a life!” she said. 

“My niece Alivia is only 12 years old and needs weekly blood transfusions to survive, due to her diagnosis of Severe Aplastic Anemia. Alivia, while living with this condition, is so positive, so strong and just inspires me to make a difference in the world!” explained Jennifer.  

January is National Blood Donor Month, which spotlights the fact that due to seasonal illnesses, the number of people signing up for blood drives drops off. But the need for lifesaving or life-sustaining blood transfusions never dries up. 

Jesika Florin of Hudson, Ohio, sees that need up close and personal: “I’ve been a nurse for over a decade. I administer all blood products to patients on a regular basis. 

“I’ve seen the baby fighting for life with a bad heart. I’ve seen the dad who endured traumatic injuries from a car accident. I’ve seen the pregnant mother losing her child. I’ve seen the grandmother who couldn’t afford health care and put everyone’s needs above her own only to find her body giving out. I’ve seen the teenage son who sustained gunshot wounds.”

“Blood products saved these people’s lives. The countless bags of blood products I’ve hung have all had stories of lives saved and lives lost. I see the difference a 15 to 30 minute donation can make. I see the life come back in a person after a transfusion. It may be a needle stick to my arm, but it’s someone’s family I’m helping to have more time with those they love.” 

Jesika donates, and she has advice for anyone considering giving blood for the first time: “Hop up on that table, put your latest show on your phone, breathe (because 1, 2, 3…stick). Now, close your eyes, clear your head and thoughts, just relax, and take a few moments for you. Once you’re all done, grab your snack, and walk out knowing you just saved someone’s life, or three.” 

Three? What does she mean by “three?”  

Every unit of whole blood can be administered as is, such as to accident victims or sickle cell patients. Or a unit of blood may be separated into its main components:  

  • red blood cells (frequently given to trauma and surgery patients) 
  • platelets (used to treat blood disorders like anemia and certain cancers) 
  • plasma (used to treat a variety of acute conditions, such as severe burns). 

David Masirovits of Ashtabula, Ohio, is committed to Power Red donations. Power Red is similar to a whole blood donation, except a special machine is used to allow the donor to safely give two units of red blood cells during one donation while receiving their plasma and platelets back at the same time. 

“My sister Susan and I had a Power Red competition for several years until she passed away in 2016,” said David. “So now I give for her and am proud to do so. My sister started it and now I get to finish it. When she passed, she had 28 Power Red donations. 

“For an hour of your time, you have the opportunity to change someone’s life forever. Someday this life could be a friend and or a family member. So do it, please!” urged David. 

To sign up for a blood drive near you, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). 

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross board member donates plasma to help others recover from COVID-19

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

January 25, 2021- Over the past year, our lives have been consumed by news and updates regarding the coronavirus. We have experienced school closures, canceled vacations, social distancing and mask wearing.

Many of us however have either experienced the virus firsthand or know someone who had COVID-19. For Debbi Grinstein, both experiences are true.

Debbi, a trust officer for Farmers Trust Company, previously served as the board president for the Lake to River Chapter and is currently a board member for the American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley. In addition to serving on the board of directors, Debbi is also a Disaster Action Team volunteer, assisting residents following a local disaster.

Debbi Grinstein

On December 10, 2020, Debbi began to experience postnasal drip, feeling achy and had a slight fever. That is when she found out that she would join the list of millions of Americans who had COVID-19.

Despite the diagnosis, Debbi considered herself lucky because despite the slight symptoms, she was able to continue to work and exercise at home, and her recovery was quick.

In addition to herself, Debbi experienced the virus through a loved one, as her son, who lives in New York City, also was diagnosed with COVID-19.

During her recovery process, Debbi decided right away that she was going to donate convalescent plasma once she was fully recovered, to try to help others overcome the virus because “it was the right thing to do.”

Convalescent plasma comes from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus. Plasma is the part of blood that remains after red and white blood cells are removed. It is rich in proteins and antibodies. Hospitals and research labs around the country are working to see if these antibodies can help the immune system fight COVID-19.

On January 15, Debbi attended her scheduled appointment at the Akron Donation Center to donate her valuable convalescent plasma.

To those who have recovered from COVID-19 but are on the fence about whether they should donate their convalescent plasma, Debbi has a message for you: “Convalescent plasma is helping a lot of people and it does not hurt when you donate.”

Those who have received a verified COVID-19 diagnosis, have fully recovered and have been symptom free for at least 14 days are urged to sign up to give convalescent plasma by completing the donor information form HERE.

To hear more about Debbi’s COVID-19 journey and about her convalescent plasma donation, be sure to follow our Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages for an upcoming video conversation with her.

International Hugging Day has new meaning this year

By Renee Palagyi, senior program manager, Disaster Cycle Services

January 21, 2021- January 21 is International Hugging Day. Many times I have said, “Wow, there’s a day for EVERYTHING!” Some trite, some powerful but all get recognition. This year, a day devoted to a simple gesture has taken on a whole new meaning.

No words required, a hug is filled with compassion, caring and empathy. It expresses an understanding far beyond language.

September 17, 2020. Salem, Oregon. American Red Cross volunteer Leslie Sierra delivers a comfort kit to Juanita Ann Hamann who is staying in a Red Cross hotel shelter. Ms. Hamann says, “My time at the Red Cross shelter has been wonderful. It feels like being adopted by a guardian angel.” Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Are you a person who gives a hug or are you more comfortable with a handshake or maybe even just a nod and a smile? Did you know that a hug can actually boost the hormone oxytocin? Sounds mysterious but the release of that soothing chemical helps us feel safe, boosts our immune system and lowers our stress levels. Studies have shown that a 20-second hug reduced blood pressure and heart rate for a full day! Makes you want to give a hug, doesn’t it?

For nearly a year, the pandemic has placed a barrier on this healing act for all but our immediate “bubble.” Those of us who work in Disaster Cycle Services for the American Red Cross have seen firsthand the power of the hug for many years, and we have been missing it over these past many months.

September 18, 2020. Gates, Oregon. American Red Cross volunteer Eric Carmichael talks with Sabrina Kent whose home was totally consumed by the wildfires. Sabrina has come to look at the remains of her home after the Oregon wildfires. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Meeting those families after a devastating fire and standing six feet away has been painful. We want so badly to reach out to them, to let them “hold on” for a few precious moments, to allow them to know the comfort and care that only a hug can provide. At both sides of that invisible six-foot line are human beings who know and want the power of human touch.

We all look forward to the day when we can safely offer true comfort, a gentle hug, to people who’ve experienced a disaster and who need our help.  

September 21, 2020. Pensacola, Florida. J.R., a photographer from Alabama had just moved to Pensacola, Florida, so Hurricane Sally was his first hurricane experience. “The water was up to my knees.” He currently has a tree up against the side of his house that threatens to break through the window if he can’t get it removed. Photo by Jaka Vinek/American Red Cross

For more information about the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief and Recovery services, click here. If you are interested in helping families and offering support to individuals who have experienced a disaster, explore the volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Region. Check out the opportunities here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Akron athletic trainers recognized for using Red Cross training to save life

By Eric Alves, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio

January 20, 2021- Have you ever wanted to get CPR and AED training, but you thought you would never have an opportunity to use your training to save a life? Well, hopefully today’s post will change your mind.

John Walters and Kalie Jenkins are athletic trainers at the University of Akron.

On January 11, 2020, while working during an indoor track meet at the Stile Athletic Field House, a spectator in the stands began to experience chest pains.

John and Kalie quickly responded to the aid of the gentleman. Instantly their Red Cross training kicked in as they delivered breath and chest compressions and administered an AED, until first responders were able to arrive to assist.

Thanks to the quick thinking and responsiveness of John and Kalie, the spectator survived and made a full recovery.

During a virtual ceremony last week, the American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley presented John and Kalie with the Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders, the highest award given to an individual, or team of individuals, who saves or sustains a life, outside of a medical setting, as part of their employment or while on duty.

A screenshot from the virtual award presentation. Left to right/top to bottom: John Walters, Kalie Jenkins, Phil Ormandy, Max Elder, Susan Sparks, Red Cross Training Services, and Rachel Telegdy.

“I am always amazed when someone takes the wherewithal to act. That is the hardest step,” stated Phil Ormandy, American Red Cross Training Services, during the presentation. “I am very proud of you [John and Kalie] and thankful that you put your training in action to save a life.”

“Thankfully John and Kalie were at the right place at the right time. I am proud of them and the University of Akron for holding these trainings,” said Max Elder, John and Kalie’s coworker, who nominated them for the award.

The American Red Cross offers training programs in various areas from first aid, CPR, AED administration, water safety, babysitting and more. Learn more about Red Cross lifesaving courses here.

If you wish to nominate someone for a lifesaving award, visit redcross.org/take-a-class/lifesaving.

Resolve to Make a Difference

By Samantha Pudelski, American Red Cross volunteer

January 11, 2020- Have you made your New Year resolutions yet for 2021? It’s never too early to check off a goal on your resolution list or to start making the most of this new year.

 In 2021, resolve to volunteer with the American Red Cross and help make a difference in your community! The vital work of the Red Cross supports communities across the country every day and throughout Northern Ohio – it’s at the heart of what we do.  Volunteers make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce and help deliver the vital services that the Red Cross provides.

The Northern Ohio Region of the Red Cross needs volunteers in the following positions:

Blood Donor Ambassador

  • Age 16+
  • Help save lives in your community by supporting blood collection at a local blood drive.
  • Commitment: 1 shift (4-6 hours) per month

Blood Transportation Specialist

  • Deliver life-saving blood products from collection sites to processing a lab and/or hospital
  • Commitment: 2 shifts (4-6 hour shifts) per month

Disaster Action Team Member

  • Virtual Opportunity
  • Assist individuals and families who have been impacted by a home fire or other local disaster.
  • Commitment: monthly on call shift

SAF Hero Care Regional Caseworker

  • Ensure military families’ needs are met when faced with an emergency
  • Commitment: 2-4 hours per week

To learn more about these opportunities and to apply, visit redcross.org/volunteer or contact Melanie Collins at melanie.collins4@redcross.org or 330.204.6615.