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.

Northern Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: July 17-18, 2021

Over the weekend, the American Red Cross was once again very active responding to calls across Northern Ohio and assisting residents who have suffered a local disaster.

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During the weekend of July 17-18, the Red Cross responded to 9 incidents across the region, including home fires and flooding. The disaster team assisted 15 adults and 11 children, and provided more than $5,5000 in immediate financial assistance.

While many of us hear “disaster” and think of large events like wildfires and hurricanes, local disasters are where much of our response happens. In fact, every 24 hours, on average, the Northern Ohio Red Cross responds to three home fires, as well as floods and severe storms. Red Cross volunteers are on call and ready to respond 24/7 when a disaster strikes. After emergency personnel, these individuals are often some of the first people to be on scene at a disaster. They assess the victims’ needs and ensure they have food, clothing, shelter and other services to help take the first steps to recovery.

The Red Cross is committed to helping our community prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. We are able to make a difference in our local communities because of the generosity of our donors and support of our volunteers.

If you would like to provide a financial donation to assist the Red Cross’ efforts to support the residents of Northern Ohio, visit redcross.org/donate, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. If you cannot support the Red Cross monetarily but you are interested in making an impact in your local community, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more and sign up.

Celebrating World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day May 8

By: Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

May 8th is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, in which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) collectively thanks its 13 million volunteers worldwide—about 2,000 of which are in Northern Ohio—for their dedication, bravery, kindness, and selflessness.

This day also coincides with Sound the Alarm, as American Red Cross volunteers and staff are helping area residents develop fire safety plans through doorstep visits. Please read this article for more information.

May 8th is the birthday of Henry Dunant, who was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1828, founded the IFRC, and received the first Nobel Peace Prize. After witnessing one of the bloodiest battles of the 19th century, Solferino, and assisting in its aftermath, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino, published in 1862. After detailing the horrors of the battle and describing efforts to care for the wounded, Dunant offered a plan that the world’s nations form relief societies and appeal to everyone to volunteer. The following year the Geneva Society for Public Welfare appointed Dunant and four others to examine putting the plan into action. This began the foundation of the Red Cross. More on Henry Dunant is here

It would take more than a century, two world wars, and the 1918 flu pandemic before a Red Cross day would be created, however. During that time, the need and effectiveness of Red Cross societies became even clearer. Following World War II, the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies requested the study of an International Red Cross Day. It was approved two year later, and May 8, 1948 became the first commemoration of what we now know as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Further details are here.

In 2021, the Red Cross’s mission and services are as needed as ever, and the resilience, dedication, flexibility, and selflessness of its volunteers and staff has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the past year has been especially active. In the US, 2020 had the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters in a single year. Here in Northern Ohio, the Red Cross has continued to respond to disasters—including more than three home fires every 24 hours, on average—collect and distribute much needed blood, teach life-saving skills, assist members of the armed services and their families, and help educate the community on home fire safety, virtually and with doorstep visits during tomorrow’s Day of Action.

We recently profiled a few extraordinary volunteers during Volunteer Week. As a Red Cross volunteer, I have been privileged to see such caring and dedication firsthand and have been honored to work alongside some of the kindest, most effective, and remarkable people I have met. Please see here if you would like to join us.

On this World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, we celebrate those who put the Red Cross’s mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering into action, each day.

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.

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Pete Ulrich remembered as dedicated trainer and great guy who saved lives

By: Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Everyone on the American Red Cross Transportation Specialist and Disaster Program teams knew Peter Ulrich simply as “Pete.” He was well known across Northern Ohio for being an excellent teacher with a natural teaching talent who trained countless volunteers for the Red Cross. Pete was based out of his hometown of Akron, Ohio, but his influence reached across the region. Volunteer transportation specialists deliver lifesaving blood products from Red Cross distribution facilities to hospitals. 

My first time meeting Pete was just over a year ago to learn my role as a transportation specialist. From the start, I was truly impressed with how professional, organized and genuine Pete was. We worked together for about four hours that night. Pete was not only an incredible trainer but he was a lot of fun to work with, hard to keep up with and had a quick-witted sense of humor. 

Over this past year, I would run into Pete while on my routes. He would take to time to say “hi,” ask how I was doing and offer to help if needed. Pete said two things that come to mind whenever I am working in the Akron Red Cross office and delivering to Akron General Hospital. He would say, “This is the world’s slowest elevator,” referring to the Akron Red Cross building each time we were in it. (He just wanted to keep moving!) Second, Pete was showing me around at Akron General Hospital and I feel he was starting to trust me because he said in a witty way, “You will learn really fast that I like to do things my own way,” meaning he had a creative style to get the job done. He made volunteering fun.

Sadly, Pete, age 63, passed away March 13. The retired high school band director and high school administrator was a lifelong learner. In retirement, he earned his Doctor of Education and continued to consult with colleagues. An enthusiastic volunteer, Pete served as an usher for the Akron Civic Theater and E.J. Thomas Hall before becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

“Pete was great guy. That is what everyone says about him that he has touched,” said Debbie Chitester, disaster program manager for the Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley Red Cross. “He was always someone who would go out of his way for someone. Even during COVID, I would see him there on Sundays making sure the vehicles were all set to go for the drivers. He always took that extra step. Pete trained many of the Biomed drivers, so his legacy will live on.”

“Pete Ulrich was a Red Cross hero. In his volunteer role, he saved lives every day. He took great pride in volunteering for the Red Cross and the transportation program,” said Shelby Beamer, transportation coordinator for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region. “The organization will forever be grateful for having Pete Ulrich on our team and his hard work and dedication in helping grow the transportation program in Northern Ohio.”

Pete, you will be missed because you were a good human being, dedicated to your family, an educator, volunteer and hero. In his obituary, Pete suggested taking time each day to communicate with someone you love, be they near or far.

Your time and talent can make a real difference in people’s lives. To learn more about volunteering, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Recovery Coordinator Debbie Ziss aids victims after disasters

By: Olivia Wyles, American Red Cross volunteer

Today we recognize Debbie Ziss, one of the American Red Cross recovery coordinators for the Northeast Ohio Region who also serves on the Disaster Action Team. The Disaster Action Team (DAT) is a group that is dedicated to helping their communities respond to the scene of disasters. The DAT does this not only by responding to the immediate needs of individuals after a disaster, but also by guiding them as they navigate what their life will look like post-disaster and assisting them in accessing resources they need. Debbie has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for about two years and typically manages the recovery for 50+ people every week.

“Debbie is a fearless advocate for the client in assisting them to find resources for overcoming barriers in their recovery,” said Tom Revolinsky, disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio.

One of the common disasters that the DAT group responds to is home fires, and Debbie has recounted helping individuals who have experienced house fires, entire apartment fires and fires resulting in the unfortunate death of a family member. Although it is challenging to help individuals work through the experience of losing the most important things or people in their lives, Debbie feels that it is an honor to be able to help them through.

“Whether you work at the Red Cross or you’re a client of the Red Cross, you have a story,” Debbie said. “As a volunteer, I’ve learned to make their story my story as well.”

Debbie serves the DAT mostly through casework assignments. She is constantly looking to get things done as well as she can and take the lead in new cases. When asked about some of the skills needed as a DAT volunteer, Debbie said that it is important to pay close attention not only to what people are saying, but how they say it.

“Everyone handles trauma differently,” Debbie explained. She hopes to be able to make a difference in the lives of the individuals who she is able to work with.

Volunteers with an open heart and dedicated spirit like Debbie’s are crucial to the work of the Red Cross. We thank Debbie for her impactful work with us. If you would like more information on the Disaster Action Team and would like to assist the Red Cross advance its mission, visit: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/disaster-action-team.html.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

National Volunteer Week spotlight: Ralph Lee of Heartland, Stark & Muskingum Lakes

By: Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, we are featuring profiles of some of the dedicated volunteers who help the American Red Cross fulfill its mission in Northern Ohio.

Regional offices of large organizations are fortunate when they have representation on the governing councils at national headquarters. Such is our fortune, having Ralph Lee as chairman of the National Diversity Advisory Council (NDAC) for the American Red Cross. Meeting quarterly with Red Cross CEO and President Gail McGovern, NDAC sets the direction and policies of inclusiveness with all that the Red Cross does nationally.

If you’ve ever had the chance to take some of the excellent Red Cross classes like “Uncovering Unconscious Bias,” like I did recently, these are just part of what NDAC brings to our employees and volunteers.

“We are also working hard to make sure that our disaster responders look like the communities they serve, especially now with the Asian and Hispanic communities, so people feel comfortable when our volunteers show up and say they want to help. That’s really been my challenge and my guidance since I became chairperson,” said Ralph.

Ralph, who serves as Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Kenan Advantage Group, started as a volunteer in 2013 in Cincinnati, helping recruit 150 community volunteers for a Sound the Alarm event there. Ralph and his wife Janelle now live in Canton. They have two sons – one living in St. Louis and one in Cincinnati, where they still go frequently to see their two grandchildren.

In Canton, he has organized a “My Story” event for their local chapter, where each meeting, someone introduces themselves and tells a bit of their personal story. “Through learning more about our fellow volunteers, people find that despite skin color or background, we are all more alike than we are different,” explained Ralph.

When Ralph moved to Canton, Kim Kroh, executive director for Heartland, Stark & Muskingum Lakes, admits to “stalking and seeking him out” to join their chapter.

“Ralph Lee is a driving force when it comes to being a Red Cross volunteer, and is currently the chairperson of NDAC. Ralph was actively involved at the Red Cross’ regional board in Cincinnati before moving to Canton where he joined our board. Ralph has used his connections to assist us in strengthening partnerships throughout our chapter footprint, leading to sponsorships, board representation and blood drives. Our chapter has been made stronger thanks to Ralph’s efforts.”

If you’d like to help your local community but are unsure of how you can help the Red Cross, fear not, there is a role for everyone to play to fulfill the Red Cross mission. Find out more at: https://nohredcross.org/volunteer/.

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

Help Sound the Alarm across Northern Ohio to save lives

By: Chris Chmura, American Red Cross Volunteer

Could your family escape in 2 minutes in case of a home fire?

48 Ohio civilian home fire fatalities were reported by news media Jan. 1 – April 6, 2021. That is only the first four months of the year. See details from the U.S. Fire Administration here: https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/civilian-fatalities/incident/reportList/Ohio.

Home fires across the United States claim seven lives every day, but you can help change that.

Join our national American Red Cross movement and pledge to keep your family safe by taking 2 simple steps:

1. Practice a 2-minute fire drill 

Use our worksheet to draw your home’s floor plan and plot your escape routes. 

  • Practice your 2-minute drill (from home to a safe meeting place) at least twice a year.
  • Everyone in your household should know two ways to escape from each room in your home. 
  • In a real fire, remember to get out, stay out and call 911. Never go back inside for people, pets or things. 

DOWNLOAD YOUR ESCAPE PLAN WORKSHEET

2. Test your smoke alarms monthly

Test your smoke alarms monthly by pressing the test button. 

  • You should hear three beeps, letting you know the alarm is working. 
  • Don’t hear the beeps? Then it’s time to change the batteries, if your model requires them.
  • If your smoke alarm is 10 years old, it’s time to get a new alarm because the sensor becomes less sensitive over time. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT SMOKE ALARMS

Now is time to commit, Northern Ohio
Take the pledge! We invite you to pledge to prepare by signing the Sound the Alarm pledge: https://www.redcross.org/sound-the-alarm.html.

Are you prepared for a home fire?

A survey conducted for the Red Cross shows that people mistakenly believe they have more time than they really do to escape a burning home. Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out. But most Americans (62 percent) mistakenly believe they have at least five minutes to escape, more than twice the amount they actually have. Nearly 18 percent mistakenly believe they have 10 minutes or more to get out. 

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the Red Cross is not installing smoke alarms this year. However, we are partnering with some local fire departments which have agreed to install smoke alarms in neighborhoods with high numbers of home fires. The goal is to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires by as much as 25 percent over the next five years. Our Northern Ohio region has set the goal to install 1,000 smoke alarms!

Sound the Alarm is a critical part of the campaign. Through our home visits, we’ve installed more than 2.1 million free smoke alarms and prepared more than 2.3 million people for home fires. 

836 lives saved                                2,179,964 smoke alarms installed

901,170 households made safer               1,628,263 youth reached through campaign

Request a smoke alarm

To learn more about the fire preparedness campaign of Northern Ohio in your area and to request a smoke alarm, see the information in this link for your county: https://www.redcross.org/local/ohio/northern-ohio/about-us/our-work/home-fire-campaign/request-a-smoke-alarm.html.

If you, or your community organization, are interested in participating in the program, please call Volunteer Services at 216-431-3328 or email NEOvolunteer@redcross.org.

Teach kids about preparedness

Our age-appropriate preparedness materials include engaging activities and easy action steps that youth will find both fun and effective.

Learn More About Youth Preparedness

Due to COVID-19, all  in-person youth presentations are currently suspended nationwide. Your local Red Cross may be able to conduct a virtual presentation for your students. Contact your local Red Cross for more information

Volunteer to help others

Join your local Red Cross to help families prepare for, respond to and recover from home fire. 

Learn more about volunteering

Make a donation

Help families prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from home fires.

Donate now

Take a class

Red Cross Training + Certification: Simple, Fast and Easy

Take a class

Edited by: Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

World Health Day 2021 focuses on health equity, which Red Cross works to address

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

Today, April 7, is World Health Day, a day in which the World Health Organization (WHO) raises awareness of an important issue. This year’s theme is one the American Red Cross strives daily to address: health equity and “building a fairer, healthier world.”

This is an important issue for the Red Cross as humanity, impartiality and universality are among our fundamental principles. Each day in the Northern Ohio region, as everywhere, Red Cross volunteers and staff work to assist anyone in need of our lifesaving and emergency relief services. This commitment is conveyed in several personal perspectives on this webpage, including recent articles from Chris Chmura and Doug Bardwell.

As the WHO points out, the COVID-19 pandemic has more clearly shown how some have better access to health care and have healthier lives than others. In addition, the CDC states, “There is increasing evidence that some racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 demographics also indicate a disparity.

While many of us may feel limited in addressing the causes of health inequality, there are several ways we can have an impact. Assisting the Red Cross in its mission is among them, whether through volunteering, donating blood or providing financial support.

Volunteering with the Red Cross has helped me see the health inequality in our region, and I am honored to have taken part in helping those in need. If you are interested in volunteering, there are a variety of opportunities available in Northern Ohio, including in Disaster Response, Blood Services and Services to the Armed Forces.

Blood donations are critical. As this article states, the blood supply needs to be as diverse as our region. A diverse blood supply is necessary for treating diseases like sickle cell, which mostly affects those of African and Latino descent. As I reported last September, blood donations from African Americans are vital in treating sickle cell disease, as blood must be closely matched to reduce the risk of complications.

The Red Cross would not be able to provide so much assistance without the generous support of its donors. If you can provide financial support, any amount helps. 

Hopefully, we are approaching the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we cannot forget its difficult lessons. We must also continue to face other illnesses, health concerns and disasters. We need to work toward a better future with greater health equity. The Red Cross—with the support of its donors, volunteers and staff—will continue to honor its fundamental principles to assist all in need.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Inspired by American Red Cross founder, local nursing students help meet volunteer need

By Christy Peters, External Communications Manager, Northern Ohio Biomedical Services

October 30. 2020- During the Civil War, Clara Barton, a nurse and founder of the American Red Cross, risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field. Today, inspired by her legacy, nursing students from colleges and universities throughout Northern Ohio are partnering with the Red Cross to meet the urgent need for volunteers in their communities.

Dr. Mariann Harding

Dr. Mariann Harding, professor of nursing at Kent State University,
Tuscarawas Campus, is coordinator for the Academic Service Leadership (ASL) in Northern Ohio. Dr. Harding teaches first year nursing students and current nurses returning to school for their bachelor’s degree. The ASL program provides students opportunities to volunteer in their community while earning their degrees. Approximately 100 students are participating from Kent State University (Kent and Tuscarawas campuses), Case Western Reserve University and the University of Akron.

Last year, students taught hands-only CPR in the community. With changes brought about the COVID-19 pandemic, that program is not available. COVID-19 has also caused many older blood drive volunteers to pause their service with the Red Cross. The ASL students have filled a much-needed role as blood drive ambassadors at blood drives, welcoming and screening donors and assisting at registration. According to Dr. Harding, a partnership with the Red Cross seemed like a natural fit. “I believe to have a successful, engaging volunteer experience, matching interest and need is important. Clara Barton, a nurse, was the founder of the Red Cross, and providing care, including nursing care, remains an important part of the Red Cross mission,” said Dr. Harding. “With all the service lines and opportunities for volunteerism, I felt confident that there was a need we could meet.”

Students participating in the program have reported having a great experience. Many have remarked that they have been surprised by how warm blood donors have been, encouraging them in their studies and thanking them for volunteering. Dr. Harding notes that many students have shared with her that they feel the work they are doing is worthwhile and plan to continue to volunteer when they have time off from school.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the need for Red Cross volunteers remains high. In addition to blood drive ambassadors, individuals are needed to help respond to disasters both locally and across the country, as an unprecedented number of disasters have required an ongoing response from the Red Cross. “Everyone has something to offer the Red Cross – and the Red Cross has an opportunity – and a need for you,” said Dr. Harding. “Just reach out. All you need is a desire to help others.” To learn more or to sign up to volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer or call 1-800-RED CROSS.