From intern to trusted volunteer

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

Maria Ford lives in Toledo and is a member of the Northwest Ohio chapter. She has two children; a five- year-old son who keeps her running, and a nineteen-year-old daughter. They love to get out and hike the trails in the woods and enjoy being out in nature. In her spare time, Maria’s starting a collection of teapots.

Maria Ford

She’s been working for the Toledo Municipal Court for seven years now. Presently, she is a supervisor in the Probation department and really enjoys the work. “We’ve got so many good programs going now – it’s a great time to be here.”

Maria started with the Red Cross as part of an internship in connection with her Master’s Degree program through Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Able to take the program online, she obtained a Master of Science in Social Administration with a concentration in social work, completing the program during the pandemic. “During the internship, I realized that I enjoyed working with Red Cross so much that I’ve stayed with the organization ever since.”

Presently, she is actively involved as Community Preparedness Coordinator, educating people about home fire prevention. “I also help people get their smoke alarms and plan rallies, working with volunteers and our clients. I also do a bit of DAT (Disaster Action Team) on the side, and I’ve even done some sheltering, which was cool, and I enjoyed that too.”

“Maria has been with us for a number of years now,” says Rachel Hepner, Chapter Executive Director. “She’s been instrumental in making our home fire campaign a success and is a great person to have on board as we get closer to Sound the Alarm.”

When asked about what she would say to someone who’s not sure if they would enjoy being a Red Cross volunteer, Maria says, “Red Cross seems to attract some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, with such big hearts and willing to give back to the community when people may be experiencing the worst time of their life. Being able to be with those people, to love them, and to support them, is really a blessing. If anyone is inclined to give back and help people in their community, the Red Cross has a position for everyone, where you can make a difference.”

Dedicated volunteer of 12 years delivers customer service with a smile

By Ryan Lang, Red Cross Volunteer

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

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

Anita Hicks, Red Cross Volunteer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross salutes volunteer leadership

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Sally Carter has made a career of volunteer leadership.

No matter where she’s lived – and she’s moved a lot – Sally has found needs to fill in her community.

She helped found a children’s theater company and organized volunteers for a third grade “reading buddies” program. PTO and PTA, classroom volunteer, juvenile vision screening, United Way, Newcomers Club, Chamber of Commerce, Learning Disabilities Association – Sally has grown and shared her volunteer “chops” with infectious enthusiasm.

The American Red Cross is lucky to have her.

Sally Carter, Red Cross volunteer

Sally was living in Ogden, Utah, when she saw a newspaper ad for a front -desk volunteer at the local Red Cross chapter.

“It was two weeks before (Hurricane) Katrina hit,” she recalled with a chuckle. Needless to say, that was an extraordinarily challenging moment to be manning the phones, answering a myriad of questions about Red Cross services, volunteer needs and financial donations.

But Sally found her niche. “I was hooked instantly. We were just a family. After that first rush of hurricane response, I got promoted: We did workshops and forums; I started a newsletter, and we did fundraisers.

“I watched all the wheels turning. Red Cross was helping people with house fires, hurricanes; when a semi overturned on the highway, we were feeding the firefighters. Earthquakes, avalanches, mudslides – I didn’t even know about mudslides,” she said, reflecting on the variety of hazards Americans face.

When Sally and her husband Lee moved back to Sandusky to be near family, we crossed paths; she and I had worked together decades before. As we caught up, she mentioned her Red Cross experience and I pounced: “Join us on the chapter board!”

And of course, she did.

“I love working with Sally as a member of our board of directors and as the leader of our Community Outreach team because her passion for the mission of the Red Cross shines through in everything she does,” said Todd James, executive director of the North Central Ohio chapter.

Sally has organized a pool of volunteers to attend community events, to spread the word about the many things the Red Cross does – disaster prevention, preparedness and response, blood collection, health and safety education – as well as the many ways the public can get involved, – as volunteers, blood donors or financial supporters.

She also edits the chapter newsletter, Chapter Chatter.

“You get so hooked,” Sally said. “It’s almost a selfish thing: I may have done some good as a volunteer, but I got back 20 times over.”

Sally’s dedication to volunteerism is a family thing. Her parents were committed volunteers and she laughingly said she’s “volun-towed” her husband Lee, a retired newspaper executive, into a variety of activities. “I’m hoping I’ve instilled it in my sons,” she added.

Sally is a sterling example of the tens of thousands of volunteers who make it possible for the Red Cross to fulfill its mission to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”​

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross disaster response teams active in early April

One-hundred residents of Northern Ohio received Red Cross assistance during the past week, April 4-10, as volunteers responded to two-dozen home fires.

Five of the fires affected multiple-family homes.

Cleveland Fire

“Our volunteer disaster responders have been very busy, and we are grateful that they answer the call, no matter when or where it happens,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer. “They are true humanitarians. We could not respond to the needs of people in crisis without our volunteers.”

Immediate financial assistance totaling more than $22,700 was given to the affected residents. The money can be used for a hotel room, to replace clothing or other lost items, for meals or for whatever each resident prioritizes as a need.

In addition, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers reach out to the affected families to connect residents with additional community resources, as they try to move forward with their lives following the loss of their homes and possessions.

And if needed, Red Cross health and mental health volunteers are available to provide assistance as well.

The Red Cross never requires payment for the services provided to people who have experienced a disaster like a home fire. Such assistance is made possible through the generous donations of supporters. To help the next family that is forced by fire to flee their home, visit redcross.org/donate. You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) to make a donation on the phone.

March 23rd is Giving Day, and the need for Red Cross services is critical

By Tim Poe, Red Cross volunteer

March 23rd is the eighth annual American Red Cross Giving Day, when communities come together to raise awareness about our critical disaster relief mission and fund our lifesaving work across the country. As recent events show, the Red Cross mission and services are critically needed, as #HelpCantWait.

As I reported earlier this month, Disaster Action Team (DAT) responses in our region increased by over 30% in February, mainly due to home fires, and March has continued to be exceptionally busy. Nationally, the Red Cross responded to more than 15,900 home fires since January 1, providing help to almost 60,000.

Please see this video for a behind-the-scenes look at the work Giving Day makes possible.

The blood supply is vulnerable, and help is greatly needed, from blood donors, volunteers, and those providing financial support.

In addition, climate change, global instability, and the effects of the pandemic will continue to pose challenges for all humanitarian services. Challenges that, with your help, the Red Cross will rise to meet. 

On a personal note, as a disaster responder I have seen the benefits of Red Cross services. I often saw the relief on people’s faces when we arrived after a home fire, knowing they would have help recovering. And, as assistance was provided, I also frequently saw human resiliency and signs of hope returning. Such moments occur, on average, more than three times a day in Northern Ohio and are made possible by donors and volunteers.

Here are some examples of what a financial gift can provide:

  • $3: one comfort kit containing hygiene items.
  • $15: one smoke alarm installation with fire safety education.
  • $50: a full day of food and shelter for one person.
  • $135: one smoke alarm and fire safety education for a hearing-impaired person.
  • $150: travel, meals, and shelter for one day for a deployed Red Cross disaster relief, health, or mental health worker.
  • $200: a full day of food and shelter to a family of four. Includes the cost of Red Cross workers to provide this service.
  • $350: the daily cost to deploy an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).
  • $605: financial assistance for a family impacted by a local disaster, like a home fire. This helps the family purchase food, lodging, clothing, and other critical needs.
  • $4,000: a Sound the Alarm event. Includes installing smoke alarms and providing a fire safety package, deploying an ERV for the day, and lunch for volunteers. Average events install around 200 alarms.

To participate in Giving Day, please visit redcross.org/GivingDay. A gift of any size makes a difference.

For Northern Ohio volunteer opportunities, please visit this link..

To donate blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

To learn lifesaving skills like CPR and First Aid, consider taking a class at redcross.org/TakeAClass.

Video streamers can also help. See here if interested.

Northern Ohio Red Cross volunteer awarded for a lifetime of service to others

If you had 4,100 hours to do whatever you wanted, what would you do? If it helps, that’s almost 175 days. Would you take a vacation? Or a few? Catch up on sleep? Finally read all those books on your nightstand?

American Red Cross Northern Ohio volunteer Sharon Nicastro took her hours and spent them helping others. In fact, she took exactly 4,172 hours working to assist the military and their families as a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and International Services (SAF/IS) volunteer. During a virtual ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr., Day this past February, Sharon was awarded the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a civil award bestowed by the President of the United States. Also called the Presidents Call to Service Award, a volunteer must give 4,000 hours or more over a lifetime of volunteering to receive this prestigious award.

Admiral Mike Parks, CEO of the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region, presents Sharon Nicastro with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award

During the ceremony Koby Langley, Senior Vice President, Red Cross International Services and Service to the Armed Forces, said “This level of achievement represents a person who’s dedicated their entire life to improving the world around them. They’ve dedicated themselves to being a humanitarian, to help others in need.”

Sharon Nicastro volunteers at the Cleveland VA Medical Center on Pearl Harbor Day (Photo taken prior to COVID-19)

With how busy life seems to be for everyone these days, many may wonder why Sharon has spent so much time in serving others. She says her lifelong commitment began with her father, who encouraged his children to volunteer. “If dad went to the clambake to help, all us kids went to the clambake to help,” said Sharon. For Sharon and her family, it wasn’t a question of will you help but why wouldn’t you?

During her time as an SAF/IS volunteer, Sharon has supported military families during deployments and emergencies. She has also helped our nation’s veterans after their service ends. Sharon has taught CPR and hands only CPR classes in Northern Ohio and volunteers at the VA Medical Center in Cleveland. “Sharon is an inspiring woman to work with. Her dedication to support service members, veterans and their families is humbling,” said Jessica Tischler, SAF/IS Regional Program Manager. “She is also a force multiplier as she engages and leads new volunteers in delivering services and works with community partners. Winston Churchill said ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give’ and that encompasses what Sharon has shared with the Red Cross.”

Sharon Nicastro and volunteer Jackie Otte teach a CPR class in Cleveland. (Photo taken prior to
COVID-19)

The Northern Ohio Region is incredibly fortunate to have Sharon Nicastro on our team. We congratulate her on this outstanding achievement. And we look forward to what she does next because, of course, Sharon doesn’t plan to stop volunteering anytime soon!

If Sharon has inspired you the way she inspires all of us, learn how you can become a Red Cross volunteer and start working your way to that 4,000-hour milestone, at RedCross.org/VolunteerToday.

Time to Turn and Test to stay safe and on time

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Good news is on the horizon: If it’s time to “spring ahead” one hour on Saturday night, can spring be far behind?

Good news right away: You can protect your home and family now by “turning and testing” Saturday night.

American Red Cross volunteers like John Muni, a retired firefighter in Medina County, are urging everyone across northern Ohio to test the batteries in their smoke alarms this weekend, before they turn their clocks ahead one hour to stay in step with their neighbors.

“Smoke alarms are our silent sentinels, our sleepless watchers to alert us to a disaster nobody wants –- a home fire,” John said.

Fox 8 reporter Todd Meany interviews Red Cross volunteer John Muni

“Just since the first of the year, our Red Cross Disaster Action Teams have responded to more than 250 home fires across northern Ohio, bringing comfort, support and immediate assistance to 1,000 families who were living through a nightmare,” John said. “It’s been a rough start to the year, and we don’t want more folks to go through that.”

That’s the purpose of the fall and spring “Turn and Test” campaigns nationwide, because home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster.

The Red Cross wants people to take three simple steps:

Install smoke alarms. If you don’t have smoke alarms, install them. At least, put one on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. If you have an alarm that’s more than 10 years old, replace it; smoke detection strips wear out.

Check smoke alarm batteries. This is “Turn and Test.” Push the test button on each alarm and replace batteries, if needed. It’s a good time to check carbon monoxide detectors too.

Practice an escape plan. Make sure everyone in your household knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in less than two minutes.

In May, the Red Cross will resume its “Sound the Alarm” campaign, working with partners to install free smoke alarms in homes and to brief residents on fire safety and escape planning. The campaign had to be adjusted during 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19.

This year, the Northern Ohio Region of the Red Cross has a goal to install more than 7,200 free smoke alarms and make more than 3,000 homes safer. Local fire departments, civic groups and workplace teams will provide the volunteer manpower for these important efforts.

“Sound the Alarm” is a national Red Cross program similar to one that started in Cleveland in 1992 as a partnership between the city’s fire department and the local Red Cross chapter. Since 2014, the campaign has installed more than 2.2 million(!) smoke alarms across the country that have saved more than 1,200 lives.

For more information, including safety tips and free resources, visit redcross.org/homefires or download the free Red Cross Emergency app by searching for “American Red Cross” in app stores.

And if you need free smoke alarms in your home, visit our website to ask for a home fire safety visit.

Edited By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

More than 260 donations made at the Give from the Heart at annual blood drive

For 23 years, the Give from the Heart blood drive has been a lifesaving tradition in Northern Ohio. This year’s event was held last Tuesday, Feb. 8 at the Cleveland Marriott East in Warrensville Heights.

This blood drive came at a vital time, as the Red Cross continues to struggle with a national blood crisis. The current nationwide shortage has been further impacted by winter weather across the country, with about 600 blood drives cancelled forcing 20,000 donations to go uncollected.


Across the Northern Ohio Region, 21 blood drives were cancelled Thursday, February 3 leaving more than 730 donations uncollected.

The more than 260 donations made at the Give from the Heart blood drive will potentially help up to 800 patients.

We encourage donors to make an appointment for future blood drives by visiting redcrossblood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App.

Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including face masks for donors and staff, regardless of vaccination status – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance.

If you are not able to give blood, the Red Cross also needs blood drive volunteers and blood transportation specialists to support critical blood collections. Blood drive volunteers play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals our local communities. To learn more and sign-up, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Red Cross issues call for volunteers

Help needed as winter increases the risk of home fires
Support also needed for Red Cross Blood Program

Winter weather has arrived and with it an increase in the number of home fires. The American Red Cross of Northern Ohio is recruiting new volunteers to help respond to these local emergencies by supporting people in their time of greatest need.

Nationally, the Red Cross has already responded to more than1,900 home fires since 2022 began, providing assistance to more than 6,500 people. In the Northern Ohio Region, trained Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) members have responded to 60 home fires so far this year, helping 215 people impacted by a fire in their home.

LOCAL RESPONSE HELP NEEDED DAT volunteers help families with their immediate needs after a fire in their home and offer support during a very difficult time. As a DAT team member, you will provide emotional support, access to financial assistance and information to help families begin to recover. DAT team members respond to emergencies to provide immediate compassion and care. Training will be provided.

Home Fire Response

“Our Red Cross volunteers support their community and neighbors in need each and every day by responding to local emergencies,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “We need more help so no one faces this heartbreaking situation alone.”

Ruth Davidson Gordon – Red Cross Volunteer Blood Donor Ambassador

BLOOD SERVICES VOLUNTEERS ALSO NEEDED The Red Cross also needs volunteers to support blood collections as the country faces an ongoing critical need for blood products and platelets. Blood donor ambassadors play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals in our communities.

Blood Transportation Specialist

COVID-19 AND STAYING SAFE The need for volunteers is constant and continues to evolve as the Red Cross navigates the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The safety of everyone is our top priority and our guidelines reflect the latest CDC safety recommendations. COVID-19 vaccination is required for in-person volunteer roles beginning February 15, 2022. When considering volunteer opportunities, review the CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness, consult your health care provider and follow local guidance.

Please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer today and bring help and hope to people in need. Vaccination verification required for in-person roles. Find out more at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Red Cross: National blood crisis may put patients at risk

Dire situation facing blood supply, those in need of blood transfusions

The American Red Cross is facing a national blood crisis – its worst blood shortage in more than a decade. Dangerously low blood supply levels are posing a concerning risk to patient care and forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available.

Blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent further delays in vital medical treatments, and donors of all blood types – especially type O − are urged to make an appointment now to give in the weeks ahead.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross had less than a one-day supply of critical blood types and has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals. At times, as much as one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met.

Pandemic challenges
The Red Cross continues to confront relentless challenges due to COVID-19, including a out a 10% overall decline in the number of people donating blood as well as ongoing blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations. Additionally, the pandemic has contributed to a 62% drop in blood drives at schools and colleges.

“Winter weather across the country and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases are compounding the already-dire situation facing the blood supply,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio. “Please, if you are eligible, make an appointment to give blood or platelets in the days and weeks ahead to ensure no patient is forced to wait for critical care.”

Make an appointment to give blood or platelets as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800- 733 2767).

Who donations help
Dylan Fink of Stow, Ohio was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in September 2019 at just 14 years old. Because of his chemotherapy treatment, Dylan’s blood counts were drastically low. Over the course of his 100 days in the hospital Dylan needed nine blood transfusions and 11 platelet transfusions. In May 2020, Dylan was able to “ring the bell” at Akron Children’s Hospital, marking his remission.

“In the cancer world, I don’t think people understand how much blood product is needed andjust how important it is,” said Krista Fink, Dylan’s mom.  Read more about Dylan’s story here.

Blood drive safety 
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including face masks for donors and staff, regardless of vaccination status – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive. 

Volunteers needed
In addition to blood donors, the Red Cross also needs the help of volunteers to support critical blood collections across the country. Blood drive volunteers play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists – another volunteer opportunity − provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals in communities across the country. To volunteer to support Red Cross blood collections, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.