Red Cross Staffer Celebrates 25 Years (and More!) with the Organization

By: Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager for Summit, Portage, and Medina CountiesIMG_1212.JPG

I literally have been with the Red Cross since birth, as both of my parents had volunteered with the Red Cross since before I was born.  Serving and helping others was instilled in me at a very young age.  One of my earliest memories centers around playing house in the old feeding vehicle at the chapter building on 12th and Prospect.

The blizzard of ’78 hit when I was 7-years-old. My family lived at the office for a week while my parents helped with the many aspects of sheltering and communication.  My job, that week, was to be the elevator operator. I learned how to close the doors, wind it up and push the buttons to make it go. I also served as the message runner, taking messages from one end of the hall to other.

Over the years I listened to the calls my parents would take from clients, those that had fires or any other emergency.  This was a time before a centralized emergency number existed, so people called the Red Cross.  Through their examples, I could see that helping people was so rewarding.  I watched my parents receive such great satisfaction from giving a little boy, who just had a fire, a bag of apples. I saw, first hand, the power of a simple gesture.

For many years, my dad would always take the Disaster Action Team shift over the four day Thanksgiving holiday.  He would always say that he had so much to be thankful for, that he wanted show that gratitude by helping others. So, growing up, there were a few Thanksgiving Day meals interrupted by a call to assist others in need.

It was witnessing these experiences as I was growing up that drove me study Social Work in college. So I, too, could help people.

These memories from my childhood led into many more memories throughout my career.  My first disaster relief operation was Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  I had just graduated college and had just been hired on as a caseworker after completing my internship.  We provided casework services out of tent in South Florida, and we made a home of it for our clients and volunteers.  A few weeks into my assignment, we got word that then President of the Red Cross, Elizabeth Dole, was going to stop in for a visit the next day.  We all wanted to show off our “home” and set about to tidy up the place. Across the compound was a sign that announced the name of our little home.  It had been beat up and faded by the South Florida sun, so I decided that it needed to be spruced up. I found a black sharpie marker, sat down in front of that sign and just started coloring.  It was kind of therapeutic in a way to color the sign.  As I sat there, the Disaster Mental Health volunteer came by to check on me.

“Everything ok?”

“Oh, yes! I love to color, and it is kind of helpful for me to do this!” I replied.

“Oh,” he said, “that is good.” He turned to walk away. Then he turned back.

“Should I be concerned that you are only using black?”

I smiled back, and, laughing, said, “It was the only color I could find!”   The next day Elizabeth Dole showed up, as schedule, and while I do not think she saw my sign, I was still proud of my coloring project.

In my years with this organization, there has always been change. We have moved forward in the last 25-years by always keeping the needs of the client in mind.  The biggest, positive change for clients was the implementation of Client Assistance Cards, a pre-paid gift type card that we use to provide financial assistance.  This may seem like a such an odd thing as the most positive change, but it really helps the client become more involved with their own recovery.  The card helps to take away some of the stigma of being a disaster client, as they can now go where they want and do not have to endure the special attention of using a specific voucher.

I love what I do, and have lived the mission of the Red Cross for a long time.

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Regional CEO Mike Parks, Debbie Chitester, and Regional Chief Disaster Officer Tim O’Toole 

 

Debbie celebrated 25-years as a paid staff member with the Red Cross on July 19. She was recognized with an award, seen here, from Regional CEO, Mike Parks and Regional Disaster Officer, Tim O’Toole at the Quarterly All Staff Meeting on August 15.

Sounding the Alarm in Euclid

Partnership with Lincoln Electric and Euclid Fire Department Helps Save Lives

More than 50 employees, trainees and interns from Lincoln Electric fanned out in the shadow of the firm’s giant windmill in Euclid on Saturday to help make residents safer. They were taking part in a home fire safety and smoke alarm installation event, for the third year in a row.

“It’s a way for our company and our employees to give back to the community,” said Chris Mapes, Lincoln Electric CEO. “Our goal is to go out and meet the community and assist them in having a safer home environment, where we can provide them with smoke alarms that have been provided to us by the American Red Cross and make this a safer community.”  IMG_4410

Lincoln Electric has been headquartered in Euclid for more than 122 years.

As in the previous two years, the volunteers were first treated to lunch prepared by Chief Chris Haddock and other members of the Euclid Fire Department,  long-time partners in our free smoke alarm installation program.  The volunteers then received instructions for sharing fire safety information with residents, and for the proper installation of smoke alarms.

Nearly 130 homes were made safer, and almost 370 smoke alarms were installed on several streets in Euclid.IMG_4428

“I’m glad you guys are doing it,” said resident Steve Washington.  As the volunteers installed new alarms with 10-year lithium batteries in his home, he said, “If you got children, even pets, if you sleep heavy you’ll hear that thing.  It’ll wake you up in a minute.  You never know when a fire’s gonna start.”

The home of Denise Miller is once again well protected, as the eight older smoke alarms in her home were replaced with new alarms.  “It’s nice to update them.  I don’t know how long they’ve actually been in our home,”  she said of the old alarms. “My husband had them put up when the kids were little.”IMG_4431

Like many people, Denise wasn’t aware that the sensors that detect smoke from a fire can fail after ten years.  “I had no idea.  I figured as long as the batteries were chirping, and you pressed the button on occasion, you were good.”

Mike Parks, CEO of the Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region, called the partnership with Lincoln Electric, “One of the best corporate partnerships we have.  We have the opportunity to save lives, make homes safer,  and make the community more resilient.”

For more pictures from the event, visit our photo album on Flickr here.

Saturday’s smoke alarm installations in Euclid preceded a nationwide effort this fall to install 100,000 smoke alarms in 40 cities across the country. The initiative is called Sound the Alarm. Save a Life.  You can join the American Red Cross to Sound the Alarm about home fire safety and help save lives by  learning more at soundthealarm.org/neo.

 

 

Reflections on Americorps Experiences

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Rachel Steiner

Someone once told me that life isn’t about finding yourself but creating yourself. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I started working for this AmeriCorps program at the Red Cross.

Life deals everyone a different hand. Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses. Meeting so many adults and kids through this program, I’ve discovered what it means to be successful. It means putting yourself in situations that may be uncomfortable but can save lives. It means being the strong one and making the right decisions even when it’s difficult or confusing. Successful people struggle just like anyone else. Time and again I’ve seen individuals who’ve lost everything and persevere. No one has complete control over the future but when these people keep making tough decisions every minute of every day; they are giving themselves, and their families, a better chance in the future. Despite the fact that they may have no support system, they are doing it. No one ever became good at dealing with problems without dealing with any problems.

I have no doubt that my AmeriCorps experience at the Red Cross will help me get a good job. I’m very thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given here. – Rachel Steiner, AmeriCorps Member stationed at the Summit, Portage, and Medina County office

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Rachel Steiner and Shelby Begg

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Shelby Begg

The experience I’ve had with AmeriCorps and the Red Cross over the past year has been truly amazing. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to provide impactful service to so many families throughout Northeastern Ohio, and that I got to work alongside so many wonderful people – both staff and volunteer! – Shelby Begg, AmeriCorps Member stationed at the Greater Cleveland office

We are so grateful for Shelby and Rachel, who served as AmeriCorps Members for the bulk of the 2017 fiscal year.

“We are grateful for the terrific support from the Corporation for National and Community Service which allowed us the opportunity to have Rachel and Shelby come on board for the year,” said John Gareis, Regional Manager in Preparedness and Community Planning. “By helping support our Home Fire Campaign and Pillowcase Project, we have been able to teach more households and children about fire prevention and the importance of being prepared.”

As their time with the Red Cross winds down,  Rachel and Shelby will move on to new projects in their lives.

We will begin the search for two more AmeriCorps members to help work with our Home Fire Preparedness Program and The Pillowcase Project. If you know an individual who would like to join the AmeriCorps program and work with the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate suffering in our community, send them to www.nationalservice.gov to get started on their application today!

Funding for the Red Cross program is provided by a grant from the Corporation for National Community and Service. Since the program’s inception in 1994, more than 1 million men and women have served in AmeriCorps, providing more than 1.4 billion hours of service and earning more than $3.3 billion in education scholarships to pay for college or pay back student loans, more than $1 billion of which has been used to pay back student loan debt.

Who Blood and Platelet Donations Help

Arthur Bourget and his daughter EmmaBlood shortages could lead to delays in patient care, something Arthur Bourget learned firsthand after being diagnosed with leukemia in July 2007. When he arrived for his second blood transfusion, he was told the blood he needed was not available. He waited eight hours for blood to arrive and to receive the transfusion he needed that day.

“One thing that I committed to my wife was that I was going to beat leukemia, no matter what, and I was going to do that,” said Bourget. “But what I wasn’t going to be able to do was survive without the blood that I needed.”

Bourget went into remission following a successful treatment plan, which included 28 blood and 34 platelet transfusions. He has been a faithful advocate for blood donations ever since.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of volunteer blood donors, I would not be here today,” he said. “My daughter would not have a father, and my wife would not have a husband. Thank you and please give blood. You may never know the life you have saved, but I guarantee they will never forget you.”

How to help

To schedule an appointment to donate, use the Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Donation appointments and completion of a RapidPass online health history questionnaire are encouraged to help reduce the time it takes to donate.

As a special thank you, those who come out to give blood or platelets with the Red Cross July 26 through Aug. 31 will be emailed a $5 Target eGiftCard™.*

What to know about giving blood

To make an appointment or more information, simply download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

Blood donors can now save time at their next donation by using RapidPass to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, prior to arriving at the blood drive. To get started and learn more, visit redcrossblood.org/RapidPass and follow the instructions on the site.

 

* Restrictions apply. Additional information and details are available at redcrossblood.org/summer. The Bullseye Design, Target and Target GiftCard are registered trademarks of Target Brands, Inc. Terms and conditions are applied to gift cards. Target is not a participating partner in or sponsor of this offer.

Dedication for a Donut Dollie

Stretch of Ohio Highway Named for Vietnam-era Volunteer

Ginny Kirsch

The Virginia E. “Ginny” Kirsch Memorial Highway is being dedicated on Sunday July 30, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. in Brookfield, Ohio.  Ginny was in Vietnam, serving as an American Red Cross “Donut Dollie” when she was murdered in her quarters at the 25th U.S. Infantry Division base camp in Cu Chi, Vietnam on August 16, 1970.

“Donut Dollies” were young women with college degrees who volunteered to serve their country by going to Vietnam to operate Red Cross Recreation Centers, and to help boost morale by staging audience-participation games for U. S. troops.  The military asked the Red Cross to provide this service.  Volunteers like Ginny wanted to do something important, to make a difference in the world.

State Senator Sean O’Brien recently introduced an amendment to rename State Route 7 in Trumbull County between State Route 82 and State Route 62 the “Virginia E. ‘Ginny’ Kirsch Memorial Highway.”

“The sacrifices made by Americans during wartime come in all shapes and sizes,” O’Brien said.  “Looking at her sacrifice, we knew something had to be done for her.”

Governor John Kasich signed the bill on March 31, 2017.

Ginny’s six siblings plan to attend the dedication ceremony at the Brookfield Village Green.  Karen Conklin, Executive Director of the Red Cross Lake to River Chapter has been invited to speak.  Several other Red Cross representatives plan to attend, and volunteers will hand out water from a Red Cross emergency response vehicle.

Red Cross workers continue to provide critical services with a caring touch to men and women in all branches of the United States military, active duty personnel, reservists and members of the National Guard, and their families, both here and abroad.  Learn more about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces here.

 

Thousands answer the call, but Red Cross blood shortage continues

In appreciation, $5 Target eGiftCard™ available for all those who come out to give

Thousands of people have responded to the emergency call for blood and platelet donations issued by the Red Cross in early July, but there continues to be a critical summer blood shortage. Eligible donors of all types are urgently needed.

After issuing the emergency call, the Red Cross has experienced a 30 percent increase in blood donation appointments through mid-July. About half of the appointments were scheduled by donors using the free Blood Donor App or at redcrossblood.org. Despite this improvement, blood products are still being distributed to hospitals as fast as donations are coming in, so more donations are needed to meet patient needs and replenish the blood supply.

“The blood supply is like a cell phone battery, it constantly needs recharging,” said Christy Peters, external communications manager of the Northern Ohio Blood Services Region. “We sincerely appreciate those who have responded to the call to help save lives and encourage those who haven’t to consider rolling up a sleeve and give the gift of life. It only takes about an hour but can mean a lifetime for patients.”

Nearly 61,000 fewer blood donations than needed were given through the Red Cross in May and June, prompting the emergency call for donations in early July. The shortfall was the equivalent of the Red Cross not receiving any blood donations for more than four days.

How to help

To schedule an appointment to donate, use the Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Donation appointments and completion of a RapidPass online health history questionnaire are encouraged to help reduce the time it takes to donate.

As a special thank you, those who come out to give blood or platelets with the Red Cross July 26 through Aug. 31 will be emailed a $5 Target eGiftCard™.*

 

 

What to know about giving blood

To make an appointment or more information, simply download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

Blood donors can now save time at their next donation by using RapidPass to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, prior to arriving at the blood drive. To get started and learn more, visit redcrossblood.org/RapidPass and follow the instructions on the site.

 

* Restrictions apply. Additional information and details are available at redcrossblood.org/summer. The Bullseye Design, Target and Target GiftCard are registered trademarks of Target Brands, Inc. Terms and conditions are applied to gift cards. Target is not a participating partner in or sponsor of this offer.

Youngstown-area Volunteers Head into Smoke and Fire of California

Three American Red Cross volunteers from the Northeast Ohio Region are being deployed to California, where a wildfire has forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Randy Liang of Cuyahoga Falls will help support the technology needs of the Red Cross disaster relief operation in Mariposa County, California.

Mark Strausser and Jason Mitman (in video, above) of Youngstown will work with residents who are staying in shelters as a result of the wildfire.

Red Cross workers and partners helping to provide a safe place to stay and three meals a day for hundreds of displaced residents.

“We help people here, at home, every day,” said Mitman, referring to the help Red Cross workers offer to Northeast Ohio residents who experience home fires and other disasters.  “Now I get to help people in California.  This is why I volunteer for the Red Cross.”

Other volunteers from Northeast Ohio may also be deployed to help in the days to come.

For information on volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org/neo, and click on the Volunteer tab.