Greater Cleveland Heroes Honored

It’s fitting, but not intentional, that National Good Samaritan Day fell the day before we honored Greater Cleveland Heroes.

The day is also known as Good Samaritan Involvement Day. It is a day for unselfish actions to help those in need and to celebrate kindness.

The term “Good Samaritan” comes from the Bible parable where a Samaritan helped a stranger who had been robbed and beaten and left to die by the side of the road.  The Samaritan not only cleaned the man’s wounds and clothed him, but took him to an inn where he paid for the man’s care.

The term is used today to describe those who perform acts of kindness for those in need, especially those who are strangers.  Like the seven individuals we honored on March 15.

About 500 people attended the 2018 Greater Cleveland Heroes Award ceremony at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, where the Cleveland Indians received the Community Leader Award.  See our photo album of the event here.

In a nutshell…

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Patrolman Christopher Olup and Sergeant Robert Prochazka

Patrolman Christopher Olup and Sergeant Robert Prochazka of the Willowick Police Department risked their own lives to enter a burning house and pull a disabled man to safety.




Nurse Janine Smalley of the Cleveland VA Medical Center volunteered to treat thousands of veterans in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Gilbert DiSanto of Miceli Dairy used an AED and performed CPR to save the life of a man who had collapsed near the company’s headquarters in Cleveland.



Dana Walling was a customer at Classic BMW in Willoughby Hills when he helped two wounded police officers subdue a gunman.

Jared Lee of the MetroHealth System improvised by using the drawstring from his scrubs as a tourniquet on a severely injured victim of a car crash.


John and Jan Durkalski

Jan Durkalski performed CPR and ran for help after her husband collapsed during a run in the Cleveland Metroparks, saving his life.

These seven individuals are the very definition of “Good Samaritans,” and we are proud to honor them for their selfless acts.

See our heroes tell their stories in their own words here.

We honored 12 Heroes earlier this month in Akron, at the 2018 Acts of Courage awards in the Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Chapter.  And coming in June, the Acts of Courage awards in Youngstown will honor heroes from our Lake to River Chapter.



Disaster Relief Takes Flight

By: Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties

A few months ago an email came across my computer asking if I would be interested in partnering with the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School.  Curious, I asked for more information.  The computer science class conducts problem based learning. The problem they were trying to solve was delivering disaster relief to people in hard-to-reach areas, a real world issue that they had seen on TV due to the 2017 hurricanes. They were starting to work with drones in the class and the teaching staff wanted a real world scenario so learners could relate the problem/solution process to something in real life.

Jorge Cropped

At first I was unsure if this was something we could do, but I was inspired by a photo of our Regional COO, Jorge Martinez,  hiking up the side of a mud covered hill in Puerto Rico to get water to a family following Hurricane Maria.

A task just perfect for a drone!  I agreed, and was scheduled to talk to the class about Disaster Cycle Services, what we do, and how we deliver service.

On a cold January day, I presented the “problem” to the learners.  I showed photos of Emergency Response Vehicles, clients walking through knee deep water to get to supplies, and Red Cross volunteers on one side of a river while the clients were on the other with no easy way to get supplies to them.  The learners were interested in the services we provide and asked good questions.  The coach (their term for the teacher) and I expressed the need and how this can save lives.  The problem demonstrated that drones could be used for more than having fun with friends, and could actually make a difference.

Their task was to create a flight plan, write code for the drone and write an essay about the experience.

On January 31, the class presented their projects.  The learners were ready to fly their drones and demonstrate how they could deliver supplies to multiple locations.  The gymnasium was set with three “landing depots”, the closer to center the better and the more points received.  The points represented the numbers of lives saved at each landing depot.  (They also received “style points” if they performed a flip between depots.) Each team had the opportunity for 2 “flights”.

That morning I was excited as I witnessed amazing young adults using math, geometry and trigonometry to program their flights, and loving what they were doing!

As I sat on the sidelines watching and encouraging the learners, I overheard one say to his teammate, who was upset by their results, “well we did not get the center, but we still saved lives.”

I thought he was being sarcastic, so I looked over at him. But no, it showed on their faces that they truly understood why they were doing this.

While some teams were more successful than others with their flights, every single team tried their hardest and learned that technology can save lives.

This partnership is something that was a first for both of us, and I look forward to solving other “problems” with them in the future.


To view a short video of a flight, visit



Festive Fundraiser: Festival of Trees

That was some sleigh.


Six feet long and four feet wide, with wispy garland, clusters of red berries, a padded red leather seat and a strip of festive bells, the sleigh proved to be the item that generated the most heating bidding during the 2018 Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter presented by Schaeffler.  In the end, close to $60,000 were raised for general disaster services in the local counties served by the chapter.

The sleigh went for a winning bid of $1,600.

Half of the more than 180 bidders placed their bids online, a first for the Festival of Trees. Also a first, the Blue Barn Winery in Wooster as the venue for the Festival.  With its rustic yet elegant decor,  the 85 guests in attendance enjoyed fine food and wine in an intimate setting compliments of Certified Angus Beef and Wooster Country Club.

The funds raised will benefit residents of Wayne, Holmes, Ashland, Richland, Huron, Lorain and Erie Counties who experience a disaster like a home fire.  “The local Red Cross assisted close to 300 families last year, distributing more than $180,000 dollars to help them during their darkest hour,” said Lara Kiefer, Executive Director of the Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter.  “The money raised at this year’s Festival of Trees will continue to help our neighbors recover from disasters like home fires and floods.”

You can help support the mission of the Red Cross by making a donation at, or by calling 1-800 Red Cross.

More photos from this year’s Festival of Trees can be seen by visiting our photo album on Flickr.  Photos from the November 17th preview event can be seen here.


Call for Hero Nominations

On a cool night in early spring, a husband and wife heard screaming coming from outside of their front door. A desperate pounding echoed throughout their home. Opening the door, the man saw his neighbors, holding their week-old baby. The baby was not breathing and his lips had started to turn an unnatural shade of blackish-purple.  While the wife dialed 911, the husband grabbed a nasal aspirator and began infant CPR.

In a few heartbeats, the baby’s tiny cry pierced the stillness.

On a different evening, in a different part of town, a man and his fiancé were sitting at a red light, when he noticed a car coming over the hill. It seemed like the driver was intent on rear-ending him, but at the last moment erratically pulled away. As the car drove past, he could see that the other driver was slumped over.

The vehicle blew out a telephone pole and rolled.

The driver side door was crushed, and through the window the man could see that the driver’s head was twisted. A smell like fluid leaking on the hot engine filled the evening. Carefully, he climbed in and pulled the bloody driver out of the smoking car, cradling his head until first responders appeared.

These are true stories of ordinary people who, when faced with extraordinary circumstances, became heroes.

Each year in Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties, and bi-annually in Greater Cleveland, the Red Cross honors individuals with similar stories to those you just read.

The nomination period is almost over for both events.

Do you know a hero?

For Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties visit or click here to nominate them online. Nominees must reside or be employed in Medina, Summit, Portage County. The heroic event must have occurred in 2017, but may have taken place outside of Medina, Summit or Portage Counties. The deadline for nominations is December 31, 2017.

For Greater Cleveland visit Nominees must reside or be employed in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake or Geauga County. The heroic event must have occurred in 2016 or 2017. The deadline for nominations is January 2, 2018.

Click here to view the co-chairs of the 2018 Greater Cleveland Hero Awards, Elizabeth Allen and Lisa Roberts-Mamone, as they explain the nomination process.

To learn more about our events, including how to sponsor or purchase tickets, visit and click on the event.

rescuers assisting an unconscious man with cardiac resuscitation

Canton Fire Department Helping to Give Wildfires the Boot

On a busy Wednesday afternoon, several fire fighters are standing in front of Station #4 on Cleveland Ave in Canton.

Clothed in their turnout gear pants and department t-shirts on a balmy fall afternoon, they are chasing down cars that stop at the red light.

Their efforts to pass the boot (literally collecting change in a large turnout gear boot) for those affected by the California wildfires resulted in $900 in just a few hours!

We are so grateful for our partners, like the Canton Fire Department. Each day we work – hand in glove – to serve those affected by home fires throughout Northeast Ohio.

But it is particularly amazing to see them supporting the bigger picture of our mission – as we work to help those affected by large scale disasters.

And just what have we been doing to help in California?

  • Since the fires began, the Red Cross, community and government partners have provided more than 27,900 overnight stays in emergency shelters.
  • With the help of partners, the Red Cross has served more than 171,000 meals and snacks, and provided more than 12,700 mental health and health services to support and care for those affected.
  • The Red Cross has distributed more than 135,000 emergency relief items such as masks, gloves, rakes, trash bags and comfort kits containing deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other hygiene items to people in need.
  • To help people recover and get back on their feet, the Red Cross has opened more than 940 cases, reaching more than 2,300
  • More than 1,100 Red Cross disaster workers are on the ground now

If you would like to support our mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies – visit

Canton Volunteer Reflects on More Than Two Decades of Service

By Nila Welsh, American Red Cross Volunteer, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter

(Editor’s note:  Nila Welsh is a Canton-based Disaster Action Team member.  She has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1994, and has been assigned to three-dozen national disaster relief operations.  This is her Red Cross story.)

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Red Cross volunteers Nila Welsh, left, and Elinor Carosello

It wasn’t too long after my husband and I returned from the Peace Corps in 1989 that we found we needed something to do.  We lived for two years in an under-developed part of the Solomon Islands, and due to the hot weather on the equator, we had led a quiet life and missed working with people.

One day I read in the newspaper that the Red Cross needed volunteers.  That was 23 years ago, when I first became a part of such a great organization.

After taking all the classes offered and responding to local disasters, we became qualified to respond to national disasters.  Our first call was to respond to flooding in Missouri along the Mississippi River in 1995. Nothing prepares you for the devastation of a flood or hurricane when people have nowhere to go. The Red Cross sets up shelters and we volunteers do our best to help people affected by disasters rebuild their lives.  My husband was a good listener.  He would sit and listen.  People need that – need to know that others care, and that if material things are all they lose, the Red Cross can help.

We found that what matters most in life is how we live and how we treat each other – how we can give back for what we have been blessed with.  People find it hard to believe that we don’t get paid to do what we do. They don’t know what they’re missing.

We don’t know how long we have in this life, but as long as we are here we will continue to do our best.


Volunteer Provides Leadership at Many Levels

Some of us plan barbecues and college football watch parties on Labor Day Weekend.

Not Pam Williams.


Pam, chairwoman of the board of the Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Chapter was waiting to find out if she’ll be headed to the Houston area in response to Hurricane Harvey.

As of Monday night, nearly 300 shelters were open in Texas and Louisiana, with about 35,000 people spending the night.  3,760 Red Cross workers have been deployed to the disaster relief operation so far, including 30 from Northeast Ohio.

In addition to her board responsibilities, Pam is a Red Cross volunteer, and, if needed, would deploy as the assistant director for external relations on the Division Response Management Team.

Over the last ten years, Pam has been deployed around 30 times, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“I get to see the country at its worst, but people at their best.” Pam said.

Pam recalled working with Native American tribes in Montana when asked what was the most interesting thing she’s done on deployment.

“Sometimes it’s the people who have been affected that make the biggest difference. I remember a family during a storm who were offered aid. They pointed to the next family and said ‘they need it more.”

She realizes that what she does isn’t for everyone. If someone were on the fence about volunteering in a crisis, she would ask them why they wanted to do it.

“You have to have a passion for it. It’s not just about being on TV.”

There are a few things that Pam hasn’t done yet on deployment that she’d like to; “I’ve never been deployed to a wildfire. As much as you don’t want it to happen to anyone, I’d like to have that experience. I’d also like the opportunity to ride along in an ERV (emergency response vehicle).”

Pam’s a retired school teacher by trade, and even with 30 deployments under her belt, she’s not ready to kick back and enjoy retirement just yet.

“I’ll keep going as long as I believe I’m contributing. I had two great mentors when I got started, and I’d love to mentor the folks who are coming up.”

If you would like to become a trained volunteer with the skills needed to help people affected by disasters big and small, visit our volunteer site to begin the application process.  Expedited training is currently taking place throughout the Northeast Ohio Region.