Mahoning Valley residents and volunteers “Feel the Heat” during emergency response tour

By Mark Sitch, American Red Cross volunteer

October 30, 2019- The American Red Cross partners with many organizations to create a network of volunteers and highly skilled professionals who are prepared when emergencies arise. The Youngstown Air Reserve Station (YARS) has served proudly since 1955 as a community jewel and thirdlargest employer of the Mahoning Valley—ready to serve our region and beyond in multiple ways.

On October 22 the Red Cross community was invited to Feel the Heat, a learning tour of facilities and tools used by the valley’s bravest to serve our region and nation. Nearly 1,900 military personnel efficiently operate this 321-acre federal facility in Trumbull County, where our assignment began.

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Karen Conklin, Executive Director of the Red Cross of Lake to River, and chapter board member Lou Joseph of Home Savings and Loan of Youngstown

We were greeted with opening remarks at the Community Activities Center (CAC) by Colonel Don Wren, 910th Air Wing Mission Group Support Commander. Joe Mersol, Lake to River chapter co-events chair, addressed attendees during refreshments. After Mike Parks, Red Cross regional executive, introduced Air Force Fire Chief John Lewis, we were divided into three squadrons and briefed with instructions for our nearly two-hour tour.

Our second stop was at the Family Assistance Center, where we learned training and drills that can help families in any YARS related event or disaster, with a staff  ready to provide counseling, food, first aid, shelter and specialized services.

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Red Cross Regional CEO Mike Parks, a U. S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral (Retired) speaks with Air Force Reserve Col. Don Wren,  Commander, 910th Mission Support Group

Our next adventure was reporting to the Smoke House for a simulated smoke demonstration. This illustrated how difficult it is to see in a fire. We learned the importance of staying low to the ground and other safety tips. Outside, we “felt the heat” at the next demonstration by witnessing a propane- fueled metal training jet set ablaze as Chief Lewis outlined the challenges of fighting such a fire.

“It’s our opportunity to work with our amazing 910th Airlift Wing on an exercise where we simulate a plane has gone down,” said Karen Conklin, Lake to River Chapter executive director.

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They also demonstrated the powerful “jaws of life” and other tools used to extract victims of car accidents. The chief noted that they assist various area fire departments in the region, as was supported by the presence of Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Findley and Mayor Tito Brown.

Our last stop was at the Emergency Operations Center. This “situation room” with the latest technology helps federal, state and local responders coordinate emergency efforts and monitor events such as air shows hosted by YARS.

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It was an informative and pride-filled day that helped show the community the value of this facility as a Red Cross trusted ally.

Our thanks to Lake to River chapter board chair Deborah Grinstein for coordinating the event; 910th Airlift Wing Commander Colonel Joseph D. Janik; and Master Sgt. Bob Bartko Jr. for allowing us to observe impressive team efforts and for planning this exciting event.

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Col. Wren with Red Cross AmeriCorps workers Carrie Schultz, left, and Teresa Greenlief

Visit www.youngstown.afrc.af.mil to learn more about this Mahoning Valley gem.

To see more photos from the Feel the Heat event, click here to visit our Flickr page.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

International adventures with a former Red Cross staff member

By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer

October 28, 2019- Betty Lou Sobotincic started working for the American Red Cross right out of high school. Her friend’s mother catered luncheon meetings at the headquarters in Erie, Pennsylvania, and she told director Harry Ringer about Betty Lou. Ringer was known for overseeing all of the Red Cross during World War II and having worked with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Erie branch was short-staffed, and Ringer hired Betty Lou as secretary to the First Aid, Water Safety and Disaster Response departments. She soon discovered that she and a college student from Gannon University had two weeks to prepare for the “Teach Johnny to Swim” program that summer – for 2,000 students! They managed to pull it off.

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During Betty Lou’s time in Erie, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. One of her jobs was to raise the flag. When Ringer told her to put the flag at half-mast that day, she asked him what that meant. “He gave me a look. When Harry told you to do something, you just did it. So I went outside and figured out how to hang a flag at half-mast.”

After a couple of years, Betty was getting restless and she had reached the cap of the pay range. Ringer called the Red Cross office in Washington, D.C., and opened the door for them to hire her for overseas duty. She traveled to D.C. and stayed at the famous Willard Hotel. Both the hotel and the Red Cross headquarters were quite impressive to a 19-year-old from Ashtabula, Ohio.

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Betty Lou’s first assignment was at the Far Eastern Area Headquarters of the Red Cross in Tokyo, Japan, during the build up to the Vietnam War. When she arrived, there were between eight and 15 personnel in Vietnam. By the time she left two years later, there were 250, and a substation had been created in Saigon. As secretary, and the youngest staff member by far, Betty Lou was in charge of payroll, processing transfers and keeping track of everyone’s location. She was tasked with going to embassies for the Southeast Asian countries and procuring visas for transferring workers. Finding her way around Tokyo was no easy task. Eventually she bought a car and drove herself wherever she needed to go.

At 21, Betty Lou was transferred to Heidelberg Hospital in Germany, again serving as secretary with a high-level security clearance, which was necessary due to her knowledge of troop movement. Her duties included sending messages to families of soldiers who had been killed and assisting families who came to visit those who had been severely wounded. While this job wasn’t as challenging as the one in Japan, it was emotionally draining.

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Sometimes Red Cross personnel from Washington and other locations came to the hospital and were hosted by the director. One of those guests was Al Cherry , who Betty Lou met at a Red Cross gathering. Six weeks later the two were married in Switzerland! Eventually they moved to Ashtabula, Ohio, to raise a family.

Betty Lou served the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio during a number of local disasters, such as the tornadoes in Xenia, Ohio, and the surrounding area. In more recent years, Betty Lou and Al have been consistent contributors to the Red Cross, with a special focus on family needs following house fires. Betty Lou still stays in touch with people she met through her work, both here and abroad. The Red Cross holds a special place in her heart.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Northeast Ohio Region weekend disaster response report: October 18-20, 2019

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

October 21, 2019- While residents of Northeast Ohio were enjoying the warm fall weekend weather and getting ready for Halloween, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio Disaster Action Teams (DAT) were responding to individuals experiencing the worst day of their lives.

The Red Cross responded to 12 incidents, including several home fires, in nine counties, affecting all five regional chapters.

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As part of the weekend response, Northeast Ohio DAT volunteers assisted 26 adults and 14 children, and the Red Cross provided more than $7,000 in immediate financial assistance.

Just as disasters do not discriminate in terms of whose lives they destroy; the Red Cross does not discriminate in terms of whose lives we help rebuild. The Red Cross does not turn away people who need assistance after a disaster. We are committed to helping everyone in need.

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As the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross has the ability to use your donation to reach more people in need, more quickly. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance during disasters.

To help the Red Cross provide hope and comfort to individuals in Northeast Ohio experiencing their darkest hours, please visit redcross.org/donate to provide a financial donation. Any amount donated truly helps with their recovery.

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Also, without the tremendous dedication of our volunteers, the Red Cross would not be able to serve the 22 counties and 4.5 million residents of Northeast Ohio. Volunteers make up 90 percent of our workforce. Our volunteers are without a doubt the face of the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more and to apply to become a Red Cross volunteer today.

Cherished volunteer is taking her talents to Toledo

Lake to River Chapter says goodbye to Tab Alden

August 16, 2019- The first moon landing was still a year away when Tab Alden first volunteered for the American Red Cross.  She has been a mainstay in the Lake to River Chapter ever since, screening prospective volunteers when they first come through the door of the Youngstown office, registering guests at the annual Acts of Courage awards, and visiting hospitalized veterans at the region’s VA facilities are among the many tasks she has tackled in the past 51 years.

Tab doesn’t plan to stop volunteering for the Red Cross anytime soon.  But she does plan to do it from a different location.

Tab is moving back to Toledo.

“It’s important to be with family, and I have a brother and nieces and nephews back in Toledo.  I’m moving back to be with them.”

The staff of the Lake to River Chapter surprised Tab with a going away party on Thursday, August 15. She reminisced about the more than half a century she has spent as a Red Cross volunteer.

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“It may be hard to believe, but I wasn’t very outspoken back then,” she said.  “The Red Cross helped bring me out of my shell.”

Karen Conklin, the executive director of the Lake to River Chapter, said she’s known Tab longer than almost anyone else. “She’s been with me so long, I can’t imagine what it will be like without her.”

She said Tab will always have her Red Cross family in the Lake to River Chapter.  “We’re going to miss her.  We’ve been so blessed to have her here for so long.”

See more photos from Tab’s going away party in our Flickr album.

Acts of Courage & Spirit Awards: Honoring individuals for heroism

By Mark Sitch, American Red Cross volunteer

June 21, 2019- The annual Acts of Courage & the Spirit of the Red Cross awards was held at the Metroplex in Liberty, Ohio on Thursday, June 13th. It is regarded as the greatest evening of celebrated acts of courage, compassion, character & humility in which the Red Cross Lake to River Chapter proudly honors its deserving recipients each year.

Following a guest reception and social period, Debbi Grinstein, Lake to River board chair, welcomed all to an evening of regional recognition. Opening remarks followed the presentation of colors by Troop 40 of Girard and the chapter’s Disaster Action Teams (DAT) that took part in the hero’s processional. The program master of ceremonies was Greg Greenwood, representing the Greenwood Foundation and a Red Cross Hope Partner.

After a delicious dinner buffet was enjoyed by nearly 300 in attendance, the focal point of this night was now center stage. The spirit of giving and courage was squarely in the spotlight with patriotism for our country, community and individuals exemplifying acts of selflessness. Ten individuals for their heroic efforts and a respected business that captured the spirit of proactive giving were honored. Recipients were:

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Nathen White – (Mahoning County) The Mill Creek Metro Park police officer didn’t plan on saving the life of Malayla Jackson. However, recognizing her allergic reaction, struggling to breathe and time restraints, he hurried her to the hospital in his squad car for the help needed for her survival. “She felt like she was dying”, time was critical and officer White’s quick actions saved her life.

Candice Desanzo – (East Palestine) didn’t know Ruth Kennedy; that is until their paths crossed in an emergency at a local restaurant. While enjoying dinner, Candice witnessed Ruth collapse from an apparent chocking episode. She immediately cared for her with both abdominal thrusts & CPR until EMS arrived. Candice made a difference in positive outcome through her training in live saving techniques.

Fab Four (Mosquito Lake) – Scot Oehlstrom, Rod Schaaf, Mike Soots & Zachery Westrich all had one thing in common on this cold January afternoon – ice fishing. Their second commonality became sharply apparent when they collaborated together to help a family of seven when their tent broke through the ice and heard their calls for help. Nearly 30 yards from shore with a ten-year-old untested rope and the determination of these four enthusiasts knew they had to act fast due to hypothermia. These men, with the screams for help ranging in ages from 7 to 34 were answered in affirmative actions rescuing each one from the frigid water. All survived the frightening ordeal because of the bravery of this fab four who now have more in common; they are heroes.

Mat Jamison (Girard) – Officer Jamison was on routine patrol when he noticed fire at the back of a duplex apartment in the city. After calling the fire department, he felt he had to act now to avoid a possible tragic outcome and entered the burning building with disregard for his own safety to rescue the adults & children inside. Girard Police Chief, John Norman interjected that Jamison had no reservations on going into the house, knocking on doors and getting the people to safety. The department, the city and the community are proud to recognize and honor his efforts that go above and beyond his call of duty.

Judy Sheve (Ashtabula) – Is another of our heroes that knew what to do in a choking emergency, such is the case of a fortunate 91-year-old Simone Campbell. While attending a senior center bridge club night, waitress Judy, recognized the chocking patron and with quick action of abdominal thrusts saved a golden life. In a twist, she left the tip that night; training is paramount in an emergency.

Madison Withrow (Ashtabula) – Is only 10 years old, which is why sharing her story of courage is so important. Madison was home with her mom and her 5 younger siblings when a fire broke out in their home. Against all odds and the will of passion, she was able to carry two 4-month-old twins and return for a 2-year-old brother to safety before first responders arrived. Sadly, Maddie nor the fire fighters could rescue her mother or two younger brothers. We honor and celebrate her selfless courage.

If handling emergencies like the preceding honorees are called acts of courage. Then planning to avoid a life-threatening emergency also falls into the same category, but over a longer period of time as with our next hero.

David Crawford (Canfield) – The local High School is the epicenter of a friendship of Coach Crawford and his boss, Athletic Director, Greg Cooper. Greg was diagnosed with non-alcoholic end stage liver disease-cirrhosis and was waiting for a match. When the coach found out that he was an exact match, “I knew I had the chance to save my friend” he said. That he did, donating 65% of his liver to save Greg’s life that would have ended all too soon.Greg’s daughter delivered a public heartfelt message of affection for the Crawford family and David’s gift of life for her father in a compassionate moment.

Hill Barth & King (HBK) – Was awarded the Spirit of the Red Cross. Founded in Youngstown in 1949 with seventeen offices in five states, they exemplify leadership in the community; compassion for its people and dedication to the life saving mission of the Red Cross.

The closing remarks by chapter director, Karen Conklin, expressed the compassion for family, a friend or a stranger develops extraordinary character, courage and humility that is the spirit of the Red Cross.

Thank you to the Acts of Courage Committee, chair Grinstein, the chapter board, committee judges and the awesome staff for their planning.  It was a proud night for our chapter to honor these recipients. Congratulations and thank you for your selfless acts of courage & spirit!

Fast start for Sound the Alarm

Corporate partners and volunteers help save lives at Sound the Alarm events

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

April 29, 2019- “This isn’t so much a corporate event—it’s really just people helping otherIMG_7080 people.” That’s how Kim Giberson, the quality assurance project manager for TravelCenters of America summed up his company’s participation in Sound the Alarm.

Kim was among more than a dozen TravelCenters of America employees who gathered on a bright, crisp Saturday morning to install free smoke alarms in homes in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side.

“When you hear about the need to protect people’s homes, you realize you need to do something,” he said.

Several other partners provided volunteers for home fire safety and smoke alarm installation events, not only in Cleveland, but also in Youngstown, Ravenna and Sandusky, where Rob Griggs and his sister Tricia Costanzo went door-to-door to help make homes safer and, ultimately, save lives.

“This cause is near and dear to our hearts,” Rob said. “We lost our parents and a brother in a home fire in January of 2018. Anything we can do to help someone else avoid the same fate, we’ll do.”

IMG_6362ASound the Alarm is a nationwide American Red Cross campaign meant to help save lives. Teams of volunteers are going door-to-door across the country through May 11, installing smoke alarms and providing home fire safety information. Several more installation events are planned throughout the Northeast Ohio region.

“We are off to a great start here in Northeast Ohio,” said Tim O’Toole, Red Cross regional disaster officer. Through five events, we have tallied 922 alarms installed in 391 homes.”

The goal in Northeast Ohio is to install 3,000 alarms by May 11. It’s part of the national goal to install 100,000 smoke alarms.

The Burn Center at MetroHealth is honored to be part of the Red Cross Sound the Alarm event,” said Brandy Kulak, a nurse manager at the hospital’s Comprehensive Burn Care Center. “We know firsthand how important prevention is, and how seconds can make a tremendous difference when there is a fire.”

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Volunteer opportunities still exist for the remaining Sound the Alarm events throughout Northeast Ohio. Visit SoundTheAlarm.org/NEO to find an event near you.

Kim Giberson plans to volunteer for another Sound the Alarm event next weekend in Medina. “It makes you feel good.”

See photos from our Cleveland Sound the Alarm event here.

See photos from our Youngstown Sound the Alarm event here.

See photos from our Sandusky Sound the Alarm event here.

See photos from our Ravenna sound the Alarm event here.

See photos from our Parma sound the Alarm event here.

See photos from our Sound the Alarm kick-off news conference here.

See photos from our North Ridgeville Sound the Alarm event here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer.

Photos provided by Cal Pusateri, Doug Bardwell, Eric Alves, Jim McIntyre, and Karen Conklin – American Red Cross.

Volunteer dedicates ‘heart and soul’ during five decades of service

A volunteer profile will post here each day during National Volunteer Week

By Mark Sitch, American Red Cross volunteer

April 11, 2019- Volunteers are the lifeblood of the American Red Cross. But not many can say they have over five decades of service. In line with National Volunteer Week, we found a super committed volunteer in Tab Alden, who serves in the Lake to River Chapter. So naturally, I had some questions about her resilient service.

What was your profession before your volunteer career?

I was a bus driver for the Maplewood and Champion school districts in Trumbull County transporting and working with mentally challenged children and adults. I was also a workshop specialist for the developmental disabilities workshop program.

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Tab Alden at the Cleveland VA Medical Center during the Christmas season 2017

How did you first become involved with the Red Cross?

I became involved while working with a CB radio group doing the communications between the Red Cross teams at football games in Warren.

What are some of the Red Cross services you’ve been involved with?

After my CB radio operator stint, I received certification to treat basic and advanced first aid and taught as an instructor and later was added as a receptionist. I currently serve our chapter as volunteer coordinator and all around go-to person in our office.

What do you like best about your volunteer experience?

Meeting new people and learning new methods of helping wherever I can. I’m presently learning the ins and outs of DAT (disaster action teams).

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Tab Alden with fellow Lake to River Chapter volunteers

Why should one consider volunteering for the Red Cross?

If someone is willing to give their time and energy for volunteering, there’s not a better place to learn what the Red Cross can do for you. You must be committed to giving your heart and soul to do what is asked and have patience.

What do others say about Tab’s volunteer service?

The executive director of the Lake to River Chapter, Karen Conklin, offered these comments about Tab’s demeanor: “Lucky me, the first day I walked into the Red Cross in 2010, the first smiling and familiar face to greet me with a hug was Tab! She made me feel at home because she was a volunteer when I was CEO for another organization.”  Karen added, “For me, Tab is not just an amazing volunteer but also a good friend and my go-to when something needs done.”

The Lake to River Red Cross is blessed they have such a dedicated volunteer they can count on every day!

For more information and to learn of volunteering opportunities with the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, visit redcross.org/volunteer or call 216-431-3328.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer.