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

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!

A night honoring fire chiefs and volunteers

By Mark Sitch, American Red Cross Volunteer

March 22, 2019- The Lake to River Chapter of the American Red Cross honored its valued first responders and volunteers who selflessly serve their region at an appreciation dinner on Thursday, March 14. The dinner was held at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Austintown.

More than 20 fire chiefs and associated first responders representing four of five Tim and Karencounties, chapter executives and volunteers numbering nearly 100 attended. They were welcomed with opening remarks and words of appreciation from Lake to River’s Executive Director Karen Conklin, who introduced Regional Disaster Officer Tim O’Toole.

“Firefighters and the Red Cross Disaster Action Teams have continued to build strong relationships working together to bridge the needs of those in our community touched by devastation,” said Chief O’Toole, a retired assistant chief of operations for the Cleveland Division of Fire, who joined the Red Cross in 2015.

He acknowledged the wonderful work of the Red Cross disaster services team in assisting 275 displaced families with $130,000 in temporary housing, food and personal care. The chief also recognized other important efforts, such as blood donor services helping more than 52,000 people impacted in the fiscal year, the armed services sector assisting more than 600 military families, and the escalated efforts for the Sound the Alarm campaign, with a goal to install 100,000 free smoke alarms in homes across the nation with volunteers paving the way. Karen noted that her chapter goal is 1,500 alarms to be installed to wrap up the April 27 to May 11 campaign.

Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley

Tim O’Toole, left, and Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley

Youngstown Fire Chief and Chapter Board Member Barry Finley described when one becomes involved with the Red Cross. “I’ve always thought the Red Cross was called in when a fire completely destroyed a home,” he said. The chief stated that by being involved in this organization he has learned so much more. He explained that he is appreciative and happy to be a part of a team effort to help in times of need for the community.

The American Red Cross Volunteer K9 Action Team was also recognized for 10 years of faithful service providing comfort therapy to disaster victims and military families.

Attendees enjoyed dinner and time for socializing. Gift bags were disturbed after closing remarks by Karen. She emphasized that the staff and board appreciate their volunteers and what they endure as “A love to want to help people.” She stated, “You know you do make a difference.”

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

See more photos from the event here.

Red Cross continues response to disasters in Northeast Ohio, even with ongoing relief efforts around the world

Weekend disasters affect dozens of residents in all 5 Northeast Ohio Chapters

 

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

The American Red Cross continues to respond to disaster relief efforts around the world, including responding to the California wildfires and Saipan following Super Typhoon Yutu.  Even with relief efforts underway far and wide, the Red Cross continues to respond to needs of residents right here in Northeast Ohio.

41870691712_5b3ee65587_zOver the weekend, the Red Cross responded to 17 incidents in all five chapters in Northeast Ohio, assisting 64 residents, and distributing more than $12,300 in immediate financial assistance to help people in their darkest hours.

 

The Lake to River Chapter was particularly hit hard.

Disaster workers in the Lake to River Chapter, which serves Ashtabula, Columbiana, Jefferson, Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, responded to seven incidents ranging from home fires to power outages, provided more than $4,700 in aid and opened a shelter for two-nights in Columbiana County for residents displaced from last week’s winter storms.

One particular case in Mahoning County, involving a grandmother, a mother and her five children, highlights the commitment the Red Cross has to serving the needs of residents in Northeast Ohio. As Karen Conklin, executive director of the Lake to River Chapter states, “What we do to help people in our community and the difference we make every day is amazing. Over the weekend, a fire started in the attic while the family was at church. Two adults and five children lost everything. While the family has a hard road to recovery, we responded with much more than a debit card. We gave them kindness, respect and hope. It was another mission moment I won’t soon forget. Because of the Red Cross and our volunteers, this family has begun the road to recovery. Without us they would be alone at their burned-out residence as the fire department rolls up their hoses and drives away. We are the difference.” IMG_5580

The Northeast Ohio Region of the Red Cross is prepared 24 hours per day and seven days a week to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. However, we are unable to serve the 22 counties and 4.5 million residents of Northeast Ohio without the tremendous dedication of our volunteers, which make up 90 percent of our workforce. Our volunteers are truly the face of the Red Cross. If you are interested in making an impact in local communities, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer or contact our Volunteer Services Department directly at 216-431-3328 or NEOvolunteer@redcross.org.

We also rely on the generosity of Northeast Ohio residents to continue to offer disaster relief and to provide support in a time of need. If you would like to provide a monetary donation, visit redcross.org/donate, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Sept. 11 experience moves resident to become avid Red Cross volunteer

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

Sept. 11, 2001 made significant impressions on most every adult living at the time. It certainly did for Susie Muetzel, an American Red Cross volunteer with the Lake to River Chapter.

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Susie Muetzel

“At the time, my husband was a Cleveland firefighter and I was working for the clerk of Cleveland City Council,” said Susie. “After being told we needed to evacuate the building, as I drove home, I recall seeing the plane that was Flight 93 flying overhead when all planes were supposed to be grounded. I recall feeling sorry and helpless and terrified. Within a couple hours, I determined that I was never again going to feel like there was nothing I could do. There was no way I wanted that feeling of helplessness.”

Shortly thereafter, Susie saw on TV that the Red Cross was looking for volunteers. She still remembers making the call and talking with Disaster Specialist Debbie Chitester, who now serves as the Disaster Program Manager for the Summit Portage and Medina Counties Chapter.  Debbie helped Susie her get her initial training. On October 1, she began her volunteer service. She wasn’t able to deploy to New York or Pennsylvania back in 2001, but since then, she has deployed to countless hurricanes and floods, working in an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and offering meals to those affected. She most recently responded to Hurricane Florence.

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Susie Muetzel, left, and Red Cross volunteer Sue Wisdom

Locally, between national disasters, she keeps very busy with her chapter, covering four of the five counties along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. “Here at home, I’m a DAT (Disaster Action Team) leader, the DAT Coordinator and weekend AOC (Administrator-On-Call),” said Susie.

That could be the most rewarding part of her volunteer work, explained Susie. “I recall one weekend when we had back-to-back fires, each with fatalities. When we go to a fire and are able to provide some degree of comfort to someone who has lost everything and is desperate for help, that’s extremely rewarding.”

If someone is looking for volunteer opportunities, take it from Susie, “You get so much more out of it than you could ever possibly give. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. When you come home from helping someone, even in the middle of the night, you know that you did something good and really helped them. If you have that empathetic heart, it fills you up in ways that you never dreamed of.”

To explore the various volunteer possibilities open to you, visit https://neoredcross.org/volunteer/ and begin your online application.  There is a critical need for volunteers to join the Disaster Action Team in the Lake to River Chapter, which includes Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Jefferson Counties.  Residents there can get more information by calling the chapter at 866-319-7160.

Flood Safety Tips Timely as Casework Continues in Boardman

BOARDMAN, Ohio – In the 10 days since torrential rains caused localized flooding in this Mahoning County community, American Red Cross workers have helped 115 residents with immediate financial assistance.  And the disaster responders continue reaching out to residents in the area who may have been affected by the unexpected flood waters.

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Three dozen cases have been opened so far, with a total of $12,788 dollars committed to help residents clean-up their homes and make them livable again.  More than two dozen cleaning kits, containing mops, brooms, bleach and other cleaning supplies have been distributed.

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Photo credit:  Kristen Gallagher/American Red Cross

“Most use the money we offer them to buy additional cleaning supplies,” said Renee Palagyi, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. “Some pay for laundry services, for steam-cleaning upholstery, that kind of thing,” she said.

Like most Northeast Ohioans, Renee encountered heavy rain on her ride into work Tuesday morning.  With the damage done by the flooding in Boardman in mind, she shared flood safety information with the rest of the Regional staff in her daily report.

Staying Safe Indoors

  • Turn off the power and water mains if instructed to do so by local authorities.
  • Boil tap water until water sources have been declared safe.
  • Avoid contact with floodwater. It may be contaminated with sewage or contain dangerous insects or animals.
  • Continue listening to local area radio, NOAA radio or TV stations for the latest information and updates.
  • Don’t use gas or electrical appliances that have been flooded.
  • Dispose of any food that comes into contact with flood water .

 

Staying Safe Outdoors

  • Don’t walk, swim or drive through floodwater. Just six inches of fast-flowing water can knock you over and two feet will float a car.
  • If caught on a flooded road with rapidly rising waters, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground.

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  • Don’t walk on beaches or riverbanks.
  • Don’t allow children to play in or near flood water.
  • Avoid contact with floodwater. It may be contaminated with sewage or contain dangerous insects or animals.
  • Stay out of areas subject to flooding. Underpasses, dips, low spots, canyons, washes, etc. can become filled with water.

“I think everyone needs a reminder to follow the tips the Red Cross espouses,” she said. “It’s too easy to think we’re invulnerable, and we’re not.”