Former stay-at-home mom now leaves home to help others

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

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

April 10, 2019 – Barb Thomas has left her home in Canton to help with disaster relief operations four times since joining the American Red Cross as a volunteer in 2016.

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Barb Thomas, on assignment in during the Hurricane Florence relief operation in North Carolina in 2018

“The kids are grown now, and I have the time,” Barb said, shortly after returning from her latest deployment in Mississippi, where she served as staff services supervisor for Red Cross workers assigned to help flood victims.

“We were responsible for the ‘good hello and good goodbye’ for the volunteers and staff who participated in the deployment, and for keeping track of all the members on deployment,” she said.

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En route to Mississippi, 2019

Barb has deployed to southern Ohio, where flooding occurred last winter. She also left last fall to help with the relief effort following Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. A year before that, she responded to Hurricane Irma in Georgia.

The bulk of Barb’s volunteer work occurs closer to home, where she helps administer all facets of disaster cycle services. “I have assisted in a presentation to get people signed up for smoke alarms and have installed smoke alarms in homes,” which covers preparedness.  Response-wise, “I have been to numerous home fires, supported the fire department by providing canteening services, and worked in a shelter,” she said. “And I assisted in recovery with casework.”

But the time she has spent in other parts of the country to help those affected by disaster has made an impression on the former Human Resources professional.

“I have met some incredible people who have an amazing dedication to volunteering with the Red Cross,” she said. “They are client-focused and willing to pitch in wherever and whenever necessary.”

“Barb Thomas is a breath of fresh air, adding positive energy to our chapter,” said Kim Kroh, executive director of the Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter. “She is a true leader who is valued greatly by the staff and by other volunteers.”

When asked what she would say to encourage others to volunteer for the Red Cross, Barb said, “If you are interested in positively impacting individuals and your community, the Red Cross is an excellent organization. I have had direct contact with the public and individuals in need.”

She added, “It feels good to be part of an organization that supports the community on such a personal level.”

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Red Cross workers headed to Georgia in response to Hurricane Irma in 2017.  From left: John Muni, Barb Thomas, Tim Reichel, Craig Hitchcock, and Mark Behlke

To become a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer or call 216-431-3328.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Former active duty social worker helps military families combat stress

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

By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

April 9, 2019- Military life can be stressful for those in the service as well as for their families. Former Air Force social worker Sally Falasca strives to help military personnel and their loved ones by teaching them stress-relieving strategies.

Sally is a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer with the American Red Cross Lake to River Chapter. She has been volunteering as a mind-body workshop facilitator for the past year. She is one of eight mental health volunteers who are trained to deliver Red Cross resilience programs, according to Jessica Tischler, Regional Service to the Armed Forces Manager.

Sally Falasca

“Having volunteers like Sally allows us to meet the requests we receive from local units to support their service members and their families,” Jessica said.

A licensed independent social worker who lives in Youngstown, Sally currently works in a private practice setting. However, for more than nine years, Sally served in the United States Air Force as an active duty social worker.

“There were many times during my active duty career that I reached out to the Red Cross to assist service members and they were always there for our armed services personnel,” she explained. “Once I left active duty, I knew I had to continue to serve the armed forces population any way I could. The Red Cross is providing me with amazing opportunities to do just that!”

Through the Red Cross’ Mind-Body Workshops, Sally teaches service members, veterans and their families easy-to-use skills to manage the stresses of military life, helping them cope with stress and trauma. Workshops are free and offered in small groups.

“Sally has a unique combination of personal and professional experience working with the military, veterans and families,” said Jessica. “It is heartwarming to hear service members say how valuable they find Red Cross resilience programming, and that is especially true when Sally facilitates.”

Sally encourages others to volunteer their time and talents with the Red Cross.

“The Red Cross gives so much to communities,” she said. “Even if you only have a little bit of time to donate, the Red Cross can benefit from your time. There are so many different things you can do . . . they truly have a volunteer opportunity for any interest.”

To learn more about Red Cross Mind-Body Workshops or to register for one of the group workshops, visit our website at https://www.redcross.org.

Family connection leads local volunteer to a passion for the Red Cross

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

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

April 8, 2019- As a child, Alice Martinez was surrounded by stories about the Red Cross. Her father, who immigrated from Switzerland, would inundate her with stories about the Red Cross being founded in Switzerland, how the Red Cross’ logo is an inverse of the of the Swiss flag and even informed her that her family raised St. Bernard dogs, which the Red Cross would use for rescues.  These stories not only showed Alice her family connection to the Red Cross, but it started her on a path to helping others.

Alice’s first interaction with the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio came in the 1980’s, when she worked for the Red Cross of Lorain County, then under the leadership of Clarence Wills. For six years, Alice worked as a transportation specialist.

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Alice Martinez

Following transitions to new employment opportunities and retirement, Alice was searching for opportunities to give back in her spare time and naturally she was drawn back to the Red Cross, an organization for which she says she always had a passion for its mission.

As a volunteer, Alice was deployed for the first time. In 2017, she was deployed following the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Irma. While deployed, Alice worked in shelters and helped take care of displaced residents who just lost everything. Even though the work was demanding and difficult, she found it rewarding.

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Alice Martinez teaching students about dangers of frostbite

Currently, as a youthful 73-year-old, Alice is a fixture for the Red Cross of Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter. One area where she has made a significant impact is the Pillowcase Project, a Red Cross initiative, inspired by Loyola University students carrying their valuables in a pillowcase following Hurricane Katrina, to teach elementary school students about emergency preparedness. As a former teacher, Alice found the program a natural fit for her experience. She looks forward to entering a classroom or presenting to a group of children to teach them the importance of being prepared before an emergency occurs.

“Alice Martinez is a great ambassador of the Pillowcase Project and has been one of my program leads since the beginning,” said John Gareis, the regional preparedness & community planning manager for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. “Alice has a passion for our programs and has a great rapport with the kids. Alice is the backbone of our Pillowcase Project!”

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Alice Martinez, sixth from the left, at Great Northern Mall during the 2019 Dominion Preparedness Day

To Alice, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and knowing she is helping to save lives is enough of a reward for her. In fact, yesterday, April 7, Alice drove from her home in Avon Lake to Salem, OH to teach a group of 4-H members.

Are you interested in volunteering with the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio like Alice Martinez? For more information and to learn about volunteering opportunities near you, visit redcross.org/volunteer or call 216-431-3328.

Red Cross partners with Dominion Energy to distribute first aid kits

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

April 3, 2019- Dominion Energy and the American Red Cross want to make sure you are prepared. This Saturday, April 6, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., at locations across northern Ohio they will supply you with the right tools. In return for five to 10 minutes of your time, you’ll be rewarded with a free, Red Cross First Aid Kit (valued at $35).

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Since 2013, “partners in safety” Dominion Energy and the Red Cross have held an annual Disaster Preparedness Day. Each person or family that agrees to take a short, six-question survey, will receive a quality, first aid kit along with literature stressing home safety.  Volunteers from each organization will be available to help people complete their surveys and hand out special co-branded bags with both organizations’ logos.

“Safety is one of Dominion’s core values,” explains Neil Durbin, senior communication specialist at Dominion. “That’s why this partnership is such a great fit for both organizations—we’re both centered on promoting safety. We also happen to each have offices in matching cities across the region.”

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Preparing for Preparedness Day turns out to be quite the project itself. John Gareis, regional manager for preparedness at the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, said that the preparation starts way before the event and involves staff and volunteers from both organizations. Sites have to be reserved, insurance certificates need to be provided, negotiations have to occur with vendors, five pallets worth of specially branded kits need to be received and then combined with handouts, and cases of assembled kits need to be transported to local chapters. Volunteers then need to be recruited, trained and equipped for the day of the event. When volunteers walk in that Saturday morning, everything will be there ready for them.

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This Saturday, more than 3,000 first aid kits will be presented to families at nine locations across northern Ohio. “We hope that people will take the information they learn on the survey and share it with family and friends,” said John. “In that way, each year, in just four hours, we hope to touch the lives of up to 10,000 people. It’s a lot of work on our part but to be able to reach that many people in one weekend, it’s certainly worth the effort.”

One of the key messages that volunteers will be stressing is that gas appliances should be professionally inspected each year. “While people usually think about having their annual inspections done in the fall, summer is an ideal time to schedule them, when heating contractors aren’t as busy,” suggested Neil. You’ll probably save some money and you’ll certainly have more flexibility scheduling your appointment.

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“No matter how much insurance you have or no matter how safe you think you are going to be, anyone can have a disaster at any given time, which is unfortunate,” explained John.  “We’d rather put the effort into teaching or reminding people what to do, rather than responding after a disaster happens.”

Disaster Preparedness Day locations:

  • Belden Village Mall – Canton
  • Chief Supermarkets – Lima
  • Eastwood Mall – Niles
  • Great Northern Mall – North Olmsted
  • New Towne Mall – New Philadelphia
  • Target – University Heights
  • Walmart – Ashtabula
  • Walmart – Stow
  • Walmart – Wooster

Red Cross volunteers can still sign up on Volunteer Connection to assist at some locations. Residents are encouraged to come out and get a quality first aid kit, which is ideal for home or auto. Sometimes they go quickly so come early, if possible.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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.

Young Professional Council member receives 20/30 Club Movers & Shakers Award

By Carolyn Wild, Regional Philanthropy Officer, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

March 13, 2019-  Cesar Sepulveda, an active member of the newly established Red Cross of Greater Cleveland’s Young Professional Council (YPC), was honored by The Cleveland

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Cesar Sepulveda

Professional 20/30 Club with a 2019 Movers & Shakers Award. He was presented the award during a ceremony held at the Great Lakes Science Center March 7.

Formed in 2001, The Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club is the longest-running young professional group in Northeast Ohio. The Movers & Shakers Award recognizes young professionals in Northeast Ohio, under the age of 35, for being true leaders in their community through their dedication to their work, civic engagement and commitment to philanthropy.

Cesar is manager of community engagement for The Albert M. Higley Co. and a graduate of John Carroll University. He was recognized for his efforts to increase diversity and inclusion, particularly among Cleveland’s Hispanic population, within the construction industry. You can read more about his efforts in this article from Cleveland.com.

Cesar has been a member of the Red Cross of Greater Cleveland’s Young Professional

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Cesar (right), along with fellow YPC members (left to right) Steve Siemborski, Adam Joines, and Red Cross staff member Carolyn Wild, participated in a smoke alarm installation in October 2018, installing free smoke alarms and providing home fire safety education to Parma residents. 

Council since September 2018, serving on the steering committee to guide the direction of this dedicated group of mission-minded young professionals who support the American Red Cross through volunteerism, outreach and special events. We are honored to have such an outstanding member of the young professional community serve on the council!

For more information on how you or someone you know can become involved with the Red Cross of Greater Cleveland’s Young Professional Council, contact Carolyn Wild at 216-346-8220 or carolyn.wild2@redcross.org.

Edited by Red Cross volunteer Glenda Bogar

March is Red Cross Month: Highlighting the impact of the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio and beyond

February 28, 2019—March is Red Cross Month, and the American Red Cross asks everyone to be a hero in their community by becoming a volunteer, learning lifesaving skills, giving blood or donating to #help1family on Red Cross Giving Day, March 27.

The need to help people is constant—and the past year of busy disaster activity was no exception. For 324 consecutive days, more than 43,000 people relied on the Red Cross for emergency shelter following events like record wildfires, hurricanes, floods and large apartment fires. From April 2018 to February 2019, more than 11,500 Red Cross volunteers left the comfort of their own homes to provide comfort, care and a safe place to sleep for tens of thousands affected by disasters.

Disatser Stats- FBDuring that period of devastating disaster, the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio had 150 disaster volunteers deployed across the country, assisting residents in need and helping spread the Red Cross story, including Doug Bardwell, who was deployed for the first time and was sent to the Camp Fire disaster in California as a public affairs volunteer.

“During Red Cross Month, we honor the volunteer heroes who help families overcome life’s emergencies every day,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. “These champions are our neighbors—ordinary people who make an extraordinary difference to ease the suffering of others, whether it’s saving a person’s life with CPR, donating blood for a hospital patient with life-threatening conditions, or comforting a family overwhelmed by a home fire or other crisis. We ask you to consider joining these heroes to answer the call for service in your community.”

WHAT IS RED CROSS MONTH More than 75 years ago, March was first proclaimed Red Cross Month in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to raise awareness of the organization and its humanitarian mission. All U.S. presidents since Roosevelt have designated March as Red Cross Month to recognize how the American Red Cross helps people across the country and around the world through its workforce powered by more than 90 percent volunteers.

EVERY EIGHT MINUTES, SOMEONE NEEDS HELP The Red Cross responds to more than 62,000 disasters a year, most of which are home fires. In January alone, Red Cross volunteers helped about 24,000 people affected by more than 5,700 home fires across every state.

Disasters can cause other critical needs too. This winter, thousands of blood donations have gone uncollected due to snow storms and extreme cold—underscoring the constant need for eligible individuals to donate blood.

‘VOLUNTEERING WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE’ Joe Apicelli is among the nearly 372,000 individuals who volunteer with the American Red Cross. Following a massive hurricane more than a decade ago, he was inspired to respond with his local chapter upon seeing heartbreaking images of the storm’s aftermath. Ever since, Apicelli has helped people affected by disasters, including last year’s record wildfires in California and Hurricanes Florence and Michael.207701-05-Giving-Day-2019-Social-Media-1200x1200-FB2

“Volunteering will change your life. It will give you an opportunity to work with people from all over the country and change up your lifestyle,” Apicelli said. “If you want to reach out and help others, volunteer and see the difference it can make in your life. I am honored every time I get to work with my fellow Red Crossers. These are people who have given up their vacation and free time to help others.”

HOW YOU CAN #HELP1FAMILY Learn more about how you can help in your area by contacting your local Red Cross chapter or visiting redcross.org/neo:

  • Become a volunteer: Help families affected by disasters and install lifesaving smoke alarms to keep neighbors safe from home fires. In some areas, you can also provide emergency assistance for military members and veterans, or help reconnect families separated by international conflict.
  • Give blood: Make an appointment to donate lifesaving blood or platelets.
  • Learn lifesaving skills: Register for a class to learn first aid, CPR and other skills.
  • Make a financial donation: On March 27—American Red Cross Giving Day—donate at redcross.org/givingdayuniting with thousands of people like you to help families during the first devastating hours of a disaster. Your gift can provide hope and urgent relief like food, shelter and other essentials for families who need it most.

Below is a video explaining the Red Cross’ history and how your support this March impacts your local community here in Northeast Ohio.