Hurricane Maria One Year Later: Worker Looks Back and Recalls People’s Resilience

Editors Note: Jorge Martinez, Regional COO of the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, deployed to Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

By Jorge Martinez, COO, Red Cross, Northeast Ohio Region


Jorge Martinez carries a case of water to residents stranded by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico


So how is Puerto Rico doing one year after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria?  The short answer is, “Well, I really don’t know.  But I think do!”

When I came back last October, having spent a few weeks on the ground in Puerto Rico, I shared a story about a wonderful lady who had welcomed her neighbor into her humble home and simply wanted some tarps to protect her elderly neighbor’s belongings, since the house had no roof.  In that story I also mentioned my friend Brad and the many other Red Cross volunteers like him who were serving with so much compassion and love… always putting the needs of others before self.  (Click here for a link to that story.)  This helps answer the question, “How is Puerto Rico doing?” The story that follows also helps answer that question.

On October 8th last year, I was in a hot, destroyed place called Ensenada, Puerto Rico.  Ensenada is on the southern coast of the southwest corner of the island… and like every other place on the island, it had been devastated.  There were a lot of people with a lot of need in the area who hadn’t been helped yet, so we brought two crews and two large trucks full of supplies.  We set up shop in a large government convention center and delivered supplies to hundreds of families.  And of course, the temperature felt like a thousand degrees!

I was carrying some supplies for a sweet old lady to her car so that she could sustain herself, for a few days anyway.  She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother, who had passed away many years before.  We were chatting on the walk to her car; it’s amazing how you can connect with people when you strip away all the artificial barriers we create.  It’s beautiful!  As we were approaching her car she said, “You know, mijo (ME-HO – Spanish for “my son”), God tests us.  But any time he does, he sends an angel and today you’re my angel.”

Fortunately, I was wearing sunglasses.

When I landed in Puerto Rico on September 28, 2017 we were on one of the first flights following the hurricane.  At that point, planes could only land during the day because there were no navigational instruments since there was no power.  As you could imagine, the dark, steamy airport was full of people who were trying to get out.  As we came through the jetway, the crowd started clapping and thanking us.  It was a humbling moment but it speaks to the power of our brand… what we stand for… what we represent.  And at that particular point it was hope!  And that matters.  In times of need, hope matters.

I read the news and see the advances that are happening in Puerto Rico.  I also note the setbacks.  The truth is, at least how I see it, Puerto Rico will not be back to “normal” for many years.  But that’s OK.  Puerto Ricans are resilient, warm, caring and extremely communal.  And so is the Red Cross.  I haven’t been back, but I know that our long-term recovery teams, comprised primarily of volunteers, are on the ground humbly carrying out the king’s work and will be there for quite some time.  That’s hopeful; that’s comforting.

So, how’s Puerto Rico doing?  Well, probably not so good.  But they’re doing great!

Cleveland Clinic Nurses Unite to Make a Neighborhood Safer

40 homes in a Cleveland neighborhood are now safer, thanks to the efforts of two-dozen nurses from Cleveland Clinic.

“United as a team, we’re giving back to the community,” said Kelly Hancock, Cleveland Clinic Health System Executive Chief Nursing Officer.  Kelly also serves on the board of directors for the Greater Cleveland Red Cross Chapter, and is chair of the Volunteer Services Committee.

25 nurses and Chief Nursing Officers from each hospital across the Cleveland Clinic Health System  installed 113 smoke alarms, and helped residents near the main campus, in the Fairfax neighborhood, create fire escape plans.

That the activity was planned on 9/11 was no accident.

“It was a time when the country was in a dark place,” Kelly said. “What a wonderful way for us to recognize and remember, by giving back to those who we serve.”

Kelly recorded a message at the start of the activity, known as a Sound the Alarm home fire safety and smoke alarm installation event.  You can see her message here.


Cleveland Clinic Chief Nursing Officers Shannon Pengel, Barb ZInner and Mary Beth Thoburn with Fairfax resident Kasandra Edmonds

If you have a team of co-workers or colleagues who may be interested in helping make homes safer, visit  


International Day of Charity Shines Spotlight on Global Needs and Worthwhile Causes

Philippines 2018By Ifat Gazia, American Red Cross volunteer

Since 2012, September 5 has been designated International Day of Charity. This day coincides with the date of Mother Teresa’s death. She was a humanitarian and philanthropist who was awarded a Noble Peace Prize in 1979 for her work in India to fight poverty, help orphans and fight other humanitarian crises across the nation.

Poverty is a global phenomenon. It has existed in the most powerful nations to the most underdeveloped countries of the world since the beginning of history. Therefore, eradicating poverty in all its forms is a worldwide challenge. The purpose of International Day of Charity is to raise awareness and provide a platform to organizations and philanthropists who perform charity-related activities on a national or international level. By spotlighting critical needs, this international observance also encourages people to donate to charitable causes that provide lifesaving support, housing, food, education, child protection and safety to millions of people around the globe.

Portland Manufacturing 2013Every year, the American Red Cross responds to about 64,000 disaster emergencies across the United States. This vital help is only possible due to the generous donations of individuals and the amazing efforts of Red Cross volunteers who give their time and talents. The blood donated by people through the Red Cross is truly lifesaving and sustains patients in need. It’s worthwhile to mention that the selfless work that volunteers do in such organizations is a noble form of charity. This not only offers great social bonding opportunities but also contributes to the creation of more inclusive communities.

The donations made to different philanthropic organizations can help conserve cultural and natural heritages, save wildlife and promote the rights of marginalized people. Charitable giving also simply spreads a message of humanity in areas of trouble and conflict.

To donate to the Red Cross in observance of International Day of Charity (or on any day of the year) or to volunteer your time to help its lifesaving mission, visit

Preparedness in a Pillowcase

Milestone reached for the Pillowcase Project

One million elementary school students across the country have now learned how to prepare themselves, their households and their communities for emergencies by participating in The Pillowcase Project. More than 11,000 of those children live in Northeast Ohio.


Originally created in New Orleans, The Pillowcase Project is a free program inspired by the story of local university students carrying their belongings in pillowcases during Hurricane Katrina evacuations. During the presentation, participants receive a pillowcase to decorate and then take home to use as a personal emergency supplies kit.

The curriculum, targeted at 3rd to 5th graders, is structured by a Learn, Practice, Share framework. Students learn about the science of a locally relevant hazard and how to best prepare for it. They practice what to do if a disaster occurs and how to cope with related fear and stress. Afterwards, they share the information and skills they have learned with their family and friends so everyone in the household knows what to do.


John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager was assisted by AmeriCorps worker Rachel Steiner at a Pillowcase Project presentation at the Cleveland VA Medical Center                                         Photo Credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

“It’s exciting to see young people in Northeast Ohio and across the country learn how to prepare themselves, their households, and their communities for emergencies and save lives by participating in The Pillowcase Project,” said John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager.

To date, 11 lives have been saved by four students who put into practice what they learned through the program. Last year, 9-year-old Camryn Sarnie of Ramona, Oklahoma was startled awake at 3:00 a.m. by a smoke alarm sounding in his home. The sound scared Camryn, but he recognized it and knew that it was alerting him to a fire. He knew that he had less than two minutes to escape, so he quickly woke up his parents, alerted them to the fire and instructed them to evacuate immediately. Camryn saved three lives that morning, including his own, by putting into practice what he learned just a few weeks earlier from The Pillowcase Project presentation at his school. According to Camryn’s mother, Lora, “Camryn told us all about what he learned in class after the presentation. Camryn is a true hero.”


The Red Cross has engaged more than 35,000 volunteers and partnered with more than 13,000 schools, community organizations and partners to deliver this program to students across the country and at more than a dozen U.S. military stations abroad. The Walt Disney Company is the founding sponsor of the program.

Contact John Gareis at 216-431-3219 to schedule a Pillowcase Project presentation for your school, or email .  Additional information about The Pillowcase Project is available at

Let’s DO this! Sounding the Alarm in Akron!

by: Mary Williams, Communications Staff Member

Nearly 25 Red Cross workers hit the streets of Akron to help Sound the Alarm to end home fires.

The first Sound the Alarm event held in Akron, eight teams traveled to prearranged homes in all points of the city, while another group dropped off flyers for the May 5th event at homes in west Akron.

All told, volunteers and staff member helped make 45 homes safer, installing 123 alarms.

If you would like to help make our community safer, or need working smoke alarms in your home, visit

Pictures from Tuesday’s event can be found on our flickr page and on Facebook.



2018 Heroes Celebrated in Akron

The 22nd Annual Acts of Courage event was held on March 1. The event generated nearly $130,000. The proceeds from the night will assist the work of the Red Cross in Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties.

Here are the stories of those honored.

Lt. Jeff Layne and Officer James Craft – The commitment police, fire and rescue workers have for their community knows no days off, as Akron Fire Department Lieutenant Jeffrey Layne discovered on a sunny day in April. Lt. Layne was off duty getting ready to enjoy a bike ride by Summit Lake with his wife and a friend when an SUV appeared out of nowhere and drove off the pier into the cold, murky water. Lt. Layne called out to pedestrians nearby to call 9-1-1 and immediately jumped into the lake. Approaching from behind, Lt. Layne recognized car seats from the back window and feared the worst.

Akron Police Department Police Officer James Craft was on duty and just driving past Summit Lake when the call came in that a vehicle had gone into the water and may have a family on board. Arriving at the scene, Officer Craft wasted no time removing his vest and jumping into the frigid water to assist Lt. Layne.

As more rescue personnel began arriving on the scene, Officer Craft used his ASP baton to break the rear window and fire rescue officers atop the vehicle broke out the passenger window allowing them to come to the relieving conclusion that there were no other passengers in the vehicle aside from the driver. With the water now up to the driver’s chin Officer Craft grabbed hold of the driver and pulled him out of the vehicle through the broken window. The driver began to panic and wrapped his arms around Officer Craft, pushing him under the water. Officer Craft regained his position with the driver and with the assistance of additional rescue personnel on the dock, was able to get the driver onto the shore to safety. The driver was saved thanks to these two men’s quick action, courage and determination.


Wade Wooten – A strange haze filled the sky outside of Wade Wooten’s home. Feeling a sense of alarm, Wade decided to step outside and investigate immediately being overwhelmed by smoke. Looking to his right, he saw plumes of thick black smoke and flames pouring out of his neighbor’s air conditioning unit. Wade ran to his neighbor Nikki’s apartment and banged on the door while shouting her name, but there was no response. Wade stayed calm and recalled his years of experience serving in the U.S. Navy and the training he received in the fire and rescue division.

Wade’s first objective was to locate his neighbor. He rammed the door with all his might and forced it open. Smoke barreled out, he waited a beat and began to crawl low to the ground searching for Nikki, who was shouting for help from her bedroom on the second floor. Realizing he could not reach her from the front, due to the smoke and flames, Wade ran around to the back entrance, climbed the wall and jumped to Nikki’s second floor balcony where she was trapped. He grabbed Nikki and tried to lead her back out to the balcony, but Nikki was struggling as her four small dogs were still somewhere inside. Wade looked her in the eyes and told her they had to go and as they stepped back onto the balcony it gave way and the two went tumbling to the ground. Without even catching a breath, Wade lifted his neighbor Nikki into his arms and carried her to the front of the building to await Fire and Rescue professionals.

His sense of valor showed through on that cold February day. Wade and Nikki both received treatment for smoke inhalation.

Unfortunately, Nikki’s four small dogs were lost in the fire. Following the fire Wade gave her another life-saving gift, his dog, whom Nikki had gifted to Wade three years prior, to help her through her time of grief.


Blake Osborn – Blake Osborn and his wife, Miranda, were hiking the Glens Trail in the Gorge Metroparks on a beautiful Labor Day weekend. A certified wilderness expert, and a Kent State University Adventure Center Program Officer, Blake guided Miranda on an offshoot of the official trail in order to get a better view of the river. Out of the corner of his eye Blake noticed a man at the bottom of a rocky hill sitting with a shoe off. Thinking this was strange, he yelled down to him, “Are you hurt? Do you need help?” The man responded, “no”. Blake then noticed some red on the rock next to the man. He decided to go down to the bottom himself to check it out. Blake called out to nearby hikers to dial 9-1-1, not knowing what he might encounter down below.

The path down to the bottom of the gorge was rocky and steep but at the bottom, Blake knew immediately that this man was in perilous condition. The man, Anthony, had fallen down the hill, gashing his forehead and breaking his ankles, arm and pelvis. Anthony was in shock and the gash in his forehead was bleeding heavily. Blake acted on instinct with his years of wilderness training coming to the forefront. Not having any supplies on him but the clothes on his back, he quickly removed his shirt and tied it around the man’s head then placed himself in a position to keep his head and neck still, fearing a spinal injury.

Blake stayed calm and worked on keeping Anthony awake and alert while simultaneously fighting off yellow jackets who had become enticed by the pair. Nearly two hours later, the fire department was able to reach the two men by boat and Anthony was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Blake’s training and recognition of the fallen hiker’s impaired state, and unquestionable courage to put his own self in danger, helped to save Anthony’s life.


Officer Jason Strainer and Dr. John Bober – On May 24, 2017, Dr. John Bober was sitting in his office at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology when he noticed a man and woman sitting at a table outside his window having a friendly discussion. A loud thump brought Dr. Bober’s attention back to the pair, but the man was lying on the ground and the woman was screaming above him.

Nearby, Akron Police Department Officer Jason Strainer and his partner Officer Kent Shively, were walking their normal beat when they noticed the commotion. As Officer Shively called EMS, Officer Strainer and Dr. Bober simultaneously reached the man, checked and found the individual unresponsive. They began performing CPR. Dr. Bober went to retrieve the AED from inside the offices. They placed the leaders from the AED on the individual’s chest and administered a shock. Officer Strainer and Dr. Bober continued to perform CPR until EMS arrived. EMS transported the individual to the hospital where he survived another few days allowing his family a chance to say their goodbyes. Officer Strainer and Dr. Bober’s calm demeanors and use of CPR and AED training were exemplary.


Laura Deubel, Matt Petrick, Dan Flowers, Karen Sheppard, and Jennifer Dyer – Just after 10 a.m., Laura Deubel ran from her office at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank to investigate a call that a volunteer had fainted. As soon as she saw the scene, she shouted “Code Blue!” to another office worker, who repeated the phrase over the plant’s speakers. Trained, designated staffers dropped their duties and raced to the distribution warehouse, where they found beloved volunteer, Horace Lewis, on the floor. The 87-year-old volunteered with Bridging the Gap Ministries. The training that employees had hoped to never use in a real situation kicked in.

Foodbank president, Dan Flowers, and Matt Petrick were the first of the safety team to arrive at Horace’s side. Dan and YMCA volunteer, Christin Domonkos, searched for a pulse but found none. While Dan rushed to retrieve the AED off the wall, the team went into action. Matt and the two YMCA volunteers Christin and Shana DeBerte began CPR, Jennifer Dyer supervised the group and kept the gathering crowd at bay, Laura stayed by Horace’s side offering reassurance and calm. Karen Sheppard operated the AED. Upon attaching the AED, and hearing the detailed instructions given by the machine, the team felt a sense of instant relief. Soon, the paramedics arrived and took Horace away in an ambulance.

Dan and the team are adamant that the AED made all the difference, not only for its life-saving technical components but also for its ability to take control of a situation and guide a person through it all. However, an AED machine cannot operate alone and if it wasn’t for the team’s thorough CPR training and their fast action Horace would not be alive today.


Eathan Cobbin – It was a normal, happy day at Brown Middle School. Eathan Cobbin and his best friend Christian Neff were eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria when everything suddenly went terribly wrong. As Eathan looked on, Christian took a bite of his string cheese and immediately began to cough and gag as though he was choking. His face turned deep red and, Christian later recalls, he feared he would soon lose consciousness. Looking around, Eathan realized that the teachers were too far away to see what was happening and everyone else seemed frozen with fear. Eathan knew that it was up to him to save his friend. Without thinking twice, he leapt across the table and tried to recall how to perform abdominal thrusts from the safety signs he often saw in restaurants and doctor’s offices. This knowledge proved vital, after a few attempts the cheese was dislodged and expelled. While the two boys were most assuredly shaken from this experience, Christian made a fast and full recovery and their relationship has never been stronger.

2018 H. Peter Burg Community Leadership Award to be Presented to Brian Moore on March 1

Moore Brian 2011Join us on March 1 at the Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties Chapter as we celebrate heroes at the 23rd annual Acts of Courage event!

One hero who will be honored is Brian J. Moore, who has built a lifetime of heroic actions through his contributions to many facets of the Greater Akron community. Brian will receive the 2018 H. Peter Burg Community Leadership Award which the Red Cross proudly presents each year to one or more individuals who best exemplify leadership in the community, compassion for its people and dedication to the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross. He was selected by a committee of past award recipients.

Brian has an enthusiastic spirit. He is a steadfast mentor, and committed friend, to everyone who knows him.

Born in Dunkirk, New York and after graduating magna cum laude from the State University of New York, Brian moved to the Akron area in 1981 to attend The University of Akron School of Law.  He received his Juris Doctor cum laude in 1984. He is a shareholder with the 160 attorney law firm of Roetzel & Andress.  He practices real estate and finance law and serves as Partner-in-Charge of the firm’s Akron Office.  He has been listed in the “Best Lawyers in America” directory for Real Estate and Banking for over 12 consecutive years and has been recognized as a “Top 100-Ohio Super Lawyer.”  Brian has served as Chairman of the Real Property Committee for the Akron Bar Association.  He is also a member of the Real Estate Council of the Ohio State Bar Association.

Brian served as the 2001 volunteer tournament chair for the NEC Invitational – World Golf Championships (now known as the Bridgestone Invitational) and is a Past-President of the Executive Committee of Northern Ohio Golf Charities.  He currently is Vice Chair of the Northern Ohio Golf Charities Foundation Board.  He serves on a number of other community boards including, Downtown Akron Partnership (Former Board Chair and Current Executive Committee Member), Blue Coats (Current Board Chair), Summit Choral Society (Vice Chair), and Music for the Western Reserve. He is also a past chairman of Portage Country Club. His other past board service includes United Way (Past Campaign Chair), Akron Bar Association, Red Cross of Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties (Past Chairman of the Board), Greenleaf Family Center (Past Chairman of the Board), Leadership Akron Alumni Association (Past President), the Akron Civic Theater and the Akron Jaycees (Past President).  He is president of Leadership Akron Class 10.  In 2015, Brian was honored with the 2015 David Lieberth Community Vision Award by Leadership Akron.  He is a cantor and choir member at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  He lives in Copley with his wife, Diana, and their children, Ben and Leah.

A limited number of tickets remain. To purchase tickets visit