Volunteer power is an awesome force

“The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​”

By Doug Bardwell, an American Red Cross volunteer

December 13, 2019- Thousands of people’s lives are affected by disasters each year, and those same lives are also affected by relief and comfort from the American Red Cross.

Following a disaster, when life is at its lowest, the American Red Cross is often the first with:

  1. an encouraging word
  2. a hug
  3. financial assistance
  4. a safe place to stay
  5. meals and snacks
  6. a caseworker to help recovery
  7. any or all of the above

Since this isn’t a graded exam, we can share the answer: G.  Throughout the year, locally, nationally, and internationally, the Red Cross is often the first humanitarian association people ever encounter after a disaster.  Responding to a hurricane earlier this year, a survivor told me, “I’ve been through four hurricanes in my life, and the Red Cross is the only organization that has been there to help me after each one.

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During fiscal year 2019, more than 150 volunteers from Northeast Ohio deployed to relief operations resulting from disasters such as Hurricane Dorian, flooding caused by Tropical Storm Imelda, and multiple wildfires in California.

While hurricanes aren’t a concern in Northeast Ohio, we’ve certainly had our share of other catastrophes. Locally, the Red Cross responded to 979 local disaster events, the vast majority of them home fires, resulting in the distribution of $810,086 in financial assistance to help individuals begin the path to recovery.

In addition to local disasters, we served almost 2,500 military members, veterans and their families with critically needed support while those servicepeople were deployed. Local program staff and volunteers also delivered the “Get to Know Us” briefing to more than 3,200 military recruits and their family members.

Finally, the region’s Biomedical Services collected 145,531 units of blood that resulted in the distribution of no fewer than 436,593 life supporting blood products to more than 50 medical facilities in Northeast Ohio.  These blood products helped patients across Northeast Ohio recover from a variety of medical conditions, including some that were life threatening.

Nationally, the results are even more staggering.  During the 60,000-plus disasters that the Red Cross responds to each year, we

  • Served over 1.1 million meals and snacks with our partners
  • Distributed over 354,000 relief items
  • Made over 92,000 contacts to support health, mental health, spiritual care and disability needs
  • Provided over 79,000 overnight shelter stays with partners
  • Provided emergency financial assistance to nearly 376,000 people for disaster needs like food and lodging.

Most important to remember, is that all this assistance requires two critical ingredients: donations from our cherished donors and a volunteer workforce.

Despite a mandate from the government to respond to disasters and to support our military, no federal funding is generated.  Operating funds come from the generous donations of American citizens and organizations.  For more information on donating, please visit our donations page.

And, 90% of the Red Cross workers are volunteers, almost all of them are part-time. Some respond to disasters once a year, some monthly and some only when a local disaster occurs near their home. If you have a couple hours, a day, or more, see if there’s a volunteer opportunity you’d like to perform. These days, you don’t even need to leave home to volunteer, with some of the digital opportunities available.

Photo by Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

Student volunteers encourage blood donations

By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross communications volunteer

I’m a new teacher at Lakeside High School in Ashtabula, Ohio, and I discovered that some of my students volunteer at our American Red Cross blood drives. They’re held four times a year, the most recent being the last day of school before Thanksgiving break. Student volunteer Yuliana Padilla Rios pointed out that one unit of donated blood can potentially help three different people. That means all the students and staff who donated blood that Tuesday gave many families reason to give thanks!

I asked Iris Arrieta Ortiz, a senior at LHS, why she volunteers. She said it gives her the chance to help others help those in need. When she and her friends register donors at the event, they explain the process and let people know what to expect. They assure new donors there’s nothing to worry about. Everyone is well taken care of – and they even get snacks! The students encourage anyone at school who is 16 or older to donate.

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Ainniz Millan Ithier, left, and Iris Arrieta Ortiz staff the registration table

This event was Ainniz Millan Ithier’s first time volunteering at a blood drive. She said she would definitely do so again. She and her fellow volunteers hope to inspire others to participate in the next event. Yuliana and Iris said being able to scan the new Ohio driver licenses made registration even easier. All agreed that the Red Cross team members who came to the school were great to work with, and it’s a plus to be able to do community service right at school.

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Student volunteer Angelina Isco

If you would like to help blood donors at blood drives as a volunteer donor ambassador, visit our website by clicking here.

For information about holding a blood drive at your school or to find a donation event in your area, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross communications volunteer

Photo credit: Lakeside High School

Fires force families to flee their homes

Disaster workers respond to nearly a dozen home fires in Northeast Ohio over the weekend

Nearly three-dozen people, including nine children were left homeless – at least temporarily – following weekend fires in Cleveland, Lorain, Eastlake, Mansfield and Cadiz, Ohio.  Disaster action team members responded, tending to their immediate needs by providing financial assistance, comfort kits that include personal hygiene items, and hope for finding a way forward.

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One of the fires near downtown Cleveland forced eight adults to flee in the middle of the night on Saturday.  Ben Bellucci, disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Greater Cleveland, said the tenants and property owners expressed heartfelt appreciation for the help being offered.

fire6“They had no idea we do this,” Ben said. “When I told them we respond to fires like these 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they were shocked.  They could not have been more appreciative.”

Financial assistance totaling more than $6,300 was distributed to the 34 people who found themselves out in the cold.  Additional assistance was also offered, including help replacing prescription medications and eyeglasses, and making connections with other community resources.

Only by the power of our volunteer workforce and the generosity of our donors are we able to provide such assistance.  There is no government funding for the help residents receive – on average, three times every 24 hours in Northeast Ohio.  To make a financial contribution, visit www.redcross.org/donate.  And to volunteer to help your neighbors by responding to home fires and other disasters, apply here.

Photo credit: Ben Bellucci, American Red Cross

A special thank you to NEO Red Cross volunteers

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

November 27, 2019- Volunteers from across Northeast Ohio descended on Akron two days before Thanksgiving to enjoy delicious pie at the annual Thanks For Giving celebration.

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The event truly had the feel of a family affair with Red Cross staff and volunteers sharing laughter and fond memories.

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Red Crossers from all five chapters – Greater Cleveland, Lake Erie/Heartland, Lake to River, Stark and Muskingum Lakes, and Summit. Portage and Medina Counties were represented.

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The event was more than just enjoying sweets and refreshments. It was an opportunity for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio to give a heartfelt thank you to volunteers for everything they do to spread the Red Cross’ mission throughout the year.

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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.

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If you’d like to join our volunteer workforce, visit redcross.org/neo to explore the many volunteer opportunities available.

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To view more photos from Thanks For Giving, visit our Flickr page.

Volunteering: The gift of your time

By Sue Wilson Cordle, American Red Cross volunteer

November 13, 2019- The holidays are almost upon us and as you look ahead to the busy time from just before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, many of us feel a mix of expectation and trepidation. The expectation is for a joyful season with family and friends—but the reality for many who are struggling financially or emotionally, is that this time of year can be stressful. There are experts galore with suggestions for getting through the season, But one consistent theme: Giving to others can improve your own mental health.

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But wait—doesn’t giving to others add to the stress?

Remember the holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” when Schwartz took the double-dog dare and got his tongue stuck on the metal pole? How about this holiday challenge that doesn’t involve losing any skin? Ask yourself this question: Can you think of any of the gifts you received last year? Now think about how many you bought for family, friends and co-workers. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably remember very few (if any) but you do remember you had to make payments on your credit card long after that last Amazon delivery.

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This year make the holiday season LESS about consumerism and MORE about people. How?

Become a volunteer. According to this recent article written by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson, volunteering has surprising health benefits. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated and provide a sense of purpose. And if you think your income level, age, or even a disability prevents you from volunteering, research shows that people with disabilities or health conditions ranging from hearing and vision loss to heart disease, diabetes or digestive disorders all show improvement after volunteering.

The American Red Cross has a number of ways you can donate your time and talent. You can take a quiz that will match your skill set, age, interests or goals to find a volunteer opportunity that is right for you. From 18 to 80 (and beyond), there is something you can do to help the Red Cross in its mission to alleviate suffering in your own backyard or around the world.

Development SAF Stock Photography Project 2018

Right now, the Red Cross has three specific needs that are high priority volunteer positions: a blood donor ambassador, a blood transportation specialist and a disaster action team member. It is volunteers in priority positions like these, or in any number of roles, who carry out 90 percent of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Your favorite memories surrounding the holidays or about life in general probably don’t involve gifts at all. They involve rituals and traditions, feelings and emotions—all involving quality time spent doing something important, whether with loved ones or a community of strangers that can become friends with purpose in the world of volunteering.

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This year, give something that means something. Give the gift of your time and become a volunteer. Do it alone or team up with a friend or family member. It will be a gift that is far more valuable than anything money can buy. It will be a gift you’ll remember forever.

To explore opportunities to share your gift of time, visit Redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Northeast Ohio American Red Cross volunteer deploys to assist with California wildfires

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

November 1, 2019- As critical wildfire weather conditions continue to plague residents of California, the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio is deploying a local volunteer to assist with the Red Cross’ relief efforts.

Tom Quinn of Wadsworth is one of more than 500 Red Cross volunteers supporting evacuation centers to provide safe refuge for individuals impacted by the devastating fires. Quinn recently deployed in September to assist with the Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in Florida.

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Meritt Dahlgren (right) overjoyed when he found his home still standing despite perimeter being destroyed

In northern California, the Kincade Fire has scorched more than 77,700 acres and is about 65 percent contained.

In southern California, the Hillside Fire near San Bernadino and Easy Fire in the Simi Valley, along with the Getty Fire continue to burn near Los Angeles.

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The Maria Fire, which broke out Thursday, has grown to as many as 8,000 acres in Ventura County, prompting new evacuation orders.

While some evacuations have been lifted, there were still more than 180 people in 8 Red Cross and community shelters overnight. With partners, the Red Cross has served more than 40,500 meals and snacks, provided more than 2,500 relief items and made more than 2,400 individual care contacts.

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“The Red Cross was very prepared for this catastrophe. My friends and neighbors are grateful for all the support the Red Cross has shown our community,” said Meritt Dahlgren, Heldsburg resident who was overjoyed to find his home still standing, despite the perimeter being destroyed.

All are welcome at all Red Cross shelters. The Red Cross delivers help to anyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or citizenship status. People who have disaster-caused needs do not need to be American citizens to access Red Cross services.

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You can help people affected by disasters like wildfires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

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