Another holiday season – another holiday door decorating contest

And more entertaining comments from the judge

By John Bernard,  Crossroads Division Disaster State Relationship Director

(Editor’s note: The winner of the annual Northeast Ohio Region Disaster Cycle Services (DCS) Holiday Door Decorating Contest has been announced by John Bernard, the Crossroads Division Disaster State Relationship Director.  Like last year, we found his comments to be so entertaining that we are including them, along with photos of all 9 doors entered in this year’s competition.)

door 1Emily Probst, Regional Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager
Dept of Misfits.  This is Mike Park’s office door isn’t it? But, I zoom in and see a bunch what I think are disaster personnel.  Tim as Santa Claus. That fits, given his RDO (Regional Disaster Officer) exception rate! There’s Renee as Bumble. Not sure who did this door– but Renee – you do realize they pushed Bumble over a cliff and later removed his teeth a la Old West style?

door 2Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager, Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Santa Down the Chimney.  Wonderful use of space – vertical door/chimney– Santa. Kicked it three dimensional with the smoke alarms.  Kind of ironic, isn’t it; smoke alarms down the chimney?

door 3Renee Palagyi, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager
Birth of Hope.  To quote the late, great Stan Lee, “’Nuff said.”


door 4Mike Arthur, Disaster Program Manager, Lake Erie/Heartland Chapter South 
Oh wait, THIS is Mike’s door. Nope, couldn’t be, otherwise it would be white with an orange stripe and a star on it.


door 5Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster Officer, AKA Batman
What am I seeing here?  Is this like Halloween costumes tacked up on a door?  Can’t decide if the door is a chimney Santa is scaling up or he’s going Airborne and parachuting with a quick release on his pack before he hits the dirt.  I was going to make Buffalo Bill/Silence of the Lambs reference but thought that might be too dark.  Moving on…..

door 6Jeremy Bayer, Disaster Program Manager, Greater Cleveland Chapter
Ah, the good ole “Wrap the door as a present – wait, it needs more – here, let me hot glue this Christmas stuff up there – perfect” routine.  This just screams “I spend an inordinate amount of time at Hobby Lobby and they call by my nickname at the checkout – ‘Craft-alicious.’”

door 7John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager
A Christmas Story. First off, you’ll shoot your eye out with that thing.  Second, you can expect that ATS (American red Cross Training Services) will release “How to stay safe and healthy during the Holiday Season” talking points two weeks AFTER someone has injured their tongue by sticking it to a frozen light post.

door 8Rick Whitehead, Regional Community Partner and EMA Manager
Aloha.  How very Christmas-y.  The three stockings really bring it home, ya know?  Can you feel the eye-rolling from Cincinnati?

door 9
Tim Reichel, Disaster Program Manager, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter
Wow – two actual elves.  They sure do look seasoned…..I mean, seasonal.  I can see they took a long time to tape up that red table cloth left over from the Regional Training Institute and then add some basic Christmas stuff.

So, that’s the overview.  Now for round 2.

  1. Credit for tying the holiday to the team – build camaraderie! It’s in the TOP 3!
  2. I count four smoke alarms for that one house.  It’s supposed to be 2.5 per house.  You’re not fooling anyone, Gareis!  I’m ratting you out.  TWO POINT FIVE!
  3. As a believer in Hope, this entry took some consideration; it is, after all, the reason for the season.  What I arrived at is this; like the baby born in the manger, this door – because of its message – is set apart and therefore above judgment.
  4. 8.5 x11 worth of printed out Christmas.  Minimal effort – minimal comment.  Better hope this isn’t tied to your merit increase!

Hands down, A Christmas Story wins it! You knew it when you did it.  Fantastic job!  Second place, is the Department of Misfits! Third place – against my better judgment – Santa down the chimney…2.5.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Reflecting on Las Vegas one year later

NEO staffer looks back on emotional assignment

By Renee Palagyi, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager

One year ago, headlines told of the “worst mass shooting in modern American history.” More than 500 people were wounded and 59 were killed when a lone gunman rained a barrage of bullets on the 22,000 people attending the Route 91 Country Music Festival. Many hundreds were also injured  as they ran for cover, suffering broken bones, crushing injuries as others fell on top of them, scrapes and bruises as they jammed into small spaces, torn muscles and tendons as they lifted others over fences, raw hands and feet as they crawled through broken glass and debris on the field.


Renee Palagyi

Two days later, I flew to Las Vegas where I was assigned to lead health services for the American Red Cross in the Family Assistance Center at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Over the next 19 days, the teams assisted more than 4,400 people at the center with everything from replacing a lost driver’s license to wrapping an ankle with an elastic bandage, taking information to find a lost pair of glasses to facilitating a referral to an orthopedic surgeon.

  • Most people have no idea that the Red Cross is present and assisting in these tragedies but we are there, from Sandy Hook to Pulse nightclub, from the Boston Marathon to Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
  • Red Cross engages volunteers, including licensed medical and mental health professionals who are specially trained in mass casualty. Our organization is highly regarded as “the authority” on managing the aftermath.
  • Assisting the survivors of mass casualty and the families of the deceased is not only the hardest work we do—mentally and physically exhausting—it is the most rewarding.

I worked with a young man who was in severe pain from a bullet lodged against a nerve in his elbow. He did not want to return to California for surgery until the coroner released his father’s body so that they could “go home together just the way we came here together.”

I met a young couple who were badly bruised and scraped from crawling along the ground to escape bullets coming from what seemed like every direction. They were wearing Cleveland Indians ball caps and we talked about our mutual love of the team. They told me they had run to apartments near the field and began pounding on every door hoping someone would offer shelter. Ultimately, a door opened and there stood a man wearing Yankees apparel. The young woman laughed and said, “We figured it was better than nothing!”

A young father of two toddlers had been to the center the previous day and received assistance for his wife who was hospitalized. He returned, as many did, and sat at a table in the open area drinking a cup of coffee. I walked over to see if there was anything he needed and he looked up with tears in his eyes as he reached for my hand. As I sat down, he told me the doctors had run tests that morning and determined his wife had no brain wave activity. In his words, “I hoped someone here could tell me what to tell the girls.” One of our incredible mental health volunteers was with him for most of the day and made arrangements to go with a casework volunteer back to the home to be with him during that painful discussion.

I have dozens of stories of the people we met and helped in that short time. I think of many of those people now and marvel at their strength and their willingness to allow us to comfort them. I think, too, of how our team grew stronger each day and found the moments that were the hardest brought us closer together. How, at the end of 12 or more hours of hearing the most painful stories and looking into those still-frightened faces, we found friendship within our team and were able to continue our work.

The Red Cross Family Assistance Center closed the doors on a Friday night and the community-supported Vegas Strong Resiliency Center opened the next morning. Like other centers that have opened post-tragedy, it will probably be open as place of comfort and support for the next three to five years.

I was among the last five staff members to leave the center that Friday night. I flew back to Cleveland on Saturday where my husband met me at the airport and we went immediately to our daughter’s home as she hosted a neighborhood chili cook-off. After being immersed in grief for so many days, seeing a group of happy people, getting hugs from my grandchildren and other family members seemed surreal. I realized that I was beginning to heal as I had helped others begin to heal.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Cross to help victims after an emergency, you can apply here.  See and hear Renee tell her story in this video.