Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 Pueblo Hometown Heroes Dinner

By Julie Schroeder, volunteer writer

The Pueblo Hometown Heroes dinner honored heroes in the community on Thursday, February 26. With approximately 300 community members in attendance, it was a wonderful night to honor local heroes. 

The night opened with a presentation of colors by Pueblo Veterans Ritual Team, the recipients of last year’s Military Hero award. It was an honor watching these ambassadors as they exemplified a positive image of service and country. After the ceremonial display of colors, Tom Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Red Cross Pikes Peak Chapter, commenced the ceremony recognizing selfless acts of ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.

The American Red Cross recognized the heroic actions of seven individuals and two organizations.
- Humanitarian Hero - Burnie Zercher
- Military Hero - Dr. Graham Hoffman
- First Responder Hero - Justin Hunter
- Adult Hero - John Volk
- Community Service Partner - Pueblo Community College
- Community Service Hero - Colonel, U.S.A.F.(Ret.) R. J. Schultz
- Youth Hero - Jace Martellaro
- Animal Hero - Koa, Pueblo County Sheriff's Office
- First Responder Organization Hero - City of Pueblo Police Department

An in-depth description of each recipient's significant contribution can be seen here,

Burnie Zercher - Humanitarian Hero
Jace Martellaro - Youth Hero
Koa - Animal Hero with her human partner
Pueblo County Sheriff's Deputy Joe Bernal
In addition to appreciating our heroic community members, the Hometown Heroes Dinner allows attendees to partner with the American Red Cross through financial support. Partnering with the American Red Cross allows all individuals to become a local hero by providing the means to further the touch of the Red Cross during times of crisis locally, nationally and worldwide. Whether by serving, saving, volunteering or donating financially, the Red Cross appreciates all the heroes who give back to the community. Thank you to all the Pueblo Hometown Heroes!

Casey Colleti and Kacee Willbanks
show their support for the American Red Cross

To view all the pictures of our recipients, attendants, and presenters of the Pueblo Hometown Heroes Dinner please visit the Flickr album here,

Friday, February 27, 2015

Red Cross Helps Pueblo Family Recover

By Bill Fortune

It was a cold February morning when Shantal Baker was awakened by a loud beeping noise. At first she didn’t recognize the noise but then the audible smoke alarm started chanting “Fire…Fire…Fire.” Moving quickly she began waking up the rest of the family, her husband Michael Smith, daughter Rebecca and 3-week old son Timothy.

Shantal and Michael holding 3-week old Timothy at the
Pueblo Red Cross office.
Photo by Bill Fortune/American Red Cross
According to Baker, the smoke was not very noticeable at first but the family evacuated the home. By the time they were outside they could see the smoke from one of the rooms. The fire moved quickly through the home on Pueblo’s south side resulting in a total loss. Michael was able to grab a blanket to wrap the family in while they waited for the fire department. “We lost it all,” Baker said. “Everything went and in only a few minutes. Thank goodness we had a smoke alarm so that we could all get out safely.”

The Baker-Smith home after the fire. Photo provided
 by Shantal Baker
The family was helped by the Red Cross Disaster Action Team that day and over the next two days as they worked to recover from this personal disaster. They are staying with family while they look for a new place to live. The Red Cross gave them a few items to help with immediate needs like comfort kits and diapers. They were also given funds to help replace some of the clothing that was lost, especially winter clothing, along with food and infant supplies. “It will be good to get a coat for our daughter that actually fits.” Smith said. “We really appreciate what the Red Cross has done for us, and the support we are getting from our friends and the Pueblo community.”

This is just another example of how important it is to have a working smoke alarm in your home. The Red Cross has launched the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign in an effort to educate people about the need to have a family emergency plan and a working smoke alarm.

If you would like to be part of this campaign go to our Home Fire Preparedness page to find out how you can help us reduce the number of fatalities caused by home fires.

Friday, February 13, 2015

What happens when you only express your love once a year

By Patricia Billinger
It's always nice to receive a gift expressing that someone cares. Holidays like Valentine's Day provide a reminder -- but imagine if that were the only day someone remembered to show they cared! We imagined what that would be like, and came up with these fun, low-budget videos.

You'll notice at the end that we ask you to show a little love to the Red Cross. As with your loved ones, your favorite nonprofits need your love throughout the year.  We very much appreciate the generosity donors show in response to the big disasters...but we also need ongoing support to fund our daily service delivery -- such responding to more than 400 home fires every year in our region -- as well as to ensure that we have the resources and volunteers in place to be ready to respond when the big disasters hit.

We hope you'll enjoy these light-hearted videos, then visit to make a gift in honor of someone you love. Thank you!

Going Out For a Romantic Dinner:

Giving Your Wife Flowers:


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Meet Four Adorable Red Cross Families

by Patricia Billinger
If you get to chatting with Red Cross workers - whether employed or volunteer - one thing quickly becomes clear: this is a very special organization with a mission that inspires passion and loyalty. The people who put in long hours under high stress conditions do it for the gratification of serving others and knowing they're making a difference, not for personal gain, fame or fortune.

When disaster strikes, the families of Red Crossers are called upon to sacrifice time with their loved ones so that those Red Cross volunteers and employees can be there for the people who need them most: the survivors of disasters ranging from home fires to hurricanes. 

As part of our #RedCrossMyHeart campaign, we have an opportunity to introduce you to four of these adorable families -- who are so committed to the work of the Red Cross that they not only work for the Red Cross, but also support the organization. 

This Valentine's Day, we encourage you to support the Red Cross in honor of someone you love. Visit to make your gift or share YOUR love story. 

1. Jenni, Mario & Rosalia

2. Eric, Jenny & Collin

3. Patricia & Chris

4. James and Kate

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On Her Wedding Weekend, Bride Gives Mom Gift

By Patricia Billinger
Weddings are typically a time for celebration, reuniting with family and giving gifts. When Rattana Phon got married in January, her mother flew in for the weekend. There in spirit and memory for the ceremony – but long missing in person – was Rattana’s maternal grandfather.

“She knew the day he disappeared: July 28, 1977. She has had no contact with her father since then,” Rattana said.

Rattana on her wedding day with her stepfather, mother and husband.
Her grandfather was one of the millions of Cambodians who disappeared during the Cambodian civil war and brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s.

Amidst the preparations for her wedding on Jan. 23, 2015, Rattana found time to find out more from her mother about her grandfather and to have her mother sign a document that, she hopes, could eventually lead to some answers in the long-cold case.

What Rattana had her mom sign was a Red Cross Restoring Family Links Inquiry that Rattana is launching on her family’s behalf. The inquiry is the first step in what can be a years-long process to track the last-known whereabouts of individuals who were separated from their families by war, disasters, migration or other humanitarian crises. The inquiry includes as much information about her grandfather as possible that could be helpful in tracing his path. It will be shared by the American Red Cross with the Cambodian Red Cross so that local Red Cross caseworkers in Cambodia can begin researching the case.

Rattana decided to initiate the case nearly 40 years after her grandfather’s disappearance because she just learned that Red Cross Restoring Family Links services existed. She recently moved to Colorado and decided to volunteer for the Red Cross while searching for employment. With a degree in International Relations, the Red Cross International Services program seemed like a good fit, and on her first day she was introduced to RFL caseworker Robbe Sokolove to shadow.

Rattana's grandfather.
 He was a professional volleyball player.
“I kept thinking about my mom because I knew about my grandfather in Cambodia,” Rattana recalled. “The caseworker was working a case that sounded very similar to my mom’s case, but I wasn’t sure if Cambodia was listed as a country with this service.”

Robbe shared a document with the list of countries where the American Red Cross has the most RFL cases, and when Rattana flipped through it she was surprised and pleased to see Cambodia on the list.

That was when she decided to pursue a case. She talked to her mom on the phone and learned more about her grandfather’s disappearance.

“The Khmer Rouge forced everyone to evacuate to the countryside. During that process, my mom was separated from her father. She knew the name of the village where he was, but about 1 year after he was evacuated, the Khmer Rouge took my grandfather away,” Rattana said. As he was being led past another village, he shouted to a villager to notify others about what was happening. “He shouted to the person, ‘let people know I’m being taken away, please let them know to take care of my children for me.’”

The man passed the message on to Rattana’s mom the following day. She never heard from her father again.

 Rattana said that although most of her family assumes her grandfather died, her mother has wondered.

 “My mom has always had this hope, she’s always had this small hope that she has carried with her,” Rattana said.

Although she thinks it is unlikely that her grandfather survived, it’s her mother’s hope that inspired Rattana to initiate an RFL case.

 Sometimes, the RFL inquiries reunite families that have been out of touch for decades; other times, the inquiries determine the final resting place of a loved one. And sometimes, in countries where large numbers of people were “disappeared,” the trail goes cold at the victim’s last known location.

 Rattana hopes her Red Cross inquiry will uncover some additional informational that could provide closure for her mom.

 “The last known information we have about him was that he was taken away – what happened after that? I just want my mom to have peace of mind,” Rattana said. “This is something we can do to give her peace in her mind to know what happened to her father.”

Read more about the work of the Red Cross in Cambodia.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Disaster + Love + Laughter = a Sweet #RedCrossMyHeart Video

Erin and MeLisa Mounsey know disaster up close and first-hand - from Erin's personal experience losing his home to a fire and receiving help from the Red Cross over a decade ago, to their current role helping others impacted by disasters in their community.

Erin heads up the Northern Colorado Chapter of the American Red Cross. He met MeLisa in 2005 at the World Burn Congress in Baltimore, an annual conference for burn survivors, and they married in 2010.

In this #RedCrossMyHeart video, you can feel the love they share with one another and see the joy and laughter they bring to the world -- one of the many gifts this fantastic couple gives as they make a difference every day.


If you would like to participate, and express your love in a meaningful way this Valentine’s Day, we would love to hear your story (and of course we welcome your donation!). 

Visit to share your story or make a gift. You can also take to social media to let your friends know, share the stories, and share your own #RedCrossMyHeart pledge.

Monday, February 9, 2015

WWII Telegram: "Not Coming Home. Have fallen in Love!"

by Diane Donovan, guest writer
Irene Clifford Oja, 95, has led a very interesting life. She was born a twin, but unfortunately her twin brother passed away shortly after birth. Irene has always felt that she wanted to live her life for both herself and her twin, and that is why she decided to get her pilot’s license -- she thought that perhaps that is what her twin would have done had he lived. Irene accomplished this feat during WWII.

Irene also felt compelled to do her fair share for the country, and joined the Red Cross as part of overseas Red Cross relief efforts during WWII.

Irene worked for the Red Cross from 1946-1949. She was stationed in Ludwigsburg, Germany – where her love story begins.

The lovely Irene Clifford Oja
In 1946, Irene Clifford was a 27-year-old, tall, slender, auburn-haired beauty. She had just gone into the Military Governor’s office seeking bicycle tires for the G.I.s. At that very moment, in walks Lt. Gene Oja, a tall, handsome soldier who had just been assigned to the new Military Governor. He assists Irene in her endeavor and then asks her to accompany him to look at his office for the first time. On that meeting, he tells Irene that he is a pilot – and she matches the statement by pulling out HER pilot’s license and showing it to the startled lieutenant! He takes another look at Irene and immediately asks her to show him around the military base.

Irene had just wired a telegram home to her sister saying, “will be home in three weeks.” Three weeks later, she sends another telegram home, but this one says: “NOT coming home. Have fallen in love!”

Gene Oja
They were both equally smitten, and thus began a romance that lasted 65 glorious years.They were married in Ludwigsburg six months later. One year after their marriage, their first daughter was born in Germany; it was then that they decided to move back to the United States. Gene earned his master’s in International Relations and went on to work for the FBI; Irene had their second daughter and raised their children.

According to their daughters, their lives were filled with love and respect – a love that will last an eternity. Although Gene passed away, Irene still lives in Colorado. On Feb. 23, members of the American Red Cross of Colorado & Wyoming will present her with a special national recognition for her service as part of the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces “Our Legacy Continues” project.
The Our Legacy Continues Project honors and recognizes the legacy of Red Cross staff who have served side-by-side with members of the U.S. military in all major wars and conflicts since the American Civil War.

Irene's story is being shared as part of our Valentine's Day #RedCrossMyHeart campaign of Red Cross love stories. If you want to participate, and express your love in a meaningful way this Valentine’s Day, we would love to hear your story (and of course we welcome your donation!). Visit to share your story or make a gift. You can also take to social media to let your friends know, share the stories, and share your own #RedCrossMyHeart pledge.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Lifelong Love

Through Valentine’s Day, we are sharing love stories as people take the #RedCrossMyHeart pledge and support the Red Cross in honor of the ones they love.

Today’s love story made many of us here at the Red Cross go “awwww” and giggle at the sweet banter and endearing kiss of a couple we know best as leaders on a national scale.

Cliff Holtz is the President of Humanitarian Services for the entire American Red Cross network of nearly 500 chapters across the country. It’s a critical job overseeing Red Cross operations that include responding to an average of nearly 70,000 disasters, training more than 5.6 million people in lifesaving skills and providing more than 370,000 services to members of the military each year.

His wife, Teri, is a powerful and compassionate community member as well. She currently volunteers on the  Leadership Committee and Ready When the Time Comes Committee of the Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming region and is a member of the Red Cross Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders.

So it was very special to hear them open up and share their personal story – including an “I was 14, she was 16” detail that had us humming Sound of Music tunes all day.

If you want to participate, and express your love in a meaningful way this Valentine’s Day, we would love to hear your story (and of course we welcome your donation!). Visit to share your story or make a gift. You can also take to social media to let your friends know, share the stories, and share your own #RedCrossMyHeart pledge.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Robin and Cole Finegan: Lucky in Love

Through Valentine’s Day, we are sharing love stories as people take the #RedCrossMyHeart pledge and support the Red Cross in honor of the ones they love.

You might recognize today’s couple, Cole and Robin Finegan. Cole was named "Lawyer of the Decade" and "Lawyer of the Year" for 2013 by Law Week Colorado, and was also named one of the most influential people in Denver by 5280 magazine ("The 5280 Fifty"). Robin served as the Regional Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Denver office and currently plays a leadership role as a volunteer and board member for the Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming Region.

What you may not know is that they met on the softball field some 34 years ago, and are celebrating three decades of marriage!

In this video, they share how lucky they are to have each other, and Cole dedicates a #RedCrossMyHeart gift in honor of Robin’s long career of helping people affected by emergencies.

If you want to participate, and express your love in a meaningful way this Valentine’s Day, we would love to hear your story (and of course we welcome your donation!). Visit to share your story or make a gift. You can also take to social media to let your friends know, share the stories, and share your own #RedCrossMyHeart pledge.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reconnecting History with the Present: A Day in the Life of a Red Cross Restoring Family Links case

by: Jessica Murison/Red Cross volunteer 

While the world stood together last week, Tuesday, January 27, to remember the persons lost and those who survived Auschwitz during the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Red Cross was busy tracing leads for an inquiry we received from a woman in Denver. Although each case is unique – there is no such thing as a “typical” case – we wanted to share this story as an illustration of the life cycle of a Red Cross Restoring Family Links case. 

The Restoring Family Links program is extensive, and it is a complex process to obtain the right combination of information needed to reconnect families who have often been separated across years and thousands of miles.  In this particular case, an elderly Russian woman hand-wrote a letter to the Red Cross Mile High Chapter, inquiring about her brother who went missing during World War II.  Robbe Sokolove, a Red Cross Restoring Family Links volunteer caseworker, got the letter translated from Russian to English and then met with the woman to collect additional information that would be helpful for the Red Cross to start searching for the long-lost relatives. 

During this interview, Robbe came to find that the woman’s brother was married and had a child.  Therefore, three cases were opened: one for the woman’s brother, another for his wife, and the last for his child.  The woman explained that her brother was a shoe salesman, and left for work one day and was never seen again. Robbe asked her to point on a map where she thinks he may have gone missing, as she vaguely remembered his driving route.  Her brother was Jewish, so she believes that he may have been taken or perhaps perished in a bombing raid that was occurring during that time.  

Tim and Robbe of the Restoring Family Links Team go over
the case prior to delivering the message on Tuesday.
Robbe submitted an official family tracing case through the American Red Cross. Once a tracing case is initiated, the inquiry is forwarded to national Red Cross societies in the countries where the missing person was last seen and/or where he or she may have relocated. This case was also forwarded to the International Tracing Services, an international tracing office that specializes in cases that have a tie to the Holocaust. In January, the American Red Cross received information from the Russian Red Cross regarding the Russian woman’s sister-in-law and niece. It was only one small, initial clue towards the broader puzzle: a record that the sister-in-law had evacuated during WWII. Members of the Restoring Family Links team set out to deliver the message by hand to the woman on Tuesday. The message was written in Russian, therefore the team knew a general idea of what the form contained but was not privy to the full content.“With WWII cases, we deliver each individual piece of information as it comes along, because many of the inquirers are elderly and it can be a lengthy investigative process to track down the whereabouts of someone who disappeared so long ago,” explained Tim Bothe, who oversees the Restoring Family Links program in Colorado. 
Jon Dillon is preparing to deliver the Restoring
Family Links message in person to the Russian woman. 

When the Restoring Family Links team arrived at the adult day care center in Denver where the Russian woman spends many of her days, the woman seemed anxious and excited, and reached out to read the international tracing message  immediately, trying to make sense of the information.  Jon Dillon, American National Red Cross Caseworker and Outreach Associate for Red Cross Restoring Family Links, patiently explained in English that it was only preliminary information, and that as the Red Cross continued to find clues to the mystery of her brother and his family that they would continue to deliver each article of news, piece by piece. 

There are several obstacles that can occur within a case. First, language is often an issue, as many people seeking to be reconnected with their families have been disconnected by war in non-English speaking nations.  The language barrier is always a consideration for Restoring Family Links staff, and they utilize all the tools available to them to be able to communicate effectively with our clients. In this case, Jon communicated to the woman in her broken English and utilized the assistance of Russian-speaking staff at the day care center to help communicate. 

Managing expectations can also be an issue, as locating missing family members can be a long process. Months can pass as Red Cross workers in far distant countries and here in the U.S. exhaust all possible measures to find information on the whereabouts of missing family.  Tim Bothe explained that Red Cross caseworkers seek to update clients on a regular basis after the case is initiated, even if no new information has been found, to reassure the client that the case is still open. When information is found, caseworkers usually deliver the updates in person. Sometimes, unfortunately, there just isn't enough information or the trail has gone cold, and a case hits a dead end. But in many cases, Restoring Family Links efforts result in reconnecting long-lost family members – or, at the very least, uncovering new information that helps the seeking family member gain peace of mind about where their loved one went after the separation.

After Jon was finished speaking with the Russian woman, she seemed grateful and thanked him for delivering the news to her.  The case is not solved yet, but the information given to her Tuesday provides comfort that the Red Cross is moving forward, making progress and will continue to trace family links until all measures have been exhausted.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

These Love Stories Might Change Your Mind About Valentine's Day

People tend to feel one of two ways about Valentine’s Day: You either revel in the romance, inhale the aromas of chocolate and roses, and look forward to being spoiled by loved ones…or you resent the confines of forced expression, wrinkle your nose at the cloying smell of a corporate holiday, and perhaps even plan anti-Valentine’s Day celebrations for your single friends.

No matter which way you typically trend, we’re thrilled to have a reason for you to love Valentine’s Day for all the right reasons!

This year, we’ve enlisted a handful of people to share their love stories. The folks who are opening up and sharing their stories might be familiar to you: some are leaders in their community, others are well-known business people, and some are our own Red Crossers.They’re people we most often see engaged in the work of doing good and changing the world…serious stuff involving business suits and big decisions where people talk about everything but themselves.

We’re offering you a glance at the softer side of these awesome individuals – a peek into their personal lives as they open up and share their unique love stories. And who doesn’t like a love story? Some of the stories are traditional romances, the others describe their love for a parent, child or close friend.

Most important of all, they’re telling their tales to you for a good cause. You see, each person took time to think of someone they love dearly – someone they would want to know was receiving comfort and care if an emergency ever were to happen – and they took the #RedCrossMyHeart pledge to donate to the Red Cross in honor of that loved one for Valentine’s Day. Their gifts aim to help ensure that the Red Cross can be there for all the husbands and wives, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, partners and friends that are loved by someone out there.

Each person is sharing their love story in hopes of spreading the love, and spreading the support for the Red Cross so that we can deliver on our mission 365 days a year, whether in response to home fires or heart attacks, wildfires or floods.

Here’s our very first one, courtesy of local businessman, motivational speaker and former Denver Bronco Reggie Rivers – check back at this blog for more stories to come!

If you want to participate, and express your love in a meaningful way this Valentine’s Day, we would love to hear your story (and of course we welcome your donation!). Visit to share your story or make a gift. You can also take to social media to let your friends know, share the stories, and share your own #RedCrossMyHeart pledge.