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Ohio River Valley Red Cross celebrates 100 years

Organization encourages residents to reach out for assistance or to volunteer

PORTSMOUTH — 1917 was a momentous year. Harry Houdini performed his first buried-alive stunt. Al Capone received the knife wound that would earn him the nickname Scarface.  Mati Hari was arrested and executed for espionage in France. Woodrow Wilson was sworn in for his second term as President. Albert Einstein published his first paper on Cosmology. The United States officially entered into World War I following the sinking of several U.S. ships by German forces. The October Revolution in Russia led to the fall of the Czar and set the stage for the creation of the Soviet Union. Future President John F. Kennedy was born, as were future jazz luminaries Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, and 2001: A Space Odyssey author Arthur C. Clarke.  It’s also the year that the Ohio River Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross was formed.

The local Red Cross chapter plans to host a number of events to celebrate its centennial throughout the year, according to Debbie Smith, the Community Executive of the Ohio River Valley Chapter.

“We’re really excited to be celebrating 100 years of the Red Cross,” Smith said, “because there aren’t a lot of organizations, non-profit organizations, that can say they’ve actually been around 100 years. So we’re really proud of that. We just want to be sure we can share as much information with the public about the Red Cross and all that we do in the communities and hope that the community will all be able to celebrate with us. We plan to do several things throughout the year. We’re co-hosting business after hours (this week) with our neighbors across the street… that’s one of our first big kick offs here in the local (Portsmouth) community. We’re working on trying to host some centennial blood drives for different communities too.”

She said that any groups or organizations wishing to partner with them on a centennial blood drive should reach out to the organization and they would work with them from there to organize the event.

But while the Red Cross may bring to mind blood drives, that isn’t all they do. Smith noted that they also teach first aid classes, CPR, and probably their most important endeavor for local communities, they provide disaster relief.

“In Lawrence County, for the last six months, we were able to help 68 individuals (or families) that were affected by disasters,” Smith said. “Actually they were the highest of all our counties in disaster response.”

Smith said that the biggest driver of disaster response locally are house fires, making it an area where the Red Cross is increasing efforts to raise awareness.

“We want to make sure everyone in our local communities has access to free smoke alarms,” she said.

Over the past six months they have installed 844 smoke alarms, she noted, mostly in Lawrence County, but that this is still only a fraction of the homes out there that don’t currently have adequate early warning of a fire emergency.

“We’re hoping to do a lot more than that,” she said. “Maybe 100 a month would be a good goal for the centennial.”

She explained that they are trying to increase awareness of this particular service from the Red Cross and encouraging families without a smoke alarm in their home to reach out and call to schedule an appointment with them for free smoke alarm installation.

“They’ve installed the most in Lawrence County, and part of the reason is, when they see areas that have a lot of home fires, they try to go out and canvass those areas. But we also install smoke alarms by appointment, so we encourage people to call us if they don’t have smoke alarms, or they’re not sure if their smoke alarms work properly, or if they don’t have enough, call us here at the Red Cross.

“We feel it can make a big difference and save a lot of lives, making sure everyone has a working smoke alarm,” she continued. “ It’s probably the single best thing to save a life if there is a fire. It warns you often before you smell smoke. Or if you might be asleep.”

The organization will also be focusing more on its history and encouraging volunteerism throughout the year, and they are looking for folks with a family history with the Red Cross to share their stories and any photos or other documents they might have during their year long celebration. Anyone looking to volunteer, share stories and photos, or wishing to schedule an appointment for smoke detector installation can contact the Ohio River Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross at 740-354-3293, or toll free at 888-354-3293. You can also find more information about the organization online at www.redcross.org/oh/portsmouth, or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ORVredcross.