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Red Cross Announces 2017 Alameda County Heroes Honorees


Media Contact: Cynthia Shaw

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Awards Breakfast to be held on Friday, September 15, 2017

OAKLAND, CA (August 4, 2017) — The American Red Cross of the Bay Area will be honoring five community members and a special organization from Alameda County for their acts of courage or compassion at the upcoming Alameda County Heroes Award Breakfast.  The event will be held on Friday, September 15, 2017, in the City of Alameda.

After careful consideration, a committee of local community leaders selected the 2017 Alameda County Hero Award recipients based on the degree to which their acts of heroism or compassion uphold the values of the American Red Cross and leave a lasting and positive impact on the residents of the Alameda County. The following is a list of the heroes who will be honored at this year’s breakfast; descriptions of each honoree's actions follow.

·   Blood Services Hero: Glenna Wurm-Hayenga, San Lorenzo

·   Disaster Services Hero: Rev. Debra Avery, Oakland

·   Good Samaritan Hero: Benjamin Sebastian – San Lorenzo

·   First Responder Hero: Father Jayson Landeza, Oakland

·   International Services Hero: Marilyn Simpson Wright, Moraga

·   Special Community Hero Award: The Oakland Athletics Community Fund

Heather Holmes of KTVU-Channel 2 will be the Master of Ceremonies.  The Keynote Speaker will be Napoleon Kaufman, Sr. Pastor of Well Christian Church and Head Football Coach for Bishop O’Dowd High School.  The event will take place at Grandview Pavilion, located at 300 Island Drive, Alameda. Registration will open at 7:30 a.m. and the program will run from 8 to 10 a.m. Tickets to the breakfast will be available for purchase mid-August at


About the American Red Cross of the Bay Area

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds, and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please call 1-888-4-HELP-BAY (1-888-443-5722) or visit to learn more. You may also find us on Facebook and Twitter.




Blood Services Hero: Glenna Wurm-Hayenga

Glenna Wurm-Hayenga has been a teacher at San Lorenzo High School for 15 years.  She supported many blood drives over the last decade helping the American Red Cross collect more than 780 units of blood.  This past year she announced that she would be leaving the school, but didn’t want the blood program to be discontinued, so she found one of the other teachers to step up and be her successor.  She made it a point to lock in the date for their blood drive before the school year coming to a close.

Disaster Services Hero: Reverend Debra Avery

Early in the morning of March 27, 2017, a fire broke out at 2551 San Pablo Avenue in Oakland killing four people.  More than 100 individuals were displaced in the cold without adequate clothing and no shelter. The Red Cross responded and began to supply food, blankets, water, and comfort kits at a local parking lot. Around 8 a.m. that morning, Rev. Avery and a few members of her Church arrived and asked how they could help.  They were told that the Red Cross needed to a temporary shelter for the displaced and space to set up an evacuation center until the Red Cross and the City of Oakland could open an overnight shelter later in the day. Rev. Avery with her volunteers opened First Presbyterian Church Oakland (about a half mile away) for all to warm up, get food and to meet with Red Cross volunteers and city staff, who would help the displaced residents, which included individuals with special needs.  She and her staff prepared food and comforted everyone.  That afternoon, an ongoing overnight shelter was found at another location nearby. Rev. Avery did not stop helping. She worked with other community leaders to raise emergency funds for the displaced, and she assumed a leadership role with all the community groups helping with this tragedy. She would be the first to say she did not do anything alone, but she was the leader and coordinated her church’s activities to intervene in an emergency and helped more than 100 people who otherwise would surely have lost hope.

Good Samaritan Hero:  Benjamin Sebastian – San Lorenzo

On Sunday, June 11, 2017, a car drove into the water near the Marina in San Leandro. Witnesses say the driver was going very fast and lost control as he went around the corner and started fishtailing.  The car then hit the rocks and went airborne and flipped into the water.  That is when witnesses sprang into action. Benjamin and another person were nearby when they witnessed the accident.  He then kicked off his shoes, then drove into the Bay water.  “Someone then tossed me a rock, and I broke the window, grabbed him and was able to pull him out,” said Benjamin.  “He did a great job saving that person.  Without his courage, I believe it would have been a very different outcome for the occupants of that vehicle,” commented San Leandro Police Lieutenant Ted Henderson.  

First Responder Hero:  Father Jayson Landeza

Father Jayson Landeza is the Pastor of the St. Benedict Catholic Church in Oakland.  He was chosen for this award due to his "ministry of presence" from the very beginning when a fire erupted at the Ghost Ship warehouse, which had been converted into an artist collective, in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, California. A total of 36 people were tragically lost in what would become the deadliest fire in the history of Oakland and the deadliest in California since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. His quiet presence and uncanny ability to just to listen and be there for those victims’ families as well as those who responded to the tragedy were and are invaluable.  Officially, Father Landeza is the Chaplain of the Oakland Fire and Police Departments as well as the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Unofficially, he is the volunteer chaplain for anybody who needs him. He spent every day from dawn to late at night comforting victim’s family members, offering solace or just providing a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. In addition to all his duties at Saint Benedict Church, he was up at 5:30 the next morning to do it all over again.  His selflessness is a living example of the American Red Cross mission.

International Services Hero:  Marilyn Simpson Wright

Marilyn is the current link between the Oakland office of the International Rescue Committee and churches and other organizations serving the needs of refugees in Alameda County and the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Among those organizations are Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Jewish Family and Community Services – East Bay, No One Left Behind, Inc., and her own church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The international services for refugees resettling in Alameda County include collecting and distributing in-kind donations, funds, and transition support services and coordinating a small army of volunteers to set up apartments for refugee families. Marilyn reports: “The community of people that serve refugees in Northern California is inspiring. It is a pleasure to be a part of these caring collaborations. There is much work to be done in helping these families start over in Northern California, and none of us can accomplish this on our own. I know that the friendships we are making in supporting refugees today will be paid back ten-fold in ways we have yet to see.”

Special Community Hero Award:  The Oakland Athletics Community Fund

On December 2, 2016, the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire broke out. As the Bay Area community reeled from the loss and shock of this disaster, many of those seeking to help those impacted were looking for someone to step forward and lead the fundraising and stewardship effort on behalf of the families of those lost and those displaced. Within hours, the Oakland Athletics Community Fund raised their hand. Led by Ken Pries, VP of Communications and Broadcasting, the Community Fund provided a transparent and secure place for community gifts. Leading corporations such as Kaiser and Clorox, joined arms with the Golden State Warriors and the Oakland Raiders to drive the designated fund to more nearly $900,000.  Over the following months, the leadership of the Community Fund partnered with the American Red Cross and the City of Oakland to ensure the complete distribution of the fund directly to the families of those lost, as well as the displaced survivors. These funds provided immediate relief to grieving families, allowed loved ones to come to Oakland and join family and friends, and supported the recovery and transition of those displaced to more permanent housing.  The leadership and community focus of the Oakland Athletics Community Fund demonstrated the absolute best values of the American Red Cross and the humanitarian spirit of Oakland.