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California Northwest Red Cross Announces 2017 Real Heroes Breakfast Honorees

Media Contact: Cynthia Shaw
24-hour Toll-Free Media Hotline: 855-559-0333

14th Annual Real Heroes Breakfast to be held on Thursday, April 27

SANTA ROSA, CA (April 7, 2017) – The American Red Cross of the California Northwest will be honoring 15 inspirational community members for their selfless acts of courage at its 14th Annual Real Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, April 27 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa. Table sponsorships and individual tickets are still available for the event. Registration will open at 7:00 a.m., and the program will run from 7:30 until 9 a.m.

After careful consideration, a committee of local community leaders selected the 2017 California Northwest Red Cross Hero Award recipients based on the degree to which their acts of heroism uphold the values of the American Red Cross and leave a lasting and positive impact on the residents of the Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Counties.  The following is a list of the heroes who will be honored at this year’s breakfast, and detailed descriptions of each honoree are featured below.

•  Act of Courage Hero: Jose Martin of St. Helena
•  Animal Hero: Shirley Zindler of Sebastopol
•  Education Hero: Lee Morgan Brown of Sonoma
•  Environment Hero: Alden Olmsted of Santa Rosa
•  Humanitarian Adult Hero: Jeff Gilman of Santa Rosa
•  Humanitarian Youth Heroes: Brice Marcuz of Kneeland, Jack Marcuz of Kneeland, and Gunter Kison of Eureka
•  Law Enforcement Heroes: Jason Bahlman of Rohnert Park, Matthew Barawed of Vacaville, Dan Russo of Rohnert Park, and Dan Mitchell of Middletown
•  Medical Hero: Erin Morales of Santa Rosa
•  Military Hero: Akash Kalia of Santa Rosa
•  Rescue Professional Hero: Aaron Pendergraft of Bodega

The Real Heroes Breakfast is a signature event in support of the lifesaving programs and emergency services the local chapter provides to the nearly one million residents in Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Counties. To purchase tickets and for more information about the event, please go to:


Act of Courage Hero: Jose Martin
Jose Martin, a 27-year veteran volunteer of the St. Helena Fire Department and professional firefighter in American Canyon for the last 13 years, demonstrated extraordinary courage when he put his life in danger to help three victims of a fatal car crash off Interstate 10 last November. Against instruction to stay away from the vehicle due to a fire in the engine, Jose valiantly removed David Collins and Betty Burns from the burning vehicle. With the help of his family, the fire was put out, and Jose began to tend to the injured passengers. Delaine and David Collins both suffered critical injuries, and unfortunately, ninety-four year old Betty Burns was later pronounced dead by paramedics. Despite the loss of his aunt, David Collins wrote a letter to Mayor Alan Galbraith praising Martin’s heroism for helping them that day.

Animal Hero: Shirley Zindler
Shirley Zindler has always been an animal lover. Following her passion for animal care, she has been an Animal Control Officer with Sonoma County Animal Shelter for fifteen years. Responding to encouragement from her family and friends, she founded Dogwood Animal Rescue a year ago. Shirley and her team of volunteers offer low and no cost spay and neuter services, provide medical and rehabilitation, and secure new homes for many pets. Shirley is connected with various Animal Control locations throughout northern California and southern California to support their needs of rehoming the many pets that come through their doors when they are unable to accommodate them. She compliments her work with various other volunteer commitments and activities to raise money for animal wellness.

Education Hero: Lee Morgan Brown
Lee Morgan Brown is Executive Director of Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, which brings together adults with kids in the community who need an extra layer of social and emotional support. SVMA began twenty years ago in one school in Sonoma and today, under Lee’s leadership, the program is now present on eight school campuses, as well as at the Hanna Boys School, and serves 450 students with 100 more on the waiting list. Once students are matched with an adult, they typically meet once per week for at least an hour. Since the program’s start, 1,700 mentors and mentees have been matched.

Environment Hero: Alden Olmsted
Alden Olmsted has dedicated much of the last several years to raise funds to complete the Across California hiking trail. The Across California Trail will be the second longest trail in California, stretching over 300 miles from Mendocino to Lake Tahoe. This trail is vital to environmental preservation because it will link many of the protected areas in California. Alden has focused on creating a continuous trail with plenty of signage and public awareness to ensure the land is preserved for future generations. Alden, also a photographer, spearheaded the installation of an interpretive panel at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve as well as The Pygmy Forest, which received Congressional recognition as a National Natural Landmark.

Humanitarian Adult Hero: Jeff Gilman
Jeff Gilman, Executive Director of Redwood Gospel Mission, is the silent strength behind one of Sonoma County’s biggest and most appreciated charity events, the Great Thanksgiving Banquet. Beginning as a 14-bed shelter in 1963, Redwood Gospel Mission now mobilizes the community to minister to the needy through a variety of homeless services, recovery programs, vocational training, jail ministries, outreach events, and thrift store. Redwood Gospel Mission’s annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet served over 5,000 poor and homeless people this year.

Humanitarian Youth Heroes: Brice Marcuz, Jack Marcuz, and Gunter Kison
Before dawn on December 22, 16-year-old Brice Marcuz, his 13-year-old brother Jack, and 17-year-old Gunter Kison launched their boat into Stone Lagoon, just south of Orick to go duck hunting. Shortly after leaving shore, they came upon a capsized boat with three teenage boys on top of the overturned boat, which had hit a three-foot wave sideways and flipped. The boys rescued all three stranded teenagers, took them to safety and called 911 for rescue help.  If these three boys had not acted so heroically that morning, the three in the water might not have survived this admittedly frightening boating accident.

Law Enforcement Heroes: Jason Bahlman, Matthew Barawed, Dan Russo, and Dan Mitchell
Marin CHP Officers Dan Russo and Dan Mitchell pulled onto the freeway in Terra Linda during a night of regular patrol when they immediately spotted a car weaving between lanes and tailgating. Sonoma County Sergeant, Jason Bahlman, received the call for assistance and he and Officer Matthew Barawed moved into action. After multiple attempts to stop the vehicle, the car finally came to a halt on Cotati Grade after the car’s tires were shredded by spike strips. The vehicle ignited and burst into flames as Jason noticed there were two small children in the backseat. The officers were able to successfully rescue all of the passengers following their instincts to help those in danger.

Medical Hero: Erin Morales
Erin Morales is Manager at La Cantera Racquet and Swim Club in Santa Rosa. In August of 2016, Richard Allen, suffered a cardiac arrest while playing tennis. Because of her decision to purchase an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) for the club years before, Erin was able to use the machine to deliver a powerful electric jolt and restart Richard’s heart. After administering the shock, the response was immediate. The man, who was silent and motionless one minute, was conscious and asking “Why am I on the ground?” the next minute. Erin’s quick action had undoubtedly saved his life.  Erin said, “I didn’t need to be helpless. I could take action.”

Military Hero: Akash Kalia
Akash left college in Oregon where he was studying business, taking over his parents’ struggling motel in Santa Rosa. While working at the motel, he saw a need in the community for low-cost housing. He encountered veterans, addicts, homeless convicts, and families that could not afford rent in the area. Akash converted all 104 rooms of what is now known as the Palms Inn into single occupancy housing for 60 veterans and other homeless people. With help from local agencies and charities, the hotel complex includes not only living quarters, but a garden and library where residents can enjoy reading materials, poetry and music classes, and participate in support group sessions. Akash defers any honor from himself as he insists it is the veterans he houses who are the heroes.

Rescue Professional Hero: Aaron Pendergraft
Aaron Pendergraft is a seasonal Lifeguard for California State Parks and volunteer firefighter/emergency medic for Bodega Fire.  Aaron was on patrol one November day near Goat Rock Beach when he saw an unpredictable wave crash and pull out three members of the Viola family. From a distance, Aaron had seen the sea moving in and jumped in his vehicle, racing across the sand to where the family was now in trouble. Aaron fought the strong waves to get to where he saw seven-year-old Angeleek who had vanished in the churning surf. After multiple attempts, Aaron was able to safely reach the girl and guided the girl’s mother, Amanda, toward him where the three were lifted out of the water by County Sheriff’s helicopter crew. Aaron was awarded the Medal of Valor from the United States Lifesaving Association for his heroic effort.


About American Red Cross of the California Northwest

With office locations in Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties, 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, visit our web site at or call us at 1-707-577-7600. You may also find us on Facebook and Twitter.