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Red Cross California Northwest Chapter Raises more than $138,000 at Annual Heroes Breakfast

Photos from the event can be found here:   

SANTA ROSA, CA (May 9, 2017) – On Thursday, April 27, 2017, community members, business leaders, and guests joined the American Red Cross of the California Northwest in honoring 15 inspirational community members for their selfless acts of courage at its 14th Annual Real Heroes Breakfast. The event took place at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa, CA and raised $138,000 to benefit the American Red Cross.

The event sponsors included American AgCredit, Wells Fargo Bank, Jackson Family Wines, PG&E, St. Joseph Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silver Oak/Twomey Cellars, Sonoma Raceway, UnionBank, Camelbak, Eye Care Institute, Keysight Technologies, Redwood Credit Union, Sutter Health, Biagi Brothers Trucking, Steve Countouriotis, Veronica Ferguson, Lagunitas Brewing, Mary’s Pizza Shack, Reach Air Medical Service, and Verihealth.

The Real Heroes Breakfast is a signature event for the local Red Cross chapter, in benefit of the numerous lifesaving programs and services the chapter provides in support of nearly 1 million people in that area. 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 heroic actions have benefited their communities and upheld the values of the American Red Cross. The following individuals were honored at this year’s banquet:


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 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 numerous 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 pairs 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 in all.


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 event, 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

Approximately 6:00 am 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: Sergeant Jason Bahlman, Matthew Barawed, Dan Russo, 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 now conscious and asking “Why am I on the ground?” Erin’s quick action had undoubtedly saved his life.  Erin said, “I did not 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 vulnerable 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 that 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 set 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 reach the girl safely 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 Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties, the American Red Cross is a non-profit, humanitarian organization that depends on the generous contributions of time and money from residents and companies to provide services and programs that help our community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. For more information, visit our website at or call us at 1-707-577-7600. You may also find us on Facebook and Twitter.