By Kayli Perry, American Red Cross volunteer
As children, when we think of heroes, our first thoughts are of muscular men and women in capes fighting the bad guy. As we get older, we realize that the heroes in our world are normal people who do extraordinary things. That is who the American Red Cross of Orange County honored at the 2023 Orange County Heroes Awards.
Every year in May, the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross hosts the Orange County Heroes Awards to honor people in our community who have gone above and beyond to help those in need. This year, on May 19, the award ceremony was held at the City National Grove of Anaheim, where hundreds of people from across Southern California came together to honor this year’s heroes.
The event started around 11:00 a.m. with a small reception in the main hall, giving guests and honorees a chance to mingle with each other. At 12:00 p.m., the doors to the main theater opened, and guests were guided inside to the main event.
Nine heroes were recognized:
- Dr. John Cheng: Spirit of Hope Award
- Dorothy “Dottie” Brown: Gift of Life Hero Award
- Andrew Belden: Good Samaritan Hero Award
- Danielle Judd: Animal Welfare Hero Award
- Peter Pham: Disaster Services Hero Award
- Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee: Service to the Armed Forces Hero Award
- Nick Sibayan: First Responder Hero Award
- Kia America: Corporate Hero Award
- Tabitha Finamore: Youth Hero Award
The first hero honored was Dr. John Cheng. He was awarded the Spirit of Hope Award posthumously due to his heroic actions at the Laguna Woods church shooting. Three months before the tragedy, Dr. Cheng’s father had died. His mother had not gone to church since, but on the morning of the shooting asked her son to come to the Geneva Presbyterian Church with her. That was when a gunman came to the church and opened fired on churchgoers. Dr. Cheng heroically tackled the gunman, getting shot three times, but saving the lives of many others in the building. Dr. Cheng is truly a hero. The South Coast Medical Group accepted the award on his behalf.
The next hero honored was Dorothy “Dottie” Brown, who received the Gift of Life Hero Award for her service of donating blood for over 70 years. Dottie makes it a point to continuously donate blood every 56 days, making sure to always schedule her next appointment at the Red Cross Santa Ana Blood Donation Center. Dottie does this because she knows that it is the blood already on the shelves that saves lives and says, “It’s the one thing that I can do to help others.” Dottie turns 101 in June 2023, and has no plans to stop donating anytime soon. If you or someone you know is interested in donating blood, please visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS to find a blood drive near you.
Andrew Belden received the Good Samaritan Hero Award after he saved a police officer from a helicopter crash in the waters near Newport Beach. Andrew is a lifeguard, and was off-duty enjoying time with friends on a boat nearby when he saw a police helicopter hit the water. Without hesitation, he jumped into the water and made it to the scene, pulling out an officer, saving the officer's life. Andrew doesn’t consider himself a hero and feels that he was just following his training. As a lifeguard, he considers himself a part of public safety for life. Regardless, Andrew is a true hero for his calm, quick thinking and saving the life of another person.
Danielle Judd received the Animal Welfare Hero Award, for her work with FarmHouse Rescue. FarmHouse Rescue is a shelter Danielle created for animals who have known hardships and children who are dealing with cancer, as well as adults with special needs. She created this farm because she sees how the spirits of the animals connect with those who visit. Her farm is available to visit virtually or in person, and has made a meaningful difference in the lives of her visitors.
Peter Pham received the Disaster Services Award for his free hot meal delivery program during the Covid-19 pandemic. Peter is a former refugee who escaped communism on a boat. He spent four weeks at sea facing death and starvation, which gave him appreciation for human life. Years later, during the pandemic, Peter saw seniors resorting to eating dog and cat food to avoid starvation because they were afraid to leave their homes. This moved him to start a free hot meal delivery program. His determination led to over 2,700 hot meals being delivered weekly, helping out thousands who would have gone hungry.
The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee received The Service to the Armed Forces Heroes Award. The committee is a non-profit made up entirely of volunteers known for providing resources and financial support to families at Camp Pendleton. The committee hosts annual events and programs such as “welcome home” events and distribution of “deployment” care packages, a Sponsor-A-Marine program, seasonal events and much more. Through their hard work and dedication, the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee is ensuring the Marines of Camp Pendleton and their families are taken care of.
Nick Sibayan received the First Responder Hero Award. After responding to a medical call, the Orange County Firefighter/Paramedic witnessed an emergency room nurse get pushed by a patient. The patient then locked themselves in a room while the Fountain Valley Police were called to provide assistance. When a single officer arrived, the patient attacked the officer. Nick jumped in to subdue to assailant, allowing the officer to break free and ultimately get the assailant restrained and in custody. Nick’s quick thinking kept everyone in the emergency room safe while also helping the officer.
Kia America received the Corporate Hero Award. The organization has donated nearly $1.25 million to the Red Cross. Their generous donations have gone to disaster relief efforts, helping the Red Cross provide food, water and shelter to those impacted during major disasters across the country. Kia also supports the “Accelerate for Good” initiative, in which Red Cross is one of the eight charities dealerships across the nation can support.
The last honoree of the day was Tabitha Finamore, who received the Youth Hero Award. Tabitha’s younger cousin was diagnosed with cancer, and needed blood for his cancer treatments. Tabitha, at only 17 years old, reached out to the Red Cross and organized a blood in honor of children with cancer at her cousin’s school. Thanks to her incredible work, 46 units of life saving blood were donated at the blood drive, making her a true hero.
While only nine heroes were selected, many more people were nominated for their heroic deeds. It was a hard decision, but these heroes truly model the mission of the American Red Cross, to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.
Nominations for this event are accepted all year round, and in 2024 another group of heroes will be honored. If you know a hero that you feel deserves to be recognized, go to redcross.org/ocheroes and fill out the nomination form. Next year it may be your hero receiving an award!