There’s a closet in the Miami Valley Ohio Chapter office, located on First Street in Dayton, that’s filled with little pieces of historic treasure. Maybe it’s an old Red Cross swim manual from the 1950’s or photographs from the 1973 Xenia tornado. There’s a similar closet in the Cincinnati office that holds a donated Red Cross uniform, black and white photos of unidentified people, or leftover t-shirts from a previous Sound the Alarm campaign.
What some might see as junk, volunteer Cassia Patten sees history that deserves to be preserved. The Red Cross is steeped in history—141 years of it. In a rapidly changing organization that’s at the forefront of technology and innovation, old posters, photos, and other no-longer-used items are sometimes easily cast aside.
Cassia, a former Red Cross employee, who now works for the Montgomery County Courts and volunteers with the Red Cross, has made it her mission to not only save, but showcase these relics of a Red Cross past. “By recording and sharing the history of all the things Red Cross has evolved from, it can inspire others to lead, act, and innovate,” she said.
“I got a call from one of our facilities workers about some items that were being moved out of our Troy office,” Cassia recalled. “They wanted to know what to do with the items, so I drove up to Troy to pick them up and they now sit in a corner of my house.”
There are historical items scattered all over the 47 counties of the Central & Southern Ohio region. Some have value and important stories attached, others simply are destined for the recycling bin. Cassia’s goal is to gather these items, research and catalog them, and eventually create a traveling exhibit to rotate around the five Chapter Offices of the region. Another aspect of this project is to create a digital file for these items and showcase them regularly on social media.
“As we move deeper into a digital age, connection with community and the evolution of who Red Cross is as an agency changes too. By remembering the root of where we came from, we can grow out into who we need to be today to continue to serve our communities in the best way possible,” Cassia said with conviction.
She is also passionate about sharing information about the Dayton chapter’s history. “The Dayton Chapter alone has amazing stories, such a mysterious orange tea set with a bear on it with a yet-to-be-discovered story. There’s also and a bright orange Disaster Responder jumpsuit and white hard hat along with a picture of the volunteer who wore it to respond to one of the major high-rise fires in a hotel that occurred in Downtown Dayton in the 1970s,” Cassia said.
While the history preservation project is a massive undertaking, she also finds other ways to volunteer with the Red Cross. Cassia is a member of the Regional Communications team and answers direct messages that are received from the public on the Central & Southern Ohio regional Facebook page. She’s found that most of the questions are about where to donate blood or where to sign up for a CPR class, but every once in a while, the right answer to a question can make a real difference in someone’s life.
“One question that stuck with me was a woman who was looking for a lost friend,” Cassia said. “Members of the community had gone to pick up an elderly man to take him to church and found his home burned down. Terrified for his safety, the woman reached out to our Facebook page hoping to find him.”
The Red Cross protects the privacy of its clients, so Cassia was not able to share any direct information about the man to the woman making the inquiry about his safety. However, Cassia was able to pass along a message through the Red Cross disaster response team.
“I do not know the outcome of that message, but I have assisted in these calls before during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the Miami Valley tornadoes and Oregon District mass shooting as well when loved ones couldn’t find family,” Cassia said.
Whether it’s the discovery of the story behind a piece of Red Cross history or answering questions about how the Red Cross operates today, Cassia says it’s the “clarity of mission” that draws her to the organization. “In a world growing ever more distant from its own sense of community and connection, Red Cross relies on that connection and focuses on that humanity to serve those in need.”
If you’d like to volunteer with the Red Cross like Cassia, go to redcross.org/volunteertoday to start your journey.