Red Cross event honors 2007 Heroes of the Valley



These people performed acts of courage, donated time or showed unusual kindness.
By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT
BOARDMAN -- Meredith Reffner and Nick Grimm were diagnosed with cancer at young ages, but both have turned their illnesses into something positive -- mainly by looking beyond themselves.
"It's great that I can help people," said Meredith, 16, of Poland, who was diagnosed at age 7 with leukemia. "As kids, we have the power to do stuff, even though we're young."
Meredith was among those awarded for their actions at Saturday's fourth annual 2007 Heroes of the Mahoning Valley breakfast at Antone's Banquet Centre on Market Street. The event, hosted by the Mahoning Chapter of the American Red Cross and sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, honored individuals and groups who in 2006 performed acts of courage, donated extra time to the betterment of the community, or showed unusual kindness and strength of character.
"It feels good" to receive a plaque, added Nick, 12, of Leavittsburg, who at 18 months was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.
Nick and Meredith are members of the Raising Our Commitment to Cancer Kids children's choir. ROCcK is made up of 22 youngsters ages 4 to 17 who are affected by cancer as well as those who are survivors, siblings, family members or friends of someone with the disease. Choir members were awarded for their desire to help others heal from cancer and the emotional strain it places on loved ones.
"Hang in there. It gets easier," Meredith said of dealing with the disease.
Awards given
Kicking off the program was an award given to the pupils of Boardman Center Middle School. Four pupils accepted the honor on behalf of the school, which was recognized for its service acts that included recycling cellular phones and hundreds of ink-jet printers; writing and getting a grant to start a program for homeless people; conducting an annual food drive; and establishing a partnership with Beatitude House for disadvantaged women and children. Speaking in accepting the honor was pupil Hannah Struharik.
Receiving a plaque for her longtime work as a dog breeder and trainer was Barbara Hoch of Youngstown, who for 15 years has taken her therapy dogs to Forum Health Northside Medical Center for visits. Every Thursday, Hoch and her animals provide compassion and companionship to patients in the facility's adult psychiatric unit.
Also getting an award for working with dogs was Debbie Crater, who was honored for rescuing lost, injured and abandoned animals. Crater and her boyfriend, John Beach, started Debbie's Only Goal Saving Strays, a nonprofit organization set up to make a positive impact in the lives of homeless dogs. Both pay for spaying and neutering as well as shots and food for the animals, Crater said, adding that she has 30 dogs at home.
"I started realizing how many animals are out there that no one cares about," Crater said of her decision to take on her work.
For helping a girl with autism and her single mother cope with the child's disorder, Mary Weldele also was awarded at the event. Last year, Weldele, a second-grade teacher at Watson Elementary in Austintown, put the mother and daughter in touch with counselors and remained in touch with the two during the summer to ensure they were OK.
"She's a special little girl who's going to do fine," Weldele said. "I look for her to do wonderful things as she grows."
An award also went to Jim Groner of Petersburg, director of habilitation at the Mahoning County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, for his volunteer efforts and work with clients. Among other things, Groner and his patients raised funds for a local cancer survivor to take a vacation, and they have held car washes as well as a rummage sale to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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