Profiles for National Latino Heritage Month
Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is National Latino Heritage Month and the American Red Cross is celebrating by recognizing the many Latino employees, volunteers and donors who give their talent, time and treasure to the Red Cross humanitarian mission.
Initially observed as a week beginning in 1968 and later expanded in 1988 to a 30-day event, National Latino Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The Red Cross witnesses these contributions every day in communities across the country, as Latinos provide comfort to disaster victims, teach lifesaving classes, support military members and their families, and donate blood to someone in need.
The Red Cross is proud to be a part of the rich Latino heritage and tradition in the United States and even more proud of the extraordinary people who mirror the diverse community we proudly serve.
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By Saida Pagan
“I’m at the point where I want to give back.”
That’s how Frank Medina explains why after more than four decades as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, he is still a strong supporter. Medina even made a career of it, working as a district director for several years, and since 2017, he has served on the San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter board of directors.
“It’s part of my ‘give back’ plan,” 73-year-old Medina said with a smile.
Medina’s Red Cross journey began in the late 1970s when he was a member of the East LA Jaycees.
“The group decided that one of its volunteer efforts would be to help the Red Cross,” Medina said.
He began by simply helping out with blood drives and fundraising. But not long afterward, a fellow club member recruited Medina for the position of director of the Central East District of the LA Chapter.
“I managed the operations for disaster – the education courses, first aid, CPR and blood services,” said Medina who has a master’s in public administration. “I picked it up very quickly, especially in disaster services.”
During Medina’s tenure as director in the 1980s and early 1990s, there was never a dull moment serving residents in the downtown area and on LA’s east side.
“There were a lot of apartment houses in my district. So when there was a fire or flooding or an earthquake, we always had a large number of people to take care of – to shelter, to move and do casework. It kind of got to be my specialty,” Medina said.
In the eight years that he was employed with the Red Cross, Medina’s job took him all over the US and beyond. There were the Oklahoma floods, the San Francisco earthquake and hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
“When I would go on a national job, I coordinated all the services within the service center. There was damage assessment, shelter and case management work. People (Red Crossers) got to know me,” Medina said.
“It really inspired me while I was doing disaster work. I was amazed at how the Red Cross could go into an area that had been destroyed by floods or fire and immediately help to shelter and get these people back on their feet.”
By the mid 1980s, Medina began to recognize the need for more bilingual volunteers in the Central East District.
“At that time, we had formed a volunteer group that was predominately Spanish-speaking. They wanted to get training, but [the problem was] at that time it was all done in English.”
Medina then developed a game-changing plan. He reached out to some of his trainers and with permission from the Red Cross national office, the LA Chapter began translating its training materials into Spanish for the first time in recent memory.
“We did get a lot of accolades.”
Thinking back, Medina is proud of his center’s work with immigrants from Latin America.
“Little by little, the word got out and our office started getting filled with these volunteers. It got to be a meeting place,” Medina said. “Mothers would bring their kids to the service center. It was a place for them to go and be with others and get involved in the community.”
With a growing pool of bilingual volunteers, Los Angeles quickly became known as a major resource.
“In the years I was there, [national office] would call the LA chapter and say, ‘We need Spanish-speaking volunteers.’ ” They would then be sent to assist in disaster relief efforts all around the US.
Even after leaving the LA Chapter to pursue other employment and consulting opportunities, Medina has continued to donate blood, contribute to the Red Cross and help with fundraising events. As a Vietnam-era veteran, Medina also coordinates the San Gabriel Pomona Valley’s veteran’s assistance program. Volunteering has clearly been a large part of his life.
Medina, who is Mexican American, said the need for bilingual volunteers is greater now than ever before, and he urges members of LA’s Latino community to find out more.
“I’d say get involved and learn what the Red Cross really does. There is a lot of speculation that goes on outside whenever there is a disaster going on. A lot of those stories are not true. Come and observe,“ Medina said.
There is no doubt that Medina truly believes in the Red Cross mission. Even after 40 years, his face lights up as he talks about the organization.
“Besides the military, I think the Red Cross is the only one that could go in and understand the situation and be like first responders. That has stayed with me since joining the Red Cross until now.”
And so what is his final message to anyone thinking of volunteering?
“It’s a great experience. You are going to learn a skill, and you are going to be taught the right way to do it,” Medina said.
“So join the Red Cross!”
Perfiles para el Mes Nacional de la Herencia Latina
El Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana se celebra del 15 de septiembre al 15 de octubre, y la Cruz Roja Americana reconocerá a los empleados, voluntarios y donantes hispanos que ofrecen su talento, tiempo y dedicación a la misión humanitaria de la Cruz Roja.
A principios, se observaba como una semana que comenzaba en 1968, y en 1988, expandió a un evento de 30 días. El Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana celebra las historias, culturas y contribuciones de los ciudadanos estadounidenses cuyos antepasados vinieron de España, México, el Caribe, América Central y América del Sur.
Día a día, los hispanos brindan consuelo a las víctimas de desass, enseñan clases que salvan vidas, apoyan a miembros militares y sus familias, y donan sangre a comunidades de todo el país, la Cruz Roja es testigo de estas contribuciones.