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American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter is accepting nominations for Hometown Heroes honor

The American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter is now accepting nominations for the Hometown Heroes honor, its largest annual fundraising event, in which all funds support the chapter in serving the community. Last year’s event raised $42,000.

Deputy Director of the Pioneer Valley Red Cross Paige Thayer describes that the funds go back to the Pioneer Valley Chapter, which are then used for members of the surrounding communities providing CPR Training, relief support giving food, clothing and shelter to people affected by fire and other disasters. The sponsors, who are selected companies from the community, are currently planning for the March 2010 event. Thayer said the chapter hopes to raise $45,000 from the event this year.

Last year, the chapter received about 30 Hometown Hero nominations from which eight were selected. At the 2009 Our Hometown Heroes event, a booklet was issued featuring each of the winning candidates and what each had done for the community to receive the honor.

Winning last year was Williamsburg Chief of Police John W. Cotton, who was honored for creating an Emergency Management Operations Center after a snow and ice storm in December of 2009. 

George Gorton of Ware, Mass., director of Clinical Outcomes Assessment Laboratory at the Shriners Hospital for Children, was nominated and won for saving a child’s life and protecting public endangerment. In August of 2008, Gorton ran after a minivan rolling away with a three-year-old girl inside and reached into the window to turn the steering wheel in an attempt to clear it from the street. In doing so, Gorton’s leg was crushed between the minivan and a stationed car, breaking it in four places.

Pastor Greg Dyson and his daughter, Jessica Dyson, were awarded for their efforts to alleviate homelessness in Springfield. 

Mellissa Kielbasa of Westfield, Mass. received the honor after her work in training dogs to become working members of the K-9’s for Kids Pediatric Therapy Dog Unit.

Denise Nostlin of West Springfield, Mass. was nominated and selected after saving a woman’s life at Cal’s Wood-Fired Grill and Bar in January 2008, where she preformed CPR.

Joseph Lesniak of Indian Orchard, Mass. was honored after saving a child’s life while on-duty as a crossing guard. Lesniak noticed a car speeding towards him and the child, and thinking quickly, he whisked the child out of harm’s way.

Bobi Steingart from Longmeadow, Mass. was awarded for her work as coordinator for Sinai Cooks for Loaves and Fishes and for her work serving as a tea leader for the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter as part of the Chapter’s Disaster Action Team. Steingart was also recognized for traveling to help with disaster relief around Hurricane Ike.

Kevin and Donna Quesnel from Monson, Mass. responded to a gas explosion and fire in their neighborhood in November 2008 and managed to pull two people out of the rubble.

Nominations are accepted from the greater Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties in the Pioneer Valley. The nomination form explains, “The American Red Cross is searching for extraordinary individuals who have demonstrated heroism.”

The form also stated that the group’s Heroes Breakfast will honor locals who have shown particular courage and unselfish character in attempting to save a life, or in giving selflessly to their community. The nominations are due postmarked by Dec. 29, 2009, and the act of honorary heroism must have been preformed after Jan 1, 2009. 

Thayer said, “It is an annual event to celebrate people doing awesome things.” March 2010 will mark Hometown Heroes’ eighth year. Each year, the committee, consisting of community members and former Hometown Hero winners, chooses eight nominations for the honor.

Last year’s attendance numbered 600 people, and most were relatives of the honorees, though Thayer said that it is open to the public through ticket purchase from the Pioneer Valley Chapter. 

The winners and supporters are invited to a breakfast to receive the honor on Thursday March 10, 2010 at 7:30 a.m. in the MassMutual Center. For more information contact Paige Thayer at (413) 233-1003. Nomination forms and criteria are available on the Chapter Website at

Chelsea Whitton can be reached at

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