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Red Cross executive director relates with fire victims

| Monday, May 19, 2008

Marlene Petro is happy to finally share the new Red Cross office in Lower Burrell with the community.

Although the executive director and other workers have been in the new building near Stewart Plaza since December, they hosted an open house yesterday to show local residents what the organization has to offer.

Because of unfortunate circumstances, Petro has been aware of Red Cross programs for more than three years.

On April 26, 2005, Petro's rented Allegheny Township home caught on fire with her, her children and her pets inside. She was cleaning for her daughter's birthday party, scheduled for that night, when she went into the living room and saw flames shooting out from the walls.

Petro was able to get everyone out of the burning house, but all of the family's belongings and treasures were lost in the fire that was caused by an electrical problem.

"It's been three years, and we lost everything except our lives, but we're really fortunate," she says. "Not everyone is that fortunate."

The Chestnut Ridge Chapter of the Red Cross, which serves several Valley communities including Allegheny Township, Arnold, East Vandergrift, Lower Burrell, New Kensington, Oklahoma, Upper Burrell, Vandergrift, Washington Township and West Leechburg, came to the Petro family's aid that day.

"We were just so impressed with how they helped us with our immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter and the services they offered, in general," she says.

Petro received an incredible response for the community, which rallied to support the family.

"We had such an outpouring of donations from people we didn't even know, churches we didn't even belong to," she says. "The kindness in the community was just heartwarming."

Inspired by the way the organization and community saved her family, Petro wanted to return the favor. When she heard during the past summer that the same branch of the Red Cross responsible for responding to her family's disaster that April day was searching for an executive director, she felt compelled to apply.

"I was very fortunate that the search committee was happy with my skills and background and thought I would be a good match for the position," Petro says. "There's no other place I'd rather be working. I have a personal investment in this organization."

In fact, Petro's whole family does.

Her husband, Michael, and three children, Zack, 16, Ellie, 13, and Danny, 7, are Red Cross volunteers.

Petro says the family's personal connection to fire victims helps.

"When I got to respond to fires, it was a phenomenal experience because I was able to talk to these people, and I could tell them this is devastating right now, but I guarantee you it will get better -- there will come a time when you'll be able to put this behind you and move on," she says. "I can be empathetic instead of sympathetic, and I'm hoping, through my experiences, I can help them with what to expect.

"I'm just so happy and my family is happy that I'm working with the same chapter that came to our aid."

Additional Information:

Looking to volunteer?

The Chestnut Ridge Chapter of the American Red Cross offers CPR, first aid, and baby-sitting classes at its new Lower Burrell location, 2895-A Leechburg Road, near Stewart Plaza. The organization is also looking for volunteers to respond to fires and floods, help oversee blood drives, teach courses as well as other duties. For more information, call 724-337-6595.

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