SPRINGFIELD — The American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter honored nine individuals at its ninth annual Hometown Heroes Award Breakfast on March 17 at the MassMutual Center.
This year’s honorees included:
- Jon Benerakis of Feeding Hills. One fateful day in March 2010, he was awakened in the night to find a car accident in front of his home. The car had crashed into a tree and was on fire with two young men inside. Benerakis ran to the rear of his house, connected two garden hoses together, and began to extinguish the fire, saving the boys’ lives.
- Steven Kowalczyk of Ludlow. In May 2010, he was taking a class of third-graders on a field trip when the bus careened out of control and into the median, at times tilting on its side. Kowalczyk remained calm as he brought the bus under control. He maneuvered into the breakdown lane and began to check on the kids and teachers to make sure they were all right.
- June LeDuc of Longmeadow. She has been at her son’s side every step of the way in his battle with cancer and his treatments at the Sadowsky Children’s Center at Baystate Medical Center. During their many visits to the center, she began to develop the idea to add games and computers to the treatment rooms to give the children something fun to do during their time there. That idea led LeDuc to found Cancer Free Kids Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds to help provide a more comfortable, stimulating, educational, and social environment for the children while receiving intravenous chemotherapy at the clinic.
- Nathaniel Lare and Matthew Morgan, both of Chicopee. Both were residents of Meadow House Apartments in Agawam in November 2010 when a massive fire gutted their apartment building. Morgan was returning home early in the morning when he noticed 10-foot flames coming out of one of the apartments. He charged inside and began yelling, shouting, kicking doors, and alerting his sleeping neighbors of the fire. In the meantime, in another part of the apartment complex, Lare was also saving residents from the fire. When he became aware of the fire, he rushed into action and physically helped several neighbors to safety.
- Anthony Rodriguez Jr. of Springfield. A student in the Springfield public-school system, he discovered, one afternoon in April 2010, that his mother had suffered from a severe allergic reaction. She had broken out in hives and passed out in their home. At just 10 years old, Anthony had the presence of mind to dial 911 and was able to successfully administer his mother’s EpiPen to save her life.
- Davin Robinson of Wilbraham. One day in March 2010, Davin was driving over the Piscataqua River on a bridge that connects New Hampshire and Maine when he saw a man standing on the bridge. Robinson pulled his car over on I-95 during heavy traffic and went over to stop the man from jumping. When he was unable to get a firm grip, he asked the man to give him one last hug, and when the man complied, he pulled him back over the railing, saving his life.
- Kathleen Barry of Wilbraham. In June 2010, Kathleen was driving down Wilbraham Road in Springfield when she came across a terrible traffic accident. She immediately pulled over to see if she could help the victims (a man and his son). It was soon evident that one of the man’s legs was severed. Barry applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and stayed at the scene, caring for the man and his son, until emergency personnel arrived.
- Sirdeaner Lynn Walker of Springfield. Walker’s 11-year-old son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, took his life in April 2009 after enduring constant bullying at school. Vowing to do everything she could to make sure no other mother has to experience the agony of losing a child to senseless bullying, Walker began speaking out to media about her son and the need to make bullying prevention a priority in schools, and she was instrumental in the passing of Massachusetts’ anti-bullying legislation.
This year’s Hometown Heroes event was presented by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts with leadership support provided by OMG Inc.; 22News; Zasco Productions; the MassMutual Center; Go Graphix; MassMutual Financial Group; Pellegrini, Seeley, Ryan & Blakesley, P.C.; the Republican; the Springfield Parking Authority; Arbella Insurance Group; Baystate Health/Baystate Health Ambulance; Chicopee Savings Charitable Foundation; the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass.; and Smith & Wesson. Additional support was provided by generous area businesses that participated as sponsors at various levels.
The Hometown Heroes Breakfast serves as the chapter’s largest annual fund-raising event, supporting local Red Cross services in area communities.