American Red Cross Announces 2019 Inland Empire Heroes Luncheon Award Recipients


SANTA ANA Calif.,–The local American Red Cross is pleased to announce the heroes that will be honored at the 2019 Inland Empire Heroes Luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa. This popular event recognizes individuals and organizations in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties that embody the mission and spirit of the Red Cross by saving lives and creating safer, stronger and more resilient communities.

Each hero being honored has their own unique story of helping others in need. “We are so impressed by the individuals and organizations who will be recognized at this year’s luncheon, and we look forward to honoring their courage, selflessness, and service,” said Lois Beckman, Chapter Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving Riverside County. “Our award winners truly demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond to help those in need. We love that attendees leave this event each year feeling inspired and motivated to make a difference in our community.”


Gift of Life Hero – Thomas Van Dorn 
Mr. Thomas Van Dorn works for the city of Azusa and resides in Moreno Valley, yet every other Saturday since 1997, he’s made the 100-mile roundtrip journey to Fullerton and back to make platelet donations. Thomas’ inspiration for such a gift comes from his son, Mitchell. In 1995, Mitchell passed away at the age of five after a long battle with cancer. Regular platelet donations had helped Mitchell’s blood form clots to stop bleeding. When Mr. Van Dorn lost his son, he decided to switch his regular blood donations, which he had been making for ten years, to platelet donations to honor the memory of his son. He now gives platelets every other week, the most a person can provide. He has donated over 1,000 units of platelets in the past twenty-one years, a remarkable milestone in the history of platelet donations. 

Animal Welfare Hero: Deputy Ryan Girard and K-9 Dare – San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department
Deputy Ryan Girard was instrumental in starting the Bloodhound K-9 program at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Rancho Cucamonga Station. Dare was one of his first K-9s. K-9 Dare has been successful in many aspects of law enforcement, from locating missing juveniles and adults to apprehending criminals. In November 2018, K-9 Dare was deployed to find a suspect who fled a traffic stop and subsequently collided with another vehicle. The driver of the car was killed, and the suspect fled on foot. K-9 Dare acquired the suspect’s scent from the traffic collision site and trailed it to a nearby shopping center, where she located the suspect hiding under a trash compactor. Thanks to Officer Girard and K-9 Dare, the suspect was successfully apprehended. K-9 Dare is well-loved by the station and the department and is an excellent ambassador to the community.

Water Rescue Hero: Officer Elizabeth Gomez – Fountain Valley Police Department 
The Zheng family was having a family get-together when 5-year-old Cathy Zheng slipped unnoticed into the family pool. Wei Hang, a family friend, noticed Cathy was missing, ran to the pool, moved aside an inflatable pool toy and saw Cathy, motionless, at the bottom of the ten-foot-deep pool. When Officer Gomez arrived on the scene, she began chest compressions on Cathy, and within a minute, she began to take shallow breaths and expel water and blood from her lungs. Officer Gomez placed her in a recovery position and monitored her breathing for several minutes until fire personnel arrived and rushed Cathy to the local hospital, where she quickly recovered. Today Cathy is happy, healthy and enjoying life thanks to the actions of Officer Elizabeth Gomez. 

Youth Hero: Mylee Howe 
As part of her school requirements, Mylee Howe was expected to complete a community service project. Mylee wanted to help Hope’s Community Closet, a local organization where she had been volunteering for some time. To accomplish this, Mylee reached out to local churches, businesses, friends, and family to get donations. Her perseverance paid off and her project, “Sock It To Me,” has now collected over 500 pairs of socks and underwear for Hope’s Community Closet. With her help, Hope’s Community Closet has been able to support many in need of essential clothing items. 

Service to the Armed Forces Hero: Linda Hallenbeck Pelegrino 
Mrs. Linda Hallenbeck Pelegrino has a long history of service to the armed forces, specifically with the American Red Cross. At the height of the Vietnam War, she joined the Red Cross on an assignment to Korea, and then to Vietnam, with the Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas Program. She lived on base with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, and was one of six women out of 20,000 men. When Linda returned home, she continued her work with the Red Cross at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco. Linda was awarded a full Red Cross Graduate Fellowship and earned a master’s degree in administration. After her service with Red Cross, she continued to serve others by working with numerous nonprofit organizations in her community. Linda is now retired and lives in Indian Wells.

Service to the Armed Forces Hero: Sergeant Major Gregory Coker Reaching New Heights Foundation, Inc. Sergeant Major Gregory Coker has dedicated his life to the service of others, first by serving five years on active duty and doing two tours in Iraq as a member of our armed forces, and second in his retirement by helping local veterans transition into civilian life. As a veteran himself, Sergeant Major Coker is aware of the many systematic challenges that veterans face when returning from duty and is familiar with the invisible wounds carried by many veterans. That’s why Sergeant Major Coker founded Reaching New Heights Foundation, Inc. in Riverside in 2013. The foundation collaborates with professional networks for job training, job placement, counseling, and therapy. Reaching New Heights Foundation, Inc. also operates a veterans’ home in Ontario to help veterans come out of homelessness and get back on their feet. Sergeant Major Coker works with 150 veterans weekly as a mentor and supports many of them work through their challenges, such as legal issues and other obstacles. 

Community Hero: Deputy Mike Jones – San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department 
Deputy Jones helped build and develop the innovative Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (H.O.P.E.) team with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The H.O.P.E. program aims to balance proactive outreach with enforcement of the law while connecting members of the homeless population with resources that may help them transition out of homelessness. Deputy Jones has compassionately cared for families throughout our communities and from all walks of life for almost four years, supporting more than 1,200 people get off the streets. His tireless efforts provide many people in San Bernardino with a second chance at life.

First Responder Hero: Officer Andrew Reynoso and K-9 Duke – Hemet Police Department 
On May 27, Police Officer Andrew Reynoso and K-9 Duke responded to a burglary alarm at a business in Hemet. The K-9 team found a truck backed up to the company. Upon seeing the police vehicle, a suspect fled on foot. As Officer Reynoso and K-9 Duke pursued the suspect, a second suspect got into the truck and began fleeing. The car nearly hit Officer Reynoso and did strike K-9 Duke. Although he was injured, K-9 Duke continued his pursuit and eventually apprehended the first suspect. Additional responding units encountered the fleeing truck at a nearby intersection, and an officer-involved shooting occurred. The driver of the truck was injured during the shooting and was eventually taken into custody. Thanks to K-9 Duke and Officer Reynoso, both suspects were apprehended and prosecuted. K-9 Duke received treatment for his injuries and returned to full duty shortly afterward. With this K-9 pair, we know that Hemet is in good hands (and paws)! 

First Responder Hero: Corporal Breanna Herrera – Redlands Police Department 
On July 14, Cpl. Breanna Herrera was dispatched to the Mountain Grove Shopping Center after receiving a call that two children were trapped inside a car on a hot day. When Cpl. Herrera arrived, she was told by several witnesses that the children had been in the vehicle for an extended period. Inside the car, she saw a small infant and toddler who were not moving. Cpl. Herrera broke a window to access the children. When she did, she found a lethargic and overheated two-year-old and a two-week-old who was not moving and appeared non-responsive. She pulled the two-week-old out of the vehicle and handed him to Redlands Fire Department officers who had just arrived. They were able to revive the infant. Using their thermal imaging equipment, the fire department found that the interior of the vehicle was approximately 138 degrees. Without Cpl. Herrera’s quick thinking and action, the children, may not have survived.

Corporate Hero: Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians 
The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians has been a committed community partner of the American Red Cross for many years, dating back to the wildfires of 2007 when Pechanga opened up their ballroom as a Red Cross shelter for the community and fed hundreds of people affected by the fires as well as those who volunteered to help those in need. Pechanga is also an annual Disaster Preparedness Ready 365 donor, a generous disaster response donor, and they are always ready to volunteer whenever needed. The American Red Cross is proud to honor the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians for their community service in Riverside County aor their support of the mission of the American Red Cross. 

Corporate Hero: MOD Super Fast Pizza 
This year, through a partnership with the Ontario Reign, MOD Super Fast Pizza reached out to the American Red Cross Serving San Bernardino County to explore ways to partner. After determining the best fit, MOD Pizza became a new Blood Donor sponsor, donating MOD Pizza gift cards for local blood donors. MOD Pizza’s support of the blood program quickly expanded beyond Riverside and San Bernardino and now includes Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Their involvement at the local level helps generate donor involvement, encourages those who donate to give more frequently and aids assistingifirst-timeime donors to give blood. Trauma patients, those fighting life-threatening diseases, burn victims—these are just a few of those who benefit from blood donations. MOD Pizza’s support and generosihelplps the Red Cross engage blood donors and ensure that lifesaving blood is available whenever and wherever it’s needed most. 

The Inland Empire Heroes Luncheon is made possible by Presenting Sponsors Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water and Sysco Riverside, as well as Disaster Rel, ief Sponsors Altura Credit UnionThe Ontario Reign’s Hope Reigns FoundationIAPMOJ.J. Roofing, and MOD Super Fast Piz za,along with other local sponsors.

“We’re so grateful for our sponsors, whose support helps us honor deserving individuals and organizations making a difference in our communities,” said Yevette Baysinger, Chapter Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving San Bernardino County.

The Inland Empire Heroes Luncheon takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at 11:30 a.m. at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa. For more informat, on please visit

Share post:




More like this

Tips for a Pet-Friendly Vacation

(Family Features) Vacations can be perfect opportunities to spend...


I’ve been asked over the years, “what is it...


A personal observation on American filmmaking exceptionalism When the movie...