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A Volunteer Serves as the Bridge from Despair to Hope

In 1990, high school history teacher Carol Barnett had her first encounter with the American Red Cross. A fire in her high-rise apartment building in South Jersey forced everyone to evacuate.

One of the residents, however, refused to leave her apartment out of fear and confined herself to her balcony. The fire department had to use a cherry picker to get the distressed woman from her apartment.

Alongside the fire department stood the American Red Cross emergency disaster relief team, providing food, clothing and shelter to those in need. Barnett was so impressed with the Red Cross volunteers’ urgency and care that she decided on the spot to become a Red Cross volunteer herself.

Nearly 20 years later, the now retired Barnett is still volunteering at the American Red Cross, splitting her time between the Camden County (N.J.) and Southeastern Pennsylvania chapters. With the Pennsylvania chapter, Barnett spends most of her time working on the “Bridge,” the place all emergency calls are received. She is responsible for sending emergency volunteers to disasters and finding appropriate accommodations for disaster victims. She often goes to disaster scenes herself to provide the kind of help and support that inspired her to volunteer in the first place.

In September 2009, Barnett received the President’s Call to Service Award, signed by President Barack Obama, for dedicating more than 15,000 hours to the American Red Cross. She has personally responded to more than 250 disasters, serving as the front-line Red Cross contact for families experiencing what for many is the worst day of their lives. Barnett brings her good sense of humor, excellent communication skills and years of Red Cross training to each disaster scene.

When asked why she still volunteers with the Red Cross, Barnett responded, “This is the center point of my retirement. I love the tremendous people I get to work with. My retirement could be filled with reading, sleeping or going to the movies, but coming here is what counts.”