As a volunteer-led organization, the American Red Cross relies on its dedicated volunteer workforce to fulfill its humanitarian mission in the community every day. Volunteers are the backbone of the organization, doing everything from disaster relief to community outreach to administrative support and more. This year, the local Red Cross in Western Pennsylvania will highlight the extraordinary work taking place throughout the region with a volunteer 'Get to Know Us' series.
This month, the “Get to Know Us” series will spotlight two volunteers from the local Red Cross Allegheny Region Chapter. Staci Gustafson of Franklin and Barry Rice of Saegertown are being recognized for their continuous dedication and commitment to the Red Cross mission.
The Allegheny Region Chapter serves individuals who reside in Clarion, Crawford, Forest and Venango counties. Last year, the chapter responded to nearly 70 unexpected emergencies, assisting nearly 120 adults and more than 80 children; in addition, the chapter connected 114 family members and loved ones with those deployed overseas.
Staci Gustafson and Barry Rice
Though every volunteer plays a vital role in the work of the Red Cross, some volunteers go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the organization is able to play a vital role in their communities. Gustafson and Rice are two such volunteers.
Among other positions, both are Disaster Response Team Leads, taking leadership roles in their respective counties to ensure that their neighbors receive the help they need after experiencing home fires or other disasters.
Gustafson first got involved with the Red Cross in 1985, when tornadoes affected parts of her native Beaver County hometown on the night of her high school graduation. She quickly got involved in Red Cross relief efforts in the area.
“I knew people needed help, and I felt compelled to [join the Red Cross] to do that,” she said.
In the following years, Gustafson remained involved with the organization in various capacities, volunteering in Beaver and Clarion counties and teaching CPR and water safety classes in college.
In the spring of 2007, she moved to Venango County and decided to become a disaster volunteer with the Red Cross in the area.
“I wanted to try out disaster services and come back around to where I started,” said Gustafson.
Similarly, Rice got started with the Red Cross in the late 1980s. A friend pointed him to the organization, and he became more involved over the years. It was a natural fit for Rice, who as a U. S. Navy veteran and former Deputy Sheriff and State Corrections Officer had a history of public service.
“I feel really good about [working with the Red Cross]. I joined to help people,” said Rice.
Today, both Gustafson and Rice are disaster team leads - Gustafson for Venango County and Rice for Crawford County. In their roles, they take on-call shifts, responding to disasters within their respective counties to provide affected families assistance with their immediate needs of food, clothing, shelter and emotional support.
“We’ve encountered [people] who have had no idea what services the Red Cross provides, and some are quite surprised at how quickly we can help them with immediate basic needs,” said Gustafson “The best moments come when someone affected by a disaster is encouraged towards recovery through our relief efforts.”
Gustafson and Rice also appreciate the opportunity to provide resources to those affected by disaster, helping them continue on the path to recovery.
“The Red Cross is very helpful in communities with assisting through disaster relief,” said Rice. “And if we can’t help with certain services, we can advise them which organizations can get them that help.”
“We are an excellent resource for people,” said Gustafson. “We may not be able to meet every need, but we have connections to partners and services to help them out.”
In addition to their extensive local work, both Gustafson and Rice have deployed to disasters in other parts of the country to help with larger-scale relief operations.
Both feel that their deployments have given them the chance to help on a larger scale and to learn and grow within the organization.
“It’s great to meet other volunteers and people,” said Rice. “I feel good about assisting [affected families] in any way we can through the Red Cross.
Gustafson has also appreciated the opportunity to meet other volunteers.
“Those were good opportunities to serve, to see how other volunteers work, and to learn new things,” she said.
Despite appreciating their out-of-state experiences, both Gustafson and Rice thoroughly enjoy being part of their local Allegheny Region Chapter.
“It’s a real good team,” said Rice. “Everyone is happy to assist each other, and it’s been working out real good for Allegheny Region.”
Gustafson appreciates the many Allegheny Region Chapter volunteers who have stuck with the organization through changes.
“There is a core group of volunteers who have hung in there through the years and are ready to serve,” said Gustafson. “That’s a really nice thing to see. Every organization has changes, and people come and go, but a lot of these volunteers are steadfast. We’re just here for people.”
Because of their positive experiences with the organization, both volunteers highly recommend that others volunteer with the Red Cross, as well.
“We have extraordinary, capable, caring, smart people working as volunteers and paid staff in this organization,” said Gustafson. “If anyone is looking to volunteer, this is the first and only place I would recommend.”
The local Red Cross chapter is actively recruiting interested community members to join their Red Cross family. The chapter aims to fit individuals in appropriate roles based on their interests, skills and background. For more information on the chapter or to become a volunteer, visit RedCross.org/PA/AlleghenyRegion or call 888-733-5603.