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Red Cross Volunteer Gives by Teaching

The Red Cross asked if she was trained in disaster work; she was not. “That’s how my work with the Red Cross officially started

The Red Cross improves people’s lives by offering a hand up, not a handout. A young mother is trained in CPR so, if need be, she can save the life of her child. Shovels, mops and buckets are provided so people can clean up after a flood and start their return to normal.

Red Cross volunteers often have the same philosophy. Volunteers like Ruth Shiers who has spent her life teaching skills that allow people to improve their own lives.

Red Cross Nurse Volunteer. A retired midwife, Shiers sat in her home in Pennsylvania in 1998, watching news videos of huts washing down hills in Central America in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. She called the nearest Red Cross office and offered to help. The Red Cross asked if she was trained in disaster work; she was not. “That’s how my work with the Red Cross officially started,” Shiers says.

She signed up and got trained so she would be ready the next time a health care professional was needed. Since then, she has been needed often. She is a member of the local disaster action team with the West Central Pennsylvania chapter (Butler) that responded to more than 80 home fires last year.

She has deployed on large U.S. disasters, often serving as a staff wellness nurse responsible for the health care of other Red Cross disaster volunteers. And she has provided Red Cross services following a cyclone in American Samoa.

“Education is a big part of staff wellness,” Shiers says. She explains that staff wellness nurses teach Red Cross volunteers what to do in a situation where they are under stress, eating and sleeping irregularly and working long hours, often without electricity or running water.

“American Samoa was one of our real successes,” she comments. “We insisted every crew have ice and water; as a result we didn’t have one heat-related event.”

Living in Service. Shiers, an early Peace Corps volunteer, served in Tanzania in the early sixties and has always wanted to revisit East Africa. The opportunity came this February. She was appointed temporary faculty at Moi University School of Nursing in Eldoret, Kenya, part of an Encore Service Corps International program to make nursing programs stronger in Africa.

Before leaving for her assignment, Shiers hoped she would be able to draw on her Red Cross disaster response experience and teach a course on the role of nurses in their community should a disaster occur. “I hope they will be interested in that opportunity,” she said.

But when she arrived, Shiers found the needs and expectations to be different. Textbooks were few, and those that were available were old. Internet connectivity was virtually nonexistent. So she spent her time developing ways to support capacity building within the School of Nursing.

Returned to Pennsylvania just in time for the 2012 Hurricane Season, Shiers is ready to again offer a Red Cross hand up.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.