Over half a million people volunteer with the American Red Cross, and most often, they are the hands and feet running shelters, responding to local house fires, and delivering comfort kits to soldiers in hospitals.
Every volunteer has a different reason for getting involved. When Michele Maki retired and moved to Arizona, she declared that it was “time to pay it forward,” and she signed up to volunteer at the Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter Lake Havasu City field office.
As the daughter and granddaughter of volunteers, Maki understood how compassionate acts of kindness could make a difference in other people’s lives. And as a single mother once struggling to make ends meet, she remembers the power of finding money and groceries on her doorstep donated by complete strangers.
But it was in 2000 when the Red Cross made an impression on her. She was a station supervisor for Alaska Airlines, and she volunteered for the Alaska Airline’s Compassionate Assistance Relief Effort (CARE) team. On January 31, 2000, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed off the coast of California, killing all 88 passengers and crew on board.
Maki’s CARE team spent the next ten days serving near the crash site in Los Angeles and Point Hueneme, California. They assisted grieving families with lodging, meals and transportation. Specially trained Red Cross workers were also on site, arranging for counselors and chaplains and ensuring toiletries and flowers were provided to the families.
Maki realized that the CARE Team could not have adequately dealt with the situation without the support of the Red Cross. She saw the way that they carefully and effectively performed their work and how it had an anchoring effect for those involved in the disaster. This experience inspired her to volunteer her time with the Red Cross.
Since becoming a volunteer, Maki has served as a Disaster Action Team member, First Aid and CPR instructor, Youth Club organizer, Red Cross representative at military pre-deployment fairs and communications officer.
Once Maki moved to Phoenix, Trudy Thompson Rice, communications officer for the Grand Canyon Chapter, chose Maki to be the chapter’s communications coordinator due to her expertise, willingness to take on tough initiatives and ability to assess situations and get people help quickly.
“When a client spontaneously hugs me and says thank you, that’s my paycheck,” Maki said. “There is just nothing better than that because it’s genuine and heartfelt.”