Dionne Demille’s first introduction to the American Red Cross was as a young child in Salt Lake City during a major flu epidemic. The Red Cross opened an immunization clinic, and Dionne recalls being terrified of getting a flu shot. Luckily, a Red Cross nurse at the clinic came to her rescue and comforted the six-year-old child.
Since that defining experience, Dionne knew she wanted to have a future as an American Red Cross volunteer. Being hearing impaired, Dionne also knew she could make a unique contribution to the organization by being an advocate for the disabled who are served by the Red Cross.
At the earliest opportunity, Dionne took Red Cross CPR and First-Aid courses and trained to be a disaster volunteer and member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), a group of volunteers who respond to disasters at a moment’s notice.
Now a seasoned volunteer with the Red Cross Los Angeles Region, Dionne says, "I'm proud to be part of “a pay-it-forward movement.” She has responded to numerous local and national disasters and has had many opportunities to serve as an interpreter for deaf individuals at various shelters.
“The American Red Cross needs to continue to reach out to effectively serve different groups,” says Dionne. Towards this end, she helps educate Red Cross staff and volunteers about persons with disabilities and promotes recruiting disabled volunteers. She emphasizes that everyone needs to remember that "disabled" still means "abled."
She was particularly challenged after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when she was deployed to New York to support the coordination of mass care and feeding. There were so many people in the shelters that it was difficult for the staff to focus on individuals with specific access and functional needs. She spent time talking to the shelter residents and determining what the Red Cross could do to assist them. In one shelter, there was a young autistic child, whose mother was overwhelmed with trying to keep her child calm in such a chaotic environment. After sitting with the child and her mother, Dionne determined they needed a television, so the child could watch children’s videos. This not only kept the child focused and “grounded,” but it also eliminated the screaming and agitation exhibited by the child that was upsetting the other residents.
In fact, her commitment and passion for the American Red Cross has led her to want to become part of the volunteer leadership team as a Mass Care Supervisor. That way, she can continue to help teach people how to work collaboratively despite the disabilities or language barriers they encounter.
Dionne has also served at disasters where there were no disabled people. Her most exciting experience with the American Red Cross was responding to Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola, Florida, where she served as a shelter manager for 400 people, with on-the-spot training. There was no air conditioning, limited space and roof tiles falling off and uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for two days.
The most enjoyable aspect of Dionne’s volunteer work with the American Red Cross is, in fact, being a part of the Red Cross family. “I love meeting new people, and getting to know people from different situations and backgrounds. I have my immediate family such as my children, and then my Red Cross family," she says.
Through the Red Cross, Dionne continues to pay it forward every day.