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Why I Help: Diane St. Denis

Why I Help: Diane St. Denis
“Volunteering and helping out the community has simply been engrained in me. My mother was always willing to give the shirt off her back and that’s who I’ve looked up to.” - Diane St. Denis

Giving her time and energy to help her community, whether across the nation or in her own backyard, is in Diane St. Denis’ blood.

For the past 20 years, the American Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter volunteer and former night-shift room charge nurse in San Jose’s Valley Medical Center has helped communities nationwide as a Disaster Health Services manager. She has left her home in San Jose to help during a large number of national disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and destructive tornadoes in Oklahoma.

“Volunteering and helping out the community has simply been engrained in me,” says Diane, who was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. “My mother was always willing to give the shirt off her back and that’s who I’ve looked up to.”

Diane’s personal connection to New York City combined with her background, made her instrumental in the Red Cross's disaster relief response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. There, she was responsible for hundreds of disaster health services team members and 15 Red Cross shelters in the city of 19 million.

Diane says she and her disaster health services team worked tirelessly to meet their clients’ needs. They visited elderly people trapped in flooded high-rises, without running water, heat, or electricity, walking up 13 to 18 flights of stairs to help get people prescriptions, food, and other necessities.

While in New York for a month, she worked 12-hour days, with just two days off. Long hours don’t faze Diane, who in 2009 received the highest national honor for a Red Cross Nurse – the Ann Magnussen Award. “I was completely fine with [the long hours] because I knew I was doing something good for the community,” Diane says of her deployment during "Superstorm Sandy."

In 2013, Diane continued to follow in her mother’s footsteps, completing two deployments to Oklahoma to assist those affected by the devastating storms and tornadoes that ripped through the state that May.

In 2015, Diane was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal, which recognizes exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster. The prestigious international award also recognizes exemplary service or a pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education. The 36 recipients from 18 countries were nominated by their respective National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society and selected by a commission comprised of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Council of Nurses.

Caption: Diane St. Denis, second from the right, is pictured receiving her Florence Nightingale Award at National Headquarters in Washington D.C. Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, is second from left.