Los Angeles is multiple cities within a city. There are 88 “cities” that make up the Greater Los Angeles region and diversity is the defining word when it comes to LA's population.
In order to serve the needs of such a vast, multi-ethnic population, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region relies heavily on a network of Community Ambassadors – volunteers who take responsibility for the neighborhoods where they live and work. The Community Ambassador program makes vital contributions to the overall mission of today’s Red Cross. The program started in January of 2012, and now has 32 volunteers serving in this capacity.
“It’s said that Los Angeles isn’t one community rather a network of hundreds of micro communities. The Red Cross Community Ambassador program allows community-centric volunteers to focus on their own community by driving the American Red Cross mission close to home,” says Nikki Davis, Engagement Director, American Red Cross Los Angeles Region.
Davis is charged with manning and overseeing the Community Ambassador program for the Red Cross Los Angeles Region.
What do Community Ambassadors do and why are they important to both the Red Cross and to neighborhoods throughout the city?
There are a number of key roles assigned to Community Ambassadors. They are responsible for serving as liaisons between community representatives, such as mayors, council members and local government officials and the American Red Cross. They help raise awareness in the community of all that is essential to individual safety and disaster preparedness. They interface with community groups and leaders, coordinate Red Cross outreach events and training classes, and coordinate blood drives and donation strategies.
Three individuals exemplify the Community Ambassador program and serve their neighbors and friends on a daily basis. They are Reverend Cedric Alexander, Anne Marie Norris and Ronson Chu -- three people from very different worlds but all part of the world of the Red Cross's LA Region.
Reverend Alexander has been part of the Red Cross family since 2004 when he started actively working as a volunteer in Northern California. He trained as a DAT responder and became part of the leadership council through his church and community. Reverend Alexander became a Community Ambassador in 2012 as a way to use the resources available to him through his church Price Chapel in the Vermont/Slauson Baldwin Hills area. Through his efforts, the church itself is now a designated Red Cross shelter. Reverend Alexander has organized CPR classes, hosted blood drives, and preparedness fairs and training.
“I’m all about empowering individuals to prepare for disasters,” says Alexander.
Community Ambassador Anne Marie Norris comes from a very different background in advertising and marketing, and she also serves her friends and neighbors through the Red Cross. Anne Marie joined the program in May of this year and serves Sierra Madre. Hurricane Sandy, the devastating storm that hit the East Coast in October 2012, was her wake-up call to service.
“I have lots of friends who were hit hard,” says Norris. “I woke up on Halloween morning last year in beautiful Southern California and knew I needed to do something to help.”
That evening Norris went Trick or Treating and collected donations. The next morning she walked into the Red Cross, handed over the money she had collected and got busy volunteering. “For me, being a Community Ambassador gives me a very real way to be involved and get my community together.”
Since May, Norris has worked with local schools for in-class presentations. She organized a preparedness booth at the town’s Wellness Fair in September and PrepareSoCal tables at this year’s Halloween celebration. Just recently she helped with a “100 for 100” CPR training event at Pasadena’s City Hall, where locals came together to learn hands-only CPR.
Ronson Chu is the Community Ambassador for the Santa Monica area. For Chu, who became part of the program in April 2013, being an ambassador offers him a unique opportunity to reach out to small local businesses in the area.
“My motivation was to learn about fund-raising and to see if I had those skills,” says Chu. “I had a number of key relationships in state and local governments through family friends.”
Chu started to reach out to those relationships, among them the CEO of TruCar, and got TruCar to pledge $25,000 to sponsor a youth fun run and preparedness event near the Santa Monica pier.
“I’m open to going to different events and networking on behalf of the Red Cross,” says Chu. “I’m ready to jump in to help people get better prepared for whatever may come. I have learned how much motivating others comes back and enriches my life.”
“Since its inception, Community Ambassadors of Los Angeles Region has expanded our ability to prepare Los Angelenos through outreach at community events, small group presentations on preparedness, and relationships with local faith-based organizations,” Davis adds. “Our Ambassadors are key civic-minded individuals that will leave a legacy of community empowerment and change that will positively impact Los Angeles following a disaster.”