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Volunteer Spotlight: Patty Hlinka

Red Cross Sonoma Volunteer Spotlight Patty Hlinka
I feel like I’ve been given the privilege of working here. It keeps my heart engaged.

It’s extremely important that prospective Red Cross volunteers are put in the best position to succeed. As Volunteer Services Lead, Patty Hlinka acts as a critical first contact who, following Orientation, interviews new volunteers to begin the process of integrating them into the organization. Patty must learn about a prospective volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses, and what drew them to the Red Cross in the first place. She encourages new volunteers to take as many Red Cross classes as possible, which will build their base of knowledge and lead to new opportunities.

“I want [new volunteers] to know that their success means someone in a disaster is going to benefit,” Patty explains. “We’re here at Volunteer Services to provide as many successes and to listen to our volunteers to know what they need.”

Prior to her time at the Red Cross, Patty Hlinka spent 36 years teaching first and second grade children. She recalls her time as a teacher fondly, “I loved it. I was also involved politically with the unions and with the California Teachers Association.” As retirement approached, Patty began putting together a celebration of retired teachers.

“I called it Transitions. As teachers, it’s imprinted in our soul to do service,” she explains. “When you retire, the desire is still there.” Following her retirement in May of 2011, Patty managed to get the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and the Volunteer Bureau to come and speak at the event. It was there, listening to the Red Cross speaker, that Patty found what she had been missing. “I knew that after all the years of writing a check, in a disaster, to the Red Cross, someone was handing me what I’d been looking for all my life.” By January, the high of retiring had worn off, and Patty decided to make the call. She learned there was an Orientation that very night, which she attended. “I was sold.”

As a new volunteer, Patty knew she wanted to deploy and that she didn’t want to teach. “I wanted to clean coffee cups. I wanted someone to tell me to pack envelopes and make packets. I didn’t want to teach.” She began to take as many classes as she could, building her skills and growing relationships. Soon after, she was asked to take training for staffing services. At first she was wary, but “if someone’s asking, you say yes.” By June, she was asked to staff a shelter in Clearlake following a large fire. A few more staffings followed into the summer, and then Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast.

Patty was deployed for over three weeks in Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy. “I worked in staff services, placing new volunteers, activating and reloading staff cards, trying to get people where they needed to be as fast as possible,” she explains. “I went from a service associate to a supervisor within my first 48 hours there.” Being part of a major operation was both remarkable and overwhelming. “It was insane, and it never stopped. I made some great relationships.” Patty managed to stay in contact with her daughter during this time, which helped her to stay grounded amidst the chaos.

Upon her return, Patty found that deployment had profoundly affected her. “It strengthened ability to work in staffing services. I felt more determined and very much affirmed that the Red Cross found me just in time.” Her role at the Red Cross continued to expand-more hours, different departments, and it wasn’t long before Patty was asked to teach a Disaster Services Overview class. “I came in not wanting to teach. I was uncomfortable with it, but I said I’d give it a try.” She did, and found that she enjoyed it. “Everyone’s so eager to help. How can you say no?” she explains. In describing her role at the Red Cross, Patty says “It starts out small and just grows.”

Today, Patty’s passion for working with volunteers continues on, strong as ever. “I feel like I’ve been given the privilege of working here. It keeps my heart engaged.” Someone recently asked whether she gets paid for all the time she spends at the Red Cross. “No, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Patty replied, “I should pay them.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, please contact Nicole Massey by phone at 717-577-7634 or by email at, or visit our website.

You can help people affected by disasters like the Hurricane Sandy, local house fires, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. To make a donation, visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.