As Volunteer Historian for the American Red Cross (ARC), one of the few with authorized access to the rescue and relief organization’s national archives, Powers knows the importance of accurate remembrance.
“If you know where you’ve been and what you’ve done,” she says, “you know who you are and you have a solid base for decisions about future direction and goals.” You also know what you really have to celebrate, she adds.
Over the years Powers has accumulated vast knowledge of where the Red Cross has been and what its done, and the recognition of those things in hundreds of commemorative pins, hundreds of posters and a plethora of uniforms worn by Red Cross workers over its decades of service to humanity.
“I started volunteering with the Red Cross back in the 80s when I was first married and we moved to Albuquerque,” she recalls. “I couldn’t stand the idea of staying home and watching soap operas, so I thought about the ways I could do something that could make a difference. I knew the Red Cross needed volunteers, so I called them to see how I could help.” The rest, as they say, is history.
She started by simply answering their phone, then became chairman of their youth program, eventually moving up to be Board secretary and chairman. “Ten years into my Red Cross volunteer work, I started looking at its history. I’ve always been interested in the stuff piled up in attics; the Red Cross gave me a bigger attic to explore.”
Powers, who by now has worked officially and unofficially with the Red Cross for some 30 years, says knowing history is particularly important right here in the Phoenix area, because in 2016 the American Red Cross in both Arizona and New Mexico is celebrating its 100th Anniversary.
With assistance from artist Michele Maki, who serves as a Public Information Officer for the ARC Riverside County Chapter in California, Powers spent a recent week delving through the historical objects collected over ten decades by the ARC Phoenix Chapter.
Their objective was to identify, document and authenticate the historical memorabilia that’s been preserved but forgotten. At the same time, it was important to determine what might be missing so that educational displays during the coming Centennial year can be both complete and accurate.
“Most people recognize the name of the Red Cross,” Powers says, “but few people know all of the many heroic services the Red Cross has offered over the years and still performs today.”
Whether there’s a war raging or a natural disaster, a fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake or a blizzard, the Red Cross is there. In the Arizona-New Mexico-El Paso Region alone more than 2,500 volunteers helped more than 9.4 million people through more than 1,100 disasters. A forever unknown myriad of lives have been saved and personal crises averted because more than 49,000 people received preparedness training, including CPR and basic first aid.
“People hear about Red Cross disaster relief today,” Powers says, “but they may not know that today’s campaigns are based on the service standard set by incredible World War I Red Cross volunteers who braved the lethal Spanish flu as well as life-threatening battle conditions to care for seriously wounded and sick soldiers, in an era when there were no antibiotics, vaccines or other medical weapons to save the troops or protect themselves.”
It is to honor such service, which has extended unabated in the years since WWI, that Powers and Maki were enthusiastic about the opportunity to comb through the Phoenix ARC archives.
“We want to identify what’s in the archives,” Powers said, “and – this is important – how to preserve it, why it should be preserved and how to safely utilize it so the public can see and learn about the role the Red Cross has played over the years in providing community assistance.”
“We need to tell the story,” Maki says, and because a picture really is worth a thousand words, her art vividly illuminates the experiences that the memorabilia represent. Maki’s heart-touching acrylic painting of a Red Cross volunteer helping a survivor of 2012’s superstorm, Hurricane Sandy, hangs in the Phoenix Grand Canyon ARC chapter headquarters, and has been used to illustrate postcards, brochures and posters promoting Red Cross relief services.
Maki’s first personal ARC encounter came in January 2000, when Alaska Airlines lost both pilots, three crew members and all 83 passengers aboard Flight #261 when it crashed into the Pacific off the southern California coast.
“I was part of the Alaska Airlines care team that responded to that mass casualty, providing information and help to family members and airline personnel who had lost loved ones,” she said. “The Red Cross support for those of us on the care team was essential to our mission success. They thought of everything. We owed them everything; it changed my life.”
When she retired from the airline, Maki wanted to become an ARC volunteer. “It gave me purpose and focus,” she said. “I always loved painting and creating art that shows the hope that Red Cross brings to people in crisis is a chance for me to give back.
“The Red Cross becomes the goodness in disaster,” Maki explains. “Every relief effort is the opportunity to see the finest people in action, people who have truly become a Red Cross family that is all dedicated to our humanitarian mission, a family we all can be proud of.”
The documentation the duo developed during their week in Phoenix will serve as the basis for accurate and dynamic displays that will be used throughout the 2016 Centennial celebration to educate the public about the ARC history and current services in the region and to give credit to the dedicated volunteers who make ARC programs and relief efforts a reality.