When she retired more than 10 years ago from a high-level job with Los Angeles County's Child Protective Services agency, Alzinia Pailin was looking for a change of pace. She still wanted to work in what she calls a "helping profession," but she was ready for a volunteer position that was a bit less stressful than traditional work had been.
"At the time I retired from CPS as the assistant regional administrator," she says, "I had 76 people reporting to me."
After researching potential volunteer destinations, Pailin eventually settled on the American Red Cross. "I was impressed by the fact that more than 90 percent of Red Cross funds actually support the people they help," she says.
Would her new "job" be helpful to people? Absolutely. But in her first few months with the Red Cross, Pailin was much less certain that her new work would be less stressful. "My first Red Cross response was to the San Bruno gas line explosion," she says. "I didn't have a lot of time to get up to speed."
The San Bruno blast, only months into Pailin's tenure, occurred when a natural gas pipeline exploded into flames in the suburban town, located two miles west of San Francisco International Airport. Eight people died and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed as a result of the explosion, which some eyewitnesses said caused a wall of fire more than 1,000 feet high.
"I learned pretty quickly on that deployment that, when you are with the Red Cross, you just step in and do what you can to help people, no matter how big the disaster," Pailin says.
Less than a year later, when a "super outbreak" of tornadoes tore through Alabama, Mississippi, and a number of other states, Pailin relearned the same lesson.
"That was my first national deployment, and it was quite an eye-opener," she recalls. "In Alabama, where I was sent, it looked like a war zone, with whole blocks leveled. But the Red Cross was there, trying hard to help people in great need of it."
Seven years later, Pailin, a resident of Fairfield, has seemingly not missed a Red Cross beat. Locally, she serves as the District Disaster Chair, Volunteer Partner to the Disaster Program Manager, Advisor to the Senior Disaster Program Manager, and is the District Disaster Workforce Development Administrator. She also does casework, is a Disaster Action Team lead, and helps with Red Cross community events.
She has deployed to 20 national-level disasters and even to one out of the country (the wildfires in Alberta, Canada, in 2016).
For all of this — and more — Pailin received the Clara Barton Award at this year's Solano and Napa Counties Volunteer Recognition Event, held this past April. The Clara Barton Award, the highest award the American Red Cross bestows on volunteers, recognizes meritorious service in volunteer leadership positions held over a period of years.
It's an honor for which Pailin is more than qualified, says Debbie Yee, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Solano, Napa, and Lake Counties. "Her extraordinary dedication, constant willingness to help others, and a commitment to respond to anything and everything has led to the successful running of many DRs [Disaster Responses]," Yee said at the awards ceremony. "She truly cares about the Red Cross, consistently advocating for the volunteers and the importance of recognizing their efforts. Our entire team has come to rely on Alzinia's guidance and expertise."
Pailin does not accomplish all she does for the Red Cross without personal sacrifice, and — only when pressed — she admits to spending between 30 and 35 hours a week volunteering in her various roles. "I try not to come in on Mondays and Fridays," she says with a laugh, "though I'm not always successful."
But when talking to Pailin, one gets the impression she believes she gets more than she gives with respect to her Red Cross life. "I was brought up with the value of helping others, with the value that we should give back. That's why I have stayed with the Red Cross all of these years," she says. "We have wonderful volunteers, people who get up out of bed at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning to help others."
Growing up in Mississippi, Pailin says work, responsibility, and kindness were essential elements of her upbringing. "My mother would say, 'Oh, the sugar cane needs to be cut or your garden needs tending. You may not have much, but you have more than a lot of people, so you should give back."
Alzinia Pailin has clearly followed her mother's advice — and the Red Cross and the many people the organization supports are very much the better because of it.
About the photo: In late May, at the annual event honoring Red Cross volunteers in nearby Marin County, Alzinia Pailin stopped by a photo booth for a celebratory pose. (Photo by: Nicole Massey)