The work that American Red Cross volunteer Jill Hofmann did overseeing a service-learning project at a local college this past year was so impactful that her Central Coast Chapter colleagues selected her to receive the coveted Clara Barton Award. But, in truth, Hofmann's work for the chapter and larger organization has been meaningful seemingly every single day since she first became a volunteer 35 years ago.
"I started volunteering for the Red Cross during the 1981-82 winter," Hofmann says, her voice trailing off. She doesn't find it necessary to add that that particular winter in Santa Cruz County was one of the wettest — and deadliest — on record. That January, the San Lorenzo Valley received 25 inches of rain in a 36-hour period, causing a devastating mudslide on Love Creek Road in Ben Lomond that claimed 10 lives; the destructive storm left another dozen people dead elsewhere in the county.
Hofmann was already halfway through a 25-year career working in the county's Mental Health department when she first set foot in the Red Cross office in Santa Cruz that January to provide storm-relief emergency assistance. She was used to helping people during her "day job," so volunteering on behalf of the Red Cross seemed like a natural fit.
It certainly has turned out that way. In fact, since that first Red Cross experience, Hofmann has been a go-to volunteer for disasters both large and small.
Her numerous national deployments include assignments at Ground Zero in the chaotic aftermath of 9/11 and in Texas in 2005 in support of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Her international resume is also lengthy and includes seven months in Croatia in 1994-95 as a social welfare delegate during the Bosnian War. "That was a pretty challenging job, as I was responsible for 15,000 refugees and 2,000 displaced by the war."
In the Red Cross, a volunteer's service for his or her own chapter can sometimes be overshadowed by the national or international deployments; but Hofmann values work at every level in the organization. "I have done big projects, but I also get a lot out of the smaller ones," she says. "The smaller ones sometimes enable you to have even more of a close personal contact with people."
The service-learning project that she oversees for California State University–Monterey Bay students is a perfect example of the impact of her chapter work in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito Counties.
"Students get college credit for their Red Cross work with Jill, and this past year she started with 12 students, double the number she usually has," says Romina Cervantes, Volunteer & Youth Services manager for the Central Coast Chapter. "It's a semester-long course and involves setting up program goals that are individualized for each student; so it's a lot of work."
In addition to the work she does with CSUMB students, Hofmann has for years also supervised restoring family links interns from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.
The college projects are just two of many ways in which Hofmann has served the Central Coast over the years. As far back as 1991, she helped establish the chapter's Mental Health Team; today, she wears three hats for the local chapter: Disaster/Mental Health lead for Monterey and San Benito Counties, International Services mentor, and Community volunteer leader.
But it may be the inspiration Hofmann provides to new chapter volunteers that is the most impressive role she plays for the Red Cross organization she has been so devoted to since that long-ago storm in 1982.
"For me, Jill is a beacon of light," Cervantes says. "I am especially impressed when I see her around new volunteers. They can feel the light from her and really sense her spirit of volunteerism. Jill's that passionate about her Red Cross work."
Hofmann has used that passion to "help bring support to people during some of the worst moments of their life," she says. "I have been fortunate to discover that, with a little comfort and support, one person can make a difference."
But Hofmann is quick to add that her relationship with the Red Cross has been a two-way street. "I feel I have received so much more out of my Red Cross experience than I have given."
Caption: Jill Hofmann, right, receives the Clara Barton Award at the Central Coast Chapter's 2016 Volunteer Recognition Event, held in Carmel Valley in April. Pictured with Hofmann is Michele Averill, chapter CEO.