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Red Cross Couples Have Heart

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Inspired by the month of love, we're introducing you to a few Red Cross couples -- volunteers with a shared passion for service!  These teams like working together, and they aren’t alone. More than 20 couples support the Central Florida region, strengthening the volunteer corps with their commitment and compassion – to the organization and to each other. Be prepared to be inspired by these sweethearts with huge hearts for helping others.

Denny and Mary Dionne

Southwest Florida Chapter

Fifty-three years ago, Denny and Mary vowed, “I do.”  Today they’re still “doing” -- for each other and countless clients since Hurricanes Wilma, Sandy, and most recently, Matthew.

As the Central FL Transportation Lead, Denny ensures that all vehicles, particularly the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs), are properly maintained and safe before a disaster strikes. During a major disaster, a fleet of rental cars -- utilized by volunteers who have deployed from all parts of the country -- and “box trucks” (temporary vehicles used to transport bulk supplies to impacted areas) are added to the mix.

“In Hurricane Matthew, Mary joined the Transportation Team as my assistant.  She immediately took charge of tracking missing rental cars and coordinated shuttle and courier functions.  She took a lot of pressure off me,” noted Denny.

According to Mary, “We provide different perspectives and support each other in immeasurable ways.”

Gene and Sandy Giblin

Mid-Florida Chapter

Sandy exudes praise for Gene, her husband of 27 years.  “He’s won awards for dedicated service.  Just this January, he drove an Emergency Relief Vehicle (ERV) to Georgia to help tornado victims.  I just work behind the scenes, vetting prospective volunteers for our Volunteer Coordinator.  He’s always on midnight Disaster Relief calls. Only once I accompanied him.”

Describing that experience and her volunteer intake responsibilities accentuates her dedication.  “He was short a DAT partner, and I volunteered.  Wow!  That experience ‘hit close to home.’ The client we comforted was someone I know.”

A staff worker at a local veterinarian hospital -- the same one that the Giblins use for their two cats, Copper and Diamond -- lost her mobile home and pet to a fire.  “I never imagined that the Red Cross would be so connected to our lives.”  

“There’s a need and we support each other, but he’s the one who does all the stuff,” Sandy added.

Dick and Linda Haskins

Mid-Florida Chapter

Dick (who goes by “Bear”) and Linda love life, but don’t take it too seriously -- except when it comes to the Red Cross, an organization they’ve supported for 30 years combined.

Bear is the Transportation Lead for the Mid-FL Chapter, a Logistics Lead, an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) driver, and disaster assessor.  Locally, Linda serves on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and deploys as a Caseworker. 

Together they serve in the Community Preparedness and Resilience Group, informing and educating the community about Red Cross programs and opportunities.  “Bear and I present hurricane, tornado, and fire prevention, especially in mobile home parks. After the 2004 hurricanes, we created a disaster preparation and damage assessment program for which we received the Governor's Award at the 2009 Hurricane Conference,” Linda added proudly.  

“Linda and I have a strong relationship—having survived 42 years of marriage and 30 plus in our film production services company,” Bear added. “When we deploy together, it’s nice to know your hotel roommate and argue about what’s for dinner.”

Charles and Barbara Krystynak

Florida’s Space Coast Chapter

Before 2012, Charles and Barbara were strangers.  He was involved with the Virginia Disaster Action Team (DAT).  Miles away in New Jersey, Barbara volunteered on a DAT team as well as Services to the Armed Forces (SAF). 

But Hurricane Isaac changed all that!  After working on the same disaster relief team, Charles and Barbara began dating.  “While visiting me in New Jersey, we were both deployed for Hurricane Sandy,” Barbara recounted.  And the following year, in 2013, a new team -- without acronyms -- was formed:  the Krystynaks.

“The Red Cross is an amazing organization, enabling us to help provide comfort and hope to clients,” she noted.

The couple agrees that volunteering has strengthened their relationship.  “When we see the devastation and sadness, it weighs heavily on our minds. We’re there to comfort each other, and we draw from each other’s strengths.”

Joe Lucas and Brenda Gatcomb, RN

Southwest Florida Chapter

Joe and Brenda epitomize the reason for volunteering -- helping clients recover from disasters.  Unofficially, Joe also wanted to please his wife of more than 20 years.

As the SWFL Chapter Logistics Lead, Joe ensures that the Disaster Action Team (DAT) has all necessary supplies to do the job.  Brenda, the subject matter expert for the Health Services and Staff Wellness volunteers and staff, assists clients with medication and medical equipment lost in disasters; mentors volunteers; assists with shelter drills; and trains DAT volunteers.

Their teamwork -- at a disaster or at home -- continues to make a difference for others and for their relationship. They agree that volunteering has bolstered their marriage.  “We understand and respect each other’s differences,” Joe added.  For Brenda, the rewards are even more personal: “It makes my heart grow, knowing I’ve assisted our clients start the process back to normal.”

Bob and Barbara Owens

Tampa Bay Chapter

Bob has a noble mission for volunteer work … “so I can show people that there are other, better ways to get along with one another.  Reaching out to those in need is crucial.”  Barbara supports her husband by going out on fire calls and talking to people who are “having the worst day of their lives.”  “Listening is key,” she notes. 

A 10-year volunteer, Bob has always been with the Disaster Action Team (DAT).  Early on, he deployed to multiple out-of-state disasters, but now he commits to only local disasters because of age limitations.

Married since 1988, the couple has made volunteering a part of their lives.  According to Barbara, “When we get home after a fire call, we appreciate what we have and each other more.” 

David Whitehill and Kathy MacDonald

Tampa Bay Chapter

Married 18 years and volunteering for almost half that time, David and Kathy find it very satisfying to help perpetuate the Red Cross mission, whether it’s delivering non-disaster relief, such as teaching others how to avert and minimize disasters, or assisting in Disaster Relief Operations, client casework, and instructing disaster classes. 

“Teaming with Kathy provides a common experience and sense of accomplishment that draws us closer as a couple,” said David.  “As retirees, addressing critical challenges provides us with just the focus we need.”   

Additionally, having Dave “keep the home fires burning” has enabled Kathy to deploy to Matthew, the Houston floods and Hurricane Sandy.

“Providing clients -- who are experiencing one of the worst days in their lives -- with advice, assistance, and a bit of direction for a path forward can make for a pretty good day after all.”