On Monday, June 27 the Red Cross celebrated volunteer Jean Watkins for her milestone achievement of 75 years of service. As a dedicated Red Crosser, Jean has worked in many capacities for various Red Cross programs and services but when asked about her proudest moment at the Red Cross, Jean admitted, “Well today is one!”
Jean was first introduced to the Red Cross at age 11 during World War II. Living near a hospital and army encampments in Massachusetts, her entire family supported their community as Red Cross volunteers: her mother worked at the hospital, her father and brother were air raid wardens and her sister-in-law knitted sweaters for soldiers. Jean followed in her family’s footsteps by volunteering with the Red Cross by tearing bed sheets for soldiers’ bandages and by knitting squares for afghans to be distributed overseas.
In the years that followed, as Jean began her training to become a teacher, she maintained her service with the Red Cross. While attending college, she was Co-President of her school’s Red Cross club. The outbreak of a polio epidemic prompted Jean and her Red Cross club to visit recovering polio patients in rehabilitation centers to comfort and entertain them. When Jean moved to Greenwich to begin her career at an elementary school she became a teacher sponsor for a Junior Red Cross program in the school she taught at. And when Jean later traveled to teach in Okinawa and Germany, she continued to volunteer at the Red Cross chapters in these countries.
Throughout her 75 years with the organization, Jean has supported just about every Red Cross program and line of service. Along with her work helping service members and youth, Jean has assisted after disasters, received CPR and AED certifications, donated blood, worked in blood services (for about 40 years) and taken first aid classes. Jean has also been very active in Red Cross Aquatics programs, an activity which led to one of her most memorable experiences as a volunteer.
“While I was giving swimming lessons as a Red Cross certified instructor to young children, there was one child who was mentally disabled but her mother wanted her to learn how to swim,” recalled Jean. “I worked with her and worked with her. The child went from being almost afraid to get in the water to being able to swim. The parents, but mostly the child herself, glowed with a sense of accomplishment. That was a big moment to see someone trying and trying until they accomplished something.”
Last week, a group of staff, friends and family gathered to honor Jean’s achievement in Greenwich. Jean spoke about her history as a Red Cross volunteer and expressed gratitude for the recognition. The festivities culminated with a volunteer recognition award and chocolate cake – her favorite.
“That’s really one of the true beauties of the Red Cross – there is such a history of volunteers bringing forward their compassion to help others,” said Mary Young, CEO of the Metro NY North Red Cross. “It’s people like Jean Watkins that did, do and will continue to make this mission happen. She embodies everything the Red Cross is about: all the values and the spirit of the Red Cross, Jean brings that to us every day. She truly is the epitome of selfless service.”
On why she has continued to volunteer with the Red Cross, Jean said, “What they do for other people and what they do to help people – that’s where I’m coming from within my soul anyway. I’m not put on this earth to be just for me, it has to be to do something for someone else. I think the Red Cross does that. I’ve made a lot of friends through the Red Cross. That’s good because it’s a contact with other people who have the same mission.”
The Red Cross remains a staple in her life, even after 75 years Jean stands by the Red Cross mission. Two to three days a week, Jean volunteers as a receptionist at the welcome desk of the Red Cross office in Greenwich.
“We all think the world of her,” said Mary. “I love to see Jean’s welcoming face at the reception desk, which sits right outside my office. I couldn’t ask for a better role model of dedicated service to work alongside. I aspire to be like Jean. She’s a kindred spirit to all.”
To watch a video about Jean, click here.