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The Honor of a Lifetime

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The President's Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded to individuals who have given at least 4,000 hours of service. Julie Burger has given more than 40,000 hours, and says that she’s been told she can stop counting.

When you meet Julie Burger, you meet a part of the history of the Red Cross. She is a spry and very sharp woman, and has plenty of stories to tell about her 50 years with the American Red Cross.

My particular meeting was on an overcast Saturday morning in Portland, Ore., the week after Julie had received the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Washington, D.C.

The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award is a wonderful honor which recognizes individuals who reach a certain number of hours per year or per cumulative lifetime. The Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded to individuals who have given at least 4,000 hours of service. Julie Burger has given more than 40,000 hours, and jokingly said that she’s been told she can stop counting!

The notification that Julie had earned the award came out of the blue, as a senior VP of the American Red Cross Overseas Association had nominated her for the distinction. The award ceremony took place at the White House in October 2015.

As for Julie’s expectations going into the ceremony, she had none. She volunteers not for the glory or for recognition because, according to Julie, you aren’t ‘volunteering’ if that’s what you’re after. She was honored and humbled to be nominated, and believes the Lifetime Achievement Award a wonderful legacy to have.

That same humility was very clear when asked what her greatest deed was, or if all her work had been great deeds. “Anything that you do to help another person is a great deed,” she said, and that no one deed stood out among the others.

She has plenty of wonderful experiences to recount, including opening the Panama Canal and going to the White House Annex for this award.

Fifty years of service covers a lot of ground, but Julie immediately recalled her most memorable moment with the Red Cross.

Julie moved to San Francisco in 1989, just two weeks before the Loma Prieta earthquakes struck. As she recalls it, she’d barely finished unpacking and wiring her furniture to the walls when the ground started to undulate.

Julie considers this her most memorable moment because it was the only time she has ever been in a disaster. “The earthquake wound up being a lot larger than anyone thought it could be,” Julie remembers.

Even though she’d been a disaster victim, she jumped right into volunteering with the Red Cross, serving as a liaison between the military and the Red Cross during the cleanup.

Julie returned from the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., and in a stroke of pure chance timing, received a letter from AARP. This letter notified her of her nomination for the 2015 AARP Washington Andrus Award for Community Service, which is the most prestigious state volunteer award for community service.

Julie was very surprised, as well as honored and thrilled, that one of her own case work trainees had nominated her.

After completing 50 years of community service with the Red Cross, Julie continues to volunteer and sees no end in sight. She currently serves as a member of the Red Cross Southwest Washington Board of Directors, and is a supervisor for the Cascades Region Service to the Armed Forces program SAF. Volunteering, she says, is good for our bodies and minds as well as helping other people.

Her advice for new Red Cross volunteers?

If one volunteer position isn’t the right fit, it doesn’t mean that the Red Cross isn’t the right fit. There are dozens of roles in different departments, and the Red Cross can always use some helping hands.

The Red Cross Volunteer Connection website offers prospective volunteers a way to see all the positions which are available – a handy feature which wasn’t there 50 years ago, Julie laughed! “There’s a place for everyone, even for stay-at-home parents and the disabled; you just might not know your calling yet.”