William Spangenburg had a rough time growing up. He was mistreated as a child, developed an anxiety disorder, and was placed in a foster home at age 11.
Fortunately, he was placed with loving foster parents who helped him find the right path in life. He considers them his real mother and father, and cites them as the reason he became who he is today: an American Red Cross volunteer with a passion for helping those in need.
“This is my way of giving back,” Spangenburg said. “Putting a smile on someone’s face means so much.”
When he started as a Red Cross volunteer in 2008, Spangenburg already had a history of volunteerism – he joined the Binghamton Auxiliary Police in 2005, helping with traffic control for parades and events.
It was this volunteering spirit that first led Spangenburg to the American Red Cross. Looking to better himself as an auxiliary officer, he took a Red Cross First Aid Training course. The course piqued his interest, and when he was told that the Red Cross was looking for volunteers he decided to give it a try.
It didn’t take long for Spangenburg to see how big of a difference he could make with the Red Cross. On his first local call, he helped run a shelter for fire victims. A young man at the shelter turned and thanked him. When Spangenburg asked why, the man said that his boss had refused to let him leave work to try and salvage his belongings; he was now without a home and felt hopeless. But he had found hope unexpectedly in the care and compassion that the Red Cross provided.
“I thought I was just going to be filling out paperwork,” Spangenburg said. “But sometimes the greatest gifts we can give as volunteers are hope, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.”
Learning from his own difficult history, Spangenburg often goes out of his way to comfort disaster victims, believing that it’s important to never underestimate the little things. While on deployment for Superstorm Sandy to Far Rockaway, N.Y., in 2012, he met a woman who had lost her home to fire, lost it again in Sandy, and was involved in a major car accident one week later.
“I got out of the ERV and gave her a shoulder to cry on for at least 15 minutes,” Spangenburg said. “She thanked me for my time, compassion, and comfort during this difficult time in her life. She left feeling hopeful and relieved to unburden herself.”
Spangenburg is supported in his efforts by his wife, Theresa, who fully supports his roles with the Red Cross and with the Auxiliary Police. He considers himself fortunate to have such a caring environment surrounding his work, both from his wife and foster parents. While volunteering can be difficult, he says that the stories and experiences make it all worthwhile.
Sometimes Spangenburg is rewarded for his work in unexpected ways, such as when he gave a little girl a toy while deployed for the Red Cross on Long Island in December of 2012. As she started walking away, she turned around and pulled on his sleeve so that he was bent over to her height. Without any prompting, she kissed him on the cheek and wished him a Merry Christmas.
“That was the greatest Christmas gift I could have ever gotten,” said Spangenburg.
Spangenburg, 48, currently lives in Vestal with his wife. He is now a Lieutenant for the Binghamton Auxiliary Police and recently became a Disaster Action Team Dispatcher with the American Red Cross. With five years of Red Cross experience behind him, he looks forward to at least another five years.
“I can’t just sit home and do nothing,” he said. “God’s gift to me is my ability to help others.”