White House Honors Red Cross Volunteers and Employees

Champions of Change
The American Red Cross Champions of Change we are honoring are a reflection of the generosity and compassion deeply rooted in our national identity.

On September 14, the White House honored nine American Red Cross employees and volunteers as Champions of Change for their work building resilient communities at home and abroad. Disasters affect more and more people each year, and the need for blood is constant. Building resilient communities could not be more important.

With the overarching theme of “Red Cross: Building Resilient Communities,” the day-long program at the White House included panel discussions and presentations about how the Red Cross is working to build resiliency in communities across the nation and around the world using technology, innovative ideas, and old-fashioned hard work.

“President Obama knows how important the American Red Cross is to not only providing humanitarian relief but also building resilient communities,” said Jon Carson, deputy assistant to the President. “The American Red Cross Champions of Change we are honoring are a reflection of the generosity and compassion deeply rooted in our national identity.”

Take a minute to meet these champions who are working in communities across the country to keep families and individuals safe in the face of emergencies.

Dr. Suzanne Horsley, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

A Public Relations professor at the University of Alabama and a long-time volunteer for the American Red Cross, Suzanne experienced disaster herself in 2011. When tornadoes swept through Tuscaloosa, her home was damaged. Nonetheless, Suzanne and her husband spent more than a month away from their jobs and damaged home to work at a Red Cross shelter, helping those in the community who needed help the most. In addition, Suzanne and her PR students launched a fundraising effort for Red Cross disaster relief by designing a book about Red Cross relief efforts in Alabama. After the storms, she and her students continued to serve their community by managing her chapter’s PR and social media presence. Not only has she been a great volunteer and supporter for her community, but she is also cultivating a whole new generation of Red Cross volunteers through her students.

Kay Wilkins, Destrehan, Louisiana

Kay W. Wilkins, the Chief Executive Officer for the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross, has over 25 years of experience with the organization, serving in roles ranging from Director of Emergency Services to Human Resources. In 2005, Kay and her chapter faced their greatest challenge—Hurricane Katrina. During the response and recovery phases, she worked tirelessly to meet the needs of her community, but at a time when others took only lessons about organizational response from Katrina, Kay declared that her chapter would become a leader in community preparedness and resilience building. Programs like “The Pillowcase Project” to help kids prepare for evacuation and “Senior Preparedness Packs” to help seniors be ready originated under Kay’s direction and have now become nationwide models. Today, Kay and her staff are working to help Southeast Louisiana recover and take their lessons learned from their service in Hurricane Katrina to develop plans for upcoming hurricane seasons.

Mahogany Thomas, San Francisco, CA

The Battle of the Badges Blood Drive Program, for which Mahogany Thomas serves as Blood Drive Coordinator, began in 2007 as an opportunity for Southern California’s badge carrying personnel to positively impact their community by competing in a friendly blood drive competition. In six short years, the program has grown into what has become the nation’s largest and most successful law-enforcement blood drive effort. This year, more than 200 local, state, county and federal badge-carrying agencies went head-to-head to see which agency could donate the most blood through the American Red Cross. And while this initiative is themed and geared specifically toward the law enforcement community, the general public is strongly encouraged to participate. Mahogany says it’s interesting to see “big, tough guys” who put their lives on the line everyday “be afraid of a little needle. But they still show up every year knowing that 1 donation can save 3 lives and that’s what makes it so rewarding.”

Mary Basiliere, North Andover, MA

In her 25 years of service to her community through the American Red Cross, Mary Basiliere has had some interesting experiences. None are more interesting than last year when, as the Senior Station Manager at Yokota Air Base, Japan, she led a team to support one of the largest evacuations of American military families in recent memory. After the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power incident, Mary’s team sheltered 650 passengers from 2 diverted Delta Airlines flights that landed at Yokota Air Base. Mary also rallied 433 volunteers to provide 24/7 food services to military relief workers and Emergency Operation Center personnel for two months. The largest task they tackled was providing out-processing and travel services to thousands of American military families who chose to evacuate after the earthquake. 

Brian Boyle, Welcome, Maryland

In 2004 a horrific car crash almost claimed Brian Boyle’s life. His heart moved across his chest and all major organs were damaged. When he emerged from a medically-induced coma, doctors predicted he might never walk again, but after multiple surgeries, 36 blood transfusions, 13 plasma treatments and physical therapy, Brian walked. Just three years after leaving ICU, he crossed the finish line at the Hawaii Ironman. He wears the American Red Cross logo when he competes to thank those who donated blood for him, and to show his sincerest appreciation to the blood donors that saved his life. Only a small percentage of people donate blood and Brian wants to change that. He has been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, NBC's The Today Show and ESPN. His story has been shared in USA Today, the Washington Post, Runner's World and Muscle and Fitness Magazine. 

Dom Tolli, Wayne, NJ

Dom Tolli has led the team that has developed and implemented new services to help people and organizations be prepared for emergencies. Dom and his team have built Smartphone apps that put critical information and services at people’s fingertips when they need it most. From the First Aid app to the Hurricane app to the soon to be -released Earthquake app, all of these tools empower people with the knowledge they need at the time they need it. Having this information in people’s pockets when they need it most will save lives and reduce suffering. Also, building upon the work of staff at the St. Louis chapter and executives of Anheuser-Busch, Dom and his team have created a revised Ready Rating service to help businesses, schools, and organizations assess and improve their disaster readiness. A Ready Rating Assessment quantifies a company’s level of preparedness. From here, organizations take specific next steps to improve their preparedness level, create a customized emergency response plan, and the ability to compare their level others in their industry or state. 

Monica Dawn Owens, Warner Robins, Georgia

A native of Warner Robins, Georgia, Monica was serving in AmeriCorps when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. After her AmeriCorps service ended, she wanted to continue to serve—so she moved to South Mississippi to work with the Red Cross in hurricane recovery. She started as a case manager, working to help families get back into their homes. Now she is a Community Resilience Coordinator for the Red Cross in South Mississippi, pilot testing a new strategy for the Red Cross to build resilience at the community level by leveraging and connecting community networks. Monica has brought together diverse community stakeholders and leaders to take action around significant risks and vulnerabilities: for example, Monica helped bridge cultural barriers between first responders and non-English speaking populations, resulting in better communication when home fires and other emergencies strike.

Nan Buzard, New York City, NY

Responding to over 20 international crises each year, and providing life-saving programs in dozens of countries each year, Nan Buzard is responsible for the international disaster response and programs of the American Red Cross that touched about 5.3 million people globally last year. Nan has led successful relief and recovery efforts following the devastating earthquakes that struck Sichuan, China, and Port au Prince, Haiti and was among the first international responders following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Nan's responsibilities include the American Red Cross' expanded focus on disaster preparedness programs around the world.

Stephanie Phillips, Hilton Head, South Carolina

Stephanie Phillips is a nursing student and Red Cross volunteer. The daughter of a nurse, she became interested in volunteering when her mom received a lifesaving blood transfusion during heart surgery. Stephanie volunteers with the Red Cross at least 20 hours a month: coordinating blood drives, serving on the SC Blood Service Region Board of Directors, and representing nursing students on the National Nursing Committee of the American Red Cross. She will graduate from the nursing program at the University of South Carolina in May, 2013.

Watch the video of Friday’s White House Champions of Change program that features Red Cross volunteers and employees sharing inspirational stories of help and hope.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.