“You must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.” –Clara Barton
These words spoken years ago by the founder of the American Red Cross still ring true today. And nowhere is this spirit more evident than in the faces and actions of our Red Cross volunteers.
As we get ready to celebrate the holidays, join us in thanking all of these selfless heroes, with special gratitude to those who will miss spending the holidays with their loved ones while serving the victims of the recent tornadoes.
Following are stories from some of our volunteers who are responding to the tornadoes:
DENNIS BARNETT Prior to joining the Red Cross, Barnett worked for 35 years as a firefighter paramedic in Miami, Florida, and has since been on multiple deployments as a Red Cross volunteer over the last three years. In Kentucky this week, he recounted his most memorable moment as a Red Cross volunteer — being called to a home that had lost power after a tornado in Oklahoma several years ago.
A family member was on a respirator, their generator had broken, and they had eight hours left of battery power. Dennis secured Red Cross funds and purchased a new generator, brought it back and assembled it, all while a Red Cross mental health counselor stayed with the family. Upon leaving the home, an emotional family member grabbed his arm to thank him. Dennis explained that it wasn’t necessarily his job, but it was all part of the mission.
BARB WARTON has been in the business of providing medical care for over half a century, having started as a hospital candy striper as a teenager. Between then and now, she has served her community as a nurse for over 50 years, including six years as an Army officer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
So why did she join the American Red Cross in 2017? Because disaster relief was on her bucket list. Why? Adventure. This is now her 24th deployment, having worked most of the recent storm-related disaster responses, including two deployments to Hawaii — one hurricane and one volcanic eruption. What has been her most memorable moment working with the Red Cross? In Hawaii — when a patient referred to her as “Auntie,” a term of affection and respect rarely offered to strangers. She was honored.
MARY ROSE BAUER has been a clinical nurse specialist at a level one trauma center at the University of Kentucky for 27 years. She joined the Red Cross over three years ago and is now the team leader in Kentucky for health services. She loves the work because she gets to make a difference.
Currently working on her 17th deployment in Kentucky, she recounted her most memorable moment working with the Red Cross. It came after responding to the Eastern Kentucky floods where a dam had broken near a town and she was able to talk one on one with residents. It was a heart-wrenching experience speaking with residents “who not only lost their homes but their ancestry as well.” She says she loves this work because she gets to make a difference by connecting with people. “I have been lucky in life to be able to define my roles and jobs, and this is the best way to give back to the people of Kentucky.”
RICKEY PORTER, an emergency medical technician, joined the Red Cross nine years ago because he saw a need in his community — there were no other EMTs in Ohio County, Kentucky, not far from where last week’s tornado passed through the state.
Upon arriving at this, his 20th deployment, he was able to provide emergency medical care to a man who was walking around with glass in his arm. He has also cared for several Red Cross volunteers who have traveled to the region to provide assistance. Like many volunteers, Rickey is proud to wear multiple hats. On one occasion, he recalls caring for parents who lost a daughter and grandchild in a home fire. When he saw that the couple had outdated smoke alarms in their own home, he worked to new ones installed in their home and the homes of their extended family members.
JESSICA AND MICHAEL CRAIG When this couple first met, they were both interested in dedicating their lives to philanthropic pursuits. She was a nurse and he was an orthopedic surgeon. When they joined the Red Cross in 2019, they were already involved in several other charitable organizations and were about to retire to pursue philanthropy full time. Then COVID hit and they ended up staying at their jobs for another year and half. When their local Red Cross chapter called and asked if they were willing to be deployed, they were ready.
They are now on their third deployment in Kentucky caring for residents impacted by the recent tornadoes. When asked to recount their most memorable moments working with the Red Cross, Michael points to when he realized just how many people were committed to the Red Cross mission — he had no idea how many active volunteers there were. Jessica recalls their first deployment at a disaster shelter in Louisiana. She was nervous and realized that an older and more experienced volunteer named Dottie, whom they did not know, was looking out for them, “a stranger, looking out for us. Red Cross volunteers look out for each other,” she said.
DANIELLE (RODGERS) WINTERS As nurse with 30 years of experience, Danielle is used to working in a Red Cross shelter caring for individuals who were forced from their homes by storms or other disasters during deployments. Instead, her work in Kentucky is focused on caring for the hundreds of Red Cross volunteers who are caring for the community. What does that involve? Responding to any medical condition that could arise without notice on a “normal” day and add to that any condition brought on by the added stress of responding to a disaster.
She considers it a privilege to care for fellow Red Crossers under these circumstances. When asked to recount her most memorable moment working with the Red Cross, she immediately described the time that she had deployed to one of the California wildfires. She was having lunch with another volunteer (her now-husband), when a woman sat down beside her, put her arm around her and explained how she had just lost everything in the fire except her motor home, but that she was thrilled that the Red Cross was there because she knew that everything would be okay. “And the three of us sat there and cried,” Winters said.
LOUISE O’DONNELL “We are not the hospital nurse who administers your intravenous drugs,” explains Louise O’Donnell from disaster response headquarters in Kentucky one week after a deadly tornado passed through the region, “we are the neighbor who happens to be a nurse who can help you get your prescription medications after yours were lost in a tornado and your doctor’s office was destroyed.”
Louise has been a nurse for 45 years. “I am not retired; I am just no longer working for a paycheck.” A resident of Grand Rapids, she joined the Red Cross in 2016 when she saw Red Cross volunteers delivering fresh water to residents of Flint, Michigan. “I did not want to join the Red Cross as a nurse, but so I could do the physical things that other volunteers do.” But after joining and getting involved with her local disaster action team, she immediately realized what people recovering disasters needed most: help to get moving in the right direction.
Her most memorable moment as a Red Cross volunteer was her first deployment in Houston in an emergency shelter. She met a young paraplegic man who had lost his pressure relief cushion for his wheelchair during a storm and had developed serious sores. She argued with his insurance company to pay for a new cushion, but they said they had just recently replaced one for him. Then she remembered a medical supply warehouse back home in Grand Rapids that sold used medical equipment. She called and asked if they knew of a similar supply company in Texas. Instead, the company found the man both a new cushion and a special mattress for him to sleep on and shipped it overnight to Louise in Houston. When that happened, Louise said, “I realized that I may have been the only person that could have solved this problem, at that moment, for this young man.”
CONNIE ERWIN joined the Red Cross four years ago after working as a nurse for 40 years because she wanted to continue helping others. But this time she wanted to do it without any expectation of getting something in return.
As she explained, she just wanted to connect with people. She loves being present and just listening to people who want to talk, and she loves being able to say things like, “you lost your medication during the storm? Allow me to take this burden off your shoulders.” Interestingly, her most memorable moment with the Red Cross thus far has nothing to do with delivering medical care. On deployment as a nurse assigned to a disaster relief shelter, she once began singing and dancing the “Hokey Pokey” with several of the children in the shelter. When she looked up towards the end of the song, she saw that everyone in the shelter was singing along and dancing. “This is all about connecting with people.”
JONATHAN O’NEILL was an emergency medical technician in both high school and college and went on to study nursing. In 2016, he deployed with the Red Cross to a large shelter in Louisiana, several months before starting his first job as an ICU nurse.
As a Red Cross nurse volunteer, he feels that he is helping people, doing good things for them and seeing immediate results. What advice does he have for other nurses who may be thinking about joining the Red Cross? He says it is a good way to give back; it is different than a day job as a nurse, and it is refreshing and fun to meet other people. “And you are using different parts of your brain,” he adds.
Volunteers enable the Red Cross to respond to an average of more than 60,000 disasters every year. They help train more than 4.6 million people in Red Cross lifesaving skills; help provide nearly 550,000 services to military members, veterans and their families; and to reconnect almost 9,000 families separated by war or disaster around the world. In addition, as many as 2.5 million volunteer donors give blood and platelets every year.
There are many different ways to volunteer. Training is free, but the hope you provide is priceless. Visit redcross.org/volunteertoday to get started today.