Kat Greenhill: Lifetime Achievement Award Winner and Lifelong Humanitarian
Interview by Ryan Brown, Written by Graciella Regua
The Red Cross has always held an important place in Kat Greenhill’s life. Before her retirement from volunteering in August 2017, Kat served the organization for 54 years, deploying to major disasters nationwide and volunteering in a range of roles to help the community respond to and recover from emergencies.
Kat’s journey as a life-long humanitarian began as a six-year-old in Canada, when she donated her spare change to the Red Cross at the urging of her mother, a Red Cross volunteer during World War II.
“All the neighborhood kids would get together and put on little shows for our parents and charge money, like a penny or a nickel,” she said. “We divided it up amongst the actors, and my mom had me take my 25 cents and put me on a bus down to the Red Cross office in Victoria to give it to them. That was my first introduction to the Red Cross.”
A few years later, Kat’s family moved to San Diego, where she first got involved with the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties as a high school student. Since those early days of service, Kat’s volunteerism has taken her to disasters all over the country, including deployments to the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and the September 11 attacks.
“When I first started it was because I wanted something to do,” Kat said. “And as time went by I realized I got back way more than I was actually giving. My attitude was always that I saw the best of people at the worst of times.”
Over the years, she’s held a variety of positions within Disaster Cycle Services, including logistics, client services, long-term recovery, virtual casework and most recently disaster supply lead before her recent retirement. After many long nights serving Red Cross clients and deploying more than 30 times across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Kat believes it’s crucial for all volunteers to be passionate about what they do.
“When you’re out on a DAT call at two in the morning, it can be cold,” she said. “It can be wet, rainy and miserable. It could be Santa Ana conditions. But until you step foot in that DAT van, and you're standing in front of a house that's gone and you're dealing with the clients, you have no clue what you're getting into. And you need to look hard and long at yourself to see if it's what you want.”
For Kat, it always came back to the Red Cross mission and commitment to the community, and she cites this as what kept her volunteering for so many years.
“It’s giving back to the community when the community needs help,” she said. “Not everyone is in a position to help themselves in a time when they need it. And so, the community has to step up and say, ‘don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’”
Upon her retirement, Kat received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Red Cross for her service, and was noted specifically for her dependability, dedication, loyalty, frankness and hard work. Months later, Kat is still humbled and surprised by the award.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I had no clue. And it was such an honor because there’s millions of other people that deserve it more than I do.”
Currently Kat is battling bone cancer and recently went through chemotherapy. Always a persistent fighter, Kat maintains an optimistic perspective on dealing with cancer. “I will get through this one way or the other,” she says. For decades, Kat has taken care of others, and now friends and family are rallying around her to care for her. “I have two options,” says Kat. “I can give into it or I can fight it, and giving into it is not an option.” With her positive outlook and spirit of determination, Kat remains a beacon of hope, just as she was for so many people during her time with the Red Cross.
For more information on how to join our team and volunteer alongside other heroes like Kat, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.