Volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross, making up nine in 10 of those who serve. Volunteer Denise Knighton takes care of a unique subset, the very newest, those inspired to help in the middle of disaster. That’s what she was doing after Hurricane Michael, which struck Georgia not far her home in Columbus. Michael was “catastrophic,” she said. “It destroyed so many things that we will never even know about.”
Among hundreds of Red Cross volunteers who helped in Georgia after the storm, 67 were first-timers – event-based volunteers, or EBVs, in Red Cross lingo. Two weeks after Michael, they had worked 370 shifts, loading and unloading trucks, riding with volunteers assessing damage or doing administrative work. Another 53 had registered to help.
To Knighton they’re special. “I like talking to them, telling them about the job, and making sure that what they’re doing is meaningful to them,” she said.
One day it might be a group of student nurses, who traveled from Atlanta to southwest Georgia to pass out emergency supplies – everything from shovels to tarps to charcoal. Another day, before the hurricane, it might be teenagers. “For kids under 18, it’s good for them to do something to help other kids under 18,” she said.
Just 18 months ago, Knighton was new to the Red Cross herself. A retired health care administrator, she had decided to become a regular Red Cross volunteer. She started coming in a couple of days a week, but soon she was hooked. “I like that the Red Cross is comprised mostly of volunteers. It gives you a sense of ownership. And my chapter is made up of amazing people.”
She became the volunteer partner to Alicia Studds, who takes care of volunteers of all types across the Georgia region, and soon she was working 36 hours a week. Then Knighton took charge of event-based volunteers across the state. “She’s wonderful,” Studds said. “She’s a real people person. She’s there for them.”
Studds found that Knighton’s organizational and administrative skills make her ideal for everything she’s doing – which goes far beyond working with EBVs.
And the Red Cross is ideal for Knighton. “I like knowing that every single person who comes to us is served,” she said. “We don’t look at age, color, religion, financial status, or anything. We look at individual need. We can’t solve all their problems, but we can help them get on their way.”