By Frederic Klein
In an organization where there is no shortage of people who have been involved in the American Red Cross for decades, finding somebody who Richard Gallis has mentored is not a difficult task. For nearly 20 years, Richard has taken up a variety of volunteer roles — most of which place him squarely behind the scenes, working to support his fellow Red Crossers helping neighbors prepare for and respond to disasters big and small.
His current staff partner, Catherine Esposito, is the latest in a long line of Greater New York team members with positive reflections on how he has helped them grow and thrive in the Red Cross.
“I’ve learned a lot from [Richard] and I still rely on him for any questions I don’t know about, even new things,” said Catherine. “Any new person who comes in, I always have them meet with Richard because he’ll show them the ropes.”
Richard first joined the Red Cross as a volunteer after a long career working in the information technology field. He uses his technical knowledge to support the Greater New York disaster workforce engagement training team by helping process and verify the courses that team members complete in EDGE, the Red Cross training platform. Among other roles, he is currently the Volunteer Services EDGE Administrator Lead nationally. Richard also helps chapters throughout the country by helping them work with the EDGE system in certifying and recertifying instructors. These instructors then help fellow Red Crossers train and prepare to help neighbors in their own communities.
For a time, Richard also stepped out from behind the scenes and volunteered with the Greater New York Disaster Action Team, where he responded to help fellow New Yorkers get started on their road to recovery after fires and other disasters.
“I like being behind the scenes,” said Richard, about his one-year stint with the Disaster Action Team, before health issues kept him away from fire and smoke. “But I wanted to be on the front line, helping people in need, as opposed to what I usually do — office work and helping with the volunteers’ needs.”
Richard’s contributions to the Red Cross extend much further than office work, as he calls it. The positive impact that Richard has on his colleagues in Greater New York led to him receiving the inaugural Tess Sheil Award, which is given to someone who has volunteered with the Red Cross for a minimum of 10 years, demonstrated enthusiasm and kindness in service, and lives the values of the Red Cross, known as the “5 C’s”: collaborative, compassionate, credible, committed and creative.
The award is named after longtime Red Cross volunteer Tess Sheil, who passed away in 2022 after nearly 50 years of service to the Red Cross in both the Metro New York chapter of the Greater New York region and the Quad Cities chapter of the Illinois region. During a typical week, Tess would spend over 70 hours in various volunteer capacities. She trained thousands of Red Cross volunteers and deployed 37 times to disasters, often serving as a nurse and health services volunteer or a disaster mental health volunteer.
“I knew Tess by name,” recalled Richard. “Her name and her expertise were often mentioned in some meeting I attended. Tess was highly respected for her knowledge and the many roles she held with the Red Cross. To be considered for the first award in her name is a great honor, and it motivates me to continue to do what I do for the Red Cross in keeping with Tess’s work ethic.”
During her many years with the organization, Tess served as the lead for the Red Cross National Staff Support Hotline, where employees or volunteers call to receive help or advice. She was also the leadership development lead for the Illinois region and the deployment lead for the Greater New York region.
“[Tess] really cared that people got the care they needed,” said Mary Ellen Douglas, a friend of Tess through their work together in the Metro New York Chapter. “She was all about accountability, credibility, and responsibility. She wanted things to be done right, people not to suffer because of the system, and also not to give stuff away.”
Dario Diaz, a decades-long Red Crosser who currently serves as the Regional Chief Disaster Officer for Greater New York, has worked with both Tess and Richard. He noticed in both volunteers an ability to see beyond the surface, often finding the potential in others that has gone unnoticed.
“My interactions with Tess were that she’d bring things up that nobody’s probably paying attention to,” he said. “And I think Richard’s experience is similar in looking at people. I could be looking at the forest and missing that one tree, that mustard seed that just needs just a little bit of space to grow to become a powerful, strong, big tree. I think that [potential] is what Richard sees in people.”
Andrea Grimaldi-Grafer, Regional Volunteer Services Officer in Greater New York, who nominated Richard for the Tess Sheil Award, said his impact has been felt beyond the New York region.
“Richard, with over 19 years of experience, has contributed his skills not only supporting the training services team with administrative work,” she said. “He has also mentored both our region and other regions in the northeastern division in how to run an effective training program for volunteers.
At the core of the Red Cross is the work done by thousands of volunteers, each helping respond to disasters, improve their abilities, and grow as people. It is impossible to accurately quantify exactly how many people Richard and Tess have helped during their respective times with the Red Cross, but rough estimates put the number comfortably in the thousands. Their longevity and institutional knowledge at the Red Cross are valued as a vital asset to the organization, something which has been made clear by the abundance of volunteer recognition awards that the duo has received over the years.
But despite the accolades and tenure, Richard remains humble and curious.
“I’ve learned you’re always learning,” reflected Richard. “I listen to people more and often take their advice which has helped me so much in both my volunteer role and outside of the Red Cross.”
The American Red Cross is powered by volunteers, with 90% of the workforce consisting of volunteers like Richard and Tess. Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.