By Nanah Kiambati: Northwest Region Volunteer
"Thank you for accepting my interview request," I begin, as Sue Hibma picks up the phone.
"I'm thrilled to be part of this," she replies, her voice filled with passion.
As we delve into the conversation, I'm struck by Sue's remarkable selflessness, evident in her 20-year service as a Red Cross volunteer. Residing in Skagit County, Washington, Sue's journey embodies dedication, compassion, and resilience. Supported by her husband of 42 years, their three children and four grandchildren, Sue navigates the challenging world of volunteerism with unwavering determination, driven by her desire to make a positive impact, especially during times of disaster.
"It all began in 2003, with the Skagit County floods," Sue reminisces.
As a school bus driver then, she found herself with time to spare as the floods shut schools down. Inspired by her sister's volunteering experiences with an organization allied with the Red Cross, Sue heeded a radio call for volunteers.
"I knew I needed to use my time meaningfully," she reflects, marking the start of her two-decade-long Red Cross journey. "My sister's stories and pictures drew me in."
Sue's dedication to the Red Cross mission over the last 20 years has seen her respond to numerous major disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina, Charlie, Francis, Irene, Ivan and Rita, floods in Pennsylvania, and wildfires here closer to home. Her commitment shines through in her readiness to confront challenges, sometimes sleeping in her car in parking lots to stay close to those in need.
"Volunteering is about character and empathy," she notes. "It's putting people first, above personal comfort."
Sue often arrives first at a disaster scene, offering blankets to those who've lost their homes to a fire or hot chocolate to a shivering child left homeless. She emphasizes the importance of genuine compassion and empathy in effective volunteerism, an experience that has taught her the value of being there for others.
"I choose now to stay in my community, ready to help in case of disaster," she says.
To those interested in volunteering, Sue advises, "Have a heart for service, a deep love for people, and genuine compassion. Listen empathetically to their stories without judgment. Remember, volunteering is about selfless service and building a compassionate community, not personal convenience or recognition."
Sue continues her selfless service in the Northwest Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross Northwest Region. She serves as the chapter feeding lead, helps provide food and water for Search & Rescue teams, and leads chapter’s Mass Care Jamboree each Spring.
She’s passionate about pet preparedness and shelter coordination. Recognizing a gap in resources and information, she has created a brochure to educate pet owners on how to prepare for emergencies. This initiative, born out of her love for animals and a desire to help others, is independent of the Red Cross. It's aimed at ensuring pet owners are equipped with the knowledge and tools to safely evacuate their pets during disasters.
Her passion stems from the realization that during disasters like Hurricane Katrina, many people are
reluctant to leave their pets behind, leading to tragic consequences. Sue is on a mission to distribute pet preparedness brochures to as many pet owners as possible.
As our interview wraps up, I ask Sue which superhero she would be.
"Wonder Woman," she answers confidently.
Indeed, Sue is a wonder woman in her own right — having balanced roles as a wife, mother, grandmother, school bus driver and Red Cross volunteer, among other roles, she stands as a beacon of strength and dedication, always there for those in need.
It is volunteers like Sue that make it possible for the American Red Cross to continuously serve communities. 90% of the humanitarian work done by the American Red Cross is carried out by its volunteers. You can sign up to volunteer and make a difference in your community. Click here to learn more about open volunteer positions.