Almost everyone I know thinks they know what The Red Cross does. Some people will tell you the Red Cross holds blood drives. The Husband will tell you his CPR training was through
The Red Cross. My Red Cross memory is tied to boots on the ground assistance immediately following Super Storm Sandy.
In 2012 we were blessed to survive that horrific event with only two weeks of lost power. Our neighbors didn’t fare as well, so as soon as the storm cleared, I headed six miles east to help in any way I could. I organized donations into giant bins to get into the hands of those who needed them. I passed out sweatshirts and kids’ toys and anything else we had to give. I drove around collecting cleaning supplies and winter coats (remember, it SNOWED a few days later!) to drive across town to donation centers. I drank black coffee with National Guard Members to keep warm. And I listened to stories. Countless stories of survivors and even other volunteers.
In the chaos of those days, I couldn’t tell you exactly what part of the recovery the Red Cross Volunteers were leading or were an integral part of, but it seemed like all of them. Those little white on red crosses where everywhere and they were a sign of hope. A sign that people cared enough to come help because they believed enough in us, the people in the places hardest hit, to work on bringing back what often looked to be gone forever.
It was with absolute pleasure and excitement that I accepted an invitation to visit the National Headquarters of The American Red Cross in Washington, DC. What I learned there was remarkable. On our first day in DC, we heard from the leader of nearly every program and toured the facility to learn of the founding and history of the Red Cross. The way they cherish and preserve the idea of the organization being founded by a woman nurse, through not just historical tales but modern-day attitudes and guiding principles for the organization, is the icing on the cake.
I always thought the way I would volunteer with The Red Cross was through the disaster relief programs. But that takes a level of time and commitment that is difficult with three young kids, so it hasn’t happened yet. The good news is The Red Cross does important, life-saving work every single day, in ways that often go unnoticed, but need us just the same. We don’t have to wait for disaster to strike to make a difference. There is critical work to be done all the time.
There are the blood drives we all know of, and the blood/plasma donation is integral to millions of people every day. There are also opportunities to save lives through a fire-safety program right in your local community that even your kids can be part of with you. You can even help create tools that will be used to aid in disaster relief nationally and around the world, right from your living room couch!
Three things stood out the most from this trip to The American Red Cross. One was that no matter who was speaking, whether it was the volunteer who installs smoke detectors or the President & CEO, each speaker was equal in both their passion for service and the respect they received from the members of the ARC. No one’s job was more important or person more revered.
Every person in this organization throws on a vest and passes out hot meals or cans of water without showering for three days, with as much drive and passion as they do when it’s time to dress in suits and sit at computers. In either role they are seen as important for one thing: service to those who need it most.
The second thing I noticed about the people I interacted with at The American Red Cross was their honesty and transparency. They have gotten some flack on social media lately for not putting their money in the right places or hiding things from people. I am here to tell you we saw firsthand neither of those things are true. Ninety cents of every dollar goes directly to the services provided.
When President & CEO Gail McGovern spoke to us, she was completely transparent (charts and graphs that would make your head spin) with not only how they raise money, but how they spend it. It was clear her mission as a leader was to serve those who needed to be served while also being a good steward of donors’ money. Gail McGovern is smart, compassionate and leads with strength and grace that ensures both those who give and those who need get exactly what they are asking for. If you’re curious, look beyond tweets and go to their website for the actual facts and figures. This organization cares about people and that is obvious in the way they run thing in every area and at every level.
Finally, the most impressive thing to me was that underneath the business and logistics of each department was the same guiding principle: hope. Every speaker had a personal story of when they realized the American Red Cross was in the business of providing hope. Each person was clearly transformed by their work with this organization. We heard from women and men; money folks, communications peeps, techies and former law enforcement and military members and not matter their job or their background, they had a single mission: providing hope to the hopeless. They are guided by that in their every-day work of preparation and behind the scenes planning and they strive to provide it when face to face with those who need it most.
I am very picky about what I put my name behind. Admittedly, I can be skeptical about charitable organizations at first. It is safe to say, I am firmly behind The American Red Cross, in name and action. I am impressed with the work that they do, humbled by the weight of that work in so many areas and thrilled at the myriad opportunities available to be part of something that serves so many.
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