Volunteer! (With the Red Cross)
“The Red Cross is, in technical terms, a quasi-governmental agency. In people terms, the government funds us, we allocate the money where we need it, within certain guidelines, and volunteers make us function.” Hope said when I asked for some information about her organization, the American Red Cross. I was interested in the ins-and-outs of this huge, volunteer based agency, so I reached out to their volunteer engagement coordinator.
Hope Jensen, a young lady no older than 25, greeted me with a smile when I arrived at her home for this interview; she tries to be very available for her volunteers. “So Hope,” I began, “what kind of work do your volunteers do at the Red Cross?” Hope sat back in her office chair –so dedicated to her volunteers that she has a home office– and said “Well over 93% of the Red Cross’ work is done by our volunteers; so a lot. We have people run our blood drives, care for the donors or do administrative work. Felix is 16 and comes in every Wednesday,” Hope’s face lit up as she mentions a superstar volunteer, “he comes in as an office-aid and he helps put information into our database and calls inactive volunteers to check in. We also have disaster services, which is when there’s something like a house fire, or even something national like a hurricane, the Red Cross assembles a team to help and brings resources for those in need.” She took a sip of her green smoothie from a Mason-jar as she finished talking.
“Do you have adequate volunteers, as an organization that relies so much on their volunteers to get work done.” I asked. “Oh yes,” she said, waving her hand at me in certainty, “we have no problem filling our drives and events. However, we have a few very dedicated volunteers who can overextend themselves and we are always looking to expand our volunteer-base.
“What kind of training goes into becoming a Red Cross volunteer?” I questioned. “It really depends on what you want to do,” she said, perking her cheeks up with a smile. “There’s a standard background check, a phone interview and a formal training day. Then once you’re a registered volunteer you may need additional training depending or even a day of shadowing another volunteer depending on what kind of work you want to do for us.”
“What kind of people are you looking for in your volunteers?”
“Dedicated, reliable and compassionate. As a part of the Red Cross we’re looking for kind, caring individuals who want to help in their community.”
“Ok, last one. I promise.” I said, noting that her Mason-jar needed a refill. She smiled and kindly nodded for me to continue. “What are the benefits of volunteering with the Red Cross?”
“It depends on your demographic,” Hope said. “For our younger volunteers; it looks great on a resume, it looked good on mine, “she said with a chuckle, referring to her young age, “and there’s great opportunities to develop professional and communication skills. We also have a huge community of retirees who volunteer. They say they adore the social aspect and community of volunteering and that they often don’t have a productive outlet otherwise.”
With my questions wrapped up, Hope walked me out the door and offered to take me out for coffee sometime. “We should talk about when you’re available to volunteer.”
I took her up on that coffee. At 12:05 I met her on her lunch break at Compass Coffee Roasting right across the street from the American Red Cross office. She ordered herself an Americano and paid for my tea. While talking with Hope, she offered me the opportunity to speak with her coworker, Heather, and a couple of her volunteers.
Hope’s coworker was more than happy to answer some of my questions. “Do you consistently have a enough volunteers for the work you need done?” Heather thought for a moment while she fidgeted with her stylish rings. “If you mean by the numbers then yes. But volunteers are a special kind of people and not every person has the time they think they have to volunteer. We get about… I would say 80-85% of our rostered volunteers each month,” she said as I furiously scribbled notes, “actually, I’ll say about 70% of our people volunteer each month,” she corrected. “What can you tell me about the training that goes into becoming a Red Cross volunteer?”
“The training’s actually pretty easy; it’s very hands-on. You come come into a classroom, learn with your peers and other volunteers and talk with volunteer managers. It’s usually only a two hour process, and afterwards if they feel comfortable going to a drive directly that’s cool.”
“What are the benefits of volunteering with the red Red Cross?” I asked as Hope anxiously stood in the corner. I was later told they had a meeting to get to. “I’ve done a little bit of research on what volunteering does to your life in general. Usually, it raises people’s ability to lead a healthy life; it keeps them active, gets them communicating in their community and helps develop skills that maybe they didn’t think of before. Communication skills: talking to people. I don’t think a lot of people understand that you can go days without talking to someone; especially if you’re a retired person. To be thrown into an environment where you to… It really gets your brain moving.”
“What kind of people are you looking for in your volunteers?”
“We want people that have the heart of service. Who want to be out in their community helping out, that to represent a non-profit organization they believe in.” I stood and thanked Heather so that they could get to their meeting, but not before I had her refer me to a couple of her retiree volunteers, Teresa and Arlene.
I asked what their work was before the Red Cross. “I worked for a non-profit,” started Teresa, not losing a beat in her office work, “that assisted small businesses to obtain government guaranteed financing.” She went on to list her enormous list of responsibilities with that job. “What got you started with volunteering for the Red Cross?”
“I was bored.” Teresa replied, with a big smile and a laugh. “I was looking for volunteer opportunities on the internet and I had in mind some well known ones like the American Cancer Society, I happen to have breast cancer. The Red Cross was always one [organization] that I was considering. They do a lot of good worldwide and it’s something I could really feel positive about contributing to.” Teresa also told me all about her dog, Gina, and was kind enough to email me some pictures of her.
Arlene is 63 and a retired surgical nurse who now volunteers at the Red Cross checking in blood donors. I asked her what she liked about working at the Red Cross. “Being able to give back and meet new people, and the joy of knowing that the blood is saving lives. Each donation [one pint] saves three lives.”
“And what got you volunteering for the Red Cross?” I asked.
“When I was 15 years old my house caught fire in Kansas City [Kansas.] I remember the Red Cross came and gave me a Teddy bear and a hotel for my family to stay in.”
“Woah.” I said. Arlene ended up signing me up for a donation, and after a 15-20 minute wait I was being idiodized to have my blood drawn. You should do it, it’s really not bad and it saves lives.
On my way out the door, with canned apple juice and snack-pack Cheez-Its by the armful for my recovery, Arlene shouted after me “Don’t tell them I look 63!”