Finding her place at the table

Briana Taylor was vacationing in Thailand for Christmas in 2004 when the tsunami struck with lethal force. Trapped on the island, she and her family watched the devastating aftereffects unfold.

Once Briana made it home, she repacked her bags and returned to Thailand only six weeks later to do disaster recovery work. She was in a wave of spontaneous volunteers who arrived to help islanders find some sense of order.

Then Katrina hit in 2005, and Briana joined the American Red Cross as an event-based volunteer. She’s been a part of the organization ever since.

“I have a soft spot for event-based volunteering,” Briana says. “Had I not had an incredible experience, not had great mentors, or had great follow-up, then I wouldn’t be here today.”

Now, some 13 years after joining the Red Cross, Briana has been recognized with the Clara Barton Award, the highest award the the organization presents to volunteers.

“The Clara Barton Award recognizes a volunteer for service in a series of leadership positions held over a number of years,” says Julie Mucilli, a Volunteer and Youth Services Recruitment Manager in our Red Cross region. “Briana oversees the Contra Costa County Leadership Council, which helps develop partnerships in the community. On a regional level, she has served on numerous disaster district committees, as well as taught the seminar on External Relations and Government Operations at the Regional Disaster Training Institute. She embodies the Red Cross mission and has served in various leadership roles over the past several years.”

Briana refers to herself as a “semi-retired psychologist.” She has run a parenting program for years, offering workshops for parents and collaborating in the community to build a network of trusted professionals for the workshop participants to access on an ongoing basis. She brings a through line of relationship building and connection into her work with the Red Cross, too.

As a part of her service on the Bay Area Chapter Board of Directors and as chair of the Contra Costa council, Briana spends a lot of time actively involved with the needs of the county. In particular, she helped connect the county, elected officials, and community partners in Red Cross Sound the Alarm events, noting “there is a lot of energy that goes into external relations.” The growth, visibility, and cooperation of the council under her leadership is a well-deserved source of pride.

“External relations are so important,” says Briana. “Whether it’s blue sky or grey sky (Red Cross terms for non-disaster vs. disaster times), it is incredibly important for liaising and nurturing relationships to help the community respond to and recover in a disaster. I spent a lot of time working on building that strength within the council.”

In her spare time, Briana conducts trainings on shelter fundamentals and how to collaborate with external relations liaisons and programs. “These keep me busy all year,” she says.

Next up for Briana is a momentous Sound the Alarm campaign taking place throughout Contra Costa County. She hopes to use the campaign to unite the entire county of 1.2 million citizens. The kickoff event alone will pull all nine fire districts together to honor them and bring awareness of the effort.

“The Red Cross is probably one of the best organizations if you want to make an impact and help affect people’s lives,” says Briana. “There are so many opportunities, and it’s about finding the right fit. My favorite quote is ‘there’s a place at the table for everyone,’ and we need to match volunteers with the right roles so people succeed. Disasters are the great equalizer — to be able to be there in a time of need is so important. I feel honored to be able to do that.”

Thank you for your service, Briana.