Smoke Alarm Lead Wins Top Award

Marcie Wright-Powell-420x279by Marcia Antipa

Marcie Wright-Powell considers herself an unlikely hero. As with many Red Cross volunteers, Marcie shuns the spotlight. She says, “I really don’t do anything special and certainly a lot less than other volunteers.”

But Marcie could not avoid the accolades this spring, as she was named the 2018 Volunteer of the Year for the American Red Cross of Contra Costa County.

Those who nominated Marcie for this award noted that she is one of those volunteers who does it all: “…being deployed to local disasters, working in shelters, volunteering at the Red Cross Galas, delivering food to our Red Cross shelters, working on our volunteer events committee, and along with everything else she has done, with a can-do attitude, excellent leadership skills, and a true volunteer spirit.”

Now, Marcie is the lead for scheduling all volunteers in the “Sound the Alarm” smoke detector campaign. Marcie’s journey to that role started five years ago. After working as an office manager for 30 years, she joined her husband, Don, in volunteering for the Red Cross. “It’s a challenge, another thing we can do together.”

Their first assignment as a team was with Volunteer and Youth Services, working with high school Red Cross Clubs. “They were very impressive and had all their fundraising plans together.”

Marcie’s next big step was into Disaster Deployment. She worked 12-hour shifts at shelters during several fires in Contra Costa County. She checked fire survivors into the shelter, served food, and found a way to deliver food to another shelter that was cut off by the fire.

During a fire in Clayton, Marcie worked at a shelter at the local library. “One guy came in filthy dirty from work and asked ‘do you guys just have a clean t-shirt I can wear?’” The volunteers found him one. “His son was just thrilled to have pizza and soda and asked if he could read a book from the library.” Marcie said this work gave her a new perspective, that “just having a toothbrush, food, and water” can make a huge difference to a fire survivor.

Marcie also heaps praise on other volunteers, and even the survivors themselves. She noted that the Red Cross partners with Animal Services to help care for pets affected by the fire. “I was really impressed. They bring crates, food, water, leashes, collars. One lady evacuated without her cat. Her neighbor just ran into her house, grabbed her cat, threw it into his car, and brought it to the shelter.”

But Marcie felt she could put her office management skills to better use for the Red Cross. Now she marshals her own army of volunteers, contributing hundreds of hours to the “Sound the Alarm” campaign. She schedules volunteers to install smoke alarms free of charge in clients’ homes and to provide education on fire safety and preparedness.

Marcie has recruited teams of Sound the Alarm volunteers, often husbands and wives, or groups of friends. “My only request is – come up with someone you can work with. Four guys who are in Kiwanis set up their own team and give me four hours a month. They can get five homes done in a day.”

Marcie says people are grateful for the help. She remembers a single mother who had been scared about a fire breaking out in the middle of the night. The team took the time to go over fire safety with her children. “I get emails from people saying, ‘Thank you. Your crew was so professional.’”

And there is a lighter side to her work. Marcie once called an 85-year-old woman to schedule an appointment for the smoke alarm team. “She was pretty much homebound, and very talkative. She said, ‘Now I just have one question for you. I need a man, but he has to drive and he can’t wear a diaper!’”

What will Marcie take on next with the Red Cross? She has an idea she’d like to promote to help volunteers stay engaged. Along with the more formal meetings at Red Cross offices, she asks, “Can we just meet somewhere in a non-business way, and have a cup of coffee with a few people? That’s where ideas come from; not by meeting, but by actually talking.”

With her “true volunteer spirit,” Marcie just might make that happen!

Marcia Antipa is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.