Volunteer LouAnne Williams keeps it simple in order to serve hundreds

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(l to r) Eva Marquez, Keith Hoffman, LouAnne Williams, and Jeff Airth. Photography: Kane Wong | American Red Cross
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LouAnne Williams keeps it simple. On October 31, 2013, she began to look for ways to give back to her community. She tried to register with a local hospital but felt that they had an overwhelming number of rules and regulations.  Craving something simpler and more direct, she sought counsel from friends and family. Her son-in-law suggested she try the Red Cross, so LouAnne walked into the front door of the Red Cross, literally across the street from the hospital. And she has never looked back.

LouAnne began her journey as a preparedness instructor and now leads her peers in multiple capacities. Last year, she received the San Mateo County Volunteer of the Year Award, something that came as no surprise to her colleagues.

“LouAnne is an extraordinary and multi-dimensional leader,” says Eva Marquez, the Volunteer and Youth Services Manager for the Red Cross in the county. “She serves in multiple leadership roles as our Individual/Community Preparedness Coordinator, Pillowcase Project Team Leader, Sound the Alarm Team Leader, Community Preparedness Education Team Leader, and Community Events Coordinator.”

Marquez adds that Williams “runs our preparedness programs like a well-oiled machine. LouAnne is truly deserving of the Volunteer of the Year award for San Mateo County.”

Local to the Burlingame area, LouAnne also cares for her 93-year old mother. When her mother began her dementia journey, LouAnne found herself drawn to help people.  It was this impetus that led her to the Red Cross.

“It’s so interesting – you go into businesses, meet interesting people, and get them Red Cross-ready,” Says LouAnne. “Even if one person paid attention, that’s one person that’s safer.”

When the Red Cross launched the Home Fires Campaign, leadership asked her to “lead the charge,” and she has been hooked for the last five years.

“We partner with fire departments to find our most vulnerable populations and those most prone to fires,” she says. “We install free alarms, draw an escape plan (if people have children, we give it to the kids to draw it) and practice preparedness. We encourage them to have a meeting place. We also talk to them about the Red Cross apps. I really push the pet first aid.”

LouAnne estimates she’s done hundreds of home visits and alarm installations over the years. She says that fires can break out in many unexpected ways.

“Sometimes people are cooking and walk away from the stove,” she says. “We also tell people to be careful with their power cords and their candles during November and December. We say keep it ‘three feet from the heat.’”

As for the camaraderie, LouAnne always looks forward to an event. “Everyone has a good time at an event,” she says. “You get to meet people from all over. Even though we’re all from the same territory, we don’t know everyone.”

LouAnne also relishes working as part of a team. “It’s gratifying because people have so much knowledge,” she says. “It’s nice because everybody helps everybody. If I’m not sure about something, someone can help me figure it out.”

LouAnne enjoys mentoring and training new volunteers but she especially enjoys going out to schools to give 140-160 kids hands-on CPR training. Though exhausting, the work fills her with a sense of accomplishment. She talks about “the empowerment you give young kids” and how much they love it. She had the opportunity to teach her friend’s granddaughter’s brownie troop and was thrilled to see them “take it so seriously.”

The volunteer of the year award was the icing on the cake. “I was shocked, she says, tearing up. “It brings tears to my eyes to think people think that highly of me because I just do what I love.”

Maybe that’s why she’s so good at it.