A leader in ‘a beautiful circle of caring’

By Marcia Antipa

Red Cross Gala 2015

Lillian Phan

This is the story of Lillian Phan, a bright and accomplished young woman, who also happens to be a stellar volunteer with the American Red Cross. Like so many American stories, Lillian’s begins with immigration, determination, and hard work.

Lillian’s parents immigrated from Vietnam, sponsored by a Christian organization that gave them a head start with food and shelter. Eventually, the Phans moved to Santa Clara County. Both had to overcome the language barrier and reinvent themselves.

“My Dad gave up architecture and became a nuclear engineer. My mom gave up her law degree.”

The Phans had four daughters, all born in the United States. They also opened a French bakery, where Lillian began working at age 15.

“My parents’ experience provided a benchmark for me. They instilled in me the idea that you can achieve anything if you work hard enough. Their approach to education was not if we would go to college, but where.”

And that was not an easy goal.

“My parents had three kids in college at the same time. In order for me to succeed, I had to work. It was not a choice, just part of my life.”

Lillian worked two jobs while attending the University of Southern California. Then, after launching a career in business, she began volunteering with the Junior League. “That’s where I got my happy bug for volunteerism.”

Now, Lillian volunteers for the Red Cross, using her passion for sales to solicit donations. She chairs the San Francisco Bay Area Red Cross Board and has steered the annual Gala for four years, raising a record amount of funds.

“In fundraising, you are essentially asking for the sale. Many women are hesitant to ask for the donation.”

In her career, Lillian most recently served as senior director of sales and partnerships for the restaurant company The Mina Group. But in March, she found herself in the same position as millions of Americans when she was laid off due to the impact of the Coronavirus on business.

“It’s almost unheard of for me not to work. This is the first time I’ve been unemployed.”

But she has not been idle. Lillian has thrown herself into her Red Cross volunteer work with even more passion. She took part in an online “boot camp” so that she may volunteer in a Red Cross shelter during a natural disaster, such as a wildfire.

Lillian also joined other Red Crossers in making hundreds of wellness calls to prior and current volunteers, to check on their mental health. Hearing their stories made her realize that the Red Cross is, in her words, “a beautiful circle of caring.”

So what is next? Possibly a stint as a Blood Ambassador, promoting and recruiting for Red Cross blood drives. In July, Lillian worked with The Golden State Warriors on a blood drive to highlight the need for diverse blood donors.

Lillian’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious – and she hopes she can inspire others to volunteer. But she has one suggestion:

“Sometimes when a volunteer signs up they can get lost in there. If you know someone who is a current volunteer, use them as a mentor to get advice.”

Thank you for the tip, Lillian, and for your amazing service as a volunteer!

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