Carrying Clara Barton’s legacy forward

Dr. Diane Bridgeman is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has served as a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than 30 years. In April, Diane received the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership, the Red Cross’ highest honor. A treasured member of the Disaster Mental Health Team in the Santa Cruz chapter, Diane took the time to share about her rich experience with the Red Cross and why this recognition means so much to her. 

Dr. Diane Bridgeman

What drew you to the American Red Cross, and what kept you engaged? 

I suspect my initial interest in the Red Cross, and why I stayed with it for over 30 years, stems from a matching of my core life tenets and the central mission of the Red Cross. This includes service to others and the importance of fairness and social justice – these are key lenses for my view of the world and similarly coincide with the basic principles that guide the Red Cross. It is why I chose psychology, and clinical psychology specifically, as my career choice and why I resonate with the heart of the Red Cross. The more I learned about the history of the Red Cross and its profound and inspired founder, Clara Barton, the more I embraced and wanted to give time to this humanitarian organization.  

What was your first experience with the organization? 

Initially, I responded to the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. That was the first time I volunteered with our local Santa Cruz chapter. So many of my community members were affected, and we came together with other mental health colleagues to provide support and comfort where we could. The heart of what the Red Cross provides to the clients it serves is expressed in the enormous gratitude they share with us and the deep appreciation we have for being able to serve them, often during their most vulnerable moments.  

What would you say to someone considering becoming a volunteer with the Red Cross? 

The collaboration of volunteers and working together to accomplish something none of us could provide individually is a strong incentive to consider when deciding whether to give one’s time to the Red Cross. For those who choose to join the Red Cross as a volunteer, it may be helpful to appreciate (as an added incentive) a well-researched component for staying physically and mentally healthy. According to the longest developmental research study (and one I often cite) by Waldinger – which began in 1938 where he interviewed 700 young boys -those who were in the best mental and physical health were those that stayed “socially connected.” The Red Cross provides that connection in remarkable ways.  

What are some of your favorite memories during your tenure with the Red Cross?  

After multiple years of volunteering and teaching Red Cross classes, I was fortunate to give talks at various Red Cross organizations in Germany, Italy, Sweden and China. From those inspiring experiences, I viewed how prized and appreciated the Red Cross is held throughout our world. I came to more fully understand and value the Red Cross and the role of its founder. Her remarkable accomplishments along with the Red Cross’ seven fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, voluntary service, unity and universality clearly served to reinforce for me the significance of the work of its founder, Clara Barton.  

Is Clara’s legacy part of what kept you part of the organization? 

Yes. Clara was a prophetic and courageous woman who traversed uncharted territories against all odds and fought for unconventional causes. Unfortunately, many of these vital concerns still need to be given priority today, such as equal justice (she worked side-by-side with Frederick Douglas), and gender equality. Clara was fired from her job at the patent office, told she belonged at home, and fought to be rehired. She had to rely on her inner strength, wisdom, and sense of justice with great persistence. She founded the American Red Cross in 1881 at age 59 where she served as its president until 1904 and resigned at age 83. 

My enormous respect for what she was able to accomplish and when she achieved it only adds to the humble feeling and great honor and gratitude I feel in being given this Red Cross award in her name.  

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing? 

I want to thank the many incredible people I worked with: the many volunteers; staff, our community members and representatives; our Santa Cruz Chapter Red Cross CEO, Michele Averill; DPM, Patsy Gasca; Regional disaster officer, John Ruiz; Vicky Powell, the DMH advisor for the Pacific Division; and the multitude of conscientious and outstanding volunteers at our Chapter and elsewhere. And of course, our dedicated and amazing Santa Cruz DMH team – now very capably led by Sharon Parker – and its members who made volunteering so much more effective and meaningful by standing up for our community time and time again with incredible talent and persistence. 

Editor’s note: Diane joined the Red Cross 108 years after her award’s namesake founded the Red Cross.