Like many empty nesters, Pamela Ingram, 58, was at a crossroads a few years ago when her son left home to attend college.
A former stay-at-home mom and mortgage underwriter, Pamela wanted to re-enter the workforce. So she joined a job skills training program and was assigned to a front desk position at the Red Cross in Fairfield, Calif.
“I really didn’t know much about the Red Cross when I started,” recalls Pamela, whose responsibilities included answering the phones and providing basic office support. “I just thought the Red Cross responded to national emergencies.”
But the more time Pamela spent volunteering, the more interested she became in local humanitarian work. “I would hear what the volunteers were doing and how they were helping people, and it really fascinated me,” says Pamela. Little by little, she decided to get more involved.
With encouragement from a co-worker, Pamela completed training to become a Red Cross caseworker and joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT).
Her first deployment was to Guerneville, Calif. where she spent three days interviewing flood victims. “It was cold, it was rainy, and we didn’t have a building to work out of, but it was gratifying to be able to help people who had lost everything,” she says.
During the recent California wildfires, she provided administrative support and logistical assistance from the Fairfield office to volunteers deployed to the fires.
“It gave me such a different outlook on our volunteers,” she says. “They didn’t get paid, and they didn’t complain. It was just amazing to see how hard they worked.”
Participants in the job skills training program receive new assignments every six months, but Pamela has chosen to stay at the Red Cross. She loves her position and feels invigorated by the work. “I always wanted to directly help people, and I never knew how I could do it,” she says. “Now, I feel like I can.”
In April, Pamela was recognized for her commitment to the Red Cross by being named Solano County’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year. The award was presented at the Bay Area Chapter’s annual volunteer appreciation dinner in Vallejo.
“It was such an honor,” says Pamela, who attended the event with her 22-year-old son, a student at San Francisco State. “I can truly say that since becoming a Red Cross volunteer, I am more compassionate and empathetic – a better person.”
Arianne Aryanpur is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.