Natalie Allstead first donated blood in high school, almost ten years ago. “Part of it was a chance to get out of history class,” she says. “And they give you cookies afterward!” She donated regularly throughout high school and then returned to donating after graduating college.
“I’m not super religious,” she says. “But I stick to the values of my childhood – and love thy neighbor is a pretty good approach to most things. People have value – they don’t have to prove anything to deserve this care.”
Natalie says that giving blood is only mildly uncomfortable but fulfilling overall. She’s even taken friends with her on occasion to make it a social event. When not giving blood, Natalie works in marketing as a writer. She volunteers where she can, loves to play Animal Crossing and “chilling” with her cat, Merlin.
She keeps it all pretty simple.
“I try and confront myself with the question: ‘What if it was a stranger, would it matter less?” Natalie adds, “Thankfully no one [in my family] has ever needed that kind of care but someone else’s family has.”
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.
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.
Central Coast Chapter Volunteer of the Year Megan Erk says love of community led her to the American Red Cross
By Marcia Antipa
“Showing kindness and getting help to people that need it without regard to anything else – that is how I was brought up.”
Megan Erk – the Volunteer of the Year for the Central Coast Chapter – credits her father for inspiring her dedication to the community. He was a military man who brought his daughter along on volunteer projects.
“I kind of grew up in that environment where people just volunteered in the community to help out.”
Now Megan is taking on multiple roles with the American Red Cross. From hurricanes to wildfires, from blood drives to blog articles, Central Coast Chapter CEO Michele Averill says Megan has more than earned her award.
If Irene Johnson could live her life to perfection, she would be guided by the Seven Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. “The principles really resonated with me. I really do believe in the Red Cross mission,” she said.
Those principles have served Irene well over her many years as a Red Cross volunteer where she’s participated in 26 disaster response deployments including Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Napa/Sonoma New Year’s flood (2006), Superstorm Sandy (2012), the Alberta wildfires (2016) and Hurricane Irma (2017), to name a few.
Irene’s Red Cross career began in Vietnam during the war. Living in Saigon in 1967, Irene volunteered at an army hospital where she would deliver books to bedridden soldiers. She speaks fondly of that first experience. “The guys that were almost well enough to leave would go to the recreation room and taught me how to play pool.”
Penny Mount likes to have her hands full of projects and people for whom she cares. During a recent phone chat to talk about compassion calls she made on behalf of the American Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, she was also looking after her 11-month-old great-granddaughter, Jolene. “She’s headstrong, just like her mother,” Penny says. By the end of that same call, Jolene had “creatively decorated herself” and Penny’s counter with her lunch. “Her mother’s not going to be too happy with me,” Penny chuckled.
And that’s just how it is with Penny: breezy, light and full of gratitude.
The compassion calls were part of SAF’s month of service this past February. Volunteers from across the Northern California Coastal Region placed calls to the nearly 3,000 families served by SAF in the last 18 months. They checked on the families’ health and welfare and extended a hand of assistance should any be needed. The purpose was to deliver the Red Cross mission of providing care and comfort to service members, veterans and military families.
Next month, Ashley Koenig of Seaside, California is set to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. Recently, she was stunned to learn that her American Red Cross volunteer work as a teenager helped save the lives of a family of six.
“No, ma’am…I did not at all expect that would be something I’d hear.”
In September of 2016, Ashley was 16 years old and a newly-licensed driver. She laughs as she remembers getting lost in a rural area of the city of Hollister. Ashley and several other teens were on their way to an apartment complex, as part of a Red Cross team that was installing smoke alarms in homes.
Along with Hollister fire fighters and adult volunteers, the teens installed free alarms and taught families about fire safety and emergency preparedness.