The American Red Cross honored Suzie Hall with the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership in Sonoma County for her extensive volunteer efforts. Named after the founder of the American Red Cross, this award recognizes a volunteer for service in a series of leadership positions held over several years.
The top-honor recipient joined the Red Cross back in 2014 through San Jose’s local chapter. Following her departure from a career in Silicon Valley at Apple Inc., Suzie searched for a new community to call home. Hall sought a slower pace of life and desired to be closer to friends and family, so she put down new roots in Oakmont in Santa Rosa. She quickly dedicated her time and energy to a volunteer leadership position within the Red Cross using her IT and seasoned management experience to serve the needs of the organization.
Her current focus is on the Volunteer Connection Tech Team and she works with two other volunteers – Linnea Dunn and Ayman Baydoun. Hall’s expertise and strong leadership help manage and streamline the system. If volunteers have an issue or question, they can write in for support. “It’s a huge system that runs the lifeblood of how we communicate with everyone.” Volunteers update their availability and accept shifts, among other things.
American Red Cross volunteer Janet Rogoff loves books. For over 40 years, she and her husband have dealt in rare books, specializing in tribal art and working with galleries, collectors and institutions. So, it is no wonder that when speaking with Janet, you get the impression that she is most comfortable working behind the scenes.
When asked about her recent “Marin County Volunteer of the Year Award,” Janet credits her colleagues for the success of the Marin Red Cross. “We have a really good group in Marin now,” Janet said. “We have people doing such a good job that they’re being recruited to the regional level, and a couple have even gone to national.”
Like other volunteers, Hurricane Katrina first brought Janet into the Red Cross. The scale of need motivated her to take action. She remembers the Red Cross desperately recruiting responders who were willing to train quickly and then deploy to Texas. As one of those new recruits, Janet recalls commuting from her home in Marin to the Oakland office for two consecutive days of training. After she completed training and before the call to hop on a plane arrived, Janet assumed that she was too old to deploy. Yet, once on her way to Texas, she realized not only was she not too old, but she was one of the younger responders.
“I see my job as being in customer service,” says Melissa Kaplan.
That is putting it mildly. Since Melissa joined the Red Cross in 2006, she has become one of the most dedicated and essential volunteers in the Northern California Coastal Region. She volunteers more than 1,200 hours a year and has performed multiple jobs in her 15 years with the Red Cross.
Fellow volunteer Angela Thompson Hunt nominated Melissa for the Gene Beck Award, named for the long-time volunteer and board member.
“She has worked tirelessly for Red Cross for such a long time and all those behind-the-scenes tasks that let other people make progress. I would not have been able to do the kind of work I’ve done if she wasn’t there with me, backing me up.“
After twice evacuating her home for days during major wildfires, and living through several more evacuation warnings, you’d better believe Kathryn Hecht has a plan for the upcoming fire season.
The Sonoma County resident is a Red Cross regional communications manager whose job includes informing the public about the best ways to prepare for disasters.
She practices what she preaches.
Near her front door Hecht has stashed pet carriers and a go bag that includes clothing, important papers, emergency supplies, dog and cat food and toiletries. She has planned two driving routes out of her neighborhood, and a foot route in case those two are blocked. She subscribes to her county’s emergency notification system, Nixle, has the Red Cross emergency app on her phone, and follows local sources of emergency information on Twitter. She and her husband have agreed on two emergency meeting points in case one is unavailable.
Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head. Mike ultimately suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns on his forearms and shoulders. He was hospitalized in San Francisco for two weeks.
American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. After two weeks of care, Mike’s brother Alonzo – also a veteran – transported Mike from the hospital back to Sonoma County.
“I picked Mike up, and we went directly over to the Red Cross office,” said Alonzo. “Betsy met us outside. She had a cash card to give to Mike, some emergency supplies and a little startup money. She was really, really nice from the beginning. Her communication skills blew me away. I had never experienced anyone who put so much effort… and as a volunteer… they were helping me, too.”
American Red Cross volunteer – and recent transplant to Fairfield – Susan Reese always planned to work with the Red Cross when she retired. When Susan finally retired from the restaurant industry last year, she became a volunteer wildfire associate. While working at a Local Assistance Center (LAC) during the North Complex fires in Yuba City, disaster response leadership called for people to join the feeding team. Susan jumped up, and said, “Feeding is what I love doing!” Just like that, Susan’s first deployment brought everything full circle.
Susan first had contact with the Red Cross in 1997 when she lived in Klamath, California. That year, the Klamath River breeched and flooded the town. Susan says that the entire area “was wiped out.” The Red Cross arrived and began to feed survivors and evacuees by bringing in food from a neighboring city.