Tag Archives: Volunteers

Feeding people for a lifetime

Susan Reese in the field.

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. 

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A Life of Principled Volunteerism

By John Lindner

Irene Johnson

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.”

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When compassion breeds compassion across a lifetime

Penny with a K-9 from the Monterey County Sheriff Department.

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. 

Penny loved it. 

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Full Circle: How the Sound the Alarm Campaign Saved the Lives of a Family in Northern California

By Marcia Antipa

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.

Ashley Koenig

“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.

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Celebrating volunteers during Red Cross Month!

Red Cross volunteers always manage to make the best of difficult situations, and social distancing for our 2019 recognition events was no exception.
Photo: Kathryn Hecht | American Red Cross
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As the pandemic wears on, research shows that more people want to help those in need. This month, we celebrate this humanitarian spirit during Red Cross Month and ask others to join us.

For almost 80 years, the president of the U.S. has proclaimed March as “Red Cross Month” to honor people giving back through our lifesaving mission — which is powered by more than 90% volunteers. The volunteer superstars from our 2019 recognition events are featured below. May their stories inspire countless others to heed the call.

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Sonoma County volunteer Andy Witthohn recognized as Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year

Andy and Betsy Witthohn at a volunteer thank you event in 2018. Photo by Ritch Davidson | American Red Cross

Andy Witthohn has a long history of volunteerism and service work spanning multiple continents, industries, and community needs. Born in Bangor, ME, Andy studied in Nairobi, served in the Peace Corps in Somalia, and taught school – mostly kindergarten – for 20 years in Sonoma County. He finished his professional career advocating for teachers with the California Teachers Association. 

In December 2020, he received the Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year award for his extensive efforts with the American Red Cross during the devastating Kincade Fire in 2019. 

His peers were quick to gush. 

“Not afraid to try new things or take on new challenges, Andy quickly became one of our most steadfast and reliable volunteers in the Napa-Sonoma Territory,” said Angela Hunt, volunteer for the Northern California Coastal Region and presenter of the award. “With his energetic spirit and constant good humor, he made short work of any project he took on, and he’s taken on quite a few. We’re so appreciative for everything he does.” 

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