On April 1, 2021, the American Red Cross Heart of the Valley Chapter honored Carl and Jane Knowles for their hard work and dedication at the annual volunteer recognition event (held virtually due to COVID-19 precautions). Located in San Joaquin County, this amazing couple collectively put in over 1,200 volunteer hours in 2020 in various locations and activities, despite a pandemic and quarantine requirements.
For Jane and Carl, 2020 was packed. They worked in disaster assessment for the Lake Berryessa area and served food during the Santa Cruz fires. Jane sewed 450 masks for family, friends, SAF (Service to Armed Forces) and a neighborhood school. Then the Knowles transported large quantities of blood donations, often working double shifts five days a week to compensate for the reduction in volunteer drivers due to COVID-19.
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.
Giving blood is one of the most personal things someone can do. And it’s something that American Red Cross blood donor and volunteer Nancy Houghton does as often as allowed. Nancy has donated blood for years, first as a Red Cross volunteer during the Vietnam war, and then again more recently when someone close to her needed blood.
All blood donors at Red Cross blood centers receive a feedback form asking them why they chose to be a blood donor. Here is what Nancy wrote:
“I know someone who has been getting blood transfusions. Somebody somewhere gave their blood to help him through that. I can do the same for somebody else. We’re all in this together. So simple, so easy, and so important to someone somewhere. It could be you or your loved ones. It made such a difference in his well-being.”
Nancy’s poignant response prompted the public affairs team to reach out and learn more.
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.
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.