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.
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.”
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.”
What does a law enforcement officer do in his spare time? Volunteer to help others, of course. Meet Kevin Sagar, the American Red Cross Volunteer of the Year for Marin County.
Kevin is wrapping up his first year as a police officer with the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, known as the SMART Train.
“The majority of my job is looking for people that are on the train tracks, either oblivious to the trains or trying to hurt themselves. Unfortunately, we can’t be everywhere at the right time, but it is nice when we do get there and spot someone before something happens.”
After speaking with Dave Dorman for 30 minutes, you might wonder if he does anything else outside of the Red Cross. He’s a self-described “semi-full-time volunteer.” This same unwavering dedication earned him the Regional Volunteer of the Year Award.
While he’s officially been a proud Red Cross volunteer since 1984, Dave’s first contact with the Red Cross occurred during water safety instructor and lifeguard training in the 1950s. In the 1970s, he taught first aid and artificial respiration for his employer and discovered his Red Cross calling. He would eventually gravitate to disaster operations, and more specifically, to logistics support: acquiring, organizing, and delivering materials during a disaster.
In 1991, during the Oakland Hills Fire, Jane Jennings had her first interaction with the American Red Cross. “They were running shelters for the county, and as a county worker, I was asked to be involved in the shelter. [My experience] convinced me that when I retired, I wanted to go back with the Red Cross,” says Jennings. Now, almost thirty years later, Jennings has won the Red Cross’s highest volunteer award, the Clara Barton Meritorious Leadership Award.
After retiring from a career filled with case management as a Probation Officer, Jennings found a natural transition, pivoting into a caseworker under the Disaster Action Team (DAT) for the Red Cross. “Now it’s called recovery,” explains Jennings, “but the normal casework is following up on DAT calls. DAT goes out, gives immediate assistance, and within the next day, casework starts following up with the client and writing referrals and assistance…it takes training and developing a comfort level. It’s not a job that’s impossible to do; it’s just, is that the role you’re comfortable doing?” Luckily for the Red Cross, it is a job Jennings has been comfortable performing for twenty years.