By Carolyn Forster, Kern County & Eastern Sierra Chapter Board Chair
I started working with the American Red Cross during my 16 years with the Kern County Public Health, Emergency Preparedness Program and grant. I contracted with the Red Cross to bring preparedness education and information to the community. Over the years, I could see the good works and enthusiastic volunteers associated with Red Cross as our working relationship continued.
In 2016, I realized my next role with the Red Cross so I can more effectively promote preparedness was to join as a Board Member. For many years I had worked and known Chris Schwartz, a Red Cross Board member, and asked how I could qualify as a Board Member too. Voila! (as Veronique, our French colleague, would say) it was easy! I interviewed with Barry Falke, the Executive Director at the time, and attended the next Board meeting. I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Board ever since.
In my recent position of Board Chair, I had the honor to attend the annual National American Red Cross Executive Leadership Meeting and FY23 Kick-off in Washington, DC. Due to COVID restrictions, this was the first conference to be held in-person in 4 years.
Our Region Executive, Tony Briggs, was my personal host for the event, ensuring I had all the opportunities to network, meet important Red Cross people, and see the historical Red Cross building and memorabilia. I even got to meet one of my personal leadership heroes – Gail McGovern! I shook Gail’s hand, and we had our pictures taken together.
Gail inspired us all with her dedication to the volunteers and clients served by the American Red Cross. She shared her primary concern is always for the health and safety of the many volunteers and employees across the nation. Her solace is in the volunteers’ eagerness to jump in to help wherever or whenever it is needed – even during family holidays. She is motivated by the mission of the Red Cross, which fills her heart knowing every day they are saving lives.
The American Red Cross has a long history of rising to meet challenges in times of crisis and understands that how we deliver our lifesaving mission is as important as fulfilling it. Here were a few of my key takeaways from the Leadership Conference:
Moving forward into the next year and beyond, Gail McGovern and other speakers noted many times the biggest barrier in the future will be Mother Nature (aka the effects of climate change). On the frontlines of the climate crisis in communities across the country, the Red Cross is supporting families who are struggling to cope with more frequent and intense disasters year after year.
The Red Cross works to deliver vital services — from providing relief and support to those in crisis to teaching lifesavingskills — so our communities are better prepared when the need arises. Looking toward a more sustainable future, Red Cross recognizes they need to have a positive presence in the community by helping clients leaving a shelter to go to something better; not just leaving the shelter. Over the next several years, the Red Cross aims to grow our disaster workforce, strengthen support networks of partners in high-risk communities, expand recovery assistance for those with the greatest needs, and enhance support services for people who can’t return home.
The humanitarian efforts of the Red Cross are for all people. People are at the center of all that the Red Cross does, and our employees and volunteers are our greatest asset. Diversity and inclusion are vital to ensuring all people are able to trust the Red Cross volunteers to come into their community, and we continue to look for more opportunities to increase diversity throughout the organization. Diversity will improve our relationships with the movement, our partnerships in the community, and our acceptance by community leaders as well as cultural or socially vulnerable groups within the communities we serve.
Our capacity and sustainability as an organization, as a region, or as a chapter starts and ends with our volunteers. It is vital to engage more volunteers at younger ages, also in healthcare professions like nursing, and in ways to encourage volunteering for short and long terms. Engaging people throughout their lifetime – from school age to young adults through Pillowcase and Prepare for Pedro and through Youth Red Cross Clubs – will help more people be aware of the Red Cross mission and get involved.
We, the volunteers, are the catalyst in strengthening the resilience stories for our communities. American Red Cross is building capacity in all areas so others can live and thrive.