Meet the Board: Thilani Grubel “Serving a Purpose”

By Taylor Poisall, American Red Cross Communications

“If I’m going to use my time here on Earth, I want to make sure that it’s serving a purpose.”

Thilani Grubel

If you ask Thilani Grubel what her goal is in the next ten years, she’ll tell you she wants to “do good and solve problems.” This may be an oversimplification, as what she really means is advocating for the underserved and underrepresented communities prevalent everywhere, but namely—in Fresno. Whether finding solutions to homelessness or access to opportunity, Thilani has her eyes set on human advocacy.

And her role as VP of Bitwise Fresno is how she’s forging a path to begin that important work.  As VP of Bitwise Fresno, Thilani listens to the voices of the Fresno community and engages in conversations with local representatives and businesses to find ways to continue providing opportunities in technology and growing Fresno’s economy.

She first got involved with the American Red Cross thanks to an invitation from a colleague, Channelle Charest. “Knowing who I am, Channelle said, ‘Hey, this is the kind of Board that you would excel in. It’s a great group, but even more so than that, this is a mission that fits yours, you are a person that wants to help and serve others. And that’s what we do here. So she won me over in about 30 seconds.”

Colleagues, friends, Red Crossers.
Channelle Charest invited Thilani to join the Red Cross Central Valley Chapter Board of Directors

Grubel lets her upbringing, experiences and values guide her. “The way my parents raised me was that with anything that you have, you should be serving others. Whether that is excess funds or excess time. It is our duty to care for each other. That has a personal ethos and religious one for me. We didn’t have a lot, but together as a family, we were volunteering. It made me the person that I am today and the type of person that I am. I’m proud of what they’ve instilled in me.”

“I believe it is our job to serve not just ‘love thy neighbor’ but all the various groups like immigrants, people in crisis, LGBTQ+, everybody. It is our job to care for each other, even when it’s difficult,” she emphasized. “So that means when I’m working, or looking for something that I can give my time to, I look for missions like this… that actually make real change. That’s why I’m here at the Red Cross.”

Thilani joined the KSEE24 & CBS47 Telethon to raise funds for Western Wildfires Disaster Relief in July 2022.

Something that surprised Grubel was the scale and speed of the Red Cross. “I honestly didn’t realize how good we are at our jobs. I knew that the Red Cross had rapid response teams and we were always there during disasters, but I got to see it firsthand with the Oak Fire. The team deployed so quickly and then worked like a well-oiled machine. Volunteers came in, did their jobs and served their mission, which was incredible to me.”

Grubel has a “put me in coach” type of attitude. When she worked a volunteer shift last summer at the Oak Fire, the biggest need was for a volunteer to supervise the shower trailer in 100-degree heat. “I thought that job was going to be terrible because it’s cleaning showers and toilets. But I came away with a perspective shift that helped me realize the impact that these small things have on people going through very difficult events in their lives. Every person that was able to take a shower thanked me. They were so glad to just have a small luxury like a shower. That small thing allowed them to get back to normalcy.”

During a disaster, you see the best of humanity come together. Inside a shelter, a community forms that bonds neighbors together even further. Grubel shared, “Even though they’re going through the same thing and it’s an incredibly difficult event in their life, they take care of each other. At the shower trailer, the residents made a point of telling me to make sure this [the toiletries] gets to the next person and let it last as long as possible. They didn’t take those items for themselves which they could have.”

“In the worst times of their lives, they were so caring for other people. In a small way, it restored my hope for humanity.”

Thilani Grubel

In 2023, Grubel is looking forward to getting involved with Red Cross even more. “While it seems crazy to say, I want to go to more of our disaster responses and work alongside our volunteers.”

Just like her colleague invited her along to join the Red Cross, Grubel has plans to continue that thread of inviting people to get involved with the Red Cross mission. “My goal is actually to take my eight-year-old daughter with me. My family background is that my parents worked two jobs so we could live in a good school district. We didn’t have a lot, but I saw my parents still giving back and my daughter is growing up in a much more privileged life,” she shared. “Our goal is to still raise her with that same work ethic.”

Whether that’s here at the Red Cross, where we are making a physical difference through shelter, food and showers. Or something like my job at Bitwise, we don’t always see physical results but we do know that as people go through these programs that we have, suddenly they’re being lifted out of poverty or near poverty, and they’re able to care for their family. That’s the kind of work that I want to do. If I’m going to use my time here on Earth, I want to make sure that it’s serving a purpose.

Since Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881, women have played an important role in advancing the organization’s programs and services. As we recognize Women’s History Month this March, we’re grateful for female leaders like Thilani who carry out our mission and continue the legacy Clara left behind.

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