Volunteers – The reason we come to work every morning

I never need convincing that Red Cross volunteers are the salt of the earth. I know that already. I don’t need to be at an event to know how dedicated and committed Red Cross volunteers are. But there is just something about our annual Celebration of Volunteers event that makes what they do individually and collectively awe inspiring. No matter how much you already appreciate them, this event makes you appreciate them even more.

More than 400 American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania volunteers were on hand for the 10th anniversary of the event. It honors all Red Cross SEPA volunteers and the amazing work they do each year for disaster survivors in the Philadelphia region and across  the country.

I know many of the volunteers personally. I’ve met them at disaster scenes or various functions. They all have their own reasons for volunteering. Each brings their own skill sets and strengths. Just like any job.Noel for example, received our Disaster Action Team Captain of the Year. He was so deserving and got a rousing cheer when his name was announced. He’s very unassuming and upon first meeting him, you’d never figure him for a take charge, DAT captain. But he owns his own company that does computer techy stuff I’ll never understand. He is a leader by any definition. And we are lucky to have him. There’s Jen, who is not only a Philadelphia firefighter full-time and Red Cross volunteer, but she also runs Red Paw, a non-profit that takes care of pets temporarily following a disaster so families can focus on their recovery. She showed up to the event in a sling because one of the dogs in her care bit her arm and the injury was so bad she required surgery. But that has not deterred her. I was tweeting back and forth with her a few days ago as she was responding to a disaster. I didn’t know about the attack. She was already back at it just days after the attack. She’s a better person than I am. There’s Sarah Shabaglian. I had never met her. She’s no longer technically a volunteer. But at 93 years old, she was being honored for her service to the Red Cross and our Armed Forces. She served in World War II in Italy and Okinawa helping our GIs and their spouses get back to the U.S. She was decked out in her full Red Cross military uniform. What an amazing moment that was for the entire room.

Noel with his Disaster Action Team Captain of the Year award at our Celebration of Volunteers event. Pictured with SEPA’s Volunteer Chair, Chairman of the Board and 6ABC’s Alicia Vitarelli

Jen with her special partnership award for her work with the Red Cross on behalf of Red Paw. Pictured with SEPA Chair of Volunteers, Chairman of the Board, and 6ABC’s Alicia Vitarelli

Sarah (Sally) Shabaglian received a special Services to the Armed Forces legacy award for her work on behalf of the Red Cross during World War II

I could give you example after example of volunteers with amazing stories. These were just three. The volunteers don’t do what they do to get awards and recognition. Many don’t even want it. But to me this event is  about more than just recognition. It’s a way for all the volunteers to enjoy each other outside of a moment of disaster. A chance for them to reconnect or meet for the very first time. The Red Cross is a family after all. Sometimes dysfunctional, but always caring, always looking out for each other and those we serve.

One thing I am always struck by when I meet a volunteer for the first time and tell them what I do. They almost always respond by saying, “I’m just a volunteer.” I always try to nicely correct them. I am the one who should be saying “I’m just an employee.” I get paid to serve the Red Cross. I get paid to serve those who have been through a disaster. They do this because they love the Red Cross, they love the mission, they love helping.

Our CEO really struck a chord with me during her remarks at the event when she said the volunteers are the reason she gets up and goes to work in the morning.

“I don’t like asking for things,” she said. “But asking for things is my job. And I do it because of you. You and your work make me want to ask for things.”

That’s pretty powerful. And it hits home with me because the Celebration of Volunteers is a lot of work. Both in the planning and execution. A lot goes on behind the scenes. A lot. It’s hard. It’s time consuming. It’s comparable to Red Ball, at least when it comes to my role. But the people in the room that night deserve it. My effort pales in comparison to theirs. They make it worth getting up in the morning on days you’d rather not.

So on this day after the Celebration of Volunteers, we are already thinking about ways to make next year’s event even better and ways to improve the entire volunteer experience in general.

So if you’re looking for a place where your volunteerism is needed and appreciated. Where your efforts have a direct impact on lives that you can see. Where you’re part of a small local and large global family consider the Red Cross. Consider being the reason why others go to work in the morning.

Video highlighting volunteer deployments (4 minutes)

Mission Moment from Celebration of Volunteers featuring the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (1 min 15 sec)

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