Resolve to Volunteer: 5 Unique Ways You Can Volunteer with the Red Cross

by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region

This post would have been a little more symmetrical a year from now.

As it is, I’m coming up on my 9 year Red Cross anniversary. I joined the Red Cross in January of 2012 because I made it my New Year’s resolution to find somewhere to volunteer. And unlike abandoned gym memberships of the past, I actually stuck with this one & nine years later, I can honestly tell you it’s maybe the most fulfilling resolution I’ve ever made.

When I made my resolution, I wondered if there was a way to use my professional skills as a marketing specialist to give back to the community. The Red Cross, like any organization, needs professional communicators to help them tell the story of their mission, which is how I ended up as a volunteer writer, telling stories about a family’s resilience after being evacuated from Hurricane Harvey, or how three young people saved the life of a man at their church with their CPR skills, or (perhaps most importantly) how to safely celebrate National Grilled Cheese Day.

That’s how I know that while you may only know of Red Cross volunteers as helping people affected by disasters or teaching CPR classes in the community, there are dozens of other volunteer roles that could be the perfect fit for your specific personality and skill set. Here are just a few unique volunteer opportunities of particular need that you might not know about:

1) BLOOD SERVICES TRANSPORTATION SPECIALIST

Did you know the Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply? You might have seen our volunteers at blood drives and bloodmobiles around your community, who help collect life-saving blood and plasma. What you don’t see are our volunteer transportation specialists, who drive the blood to the hospitals that need it, not just for when there’s a trauma or disaster, but for everyday surgeries, cancer treatment and other illnesses. Besides our drivers that do normal delivery runs from our Dallas headquarters to hospitals in the DFW metro area, there are two other badly needed volunteer roles. STAT/ASAP drivers are on-call drivers that handle emergency runs during an event that requires an abnormal amount of blood to a hospital. And Long Route Drivers that enable our bloodmobiles to go further distances.

“So for example, we’ll go do blood drives in College Station and other areas in Central Texas, but that blood can’t sit in the bloodmobile for long periods of time,” explains Senior Volunteer Recruitment Specialist Sandi Grupe. “So we have these runners that will drive from our Dallas HQ and go on a route to pick up that day’s collection from the bloodmobiles and drive it back that day. That allows the bloodmobile to stay on the road so we can continue to collect from a number of places that we might not otherwise be able to.”

The position is unique because your schedule has to allow for the trip twice a month. But it’s a vitally important role for the collection of the blood that’s needed by somebody in the U.S. every 2 seconds.

This might be a great role for you if: You’re someone with a flexible schedule…and who doesn’t mind a road trip.

October 14, 2019. St. Paul, Minnesota. Blood Services Transportation Volunteers in Minnesota. Photo by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

2) SERVICE TO THE ARMED FORCES WORKSHOP FACILITATORS

One of our hardest volunteer positions to fill is our Resiliency & Reconnection Workshop Facilitators for active duty military and veterans, because they have to be licensed mental health workers. These workshops help military members cope with the stress of deployment or help with transitioning after returning from a deployment. They are offered as a free service to active duty military and veterans.

“It’s hard to find people with active licenses who are willing to take this on because of the time commitment, which is a challenge for volunteers with active practices,” explains Grupe.

Because of this, many of our volunteers are newly retired or college professors that work in mental health education. There is a similar challenge with our Disaster Mental Health workers, who work with people affected by disasters, but with that role, we’ll accept Psychiatric RN’s, which is not the case with Service to the Armed Forces.

This might be a great role for you if: You have an active mental health license and a passion for supporting our military and veterans.

January 4, 2020. Veterans Village – Armed Forces Bowl. Photo by Adrianna Arbelaez

3) RESTORING FAMILY LINKS CASE WORKER

Our Restoring Family Links program helps reconnect families separated by international armed conflict or disaster. Case workers for this International Services program are especially needed in East and West Texas.

“They help people find people. Let’s say a refugee who has resettled in North Texas has lost contact with their family back home, from whatever country they came from. We’ll help them find them,” explains Grupe.

Case workers will interview these people to initiate the search, then start the investigative work, working with our International Red Cross and Red Crescent partners overseas and using every available resource to help reunite a family. Social work or experience working with diverse communities, such as migrants or refugees, is a common background for these volunteers, but what is actually required is compassion, tolerance and comfortability working in a cross-cultural situation.

“If you’re not comfortable working with someone who’s English might not be the best, you’re not going to thrive in this role,” said Grupe.

This might be a great role for you if: You are comfortable working with people from all different cultures and you enjoy playing detective.

June 26, 2018. Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. A Restoring Family Links (RFL) team walks door-to-door in Kutupalong—a temporary camp for families displaced from Rakhine state, Myanmar. The team asks people whether they have lost contact with family members during their ordeal in Rakhine and inform them about the RFL services available. The team also made announcements through a mosque loudspeaker—asking people in need of RFL services to discuss opening an RFL case with the Red Crescent. Since August 2017, more than 600,000 people have fled Rakhine state, Myanmar to seek safety in Bangladesh. Many arrived injured, malnourished, and traumatized. They speak of dangerous journeys—walking for days on end just to reach the border. Once in Bangladesh, they crowd into sprawling camps on unstable hillsides—and live in structures made of bamboo, plastic, cardboard and sometimes corrugated metal sheeting. Photo by Brad Zerivitz/American Red Cross

4) VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT TEAM MEMBER

How do you keep a work force that is more than 90% volunteers engaged? We have a volunteer position for that! Volunteer Engagement Team Members work across all five of our lines of service to encourage, engage and connect with all 2,700 volunteers in the North Texas Region on an ongoing basis to keep them involved with the work of the Red Cross.

“These are the people that encourage the people who have the boots on the ground, keeping them engaged and feeling appreciated,” says Grupe.

This behind-the-scenes role particularly appeals to people who work or have worked in HR, or otherwise like to be the ones keeping others engaged.

This might be a great role for you if: You’re a “people person” who wants to help keep the heart, soul and engine of the Red Cross going.

American Red Cross North Texas Region CEO Keith Rhodes presents Youth Volunteer Pranay Gundam with the Volunteer Youth Engagement Award at the 2019 Annual DFW Volunteer Awards Banquet.

5) DISASTER ACTION TEAM MEMBER

When most people think of a Red Cross volunteer, they might think of a disaster responder in a vest standing in the middle of a tornado field. But in fact, the great majority of the disasters we respond to are single family home fires and other small local disasters, which happen every single day. The volunteers who respond to those fires are our Disaster Action Teams (DAT).

“We’ve had to take our DAT response virtual because of the pandemic,” says Grupe. “There are situations like the tornado in Arlington over Thanksgiving weekend where we are boots on the ground, but individual single home fires, which is the majority of our responses, our DAT members are responding virtually to assist those families.”

What you don’t see is there are behind-the-scenes volunteers who support the DAT team response. These team members review documents, which are needed within 24-48 hours of the disaster event.

“It’s a great virtual role that is greatly needed to support the response, but you aren’t an actual DAT team member interacting with people affected by the disaster,” says Grupe. “These roles are not as flashy, but they are making a difference.”

Additionally, Recovery Case Workers are also needed. They follow up after the DAT team helps the affected families with their immediate needs, to help them get back on their feet and connect them with community resources. The best Recovery Case Workers are compassionate people who can listen.

This might be a great role for you if: You want to help people after every day disasters in your own community. No matter if you want to be “boots on the ground” (virtually for the time being) or more behind-the-scenes, there’s a role for you if you want to be involved with DAT.

American Red Cross volunteers support state-run emergency lodging locations in the McKinney area.

RESOLVE TO VOLUNTEER!

So why is now a great time to get involved?

“Volunteering has become much more accessible because of the pandemic,” says Grupe. “The Red Cross in response to COVID-19 almost immediately went virtual with everything we do and we were successful in doing that. People might only think of the Red Cross as the disaster responder walking through the debris field and they might think, those people are great but I can’t do that. But they don’t see everything that happens behind-the-scenes, 95% of which is virtual now, that they can be a part of.

“It’s easier than ever to be a part of the Red Cross mission and to offer your expertise and your talents and your gifts to the Red Cross, and that will remain the case post-COVID. We hope you’ll get involved!”

Ready to resolve to volunteer? Start your Red Cross story by learning about all of our volunteer opportunities at RedCross.org.

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