Monday, April 11, 2016

Letter from East Tennessee Executive Director Michelle Hankes, April 2016

April is a month of showers, flowers, and volunteer appreciation. Okay, so that didn’t rhyme, but volunteer appreciation is probably the most important part of that equation. The Red Cross is only as strong as its volunteers. Period.

Our volunteers are strong if they are well trained, have the resources they need to do the job, and like being where they are, doing what they’re doing. And they do everything!  From teaching CPR classes to kids on how to handle disasters; from meeting with fire clients having the worst day of their lives to handing out water to a tired firefighter; from driving blood products to needed locations to staffing shelters during a forest fire; from greeting people at the front door of a Red Cross office to checking the tire pressure of a vehicle.

As a paid employee, I probably don’t say “thank you” enough. That said, I think our volunteers are worth more than appreciation. Volunteers need something deeper. Something that can’t be put into words, but can only be felt through action and the smiles and tears we can’t always express in public.
I'd like to share a story: Last month, a man called me about volunteering in one of our rural counties. He didn’t have a computer and couldn’t register through the website, so a local volunteer leader agreed to meet him at the public library. It turned out that the man (who also brought a few friends) had special needs and lived in a group home. A couple of his friends couldn’t even read.  Now, he wouldn’t be able to do many of the regular positions at the Red Cross, but in this small community, everyone knew him!

My community volunteer leader was able to make him and his friends “community ambassadors.” They wear their Red Cross shirts proudly and share the work of the Red Cross at community events. They pass out business cards to those who want more information. I asked one of them why he was so excited about being a Red Cross volunteer.

“Because I’m part of something, Miss Michelle!” he said to me. “I’m part of helping people.”

What more can be said?

Thank you all for helping people!

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