Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Red Cross Recruits New Volunteers Through Virtual Open House

By Laura Cantagallo, American Red Cross Volunteer
With COVID-19 bringing an end to in-person meetings, the American Red Cross has adopted virtual communication platforms to recruit new volunteers for their five lines of services: Disaster, Blood Services, Training Services (health and safety), International, and Service to the Armed Forces (SAF). Red Cross volunteers make-up 90% of the Red Cross workforce and respond to more than 60,000 disasters a year – they are the backbone of this humanitarian organization.

The American Red Cross of the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region conducted a virtual open house on Microsoft Teams on Tuesday, July 14, led by the Red Cross Volunteer Services recruitment team made up of Kristi Giles, Nanveet Prasad, and Sheleasa Omogbai – all who represent different parts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware – and included several esteemed guest speakers. Prospective volunteers were given a virtual guided tour of the Red Cross and its history, principles and unique mission, and a look at the all-encompassing list of volunteer opportunities offered to those seeking a way to give back to their communities. 

Pictured clockwise from top:
Shawn Felder, Kristi Giles, and Sheleasa Omogbai 
Some of the volunteers the team is currently recruiting for include volunteers for Disaster Services, Blood Services, and Service to the Armed Forces.

Disaster volunteers can explore several roles: preparedness team members educate communities on self-reliance and personal resilience in the face of disaster, how to respond efficiently, and how to cope after the disaster has occurred. Recovery team members help those affected by disasters begin the road to recovery with initial assistance (food, clothing, shelter), casework, and identification of local, state, and even federal resources for which they may be eligible. 

Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. The Red Cross is committed to providing our nation with a safe and plentiful blood supply, putting blood services volunteers at the very core of the Red Cross operation, especially during this global health crisis. 

This unit is made up of over 25,000 volunteers and all blood is currently being tested for COVID-19 antibodies, and convalescent plasma products are also being collected and distributed treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Blood Services is looking for Blood Donor Screeners, Ambassadors, and Transportation Specialists at all of the nine blood donation centers in our region, including locations in Washington, D.C., Rockville, Lutherville, Frederick, and Baltimore, Maryland, and Fairfax, Virginia. You can see where they are all here.

There are even opportunities for younger volunteers! The event-based volunteer position for the Blood Donor Screener is open to those 15 and older who seek to contribute to a blood drive by temperature screening donors. Volunteers can sign up for 4-5 hour shifts anywhere across the region.

The American Red Cross was born on the battlefield. Our founder, Clara Barton, first delivered aid and comfort to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Today, the Red Cross continues this proud tradition through the SAF program that comprises several different volunteer opportunities to support those serving our country and their families. There are over 1,000 SAF volunteers spread throughout medical hospitals around the region, as well as volunteers at the Pentagon and Naval Academy. SAF caseworkers provide virtual assistance to help meet military family’s needs when someone is deployed, or when they are experiencing hardship. Caseworkers make initial contact to assess needs, follow up calls, and provide other services to make sure these families are receiving the essential aid they need. 

So, how has an almost completely hands-on volunteer program changed and adapted in 2020 due to the Coronavirus? 

“COVID doesn’t stop us, it only changes how we do it,”

- Shawn Felder, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager

The recruitment team touched on this in the meeting, explaining all the precautions and safety measures that are being taken to ensure the safety of the people we serve in the community and volunteers, all while still being able to give a hand and help those who desperately need Red Cross services. 

“Trainings are all virtual online; some are self-paced modules that you work through and complete,” says Kristi Giles, Senior Recruitment Specialist for the Central Maryland Chapter regarding how volunteers are given training for their duties. 

Red Cross relief also includes financial assistance and mental and spiritual health assistance, provided by volunteers virtually and by phone, done by our Disaster Action Team (DAT). Red Cross members have been reaching those affected by disaster via email, video, and text, practicing social distancing, encouraging touchless distribution of client assistance cards, and wearing masks and gloves.

Disaster Action Teams continue to serve disaster-affected communities and offer help around the clock to clients. 

Another virtual need the Red Cross is currently looking for is recruitment team members. This includes recruiting volunteers for our five lines of service and promoting volunteer opportunities on social media platforms – all virtually.

“We can’t do our job without the help of our volunteers;
they’re the most valuable part of our job.”

- Nanveet Prasad, Recruitment Specialist for the Red Cross 

Giles adds, “We hope that people feel that it’s a rewarding experience and we hope our volunteers understand the impact they’re making in people’s lives.”

If you’re ready to join us and become a Red Cross volunteer, an upcoming virtual open house is scheduled for August 20, 2020 from 10:00-11:00 AM on Microsoft Teams. 

Prospective volunteers can also apply online at and take a quiz to see what opportunities are available, and which would best fit their skill-set and hours of availability. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

My Lifesaving Red Cross Story: Josh Berg

By Clarice Nassif Ransom, American Red Cross Volunteer

Name: Josh Berg
Recognition: American Red Cross Lifesaving Certificate of Merit, 2019

Meet Josh Berg. Josh helped save the life of an athlete who collapsed and lost consciousness at the finish line of a track meet at the Christy Mathewson Memorial Stadium in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 2019. 

Josh Berg receiving his award from American Red Cross
in the National Capital Region CEO Linda Mathes in  November 2019.

Just three days before the track meet, Josh was re-certified in American Red Cross CPR/AED for Professional Rescuers & First Aid, which Josh attributes as helping him to know how to save the athlete’s life. Josh explains that on the day of the track meet, he was the host athletic trainer – it was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and the event was typical from a medical aspect. 

“As an athletic trainer at a track meet, however, you can never let your guard down, and you must be prepared to deal with the absolute worst of scenarios,” said Josh. 

“The absolute worst of scenarios happened as quickly as I can remember. I got a radio call from my intern who said that there was an athlete at the finish line who apparently stopped breathing and lost his pulse. I immediately ran to the scene to evaluate the medical situation.”

Josh said the athlete was a mid-distance sprinter who finished the race and collapsed as he was trying to catch his breath. 

“At the time of my initial assessment, the athlete was not breathing, and he did not have a pulse,” said Josh. 

“I instructed a bystander to notify emergency medical services (EMS) staff who were thankfully stationed at the meet. I immediately began giving chest compressions, and it did not take long for the athlete to regain consciousness. I remember around the 22, 23, or 24th chest compression, the athlete took a gigantic gasp of air. At that time, I never felt more relief in my entire life. EMS staff responded quickly and were on the scene very close to when that athlete began breathing and regaining a pulse.”

Josh said as the EMS staff removed the athlete from the scene for further medical treatment, the athlete was waving to the crowd.

 "A true miracle was that the athlete had the fight in him to remain alive,” said Josh, who was grateful to the intern and to the bystander for helping him save the athlete’s life.

“I retreated back to my tent and prayed I would never have to do something like that again. I was hopeful that the athlete would make a good recovery, which I later found out he did.”

Saving a life impacted Josh in many ways, including realizing how his training in American Red Cross CPR/AED for Professional Rescuers & First Aid made him prepared and able to respond to this unexpected event. 

“This lifesaving event taught me that there is no such thing as being overly prepared, especially if lives are on the line,” said Josh. 

“Whether you are a healthcare professional, summer lifeguard, coach, or a bystander with a CPR certification, you must always be ready to snap into action and to protect others. As an athletic trainer, not only are we surrounded by our student-athletes every day, we are surrounded by our school’s community. We are often the first line of help during an emergency.”

Josh hopes his story will inspire others who hear and read about it to become trained in CPR/AED or take part in other lifesaving trainings.

He says the key to a lifesaving event is being ready.

“Trust yourself and the preparation that brought you to this point. True instinct will take over. I think this story will inspire some to not take their role for granted.”

The American Red Cross Lifesaving Certificate of Merit is the highest award given by the American Red Cross to an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course. The certificate bears the signature of the President of the United States, who is the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross, and the signature of the chairman of the American Red Cross. According to the American Red Cross, a lifesaving action exemplifies the highest degree of concern of one human being for another who is in distress.
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Our Red Cross training programs include First Aid, AED, BLS, CPR, EMR, swimming, water safety, babysitting, child care, and more! Learn more and sign up today:

Monday, April 20, 2020

My Red Cross Story: Will Chai

Written by: Sandy Habib, Communications Volunteer

Young people have so many choices when it comes to how they can spend their leisure time. There’s nothing more inspiring, though, than hearing stories about youth that spend countless hours giving back to their communities in profound ways.

Will Chai’s Red Cross story spans several U.S. states and numerous projects, groups and missions. Will spent his early childhood in Iowa and Kansas, where he grew up with a strong Red Cross presence, especially during tornado season. By the time he and his family moved to Maryland for Will’s high school years, he had a clear impression of the relief and comfort that the Red Cross is so famous for bringing to those affected by disasters.

In his freshman summer of high school, Will and his friend, Brendan Tan, started a Red Cross club at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland. Will served as Co-President and Founder for his remaining three years at the school. In his role, he recruited many members and facilitated countless activities.

During his tenure, Will was elected onto the National Capital Region’s Volunteer Appreciation Committee, where he helped create policies that improved volunteer engagement in the region. In 2017, he served as a Citizen CPR Leader and Blood Services Ambassador. Will hosted numerous fundraisers, conducted disaster preparedness education sessions, scheduled group speakers, assembled disaster preparedness kits and made house visits as part of the Sound the Alarm program, to name a few.

“The Red Cross experience is what you make of it.  We have so many activities, so many opportunities for youth to get involved, even if it’s just 1-2 hours a week.”

Will was recognized for his efforts by being awarded the 2015-2016 Youth Volunteer of the Year for the National Capital Region. He also received the 2015 and 2016 Presidential Volunteer Service Award and was selected to be the host and speaker for the 2016 National Capital Region’s Red Cross Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.

Will’s story continued as he headed off to Brown University, where he is currently in his sophomore year. In between his health, human biology, and pre-med studies, he has continued with his commitment to the Red Cross. Brown didn’t have a Red Cross presence on campus before Will arrived, but he reached out to the Red Cross in the Connecticut/Rhode Island region to change that.

The CT/RI chapter introduced him to people at Brown who were able to help Will submit the application to formalize a presence on campus. He now serves as the official Red Cross Club Chapter contact at Brown University and began recruiting members when COVID-19 hit and campus was evacuated. Although he is currently living with his family in Maryland, he is actively making plans for when Brown University reopens and students return: fundraisers, volunteer recruitment on campus, community engagement throughout the local region, connection with other Red Cross clubs in the area and partnerships with area high schools.

“If you help your neighbor, they are more likely to pay it forward and help someone else.  Sometimes you need to get the ball rolling to foster that kind of culture. This is what I want to do at Brown and in the local community. I want to build that kind of culture.”

The other inspirational part of Will’s story is that his experience with the Red Cross has influenced his studies and his future career aspirations. He ultimately wants to focus on health equity, health education, and health policy. His spirit of social activism as a young person has triggered a professional commitment to give back to society. Will was selected to participate in a fellowship and intern on Capitol Hill this summer. This will give him a great direct experience learning about health policy.

While Will adds more to his education and career development workloads, he continues to work with the Red Cross. He is currently the Peer Outreach Working Group Lead on the National Youth Council of the Red Cross. This Council consists of 13 youth members and two adult advisors who represent and support youth volunteers throughout the country. They are advocates for youth and young adults, and they’re a part of the National Youth Engagement Team in Red Cross Volunteer Services, working very closely with other National Headquarters departments to create programs and initiatives that benefit youth volunteers. Though their adult advisors offer guidance, it is the youth who are leading the group and its activities. 

Will and his fellow Council members regularly engage with thousands of Red Cross youth volunteers nationwide. They host social media campaigns, lead initiatives like National Youth Involvement Month in November, encourage and organize volunteer activities for youth, and offer leadership and scholarship opportunities to outstanding volunteers. Currently, the Council is working on educating the public about the misconceptions about the blood donation process. In fact, applications for the Council are opening very soon. You can find out more information about the incredible opportunities for volunteers below.

“Even now, when we’re all staying at home for COVID-19 social distancing, the Red Cross offers online programs that enable volunteers to help their local communities. There are also many online training courses covering all of the Red Cross lines of service.”  

To learn more about youth opportunities with the Red Cross, specifically with the National Youth Council, please check out the resources that Will has provided below. Youth is defined as someone aged 13-24. 
  • We run an official Red Cross website, with activity guides and other great resources for youth. I especially want to emphasize the volunteering from home guide on our website packed with flexible, virtual Red Cross activities. We'll also be posting information about the blood shortage on our website and official social media pages below. 
  • We also run a Facebook group called American Red Cross Youth Network and an Instagram @americanredcrossyouth, where youth can find the latest updates and announcements of our programs and initiatives. We run social media campaigns, scholarships for youth and offer lots of leadership opportunities like our Field Ambassador program. Also, applications for the National Youth Council itself are coming out, and the best way for youth to stay updated is through these platforms! You can also directly check the National Youth Council application page here.

Friday, February 21, 2020

My Red Cross Story: Doug VanDyke

Meet Doug VanDyke, American Red Cross
Board Member, Chief Executive Officer of
Enquizit, Lifelong Volunteer, and Blood Donor
Written by: Clarice Nassif Ransom, Communications Volunteer

Doug VanDyke,
American Red Cross Board Member (since 2014)

Profession: Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Enquizit, an application development and cloud migration company headquartered in McLean, Virginia; other highlights include Amazon and Microsoft

Home: Ashburn, Virginia

Family: Wife, three children

Role models who inspired VanDyke’s volunteer leadership: LaRhea VanDyke, mother; Linda Mathes, American Red Cross Chief Executive Officer for the National Capital Region; and Teresa Carlson, former boss and former American Red Cross Board chair for the National Capital Region.

Volunteering is a lifelong pursuit for Doug VanDyke. “Growing up, my mother was involved in every local volunteer activity and Board in the community, and she would bring me with her, so I was exposed to volunteering at an early age,” said VanDyke. “I watched my mother volunteer and assumed volunteering is something you do as an adult—you give back to the community.”

Now, VanDyke is continuing his journey of volunteering by sharing his leadership skills as an American Red Cross Board member. VanDyke is proud of how the American Red Cross responds to disasters to help those most in need, including collecting and delivering blood donations; provides food, shelter, and safety after natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, or wildfires; and proactively installs smoke alarms in homes to help prevent home fires.

“When others are running away from a disaster, 
the American Red Cross is running straight at it - 
and they stay until it is resolved,” 
says VanDyke.


Since 2014, VanDyke has served as the chair for several American Red Cross events, from Salute to Service Gala fundraisers (which honor active duty service members and veterans) to the 2nd Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit in Washington, D.C., which was held on January 28, 2020.

“The Disaster Preparedness Summit addresses the disaster risks we face in the Washington, D.C. area and explores the impacts a significant disaster would have on our region,” said VanDyke.

“Our goals were for attendees to hear from experts who have real-life experience dealing with complex disaster coordination challenges and for attendees to leave with a better understanding of the hazards we face and how to prepare for and respond to disasters in their communities, organizations and households.”

In preparation for the 2nd Annual Disaster Summit, VanDyke had to rally fellow American Red Cross Board members to support it at a meeting last fall.

“It was a meeting with a lively discussion about speakers, topics, format, and location,” said VanDyke, who then agreed to chair the Summit.

“We were in the office of the American Red Cross in Fairfax; a blood donation center had just been added to the 3rd floor of the building. I was in a good mood, so I walked upstairs and the blood donation center staff were able to take me right away. I have O- blood type and am a universal donor. I have been told O- blood can even be used by premature babies. That is inspiring. Also, both my wife and my father have had open-heart surgeries that required donated blood. Someone before me was there to donate for them. I'm glad I can be part of the virtuous cycle and give to someone else who will need it.”

In the Fall of 2019, Doug VanDyke attended a meeting to plan the 2nd Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit in the American Red Cross office in Fairfax, VA; immediately after the meeting, VanDyke donates blood on the 3rd floor in the building's new blood donation center. 

Another American Red Cross leadership effort VanDyke was involved with was in 2018 when he was employed with Amazon Web Services.

“The American Red Cross, Voice Foundry, and our team at Amazon Web Services set up an emergency call center to help those impacted by Hurricane Florence,” said VanDyke.

“We had more than 100 Amazon Web Services’ employees who volunteered to staff the call center. We serviced more than 1,000 calls. Employees volunteered from around the world, even as far away as Singapore, to staff the call center and help those in need. Many of these calls were very emotional, helping reconnect loved ones.”

VanDyke’s leadership experience with the American Red Cross has helped him both personally and professionally.

“Personally, it provides me a channel to give back,” said VanDyke.

“I see direct results, and I can contribute through multiple channels. Professionally, it has helped me build a support network outside my company—people I like and trust.”

"Volunteering is one of the best ways people can feel connected to each
other and to their communities," according to VanDyke.

“There is more to life than making money,” said VanDyke.

“Volunteering is a great way to improve the overall quality of life in our communities. It is personally rewarding, by helping us learn skills and develop friendships. It is also valuable to the community by providing for needs that aren't being covered by government or businesses.”

As Chair of the 2nd Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit, Doug takes preparedness seriously and encourages everyone to have an emergency plan. If you don't have one yet, here's what you can do to prepare yourself and your family for a disaster:

Create Your Emergency Plan in Just 3 Steps

1. With your family or household members, discuss how to prepare and respond to the types of emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play.

2. Identify responsibilities for each member of your household and how you will work together as a team.

3. Practice as many elements of your plan as possible.

For more information about creating a family emergency plan, including templates to help you be organized, go to:

Make a difference in your community. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer.

Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Shirley Gaines

Written by: Courtney Clarke, Communications Volunteer

Shirley Gaines has personal experience with
two lines of service at the American Red Cross.

Years of service: 3

Resides: Woodbridge, VA

Profession: Retired Medical Transcriptionist, Kaiser Permanente

Why do you believe in the work of the Red Cross?
Shirley and her family have had several personal experiences with the Red Cross, dating back over 50 years! They have been assisted by two lines of service within the Red Cross: Service to the Armed Forces and Disaster Services.

In the late 1960s, her brother was in the Army, stationed in Vietnam. The family would go long stretches of time without hearing from him, and they would worry about his safety. During one especially long period without contact from him, the family asked the Red Cross to track him down. The Red Cross was able to locate him and learn that he was recovering from malaria and was assigned to a clerical post in Vietnam. The family was relieved to learn that he was alive and well. 

Years later, Shirley’s mother’s home in Arlington, VA caught on fire. As the flames blazed, Shirley’s mother felt a sense of hopelessness and desperation. The Red Cross was instrumental in providing her mother, brother and sister with hotel accommodations until the soot that covered everything in their house was cleaned up and they received their homeowner’s insurance payment. Even more importantly than the financial assistance, the Red Cross restored her sense of calm and peace. Shirley doesn’t know what the family would have done without the Red Cross.

Based on her personal experience with the Red Cross, Shirley firmly believes in the organization and its mission. "You know where your money and resources are going when you donate to the Red Cross. I feel that the resources are going to the right place," she explains. Even for those who don’t have financial resources to donate, Shirley encourages people to donate blood, which is what she does. 

"I believe in the Red Cross and I give blood because they do a lot of good work.  This is my way of helping people - I don't always have cash to make financial donations, but I have blood and if i can give blood, that's something."

Why do you donate blood to the Red Cross?

Shirley is an Army veteran and has been active with the American Legion in the DC area for fifteen years. The Legion introduced her to donating blood around three years ago, when they had a blood drive on-site, and she has been donating quarterly ever since. This adds up to about 12 pints of blood, and each pint can save up to three lives!

With less than 38% of the U.S. population eligible to give blood, Shirley knows that her gift is an important one. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illness or traumatic injuries. “Donating blood is my way of helping to save lives,” Shirley boasts.

Donating blood is easy!
Donating blood is a simple process. First, go to to locate your nearest blood donation center and schedule an appointment. Then, to save time, click on the "RapidPass" link and complete your pre-reading and health history questions. When you arrive for your appointment, you'll be seated comfortably while a pint of blood is drawn; the actual donation only takes 8-10 minutes. After donating, you can enjoy a snack and a drink for 10-15 minutes before resuming your day. The entire donation process takes about an hour.

Click here to learn more about our Service to Armed Forces services. 

Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Volunteer Story: Denise Schossler

Written by: Courtney Clarke, Communications Volunteer

Denise Schossler currently volunteers as a
Red Cross Blood Ambassador.

Years of service: 19 years
Resides: Falls Church, Virginia
Profession: Retired Assistant Departmental 
HR Director, US Dept of Transportation 


"There is a job for anyone who's willing to give their time to the
Red Cross, and it is certainly worthwhile.  People helping people
should be one of the basic foundations of life."

What made you want to volunteer with the Red Cross?
It was the summer of 2000 when Denise Schossler decided to volunteer with her local Red Cross chapter in Virginia. She was planning her retirement from a career at the U.S. Department of Transportation and signed up for a pre-retirement seminar, where a speaker said something that resonated with her. 

“The worst thing you can do is think you’ll grow old sitting on your porch swing,” the speaker said. “You’ll be bored. You’ll live a longer life if you find things that interest you. Find some activities and try them out before you retire.” 

Denise made a resolve then and there to try at least three new things. She immediately signed up to volunteer at the Red Cross, usher at the Wolf Trap venue during concerts and volunteer with Travelers Aid at Reagan National Airport. She is still active in each of these volunteer roles today, nearly 20 years later (and long past retirement). 

What is a memorable experience?
Denise will never forget the irony of the Red Cross orientation for new volunteers in the summer of 2000. During orientation, the organizer put up map of Arlington county to show the geographic borders of the branch. “We do a lot of shelter drills over here,” the speaker said pointing to an area near the center of the map. “Oh, and here’s the airport and Pentagon - they are technically in our territory, but nothing ever happens to them.”

Then 9/11 happened.  

“I suddenly found myself volunteering from midnight to 8 am for several weeks in a row, on top of working my day job. We passed out boots, sleeping bags and other kinds of supplies to first responders. We brought dog food for search-and-rescue dogs. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), my employer at the time, encouraged employees to volunteer outside of work. It was a unifying effort. We all had a common purpose. People were so grateful for our help.”

For up to a week following the attack, Red Cross volunteers worked 24 hours a day, providing meals and supplies. The parking lot area was devoted to search and rescue. Smoke wafted off the side of the building. The air was thick, and tensions were high. 

“Because I had a security level detail at DOT, I was able to drive supplies down with a golf cart to top-level security rooms two levels underground at the Pentagon, where folks with security clearance were all hands on deck dealing with the situation.” 

“It was a privilege to be a part of the relief efforts for 9/11,” Denise said of the experience. “There was a constant stream of responders, both military and civilian. There were search-and-rescue dogs. We provided any and all supplies needed. It made me feel proud to be a part of the recovery effort. It was emotional, but I was proud because there was a national disaster and there I was, in my own tiny little way, just handing out dog food, but I was a crucial part of the American response as a Red Cross volunteer.”

“The Red Cross has enriched my life in the sense that I get to
help people. We are nothing if we don’t help each other. Who knows
when you or I will need help.”

Hurricane Katrina
In 2005, Denise was called in to assist with another national crisis. Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans with such ferocity that it displaced more than a million people in the first few days, and nearly 600,000 remained displaced up to a month after. At the time, the Red Cross had a central 1-800 number for national disasters, and the national call center was located in Virginia. By this time, Denise had retired from the DOT and had much more flexibility with her time.

“I couldn’t travel to New Orleans, but people around the country would come to work shifts in the national call center, which was coordinated and run by permanent Red Cross staff. During the aftermath of Katrina, I would go almost every day and help with the call center administration. They treated me like I was part of permanent staff. I really felt like I made a difference.”

She reflects on the lessons learned during her time working on Katrina relief efforts. 

“We knew Katrina was going to be bad. We got well over a million calls during Katrina within the first few weeks. It was amazing how people come together to help each other. As a disaster volunteer, I felt like I was helping. I couldn’t go out of town, or be boots on ground at disaster site, but I could help the people. And helping people is what it’s about.” 

Eventually, she says, the Red Cross changed their business model and eliminated the national call center, moving it instead to staffers around the country. But during Katrina, the national call center was a crucial part of recovery efforts.

Denise is recording a public service announcement to recruit Blood Ambassadors for the Red Cross blood program.

Local Efforts in Disaster Relief and as a Blood Ambassador
When not responding to national relief efforts, Denise’s Red Cross duties have mostly included disasters around Arlington County, like apartment and house fires. She would go in the middle of the night to meet with clients who had lost their home, taking their information and determining their needs. 

“People who watch their homes go up in flames, who are displaced by fire, who have lost everything… they are in shock. We help them find their relatives, shelter, clothes and food. We find a hotel/motel to accommodate them. We issue clothing vouchers. Every situation, every disaster is different, but what the Red Cross does, and what I was a part of, was figuring out what resources we have available to help these people.”

Eventually she transitioned from disaster services and into blood bank service, as a Blood Ambassador. 

“Blood Ambassadors are the people who go to onsite blood mobiles, most of which are at employer-based sites, and we check people in, handle walk-ins and update the schedule. It’s not as dramatic as disaster services but it’s just as important because without someone running front desk, the phlebotomist can’t get their work done. It takes a team. It’s not a dramatic role, but it’s an important one.”

Now, Denise spends her days volunteering and enjoying time with her family. She has four grandchildren, and she helps take care of her mother, who is 98 years old. She has made sure her grandchildren understand the importance of her Red Cross work.

“The Red Cross has enriched my life in the sense that I get to help people. We are nothing if we don’t help each other. Who knows when you or I will need help. People need to help people. I have volunteered for around 20 years, and it has been a big part of my life.”

If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, please visit us at

Friday, October 4, 2019

Aslan and Digory: Two of our Furriest Volunteers

Written by Sandy Habib, Marketing Manager

Honoring an American Red Cross volunteer at a ceremony typically involves a handshake, but with this special volunteer team, you need to shake a few paws as well.  

Jen O’Keefe, featured here in a Red Cross vest, and Aslan
receiving their award at Walter Reed.  Digory is not in attendance. 
Meet Dr. Jen O’Keefe, a veterinarian at SouthPaws, and her two male purebred Leonbergers.  The trio was recently recognized as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Volunteers of the Quarter.  Each of the dogs volunteer close to 100 hours a year, including at the Walter Reed Hospital and its clinics as well as at numerous schools, libraries, rehab centers, nursing homes and disaster sites. 

“The dogs love serving as therapy dogs.  It’s the highlight of their week.”

The two brothers out and about on a volunteer assignment.
Aslan is 8 years old and weighs 160 pounds; Digory is 5 years old and 120 pounds.  Aslan has a sweet, gentle demeanor, while Digory is more outgoing and active, but both love their roles as volunteers.  They especially love working with children.  As therapy dogs, their jobs require them to make appearances, get showered with attention and brighten people’s days.  An occasional dog treat is surely an appreciated incentive as well.

Both dogs had to go through an extensive process to qualify as Red Cross therapy dogs.  After almost a year as volunteers in various locations, they needed to pass Good Citizen Tests, which are certified by the American Kennel Club.  Then they each had to go through a Red Cross screening before being approved to serve at Red Cross sites.  Aslan earned his Red Cross certification in 2014, while Digory earned his in 2018.

Jen and Aslan resting after volunteering. 
In the years since, they have been very busy.  Besides making the rounds at their usual local sites, Jen and the dogs have traveled to other states in response to various disasters.  She will take them anywhere that the dogs will be beneficial, including locations where there has been a crisis or natural disaster.

Wherever they go, the dogs turn heads.  Initially, people can’t help but notice them for their size.  Before long, though, it’s their happy, calming energy that draws people to interact with them.  Jen explains:

“It’s amazing to walk into a room and see everyone smile.  The dogs and I
get as much out of the experience as the people that we visit.”

The Red Cross is grateful that these three are so committed to serving the community!

If you want to learn more about Aslan and Digory, you can follow them on Facebook.  They each have their own page: and