At the Red Cross, volunteers are the steam that keeps our humanitarian service engine running. From our Hometown Heroes programs carried out by the chapters, to our most prestigious national volunteer awards, we try to recognize their efforts and immeasurable contribution to our work.
Ross Ogden received the American Red Cross Harriman Award last Wednesday, which honored him as the top volunteer of the year. Ross has been a volunteer for over 50 years. Below are some of the things he has seen and done.
Are you a Red Cross volunteer? What experiences have you had that stand out in your mind?
I’ve had the opportunity to serve others at a time in their lives when they’ve needed it the most.
I’ve sat by the bedside of a cancer patient receiving a life-giving transfusion, knowing that my blood and the blood of those I’ve recruited and helped through the donation process would make him stronger and more alert, almost miraculously.
I’ve given CPR to a heart attack victim and I’ve used a defibrillator to try to save a life.
I’ve sat in a small hospital room through the night with a sailor whose young wife had just committed suicide, trying to comfort him, but mostly just letting him know I cared.
I’ve fed, clothed, and sheltered the victims of tornados, floods, earthquakes, and fires after they had lost all they had.
To serve others is a privilege, and to do it with the Red Cross is to make a difference to people when they need it most.
As a Red Cross volunteer, I’ve also learned a lot. I’ve learned about leadership from some of the best in the world: a three-star general, a renowned diplomat, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, and countless scientists, attorneys, and executives.
I’ve learned how to make businesses, large and small, both efficient and effective.
I’ve learned about governance and the delicate balance between board and management; about communications, the media, and crisis response.
What other organization but the Red Cross would pay to send its volunteers to Harvard to study, or teach them cultural sensitivity by sending them to as varied locations as the bayous of Louisiana, the Vineyard Recreation Center in South Central LA, the mountains of West Virginia, the streets of New York, and strife-torn villages in Macedonia?
But service and learning are not the only things for which a Red Cross volunteer can be grateful. How can I thank the Red Cross for the friends I’ve made these last 50 years? The ones in this room. The 75 year-old disaster worker in Texas who told me she only used her cane to beat off the men who tried to date her, or the petite and tattooed Navy Chief Petty Officer who told me she could out-lift, out-drink, and out-curse any Red Crosser she’d ever met?
So, you see I have much to be grateful for tonight, but I also have great hopes for the future of our organization.
First, I hope we hold true to our Mission and keep it always before us. We must be there for those who depend upon us “…to provide relief to victims of disasters, and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.” No government department or other voluntary agency can do what we do, in the way that we do it, with the care and compassion that is our hallmark.
Second, I hope that we continue to innovate and grow, adding programs, products, and services, that meet emerging needs and are responsive to the rapidly changing environment. And, that we find new ways to deliver our services and increase our presence.
Finally, and most importantly, I hope that we remember, honor, and support our volunteers.
The author, Tom Wolfe, once said at our national convention that the Red Cross is the world’s secular religion. He cited the Seven Fundamental Principles and noted that anyone of any race, nationality, religion, or ability could, if they agreed to those principles, join us and make the world a better place.
Tom Wolfe was right. If we reach out and recruit the young and those from different cultural backgrounds, religions, and races—we will grow and improve our ability to save lives. If we remember that a key role of management is to empower and support our volunteer workforce, there is no limit to what we can do. From volunteers will come service, blood donations, financial support, and expertise.
The more volunteers do and give, the better we will be. The power of voluntary service is virtually limitless.
Thank you for this honor. I look forward to my next fifty years as a Red Cross volunteer.