2 minute readVolunteers

Giving Back Gives Friendships

A version of this post originally appeared on Gold Country News and Notes.

red cross volunteer friendship

Jess Chairez and Marcus Heningburg met through the Red Cross. They drive the emergency response vehicle together, and have developed a friendship that both are grateful for.

For Chairez, joining the Red Cross was a way to recover after the loss of his son Joe. Joe was 24, a newly graduated police officer, with a history of helping others. He collapsed while making an arrest.

“Joe pushed kindness on everyone,” Chairez said proudly. “Red Cross gives me different platforms to work from, it keeps me active, they don’t realize that they are healing my heart.”

Chairez’s first assignment with the Red Cross, immediately after joining, was ten years ago during Hurricane Katrina. He spent four weeks in service to the victims of the largest and third strongest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall in the U.S. at the time.

“To hand someone a meal, give them a hug and let them speak to you is helping them from one step to the next,” Chairez remembers. “I am so thankful, it is such a healing to my heart.”

Ten years later, he continues to serve the northern California’s Gold Country region in different capacities. It doesn’t matter how big or small the need is: “People need hugs, and someone to talk to. The more I help people, the better I feel inside of me. I’m trying to give back.”

For Marcus Heningburg, the Red Cross journey began in Mobile, Alabama many years ago. His family taught him early on, that if you can help, you should, and there is always some way you can help. Heningburg stood in service to his country with the U.S. Air Force, and then served in the penal system. Remembering the adage that was instilled in him early on, he joined the Red Cross. Heningburg also found was a new friend, another selfless individual, in Chairez.

Heningburg is humble and likes getting involved in preparedness events as well as disasters. He has worked in telethons, installed smoke alarms, delivered mattresses to veterans, worked as a parking lot attendant during the the California State Fair and even participated in staff events at the headquarters like potlucks and staff meetings.

“’How can I help?’ The Red Cross answers that question for me, and many of us,” smiles Marcus humbly. “Seeing someone with a smile on their face, and shaking their hands, is my reward. It’s easy. It’s so easy working with Jess, I do it as much as I can. He allows me to do as much as he does, he is always going. I try to keep up.”

Chairez adds: “You don’t have to force the guy, he wants to do it. You can see the compassion, it might be a parking lot one day, and delivering a mattress another. Marcus does it with a smile on his face and with open arms.”

Pairing up to drive the emergency response vehicle, these two enter into a partnership, that adds to each individual in ways unimaginable. The Red Cross gives them the platform in which to reflect a little bit of themselves to those who need it. Sometimes it’s a neighbor, sometimes a stranger.

You can give a hug, a meal or your time, just like these two volunteers. The Red Cross can help you serve those in your community, and it may also connect you with your long lost best friend.

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