March is Red Cross Month, and to celebrate, we are honoring the volunteers and services that keep our organization moving forward each day. Throughout the month, we’ll bring you inspirational stories of help and hope, highlighting the people who graciously devote their time to further the Red Cross mission. Today, you’ll meet Marilyn Vallejo, a long-time volunteer with Services to the Armed Forces (SAF), whose expertise as a mental health professional has led her to military bases across the world to support our service members.
Growing up in a Military Family
When Marilyn started volunteering with members of the military and their families 23 years ago, it was not the first time she had been introduced to the Red Cross. In fact, nearly two decades before, the Red Cross came to her family’s aid when they flew her mother from Louisiana to Germany so she could visit Marilyn’s injured brother, who was deployed overseas.
“The Red Cross had me at hello,” Marilyn said.
Marilyn also witnessed just how crucial Red Cross programs are to the wellbeing of service members when both her husband and her brother received emergency assistance during their military deployments. These personal connections inspired her to become a Red Cross disaster volunteer in 1996; at the time, she was working as a licensed clinical social worker for the State of New York.
In the years that followed, Marilyn volunteered as a caseworker with families recovering from disasters, helped young children prepare for disasters through the Pillowcase Project, led her local Red Cross chapter’s mental health team in Long Island, and supported those entering military service, leaving for deployment, and returning home to their loved ones.
Supporting Mental Health
As a volunteer today, Marilyn uses her background in social work and the mental health field to help veterans, service members and their families cope with the challenges of military service. Through Red Cross Reconnection workshops, she facilitates group discussions covering a wide array of topics, from anger management to effective communication.
“These group discussions allow people to share what they’re going through,” Marilyn said. “There are always people in the group who are going through a similar situation, so they’re able to talk to each other and relate to each other on a deep level.”
The workshops also help build a meaningful sense of community among the participants that they’ll never forget. After one of Marilyn’s most memorable workshops, one of the participants shared that the experience had even helped save her marriage.
“When I first joined the team, I enjoyed volunteering with SAF because serving members of the military has always brought me joy,” Marilyn said. “Now I know just how much of an impact this program can have and that it’s helping so many people.”
Become a Volunteer
“I think volunteering makes you a better person,” Marilyn said. “We all want to be the best we can, and we don’t always have the opportunities to do that. Volunteering is a reward that helps with your self-esteem and allows you to give back at the same time.”
Interested in becoming an SAF volunteer like Marilyn? Visit redcross.org to find opportunities to support service members in your region. To learn more about the services we provide, download our free Hero Care App.