The Volunteers of the American Red Cross: Everyday Heroes

Every day, the American Red Cross is hard at work in communities across the United States and around the world. We bring shelter, food and comfort to those affected by disasters, large and small. We provide support to our men and women in the military, our veterans and their families. We educate communities through our CPR, first aid and other training programs. We collect life-saving donated blood and supply it to patients in need. And, we help our neighbors abroad with disaster preparedness and disease prevention efforts.

I'm proud to lead this organization composed of so many incredible volunteers, employees, donors and community partners, all of whom play a vital role in helping us meet our 134-year-old humanitarian mission. And I'm especially grateful for the hard work of nearly 340,000 volunteers around the country who give the most precious gift of all, their time, to help their fellow Americans.

But what exactly do our volunteers do? How does someone help a community destroyed by a hurricane or devastated by a flood? More importantly, how does a Red Cross volunteer come to the rescue of a person whose life and livelihood will never be the same?

Let me share Bob's story with you.

After retiring from a college-level teaching position in Manhattan, Bob Wallace moved back to his home town of Memphis, Tennessee. While retired, Bob was looking to do something meaningful with his time. He enjoyed his Red Cross swimming lessons as a child, and going to a Red Cross aquatic school while in college, so he joined the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

Like virtually all Red Cross volunteers, Bob took an orientation course that introduced him to the organization. After orientation, Bob joined one of the Red Cross Disaster Action Teams, which work closely with first responders and other organizations to respond to needs in the face of disaster.

Even though large disasters like wildfires and floods are those that might come to mind, the biggest disaster threat every day in the United States is home fires. In Memphis alone, the local Red Cross responds to two to three fires on average per day. And like many other volunteers, a home fire was Bob's first call.

"I remember meeting the rest of the team at the chapter office and getting into our vehicle," Bob said. "When we got to the scene of the fire, there was a distressed gentleman sitting on a curb. I spoke to him and learned that he was a diabetic, that all of his insulin was destroyed in the fire and that he couldn't afford to replace it."

Bob and his team worked with a Red Cross healthcare provider and they were able to quickly help the man get his insulin replaced.

"My first client needed that insulin, and I'm glad that we were able to get it to him," Bob said. "But by fulfilling that need, the Red Cross gave me something back that I needed, too. It reminded me that the world needs hope, and that the Red Cross is there to provide it."

Our volunteers truly exemplify what it means to be a "hero." By giving back -- by handing out water to first responders or getting up in the middle of the night to help someone who just lost their belongings in a house fire -- our volunteers help the Red Cross meet its mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of disaster. It is through their gift of time and the care offered by these volunteer heroes that we can do extraordinary things.

Disasters, by their very nature, are unpredictable, and will always challenge our lives and communities. But through our heroes -- our volunteers -- the Red Cross will always be there to prepare, protect, respond and rebuild. After all, that's what heroes do.

If you would like more information on how to become a Red Cross volunteer in your community, go to www.redcross.org.