By Emily Thornton
People probably know that service with the Red Cross has positive impacts for both helpers and the helpees, but few may realize how it can aid the professional lives of volunteers.
Jessie Bremer, 25, began volunteering because she wanted to serve the military community. But later it spurred her career, when she was offered a paid position with the American Red Cross.
She found herself in a new place three years ago, after marrying her active-duty Army husband and moving from Iowa to Washington. The change from a farm in the central U.S. to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in western Washington left her feeling a bit lost.
“My husband’s job requires him to be gone quite a bit, so I was often alone in a place that was not only brand new to me, but also completely different from where I grew up,” Bremer said. “I joined the Red Cross because I wanted to contribute to the mission of the military in some way, even if it was in a small way, while my husband was away. Assisting service members and their families helped me feel connected to the military community.”
Then her Red Cross activity increased. “I started volunteering just a few hours a week as a caseworker for the Hero Care network. Very gradually, I took on more responsibilities. I became an outreach volunteer to educate the military community about Red Cross services. I also took on a lead volunteer role for the Healing Arts and Cooking Challenge programs for service members at Madigan Army Medical Center,” Bremer said.
“After several months as a lead volunteer, one of the staff, Sarah Jacob, took me under her wing as a Volunteer Partner and taught me even more about managing Red Cross programs. When Sarah left for a deployment, I applied for her position and was hired.”
But volunteering doesn’t have to turn into employment with the Red Cross to have professional benefits. Amanda Hakin, now a senior volunteer engagement specialist for the Red Cross, said she and others often discuss how to recruit more volunteers who want to develop their career. The strategy comes from recognizing her own missed opportunity while her husband was in the Navy. She believes a record of volunteering would would have helped her land a job much sooner.
“We moved a lot,” Hakin said. “I wasn’t always able to find work. When my spouse got out, I went back to work when my kids went back to school.” But gaps in her resume discouraged employers even though she listed her husband was in the military and she stayed home “to be that stability” for her children. “It was really hard to get even interviews,” she said.
When she did land a job in human resources, Hakin noticed the company’s take on potential employees. “They didn’t like to see a big hole in a resume,” she said. Now that she is with the Red Cross, she helps steer other military spouses toward volunteering — in part because of its benefits to building a career.
“You can take your Red Cross position anywhere,” she said. “You don’t ever have to end with the Red Cross when transferring stations. I think it’s really advantageous — you can show you were working (instead of having a gap).”
She also said many volunteer roles go unfilled because they require military installation access, which spouses have. Volunteers also can work remotely, she said, which is a plus for those wanting to stay home with their children. Virtually any career can be done as a Red Cross volunteer role, she said, including medical, such as optometry, nursing, and more. “It’s a really neat opportunity.”