By Gordon Williams

The Red Cross mission of aiding disaster victims around the world can be so demanding that no single organization could be expected to carry it out alone. That’s why the American Red Cross relies on hundreds of corporate and foundation partners to help provide the money, volunteers and skills needed to carry out that mission.

To refine and enhance its partnering role, the Red Cross Northwest Region has named volunteer Kathleen Voss of Seattle as program lead for the regional Community Engagement and Partnership (CEP) program. She is currently seeking volunteers to join her CEP team.

The range and scope of Red Cross partnerships is enormous. The list includes many familiar names – the Salvation Army, the YMCA, Goodwill Industries, Catholic Charities, and the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But there are some less-familiar names as well, such as Team Rubicon, which recruits military veterans to assist in disaster relief.

This isn’t exactly uncharted territory for Voss. Since she joined the Red Cross as a volunteer six months ago, she has been CEP program lead for the King County chapter in Seattle. Her new role covers the whole Northwest Region, which includes Washington and northern Idaho.

Voss has also worked with the Virtual Family Assistance Center (VFAC) – a national Red Cross effort to compile a database of resources for those who lost loved ones to the Covid-19 pandemic. Voss managed a team of eight volunteers who collected Washington state resources for the national database. “So far, the team has identified over 50 Washinton programs offered by over 30 organizations to assist those in need,” she says.

Voss says her first challenge in the new regional role will be to create a comprehensive database of all the organizations the Red Cross works with as partners and potential partners. “That will help us identify our needs and our gaps,” she says. “Knowing what we have is the first step to establishing what we need to do to fill in those gaps.”

As it is, Voss explains, all the resources the local Red Cross chapters and functions use are not collected in one place. “One Red Cross team may have established relationships that other Red Cross teams know nothing about,” she says.

Voss lists four ways in which partner organizations aid the Red Cross:

  • Coordination. In responding to disasters, the Red Cross works with dozens of agencies from FEMA to the Salvation Army. Anything that tightens those relationships is beneficial. “We can do more in a more timely manner with less chance of duplication,” Voss says.
  • Increased capacity. Partners bring in volunteers who aid in Red Cross disaster operations.
  • Increased expertise. Disaster response and disaster prevention can involve many skills, some of them quite specialized, Partner organizations can deliver skills that aren’t native to the Red Cross.
  • Extending the Red Cross reach and reputation within the community. By definition, the Red Cross becomes a part of the communities it serves. Partnering with others who are central to the community furthers this goal.

For all the responsibilities she has taken on, Voss is a newcomer to not just the Red Cross but to disaster services in general. Voss first volunteered for the Red Cross from the desire to be useful during the pandemic that was just breaking out. Her prior experience was in music therapy, aimed primarily at children who were on the autism spectrum.

“I did that for 20 years,” she says. “I had another 20 years of work life ahead of me and I had to decide if I wanted to expand my knowledge base and do something different.” What she did was get a master’s degree in educational and social research from the University of London’s UCL Institute of Education. She did the program from home, but went to London to receive her diploma from Princess Anne – the school’s chancellor and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth. Voss says, “I got to curtsy while getting a personal congratulation from Princess Anne.”

She was lining up interviews for jobs in her new field when the pandemic hit. “Suddenly all of my interviews went away,” she says. “I had time on my hands and I wanted to find a way to make a difference. COVID was getting the headlines, but homes were still burning down and wildfires were still breaking out, and it seemed to me that the Red Cross needed help.”

When we interviewed Voss for this story, she was part of the Red Cross team responding to one of those wildfires. The fire was in Okanogan County and her response was virtual. As part of the response team, she says, she is “busy identifying and lining up community partners who can assist the Red Cross in providing necessary services on the scene.”

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