By Gordon Williams
There is a very simple reason why Lisa Bergman of Yakima WA is such a super-busy volunteer in the Red Cross Central and Southeastern Washington chapter. It is because Michele Roth, the chapter’s executive director, can’t be in two places at one time.
Lisa is one of the chapter’s Community Volunteer Leaders (CVL). Her job is to be up front and center — representing the Red Cross in Yakima County when Michele has to be somewhere else. “I see Lisa as my partner in delivering the Red Cross mission,” Michele says.
The chapter is headquartered in Kennewick WA. But it covers nine counties — touching King and Pierce counties on the West and the Idaho border on the East. To deliver Red Cross services across such a wide stretch of land, the chapter also has offices in Yakima and Walla Walla.
Michele has four CVLs in the chapter, and she plans to add two more to her team.
Lisa lives in Yakima, but first volunteered in 2016 when she lived in Snohomish County. “I had retired and was looking for some way to keep busy,” she says. “I wanted something that would let me give back to the community, and I kept reading about the Red Cross helping victims of hurricanes. I wanted to deploy and help the world.”
Her background was in project management and quality control at Boeing. Where she wound up at the Red Cross was as a Disaster Planning volunteer in Snohomish County, part of a team of volunteers that assists victims of such disasters as home fires.
Lisa’s husband retired two years ago, and the couple decided to spend their retirement years not in Snohomish County, but in Yakima. We asked Lisa why she made such a move. “The biggest single reason was the weather,” she says. “The climate in Yakima is fantastic.”
Once in Yakima, Lisa decided she wanted to try something new with Red Cross, rather than joining the local disaster team. At the same time, Michele was building out her team of CVLs. A lot goes into an executive director’s choice of a Community Volunteer Leader. “It’s important to pick the right person,” Michele says.
“She is not only representing the Red Cross; she is representing me.”Michele Roth, Red Cross CSEW executive director
Michele and Lisa spent a lot of time talking. They found they felt comfortable with one another; and shared the same values. “Lisa is wonderful working with people,” Michele says. “I love the idea of having her in the field, working with partners, volunteers and our staff.”
The two spent some time talking about what Lisa’s working title should be. They finally decided that Community Engagement Ambassador most fit the bill. There is no list of duties a CVL is expected to carry out. “It can vary among executive directors as to what a CVL does in each chapter, depending on the needs,” Michele says.
“In addition to Lisa, I have a CVL who helps build awareness by booking virtual presentations; and a student CVL who has helped with a variety of things, including running a blood drive at her high school. I am still looking for a CVL who will be a blood ambassador, and a CVL fluent in Spanish or another language.”
Asked what being a Community Engagement Ambassador involves, Lisa explains “I help Michele create a more positive awareness of the Red Cross in Yakima.” Michele says “Since I don’t live in Yakima, I want someone who can both represent the Red Cross in the community and be a valuable member of our Yakima team.”
Yakima is a very important outpost for the Red Cross, yet Michele and the chapter’s home office are more than 80 miles away. Yakima is the biggest town in the chapter. Also, it is home to the Yakima Blood Donation Center, a major blood collection point in the Red Cross Northwest Region.
Lisa plants the Red Cross flag wherever she can in Yakima. Thus, she is an active member of the Yakima Southwest Rotary Club, one of the community organizations the Red Cross partners with. She has not only donated blood at the Yakima blood center, but helped build bridges between blood and humanitarian services. “She has really connected with and supported our biomed staff in Yakima,” Michele says.
The chapter has also had its share of the wildfires that struck Eastern Washington in 2020. Last September’s Evans Canyon Fire, which swept 75,000 acres and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents, was within the chapter. “Lisa was there when we responded to the Evans Canyon fire,” Michele says. “She accepted a donation to the Red Cross from Target, and she worked with a restaurant that supplied meals to people the Red Cross was helping.”
Helping feed Red Cross clients isn’t part of a CVL’s job description, but having contacts that can help the Red Cross certainly is. In this case, Lisa was amazed to learn the restaurant in Selah WA (near Yakima) was owned by an old friend. “We went to high school together,” she says. “I connected with her at a high school reunion.” Sadly, the pandemic has since forced the restaurant to close but, with Lisa doing her part, it was there for the Red Cross when it was needed the most.