By Gordon Williams
For volunteer Karen Boone of Spokane WA, the new Diversity and Inclusion initiative from the American Red Cross is almost more of a passion project. Boone volunteers at the Greater Inland Northwest Red Cross Chapter, with headquarters in Spokane. And while 15 percent of the Spokane area’s population is non-white, that percentage is not equally represented within the Red Cross local chapter.
However, with the help of volunteers like Boone, the Red Cross is now actively working to make their ranks more representative of the communities they serve. “That would mean increasing the number of both volunteers and board members who are people of color,” Boone says. “We want the number of non-white volunteers to reflect the census data for the Spokane area.”
Boone brings a quarter-century of volunteering experience to her new role with the Red Cross. Among other things, she served on the Governor’s Commission on African American affairs through the terms of three Washington state governors.
She is the founder and chief executive officer of I Am Spokane — a non-profit which Boone says is “Designed to increase civic engagement, to encourage more individuals to serve their community.”
Boone is convinced racial divisions will fall away once all citizens, no matter their race, understand that the community as a whole will benefit if diverse groups can be taught to work and plan together. “You recognize strengths that exist within the community and you build on them,” she says. “People will give of themselves and embrace change if they get instruction on how to do it.”
This isn’t Boone’s first experience with the Red Cross. She first volunteered five years ago at the Spokane chapter. She deployed to the Red Cross response to hurricane Irma in Florida in 2017, but her primary role was in Spokane as a case manager in the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program. Unfortunately, an injury and subsequent treatment forced her to step away.
So why return now? “It was the people I met at the Red Cross,” she says. “I was impressed by their talent, their willingness to serve, their team spirit and their camaraderie,” she says.
A fellow volunteer and Ryan Rodin, executive director of the Spokane chapter, convinced her to come back and take on a new role as Community Volunteer Lead for the chapter’s DEI initiative and Co-Chair of their DEI Committee. First step, she says, will be to help develop a diversity and inclusion plan for the chapter that includes two main goals: gathering demographic information from the board and GINW chapter volunteers, as well as finding educational opportunities for the committee to learn more about diverse communities in the chapter area.
Boone’s return aligns with the launch of another national Red Cross campaign rooted in diversity and inclusion, to attract more donors who are Black to Red Cross blood drives.
Around 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease, the majority of them of African descent. These patients require as many as 100 blood transfusions a year, and donors who are Black may offer the most compatible blood matches.
The Red Cross is actively working in chapters throughout the country, asking members of the Black community to join in helping meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease, an enduring and often invisible health disparity in the U.S.
With Karen Boone playing an active role, the Greater Inland Northwest chapter is well poised to meet these goals and more.