By Gordon Williams
If you are into making resolutions around this time of year, here’s a suggestion from the American Red Cross that deserves your attention… “Resolve to Volunteer and Help Those in Need in 2022,” says a message from the Red Cross.
Most Red Cross workers are volunteers — handling tasks that range from aiding disaster victims to donating blood to assisting members of the military when they need help. Nor is age any hindrance to being a Red Cross volunteer. There are plenty of positions that even the elderly can — and do — fill. And while some require face-to-face contact, many can be carried out remotely, from your own home.
As a further inducement, studies show that seniors who volunteer gain in both physical and emotional health from their service. A 2019 study by the federal government’s Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), concluded that “consistent volunteering can improve the health and well-being of people 55 and older.”
Here’s the case for volunteering the Red Cross makes in its “Resolve to Volunteer “ pitch: “Red Cross volunteers support one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, making a positive impact on their local communities. They are the true backbone of the Red Cross, making up more than 90 percent of our workforce. Life’s emergencies don’t stop, and neither do the almost 300,000 individuals who volunteer their time to support the mission of the Red Cross.”
Here’s how you might serve if you do volunteer:
- Helping the Red Cross respond to more than 60,000 disasters every year.
- Training more than 4.6 million people in Red Cross lifesaving skills.
- Providing help to nearly 550,000 service members, veterans, and their families.
- Reconnecting almost 9,000 families around the world, separated by war or disaster.
- Becoming one of the 2 ½ million volunteers to donate blood each year.
Most of those tasks could be accomplished by those of any age. Katie Prettyman, Volunteer Services Officer for the Red Cross Northwest Region, says the organization cherishes the experience, maturity, and life skills that seniors bring to the table. “Thirty-three percent of our workforce is seniors 65 and older,” she says.
Take Red Cross Blood Services for example. The Red Cross collects 40 percent of blood consumed in the U.S. each year. And while you must be at least 16 to donate blood, there is no upper age limit for donating. An article in the Red Cross regional blog told the story of Carl Garrison of Shoreline WA — a Marine veteran who continues to donate blood at age 95.
If you don’t want to give blood — or can’t because of medical issues — you can volunteer as a Blood Ambassador, helping blood drives go smoothly. If you drive, you can transport blood from Red Cross collection sites to the hospitals where it will be used, A Red Cross blog article talked about John Trudeau, a retiree who transports blood seven days a week, 365 days a year from the Red Cross collection facility in Yakima to a local hospital. “It keeps me involved in something, and I like the people in the Red Cross,” he says.
And Prettyman adds, “All it takes to deliver blood is a driver’s license and a few free hours a week.”
The Red Cross provides a variety of services to the military — from helping service members get through an emergency to counseling those involved in a stressful deployment. Most jobs within the Service to Armed Forces (SAF) function can be carried out sitting at a desk, using a phone and a computer.
Perhaps the best-known Red Cross function is disaster response — providing assistance to disaster victims. Each Red Cross chapter has Disaster Action Teams (DAT) — volunteers who respond from home to disaster scenes. “Every day,” says the Red Cross, “people are forced from their homes due to fires, storms, or other disasters. Disaster Action Team volunteers respond day and night to meet the immediate needs of their neighbors.”
Most Red Cross responses are close to home — a house fire in a nearby town, for instance.
Bigger disasters — flooding or a hurricane or earthquake — will bring bigger teams of Red Cross responders to the scene. But even a major disaster response rarely involves tasks that seniors can’t handle.
Husband and wife Wiley and Melody Witherspoon of Richland WA are both retired, yet both continue to respond to disasters — both local and far away. Wiley says that disaster response gives the couple a gratifying way to help people in need. “They lost everything,” he says. ”You feel very good when you are able to help them.”
In other words, there is a position — and a need — at the Red Cross for just about every skill you gained over the years. Once you volunteer, the Red Cross will teach you what you need to know to do your job. Here’s how the Red Cross sums things up: “Training is free, but the hope you provide is priceless. Resolve to make a difference by turning tragedy to hope in 2022. Visit redcross.org/volunteer today to get started today.”