Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Carol McKenzie

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

One chilly fall night in 2014, on a joyride gone awry, teenagers plowed an SUV into the glass door of a bottom floor apartment in Leesburg, VA. The family who lived in the apartment was understandably distressed. Two preschoolers, a boy and a girl, were crying and wanted to go back into their home. The parents were visibly agitated.

Carol McKenzie, who joined the Red Cross as a volunteer in 2007, arrived on the scene at 10 p.m. as a fairly new DAT (Disaster Action Team) lead responder. She arranged a place for the family to stay, wrapped the children in blankets and gave them Mickey Mouse stuffed toys to distract them from their tears. Most important, perhaps, Carol gave the family something quintessentially ‘Red Cross.’

“I had a calm, collected manner, which is what people in a disaster need,” Carol says. “They were upset. Sometimes another person who is quiet and calm and not distracted by the emergency can really help.”

Carol, 66, is the disaster lead for Loudoun County, VA, meaning she responds to calls for help with home fires, floods and other emergencies. She is also on call 24/7. Disaster leads in Prince William County, VA back her up and she, in return, backs up those volunteer leads when someone is unavailable to respond.

“We all try to help each other out,” Carol says. “When you’re working in a situation that’s highly charged, you come to rely on other people. We’re all in this together.”

Fortunately, Carol says, Loudoun County has a relatively low incidence of house fires, which frees up  her time to volunteer for other Red Cross needs. Among her projects, she coordinates the Loudoun and Prince William Counties’ home fire campaigns, known as Sound the Alarm.

Since 2016, Carol and her group of Red Cross volunteers have made monthly visits to neighborhoods considered at-risk for home fires, including immigrant communities and neighborhoods with older construction. Carol gets community leaders involved by asking them to alert residents that the Red Cross is coming. During the Saturday visits, volunteers go door-to-door, installing free smoke alarms and providing fire safety information, such as fire escape plans.

Despite all her volunteering, Carol finds time to run her own organizing business. She helps clients get rid of clutter from mounds of papers to closets full of old belongings, and helps them better organize their time. She also manages a neighbor’s business. Still, Carol says, she’s not running at full steam.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Carol underwent what seemed like an endless round of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. She was too sick to work and is still regaining her energy, she says. She would have loved to have joined the more than 100 Red Cross volunteers from the National Capitol Region who deployed to California, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands in the wake of recent hurricanes, floods and wildfires, but didn’t feel she was strong enough yet. She hopes to deploy to a disaster sometime in the next two years.

Cancer brought her even closer to her fellow volunteers. While she was too sick to work or volunteer, fellow volunteers kept tabs on her, regularly checking in to see how she was doing. When you join the Red Cross, you join a community, she says.

“It meant a lot when I wasn’t able to participate in volunteering to have that contact,” McKenzie says. “It was important to me and to my recovery.”

Carol, who lives in rural Lovettsville, VA, with her cats Jet, Marmalade and Ms. Engine, was inspired by her mother to volunteer. Her father was an officer in the Navy, and she and her two younger brothers were raised in Cuba, Italy and Japan. Her mom, who died in 2012, volunteered for the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and countless military causes. She frequently taught her daughter how to contribute to the benefit of her family as well as others.

“My mother was quite the volunteer,” Carol recalls. “Always modest about her service, she’d often say that just a little bit of time can make a huge difference.”

Carol is now trying to pass on the volunteer bug to her son, Matthew, 28, who lives in Ashburn, VA. She tells him how blessed they are and how important it is to give back. He helps when she takes on a project that 
weighs more than she can handle, such as organizing cases of DAT supplies.

“He’s not a Red Cross volunteer yet,” Carol says with a big smile, “but I’m working on it.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

My Red Cross Story: Chris Ullman

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

Chris Ullman is a world-champion whistler with a special fondness for the American Red Cross. Last fall, Chris performed at the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region’s headquarters in Fairfax, VA. At the time, volunteers and staff were caught up in the seemingly endless cycle of disasters, ranging from hurricanes to floods, and house fires to wildfires. Chris’s performance was a welcome break.

“People loved it because it’s joyous, sincere, and makes people smile,” Chris says. “They were excited about the performance because most people have never heard a champion whistler.”

Chris says he was inspired by the humanitarian work he saw being done in the National Capitol Region. In his book, Find Your Whistle: Simple Gifts Touch Hearts and Change Lives, Chris invites people to find their special talent and use it to help, one person at a time. He says it could be a motto for the Red Cross. 

“They’re the living message of my book, which is about using your gifts to make the world a better place,” Chris says. “Blood donors and staff and volunteers are all committed to sharing time and love and blood to help people in need.”

Chris’s first encounter with the Red Cross was as a senior at Berner High School in Massapequa, NY. The school sponsored a blood drive and, at age 18, Chris became a blood donor. He last gave blood a few weeks ago and at age 54, has donated 71 pints of blood.

“I have a civic duty to help people in need, so that’s why I donate blood,” Chris says.

Chris began whistling at age five and, according to his website, “whistled incessantly” while he delivered newspapers as a teen. He worked the open microphone circuit in the Washington, DC area in the 1980’s and 90’s, and jammed with jazz bands in college. In his memoir, Chris recounts his varied performances, including whistling for former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the Oval Office, appearing with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and whistling at B.B. King’s club in Memphis, TN. Chris has also whistled the National Anthem at numerous national sporting events. He was inducted into the International Whistling Hall of fame in 2012.

He’s been featured on numerous television and radio programs, including the Tonight Show, the Today Show and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He’s also appeared in People Magazine, Time Magazine and The New York Times. His range of styles includes classical, blues, jazz, Broadway and rock.

Chris, who lives in Alexandria, VA, whistles “Happy Birthday” 525 times a year for friends and family, including his wife, Kristen, and his children, Alydia, 16; Justus, 14; and Aria Noel, 12. As for his day job, he’s director of global communications at The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest investment firms.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My Family's Red Cross Story: Robin Sullivan

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

Robin Sullivan’s very shy Aunt Caroline found a way to contribute to the Red Cross that suited her personality. She drove thousands of miles for the organization’s blood services program in Norfolk, VA, something she could do without having to engage with strangers. Despite kidney disease, she volunteered for 25 years until she died seven years ago.

It was an inspiration for Robin, who, along with her work colleagues, volunteers for the Red Cross in Loudoun and Prince William counties.

“Even when she was sick, she was volunteering,” Robin says. “The Red Cross turned out in droves to her funeral. That’s when you saw how beloved she was.”

Robin, 56, was further moved to help by her encounters with the Red Cross at disaster sites. Her husband, Kevin, and his brother, Tim, own Paul Davis Restoration of Northern, VA, a general contractor that provides emergency services to properties that have been damaged by fires, floods and other disasters. The company has 65 employees, including Robin and seven other family members.

“To see how the Red Cross brings total calm in the middle of chaos,” Robin says, “is a very moving experience.”

Robin recalls a house fire in Manassas, VA last fall. The family, two parents and three children, had managed to get out safely but everything they owned was destroyed. The children were crying and the family huddled together trying to comfort each other. The Red Cross arrived and arranged a hotel for the family for three nights, until their insurance took over.

“The Red Cross pulls up and they have blankets. They have water. They have everything,” Robin says. “You could see a sense of calm come over the family.

“They are servants,” Robin adds, “honest-to-goodness true servants. They are highly capable people with servant hearts. They are dedicated and kind. And they really help to bring calm to a chaotic situation.”

When Kevin and Tim Sullivan moved to new offices three-and-a-half years ago, they created a training room that seats 50 people. They built it thinking they could use it but that it could also serve charities, such as the Red Cross. The organization holds all of its Loudoun County training sessions, including CPR, babysitting and disaster relief, at the office. Robin says the Red Cross uses the room five to eight times a month free of charge.

Last fall, Robin and her family hosted their first blood drive in the room. They promoted it through social media and their own networks. The Red Cross brought “everything, everything,” Robin says, even background music. It was a joyous event, she says. A few weeks later, the Red Cross sent a thank-you note telling them they had saved more than 80 lives. Robin was so moved she signed up to do two blood drives a year.

“We were shocked when they told us,” Robin says. “It was really gratifying.”

Robin and her colleagues also volunteer for the Red Cross home fire safety campaign called Sound the Alarm. Its goal is to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2020. To do this, volunteers visit at risk neighborhoods, providing fire safety education, outfitting homes with free smoke alarms, and inspecting existing smoke alarms to ensure they work properly.  

“You’re in the home talking 20 minutes,” Robin says. “We leave not only making a friend but knowing that we’ve helped to make a whole family safer. It’s a terrific feeling.”

Robin lives with her husband and her dogs, Bowie and Cali, in Hamilton, VA. She has three children, all 20-something redheads. She counts her blessings, she says, among them the Red Cross.

“We are blessed to be part of this community and have the opportunity to work with the Red Cross,” Robin says. “We look at this as an absolute privilege."

Kristen Shaw's Story: Smoke Detectors Save Lives

Written by: Kristen Shaw, volunteer

I remember one night in high school waking up in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of a deafening BOOM through my window. I groggily stumbled out of bed and peeked through my blinds to see where the noise had come from and spotted a massive orange flame gaining strength on the roof of a nearby house. A propane tank had exploded somewhere on the street and a fire had started! I flew down the hall to wake my parents as fire trucks pulled up outside, and a few minutes later most of the neighbors, like us, had trickled out onto the street to see what was happening. Less than an hour later the blaze was extinguished, and my classmate and his family were okay, but their home had become a blackened shell. They had lost their beloved pets and most of their belongings in the fire. It took them months to rebuild.

Home fires claim about seven lives every day. Much like that night in high school, fires can happen at any time and spread fast, and being prepared is the best way to survive them. My neighbors were able to get themselves outside quickly because of they had working smoke detectors that worked properly.

In 2014, the Red Cross launched its Home Fire Campaign called Sound the Alarm. Safe a Life.  Its goal is to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2020. To do this, volunteers visit at risk neighborhoods, providing fire safety education, outfitting homes with free smoke alarms, and inspecting existing smoke alarms to ensure they work properly.  Since Sound the Alarm was launched in October 2014, over 1 million smoke alarms have been installed in homes across the country, improving the fire safety of over 400,000 homes, and saving 332 lives!

Today I live with my sister in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. We are very interested in home safety, so we drew up a fire plan and bought a fire ladder to hang out of either of our windows in the case of an emergency. We make sure to test our fire alarms regularly. We’re also careful to turn off all space heaters, curling irons, and the stove after each use and before leaving the apartment. Simple but important tips like these help the Red Cross teach the public about fire safety. It is especially important to reach out to youth and the elderly to help them reduce the risk of fire.

You can get involved in the Sound the Alarm campaign by fundraising, donating, or helping to install fire alarms in your community! Visit for more information and upcoming event dates.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Engaged & Inspired at the World Bank

This morning the World Bank held a comfort kit build for 250 of their employees from around the world, the first event of a week long retreat surrounding poverty and giving – and your Red Cross team took center stage!

World Bank employees created 2,000 comfort kits using 15 teams of 15 people each at their Headquarters in DC. To kick off the event Matt Coyne and Geoff DeLizzio gave speeches about what the Red Cross does locally and how that translates to work around the country and around the world, using the opportunity to connect our mission with some of the world’s top economic minds. Matt and Geoff were also tasked with being the go-to experts in the room for a scavenger hunt that included Red Cross statistics and questions, as well as a task to “take a selfie with a Red Cross person.” So both of them talked to most people in the room during the two hour event.

There was constant high energy in the iconic Atrium of the World Bank as the teams competed with their scavenger hunt questions and kit builds, so much so that employees from other areas of the World Bank were approaching to inquire how they could take part.

The event was notably attended by the Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, as well as the Vice President of Finance, Jan Walliser. Both Geoff and Matt had the opportunity to speak with them about the work of the Red Cross and poverty.

Go Matt and Geoff!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

“My Red Cross Experience As A Platelet Donor And A Disaster Action Team Volunteer”: Alan Vollman’s Story

Written by: Rosalind SE Carney, volunteer

Alan Vollman first started to donate blood to the Red Cross in 1971 when he was in graduate school in California. He had read an article describing how heart transplants were becoming more common, but the amount of blood required for these operations put a strain on local blood supplies. He continued to give blood during his first career as a public school teacher. At that time, donors could bank their blood and specify who could receive the units donated at no cost. Alan often chose family members of his school community when families made emergency requests for blood.

When Alan moved to Washington, DC years later, he sought out a Red Cross blood donation center near his downtown law office. On a slow workday, he would to go to donate blood -- a time to relax with a short nap on a comfortable recliner. Once he became a regular donor, volunteers encouraged him to donate platelets instead of whole blood. In the US, platelets are needed every 30 seconds as they are transfused into cancer, surgery, transplant, and blood disorder patients. 

The platelet donation process takes a little longer than a whole blood donation. Blood is taken from one arm, platelets are extracted by a machine, and the remaining blood components are returned to the other arm. Alan finds this downtime relaxing and uses it to listen to lectures on interesting topics or to work on his Spanish. One time, a friend gave him DVDs of the Best of Dave Chappelle to watch during the donation. Alan laughed so hard that he started to cry, but he was unable to wipe away the tears since needles were in his arms. Other people heard him laugh and gathered to watch the shows with him. By the end of the extraction process, streaks of salt marked his cheeks where the tears had evaporated.

Alan has been donating platelets for 15 years and still donates whole blood occasionally. These donations give him a positive feeling, and he enjoys receiving emails notifying him of the type of patient who received his donation. Alan says, “I have family and friends who have needed platelets. I have met parents whose children have received them. These people know how important platelets are and tell me that donors like me have kept them or their child alive. A couple of quiet hours on a cozy recliner can provide months or years to someone who could die without platelets.”

Alan has also been a volunteer with the Disaster Action Team (DAT) since 2009 thanks to encouragement from his wife, Ann. Ann is currently a volunteer in casework recovery planning at the Red Cross headquarters in Fairfax, VA. Ann has also volunteered with DAT for many local and national disasters since 2005. As a DAT volunteer, Alan has enjoyed meeting new people from all walks of life. Alan says, “What Red Cross volunteers have in common is that they all care about their community. Volunteers quickly learn that there is a lot of suffering in the neighborhoods of our wealthy National Capital Region. Some people are living on the edge, and no matter how small a fire or other home disaster may be, it is often a personal Katrina for that household.”

Alan’s message to someone considering volunteer work with the Red Cross is this: “Good deeds are the dues we pay for being members of our community.” As a friend once told him, “Giving money is not hard to do for some; money comes and goes. But time is a gift one can’t earn back; it is unconditional.” Or to put it in lawyer speak, “Money is fungible; time isn’t.”

Learn more about donating blood and platelets at

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Benefits Of Giving Back By Volunteering With The Red Cross: Part I – Open Opportunities in Biomedical Services

Written by: Rosalind SE Carney, volunteer

Every 8 minutes, the Red Cross responds to someone in crisis. Generous volunteers give their time and talents to help fulfill the American Red Cross mission. Whatever your experience or interests are, there are volunteer opportunities available for you. This is Part I of a five-part blog series that details current volunteer opportunities in the National Capital Region (NCR) in Biomedical Services, Communications/Public Affairs, Disaster Cycle Services, Services for Military and Veteran Families, and Volunteer Services.

Why Volunteer With The Red Cross?
When you volunteer with the Red Cross, you become part of a group of people who truly make a difference in the lives of their fellow Americans and help people in serious need. It’s a great way to make new friends, learn new skills for your resume, and give back to your local community. For those who may not be in a position to make a financial contribution, a contribution of your time is the perfect gift. In fact, volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross. In return, you experience being part of a large humanitarian organization, earn documented service house, receive training and support, and participate in volunteer recognition activities.

Do I have to deploy as a Red Cross volunteer?
No. While many NCR volunteers deploy following major disasters, many volunteers have roles that are always performed locally. While some volunteers respond to unexpected incidents, such as a house fire, many volunteers work set hours, scheduled at times convenient to them. Many volunteer positions are located throughout the NCR at the Chapter office, blood donation centers, supply management locations, or are home-based.

Why is the Biomedical Services group so important?
Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed every day in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.69 million people were expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Many will need blood, sometimes daily, during chemotherapy treatment. One automobile accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

How can I help? 
The Red Cross collects and distributes about 40 percent of our nation’s blood supply. Help continue this mission by becoming a Blood Donor Ambassador to give donors a positive and fulfilling experience at a Red Cross donation center or blood drive. Blood Donor Ambassadors assist with reception and hospitality by greeting donors and offering refreshments. They provide a high level of customer service to promote blood donation and set the stage for a long-term commitment by donors. Blood Donor Ambassadors also play an important role in educating first-time donors about the process. Each shift is approximately four to six hours, with a requested commitment period of one year. A required two-hour training session is offered at American Red Cross offices throughout the National Capital Region.

What skills are required for this position?
This position is open to people who enjoy working with people and can provide excellent customer service. Blood Donor Ambassadors must be able to communicate in a professional manner with diverse populations, and read, write, hear and speak English in a legible and understandable manner. 

Where are Donor Ambassadors currently needed?
  • The Washington, DC blood services center at 1730 E Street, NW 
  • Old Town Alexandria office at 123 Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA
  • Blood donor center locations in Fairfax, VA, and Montgomery Counties, MD
  • Mobile drives in Washington, DC
  • Mobile drives in Virginia: Alexandria, Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun Counties
  • Mobile drives in Prince George's County, MD

Learn more or apply at: