Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Shirley Gaines

Written by: Courtney Clarke, Communications Volunteer

Shirley Gaines has personal experience with
two lines of service at the American Red Cross.

Years of service: 3

Resides: Woodbridge, VA

Profession: Retired Medical Transcriptionist, Kaiser Permanente

Why do you believe in the work of the Red Cross?
Shirley and her family have had several personal experiences with the Red Cross, dating back over 50 years! They have been assisted by two lines of service within the Red Cross: Service to the Armed Forces and Disaster Services.

In the late 1960s, her brother was in the Army, stationed in Vietnam. The family would go long stretches of time without hearing from him, and they would worry about his safety. During one especially long period without contact from him, the family asked the Red Cross to track him down. The Red Cross was able to locate him and learn that he was recovering from malaria and was assigned to a clerical post in Vietnam. The family was relieved to learn that he was alive and well. 

Years later, Shirley’s mother’s home in Arlington, VA caught on fire. As the flames blazed, Shirley’s mother felt a sense of hopelessness and desperation. The Red Cross was instrumental in providing her mother, brother and sister with hotel accommodations until the soot that covered everything in their house was cleaned up and they received their homeowner’s insurance payment. Even more importantly than the financial assistance, the Red Cross restored her sense of calm and peace. Shirley doesn’t know what the family would have done without the Red Cross.

Based on her personal experience with the Red Cross, Shirley firmly believes in the organization and its mission. "You know where your money and resources are going when you donate to the Red Cross. I feel that the resources are going to the right place," she explains. Even for those who don’t have financial resources to donate, Shirley encourages people to donate blood, which is what she does. 

"I believe in the Red Cross and I give blood because they do a lot of good work.  This is my way of helping people - I don't always have cash to make financial donations, but I have blood and if i can give blood, that's something."

Why do you donate blood to the Red Cross?

Shirley is an Army veteran and has been active with the American Legion in the DC area for fifteen years. The Legion introduced her to donating blood around three years ago, when they had a blood drive on-site, and she has been donating quarterly ever since. This adds up to about 12 pints of blood, and each pint can save up to three lives!

With less than 38% of the U.S. population eligible to give blood, Shirley knows that her gift is an important one. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illness or traumatic injuries. “Donating blood is my way of helping to save lives,” Shirley boasts.

Donating blood is easy!
Donating blood is a simple process. First, go to to locate your nearest blood donation center and schedule an appointment. Then, to save time, click on the "RapidPass" link and complete your pre-reading and health history questions. When you arrive for your appointment, you'll be seated comfortably while a pint of blood is drawn; the actual donation only takes 8-10 minutes. After donating, you can enjoy a snack and a drink for 10-15 minutes before resuming your day. The entire donation process takes about an hour.

Click here to learn more about our Service to Armed Forces services. 

Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Volunteer Story: Denise Schossler

Written by: Courtney Clarke, Communications Volunteer

Denise Schossler currently volunteers as a
Red Cross Blood Ambassador.

Years of service: 19 years
Resides: Falls Church, Virginia
Profession: Retired Assistant Departmental 
HR Director, US Dept of Transportation 


"There is a job for anyone who's willing to give their time to the
Red Cross, and it is certainly worthwhile.  People helping people
should be one of the basic foundations of life."

What made you want to volunteer with the Red Cross?
It was the summer of 2000 when Denise Schossler decided to volunteer with her local Red Cross chapter in Virginia. She was planning her retirement from a career at the U.S. Department of Transportation and signed up for a pre-retirement seminar, where a speaker said something that resonated with her. 

“The worst thing you can do is think you’ll grow old sitting on your porch swing,” the speaker said. “You’ll be bored. You’ll live a longer life if you find things that interest you. Find some activities and try them out before you retire.” 

Denise made a resolve then and there to try at least three new things. She immediately signed up to volunteer at the Red Cross, usher at the Wolf Trap venue during concerts and volunteer with Travelers Aid at Reagan National Airport. She is still active in each of these volunteer roles today, nearly 20 years later (and long past retirement). 

What is a memorable experience?
Denise will never forget the irony of the Red Cross orientation for new volunteers in the summer of 2000. During orientation, the organizer put up map of Arlington county to show the geographic borders of the branch. “We do a lot of shelter drills over here,” the speaker said pointing to an area near the center of the map. “Oh, and here’s the airport and Pentagon - they are technically in our territory, but nothing ever happens to them.”

Then 9/11 happened.  

“I suddenly found myself volunteering from midnight to 8 am for several weeks in a row, on top of working my day job. We passed out boots, sleeping bags and other kinds of supplies to first responders. We brought dog food for search-and-rescue dogs. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), my employer at the time, encouraged employees to volunteer outside of work. It was a unifying effort. We all had a common purpose. People were so grateful for our help.”

For up to a week following the attack, Red Cross volunteers worked 24 hours a day, providing meals and supplies. The parking lot area was devoted to search and rescue. Smoke wafted off the side of the building. The air was thick, and tensions were high. 

“Because I had a security level detail at DOT, I was able to drive supplies down with a golf cart to top-level security rooms two levels underground at the Pentagon, where folks with security clearance were all hands on deck dealing with the situation.” 

“It was a privilege to be a part of the relief efforts for 9/11,” Denise said of the experience. “There was a constant stream of responders, both military and civilian. There were search-and-rescue dogs. We provided any and all supplies needed. It made me feel proud to be a part of the recovery effort. It was emotional, but I was proud because there was a national disaster and there I was, in my own tiny little way, just handing out dog food, but I was a crucial part of the American response as a Red Cross volunteer.”

“The Red Cross has enriched my life in the sense that I get to
help people. We are nothing if we don’t help each other. Who knows
when you or I will need help.”

Hurricane Katrina
In 2005, Denise was called in to assist with another national crisis. Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans with such ferocity that it displaced more than a million people in the first few days, and nearly 600,000 remained displaced up to a month after. At the time, the Red Cross had a central 1-800 number for national disasters, and the national call center was located in Virginia. By this time, Denise had retired from the DOT and had much more flexibility with her time.

“I couldn’t travel to New Orleans, but people around the country would come to work shifts in the national call center, which was coordinated and run by permanent Red Cross staff. During the aftermath of Katrina, I would go almost every day and help with the call center administration. They treated me like I was part of permanent staff. I really felt like I made a difference.”

She reflects on the lessons learned during her time working on Katrina relief efforts. 

“We knew Katrina was going to be bad. We got well over a million calls during Katrina within the first few weeks. It was amazing how people come together to help each other. As a disaster volunteer, I felt like I was helping. I couldn’t go out of town, or be boots on ground at disaster site, but I could help the people. And helping people is what it’s about.” 

Eventually, she says, the Red Cross changed their business model and eliminated the national call center, moving it instead to staffers around the country. But during Katrina, the national call center was a crucial part of recovery efforts.

Denise is recording a public service announcement to recruit Blood Ambassadors for the Red Cross blood program.

Local Efforts in Disaster Relief and as a Blood Ambassador
When not responding to national relief efforts, Denise’s Red Cross duties have mostly included disasters around Arlington County, like apartment and house fires. She would go in the middle of the night to meet with clients who had lost their home, taking their information and determining their needs. 

“People who watch their homes go up in flames, who are displaced by fire, who have lost everything… they are in shock. We help them find their relatives, shelter, clothes and food. We find a hotel/motel to accommodate them. We issue clothing vouchers. Every situation, every disaster is different, but what the Red Cross does, and what I was a part of, was figuring out what resources we have available to help these people.”

Eventually she transitioned from disaster services and into blood bank service, as a Blood Ambassador. 

“Blood Ambassadors are the people who go to onsite blood mobiles, most of which are at employer-based sites, and we check people in, handle walk-ins and update the schedule. It’s not as dramatic as disaster services but it’s just as important because without someone running front desk, the phlebotomist can’t get their work done. It takes a team. It’s not a dramatic role, but it’s an important one.”

Now, Denise spends her days volunteering and enjoying time with her family. She has four grandchildren, and she helps take care of her mother, who is 98 years old. She has made sure her grandchildren understand the importance of her Red Cross work.

“The Red Cross has enriched my life in the sense that I get to help people. We are nothing if we don’t help each other. Who knows when you or I will need help. People need to help people. I have volunteered for around 20 years, and it has been a big part of my life.”

If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, please visit us at

Friday, October 4, 2019

Aslan and Digory: Two of our Furriest Volunteers

Written by Sandy Habib, Marketing Manager

Honoring an American Red Cross volunteer at a ceremony typically involves a handshake, but with this special volunteer team, you need to shake a few paws as well.  

Jen O’Keefe, featured here in a Red Cross vest, and Aslan
receiving their award at Walter Reed.  Digory is not in attendance. 
Meet Dr. Jen O’Keefe, a veterinarian at SouthPaws, and her two male purebred Leonbergers.  The trio was recently recognized as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Volunteers of the Quarter.  Each of the dogs volunteer close to 100 hours a year, including at the Walter Reed Hospital and its clinics as well as at numerous schools, libraries, rehab centers, nursing homes and disaster sites. 

“The dogs love serving as therapy dogs.  It’s the highlight of their week.”

The two brothers out and about on a volunteer assignment.
Aslan is 8 years old and weighs 160 pounds; Digory is 5 years old and 120 pounds.  Aslan has a sweet, gentle demeanor, while Digory is more outgoing and active, but both love their roles as volunteers.  They especially love working with children.  As therapy dogs, their jobs require them to make appearances, get showered with attention and brighten people’s days.  An occasional dog treat is surely an appreciated incentive as well.

Both dogs had to go through an extensive process to qualify as Red Cross therapy dogs.  After almost a year as volunteers in various locations, they needed to pass Good Citizen Tests, which are certified by the American Kennel Club.  Then they each had to go through a Red Cross screening before being approved to serve at Red Cross sites.  Aslan earned his Red Cross certification in 2014, while Digory earned his in 2018.

Jen and Aslan resting after volunteering. 
In the years since, they have been very busy.  Besides making the rounds at their usual local sites, Jen and the dogs have traveled to other states in response to various disasters.  She will take them anywhere that the dogs will be beneficial, including locations where there has been a crisis or natural disaster.

Wherever they go, the dogs turn heads.  Initially, people can’t help but notice them for their size.  Before long, though, it’s their happy, calming energy that draws people to interact with them.  Jen explains:

“It’s amazing to walk into a room and see everyone smile.  The dogs and I
get as much out of the experience as the people that we visit.”

The Red Cross is grateful that these three are so committed to serving the community!

If you want to learn more about Aslan and Digory, you can follow them on Facebook.  They each have their own page: and

Monday, September 16, 2019

One Man, 96 Pints of Blood Donated: Meet American Red Cross Hero, Bill Tito

By Clarice Nassif Ransom, American Red Cross Volunteer

Name: Bill Tito
Resides: Arlington, Virginia
Profession: Retired after working in the Human Resources field with the Department of Agriculture (24 years) and the Department of Transportation (13 years)

“I’m planning to keep donating blood in my 70s and hope to give 120+ times. I encourage everyone to donate blood. It’s almost certain that someone they know will need blood someday.”

Meet Bill Tito. In September 2019, Bill will be donating his 95th and 96th pints of blood to the American Red Cross. Donating blood is a lifelong habit for Bill who hopes to donate more than 120 pints of blood during his lifetime.

“One thing I’d tell people is how easy it is to give blood as the American Red Cross holds blood drives everywhere, all the time,” said Bill. “I’ve never had a problem or issue while donating blood. I gave most often at work, but now that I’m retired, I give at local churches here in Arlington or at the American Red Cross Center in downtown Washington, D.C.”

Bill first began donating blood when he was 18 years old.

“I was working at a retail brass shop, and the owners encouraged everyone to donate blood,” said Bill. “Since they gave everyone who donated the afternoon off, I decided to give it a go! It was painless and easy.”

 Bill Tito with his mother, whose cancer
diagnosis reenergized Bill’s efforts to donate blood.
Bill continued, “I donated blood 2-3 times a year for about the next 20 years, first at college blood drives and then at my government job when the American Red Cross came. I remember that there were two gentlemen at the agency (Department of Agriculture) who had a friendly competition going to see who could donate the most blood. They both had donated blood more than 80 times. Since my blood donations at the time were in the 30s, I couldn’t even imagine giving blood 80 times. They were quite an inspiration.”

Bill’s habit of regularly donating blood waned after his children were born and resurged after his mother found out she had cancer.

“My mother developed Lymphoma and had to get several blood transfusions,” said Bill. “That caused me to start giving regularly again. Also, about 25 years ago, I was told I had rare blood. Even though I have O Positive (the most common blood type, which is the most in-demand), I apparently have rare enzymes in my blood. I’m told that they like to give my blood to newborns and cancer patients. I like to think my donations are helping others.”

About 3 years ago Bill started giving “Double Red” donations, where he donates two units of red blood cells during one donation session. The platelets and plasma are returned to Bill.

“Red blood cells are the most frequently used blood component and are most needed,” said Bill. “Double Red blood donations means I give every 112 days instead of every 56 days.”

Bill concluded, “I like giving blood and the Red Cross does an excellent job of making it a good experience.”

To donate blood, check out the American Red Cross blood donation web site at

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Local Loudoun Business Makes Big Impact Through American Red Cross

By Erwin Stierle, Executive Director, Loudoun and Prince William Counties, VA

The Fall of 2017 was a big, destructive season for hurricanes. In fact, three of the five costliest hurricanes in U.S. history – Harvey, Irma, and Maria – hit the U.S. within weeks of each other. Bob Reiver, owner of Dulles Golf and Sports Park in Dulles, VA, was astonished at the level of destruction these hurricanes levied on so many, leaving thousands homeless across Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, many didn’t survive.

Bob knew, like most, that the Red Cross responds during times of major disaster, by reconnecting families, serving millions of meals and snacks, distributing millions of relief items, delivering mental health services, and providing shelter to thousands. However, in order for us to respond in these ways and times of need, we need resources like vehicles, supplies, food, water, people and transportation of people. This can only be achieved through the generosity of donors. Bob and his Managing Partner, Andy Stromberg, agreed to donate 20% of the gross sales during September and October of 2017 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief from their miniature golf course, driving range, batting cages, and gemstone panning to benefit the hurricane victims. This resulted in a donation of $21,814.

From Left: Bob Reiver, Erwin Stierle, 
Andy Stromberg.
Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park then provided the American Red Cross with a fundraising opportunity in April 2018, during which they sold ticket packages to families to enjoy their complex’s facilities at a discounted rate and money raised going to the Red Cross. This resulted in another $2,000 being raised. This provided us the opportunity to educate the community about our local services.

Bob himself was unaware of the significant role the American Red Cross plays in local disaster response, like helping those displaced by home fires.

“So many people know that the Red Cross responds during the big disasters and is a big player in the blood business. What I have found is that most people do not know the impact the Red Cross has locally – responding to home fires, helping make homes safer, serving military members and their families and providing lifesaving training classes. They need funding to carry out all of those activities,” said Bob.

Later, in 2018, Dulles Golf Center made another $5,000 donation.

The American Red Cross needs that funding ahead of large disasters and to be prepared to deliver our mission across all those services at the local level. Knowing this now, Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park once again chose to donate a percentage of sales, this time taking 10% of their activity fees and pavilion rentals from their company picnics and team building events in May, June, and July of 2019. That effort resulted in a donation of $14,743!

From Left: Bob Reiver, Erwin Stierle, and Andy Stromberg.

Disasters, big and small, will continue to happen. Bob and Andy have committed to supporting those in need by sharing in the success of their business and funding the mission of the American Red Cross when they can. It’s local support like this, one business at a time and one individual at a time, that makes a tremendous difference in helping those in need.
Thank you to Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park for your generosity to support those in need!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Red Cross Story: Manny Zuniga

By Ian Levine, Volunteer

Over a decade ago, on the eighteenth hole of a lush golf course, a friend asked retired Manny Zuniga if he'd ever volunteer with the American Red Cross. “No, thank you,” Manny said, "I don’t like needles and I don’t like blood."

Little did Manny know, he'd soon discover everything he thought he knew about the American Red Cross was wrong. And, he was about to give his life a horse kick to the chest.

It’s not that Manny’s life before the American Red Cross was boring. He grew up in the chaos of a low-income family plagued by drug addiction and violence. His cousins were some of the founding members of La Eme; a deadly collaboration between thirteen Hispanic street gangs, which formed the Mexican-American mafia. His other cousins sold and used drugs. When Manny watched the family around him look for only immediate relief instead of toward their future, he decided to choose a different path. That’s when Manny sought giving (rather than taking) as a way to save his life. Then he rose from the blunt ashes like a Phoenix.

Manny started volunteering with the United States Junior Chamber, also called the Jaycees. Jaycees is a “not-for-profit organization of young active citizens…ages 18-40, [who] develop themselves personally and professionally by bringing energy and insight to solving problems locally and around the world.”

That led him to volunteer at some of the country’s most momentous sports occasions; such as the 1984 Olympics, the 80th Rose Bowl Game, and Superbowl XXXVII. In fact, Manny’s cousins valued sports so much that when they saw him volunteering, it motivated them to better themselves, as well. One cousin earned a soccer scholarship. Another cousin became a baseball coach. Witnessing the impact volunteering can have on the “mind, soul, and body,” Manny considered the American Red Cross.

That’s when he found out that the American Red Cross isn’t just needles and blood. Manny deploys all over the country on a moment’s notice during natural disasters. He sets up the communication devices first responders need to save lives. Manny’s always moving. One time, he deployed to Puerto Rico for Hurricanes Irma and Maria. He returned home for a week. Then, deployed again to California for its wildfires. Much like avant-garde engineer and American Red Cross volunteer Ken Jones, it’s Manny’s responsibility to stay on top of changes in technology. But technology changes so often, he crams between emergency deployments. Manny tells me he wouldn’t have it any other way. He often thinks about his family, and strongly believes that if he were to become a couch potato, he “wouldn’t be around for much longer.”

Honoring Manny Zuniga and his family at the Red Cross Night
with the Nationals game for his volunteer service in July 2018

What would be your reason for volunteering? Click here and have your volunteer story told.

Friday, June 21, 2019

United through Reading

By Tanesha Hayes, Volunteer

The saying, “It’s the little things that matter” holds a great deal of weight for those who serve in the Armed Forces. Little things like saying goodnight, seeing facial expressions from the person you adore, and even story time are to be cherished, yet they are hard-to-have moments for soldiers and their families while physically separated. When service members are deployed or on TDY (temporary duty yonder), they want to continue sharing bonding experiences with the special children in their lives.

For service members looking to keep reading time a consistent thing no matter where they are, United Through Reading provides them with that experience. It’s literally, ‘storytime on demand’ for children. United Through Reading (UTR) understands the importance of the‘little things’ and that sharing a special moment, like reading together, can bridge even the furthest distance between families and service members.

In addition to service members being able to read with their family as much as they’d like, they are promoting their child’s love for reading, while reassuring their child’s emotional connection and easing the stress and anxiety that comes with separation.

The process is easy! 
A service member can simply contact their nearest UTR program manager and schedule a meeting time to record a personal reading - any book of choice - for a special child in their life. This is such a unique and thoughtful program because it also allows service members to personalize their recordings through their mobile UTR app. This means a service member can record from the comfort of any location and make magic happen. You could call it storytime on-demand!

The program uses recorded video so children can watch and read along with their special service member as many times as they’d like. This service is open to all members of the armed forces. UTR is 100% donation-based, so there are plenty of book options provided through the program; including bi-lingual books.

Oh! Did we forget to mention it’s free of cost?

Whether a service member is reading to a military spouse, child, or pet, anyone who receives a video can benefit in a positive way. With a UTR video service, members can be there for bedtime every night, on a birthday, the first day of school, or anytime their children need them. When calling home isn’t an option, United Through Reading is.

If you’re interested in learning more about the program visit