Eric Baranick, the Community Volunteer Leader in Montgomery County, MD, may just be finishing his first year in this role, but he is no stranger to the American Red Cross and its extensive outreach and impact.
Eric Baranick was a graduate student in Public Health at George Washington University when Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in October 1998. The hurricane left a devastating trail. An estimated 11,000 lives were lost, hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed, and there was an estimated $5 billion dollars in damage to infrastructure. Already familiar with the role of the Red Cross in disaster relief, Baranick decided to join the hurricane response efforts as a Health Delegate. On Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, Eric was a member of a small team implementing Red Cross programs including disease reduction and public health campaigns to reach impacted indigenous communities.
Baranick’s work with the Red Cross would extend far beyond his tour in Nicaragua. Over the next 15 years, he and his family would relocate to five posts around the world – Armenia, India, El Salvador, Peru and Panama. The work accomplished and experience gained during each tour was unique. In Armenia, Baranick worked closely alongside the local Red Cross team to reduce maternal and child mortality. In India, Baranick was again working to implement Red Cross programs, but this time on a much larger scale. His team reached hundreds of thousands with health campaigns covering reproductive health, polio vaccinations, dengue fever prevention, and the importance of hand washing to fight the spread of disease. Attuned to community culture, the Red Cross health awareness campaign created ads for 250,000 spare tire covers that were commonly found on nearly every motor bike to reach their audience.
Following his time in India, Baranick would find himself back in Latin America, serving in a management capacity for the Red Cross teams in El Salvador, Panama, and Peru. Reflecting on his tours, Eric finds successes, challenges, and memories unique to each community and project. He highlights a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report evaluating the Red Cross’ impact during his initial tour in Nicaragua. The report found that the actions of the Red Cross improved the quality of water and sanitation systems, increased the number of wells built, and significantly decreased the spread of diarrheal diseases.
Eric shares an account from his time in Peru during which a strong community church leader was able to utilize Red Cross strategies to develop a work plan, fundraise, and ultimately rebuild his church and congregation. Baranick notes how gratifying it was to witness a community pull together and to expand upon their work and incorporate it into their own vision for recovery and future projects. He points to Panama as one of his most memorable assignments, returning to the warm climate, speaking Spanish, and immersing himself in Latin American culture. His time in Panama also allowed him to reconnect and reengage with past Red Cross affiliates to continue to build networks and relationships.
Eric left his official capacity at the Red Cross in June 2015. Driven by his continued belief in the goals and ideals of the organization, he sought another avenue to remain involved. In March 2016, he took on his current role as Community Volunteer Lead for Montgomery County. Turning his focus to Maryland’s community, Baranick has been involved with the Home Fire Campaign, emergency relief efforts, and other local events and meetings.
What advice would Eric share with current or potential Red Cross volunteers?
“Take advantage of the opportunity and make the most of it. You can make the volunteer role as large or limited as you want. Giving back to the community is extremely heartwarming. Go where you’re needed, and as long as you’re flexible, you’ll find opportunity at the Red Cross.”