Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Stefanie Kline

Devoted to Helping Others for Life

Written by: Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

Volunteer: Stefanie Kline, Fairfax, VA

Profession: House Management Assistant/Usher Supervisor for George Mason University Center for the Arts and a Project Assistant for the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative

Length of Volunteer Service: 2 years and going strong

Q: What inspired you to volunteer for the American Red Cross? Why is it important to volunteer?

A: LIFE! When I can contribute in some way to someone else, I feel elated. I cannot think of anything better—that makes me happier—than knowing I have been a force for good, and a comfort for someone in need. My own experience with injury and trauma has made my priorities clear: wanting to lead a good life, help people, and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

I once lived in a remote part of Virginia, and on the way to work one day, I was involved in a severe car accident, to the extent that I was unconscious and have no memory of what happened. According to police investigation, it is thought I swerved to avoid hitting something, lost control of the car, and smashed into a tree; embedding the car into it. Three strangers saved me: a local gym teacher and two neighbors. The gym teacher with his CPR training led the other two in how to keep me breathing until medical professionals arrived, and the fire department cut the top off my car. These heroes stayed with me through the extraction from the car and were responsible for saving my life. Much later, one of the officers told me he never had the chance to meet a survivor from an accident like mine, because people don’t usually survive. I am alive because someone knew what to do, got involved, and stayed by me.

I am getting better at accepting my own physical limitations. I have a titanium rod in my leg, some plates in my face, and deal with varying degrees of pain in my back and hip daily, making disaster responses tough, but I keep going. I feel I am well-equipped to assist people coping with traumatic incidents partially because of my own experience, and I can empathize and support others recovering from disasters.

Q: What are your special skills that you use to support The Red Cross?

A: Community service has been a part of my life since I was little; I was a Girl Scout for twelve years. As a young girl, my Rabbi shared with me the Jewish value that the reward for living a good life is knowing you lived a good life. This has resonated with me since my accident, and I make every effort to live a life that feels rewarding in and of itself, in addition to introducing others to this concept.

I got my Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology and a Master’s Degree specializing in forensic anthropology (identifying human skeletal remains by establishing biological profiles). I want to take part in helping people recover from traumatic experiences, and to work to prevent large-scale atrocities like war crimes and genocide. I got really interested in studying disaster response in college after learning about the impact, loss of life, and devastation of Hurricane Katrina. When I moved back to the East Coast from California, after graduate school, I wanted to find ways to be more involved and help my local community. My mother had worked in Blood Research and Development for the American Red Cross for 36 years, and had recently retired. She was interested in seeing another side of the Red Cross, so we decided to focus on volunteering for disaster services and signed up on the same day!

Q: What is it like volunteering with your mom?

A: We excel in different areas of the disaster response team, which is mutually beneficial. Initially, she was not as eager to get up in the middle of the night to respond to a disaster; while I thrived on it. There was only one house fire that we both responded to, and it was awkward at first because we were the only two there, and I was the lead based on experience and authority to issue financial assistance. However, our common goal was to help those in need, and were were able to use our training and be successful in supporting the victims. Now my mom focuses more on sheltering and mass care, while I am responsible for other components of response and relief.

Q: What do you do as a volunteer? Can you describe what you do?

A: I started off as a Disaster Action Team responder, and I did some community outreach work where I was needed. I also volunteered to be on GO-teams for big events. The GO-teams are the volunteers you see roving around during occasions such as the Marine Corps Marathon or the recent inauguration of the President, and they are there to ensure public safety. I also volunteer to assist with presentations on building preparedness skills in communities, as well as staffing for larger operations. I am a government liaison when the Red Cross needs to help staff a local Emergency Operation Center, and I am the disaster workforce engagement administrative assistant for Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria.

Q: What are some memorable experiences you have about volunteering for ARC? How have you made a difference?

A: One of my strongest memories is from my very first Disaster Action Team call: a hotel fire in Alexandria, Virginia. Part of the hotel collapsed. Fortunately, no one was injured but, in addition to the numerous families who were staying at the hotel, there was a group of about 100 high school ROTC students from New York. The ROTC group ran up and down the hall making sure other hotel patrons got out. They did not all have time to change their clothes or put on shoes. I was part of the initial two-person response team that arrived around 5:00 a.m., and ended up assisting with client casework and providing mass care. We went to the store to make sure the kids had food and clothes, including toiletries and shoes. We also made sure they were fully equipped with water and snacks for their long bus ride back.  That was my "Welcome to the Red Cross" moment. It was a 15-hour response and inspired me to do so much more.

Q: What are you most proud of regarding your volunteer work for ARC?

A: I don’t think of it as being “proud,” but grateful for the amazing people I have met. I am proud to know so many committed volunteers who just want to help others in need. I think probably one of my most powerful contributions I have made to my team is bringing positive energy to meetings and classes. I have been told my enthusiasm can be contagious, and there is nothing I love more than smiling. I am glad I have worked with so many different groups within the Red Cross. I have gained really valuable experiences from each one.

Q: Is there anything I forgot to ask you that you would like to add?

A: Doris Crawford, another Red Cross volunteer, continually motivates me to keep on volunteering. She is our lead disaster responder. She trains responders left and right and goes on just about every single call. Doris is the most inspiring person I have ever met – she is committed to volunteering in any situation, no matter how inconvenient or what time it is. Her commitment and devotion have encouraged me to push myself to do more with the American Red Cross.

Check out more videos of Stefanie Kline on YouTube here and here

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