“Your whole team has saved our lives”: the words of 2020 that stand out to me

By Mark Thomas, Regional CEO & Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, American Red Cross

“On behalf of our family, thank you so very much for all the help from the Red Cross. Words cannot describe how much you have helped us. You are all amazing. You have been the world to us, your whole team has saved our lives.”

A member of a family in Racine texted the words above to one of our dedicated Disaster Action Team volunteers. The family was one of a handful who had been displaced by a fire in October. Texting had been the fastest and safest way to connect the family with shelter, food and more in the aftermath of the fire that displaced approximately 40 people total. As this and other families made their next steps toward recovery, the volunteer shared the words from this text to the rest of us on the daily disaster response meetings.

In darkness and loss, this person in need reached out to share gratitude, positivity and caring. Although they wrote that “words cannot describe” their feelings, the consequences of your impact was on full display.

Volunteers Dave Flowers and Kevin Connell deliver relief resources to the Wisconsin National Guard at a COVID isolation site in spring. It was one of the many ways our teams rose to the challenge of humanitarian aid during the pandemic.

In this year with so much uncertainty, pain and, yes, death, I want to take a positive cue from one of the thousands of people we’ve helped. Rather than reel off grim reminders of 2020, I want to take the chance to shine a light. Three lights, actually, for the three words that stood out to me over the past 12 months.

With apologies to Merriam-Webster, my first word of 2020 is commitment. Your commitment as Red Crossers since spring has been nothing short of astounding. When the pandemic really hit here, we weren’t sure how we’d connect volunteers with clients or if we could even hold blood drives. I remember some terrifying scenarios floating around. You remained committed to our mission. You stayed committed through societal turmoil and the worst natural disaster season in recent memory. You exemplified why people believe in the American Red Cross.

Here I am donating blood at our Milwaukee headquarters, where, like at all our drives during the pandemic, temperature readings, masks and extra cleanings are part of the extra steps to make donations safe.

Looking back over the year, the second positive word that comes to mind for me is resilient. It comes in partnership with commitment, but shows our flexibility, creativity and humanity in making our mission happen. Think about the resiliency it took to pull off virtual fundraising galas and take on brand-new volunteer roles; to innovate on the fly with COVID antibody testing and convalescent plasma collection; to come together around difficult conversations in digital town halls on topics like racial equity and civil unrest. And then to keep ourselves and those we serve safe and prepared in everything else we do. For every fire and each blood drive, with any fundraiser and all our programs, you bounced back with new, evolving opportunities to help someone.

That brings me to my final word of 2020 – honor. I am honored to call you colleagues and teammates, to do this work and follow in your footsteps. It’s an honor to know that our commitment and our resiliency enable us to serve people in crisis, no matter how daunting the news. I’m honored to wear this Red Cross because of everything we can accomplish together for people who need us, in “normal times” or whatever is next.

One Response

  1. Spot on Mark. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been inspired by the actions of my fellow Red Crossers and by our clients. I saw SEWI DAT members step forward and adjust to virtual responses without missing a step. Many of them (myself included) accepted new ways of doing business and new responsibilities. Much of this driven by the inability to open commingling shelters. Our clients who were now strapped with an extra level of stress added by experiencing a disaster in the time of a serious pandemic. And yet they continued to show us gratitude and strength. I can’t find the word that properly express the feeling I have when working with such a group volunteers and staff. Their kindness and compassion always leaves me in awe.

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