“People, when they see the Red Cross, they feel comforted”: A Conversation on the Power of Volunteering with Red Crossers Curtis & Bette Hossman

Interview and story by Michael Tenamore, American Red Cross

“The fabric of our nation is strengthened by the service of its volunteers. When we stand side-by-side to help others, our differences fade away, and we learn that Americans have more in common than we realize.” Barbara Stewart

Curtis and Bette Hossman, two American Red Cross volunteers, have stood side-by-side through it all.

From Lodi and Madison to Birmingham and Long Island, their dedication to volunteering is nothing short of amazing. At the Red Cross, they’ve done everything from humanitarian relief after cataclysmic natural disasters and interacting with service member families facing life-or-death medical procedures, to welcoming donors at blood drives and bringing mental well-being resources to veterans who are incarcerated.

After 50 years of experience as volunteers and during National Volunteer Week 2021, we wanted to learn some of their secrets and inspiration, so we hopped on a call together to see how it all started. (This conversation was edited for length and clarity.)

When did you start volunteering?

Curtis Hossman leads a Service to the Armed Forces wellness workshop in 2019 to a group in Milwaukee. Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross

Bette Hossman: “Oh, my gosh, I probably started volunteering … well, we were in high school, [so] probably over 50 years ago. I think we had a birthday party, and we bought gifts for kids at a red Kabbalistic [gathering] here in Madison.”

Curtis Hossman: “That’s what we did for our birthdays when we were teenagers.”

Along with volunteering for the Red Cross and at their church in Lodi, Curtis and Bette have started volunteering through “Reach Out” food deliveries during the pandemic. They were also giving “Wellness on Wednesday” presentations in their community center. And for more than a decade, Curtis has been on the executive board for Habitat for Humanity. He’s helped establish a local endowment foundation for other charities. In the past, they’ve also volunteered at the children’s hospital, schools and AmeriCorps.

What are the memorable national deployments you’ve been involved with through the Red Cross?

Bette: “The first one you went on was a real eye-opener. We walked into this huge building that looked like a warehouse and all the stations set up for different things that I wouldn’t think of.”

“You need telecommunications, you need transportation, you need housing, you need mass care, and you need people to distribute food. It was like, ‘Holy cow!’ [There’s] a little city under this roof lobby operation that you weren’t expecting.”

Curtis: “I really liked my one in New York [for Super Storm Sandy] the most. I went out to Long Island, and there was nobody else there because there was no transportation. I was the only Red Cross person there [to begin with].”

“But then we started to get some community people involved, and then after two or three days, it started rolling. But it was kind of fun to be on the ground floor and try to figure out where to stay.”

At the V.A. Hospital in Madison, Curtis and Bette stand side-by-side with the veteran patients and their families. They have been volunteers for over four years at the V.A., where they meet and talk with individuals who require an organ transplant. It’s not what comes to most mind’s when they hear of a volunteer.

Curtis: “It was an injustice to see these people that served our country struggling more than others.”

The couple blurs the lines of what “volunteering” is. They inspire others to make the change that needs to be made. What do you call a person who spends their lifetime seeking out the bad, helping strangers who are struggling the most, and standing side by side with them?

Why do you do it?

Curtis: “You know, whenever you reach out and help somebody else, you are enhancing your own soul. It’s almost an act of selfishness, but it’s in the Socratic kind of notion that doing good for others enhances you, and it makes the world a better place for everybody.”

Bette: “People when they see the Red Cross, they feel comforted. They see someone who wishes to help them.”

Curtis and Bette show what it means to be a volunteer. Volunteering is more than an act, and it’s what we all need – during trauma, during grief, or during a global pandemic – and we owe all volunteers thanks for being a reminder of what we can all become.

Find a volunteer role that fits your passion and schedule. Start your journey at redcross.org/volunteer.

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