Air Force veteran gives back to the military as a Red Cross volunteer

By Andrea Azzo, American Red Cross

Wayne MacDonald’s life has been dedicated to serving others. It wasn’t long after he got out of the Air Force when the Wisconsin man decided to volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Now, nearly 34 years later, the Stevens Point man is nearing the end of his stint with the Red Cross. MacDonald is turning 72 years old on Nov. 26. His goal is to continue serving until he reaches the 35-year benchmark with the nonprofit organization.

“The Red Cross is so important with so many different things,” MacDonald said. “Supporting the military side is the biggest thing [for me].”

MacDonald’s volunteerism has been focused Service to the Armed Forces, the department at the Red Cross that helps service members, veterans and their families. He knows firsthand how difficult it can be to transition from the military to civilian life.

MacDonald served for 10 years in the Air Force and for 20 years in the Air Force Reserve. He has been stationed overseas in Turkey, England and Germany; plus in the U.S. at military bases in Alaska and Texas.

When he spent one and a half years in Turkey, MacDonald said he did not know what kind of assistance was available to him. Even today, he says other military families aren’t sure where to go if something happens.

That’s where his work with the Red Cross comes into play. MacDonald’s primary duty includes communicating with military families to make them aware of the support that exists. This includes notifying service members when a loved one back home falls seriously ill or dies.

The Red Cross’ work has evolved over time. When MacDonald began volunteering, letters informed service members. Now the Red Cross puts a service member in touch with military families. 

Most of the time, MacDonald says feedback is positive and communication is fast. Sometimes, families are surprised at how quickly they receive important news.

Other Service to the Armed Forces volunteer opportunities include canteening at veteran Honor Flight celebrations, like this one in May 2019 in Beloit.

The Red Cross of Wisconsin primarily helps service members and veterans within the state, but there have been instances in which other Red Cross chapters have needed Wisconsin’s help. MacDonald says he has helped the Red Cross in Florida when there was a hurricane. He has also covered Minnesota when there was a shortage of volunteers.

MacDonald primarily helps over the phone. (He has never met anyone he has helped face-to-face.)

“The main thing for me is to provide, whatever their need is,” MacDonald said. “Knowing they had a need, through the Red Cross, they got support. That’s the main thing.”

For more on the many ways the Red Cross supports veterans, service members and their families – and to join volunteers like Wayne – click here.

Introducing: Jennifer Clearwater, Regional Philanthropy Officer, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Jennifer Clearwater recently joined our fund development team in the Wisconsin Region, bringing a range of philanthropic expertise and a true enthusiasm in connecting supporters with the mission of the American Red Cross.

A few weeks in, and she’s already making connections for people displaced by a Milwaukee apartment building fire, along with no shortage of internal training and on-boarding. We recently invited Jennifer to share answers to a few questions at the start of her Red Cross journey.

What drew you to the mission of the Red Cross?

Clearwater: Working for the Red Cross is sincerely a dream come true. Early in my career, when I knew that I was pursuing fundraising as a profession, I had it in my mind that someday I might be experienced enough to work for the American Red Cross, and now here I am!

I believe the Red Cross is the most important nonprofit in our country, and our country’s most important non-governmental partner. It is truly an honor to be on the team and working with the amazingly generous donors and volunteers who truly make all our services possible. 

Do you have a connection with the Red Cross prior to joining our team? (blood donor, military family, etc.)

Clearwater: Well, my favorite color is red, so there’s that … Our family has been blessed to have never been in a position to have needed the services of the Red Cross, but my husband, brother, and extended members of our family and friends are either currently active military or veterans, so the American Red Cross has always been the organization we knew would be there for them if they found themselves needing assistance domestically or internationally.

I also recently donated blood for the first time – the new Blood Donor app is terrific for scheduling appointments and I highly recommend everyone downloading it if you haven’t already. I was a little nervous going in to my first blood donation, but it was an energizing experience and I’ve already used the Blood Donor app again to schedule my next donation. 

What are some professional high points for you so far?

Clearwater: I’ve been blessed to have had opportunities to raise donations for and leave a positive mark on several important Wisconsin institutions, like Polish Fest, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee. Working for the American Red Cross is a dream come true for me; quite frankly, this is the most important job I’ve ever had, and I am delighted to be here at this highly critical time in our nation’s history to support the giving that makes Red Cross donors most fulfilled. 

Coming into the organization during this dramatic time, when we’re dealing with the daily effects of COVID-19 as well as disaster upon disaster has been interesting to say the least. Sort of like jumping onto a moving treadmill that’s set for Olympic gold medal sprinter speed while simultaneously drinking from a firehose … but I wouldn’t have it any other way and have already begun connecting with our generous supporters about the tremendous needs of the times. I’m looking forward to helping them and our volunteers and staff partner their resources to deliver critical services to our fellow ‘Sconnies and Americans today and for many years to come.

Outside of your career, what else would you like people to know about you right out the gates?

Clearwater: Rob – my husband of 27 years – and I are blessed with two healthy, smart, loving, and beautiful daughters, Emily and Paige. We all live in picturesque Port Washington, where I am also humbled to be a volunteer political appointee on our city’s Police and Fire Commission. I additionally have the honor of serving as a volunteer board director for Ozaukee County’s Riveredge Nature Center. 

Reach out to Jennifer on ways to put your generosity into action with the Red Cross at Jennifer.Clearwater@redcross.org

‘It’s a changing experience’: how Wisconsin volunteers are helping families decimated by wildfires in Oregon

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Hundreds of American Red Cross disaster teams have been working with families in crisis for months after a wave of hurricanes and wildfires ravaging the United States. Hillary Wanecke, of Delafield, Wisconsin has been involved with the Red Cross in humanitarian relief since Hurricane Katrina. Last week, she returned from a deployment in Oregon, where deadly wildfires decimated communities.

In this brief conversation, Wanecke shared with us the differences of deploying for disaster relief during a pandemic and the ways she was still able to let reeling families know that they weren’t alone in this battle.

You are someone known around southeast Wisconsin for your work helping people after home fires or other local disasters. But you’ve also deployed to do different types of roles in humanitarian relief after large-scale disasters. Tell me a bit about your role after the wildfires in Oregon and where you were.

Hillary Wanecke, left, was part of a team that checked on affected homes and residents after wildfires in Oregon. Photo by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross

Wanecke: On this deployment I went out in Disaster Assessment … so I went into areas that had been affected by the wildfire – it had been burning for about two weeks. We went through trying to find out which homes were affected and which weren’t and that is used for the recovery process, so that Red Cross and other agencies can help people with the things they need to recover. A lot of the roads for the addresses we had were closed, some of the assessments started virtually, where we mapped out the locations of the houses based on what the Sheriff’s [Department] said. When the streets opened up after a few days, we drove by these addresses and verified. It seemed like there was a wind storm that just kicked up this fire and people had to evacuate within minutes. They just had to leave everything. That was heart-breaking. I was around the town of Blue River [Oregon], population of about 900 on the McKenzie River. It burned to the ground. There wasn’t one building left, commercial or home in that little community.

You have hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland [in this part of Oregon]. These fires started from the lightning and the wind. At the beginning, around the beginning of September, they thought that they had these fires contained. These communities have existed here for hundreds of years, beautiful backdrops of the mountains and filled with these pristine trees. And the wind picked up, the fires kicked up and they just rolled down. … What was amazing was in some places, one house was standing and the next three houses were ashes. It seems like luck of the draw but no matter who you were, if you were in the path of it, you were really in trouble.

What were some of the homeowners you talked with saying about how they escaped, what they went through to get out?

Wanecke: One guy was very prepared, a younger man who had a satellite phone, a generator. He had kind of organized people in his community of McKenzie Ridge, for water and necessities, his own little help center. His house wasn’t burned. He said he went to sleep that night, knowing there was a wind storm [coming]. He was prepared for that but he thought the power might go out. So, what did he do? He turned off his phone to preserve power. And he woke up and the fire saved his house, but it torched the rest of the community. He was like a lot of people, he went to bed and it was fine and then it escalated to … people had to flee with whatever they had on them.

You’re just thinking that this fire is still going. If the winds changed, if the forecast changed, it wasn’t good.

What were some of the resources you and your Red Cross teams were able to bring people.

In the town of Blue River, Ore., Wanecke, left, and fellow disaster volunteers gathered information used to provide financial and other assistance to hundreds of families who lost everything to wildfires. Photo by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross

Wanecke: We’ve got this great technology and we were able to go around, find addresses, locate people who had been affected. Then, we were able to share with victims where they could get help. In the aftermath, they left so quickly, they may have been staying in cars, staying with relatives. They were shell-shocked. We were able to connect with people to get them into hotels from the Red Cross, to get them registered that they were affected by this so that they could start a case with us [for potential financial assistance], with FEMA, other agencies. After the initial days, we were doing “hot shot” calls, for people seeking help. We’d get a call from someone who evacuated who’d say, “My house, I’m not sure if it was affected, it’s at this address.” People couldn’t go back in to their communities. And if we hadn’t identified it previously, we’d go out to see the status of the house.

Now, we’re talking with people who are existing volunteers and recruit new volunteers to help with these wildfires and other disasters going on, either in person or virtually. What would you say to someone about the personal reward you find in deploying like this, even with all the considerations?

Wanecke: I was nervous about going out, during the pandemic. But you’re very well covered. The Red Cross has a lot of good training, specialty training related to COVID-19 … We’ve changed procedures during this. We’ve all gotten very good at [Microsoft] Teams and we’re using other technology more smartly. But we pivot where we have to. Some of the cell towers burned so we were doing work back on pen and paper.

It’s a changing experience. The Red Cross sees a need and it finds a way to fill it. If we can’t serve people out of Cambros, those big, red meal containers, we’ll find a way of packaging those meals and getting them to the people. If we can’t have a large congregate shelter in the basement of a church with 200 people, then we’re going to find a hotel and run it like a shelter, to get the people housed and fed. It’s a little different, you’re not hugging people. But you’re still getting information out to people and there are a lot of people who need this help, between the fires, the storms down South, the home fires locally. It’s a mess out there. But we’ve made it work.

Was there a moment you had with someone from Oregon, affected by these wildfires?

Wanecke: This one couple … she had just gotten out of the hospital and was sitting on her walker while her husband took a sieve through the ashes of their trailer home.

We found out from them that they had evacuated and this was their first time back to their trailer, which was in ash. And they had been sleeping in a tent. She was just out of the hospital … [from] a back surgery. When you think it can’t get any worse …

We let them know that they didn’t have to sleep in a tent. We got them in touch with the Red Cross in Eugene [Oregon] and found a hotel room for them and food was being delivered. … [W]hen you’re knocked on your tail with a disaster like that, sometimes common sense can go out the window. You are so overwhelmed. We were able to tell this couple that they didn’t have to do this by themselves.

You can join volunteers like Hillary in a number of roles that help people in need. Find roles for today’s disasters at redcross.org/VolunteerToday

‘We need some good in the world’: American Red Cross Club leader dedicates days to public service

By Rachel Helgeson, American Red Cross

While it seems the whole world is experiencing many “no’s” in this time of job loss, social distancing, and civil and political unrest, one young woman decided to give a resounding ‘yes’ to the public service.

Carly Langkamp, a 22-year-old Darlington, Wisc. native, dedicated herself once again to upholding two new volunteer roles with the American Red Cross immediately after graduating from University of Wisconsin – Madison in May.

Carly Langkamp, right, talks with prospective Red Cross volunteers and club members at a 2019 event on UW-Madison campus.

She had already volunteered years and hundreds of hours to the Red Cross Club at her college, even sitting as the Vice President of the group.

As a college freshman, Carly first said “yes” to the Red Cross Club and stuck with it because of those she was surrounded by, although there were only three individuals in the fundraising committee where she first volunteered.

“There was something about the Red Cross, I vibed with the other people there,” Carly said. “I really like the people.”

But now, even amidst a pandemic, a new position in the business world, and an upcoming move to Chicago, nothing could keep Carly away from volunteering for the Wisconsin Red Cross.

“We need some good in the world, especially now. If people have time why not? I would want someone to do the same for me that I am doing for other people,” she said.

Carly sees the value in giving her time as a Volunteer Recognition Lead and a Youth Engagement Lead, where she is able to work virtually to uplift, support, and acknowledge adult and student volunteers around the state.

As a Volunteer Recognition Lead, Carly works with Jocelyn Berkhahn, the Wisconsin Region Volunteer Engagement Specialist, to coordinate birthday wishes for volunteers and answers questions.

Langkamp, left of T-shirt in front row, poses with their Madison Red Cross Club in 2019.

In her Youth Engagement Lead position, Carly oversees five college Red Cross Clubs, just like the one she was in at UW-Madison, and three high school clubs.

“There are two new clubs pending which is pretty cool,” Carly said. “I send youth Happy Birthday’s and get them registered and if they have questions I help. With this virtual environment we’re trying to brainstorm activities to participate.”

Although her work and volunteer lifestyle is keeping her busy, Carly keeps in mind why she does what she does.

“What I get from it is enjoyment, I am glad that I am able to help Jocelyn out,” she said. “I don’t see myself stopping volunteering, unless work keeps me from giving as much as I would want. Even if that would happen, I’d still try to find a way to help out.”

Find out more about Red Cross Club opportunities at your school. Email Jocelyn to get involved and make a difference in our world.

Volunteer Donna Forbes is driven to share with others

By Katie Baneck, American Red Cross

Donna Forbes has been an American Red Cross volunteer since 1999. But her service to other people goes back much farther.

“I grew up in a family where I learned from example that no matter how little you had, you shared with those that had even less,” Forbes said.

What started as odd jobs around the office later turned into casework for the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) area of the Red Cross. Donna’s casework with the SAF began while her husband was serving in the Reserves, making the role a natural fit for her.

As time went on, she decided to branch out and work with the Disaster Action Team, bringing comfort to those affected by some of life’s unimaginable hardships. 

As an educator, Donna took advantage of her network of students and their families. She held fundraisers for the Red Cross and shared its vision with her school community. Donna believed it was important to teach her students about social responsibility and the positive impact they could make within their community through volunteering and philanthropy.

Donna started doing casework for the Red Cross Disaster Services while living at MacDill Airforce Base in Tampa, Fla. It was here she witnessed firsthand accounts of the poor living situations people can be left to after surviving a disaster. Being a caseworker enabled Donna to assist with improving the well-being of people in the community by working with them to develop recovery plans. She found this work most crucial in the first few days following a disaster, when her clients were still experiencing the shock and abruptness from their situations.

Eventually moving to Wisconsin, Donna became a Casework Supervisor. This role exposed her to many new people within the Red Cross volunteer community. Donna found it rewarding being surrounded by dedicated, like-minded people all fighting for the Red Cross mission. While she finds it uplifting to be part of such an inspiring community, Donna was honest about the frustrations one can experience as a volunteer.

“I think it is not being able to do more” for people in crisis, she said.

In any organization, volunteers are limited in their reach. While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way in which Red Cross volunteers are able to perform their acts of service and get help to the community, people like Donna are still putting in the work and driving the mission forward.

Find a volunteer opportunity that fits your interests, passions and schedule. Visit redcross.org/VolunteerToday and join dedicated volunteers like Donna.

Donate with Red Cross to help ensure a diverse blood supply

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Sept. 11, 2020) – The American Red Cross needs people of all races and ethnicities to give blood to help ensure a blood supply as diverse as the patients who depend on it.

For a small percentage of the population, finding someone else with the same blood type can be difficult. While the vast majority of people have types A, B, O or AB blood, some blood types are unique to certain racial and ethnic groups, so a diverse blood supply is important to meeting the medical needs of a diverse patient population. Patients who require frequent blood transfusions as part of their treatment, like those with sickle cell disease or other lifelong blood disorders, often need close blood type matches to prevent complications from their transfusion therapy.

Mark Thomas, American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region CEO, smiles behind his mask as he makes a life-saving blood donation during an August drive in Milwaukee.

All blood types are needed to ensure that the right blood product is available at the right time for all patients.

Make an appointment to donate by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device. Blood drives are also essential in helping ensure blood is available for patients this winter. To learn more and sign up to host a blood drive this fall or winter, visit RedCrossBlood.org/HostADrive

Important COVID-19 information for donors

The Red Cross is testing blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. The test may indicate if the donor’s immune system has produced antibodies to this coronavirus, regardless of whether they developed symptoms. Red Cross antibody tests will be helpful to identify individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies and may qualify to be convalescent plasma donors. Convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation collected from COVID-19 survivors that have antibodies that may help patients who are actively fighting the virus. Donors can expect to receive the results of their antibody test within 7 to 10 days through the Red Cross Blood Donor App or the donor portal at RedCrossBlood.org.

The Red Cross is not testing donors to diagnose illness, referred to as a diagnostic test. To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, it is important that individuals who do not feel well or believe they may be ill with COVID-19 postpone donation.

Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face covering or mask while at the drive, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance.  

For media interest:

Annual membership notice for Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross – Southeast Wisconsin Chapter is inviting all eligible members to join our annual membership meeting at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

Membership is open to anyone who has made a monetary contribution, performed volunteer service and/or donated blood to the American Red Cross. The purpose of membership is to promote community understanding, commitment and support of the Red Cross mission and services.

This annual meeting will be led by the Board of Directors of the Southeast Chapter and will include election of officers as well as regular business updates.

This meeting will be held virtually via Microsoft Teams, out of a continuing abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For an invitation to the meeting or other questions, reach out to Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive Mark Thomas at mark.thomas3@redcross.org

Lloyd Seawright is engaged, busy — and ready for even more

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

It was fifteen years ago around this very time that Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana coast and pummeled the city of New Orleans. Lloyd Seawright, a current American Red Cross volunteer based out of Milwaukee, shares harrowing tales involving several of his family members directly impacted by Katrina.

“My mom is from New Orleans and was living there in 2005 when Katrina hit. Although she was trapped by the storm she survived,” recounted Seawright. “But I lost several family members including my grandmother and my great uncle to the disaster.”

Lloyd Seawright while helping others at a disaster shelter.

His elderly grandmother was living in a convalescent home and couldn’t get out in time. According to Seawright, she actually floated out of the facility and was located through the help of Red Cross ham radio operators. His great uncle was never found.

After experiencing the fear and heartbreak of that natural disaster, Seawright made a vow to himself that one day he would help others who might be in such a situation. And he is making good on his promise.

In 2013 Seawright registered to volunteer with the Red Cross and has jumped at every opportunity to get involved. He’s participated in a range of trainings, all to provide him the chance to respond, help others, and eventually perhaps to save lives.

“I’ve been able to get involved with the Red Cross on many levels all across the board, and I continue to be ready to do whatever is needed of me,” he said.

In the past several years Seawright has responded to the destructive flooding in Burlington and Waterford, as well as the major fire in Bayside last year that displaced more than one hundred residents. He also participated in Red Cross fundraising campaigns to support the recovery from Hurricane Florence’s devastation in 2018.

You can be a hero to veterans, families displaced by fire, blood donors and more. Join our volunteer teams. Find the volunteer opportunity for you at redcross.org/volunteer.

Seawright explains that he enjoys his Red Cross volunteer work because it provides him with the continuous opportunity to learn and operate within the ranks of the Red Cross. He appreciates the education he’s gained and the chance to work across different teams in different ways – from sheltering and fundraising to lifesaving and disaster response. The one major box he has yet to check is deployment. Seawright’s training and skills are matched by his desire to one day deploy to a national or international disaster site.

Lloyd Seawright gives two-thumbs up after a smoke alarm installation event in 2019.

Seawright’s non-volunteer work keeps him busy, and there’s a common thread across his various activities. A former member of the Marine Corps Reserve; he demonstrates a call to duty in everything he pursues. By day he works in emergency management where he instructs and evaluates individuals training to become EMTs. He’s also passionate about his job as a lifeguard at Atwater Beach, a public beach located on the shore of Lake Michigan in Shorewood, Wisc. His medical training, lifesaving and open water skills make him especially suited for that work.

When asked his thoughts regarding the current global pandemic, Seawright expresses concern for the toll it is taking on mental health. The isolation factor many are experiencing is particularly troubling.

“I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person,” he said, “but I do worry about how the loss of normal milestones like going back to school or celebrating birthdays and weddings with friends will impact many people, especially kids.”

For now, Seawright continues to stay optimistic and focus on the Red Cross volunteer activities that come his way. And more than anything, he looks forward to getting the call to deploy to serve as a Red Cross volunteer on a national mission.

‘Now I can look out for myself and others’: Red Cross award honoree shares the First Aid basics that kept a co-worker alive

By Angela Glowacki, American Red Cross 

“If my story gets one person to sign up for Red Cross training, then I did something.” – Kevin Arrowood

Kevin Arrowood is an employee at Borregaard LignoTech, in north-central Wisconsin, a company that offers American Red Cross CPR/Adult First Aid/AED training to its employees. In late 2019, Kevin, along with two other employees, took part in this training. A few weeks later, that same training would help save a fellow co-worker’s life.

Kevin and honors

Arrowood smiles with his Certificate of Merit honors for life-saving action based on Red Cross training.

In January, Kevin said one of his co-workers appeared sweaty, out of sorts and was complaining of headaches. Based on his Red Cross training, Kevin feared his co-worker could be having a stroke. He sat the co-worker down, and then alerted nearby colleagues, Emily Ertl, Peter Lawrence, and Maria Bandell. The four of them worked together in calling 9-1-1 and keeping their co-worker calm and conscious until EMTs arrived.

During a talk with Kevin in July, he talked about how he was able to use the knowledge he gained from the Red Cross training to take action.

“When you look back on it, you can tell something was off” with the co-worker, even though he and Kevin had not known each other well. “It reminded me of the signs of a stroke and reminded me [it was important] to calm him down.”

For their efforts, Kevin, Emily and Peter were given the Certificate of Merit, highest honor the Red Cross bestows upon a citizen. The Certificate is signed by the President of the United States, and is accompanied by a medal and a pin. Even though she had not participated in the First Aid training, Maria’s integral action in helping the team and her co-worker earned her the Extraordinary Personal Action Certificate. The team was surprised with the honors after sharing their story during a Wisconsin Region North Central Chapter board virtual meeting in July, and then an in-person presentation the following day at their workplace in Rothschild, Wisc.


You can find a life-saving training near you that fits your schedule. Click here to find a schedule for trainings on CPR, First Aid and more from the American Red Cross.


On the day of the incident, the coworker who indeed suffered a stroke was taken to the hospital. Months later, that co-worker has recovered and “you would never know” the serious health scare he went through, thanks in part to the quick work of his colleagues. He’s back at work and was able to share in the special presentation of the awards and the story sharing at the Rothschild manufacturer in mid-July.

Borregaard Group With Logo 07162020

Wendy Savage, in white, meets with the team that used Red Cross First Aid training to help save a co-worker’s life, during an award presentation in July at Borregaard in Rothschild.

“Now I can look out for myself and others”, Kevin said.

Jen Marzu, an employee at Borregaard and the Red Cross instructor who trained Kevin and his coworkers, voiced how proud she is of her team that they were able to work together to save a life.

“I trained my first responders to take care of the situation … it made me feel good that I knew they were all in good hands” Jen shared during the board meeting. She said about half their employees have taken this training, which ranks above their workplace requirements.

The president of the company, Paul Hendricks, joined the virtual meeting for the story and surprise recognitions. Paul also voiced his appreciation for the workers and the Red Cross for providing the lifesaving training.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our employees and how they reacted. We also have to thank the resources that the Red Cross supplies,” he said. “[It is] fantastic guidance”.

To find out more about the Certificate of Merit and to nominate someone, visit this page.

A New Year’s resolution to volunteer leads to a remarkable year of Red Cross action

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

When Lynn Marquardt, of Sturgeon Bay, applied to be an American Red Cross volunteer one year ago in January, she never expected that her New Year’s resolution would send her to two of the most devastating natural disasters of 2018.

Newly retired from her career as a family nurse practitioner, Marquardt was ready to join her husband, Dennis, as a Red Cross volunteer. After signing up and finding an area she found interesting – disaster response – she went through online and in-person trainings.

marquardts in panama city

Lynn Marquardt, right, and her husband Dennis, both of Sturgeon Bay, serve meals to two people staying at a shelter in Panama City, Fla. in October.

Then, in spring 2018, her first volunteer response: a trailer fire in the middle of the night, in the nearby town of Brussels. She arrived to find a large family, pets included, huddled in a vehicle after fleeing their burning trailer. Seeing the state they were in – barefoot, scared and in shock, but fortunately unharmed – the reality of the ordeal suddenly hit her.

“I realized what it meant to have to leave behind everything in order to escape – your identification, medications, meaningful personal belongings,” Marquardt said.

But the horror of the situation was replaced by the reward she felt in responding to the family’s immediate needs.

It was a privilege for her to explain to the family that the Red Cross would provide them with shelter and help them get funds for certain basic things.

“To see the relief on their faces meant so much,” she said. “I knew this was the start of their healing process.”


Click here to find your place as a volunteer with the American Red Cross this year.


For both Marquardt and her husband, this affirmed their decision to become Red Cross volunteers. A few months later, they had the opportunity to put their compassion and talents toward a disaster with national attention.

Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the residents of North Carolina when the Marquardts received the call in September. They arrived a few days after the storm hit and were assigned to a shelter in the town of Sanford, housing over 300 residents, many with medical needs such as hemodialysis. Once there, Marquardt was tasked with feeding, all from a single-burner stove in the shelter’s small kitchen.

She realized the first thing she needed to do was build trust in those she would be helping. The simple act of offering snacks and drinks to the residents made a difference.

“When they saw what we could offer, it changed the nature of our relationship,” she said. Marquardt also discovered the generosity of the local community as many restaurants donated food.

Over time the shelter’s residents opened up and shared their stories, which for Marquardt “was a beautiful experience, and a real lesson in humanity.” Despite the hard work, long days, and sharing a single shower with hundreds of others, she came away with a true understanding of the importance of cooperation.

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Sand replacement roads and snapped pine trees were typical sights for Lynn Marquardt during her deployment for Hurricane Michael. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers from across the U.S. descended on the area to help those in need.

Only weeks later the call came to travel to Florida and help with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. The Marquardts flew into Tallahassee, received their orders, and then drove to Panama City.  This was essentially “ground zero” of the storm and one of the hardest hit cities.

“I remember driving in and seeing the destruction. There were still electrical wires dangling and trees blocking the roads,” recalled Marquardt. “We were in the midst of a disaster that was still going on.”

They were directed to a shelter set up in a school, one of the few schools not destroyed by the hurricane, housing hundreds of people. Assigned again to feeding, Marquardt worked alongside volunteers to provide the residents three meals each day. And again, most memorable for Marquardt was the outpouring of support the shelter received from local community members.

With her first year of volunteering now in the books, will 2019 be as busy for Marquardt? There’s no way to predict, but she does have one particular goal: should a disaster strike that involves the need for an emergency response vehicle (ERV), she’d like to put her recent driver training to the test and get behind the wheel.

newyearnewyouShe also plans to complete training to become a Red Cross supervisor/manager. The supervisors she worked under in her first year of volunteering recommended that she and her husband both pursue this training given the leadership skills they demonstrated.

Looking back on an action-packed year of volunteering, Marquardt remarked that “the mission of the Red Cross – to alleviate human suffering – is what drives and inspires me.” The Red Cross is fortunate that Marquardt made the decision to channel this drive into a new year’s resolution that ultimately helped hundreds of people.

It’s not too late for you to consider making a similar resolution at the start of 2019. Take the first step by filling out the volunteer form here.