Great Stories, Part 3

As I’m sifting through great stories, deciding which ones to share with you, I am noticing a theme.  People.  It’s all about human connection.  The power of the American Red Cross is the way it allows people in vulnerable situations to reach out to each other.

Here’s a story from Michelle Barbaresso, an AmeriCorps member in Washtenaw County:

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After my first interview for the “Together We Prepare” position at the American Red Cross, I was told this position would challenge me every day in one way or another. Only after my first training with Service to Armed Forces (SAF), did I realize what “challenge” meant.

My first SAF exposure was definitely what I would consider an emotional test of strength, along with a few other experiences I have had since starting at the American Red Cross of Washtenaw County. Our trainer, Amy Jo, taught us that SAF casework is relatively structured as far as paperwork, but the caseworker must be flexible when faced with each individual situation. There was an interesting case on this first day of SAF training, one that Amy Jo hadn’t even dealt with before in her many years working with the Red Cross—a face-to-face interaction with a SAF client.

This individual came to our chapter with the desire to send a message to his son overseas. When he walked in, we could see his emotional distress from the start. He told us his father (the serviceman’s grandfather) was in hospice care and did not have much time left. Amy Jo did not have all the information necessary to send the message, so the individual called the hospice nurse to verify. As he was on the phone, he found out his father had actually passed away since he had last been with his father. Amy Jo changed the nature of the message and continued to send it to the serviceman, but the emotional intensity of that moment I will never forget. His face as he found out and the way he held back tears—that’s the individual I’m going to picture every time a SAF call comes through for me.

This is not an upbeat story by any means; in fact, I’m still tearing up weeks later because this moment was so emotional. But it taught me a valuable lesson about the American Red Cross and how much these messages really mean to the servicemen and women and their families. We must remember the responsibilities that come along with our positions, volunteer or otherwise, are constantly having an impact on people—whether it’s a SAF case or helping as a DAT team member at a house fire or teaching someone CPR and first aid—and how much what we do actually means to our community.

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