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‘Our Teams Are Orchestras’: Get to Know Red Cross Chief Diversity Officer, Adrienne Alberts

Tue, 03/02/2021 - 08:26

Nearly six weeks in, Adrienne Alberts returns to the Red Cross with style and grace as our new Chief Diversity Officer. When you first meet Adrienne, she is a ball of energy that speaks very highly of her team and others and shows exceptional gratitude for the opportunities that have helped guide her to positions in leadership.

For Adrienne, there are many reasons that led her to this role at the Red Cross. She credits her years of experience in higher education and for-profit organizations, as well as the seven years she spent at the Red Cross serving in Disaster Cycle Services and Human Resources. But the way the Red Cross helped her and her family after Hurricane Katrina, has also made a lasting impression in her heart and mind to this day.

In a recent LinkedIn live discussion, moderated by Rodney Marshall, Programs Manager for the Office of Diversity & Inclusion Services, we asked Adrienne some questions about herself and on Diversity and Inclusion at the Red Cross.

How has your career path guided you to lead a large organization in Diversity and Inclusion?

“It really started in undergrad. I was in an organization called Students for Minority Outreach and our role was to help recruit underrepresented talent for James Madison University. As I reflect, every role I had has always passionately connected me to this work. I did a stint in higher education, I have done corporate roles for for-profits and even my work at the Red Cross had a substantive piece of it, whether I was leading workforce diversity programs or leading enterprise initiatives that really focused on underrepresented populations.

My Red Cross story has a lot to play in that too. My family was significantly impacted by Hurricane Katrina and the Red Cross was there for us. The Red Cross leaned in to help us figure out what steps to take with my mom and how to rebuild her experience to the point where we could rebuild houses and we could go back to being connected in New Orleans. We were all struck by the disparities and the way individuals were able to be supported and not. Yet, the Red Cross leaned in, in very important ways. I never forgot that. I never forgot the important role that the Red Cross played in my life at such an important time.”

What does Diversity and Inclusion look like at the Red Cross?

“Our workforce is made up of employees and volunteers. These are very different motivations coming together to serve the mission. Our mission has us in, and connected to, serving communities and identifying ways to partner around neutrality and universality; two of our fundamental principles. But we are also honoring the lived experiences of the communities we are engaging and partnering with.

One of things that ties me so much to the Red Cross is our motto. ‘Sleeves Up. Hearts Open. All in.’

I think that in our D&I work as well. We, Red Crossers are rolling up our sleeves to get ready to help and be a part of owning what it means to be diverse and inclusive as a community.

‘Hearts Open.’ We are expecting the best of each other every single day with compassion and vulnerability as we lean into our work.

‘All in.’ Red Crossers are all in. They say, ‘It is important to me that I am creating a space for every single Red Crosser.’ When I think of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Red Cross, that is what I think about.”

How does the Red Cross work with diverse partners to support the communities we serve?

“We don’t do this alone. There is no way we can serve, connect and support communities if we tried to do it ourselves. Our partners mean everything to our ability to carry out our mission at the end of the day.

One example that comes to mind, I had the pleasure and honor to meet with a D&I committee board in Philadelphia. They showed us that by connecting with faith-based organizations, they can bring visibility to the mission work we are doing around closing the sickle cell gap. They had the opportunity to create blood drives that really help us support individuals who need lifesaving blood but that partnership is really the reason that it happened. It was about us being mutually connected and wanting to honor and serve communities, that allowed us to come together to accomplish a goal.”

How are Red Cross leaders leaning into the D&I space?

“I’m proud that our executive leadership have embraced this notion of allyship in a way that makes me beam with pride to be part of this organization. For them to say, ‘it is my responsibility to make sure we are the Red Cross we want to be. I have to be active in my allyship to sponsor individuals and their voices at the table, to sponsor the way we engage in community and to make sure it becomes the fabric of who were going to be in the future.’

Those notions of inclusiveness and allyship are things I have really seen in a significant way and it makes me proud.”

Why is it important to have diverse perspectives on a team or project?

“Can you imagine a conductor leading an orchestra and only letting the audience hear the violins. Our teams are orchestras. We have the opportunity to benefit when we ensure that; one, all the instruments are there, i.e. all the voices are represented, and then two, that you actually utilize them because that is how you hear the beautiful music and how you actually meet the mission.

Research has shown us that organizations and teams that lean in to make sure all voices are represented and heard, are far more resilient, far more financially sound and the engagement of the workforce is stronger.  I hope we think of that during a critical discussion. Think of it as an orchestra, where you make sure all your instruments are there and you make space for every single note to be heard.”

To hear more from Adrienne’s discussion on all things Diversity and Inclusion at the Red Cross, hop over to our LinkedIn page to watch here.

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Gerald Thomas: “If I can make that level of transformative change in other countries, I can do that here.”

Mon, 02/22/2021 - 05:59
Gerald Thomas, Chief Executive Officer for the North Florida Region of the Red Cross (Photo taken pre-COVID-19)

For Black History Month, we are honoring Black men and women whose contributions are essential to our humanitarian mission. This week, we are highlighting Gerald Thomas, the Chief Executive Officer for the North Florida Region of the American Red Cross, whose long history serving in the U.S. Marine Corps led him to serve his community through the Red Cross.

In 1988, Gerald enlisted in the Marine Corps during his sophomore year at Augusta State University, as an opportunity to serve and finish his education.

He spent more than 20 years in the Marine Corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he held positions as a Commanding Officer of Lima Company for the 3rd Battalion Second Marines and as a Deputy Director – Marine Corps Liaison for the U.S. House of Representatives. As a Deputy Director, he led congressional delegations and worked closely with members of Congress to advocate for Marine Corps Policies and Programs.

Having the opportunity to impact the lives of some of the best and brightest young leaders is what motivated Gerald to serve his country over the years.

As a Commanding Officer, he led a team of 250 Marines into combat and recalls how bringing them all back home was one of his proudest moments.

Gerald Thomas as Commanding Officer of Lima Company for the 3rd Battalion Second Marines.

“I stood in front of those families before we left, and I was in charge to take care of their sons,” he said. “Being able to come back home almost six months later and say, ‘Here are your Marines,’ was one of the most impactful things for me.”

When he retired from the Marine Corps in 2009, he took on a role in the U.S. Senate as a lead staffer for a Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. His work in defense and national security policies led him to a fellow Red Crosser, Koby Langley, the Senior Vice President of International Services and Service to the Armed Forces (SAF).

That connection would lead Gerald to a volunteer opportunity with the Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

“I was going back to school, not working at the time, but looking for an opportunity to volunteer and give back,” he said. “That’s when Koby reached out to me with the opportunity to volunteer with SAF at the Red Cross.”

Gerald may have started as volunteer at the Red Cross, but it wasn’t the first time he came across the organization and the services it provides.

“Early in my Marine Corps career, I actually found out that my oldest son had been born through a Red Cross emergency communication message,” he said. “That was my first experience with the Red Cross and how they support us.”

Through that same emergency communication service, the Red Cross also helped him get back home after his grandmother passed away.

After seven months of volunteering with the Red Cross, Gerald went on to become SAF’s Director of Strategic Planning of Program Management. For two years, he focused on expanding the Hero Care Network by solidifying the connection between call centers and caseworkers on the field to better support the needs of military members, veterans and their families.

To this day, the Hero Care Network provides 24/7 emergency communications and critical services to military families across the world.

“When we are in a disaster response in Florida, we can have caseworkers from other places, like California, support families as if they were actually there,” he said. “They can give them the same level of care and service.”

Today, you can find Gerald as the Chief Executive Officer for the North Florida Region, where he oversees three Red Cross chapters that serve nearly 3.8 million residents across 35 counties.

Since he can remember, Gerald has volunteered in his local community and has even coached Little League, but leading teams and serving overseas is what guided him to a career and life of service.

“That’s when I thought, if I can make that level of transformative change in other countries, I can do that here,” he said. “That is what really moved me to be in the non-profit sector.”

Because of Red Crossers, like Gerald, our mission is made possible. From military life to leading a Red Cross region, Gerald’s level of commitment and service is worth recognizing.

Thank you, Gerald for all you do for the Red Cross and the communities you serve in North Florida! Most importantly, we thank you for your service and sacrifice to this country.

 

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Shonette Sneed: “Everyone has a story and that’s what keeps me motivated.”

Mon, 02/08/2021 - 08:39
Shonette Sneed, Regional Donor Services Executive for the Red Cross (Photo taken pre-COVID-19)

For Black History Month, we are honoring Black men and women whose contributions are essential to our humanitarian mission. This week, meet Shonette Sneed, a Regional Donor Services Executive in South Carolina for the American Red Cross, who is passionate about serving her community and raising awareness for the need of a diverse blood supply.

For nearly 18 years, Shonette has served the Red Cross mission, but service to others was ingrained in her at a young age.

“We were always raised to not look down on someone else because of their circumstances, but you try to give back.”

Growing up in New Orleans, at least once a month, Shonette would volunteer in the community with her church. Her hunger for giving back continued when she moved to Nashville, Tenn., for college. There, she joined the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization and was matched for the first time with a young girl, Zy.

That moment changed Shonette’s direction in serving her community. For the past 16 years, she has mentored young kids like Zy, and she encourages them to volunteer their time and give back.

“I believe you have to introduce volunteering early to young people because it is something they will carry on,” she said.

Shonette’s story doesn’t stop there. Her passion for serving the Red Cross and sharing the mission was born out of a personal experience. Back in 2005, her family was severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina, and many of them lost nearly everything: homes, businesses, connectivity and more.

After weeks of not hearing from loved ones, Shonette witnessed firsthand the work of the Red Cross. Her family made it safely to a Red Cross shelter in Austin, Tex., and she was able to connect with them thanks to a Red Cross volunteer.

“I never ever thought we would need help from an organization, and here is my family receiving those resources and then some,” she said.

Shonette realized that her life experiences and stories are what motivate her to support unmet needs in her community, like a diverse bloody supply.

“I have a family member that has sickle cell [disease],” she said. “She is 19 years old and we had to receive services from the Red Cross. There were times where she was in the hospital and I would be with her parents waiting on a unit of blood to arrive.”

As an African American woman with a family member who has sickle cell disease, she felt there was more she could do to raise awareness for both a sufficient blood supply for patients in need and an increase in the pool of diverse blood donors.

After significant research and multiple discussions with her colleagues and partners, Shonette created a Diverse Donor Task Force – the first of its kind – comprised of community members, medical directors, communication specialists and others. The task force was created in July 2020 and worked quickly to host events for Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Together, the team hosted seven blood drives that year.

Shonette understands what it means for families to need blood, and that drives her to make a difference. We honor Shonette for the remarkable work she has accomplished at the Red Cross and her exceptional passion to serve others.

Thank you Shonette for all you do for our lifesaving mission and for your community!

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A Legacy of “Firsts” To Celebrate Black History Month

Mon, 02/01/2021 - 10:15
Historical poster created by the DC Chapter in 1988, featuring our African American leaders.

Throughout American Red Cross history, notable African Americans have paved the way in our organization for future generations who came after them. As we kick off Black History Month, we are honoring Black men and women whose contributions were essential to our humanitarian mission.

Frederick Douglass, prominent abolitionist and author, became friends with Clara Barton shortly after the Civil War. He offered her advice and support as she tried to get the organization established in the U.S. Douglass’ name is on the appeal for funds after the 1882 Mississippi floods and he would eventually sign the Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross in his capacity as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia.

Frances Reed Elliott Davis brought her passion for nursing to the Red Cross, becoming its first African American nurse. Her first assignment was providing medical care for the families of service members during World War I in Chattanooga, Tenn. As a legacy for future nurses, she helped organize the first training school for African American nurses at Dunbar Hospital, the first hospital for the black community in Detroit.

Artist Henry Ossawa Tanner painted and sketched the work of the Red Cross in the region of Neufchâteau, France, during World War I. His indelible artwork features many images of African American troops serving on the front lines.

The iconic Red Cross bloodmobiles were the brainchild of Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer in developing a national blood bank. He was already an authority in this field when he was appointed director of the first Red Cross blood bank in 1941. He was outspoken against unscientific and racially discriminatory practices in blood collection and was dedicated to blazing a trail for African Americans pursuing a medical education.

An advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration (the first African-American woman to head a federal agency), Mary McLeod Bethune was integral in discussing and increasing African American representation within the Red Cross – from staff in overseas clubs and enrollment of nurses, to those serving on committees and staff departments both locally and nationally, and more.

Dr. Jerome Holland became involved with the Red Cross as a member of the American Red Cross Board of Governors from 1964 to 1970. Later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him chairman of the Board in 1979 and he was appointed again by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, the first African American to hold this position. His greatest contributions include advancing blood research (a Red Cross biomedical research facility in Rockville, Md., is named after him), as well as encouraging the integration of volunteers so all communities could receive essential and equitable Red Cross services.

A young volunteer serving in the Service to Military Families Department of the Greater Milwaukee Chapter would eventually become the Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee of the same chapter. Gwen T. Jackson’s other leadership roles include the first African American appointed National Chairman of Volunteers in 1988, a member of the American National Red Cross Board of Governors in 1992 and re-elected in 1995, and Chair Emeritus of the Milwaukee Chapter.

Today, a legacy of “firsts” continue for our African American Red Crossers. Rod Tolbert, a South Carolina native, was named the first African American Chief Executive Officer for the South Carolina Region of the Red Cross. His journey with the Red Cross started in 1998 as a Health and Safety Director for a local chapter. He then went on to join Red Cross’ national team as the Vice President for Disaster Services Technology, where he oversaw a team of staff and volunteers that provided IT support for regional and national level disasters.

These are the stories of trailblazers from our past and today, who made significant contributions to our organization. Without them, our humanitarian mission in providing lifesaving blood, critical aid to families impacted by disasters and support to military members, veterans and their families – would not be possible.

This month, we celebrate our historical figures and recognize current African American leaders, like Rod who make the Red Cross what it is today.

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#MLKDay: How You Can Serve with a Purpose

Mon, 01/18/2021 - 09:23
“Everyone can be great because everybody can serve.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Red Cross Youth Volunteer Maddie Adams walking 1,800 steps on MLK Day of Service.

Every year, communities across the country take time to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy through a day of service. “A day on, not off” to serve others in ways that will make a difference and bring communities and neighborhoods together.

Due to COVID-19, many organizations have had to cancel their large, public Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service events, which has left many people wondering how they can honor the day. If you are looking to go out and make an impact on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, consider serving with a purpose in a safe and engaged way through any of these ideas:

Walk 1,800 steps in your community.

Your first step toward serving is always the most important. In the case of Dr. King, his first 1,800 steps toward the Lincoln Memorial served as a catalyst toward the everlasting “I Have a Dream” speech. Walk 1,800 steps in your community to commemorate the day, and use the time to think of ways you can get involved with local programs and services for the entire year.

Red Cross volunteers, like Maddie Adams from our Eastern New York Region, are participating in a memorial walk to promote diversity, kindness and equity.

“I feel it is my responsibility to lead by example and hope to encourage others to join in,” Maddie said.

Donate blood.

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood and YOU can make that lifesaving difference. Since COVID-19, blood donation centers have put safety protocols in place such as requiring face masks, checking temperatures, spacing beds six feet apart, and routinely wiping down donor-touched areas.

Giving blood is an easy way to serve your community and impact the lives of countless families, like Red Crosser Melissa, whose mother was a two-time kidney transplant recipient and needed blood transfusions to treat her illness.

“My mom was diagnosed with kidney failure and relied on blood transfusions to help treat her illness,” Melissa said. “I remember seeing the Red Cross logo on the blood bag. I thought, ‘Wow. My mom is getting help from an organization I work for.’ When I saw that, a pride welled up inside of me. The transfusions helped save her life at that moment.”

Make an appointment to donate blood to help someone who desperately needs it.

Volunteer your time at a local organization.

Whether your passion is to advocate for the health and wellness of children, protect animals or provide aid to families impacted by disasters, dedicate your spare time to learning more about these organizations and how you can serve the community in that capacity.

There are many significant benefits to volunteering, like finding a sense of purpose, increasing self-confidence, lowering stress and connecting to others. Take it from Red Cross Volunteer Kallie Bunnell from the Utah/Nevada Region, who finds purpose in serving and believes it is the most powerful thing you can do.

“I would say that no matter who you are, you have the power to impact the lives around you through service,” Kallie said. “I have learned that service is using the gifts you already possess to improve others’ current circumstances. As a young woman in today’s society, it is so empowering to me to be involved with humanitarian efforts because it is the most influential and powerful thing you can do.”

Contribute to a cause you care about in your community by signing up to volunteer. To learn about our most-needed positions at the American Red Cross, click here.

Read a book to refresh your memory of history.

If you can’t find time to go out and volunteer, brush up on the history of King and his life work. There are countless published articles, novels and even children’s books to help readers understand what occurred in history and how Dr. King was a big part of it. Dr. King devoted his life to equality and justice for all, and reading about him is one way we can honor him.

A great way you can learn more about King is by reading about him from the perspective of others. Many of his family members wrote books about their experiences and what it was like to live during the Civil Rights Movement. Let their stories allow you to reflect on history and inspire you to serve your community in a way that makes an impact.

Get started here.

Host a virtual discussion.

Discussing the issues you care about with loved ones can be a great first step to serving with a purpose. Consider gathering your family and friends for a virtual discussion on community organizations you care about and ways you can lend your support. Think of ways you can engage with those organizations and support their services that will benefit others throughout the year or well into the future.

These discussions can also occur one-on-one with children. Red Crosser Kamalah Fletcher from the South Florida Region plans on ending Martin Luther King Jr. Day by talking about King with her niece.

“As an AmeriCorps Alumna, we have always made it a day ON, rather than a day OFF,” Kamalah said.  “This year, I will be doing the great work of connecting the American Red Cross more deeply to the communities we serve. When the day ON is over, my niece and I will be dedicating a portion of her bedtime story time to talking about Dr. King and his legacy.”

Today and every day we should honor Dr. King and his legacy by taking action in our community. He believed everyone, “can be great, because anybody can serve.” Whether you decide to give your time today or in the future, make sure to spread the word, inspire others, and keep the dialogue going in honor of King.

 

 

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Still need a New Year’s resolution? Resolve to volunteer.

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 16:09

What’s on your New Year’s resolution list? A new year is an opportunity to start with a fresh slate; to tackle unachieved goals, new experiences and life-changing decisions. Kicking off 2021 should be no different, especially after finishing up a year as challenging as the last one.

If you are still considering what to add to your list of New Year’s resolutions, here are five reasons why you should resolve to volunteer, with some perspective by Kallie Bunnell, Red Cross volunteer from the Utah/Nevada Region:

 

#1 You get a chance to give back.

“I began volunteering with the Red Cross at the beginning of 2020 because I felt something was missing in my life. I wanted to take part in something meaningful for people who needed it the most. Red Cross volunteers are some of the first people there after a disaster providing care for all human basic needs, such as shelter, food, supplies, medical assistance, and counseling. As a member of the Disaster Action Team within the Red Cross, I get to be part of the frontlines both in my community and on deployments to other states during an emergency.”

 

#2 You can gain professional experience.

I am going into nursing school and I had the opportunity to shadow the nurses in the disaster health services team with the Red Cross. We aided many of the evacuees to receive necessary medical supplies, such as wheelchairs, walkers, blood pressure cuffs, glucometers, etc. We also worked with local pharmacies to get the evacuees medications that they left home in the event of the evacuation. It was a very rewarding experience to help provide essential supplies to those in need while learning how the Red Cross works.” 

 

#3 Volunteering helps strengthen a community.

“One of the most rewarding parts of disaster relief is taking the opportunity to talk to the evacuees. I had a very impactful experience while talking to one evacuee from Lake Charles, Louisiana. There was an older man sitting by himself on the couch, so I decided to sit down with him (six feet away of course). He told me that his nickname was ‘Butch’ and that people called him by that name all his life. When I asked him about his family, Butch told me that his wife had died just five months prior to the hurricanes. He relayed story after story of his life with his beautiful wife and all the good they did. He showed me pictures of his house that was completely destroyed.

 

“I asked him if he was worried about not having a home to go back to, and he said that all he cared about was that his daughter and grandchildren were with him. I remember him telling me something along the lines of ‘As long as they’re with me, I would live anywhere!’ This experience meant so much to me because it reminded me what matters most in this life!”

 

#4 Volunteering encourages civic responsibility.

“When I received the Red Cross email about deployment for [Hurricanes Sally, Laura and Marco], I felt a deep sense of urgency to step up to volunteer in place of someone who could potentially be in danger.

“It was cool to play a role in the efforts to prevent the spread of [COVID-19] between both the evacuees and the volunteers. In the time I was there, there were no known cases of COVID-19 contracted by evacuees or volunteers. It was very impressive and helped me to feel a lot safer while I was there!”

 

#5 Volunteering helps you find purpose.

“I would say that no matter who you are, you have the power to impact the lives around you through service. I have learned that service is using the gifts you already possess to improve others’ current circumstances. As a young woman in today’s society, it is so empowering to me to be involved with humanitarian efforts because it is the most influential and powerful thing you can do. If you want to make a real difference in the world, volunteer for the Red Cross!”

 

Our volunteers represent more than 90% of our workforce and are the backbone to our lifesaving mission. Kick off your year with confidence by resolving to volunteer with us! Learn more and get started at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

 

 

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