This past Saturday, October 5, was my 12-year anniversary with the American Red Cross. How did this happen? Where did the time go?
When I tried to write about it, words failed. Or, rather, words poured out of my pen in an endless, meandering stream: lots of words, not much sense.
So I got ambitious and turned the past twelve years into a simple infographic. (Click on the graphic to get a better view.) There are the long-term projects that lasted weeks, months or years, and the one-off emergency responses that lasted only a few days–often just one day.
Last month I attended Social Media Week New York. As most of my career has been spent in non-profits, I registered for panels on non-profits, international development, and using social media for social good. There was a good deal of discussion about events happening in the Middle East, and opinions were divided on how much (or how little) social media like Facebook and Twitter were influencing the democracy movements.
Friday around noon I returned from an early lunch break for a panel discussion. Every venue (that I know of) had wi-fi, so after finding a good seat I cracked open my laptop to check e-mail and Twitter. Twitter was alive! Reports that Hosni Mubarak had resigned were lighting up my timeline, so I switched briefly to my News list, which was also crazy. But this is a new medium, and the contradictory reports of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in January had shown me that misinformation can propagate just as easily as reliable information. So I quickly looked at the websites of the New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera English. All of them reported Mubarak’s resignation, so I accepted it as true.
In case you didn’t know, March is American Red Cross Month, as it has been every year since 1943.
On March 1 the Cape Fear Chapter tweeted an intriguing question: “What is your favorite experience with the Red Cross?” After almost nine and a half years, it’s difficult to think about a favorite experience. Perhaps handing out hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge on the last day of the 2005 New York City transit strike. We’d just heard that the strike was over and transit would be running again the next morning, so it took on a party atmosphere. It was cold that evening, but the hot chocolate and the end of the strike made it better. Then a young woman came down the ramp from the Bridge, cell phone clasped to her ear, and squealed into the phone, “It’s the Red Cross… and they have hot chocolate!!!” (We don’t always get such immediate gratification on the larger disasters.)
For almost nine years I have been a volunteer with the American Red Cross. (To be precise I was a paid staff member for three of those years and a volunteer the other six.) In that time I’ve done quite a few things, beginning with two months as a volunteer doing data entry on the World Trade Center disaster response, then working for the September 11 Recovery Program (that was the paid position). After downsizing in 2004, as the Recovery Program was completing its work, I became an active volunteer with the Greater New York chapter.
Last Thursday I was scheduled to give a presentation on emergency preparedness in Staten Island at 7:00 pm. After five years of giving presentations I almost had to cancel one for the first time–there was a tornado warning for Staten Island and Brooklyn until 6:00 pm. And I had figured that I would need to leave at just about 6:00 to get to the location with a little time to set up.
Now this was a serious conflict for me. Although as a volunteer I work many fewer hours than paid staff (and some other volunteers) do, I take my volunteer commitments seriously and once made I almost never cancel–and not at the last minute! Yet would it be appropriate to go out when there was a tornado warning? I was on pins and needles, listening to the radio and watching for text messages from Notify NYC.