A Look Back at a Volunteer’s Journey

The American Red Cross’s mission is to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies through the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” It’s indeed the power and commitment of our volunteers that have allowed us to deliver our humanitarian mission since our founding.

Red Cross volunteers go wherever there are needed to bring comfort and care to those in time of need.  From helping a family cope after a devastating home fire to traveling across the country to bring much-needed relief to communities impacted by disasters.

Many of these volunteers pass on their love for the Red Cross mission to their families, which is the case of Barbara White who was a volunteer from 1953 to 2007.  Her daughter, Bonnie, volunteered with the Junior Red Cross at Fort Knox, Kentucky in seventh grade. Bonnie also enrolled in and completed all of the Red Cross lifesaving training as well as lifeguard training.

Bonnie Sweeney (right) and daughter, Elizabeth (left), with two of Barbara’s Red Cross uniforms from her time as a volunteer.

After moving to Indiana, Bonnie became involved with the Red Cross again during Hurricane Katrina, helping staff the call center that was set up to assist with relief efforts. Bonnie’s husband was the Garrison Commander at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis and served on the Red Cross Board for the Greater Indianapolis Chapter from 1989 to 2015. Bonnie and her husband both served as Disaster Action Team volunteers for the Indiana Region.

“It is a marvelous organization, and my husband was passionate about it until the day he died,” said Bonnie.

Because of her love for the Red Cross, Bonnie wanted to share her mother’s Red Cross story and mementos of her time as a volunteer. Bonnie tells us that Barbara was a consummate Red Cross community volunteer.

She joined the Red Cross as a volunteer in the late 1940 and remained a volunteer for nearly 60 years, according to Bonnie. Barbara began her time with the Red Cross in 1947 as a gray lady in a Naval Hospital in Alameda California teaching arts and crafts. In 1953 she began volunteering with the Red Cross at the Fort Eustis Hospital in Virginia, before moving to Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1956. Her time as a volunteer in Kentucky lasted until 1957, when Barbara took a break from Red Cross work after having children.

Barbara moved to Florida in 1991 after retiring and began volunteering at Eglin Air Force Base, “she returned from a real paying job and then morphed into a time fulfilled Red Cross job,” mentioned Bonnie.

While at Eglin, she volunteered in the pharmacy, however, her primary role was assisting the base’s midwife. Bonnie tells us that Barbara had always wanted to be a nurse, and this was a great way for her to help people. During her time in this role, she won the Red Cross Volunteer of the Year Award and spent about three years as the Red Cross coordinator. Barbara’s final year of volunteer service was in 2007.

We are grateful for volunteers like Barbara, her daughter Bonnie and Bonnie’s husband. Red Cross volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization. They represent 90% of our workforce and embody the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross.

If you’d like to join our amazing team of volunteers, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to find available positions and sign up!

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