American Red Cross Board Member Highlight
By Sydney Stokes
In 2010, Ellie worked towards her graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Integrated Medicine in the Military, when a traumatic brain injury altered her life. This pivotal moment required Ellie to relearn how to walk and talk. Her abdomen nearly stopped functioning as well. Being in the city prevented the much needed improvement in her health, so her mother convinced her to get back to what she knew best, the outdoors. It wasn’t not only nature that healed her, but also the love from her mother.
When Ellie’s mother was pregnant with her, her father was building his company. Despite his first investment deal being in Alaska, he decided to move forward and on to the next sale. After nearly ten years of traveling overseas, Ellie’s mother, an avid pilot at the time, decided to take her kids to Alaska for eight weeks. Ellie was around ten years old and reluctantly followed her mother to the great outdoors. If you ask Ellie where her home is, she will immediately tell you it will always be Alaska. Being raised in Alaska kept her grounded. Skiing, hunting, and fishing helped her enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
As Ellie continued her education, her graduate research project was on integrating medicine within the military. In April 2014, Ellie met Tanguy Libbrecht Chief Executive Officer of The Red Cross Alaska Region. He introduced Ellie to the ‘Real Heroes’ event through Red Cross. The ‘Real Heroes’ annual event is a celebration for the everyday individuals that happens to be at the right place at the right time to act and save a life or lives.
“I was 23 at the time and was absolutely mesmerized. I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization,” said Ellie.
Ellie was particularly interested with helping the military when she became a Red Cross volunteer due to her personal life. Despite wanting to go back and get a Ph.D. in neuroscience, she continued her volunteer work in LA. This led her to becoming the first volunteer through Marty Goldberg CEO, of the Traumatic Brain Injury Center. She created a yoga program, which she always looked forward to teaching, despite it being at 8:00 a. m. This all took place at the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Traumatic Brain Injury Center through the Red Cross.
Ellie joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Alaska in late 2014, joined Real Heroes in 2015, and soon started volunteering with the Emergency Communications Messaging Division of the Red Cross for the Service to the Armed Forces.
Libbrecht remembers distinctly how many hours Ellie poured into the organization. She would come in and go to a DAT call in the middle of the night, in the morning she would work with the Services of the Armed Forces (SAF), go to the Traumatic Brain Injury clinic, then work her full time job. Within four months of moving to Alaska full time, her family wanted her to move on and follow her dad’s footsteps in investing. Ellie was not happy with her investing job, so she did the unthinkable. She made a will and flew to Nepal through the International Services Department.
“If you’re someone like me that values intellectual curiosity, once you get to be part of an organization that has so much depth behind it, you want to do more internationally,” said Ellie.
Now, at 32, Ellie feels like a young CEO. She credits the Red Cross for giving her an identity away from family. One year she logged in over 1,000 hours, and at that point, she viewed Red Cross as her life. She also credits Libbrecht for supporting her journey volunteering for the Red Cross, especially in 2015 when she was at least 20 years younger than the other staff. At the time, there weren’t as many volunteers.
“The Red Cross is like my kid! I wish more people would appreciate these types of organizations,” stated Ellie, “My personality matches with the sense of urgency from Red Cross. The more you get involved, the more enjoyable the work is.”
In 2021 Red Cross has increased the volunteer base substantially compared to 2015. Awareness of services and programs are an important tool for reaching those in need. Ellie’s number one goal is to generate awareness of Red Cross programs and services involving our Alaskan military families. She is looking forward to reaching new populations, helping the Coast Guard, and meeting new caregivers as a Red Cross volunteer.