By Angela R. Wilson/American Red Cross of Alaska
The American Red Cross of Alaska has outstanding volunteers that work alongside Red Cross staff members and help the organization run smoothly. Everyone plays an important part in creating a positive and productive whole.
There are times when you stand back and observe the Red Cross team and notice someone that makes you feel compelled to share the story of why they choose to volunteer or work for the Red Cross.
Renee Bossart is one of those people. She has been a volunteer for the Red Cross of Alaska for a year. She started her Red Cross journey when her father Paul Bossart, a Disaster Action Team lead volunteer in the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley, asked her if she would join him in his Red Cross journey as a volunteer. She tried it out and never left.
“I fell in love with the people volunteering and knew I wanted to be a part of their community,” Bossart said.
Bossart has taken advantage of courses offered by the Red Cross to help learn the vision and goals of the organization. She has taken courses ranging from basic overviews to management training. One of her favorite courses is Psychological First Aid. “I take the course every year,” she said. “The information is so helpful for understanding the emotional needs of those around you, and your own needs.”
Desiring to sharpen and utilize information from various courses, Bossart felt the need to increase her knowledge and understanding of the Red Cross by exploring a number of volunteer positions.
“When I first entered the Red Cross, I didn’t realize how big it was,” Bossart reflected. “I found myself lost by the vastness of the organization.”
Exploring Red Cross Positions
Disaster Action Team (DAT) Member: Bossart describes the Disaster Action Team as the heartbeat of the Red Cross. The goal of this team is to ensure comfort and a safe place to stay are available to those affected by disasters.
Usually, two DAT members respond to a disaster call during any time of the day or night. When the DAT members arrive to offer assistance to those in need, they are able to provide emergency supplies, information, safe shelter, personal hygiene kits and more.
The personal hygiene kits – or comfort kits as they are commonly referred to – may contain oral hygiene items, basic hair products, blankets, winter outerwear such as gloves, and hats. There are even stuffed animals for children. Not all relief efforts are the same and Red Cross volunteers must be ready for the unexpected.
“I remember going to a home fire, and a child didn’t have shoes, so one of the DAT responders left to buy that child some shoes,” Bossart recalled. “This is where our love for our neighbor shines.”
Shelter Supervisor: When there is a call to provide assistance, Bossart responds as a DAT member first. Once things have stabilized, she then puts on her supervisor hat. She and a team of volunteers start setting up the shelter, organizing snacks and cots, hanging signs, organizing paperwork for the front desk and training new members.
“Watching volunteers and staff work together to accomplish the same goal is beautiful,” Bossart said.
She said she is grateful to have had the opportunity to be introduced to the DAT program, evacuation centers and shelters. “I liked that realm,” she reflected. “Sheltering isn’t a consistent need, thankfully. That geared me to start looking for other opportunities within Red Cross.”
The Pillow Case Project Lead: Bossart loves public speaking, so she then started volunteering with a Red Cross youth preparedness education program called The Pillowcase Project.
Bossart felt the program was a need in her community. As a presenter for The Pillowcase Project, she has traveled to local schools and given presentations to students on being prepared for disasters. She ensures her teachings are on home fire safety and the importance of having an emergency supply kit. Seasonal disasters such as wildfire or flooding are also discussed.
The lectures allow the students to have a platform to ask questions and share their experiences during a disaster. This method of teaching engages students and allows them to learn as well as teach their schoolmates. The students are given a packet of information about disaster preparedness and a pillowcase to create their own emergency supply kit and pass that knowledge on to their family members and friends. When students help spread the word to their families and friends, they are in turn helping Alaskan families be better prepared for an emergency.
As a result of COVID-19 in-person learning has been postponed, though online preparedness opportunities are now available.
Feature Writer: While still trying to find her perfect ‘fit’ at the Red Cross, Bossart became involved with the communications team and has written a handful of articles on topics she’s passionate about, including preparedness. Understanding the importance of disaster preparedness is what Bossart wants to convey to readers. When considering the preparedness needs of her own family, she said, “There is no way I could pack all our needs in a short amount of time. I need to prepare beforehand. I hope to encourage others to do the same.”
Among her written pieces, you’ll also find articles on how to save a life, home, or anything you may hold dear. You may read information on how to limit damage to property or where to go to get assistance during a disaster.
Continuing the Red Cross Legacy
Each position is unique at the Red Cross, and Bossart has found pride in each of them. “Being a part of both Red Cross and my community, you meet giving people,” she said. ”Meeting those individuals has motivated me to proudly continue my path as a volunteer.”
COVID-19 does not change the Red Cross mission – we are still providing the same types of support as we always have. And even with internal and external adjustments to keep people safe during the pandemic, the Red Cross still stands strong and ready to aid those in need before, during and after a disaster.
“There is something beneficial about wearing the Red Cross vest. People trust you, and trust is both heavy and humbling,” Bossart said. “It is a legacy that you are becoming a part of, a stitch in the fabric that so many have contributed to.”
To learn more about how to join the American Red Cross of Alaska as a volunteer, please visit redcross.org/Alaska.