The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Sharon Olden came to the Mid-South Red Cross as a volunteer in 2002. Since then she has kept busy making fire calls as a member of a Disaster Action Team, working on client casework in the Mid-South Chapter office, and supporting the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) function of the chapter.
Lead SAF Volunteer David Compton notes that Olden handles data entry from the information cards obtained from the Military Entrance Processing Station here in Memphis, is a strong supporter of Holiday Cards for Heroes program, and helps with Red Cross Resource Tables at various military events.
Olden actually started early in life as a Red Crosser. “I want to be one of those,” said sixteen-year old Olden in 1976 upon walking into the Hamilton High School Guidance Office and seeing a poster of an American Red Cross candy striper.
Soon Olden was in training for the role that she admired. During orientation her Red Cross mentor asked her what she wanted to be in life. “Librarian, teacher, nurse, or maybe a nun,” was her response. She was put to work at the City of Memphis Hospital working with children, an experience that Olden credits with giving her insight into what was to become her career as a children’s librarian.
Olden was in foster care and living with her grandmother during her high-school years. “I had little interaction with my father who was a drifter,” recalls Olden. One day her grandmother told her that her father was a patient at St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis, the same hospital where she was working during her second year as a Red Cross candy striper.
An older male patient in one of the wards was paying a great deal of attention to Olden, but she thought he was trying to flirt with her. Once she learned that her father was a patient in the hospital she went searching, and she soon discovered that the man she thought was trying to flirt was actually her father. He had recognized her but not said anything. Once she made the connection, they quickly got to know one another for the first time. “We bonded during the last three months his life,” recalls Olden.
“The Red Cross gave me so many opportunities,” said Olden. “In addition to leading to a reconciliation with my father, I received free meals at the hospital and bus fare for commuting. The people at the Red Cross were so nice to me.”
After graduating from high school, Olden went on to college and received a degree in Library Science from Tennessee State University in Nashville. Returning to Memphis after college, she secured a job in the Memphis City Schools system where she spent 28 years working as an elementary school librarian at Alcy Road, Sheffield, Lakeview, and Coleman elementary schools. “I worked with thousands of kids during those years,” said Olden, and “memories of my work as a Red Cross candy striper led me to purchase many books for school libraries about the American Red Cross.” Olden continued her education and received the Masters of Education degree from Christian Brothers University in 2011.
In 2009, Olden published a book, Releasing the Pain, about her difficulties growing up as a child of abuse and how her grandmother helped her survive this difficult period of life. Her book is available on Amazon.com where it states: “Sharon is thankful for her problems as a child. They have made her mature and able to understand others. She has a heart for compassion and loves to reach out in community. Her motto is ‘What better person can serve these children than one who has already walked in their shoes?’ ”
Olden has also worked as a librarian for Memphis Theological School, and she spent a period of time in the U. S. Army Reserves. She was called up for duty during Operation Desert Storm, but her unit did not deploy.
“To be a Red Cross volunteer one must have a mission heart, must be strong-minded and hearted, and it must come from deep within. The Red Cross is a mission, it’s my calling,” concluded Olden.
Story and photo credit: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross