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.
Red Cross Volunteer of the Month Paula Forrest wears a mini tiara hair clip to tame her long wavy hair. The clip is an unconventional tiara worn by an unconventional princess. Part gypsy, part rainbow, with the energy of a twenty-year-old, and a laugh as big as her heart, Paula is an amazing woman. She seems surprised by the Red Cross’s recognition of her dedication to service: “I don’t believe I should be in the limelight,” she said.
Red Cross staffers Ashley Whittaker and Gail Milnor disagree. They both nominated Paula to receive May’s award for her information technology support because Paula worked 11, 12, and 14 hour days to complete the chapter move. In the last year, she has also deployed to the East Tennessee ice storms, made identification badges for the Tennessee region, supported Ashley with Disaster Services Technology, assisted in training the Memphis Tiger Football Team to open and run a shelter, volunteered with Service to the Armed Forces in holiday mail for heroes, assisted after floods in Mississippi, and after a tornado in East Tennessee.
Paula joined the Red Cross in 2007, became a Disaster Action Team Captain, Emergency Response Vehicle Driver, Case Worker, and what she now considers her niche, working toward Disaster Services Technology Training Officer. According to Ashley, “Paula’s dedication to whatever she is doing on behalf of the Red Cross demonstrates her love for the Red Cross.”
Out of many volunteer experiences, Paula remembers her service following Hurricane Sandy as both her most challenging and rewarding contribution to the Red Cross. She tells this story: “The most interesting Red Cross experience I’ve ever had was one of the times I was in New York helping out after Hurricane Sandy. I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a Red Cross vehicle on Thanksgiving Day when a man knocked on the window. I rolled down the window, and the man reached through with both hands, placed one hand on each of my cheeks, and planted a kiss right on my mouth.” He said, “I wouldn’t have had a Thanksgiving without the Red Cross.” Behind that kiss was more than turkey and dressing. “Thanksgiving” was also a celebration of appreciation, of community, and of a life that matters.
Paula is deeply moved by Linda Ellis’ poem, The Dash, particularly the words in the poem’s fourth verse:
For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
“ ‘Our dash’ is the time between the dates of our birth and death, and I don’t want my dash to be empty,” she says.
Before retiring, Paula was a journeyman sheet metal worker, a labor union organizer, a tutor, and a soccer player, whose “happiest year” was spent in Germany playing soccer. She has put a water pump in a Corvette, and with Paul, the “love of her life,” rebuilt a 1948 Dodge to its former resplendence. “I love adventure, I love life, I really do.”
Unafraid to “consider what is true and real,” Paula has earned her happiness, in part, by volunteering for the Red Cross. She knows that tornados are real; she has seen nature’s destruction, and so she builds her house of bricks, knowing that even bricks may not protect her. Compassionate and caring, her deep empathy has lead to heartbreak at times when her trust was misplaced. In her sincere desire to serve and save people, they have sometimes disappointed and even betrayed her, yet she still strives to mold her life around meaning through contribution. She credits the Red Cross for “giving her life value unfelt before she joined.”
Paula’s ultimate question to herself is “could I have done more?” Although her bar for “enough” is very high, there are times when even she is satisfied: a $10,000 Red Cross grant obtained for a Sandy client was “all I could do,” she remembered. “It was enough.”
Story credit: Kathleen Bradley/American Red Cross