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.
It is a kingly act to assist the fallen.
― Mother Teresa
There is a difference in a life that is lived primary for the self and one that is lived through the experience of serving others. Linda Brown, January’s Red Cross Employee of the Month, has chosen the second way. She looks for those in need and reaches out a hand in mercy to them. She says, “I like to give back. I’m the oldest of thirteen, a nurturer, I give my last–of my time, of my money, and of myself–it is just something I do.”
Just yesterday, Linda and her daughter Breanna were having lunch at a local McDonald’s when Linda noticed an unkempt, yet vaguely familiar man sitting at another table. He sat quietly and watched people as they came and went through the busy lunch hour, but seemed in no rush himself. Disquieted by his familiarity, Linda thought maybe she had seen him sitting in McDonald’s once before, and so on a hunch, she said, “Excuse me Sir, have you eaten today? “No,” he replied, “I have not.” She asked him if he would like something, and he said, “Yes.” Continuing, she asked him what he would like, and he replied, “A double burger and tea.” Linda bought him two double burgers, a large order of French fries, and tea–an ordinary man, her ordinary hand, together become an extraordinary act of kindness.
Linda, a two-year volunteer, goes to the Red Cross office daily, goes on fire calls, helps with shelters, and represents the Red Cross in Dyersburg’s annual Christmas parade. “Anything that is needed, I’m here,” Linda says. She first volunteered for the Red Cross when she needed to do a service internship for school. She says, “I walked up to the window. [The office in Dyersburg has a small service window.] The sheriff’s wife was here at the time, so I told her I wanted to volunteer, and she welcomed me in. I’ve been here ever since.”
Before becoming a Red Cross volunteer, Linda had a twenty-year Navy career, where she worked as a Mess Specialist and a Navy Recruit Command Division Petty Officer, processing recruits from all walks-of-life. During her career, she served on two ships, where she was “Ma Ma Brown” to the young sailors because she listened and gave advice when needed. In addition, the Navy suited Linda’s love of travel taking her to Italy, Spain, Germany, and Africa and to her favorite duty station in Newfoundland Canada.
After leaving the Navy nine years ago, she volunteered to foster children for Youth Villages, where she still fosters children ages nine and up. These are children in transition: their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them, or sometimes the parents have passed away. Linda has fostered twenty children over the years, and her daughter Breanna, who is now a tenth grader, was one of those children. She teaches the kids, as she taught her Navy recruits, how to navigate in the world as it is. “It’s a challenge,” she admits, but “never quit” is one of Linda’s favorite mantras. “These are children who have never been taught life skills,” she says. “That’s where I come in. I try to help them become productive members of society.”
Although her manner is almost soft spoken, she is unequivocal regarding discipline, and she guides by example. Linda says that she learned “hard structure” early from her mother. “She could have been a prison warden,” Linda says, laughing, “No, I mean really.” She, too, believes in organization and order, but she adds to the mix a deep belief that service to others is a necessary constituent in a well-lived life. That’s why she teaches her kids, not only how to live in the world, but also and always “to give back.” Linda says, “To do for others teaches children to see themselves in another person’s position.”
Unsurprisingly, she recruits her family’s help at the Red Cross too. Her husband is a volunteer, as is Breanna, and she has her “kids” volunteer, as well. “Any family members I get, I bring them in.”
A true caregiver, Linda, also lives with five dogs. She answered a quick, “No” when asked if she had “rescued” the dogs. Then, after a moment of reflection and a recounting of how Sasha, Lucky, Ronnie, Buddy, and Montana came to live with her, she laughed and said, “I guess they were rescued.”
Linda knows how consequential support can be. Linda’s father was killed when she was still a baby, so she never knew him. She was, however, very close to her father’s brother, her Uncle Amos, and his wife. After leaving home at eighteen, their love and care provided her with family. Her uncle has passed away now, but in as much as food is memory, her aunt’s yams are still her favorite food. “You take the yams and cut them in half, put butter and cinnamon, and nutmeg in them, put a little water with sugar on them, let them cook down slow. They’re good.” Linda said.
In turn, Linda is a “favorite aunty” to her many nieces and nephews, and the family support continues. Bringing joy to her family, clearly enriches Linda and opens up her sense of humor as well. She has a family Halloween Party each year, for which she makes “brains” out of Jell-O, peas, gummy bears, and spaghetti. She laughed out loud as she recalled each ingredient that goes into her table “decoration,” and she chuckled again and again as she remembered the fun that she and the children had with “Aunt Linda’s creation.” “Live life to the fullest,” she says.
More seriously, Linda wants every day in her life to count. She wonders if she is doing all she can do to make the best use of her talents. She wonders what she will leave behind when she is gone. Her life clearly makes a difference, and with but a thin, permeable membrane between herself and her community, perhaps Linda discovers herself by serving others. “I want the kids to see that I’m not a selfish person, that I give to others. And you know it makes your heart feel good that you gave to somebody.”
Story and photo credit: Kathleen Bradley/American Red Cross