Commentary: Volunteers Among Us

By Linda Nusbaum

Recently I attend an appreciation breakfast for Long Beach area Red Cross Volunteers. It is held on a Saturday at the Holliday Inn on Lakewood Boulevard. I arrive late, pick up my name tag and make my way to the assigned table, towards the back of a huge ballroom.
I look around the room and notice hundreds of people in attendance. Who knew there were so many Red Cross volunteers? Everyone is dressed up too. Fortunately I had a meeting scheduled after the event which required professional dress so I look the part and fit in perfectly. Who knew this was a dress-up affair?
At the table, the lady to my left is a nurse. She says she is a new volunteer and got the chance to help out during the round of hurricanes last year. I recognize her name and realize I made a “welcome home” call to her when she returned from her assignment. I ask if she remembers the call. She says she does. I tell her it was me on the phone. She smiles. I ask if it was helpful. She says it was. I feel important. I see another nurse at the table I met at the Great Shakeout training event two months ago to practice earthquake readiness. And there is the man who taught two of the several Red Cross classes I have taken since joining last year. A group of people I don’t know, and yet I do. I know they are like me, a volunteer.
After breakfast we watch a video made up of pictures of volunteers from various activities during the year, then came the honoring of all the people in attendance. The announcer starts with the new volunteers first. He calls out about a dozen names. After each person stands, everyone claps. When all the new volunteers are standing, we clap again. The lady next to me is a new volunteer. I cheer her happily when her name is called as if she has just received her diploma. That’s how exciting it feels, that’s how important it seems.
Then they call the “one years” and I know I will hear my name soon. I feel giddy, waiting for my moment. My name is called and I burst to my feet. A big smile breaks out across my face. I catch the eyes of one of the Red Cross supervisors and she has a huge smile too. I feel pride. I feel happy.
All the “one years” receive their applause and we sit down. Next come the “two years,” “three years” and so on. I applaud all who stand, everyone does. I feel deep appreciation for their years of service. Somewhere around twelve or thirteen I start to feel even deeper feelings of awe toward the men and women who commit themselves to this organization, year after year.
The names keep coming and so do the years. We are now in the twenties and I am humbled to be among this gathering of giving people. Tears start to flow. I am touched by people’s kindness and willingness to contribute. We’re at thirty years of service, and in a few minutes we’re in the forties. Men and women, seniors, struggle to get up from their table. The applause grows louder and longer. The final name is called and a man who has served as a volunteer for the Red Cross for 42 years stands to receive his recognition. I think about his lifetime. It’s a lifetime of service, commitment. It’s a lifetime of saying yes to serving others. I think about the human race, people on this planet in this community helping each other and others. I think about our goodness. I feel enriched. These are my people, these are our people, they are us, and they are me.