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Making The Most Of Volunteers

April 17, 2014, 10:12 PM by Sammi Bjelland

Making The Most Of Volunteers

The American Red Cross celebrates it's volunteers each year with National Volunteer Week.

The designation brings awareness to the non-profit's need for helpers. But in reality, every week is Volunteer's Week for the Red Cross.

Disasters can strike at any moment and to anyone. That's why the Red Cross is always prepared to send help when needed.

"Going on national disasters has been a real learning experience for me. It's nice to be able to help and most people appreciate it and feel like we're helping them," veteran volunteer Sallie Timm said. 

Sallie Timm has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for 15 years. After retirement, she and her husband wanted to find ways to keep active. Since joining the Red Cross, they've been sent all over the country.

"I went to Louisiana. I did go to Katrina. And I went to floods and hurricanes in Texas and Florida," Timm said. 

Timm is a nurse, and her husband is a retired firefighter. However, you don't have to have emergency management experience to get involved.

"You hear about all these different stories that the other volunteers have already done and stuff with the Red Cross, going to disasters and things like that. You just really, it's just really exciting to hear that," new volunteer Rick Switzenberg said. 

Rick Switzenberg joined the Red Cross a few weeks ago, and even though he's blind, Switzenberg helps out in every way he can. From folding pamphlets, to eventually corresponding with other volunteers, he says he's loving every minute.

"It's interesting and exciting. And you meet new people all of the time and it seems like everybody that's involved with volunteering is just so nice and just so excellent," Switzenberg said.

"We've got a plethora of opportunities. There's no point in saying, this person has to fit in this box. Because that's not going to be a worthwhile experience for them. And it's not going to be the maximum benefit for us as an organization. So one of our major goals is to provide a premier experience to our volunteers, so that they'll come back and they'll be here for the longterm," Sioux Empire Red Cross Community Chapter Executive, Tony Burke said. 

Tony Burke recruited Switzenberg for his new position. He says even if you don't have expertise in disaster response, there is free training and the Red Cross is willing to find the perfect fit for your skill set.

"One in three people are touched by the Red Cross. And it's all based on volunteerism. 94 to 95 percent  of our workforce is volunteer-based. So the whole idea of us as staff is to really train them and empower them to be our leaders in the community," Burke said. 

"I try to tell people, they say well I'm too old, well that's not true. Even if you don't go on national disasters, you can help around Sioux Falls and the surrounding area," Timm said.

Burke says it's this kind of passion and commitment that has enabled the Red Cross to help South Dakotans for almost 100 years.

"Without volunteers, this organization doesn't exist. It doesn't make our communities more resilient either. So we are indebted to our volunteers. They make us work and they make our community better," Burke said. 

"I've had my troubles through life too. And I know it's always good to have a helping hand and a pat on your back, saying things will get better," Switzenberg said. 

"It makes us feel really good because we know we're helping as much as we can.  just being there is I think the important thing. That they know someone is there. They can talk to you. They can lean on you. They can cry with you. And I think that's the reward," Timm said.

You can sign up to be a volunteer by calling the Red Cross at 605-336-2448, stopping by the offices at 808 West Avenue North, or going online.

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