Leading with a Humble Humanitarian Heart

By Jonathan Sandstorm, American Red Cross

Humble. Humanitarian. Heart. These three words describe Kathleen “Kathy” Wong, American Red Cross volunteer from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, perfectly. Her incredible dedication to the mission recently earned Kathy the 2021 Regional Volunteer Excellence Award in the Connecticut and Rhode Island Region. 

Kathy Wong. Photo credit: Andreina Sosa

Kathy wears many ‘One Red Cross’ hats throughout the year. She is the Sheltering Coordinator for Disaster Services in Rhode Island, a Disaster Action Team Supervisor, a Regional Duty Officer, a Community Volunteer Leader, a Blood Donor Ambassador – which covers Connecticut and neighboring Massachusetts blood donation sites. 

Kathy began her volunteer journey with the Red Cross in New Jersey in early 2013. She saw a local newspaper ad requesting help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Thereafter, was invited to attend a Red Cross orientation covering all lines of service. “I had retired from paid employment about a year earlier and was looking to get involved with volunteer work serving those in need in a direct way.” 

One volunteer opportunity that caught her attention was the Blood Donor Ambassador program, where she helped create a positive donation experience at Red Cross blood drives. Soon, she was responsible for mentoring Donor Ambassadors in her area as well as ensuring all volunteer shifts were filled.  

In 2018, she moved to Rhode Island and joined the Connecticut and Rhode Island Region. Since then, Kathy has volunteered around 1,000 hours and assisted at over 100 blood drives.  

Beginning in April 2020, Kathy became a volunteer partner to Pam Leach, Northeast Divisional Manager for Biomedical Volunteer Workforce Engagement. “Kathy truly embraces the core values and principles of the American Red Cross,” Leach said. “She’s an advocate to other volunteers and to people she serves, whether at a COVID Vaccine Clinic, a Blood Drive, or a Shelter.”

This past fall, Kathy took on the role of Sheltering Coordinator for Rhode Island days before Tropical Storm Henri made landfall in our Region. Without hesitation, she stepped into her leadership role with confidence and pride. Kathy leads with assertive grace and works tirelessly to develop strategic plans – including backup plans – to ensure our mission is delivered.  

Kathy values communication across all workforce lines and is actively mindful of the workforce experience while creating safe environments for our clients to reside as they experience the most urgent of times. Kathy’s flexibility and willingness to reach out to community leaders were invaluable for our Tropical Storm Henri operations to be successful. 

In addition to her local leadership, Kathy has been on several national deployments. This past year, she deployed to the California wildfires, Hurricane Ida, and returned just two weeks ago from assisting families affected by wildfires out in Colorado as a Shelter Manager. 

Kathy, accepting the 2021 Regional Volunteer Excellence Award from Richard Branigan, Regional Chief Operating Officer. Photo credit: Jocelyn Hillard

To Kathy, each deployment was a learning experience.  

Her first was to Lafayette, Louisiana, after major flooding. “It was eye-opening to learn what it means to be deployed, how shelters work on a national disaster relief operation. I was deployed as a supervisor and had to jump right into being the night manager of a new shelter on my first day,” Kathy recalled. “I was uneasy over the amount of responsibility I had, but I guess it’s how you learn.” 

While in Louisiana, Kathy also saw first-hand the damage a hurricane can do to a town. “I drove on an interstate highway to the shelter and looked out at what I thought was a lake — then I realized I could see the tops of houses poking out of the water and knew this had been a neighborhood,” she remembered. “The National Guard was bringing evacuees into our shelter after rescuing them from the top floors of their flooded homes, it gave me a quick understanding of why we were there.” 

Kathy recently assumed greater responsibility for sheltering. “I have been deploying in sheltering for several years, and I get great satisfaction out of directly supporting clients immediately following a disaster,” she explained. “With more experience and training, I am able to be involved in managing the sheltering process both locally and on deployment. This lets me see the big picture, work with other leads to identify and resolve problem situations, and make use of the management skills I developed in my career as a corporate executive.” 

Kathy is proud of the work she does and is honored to help in any way she can. “It‘s very nice to be recognized for the work I‘ve done. I was completely surprised to be singled out from among so many volunteers that give so much to the Red Cross,” Kathy said. “I feel very honored, but I see myself as merely a representative of all the deserving volunteers.” 

Kathy, you are kind, compassionate, and truly exemplify what it means to lead with a humble humanitarian heart. 

Volunteers are always needed to help following a disaster, both here in Connecticut and across the country. Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer to find the way that’s right for you to get involved.

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