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Retiree connects finance skills to purpose at Red Cross

April 11, 2019

Photo credit: American Red Cross of Northeast Florida

In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 7-13, United Way of Northeast Florida is highlighting volunteers from the community nominated by the organizations they serve. 

Judy Bresnahan, volunteer for United Way partner American Red Cross of Northeast Florida, has dedicated 13 years of outstanding volunteer service at the local and national Red Cross levels. Locally, she’s a front-line disaster responder and overseer of regional financial management and accountability for funds distributed to Red Cross clients. Her extraordinary financial skills, gained from her experience has a CPA, constant availability, attention to detail and willingness to share her skills with others have significantly improved Red Cross’s stewardship of its financial and material resources.

Here’s what Judy had to say about her volunteer experience:

What would you say is the most rewarding feeling about volunteering?

My greatest reward is a sense of accomplishment. In the position I currently hold with American Red Cross, which is financial statistical information manager, I am delighted I have the training, ability and the time available to put my skills to best use for our clients and the Red Cross. I capture information that is critical for the organization to be a good steward of our resources and to communicate to the local community what we have done to help people during times of personal or community crises. I have seen disasters where families have had their lives torn apart and entire communities destroyed. I am inspired by the resilience of other volunteers who give their time to go out and counsel those families, provide for their basic needs, and give the gift of hope during very trying times.

Volunteering also gives me a profound sense of gratefulness. The Red Cross accomplishes its mission by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. I am grateful everyone, including individuals and organizations, is willing to give so that those of us who can only give our time and talent can do the work that we do to help people when a disaster or crisis arises.

 

Describe the person or event in your life that inspired you to give back to the community.

In a word: Katrina. When I saw what this storm had done to New Orleans back in August 2005, I watched hours of TV coverage and followed all the stories. I knew that somehow I had to become involved with the organization that seemed to do so much for so many people. When I retired in early 2006, I looked at what I needed to do to become a part of the Red Cross. I took the training courses required and began working as a DAT (Disaster Action Team) Member, going out and assisting families who experienced personal disasters and seeing firsthand how they were impacted. I then found my skills as a CPA could be a big help to Red Cross and I became deeply involved in finance and statistical data and in training and mentoring others.

 

Describe a person or event that occurred while volunteering that confirmed your reasoning for volunteering.

During Hurricane Ike in 2008, I deployed to Houston as a disaster assessment service associate. My disaster assessment partner and I were travelling through an area of the city that had been severely impacted by the storm. We stopped in one neighborhood and suddenly a man ran over to the car and asked if we were with the Red Cross. We told him “yes,” and he just couldn’t say enough to thank us for being there and for what the Red Cross had done to help Houston.

This has happened to me on several disaster deployments: on the street, in restaurants, in stores. My decision to volunteer is reaffirmed when people see our Red Cross shirts, vests or badges and take the time to stop and talk to us and thank us for what we were doing.

 

What key community issue are you passionate about fixing/changing across Northeast Florida?

I am passionate about education. I do a lot of training now with Red Cross, helping to teach others how to collect data, use the computer systems that are in place, pull information together, etc. It saddens me that we seem to be turning out a generation of young people who have not been taught the basics of math, writing, theory, comprehension – all the things they need to be able to survive in today’s world and make an impact. We are failing our youth if we send them out into the world without that basic groundwork.

 

What are some lessons volunteering has taught you?

It doesn’t matter who you are, how much you make, who you are related to: disasters can hit any of us at any time. There are good people still in this world who are ready and willing to help in whatever way they can to get people through those difficult times. We pull together when things are the darkest; we work through the issues and come out better when the disaster has past.And most of the time we are learning throughout one event, so that we do a better job when the next disaster happens. You can’t do a lot on your own, but through organizations like the Red Cross, working with many people with many different areas of knowledge, we can accomplishment miracles.

How you can help

The movement for a stronger Northeast Florida needs you, too. Join Judy in the fight for community change by becoming a volunteer. To learn more, visit unitedwaynefl.org/volunteer.