“I’ve loved every minute of it,” exclaims Nancy McKenney who has been a Red Cross volunteer for 30 years.
McKenney, from Onida, South Dakota, became a volunteer in 1992 when a friend of hers from Pierre encouraged her to look into it. She joined because she “wanted to help people.”
Since then, McKenney has volunteered on more than 100 local and national disasters – including home fires, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes – continuing her quest to help others.
“We’re so grateful for Nancy’s 30 years of service with the Red Cross,” says Nick Cluppert, Senior Disaster Program Manager, Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region. “Without dedicated volunteers like Nancy, we would not be able to fulfill our mission. She gives so much of her time and is truly a gift to our organization and the people she helps!”
One of McKenney’s most memorable experiences was right after the 9/11 attacks when she was volunteering at a satellite office of the Pentagon. A woman who had lost her mother in the attacks approached her and asked if she had time to talk. “She’d talk and I’d listen – I think she had survivor’s remorse and she was a basket case,” McKenney recalls. “I really think I made a difference and I hope that she was able to get through it.”
Being deployed to Canada in August 2017 to help disaster relief efforts following a wildfire in was McKenney’s favorite deployment with the Red Cross. “I had my passport, so I said sure I’d go.” She helped at the front desk of the Red Cross shelter where she directed people, so they received the services they needed. “The countryside was so beautiful and the people where so gracious and glad to have us there,” she recalls. “It was a wonderful experience – you can’t imagine the smiles and gratefulness of all the of the people we helped.”
“I’ve gone out about four or five times a year,” says McKenney. Last year alone she was in Texas, New Mexico and New Orleans for weeks at a time. “This year it hasn’t worked out because of some health issues and I’m staying closer to home.”
McKenney continues to make her mark. Although for now she’s no longer going across the country to help, she’s putting her energy and compassion to good use right in South Dakota. She’s meeting with Emergency Managers across the state to keep relationships strong and establish locations for Red Cross shelters if needed in the future. And she’s working with local fire departments to make sure they have working smoke alarms to install in homes without them.
“I enjoy staying busy and talking to everyone – if I had to stay cooped up behind four walls I’d go out of my mind,” McKenney adamantly declares. “I need to do something to help people. I can just imagine all my belongings on the sidewalk after a home fire and not have anyone to turn to. I know I need to help them a little bit.”
She always finds ways to talk about the Red Cross including recruiting others to join her. “If you’re a people person the Red Cross offers lots of volunteer opportunities. I’ve made a lot of friends through the Red Cross – we’re one big family!”
“I love what I do! Some of us are getting old. We need some young blood – it would make my day if I inspired someone to join the Red Cross!”
Whether you’re a people person like Nancy or prefer to work behind the scenes, the Red Cross has volunteer opportunities for you. Visit redcross.org/givetime to find your fit.
Story by Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross