National Red Cross award goes to Minnesota nurse

Barb Billmeier (center) received the Ann Magnussen Award at American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, DC, on March 27, 2019. Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

Congratulations! to Barb Billmeier for receiving the 2019 Ann Magnussen Award, the highest honor of nursing achievement in the American Red Cross.

Barb served as the Regional Nurse Lead in Minnesota until her recent retirement from this volunteer position. She also led the Minnesota Health Professionals Network as we strove to optimize volunteer engagement and increase capacity. Barb also serves as a volunteer disaster health services (DHS) responder helping people who need disaster assistance.

Award nominees were evaluated on four criteria: (1) provides service to others; (2) teaches and involves others; (3) exhibits compassion, professionalism, and a humanitarian spirit; and (4) demonstrates outstanding contributions to strengthening Red Cross programs and services.

Previous recipients from the American Red Cross Minnesota Region include Janice Springer in 2014.  Click here to learn more about Ann Magnussen – a graduate from the University of Minnesota.  Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Vonnie Thomas, a courageous Red Cross volunteer for 65 years

Vonnie Thomas on her official day, June 28, 2016. Photo: Lara Leimbach

June 28, 2016 was officially Vonnie Thomas Day in Minnesota after Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed it so in honor of Ms. Thomas’s sixty-five years of courageous Red Cross volunteer service. Read the proclamation below to learn about this remarkable woman and how she has helped and inspired many people in many ways. 

State of Minnesota Proclamation for Vonnie Thomas

Whereas, the American Red Cross depends on the power of volunteers to accomplish its mission of preventing and alleviating suffering; and

Whereas, Nurse Vonnie Thomas has generously volunteered thousands of hours in distinguished leadership service through the American Red Cross over the past 65 years; and

Whereas, she courageously cared for those hurt by more than 40 local, national and international disasters such as the 2012 tornadoes in Minneapolis, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, Hurricane Katrina and the 35-W Bridge Collapse; and

Whereas, she has served in many roles on a local, division and national level and is currently a member of the Minnesota Region volunteer leadership team and Disaster Health Services lead and a Staff Wellness Consultant for 13 states;  and

Whereas, she is an exceptional leader, innovator, medical professional, skilled instructor, and humanitarian and mentor, and is beloved by staff and volunteers alike; and

Whereas, she is a vibrant, engaged and active volunteer leading a statewide effort to build Integrated Care Teams in Minnesota to help families who’ve lost a loved one, and greatly contributed to the  development and implementation of the training materials; and

Whereas, her tremendous voluntary service has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international honor awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, which celebrates the contributions of nurses and nursing aides to the work of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement;  and

Whereas, she finds inspiration in the words of the founder of the American Red Cross, Nurse Clara Barton: “You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”; and

Whereas, she embodies the principles and spirit of the Red Cross and is a wonderful example of unselfish, humble and dedicated service, and an inspiration for us all;

Now, therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim June 28, 2016 Vonnie Thomas Day in the State of Minnesota.

Volunteer Spotlight: Barb Page and Disaster Health Services

Teaching a CPR class,
Leading or supporting committee work,
Being on-call to assist with small disasters,
Helping in a shelter on larger disaster responses,
Reviewing health forms for the staff and volunteer workforce,
Speaking to nursing students about volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross…

Linked in photo small jpeg Barb PageThere are many ways for those in the medical field to share their time and talents with American Red Cross Humanitarian Services. One nurse doing just that is Barb Page. Barb is celebrating her five-year anniversary with the Red Cross and is nearing the end of her second year as Disaster Health Services (DHS) Lead for the Twin Cities Area Chapter. For Barb, volunteering as a nurse for the American Red Cross is about compassion and community.

As a DHS volunteer, Barb has enjoyed sharing her gift of compassion with clients when called upon to assist during disaster response.

Asked why nurses have always played such an important role for the Red Cross, Barb replied, “Everybody at the Red Cross has a lot of care and compassion, but I think it’s just innate for nurses, and that comes through in our work and is an important piece of recovery. We are a big part of getting people back on their feet.”

DHS volunteers are able to offer both practical assistance and emotional support to clients in their times of need. “When someone has lost everything or has been hurt because of a disaster, they need help in so many ways. They need help navigating how to get their life back together,” Barb explained. “In almost every disaster response, there is someone with medication or someone with medical needs who needs help.” With DHS volunteers like Barb standing at the ready to share not just her professional skills but also her caring spirit, the Red Cross is able to more completely meet the needs of clients.

As DHS Lead for the Twin Cities Area Chapter, Barb has enjoyed fostering a sense of community among the DHS volunteer team.

In the beginning of Barb’s tenure, Barb focused on understanding what interested and motivated different volunteers in order to best engage them in ways they would find satisfying. As Barb described, with the variety of activities there is to participate in at the Red Cross, “We need all kinds of people with all kinds of interests.” Barb’s inclusive message is that anyone can find a way to contribute at the Red Cross that will be fulfilling and that will fit his/her unique schedule and strengths.

BarbBarb is now focusing her time as Twin Cities Area DHS Lead on maintaining a mentorship program and four committees centered on sheltering, national deployment, welcoming new volunteers, and external recruitment and education. The mentorship program has helped more than a handful of new volunteer nurses become acquainted and comfortable with responding to local disasters over the past year. Choua Yang, Regional Recovery Program Support Specialist, explained the impact Barb is having locally: “She is a great leader for the DHS group. The mentorship program helps new volunteers navigate the Red Cross and brings them into the DHS community.”

In addition, the more recently established committees are creating new ways for DHS volunteers to get involved and get to know each other, all the while making the Red Cross well positioned and prepared to take action when called upon.

Thinking holistically, as nurses so often do, Barb stated, “You never know if the client you just helped is going to become a volunteer or a donor or help out at the next disaster. It’s a circle.”  The Red Cross community is a growing, more encompassing circle because of wonderful volunteers like Barb. Thank you, Barb!

Story by Kelly Clark, Volunteer Services, American Red Cross Minnesota Region. If you or someone you know would be interested in joining this compassionate community of Disaster Health Services volunteers in Minnesota, please contact Volunteer Services.

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