Cis Big Crow Recognized for 20 Years of Red Cross Service

Cis Big Crow (center) is the 2021 Volunteer of the Year for the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota.

Volunteering comes naturally to Cis Big Crow, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and an American Red Cross volunteer. “I guess volunteering just grew on me. And I didn’t realize how many years I was with the Red Cross,” she says.

Since 1999, when a deadly tornado struck the Pine Ridge Reservation, Big Crow has been a Red Cross volunteer assisting reservation residents affected by tornados, storms, floods and other natural disasters. She has helped Tribal members reach critical aid, assisting them with filling out emergency forms and connecting them with housing, food and other types of disaster relief.

Big Crow works in the Oglala Sioux President’s Office, which previously was the place people called when there was an emergency on the reservation, such as a house fire. The Tribe now has a dedicated emergency management team, she says. But Big Crow is still the point person people call when they need help when disasters happen. She ensures they get in touch with Tribal emergency management and the Red Cross.

In the past, Big Crow has filled a variety of roles during Red Cross disaster responses, such as setting up temporary shelters, preparing meals for people and finding temporary housing for them. During the past twenty-plus years, she’s become an essential disaster action team member for the Red Cross in South Dakota, responding to an estimated 300 local disasters.

Big Crow is the 2021 Volunteer of the Year for the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota

“Cis has been an exceptional volunteer,” says Richard Smith, executive director of the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota. “Cis is always positive and upbeat, even in difficult situations. Her guidance in working with the Oglala Sioux people and the Tribal council is invaluable.”

Big Crow has no plans to stop . Asked what keeps her going, Big Crow said she finds joy in assisting people in need. “You’re out there to help people,” she says.

New volunteers are always needed, especially with busy disaster seasons happening more frequently. People interested in applying for local opportunities should visit redcross.org/mndaks.

Story by Blair Emerson/American Red Cross

86-year-old Red Cross volunteer shows no sign of slowing down

Story by Karen Scullin, FOX9 News

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Vonnie Thomas, image provided courtesy of Fox9

Vonnie Thomas has spent virtually her entire life helping others through the American Red Cross and the National Sports Center for the Disabled. She’s 86 years old and shows no signs of stopping.

Thomas started volunteering for the Red Cross when she was 18 so she could get a free ticket to the state fair. But, she’s still offering her time and energy to this day and has stockpiled stories that range from highly emotional to simply surprising.

Thomas estimates she’s helped on almost 50 different disasters, from tornadoes and hurricanes to fires and floods. She’s been volunteering with the Red Cross for 65 years, helping with food, clothing and shelter, but also with hugs and understanding – likely the most important assets of all.

“It isn’t what we give, it’s our presence,” Thomas says.

But, Thomas says it’s not the natural disasters that impact her the most, it’s the manmade ones. She was there at the pentagon for 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing where a daycare was hit. She’s been back to Oklahoma City a number of times, but can’t bring herself to go to the memorial.

“I get about a block away and I think nope- not quite ready. It’s just that hard because I was right down in there,” Thomas says.

Thomas doesn’t just stop at disasters. The mountains call her every single year. She heads to Winter Park, Colorado, where she volunteers to teach downhill and cross country adaptive skiing to amputees, the blind, those with cerebral palsy, cancer, brain injuries and more.

“They come around and they’re like ‘wow I’m empowered I can do this’,” Thomas says.

Vonnie Thomas and a home fire survivor. Image provided courtesy of the American Red Cross

Thomas is rewarded by the smiles and the self-esteem that emerge from the people she teaches. She shares the story of a young boy with cancer whom she taught to ski. She was so proud of him.

“He said, ‘How come you’re crying?’ I said, ‘I’m not crying my eyes are watering because I don’t have my goggles on’,” she says. “About two weeks later, I got a package in the mail and a note from his mom and it said Jimmy wanted me to have his goggles so my eyes would never water again. He had passed away in the meantime.”

Thomas also volunteers to work with “at risk” youth. Several years ago, she taught a high school boy who showed up in a trench coat to ski and he told her he wished his mom was more like her.

“I said they know everything that’s going on… he said they have no idea what’s going on in the garage. And I didn’t pick up on it,” Thomas recalls.

Two weeks later, Thomas was called to Columbine, Colorado where 13 people were shot and killed. As she was helping families in crisis, she realized her high school ski student was Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters.

“He learned so much,” she said. “I bet if I’d had him another week we would have been okay.”

Thomas says she may be 86, but she doesn’t feel it. She plans to stay on her mission for to help and to heal for years to come.

For more information on how to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/mn and click on “Ways to Help.”

This feature story originally appeared on FOX9 online. The story is published here with permission.