Meet BJ, a new Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader

Story by Nancy Rogers, Volunteer Services Specialist for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota

An American Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader (CVL) is a single point of contact for a community with the primary goal of developing, building and expanding the presence of the Red Cross in a given area.  A CVL serves as the face of the Red Cross to local communities with a dedicated focus on recruiting volunteers, managing relationships, fulfilling region-wide objectives and supporting delivery of the Red Cross mission.

BjBJ Kohlstedt was selected recently as the first Community Volunteer Leader (CVL) for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.  She’s excited about a new role that allows her the opportunity to represent the Red Cross along Minnesota’s North Shore.

Since 2008, BJ has been the Emergency Manager for Lake County. She first became acquainted with the Red Cross when a shelter was opened in Silver Bay during the 2009 ice storm, and she was very impressed by and grateful for the work the Red Cross did while helping people in that community. While later serving as a Red Cross chapter board member, BJ learned more about the variety of services the Red Cross provides.  Now, she’s looking forward to building local awareness and engagement in her community that will strengthen a Red Cross presence.

“We’re fortunate to have BJ representing the Red Cross on the North Shore.  She has a perfect combination of credibility and genuine concern about the people in the communities she works with,” says Dan Williams, Executive Director for the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota.

BJ is jumping right into her new volunteer role. Already, she’s met with officials from all of the local fire departments in her area,  making them aware of the Red Cross services available to home fire victims. “The firefighters I met were very appreciative of my outreach and glad to know of our services so they can further assist those in their communities affected by a fire disasters.”  Soon, BJ will meet soon with other Red Cross volunteers and local partners to set up a Home Fire Campaign in the Two Harbors area.

BJ sees a lot of opportunities for the Red Cross to be involved in her area and she wants to build on that. One plan is to hold North Shore meetings for volunteers, giving them a way to stay connected to and involved with the Red Cross.

Another goal is to build the partnership between the Red Cross and the Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT) on the North Shore. According to BJ, “The Red Cross and CERT serve communities throughout the United States in a variety of ways before, during and after emergencies. Both programs accomplish a great deal individually and they can do even more working together. In partnership, we can increase preparedness and resilience in communities, and offer assistance and support in the aftermath of disasters.”

BJ sees collaboration between the Red Cross and other emergency response organizations as vital to strengthening disaster preparedness and response. And she says she’s honored to have a new role and opportunity to help make it happen.

To learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities, click here.

Wonderful is a life filled with volunteer service

Story by Ellie Decker, American Red Cross Volunteer Services

Red Cross volunteer Alice Tomaschko recently received her 60-year service pin in Austin, Minn. Photo credit: Carrie Carlson-Guest.

“I’m never speechless.” But after receiving her 60-years of service pin from the American Red Cross, followed by a Volunteer of the Year Award, Alice Tomaschko was without words. Her fellow volunteers, who attended the volunteer recognition event in Austin, Minnesota, were not. They had much to say about Alice. They described her as a mentor, friend and inspiration. Looking around the room it was clear that Alice had made an impact during her decades of Red Cross volunteer service.

A few days later, I talked more with Alice about her life and volunteer work with the Red Cross. Throughout our conversation Alice laughed. She told me about her children, and late husband, and how volunteering always had been a part of her life. Wonderful is the word Alice uses to describe her life, a life filled with service. Simply, she enjoys volunteering.

Alice started volunteering with the Red Cross in 1955 when she was pregnant with her first daughter. First, she volunteered at local blood drives. She used a typewriter to record donor information. Later, she trained to work with military families, which she describes as one of the greatest things she has done with the Red Cross. Through volunteering with Service to the Armed Forces, Alice witnessed the help Red Cross gave to families. Alice’s husband and his family experienced this assistance firsthand when the Red Cross helped her husband get home for his grandmother’s death. That help is why she chose to volunteer with the Red Cross.

Alice’s work has continued to help people in multiple ways. In addition to those who received Red Cross services, she has helped other volunteers. Being described as a mentor, she says, is the best compliment she could ever receive. Even though it’s impossible to measure the impact Alice has had on others, her impact is here to stay. (She even helped plan the volunteer appreciation event.) The reverse is true, too: the Red Cross has had an impact on Alice. “I’ve had absolutely one of the best lives with the Red Cross I could imagine.”

For more information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here.