|Mary Young, CEO, Metro NY North Red Cross (L), and Jackie Jones.|
Long-time American Red Cross volunteer Jackie Jones, who last week received the Metro NY North Red Cross Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership, says that her impetus for joining the Red Cross was her mom, Sarah Marion Hammel, who was known as Marion.
One of Jackie’s early memories is of seeing Marion in her American Red Cross Gray Lady uniform. (Gray Ladies were Red Cross volunteers who worked in military hospitals, providing non-medical care.) This was just after World War II, when Jackie’s family lived in Locust Valley, Long Island. Wounded soldiers coming back from the front were arriving in Mitchell Field, a United States Air Force base located on the Hempstead Plains of Long Island.
“Mom said she was going to feed the soldiers,” Jackie said. “It was a mystery to me as to why, but I felt very proud of her for doing that.”
Marion was in the Red Cross for about 20 years and also volunteered for other organizations, including twenty-five years with the Girl Scouts. “She was a model for all of us in the family,” Jackie said.
As Jackie grew up, she herself joined service organizations including school service clubs. Later, when she married, Jackie volunteered at local blood drives with the Red Cross, at hospitals and nursing homes and, of course, with the Girl Scouts.
Re-involvement with the Red Cross
When Jackie and her husband, Ward, moved to Mt. Kisco, N.Y., in the late 1970s, “One of the first things I did was get re-involved in the Red Cross.”
At that time Jackie drove people to and from Northern Westchester Hospital for cancer treatments in a Red Cross vehicle. Within the hospital she was part of the transportation staff that assisted in moving patients throughout the hospital according to their needs, helped with feeding patients unable to feed themselves, and worked for several years as a hospice volunteer.
After Jackie’s son and daughter were grown, she returned to school, receiving a master’s degree in social work in 1984. She worked at a family services agency in the Bronx and later with families of children with disabilities.
Reconnecting with the Red Cross
Fast forward to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Jackie immediately knew she wanted to return to the Red Cross to help.
She re-trained as a volunteer, then worked initially at the District Attorney’s office in Westchester, where local families who’d lost loved ones could receive some of the financial help that had been made available for such things as housing.
“We were there in a supportive role,” Jackie said, “providing them with literature and helping them to begin to move through that period of their lives.”
Jackie stayed on with the Red Cross and became active in Disaster Services. She worked on Disaster Action Teams (DATs), responding to fires and other emergencies in Westchester County.
While still volunteering as a DAT member, Jackie became a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Lead, providing crisis support for disaster-affected residents and connecting them with county mental health professionals and school social workers when needed.
“Providing emotional support as a Disaster Mental Health volunteer feels very natural to me,” she said. “It’s pretty much a part of everything I do for the Red Cross and in my life.”
During the Katrina response in 2005, Jackie initiated the “ChapterLinks” program for Red Cross volunteers deploying to relief efforts in the Gulf States. Many were new volunteers and, recognizing the need for support in an intense and often unpredictable environment, Jackie gathered a team of 10 Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteers to address the concerns of those volunteers before, during and after deployment.
When the volunteers returned, “We listened as they told stories that revealed how really difficult the deployments were and how they were able to rise to the challenges they faced while working in the Gulf area. Later, when we met with small groups of the same volunteers, the value in the sharing and the support that they provided to each other was obvious,” Jackie said.
Service to the Armed Forces
Jackie is especially proud of her Red Cross work with the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program that provides support to veterans and active military members and their families.
In 2009 she and other Red Cross Mental Health volunteers began partnering with Four Winds Hospital in Westchester, N.Y., developing a group for the families of Reserve and National Guard members who were being deployed to the Middle East. With no military base in the immediate area, these families had no access to needed support programs.
The Military Family Group members met weekly with their Red Cross co-leaders for about three years and developed close relationships with each other.
“When the group ended,” Jackie said, “we were happy to find that the friendships didn’t, and they still had the support they needed from each other.”
Additionally, along with other SAF volunteers, Jackie has an opportunity to interact with military members and their families while staffing SAF events, including pre-deployment and post-deployment events within the Greater NY Region. This often gives them an opportunity to hear stories from service members and their families.
“It’s not unusual to hear something like, “Oh! The Red Cross was so wonderful when my father was in the hospital and they were able to help my brother get home to be with him,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to know that the organization we represent is able to facilitate that type of service.”
Part of Jackie’s role with SAF in the Metro NY North Chapter is to keep the group of 17 SAF volunteers together as a team. “In order to keep us all engaged we stay in touch by email and meet together from time to time in order to get to know each other, and to learn from each other. We really have a solid team,” she said, “along with wonderful support that we can count on from the Regional employees when needed.”
On helping others and volunteering with the Red Cross
“I’ve always felt strongly that you don’t necessarily know when you’ve been able to help someone,” Jackie said. “I once got a note in the mail thanking me for something I had no recollection of. For me, the rule is to be kind, and be supportive, and it will be to the good.”
She said she believes that what keeps most volunteers at the Red Cross is the relationships they build with each other and their shared commitment to the mission.
“Our volunteers bring a huge scope of backgrounds and skills to the Red Cross,” she said. “It’s a place where anybody who cares about their neighbors in need can fit in.”
On receiving the Clara Barton Award
Jackie said she was shocked, and even a little embarrassed, to hear that she was receiving the award.
“I look at all the wonderful volunteers we have, and think how do you pick just one? Clara Barton is someone I’ve been in awe of since I first heard of her. She put a whole lifetime into her work. She courageously set the stage for all of us and created the pathway we follow in our work. And I think we all have a bit of Clara Barton in our hearts—without necessarily even knowing or understanding it.”
Jackie added, “I keep thinking of my mother. She would have been proud.”