When Donna Dorsey joined a Baltimore Red Cross nursing committee in 1975, she had no idea she would still be volunteering 42 years later.
Because of her passion for public health, the American Red Cross fit her interests and career as a nurse/educator/regulator perfectly. Before long, Donna was chairing the board of the Baltimore Chapter of the Red Cross.
In the 1980s, Donna suggested her husband Neil Dorsey get involved with the organization. He started in the Disaster Action Team (DAT) program, chairing it in Howard County, Maryland. After 9/11, Neil began work in disaster training. Neil has been involved in Red Cross activities that range from office administration to working in government operations, from Maryland to now North Carolina. Currently, he works in external relations as a Community Volunteer Leader and Preparedness Educator, and in disaster relief in the Emergency Operations Center as the Red Cross Government Operations lead in Pitt County.
In 1992, Donna Dorsey deployed to her first disaster: Hurricane Andrew. She recalls, “I’d just come home from a meeting in Chicago to receive a phone call saying I was needed in Florida. I said, ‘yes,’ packed, and left the next day.”
On that disaster, Donna was assigned as the supervisor in health services in a service center with four other nurses in South Florida. She recalls how challenging it was to be in an unfamiliar city with no street signs. “The smartest thing I did was bring maps with me,” she shared. “There were no GPS or cell phones back then.” In order to provide needed resources, she grabbed phone books to find pharmacies and other suppliers. “One family who had not evacuated had a disabled child. It was very difficult to provide for the little girl.” But Donna and her team succeeded in finding ways to help the family stay in their home. Donna said she finds it incredibly rewarding to be able to meet the needs of people in distress while juggling the challenges of working in a fragmented environment.
“Times have changed quite a bit,” she said. Now, Donna works to share ways for people to volunteer at the Red Cross outside of disaster deployment. She stressed the importance of volunteering in all areas of disaster response, including logistics, managing materials, working virtually with families who have lost their homes, volunteer management, and working with technology. She also encouraged volunteer work in all other lines of service including Service to the Armed Forces and Blood Services.
“There is more than just disaster,” she said. “My philosophy is to start with your background and skills. There is a great need for volunteers in more areas than I have mentioned. We need you!”
Today, both Neil and Donna stay busy working in with Red Cross and disaster relief. Donna has earned a number of Red Cross awards, including the Harriman Award and the International Florence Nightingale Medal. She serves as Director of the Nursing Network for American Red Cross and the Regional Co-Lead for Disaster Health Services.
Neil states, “I stay with the Red Cross because I like the other volunteers, the staff and the great work we do. Volunteering is a way of life for me.”
Donna smiles of their continuing hard work and said, “It keeps you young!”
Interested in volunteering like Neil and Donna? Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer and apply!
To specifically apply for a Disaster Action Team position, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer, and choose “disaster services” as your area of interest when prompted.
Thanks to Neil and Donna Dorsey for many years of dedicated service.
Story by Phoebe Fulkerson/American Red Cross. Photo courtesy of Neil Dorsey.