Helping People Help People: Neil and Donna Dorsey

When Donna Dorsey joined a Baltimore Red Cross nursing committee in 1975, she had no idea she would still be volunteering 42 years later.Howells-0291EE

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 and apply!

To specifically apply for a Disaster Action Team position, visit, 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.

Hope Through Flames

Red Cross volunteer uses personal experience when responding to disasters

On the morning of Nov. 2, 2014, Gracie Shardt just wanted to sleep in. But what started out as a restful morning recovering from long nursing shifts, turned into a disaster training course that isn’t offered.Gracie Schardt- picture

A smoky smell filled her home and caused her dog to bark frantically and wake her up. Schardt said she went to the wall behind the fireplace she and her fiancé had just used the night before. She felt heat radiating from behind the wall and heard a loud “whoosh.”

“I covered my face with a T-shirt, grabbed what I could and ran back outside to call 911. At the same time, I was screaming for my fiancé [who was nearby outside] in hopes that he could hear me.”

As the fire department extinguished the eight-foot flames that were engulfing Schardt’s house, she said a car pulled up. Two Red Cross volunteers got out, wrapped their arms around the couple, and provided the hope they needed after witnessing the loss of the home they’d worked so hard for.

The Red Cross volunteers supplied them with three nights in a dog-friendly hotel, and emergency financial assistance for food, clothing and toiletries.

“It was emotionally overwhelming that they were doing this for us. Neither of us knew that the Red Cross did this, but thank God they did,” Schardt said. “We truly do not know what we would have done if we did not have a place to go.”

Three years later, Schardt is now training to become a Red Cross volunteer so she can help families suffering from disasters. She hopes to share her story to give people a glimpse of hope.

Along with being a disaster responder, Schardt is hoping to become a volunteer for the pillowcase project, which teaches kids about emergency preparedness.

“I am so excited to help educate children in my community on how to be prepared for an emergency!” Schardt said.

Now that the colder months are here, more people will heat their homes using space heaters, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to stay warm, just like Schardt did. The Red Cross urges everyone to follow proper heating safety guidelines and to also make sure smoke alarms have new batteries and that fire extinguishers are up-to-date.

Story by Rachel Jennings/American Red Cross

Smoke alarms installed to save lives in Wake County

Dozens of Red Cross volunteers gathered for a day of service in the Fairview area of Wake County on Nov. 4 to install smoke alarms in neighborhood homes.

Eagle Scout Troop 395 kicked off the morning by providing a safety briefing for volunteers to follow. Then, teams of four were set up consisting of a smoke alarm installer and assistant, documenter and educator.

Nov. 4

Area residents appreciated having new smoke alarms installed, batteries replaced in existing units and a home fire escape plan developed.  Many families who received alarms said it was helpful to identify their points of exit and align on a common meeting spot outside of the home in case of a fire.

By the end of the day, volunteers installed more than 110 smoke alarms in the community. American Red Cross bags with information on how to avoid fires, as well as a list of preparedness items, were also provided to the families visited.

A big thank you to the Fairview Fire Department for their support during the event, to UPS for bringing a group of volunteers, and to Subway for providing lunch.

For more information about smoke alarm installations or how to create a home fire escape plan, visit

Pictured: Red Cross Volunteers Nick Thelen, Anthony Swigert, Roger Kennely and Alexis Weaver.

Story by Alexis Weaver/American Red Cross

Veterans Find Refuge at Capital Area Stand Down          


Multiple organizations from across the Triangle united to aid local veterans at the Capital Area Veterans Stand Down, held Oct. 27 in Raleigh.Stand Down

During the event, attendees, many of whom were homeless, received employment and housing assistance information, dental and health care, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and even showers and haircuts.

Red Cross volunteers were on hand to distribute “Totes of Hope” – kits containing essential personal care items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and deodorant.

Lora Alexander, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces manager, said the need was significant. “We had approximately 190 people who stopped by our booth,” she said.

Homeless veterans often face challenges accessing the services they need, partly because of the lack of structured collaboration among agencies. Stand Downs seek to make access to services easier by bringing multiple agencies and solutions together in one place.

The term “stand down” is borrowed from the armed forces, and refers to a period of rest and retreat given to exhausted military members in wartime. Part of the Red Cross mission is to aid members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families, and participating in veterans’ Stand Downs is a vital part of achieving that goal.

The Capital Area Stand Down was hosted by Wake County. Sponsoring organizations included Wake County Human Services, the NC Department of Commerce Division of Workforce Solutions, the Durham VA Medical Center, Consumer Education Services, Inc., the NC Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, the Raleigh Vet Center, Volunteers of America, Passage Home, Legal Aid of NC, St. John the Merciful Outreach Ministries, the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End & Prevent Homelessness, and UCB Biosciences Inc.

For more information about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces services, visit

Story by Miranda Volborth/American Red Cross