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

Sip, savor, socialize at upcoming Hops & Vines Festival Oct. 27

City Club Raleigh is hosting their second annual Hops + Vines Festival for their annual Charity Classic on Friday, Oct.27, from 7 p.m.-10:30 p.m.Charity-Classic-Poster-2017-FINAL

Dedicated to giving back to the community, City Club Raleigh presents Hops & Vines, a beer and wine festival to benefit the latest research and development supporting Augie’s Quest and the ALS Therapy Development Institute, the ClubCorp Employee Partners Care Foundation and the American Red Cross of Eastern North Carolina Region – an organization that is currently working to raise funds for disaster relief for those affected by the hurricane season. One hundred percent of the proceeds benefit the charities.

To heighten the NC community presence, City Club Raleigh’s executive Chef Troy Stauffer and his culinary team have teamed up with local vendors and farmers (Cheney Brothers, Fresh Point Produce, Heritage Farms, Joyce Farms and more) and local brew. Guests will expect a grand culinary adventure of craft beer, fine wine and fabulous appetizers. In addition to the event, there will be live DJ music and exciting experience packages for auction.
“The past few months, our neighbors have needed us more than ever. Fires have robbed families of their homes. Floodwaters have submerged communities. And major hurricanes have driven people away from their neighborhoods. And through it all, the Red Cross is there,” said Barry Porter, regional CEO of the Red Cross in Eastern NC. “We are so honored to have the City Club support the Red Cross this year and help us prevent and alleviate suffering in the midst of these disasters.”
The City Club Raleigh event is open to the public. Event cost is $45 per ticket; $80 for a two pack and $150 for a four pack. To RSVP, please visit

For more information or to make reservations, contact City Club Raleigh at 919.834.8829.

Volunteer calls Red Cross her favorite organization

Since January of 2017, Ann Smith, a retired nurse, has been giving back to her community by volunteering with the American Red Cross from coast to coast.

In the winter, Ann spends her time in North Carolina, and in theAnn Smith photo summer, she and her husband live in Washington State. But one thing is consistent – no matter the state, she dedicates her time to the Eastern North Carolina Red Cross.

On the East Coast, Ann volunteers as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member, Disaster Health Services (DHS) team member, helps with volunteer recognition and appreciation, and chips in during local blood drives.  And when Ann is on the West Coast, she works remotely as a DHS team member and assists with volunteer recognition.

In her primary volunteer role with Red Cross health services, it’s Ann’s job is to come in after a crisis like a home fire or storm and help people replace their medications and/or medical equipment.

Ann recently returned from Houston where she helped victims of Hurricane Harvey. “The number of people in need was shocking…it really made me think about what’s important in life,” Ann said. “I met many people, from all walks of life, that lost everything they owned because of the hurricane. All were incredibly thankful for even the smallest kindness shown to them and any resource [the Red Cross was] able to provide them.”

Ann chose to become a volunteer with the Red Cross because she said the volunteer-driven organization directs 91 cents of every dollar raised to those in need. And volunteers carry out 90 percent of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

“The Red Cross volunteers that I have worked with have all been enthusiastic, generous, kind and caring people. In Houston, I met volunteers…from nearly every U.S. state as well as from Mexico, and [were of] all ages. The young volunteers to the elderly, were all dedicated to getting the job done and doing so in a supportive and positive manner,” Ann said.

When asked what her proudest moment is to-date as a Red Cross volunteer, Ann said it’s “every time a client says, ‘thank you or God Bless you for helping me.’ I am happy that I am able to help them.”

Through volunteering, Ann makes a difference in people’s lives. You can too. Sign up to volunteer today at

Story by Nichole Nettleton / American Red Cross

‘If you can bring relief…your mission is complete’


Moe Darden is no stranger to the Red Cross ― or to responding to hurricane disaster relief missions.

He began volunteering with the Red Cross following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He’s since helped those affected by Hurricane Sandy, and has now added Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to the list.

Moe, along with three other Eastern North Carolina Red Crossers departed for Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Sunday, Sept. 24, en route to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to render aid to those affected by recent back-to-back hurricanes.

“If you can bring relief to a 3-year-old who lost his blanket in a storm, then your mission is complete,” Moe said.

The crew of volunteers each said they wanted to bring back a sense of normalcy and comfort to those who’ve lost homes and loved ones because of Hurricane Maria.

Mycaela Crouse, disaster program specialist for the Central NC Chapter of the Red Cross, began volunteering with the Red Cross at age 16, and said she was fully prepared to help in Puerto Rico. “The idea of giving back is so rewarding. The chance to do that every day is a gift,” she said.


And new volunteer Duy Phan, said he wants to help because he lost his home to a flood three years ago and understands the pain of starting new.

While on the islands, the team of volunteers will be focused on quickly distributing supplies such as food, water and clean-up materials to residents.


Stay tuned for updates on Eastern NC volunteers and the work they are doing on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.