What began as a resume-building opportunity has turned into a calling for Chris Stertzbach.
Chris is coming up on his one-year anniversary of being a Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer with the American Red Cross. The program supports military service members and families across the world to prepare for, cope with and respond to the challenges of military service. When crisis occurs, volunteers like Chris have a critical role in providing global emergency communication services 24/7 across the world to keep military families connected.
Before service members are deployed, the Red Cross distributes contact cards. If emergency communication is necessary, the family contacts the Red Cross. A volunteer confirms the information, then passes it on to the appropriate commanding officer. The commanding officer passes the message on to the service member and decides whether emergency leave is warranted.
Chris, a graduate of The Ohio State University, began volunteering with Services to the Armed Forces shortly after volunteer Russ Aikman made a compelling presentation there last summer.
“I was looking to get some experience in case management, a little more professional experience than I’d gotten up to that point,” said Chris, who would eventually like to become a licensed social worker.
Chris said he has always felt the call to help people, and Services to the Armed Forces was a natural fit. It could not have come at a better time. Chris was months from graduating with a degree in psychology, one of several tracks for students desiring a career in social work.
“The Red Cross has a case manager volunteer system that peaked my interest,” Chris said. “For practical reasons, volunteering looks good on a resume. It’s also a way to do a little bit to help other people – which is what I really wanted to do.”
“I got very comfortable talking to people on the phone through Red Cross work, especially the emergency side of it when you’re helping people who are going through a loss or a stressful time,” he said. “Because I’ve met everyone in the office, it makes requests easier. I’m comfortable referring clients to them for questions I can’t answer because I know the staff is knowledgeable.”
Chris said the most rewarding part of his volunteer work is helping people – even if they are people he will never meet.
“Every so often, I get a request from someone and find out later that they heard back from their loved one within two hours of the message,” said Chris, who communicates by phone with clients calling from all over the United States. “It feels good to know that the organization I’m doing the volunteer work for is making that connection happen.”
If there is one thing clients should know about Red Cross volunteers it’s that “volunteers are going to do their absolute best to get what the service member needs,” Chris said. “Sometimes there is red tape to navigate, but patience is key. Every volunteer is going to do their best to help service members and their families.”
Chris said that at the end of the day, he knows his role is a valuable one and keeps families connected.
“Every so often, I hear from people who are very, very grateful and that feels good.”
Services to the Armed Forces is just one of the departments of the Red Cross that uses volunteers. In fact, 94 percent of Red Cross staffers are volunteers! To find the right fit for you, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer