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Change a Life Finalist Tina Johnson
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Mary Etta Boesl
April 8, 2009

Tina Johnson has been an American Red Cross volunteer most of her adult life. She started her Red Cross career as a 17-year-old life guard. Water safety was a natural for Tina, a member of a California high school swim team that held swim meets at the local park and recreation swimming pool.

One Red Cross activity led to another, and Tina was soon teaching earthquake preparedness skills. She loved being able to help her community.

When she and her husband moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1991, Tina took a few years to settle her family and to have a sixth child. She then volunteered in the Tanana Valley office of the American Red Cross of Alaska.

Tina serves as a First Aid/CPR instructor, a disaster volunteer and has recently been asked to join the leadership advisory council. She has provided disaster response for dozens of local fires and floods. She also traveled as a Red Cross disaster volunteer to help those affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Gustav and Rita.

“My heart is in working from the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs),” Tina declares, referring to the mobile units from which the Red Cross provides food, supplies, casework and more. She explains that the same ERV team drives into the heart of the same neighborhood twice a day, giving Red Crossers a chance to see the same people and to get to know them. This is especially true of the children, who soon begin to expect the ERV and come running to see what today’s meals and snacks will be.

Disaster work from an ERV is demanding; when deployed for Hurricane Ike Tina left Alaska on August 30 and returned home October 24. It was during this trip that Tina experienced one of her most memorable Red Cross volunteer moments. While delivering meals, she met a young girl who happened to be celebrating her birthday that day. In the midst of disaster relief efforts, Tina took the time to help make the little girl’s birthday just a little bit better with a cake made of donuts, and a birthday song on the PA system of the ERV. Tina wrote: “I forgot the many miles I drove and the long hours I worked that day. But I will never forget that little girl’s smile.”

Tina explains that during a disaster, when everything seems topsy-turvy, the daily things of life still happen. People have birthdays, children are born. It is important to recognize these special times, regardless of the circumstances, and she makes sure there are celebrations whenever possible.

“I love children,” Tina says, “and I love helping people.”

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.

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