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From Childhood to Retirement the Red Cross Is a Part of Dessie Johnson

Longtime volunteer shares her memories

“I have volunteered with the RC for as long as I can remember. When I was in the 1st grade our school had a fundraising contest for the Red Cross. We were given ½ pages of cardboard coin saver with pennies, you would slide pennies inside the slots on the card. I can recall one morning, before school, my mother curled my hair. I wondered why because we would only get our hair curled for church and special occasions. So, I didn’t know why she was fixing my hair that morning. We had an assembly at school that day. I can remember sitting with my classmates and my name was called as the person that had filled out the most cards and raised the most money. I was very surprised! My mother was there, at the assembly, and I was presented with a Red Cross pin. That motivated me and the next year I worked even harder! I won the contest again.”

“In school, the clinic was run by a Red Cross nurse and upper classmates could assist. In 9th grade, I remember getting to help in the clinic; it was an honor and privilege. I wore a light blue apron and white blouse in the clinic – it was the iconic Red Cross outfit clinic helpers wore.”

Dessie married in 1957 to husband, Mr. Davie Johnson. They started a family and then moved to Germany where Davie was stationed as a soldier in the US Army. Here, Dessie volunteered helping service men pen letters back home to their wives. Later, they relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia and it was here that Dessie enrolled in Red Cross classes.

In the 1980s, Dessie volunteered with Red Cross at Redstone Arsenal. Her role included casework, answering phones, filing and other administrative duties. It wasn’t long after that Dessie accepted a full-time paid position at the Huntsville Chapter of the Red Cross where she remained for 23 years until retiring in 2010.

“Of the many memories I’ve made and the people I have met, I will never forget this one service member.” Dessie remembers an emotional call from a service member that had recently returned from Afghanistan. The veteran’s 10-year-old son had died abroad (unexpectedly) and he wanted nothing more than to retrieve his son’s body and give him a proper burial in the US. The case required long hours and lots of communications but paired with Dessie’s determination and the Red Cross’ network of partners, the veteran’s wish was fulfilled and he buried his son at home, in the United States. To express his appreciation, the veteran lovingly asked Dessie to attend his son’s funeral. Later, he expressed to Dessie that he was touched by her professionalism and compassion and he wanted to give her a hug.

Dessie has served many roles in the Red Cross and continues her service to the community today. Currently, Dessie serves as a disaster caseworker, helping people recover after losing everything to a home fire or local disaster.  “I am a lifelong supporter of the Red Cross”.

It is through the selfless compassion of volunteers like Dessie that the Red Cross carries out its mission to alleviate human suffering. This month, were celebrating these everyday heroes and sharing their reason why.

Need something to do but not sure where to start? Take a look at our greatest needs in Alabama…

Disaster Action Team Member: When a disaster like a home fire displaces a family from their home, trained volunteers respond to ensure that they don’t face it alone. As part of a team, help local families by wrapping a blanket around their shoulders, addressing their urgent needs like food and a safe place to stay, and connecting them with recovery assistance.

Blood Donor Ambassador: Are you friendly and outgoing? Red Cross Blood Donor Ambassadors ensure that blood donors have a pleasant and fulfilling experience from the moment they arrive at a blood drive to the moment they leave.

Blood Transportation Specialist: Are you a dependable, safe and courteous driver and looking for a meaningful way to help save lives? You can be the critical link between blood donors and recipients. Volunteers are responsible for regular routes and are on standby for emergency runs.

Visit redcross.org/alabama to get started today or call (205) 439-7800.

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