Volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization or community. That could not be more true of the American Red Cross.
Its workforce is 97 percent volunteer. These unsung heros are neighbors, friends and coworkers.
Syracuse’s Cindy Peterson was recently honored with one of only 10 awards in the state of Indiana for her volunteer efforts with the local chapter and nationally. She received the Red Cross Challenge Coin in recognition of her significant achievement from Division Disaster Executive Keith Alvey and Division Disaster Director Janine Brown.
She is a quiet caseworker for this area. Whenever a disaster strikes a local family, Peterson immediately responds. She activates the case through her computer or iPad so money is available.
“Really, my Red Cross work was a lifesaver. I retired in 2009 from teaching high school and was involved with the Red Cross in the swimming and health and safety areas through my job in physical education at Wawasee High School. I helped put together the swimming program that is still going. But, this was a new challenge presented to me by my Red Cross mentor Kimberly Stout.”
When her husband died in 2010, she was looking for a way to contribute and Red Cross service filled the bill. She took training and not only serves this area of seven counties but is also called out of state.
Her first deployment was July 4, 2012, when she had a house full of company. The entire state of West Virginia was without power and she and several others were sent there to assist at a hospice. She helped care for the hospice patients and workers, before moving to another location.
That September she had her most frightening experience by being in the heart of Super Storm Sandy when it hit Long Island, N.Y. She had been pre-deployed to get ready for the storm by the Red Cross. “Hurricanes are serious business. Trees were blown over at a 90 degree angle by the wind,” she explained.
Peterson continued, “When you see people coping with these kinds of losses, it makes you feel most humble.” The shelter where she was located was set up for 500 people and eventually 2,000 were housed.
Hurricane Isaac sent she and Sherry Lantz to Florida and then they drove through turbulent weather, ending up in Hattiesburg, Miss., where the storm hit hard. A less known but nonetheless devastating disaster occurred in 2015 in South Bend. More than 90 homes had been flooded right off their foundations.
Peterson acted as a disaster assessment advisor, arranging for food, shelter and clothing for those in need for up to one month. During that time, the paperwork was completed to refer them to the federal government agencies such as FEMA.
She noted, “I get great satisfaction from feeling viable and worthy to do this work. Teaching also has great payback. I love seeing my students doing good works.”
A graduate of Anderson Highlands High School and the holder of two degrees from Ball State University, she was a self described childhood laker, who never thought she would get to live at the lake full time.
Other activities include spending time with her two children and five grandchildren as well as assisting with the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation.