CATONSVILLE, MD (May 4, 2015) -- Barbara Riester was just settling into her new home at Charlestown in June 2013 when she got the phone call and jetted off out west. Barbara, an American Red Cross volunteer, was needed in Black Forest, Colorado where wildfires were ravaging acres of land and ultimately destroyed over 500 homes.
"I call it the 'here today, gone tomorrow' program. If we get called we have to be on our way to the disaster by the next day," says Barbara who has responded with the Red Cross to disaster calls all over the United States and its territories including American Samoa, Guam, and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
As the volunteer leader of one of three Disaster Services Teams that serve a seven state area, Barbara helps coordinate Red Cross volunteers.
"Every situation is unique," says Barbara. "Whether it's helping people after a tsunami, mudslide, earthquake, flood—the Red Cross is there to provide immediate support and ensure people have a safe place to stay, food to eat, and a recovery plan to get back on their feet."
Barbara's connection with the Red Cross started when she was just six years old.
"I took swim lessons sponsored by the Red Cross for two weeks every summer," says Barbara. "When I was in college I volunteered teaching handicapped children how to swim. In my senior year of college I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. I had a degree in Business Administration and most of my friends were pursuing banking jobs. A recruiter from the Red Cross came to our school looking for women to work in their Supplemental Recreation Activity Overseas (SRAO) program in Vietnam and Korea which hosts recreational activities for service members and I decided to apply."
Barbara was accepted to the SRAO program and spent the next eight months overseas. After the war in Vietnam ended, she returned home and attended Officer Candidate School at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. She went on to have a 20 year career as a Navy Supply Corps Officer, all the while continuing as a Red Cross volunteer.
"While I was in the Navy I volunteered with the Service to the Armed Forces program as an after-hours case worker. My job was to help family members get in touch with deployed service men and women," says Barbara.
In 1993, now retired, Barbara moved to Lexington, Virginia and taught economics and business at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and began training with the Red Cross' Disaster Services division in Roanoke. In 2005 she left VMI and accepted a paid position with the Red Cross' Traveling Disaster Relief program.
"I spent the next 20 months in Indonesia as the Finance and Administration Delegate with the Tsunami Recovery Program in Sumatra," says Barbara. "The Red Cross raised enough money to support building over 5,000 homes and we ran a variety of different programs depending on the needs at the time."
In 2007 Barbara returned to the states and continued working for the Red Cross until she retired in 2013.
"I had moved 16 times and I really just wanted a place I could call home," says Barbara.
In June 2013 Barbara embarked on her 17th move to Charlestown, the place she now calls home.
But best of all Barbara says living at Charlestown has allowed her the freedom to pursue her one true passion: being a Red Cross volunteer.
"It's a lot of long days. Most assignments are 12 to 14 hour days for about a three week period," says Barbara. "But the good part is you get to work with a great group of caring individuals who are there for one reason: to help people recover from whatever kind of disaster they are facing."