For Judy Burns, military roots turn into passion for volunteerism in Service to the Armed Forces division

By: Nicole Foulke

Perched in her American Red Cross Philadelphia office chair, surrounded by charts and instructional binders of her own making, Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Judy Burns, greets new visitors like old friends. “Eric [a volunteer] once got the best meatball recipe on a call!” she said, encouragingly, to a new volunteer.

With her gregarious nature, Judy could befriend anyone.

As both the Service to the Armed Forces Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead and its Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, Judy is an indispensable part of the program that itself can be dated back to the establishment of the American Red Cross. She is pure determination, even when she does not feel her best, on the days when her multiple sclerosis involves use of a wheelchair or keeps her homebound.

Judy, who has traded her own struggles for a life devoted to positivity, began at a young age to volunteer: “I think it was really fortunate that I’ve had seizures since I was born and got sick as a teenager; it made me stay in touch with the world and know it was not all about me,” she said.

Judy, whose no-nonsense workwear today is suitable for office hours, as well as for running into a burning building and saving a stranded cat (one of her many anecdotes), is a wealth of technical knowledge and familiarity with the community.

“Because of the personal relationships she has, she is able to connect the right people and organizations when it counts to really maximize possibilities,” said her supervisor, William Rodebaugh III, SAF Director for Eastern Pennsylvania.

Although Judy was born into a military family, it  wasn’t until her brother was injured in service in Somalia did she realize that military families have special needs. She began to volunteer for military family organizations and found her way to the Red Cross.

Each year on her birthday in September (Happy Birthday Judy!), Burns chooses a charity to focus her energy on in addition to the American Red Cross. This year, Judy is supporting the Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute (MSAWI), whose namesake was the son of her friends who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008, as it collects used cell phones to benefit the Cell Phones for Soldiers program. MSAWI is an authorized depository center for the program, which recycles any cell phone (the SIM card should be removed before donating) and uses the funds to purchase pre-paid calling cards for deployed soldiers to call home. (Anyone interested in learning how they can donate a cell phone can contact Judy via email at judy.burns@redcross.org.)

At the Red Cross, Judy is also spearheading an experiment in Service to the Armed Forces volunteer training; she created a pilot and Eastern Pennsylvania is the only region in the country that trains new volunteers with mock phone interviews and onboarding before allowing them to make calls, waiting for the standard computer training courses until later in the process.

A Pennsylvania native, Judy has volunteered with the Red Cross in the Eastern Pennsylvania for five years, always with the purpose of landing in a position where she could help the military community. A spot opened in 2018 and she began to work with mental health caseworkers and community partners to help those in need.

Judy was later promoted to Mid-Atlantic Resiliency and Preparedness Lead, coordinating workshops in numerous states, and received the additional title of Interim Casework Lead for Eastern Pennsylvania, which means she is responsible for recruiting, training, and onboarding volunteers for the Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Network, an emergency communications network for military families in crises.

Embodying the what it means to be a volunteer serving their community, Judy says she is just grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

“The feeling that I could be empowered as a vital part of this mission, and I hope that those opportunities continue both for me and for those that I have noticed are as passionate as me about SAF.”

Interested in volunteering for the Service to the Armed Forces division of the Red Cross? Check out this link: https://www.redcross.org/local/pennsylvania/eastern-pennsylvania/volunteer.html

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