By: Susan West
Nearly everyone who dedicates their time and energy to volunteering can cite an event that put the American Red Cross on their radar. For Janice Winston, that moment came 31 years ago, in 1989, when her father passed away. At the time, her son was serving overseas in the military and needed to be notified of his grandfather’s death. Enter the SAF program, or Service to the Armed Forces. The SAF caseworker’s empathy and warmth left an indelible impression on Janice, and she decided then and there to serve the American Red Cross when she retired.
A few years later saw the U.S. Middle East presence in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and Janice acted on that promise to herself. She eased herself into volunteering with the Red Cross by supplying canteen refreshments and other items to soldiers during their Philly airport layovers. And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Around 2003, her service began in earnest with International Tracing, and over the years Janice has worn plenty of hats in the organization. Today she’s a Red Cross rock star—disaster responder, liaison to county emergency management agencies and FEMA Region III, and Red Cross rep for the Crescenz V.A. Medical Center in Philadelphia.
Janice has a pile of awards and honors, but the certificate she treasures most, from John L. Kinsey School, was for using her Red Cross skills to save the life of a choking student. She’s also received grateful thanks from families for her efforts as a Service to the Armed Forces caseworker—inspired, of course, by that SAF volunteer who helped her back in 1989.
More recently, one of her most fulfilling Red Cross projects was designing and presenting a Diversity and Inclusion seminar at the 2019 Red Cross Volunteer Leadership Conference. The trust in the room, the sharing of personal experiences, and the level of engagement, she says, was truly gratifying and made the presentation a success for all involved. Equally gratifying, she adds, is seeing more people of color volunteering and taking on leadership positions. As Black History Month continues, she says she’s humbled by the legacy of all who came before her, known and unknown, who sacrificed so much—including their lives—so people of color can vote and enjoy full recognition as citizens of the United States.
Today, from her vantage point 30 years beyond that initial Red Cross encounter, Janice Winston has some sage advice for her younger self, and for all youth who are looking to leave their own legacy: “Give back as much as you can as soon as you can,” she says. “You will look back in life and love what you see. Nothing stays the same forever except the warm heart of a volunteer.”