Sometimes, a typical monthly luncheon changes the trajectory of your career.
This is a bittersweet month for me, as I recently attended my last official meeting as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross serving Central Texas. That is a journey that began 12 years ago when I was sitting in the monthly meeting of the Public Relations Society of America and the speaker happened to be the local Communications Director for the American Red Cross. On that routine day, when I showed up to yet another luncheon, not because of the speaker or topic but simply to connect with my peers, I had no idea what an important part of my life the Red Cross would become.
While my board role is coming to an end, I’ll never really leave the Red Cross and will remain involved locally in some ways. However, this milestone does make me think of some of the most impactful moments of the last decade with the organization. Many people in Austin, and beyond, have been a big part of those, so I share them in gratitude to those individuals and in hopes I can inspire colleagues who may not yet see charitable involvement as a pathway to leadership and personal development to reconsider.
With that in mind, following are my (slightly more than) Top 10 Moments from (almost) 10 years as a Red Cross Board Member…
#13: Attending the unveiling of the Dell DigiDoc at the Red Cross’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., featuring Dell CEO Michael Dell and Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern;
#12: Touring Dove Springs in Austin after the Halloween floods of 2013, which prompted me to write this OpEd to share that untold story with others;
#11: The momentum-changing meeting with fellow members of the local Executive Committee, when we decided to make the tough decision to change the development strategy for the Board of Directors;
#10: Showing up to the Red Cross staging area in the city of West after the plant explosion, seeing the help those shocked and devastating clients received and thanking the volunteers who were delivering it;
#9: Touring the largest military base in the world to learn about the unsung work the Red Cross does with the military, such as support for groundbreaking work in the area of PTSD for veterans;
#8: Having an opportunity to use my professional skills in communications and my relationships in the community to dispel misperceptions about the Red Cross and turn skeptics into supporters;
#7: Lunch at El Arroyo, when then-CEO Elaine Acker and soon-to-be Chairman Stacy Allen almost made me fall out of my chair when they suggested I become Chair-Elect (fortunately, I recovered and said yes);
#6: That lunch with former CEO Derrick Chubbs, to which I arrived to tell him I would wind down my volunteerism with the Red Cross and somehow departed having agreed to join the Board of Directors;
#5: The inaugural Luminaria event, which was a labor of love, blood, sweat and tears for all involved – especially Hannah Nokes, Terri Broussard Williams and Debbie Immel – and which became the catalyst for years of successive record-breaking fundraising events for the Red Cross;
#4: Through the pre-cursor to Luminaria, the Fire & Ice Gala, coming to know Honorary Chairs Jo & Jon Ivester, who are exactly the type of substantive, mission-driven philanthropists I one day aspire to be;
#3: At that same event, watching my amazing husband Ronnie bid to win a live auction item, supplementing the tremendous patience and support he has always had with my involvement with his own enthusiasm for the causes I love;
#2: Every time I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with now CEO Marty McKellips and Volunteer Extraordinaire Bill Dorman, both of whom I learn and grow from with every conversation; and
#1: The irreplaceable friendships and unparalleled mentorship opportunities I’ve enjoyed through the organization, which are far too numerous to name here.
One of my mantras that I seek to follow and often advocate to my friends is to simply, “Say yes.” Often, people ask us to do things we don’t think we’re prepared to do or assume someone else is more qualified. That is exactly how I have felt at almost every stage of my involvement with the American Red Cross, but I’m so glad that I continued to say yes, turning a routine volunteer role into a life- and career-changing opportunity. Thank you to all of those who have made that happen and rest assured that I will always and forever be Red Cross Ready.
Stacy Armijo is Executive Vice President for Pierpont Communications and a national Board Member for the American Marketing Association. She writes regularly about public relations, marketing, leadership and community engagement.