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  • 06/06/2024 12:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Q: When were you employed at the American Red Cross, and what positions did you hold?

    A: I began my tenure at the American Red Cross in 1992. With intermittent breaks it concluded in 2005. Initially I engaged through a temp agency. I joined the Disaster Operation Center to help facilitate the recruitment and deployment of volunteers to Miami, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Within six months of this temporary assignment, I transitioned to a full-time position within the NHQ Disaster Department, where I served in multiple positions before moving to the International Services Department as a staffing associate with the newly formed International Disaster Response Unit (IDRU) based in Washington, D.C., in 2001.

    Q: What was it like to volunteer with the Ethiopian Red Cross?

    A: In July of 2003, I relocated to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, accompanying my husband, who was seconded from the American Red Cross to the Ethiopian Red Cross Society as a water and sanitation manager. During my time in Ethiopia, I volunteered in several events with the Ethiopian Red Cross, including leading the coordination and facilitation of a large group of VIP visitors led by the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), who generously donated vaccines for the American Red Cross measles campaign in Ethiopia. 

    Q: What work have you done since leaving the Red Cross, and for whom? 

    A: Since leaving the Red Cross, I have worked with multiple organizations in the field of humanitarian assistance. A few that are important and memorable to me include: Iraqi Elections

    I joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on a short term project as a training officer in the first Iraq Out of Country Voting (Iraq-OCV) that was held in five U.S. cities with large Iraqi diaspora communities. Using my Arabic language skills, I was deployed to Dearborn, Michigan, to train hundreds of polling and registration staff who worked in polling centers in the U.S.

    The Indian Ocean Tsunami

    In April 2005, I returned to the American Red Cross International Services Department/IDRU on a temporary assignment to help support response efforts to the Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated several countries bordering the Indian Ocean. That was my last assignment with the American Red Cross, concluding in July of 2005.


    In August 2005, I joined USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), now the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). My work with USAID/OFDA took me to many countries, including Sudan, my country of birth. In 2006, I was deployed on temporary duty to cover the program officer position in Khartoum for seven months. My role involved managing and monitoring all humanitarian assistance programs funded by OFDA in the north, east, and three Transitional Areas of Sudan.

    The majority of these programs focused on aiding Southern Sudanese internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had fled their homes during the long civil war between the North and South of Sudan, which displaced millions. I had the opportunity to visit several IDP camps around Khartoum and Omdurman, as well as travel to multiple cities to monitor programs and track the reverse migration of IDPs to the south. Additionally, I spoke with dozens of IDPs, men and women of all ages, to learn about the impact of the programs and their individual experiences as IDPs in the north.

    The New Country of South Sudan

    Little did I know at the time of my work in Sudan that years later I would be involved with the State Department on the referendum that led to the division of Sudan. In 2010, I was detailed by USAID/OFDA to the Department of State, U.S. Offices of the Special Envoy to Sudan (S/USSES), as a humanitarian program officer to work on contingency planning before and after the referendum voting in Sudan. I was tasked with writing a contingency plan on “The Protection of Southern Sudanese in the North."

    As the only Sudanese American on the multi-agency government team, I was privileged to create a plan that was both praised and approved by the National Security Council at the White House. This plan served as a roadmap for senior U.S. government officials in further planning during and after the referendum. More than 98% of voters chose independence, leading to the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

    Back in Sudan

    In October 2011, I moved to Khartoum, Sudan, to find more IDP camps filled with people from Darfur in the post-referendum smaller Sudan. During my time in Sudan, I worked with AECOM International Development (now DT Global) as a program and technical advisor, managing the Sudan Transition and Conflict Mitigation (STCM) program initiatives with the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) from June 2012 to December 2012. Later, I worked with International Relief & Development (now Blumont) as a Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program specialist, managing the business development and case management teams for the DDR program in the Nuba Mountains from June 2013 to January 2016.

    Ukrainian Refugees

    In May 2022, I deployed to Krakow, Poland, as a regional communications & information manager on the Ukraine Refugees Response Team with Project HOPE. 

    The regional team oversaw Project HOPE's comprehensive response to the Ukraine crisis, focusing on refugees in Poland, Moldova and Romania in addition to supporting Project HOPE’s team in Ukraine. 

    Sudan in the news again 

    On April 15, 2023, a major war broke out in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia. This conflict led to hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fleeing to neighboring countries and displaced millions within the country, including many of my relatives, family members and friends. With the world’s attention focused on the conflict in Ukraine, the war in Sudan did not receive much attention in terms of funding and media coverage.

    While still on the Ukraine team based in Poland, I was asked to join Project HOPE’s Sudan response team at headquarters to write a weekly situation report to be shared with potential donors. On a personal level, I reached out to several of my former colleagues at USAID and other organizations to find out about funding plans and responses to the crisis in Sudan, and to share information about the poor conditions experienced by those fleeing to the border towns with Egypt. I also contacted a former USAID colleague now working with Human Rights Watch in D.C., who connected me with one of her colleagues in the HRW Cairo office working on the Sudan crisis. I provided him with information and arranged multiple phone interviews with several of my relatives who had made it to Egypt, which he incorporated into the first HRW report.  Additionally, I wrote an article that was shared with several media outlets (with the help of Project HOPE’s Communications team) and was picked up by Newsweek in July 2023.

    I was also interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for an article by Nicholas Bariyo about severe funding shortfalls across Africa. Unfortunately, with the war in Ukraine and now the war on Gaza, the war in Sudan continues to receive minimal attention.
  • 04/28/2024 12:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Commit fully to supporting that wonderful organization [American Red Cross] with all you've got. I spent 42 years of my life with the national organization, from the time I was 20 until I retired at age 62, three weeks after 9/11. Although I officially retired as a paid employee on the last Friday of September that year, I returned the following Monday and volunteered for another three weeks. 

    - Bonnie Virch

    What brought you to the American Red Cross, and what did you do when you worked there?

    I started working at national headquarters on January 20,1960, in the 18th Street building. I was 20 years old, and my first job was as a clerk typist/stenographer using a Royal Standard typewriter. That first job was in a small three-person office within Service to the Armed Forces and Veterans called Hospital Motion Picture Service. In those days, Hollywood apparently provided first-issue movies to military hospitals for servicemen to watch, and we supported that effort by being the conduit to the hospitals.

    Incidentally, the first time I saw the 18th Street building, I was six years old and on my way home from a school field trip. That one instance in my life must have made a strong impression, because 22 years later, in 1982, I was selected to serve as the executive staff assistant to the new president of the American Red Cross organization, Richard F. Schubert.

    What advice would you give to recent former American Red Cross employees or those who are about to leave the organization?

    Commit fully to supporting that wonderful organization with all you've got. I spent 42 years of my life with the national organization, from the time I was 20 until I retired at age 62, three weeks after 9/11. Although I officially retired as a paid employee on the last Friday of September that year, I returned the following Monday and volunteered for another three weeks. I was working for the vice president for disaster services at that time, and he had not had time to hire someone in my place.

     How did you decide where to move for retirement?

    This is a very difficult question to answer. I was born in Washington, D.C., in 1939 and lived most of my childhood there. It was during WWII, and many people who had rental units wouldn't rent to families with children. Eventually my family and I moved to Maryland and then, as an adult, I ended up in Virginia. 

    After I retired in 2001, I remained in Virginia until 2006, when I moved to South Carolina. I was there until 2012. Over the next few years, I tried out Florida but was only there for approximately nine months. I was very unhappy there and moved back to South Carolina, where I had been my happiest. It was also more affordable than Florida and the Washington, D.C., area.

     What do you do for fun now?

    I keep in touch with my wonderful Facebook friends and others who are still around. I go back to Virginia at least twice a year to spend time with my family. These 84-year-old bones and muscles don't allow for much physical activity anymore, but I love to read and watch TV—and being single. I’m pretty much free to do as I please.

    I traveled the world during my younger retirement years. I've been to almost all European countries. In London, I took in all the sights in the city and surrounding attractions. I toured Buckingham Palace and visited the home of Winston Churchill. I also visited the famous Harrods department store and bought a t-shirt with its name on the front. I still have it and wear it often. I also rode their subway to the theater one night by myself and saw the live show where the chandelier fell to the stage.

    I’ve also been to Paris, and with a friend I walked up and down the Champs-Elysees. I also visited the Louvre and took a boat ride down the Seine. I climbed the Eiffel Tower and had lunch at the restaurant in the tower. 

    I also visited Geneva, Switzerland, and had lunch at a restaurant on Lake Geneva. While in Geneva, I took the opportunity to visit the League of Red Cross Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    I've been to Las Vegas two times — once with my daughter Kelly and granddaughter Susan, and once for the Disaster Retirees and Workers Reunion in 2017. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice, one of the most beautiful places on earth. I highly recommend visiting it if the opportunity ever arises.

    I've been to Hawaii twice and took my daughter on one of those trips. Among other things, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial. A very moving experience.

    When I was younger, I loved to ride roller coasters with my daughter — the crazier, the better. Because of my current physical limitations, I'm unable to do all the walking around that these parks require. But, would you believe, I currently live within spitting distance of one of the biggest amusement parks in the United States--Carowinds, which sits right on the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina.

     On my 80th birthday, I did a tandem skydive by jumping out of an airplane at 14,000 feet. Yes, I really did that! It was in early September and the day was perfect for such an exciting adventure. Did it once, but probably won’t do it again.

     I also like to do ziplining, but my days of that experience are probably over also. 

    One last country that you would never have guessed I would have visited was Vietnam. My brother worked for an American construction company there and traveled the whole length of it many times. He wanted me to visit him, so I flew over in April of 2005. Now, wrap your head around this—I actually flew into Hanoi and ended up seeing some of the Vietnam war sights, including the Hanoi Hilton where John McCain was held.

     On one of our sightseeing days, my brother had to attend a meeting with his company while we were in Hanoi. He took me to a beautiful park overlooking a lake right in the middle of the city to wait for him. When he returned to pick me up, he asked me if I knew what was significant about that lake. It turned out that it was the lake where John McCain had been shot down by the Vietnamese.

    Tell us about your family.

    My family consists of my daughter Kelly, my four adult grandchildren (three grandsons and one granddaughter), and three wonderful great grandchildren — Aaron, Abby (Aaron's younger sister), and my precious little 3-year-old Luke, who was named after Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. I like to tease the older ones by telling them that had it not been for me, none of them would have entered this world, and as a result they should always refer to me as their matriarch (kidding). Every single one of them will always have a piece of my heart.

    What are you looking forward to in the near future?

    The future. I want to stay connected, and I’m going to the Disaster Workers and Retirees 5th Reunion in San Antonio in May. Other than that, staying alive and hopefully doing as much as an almost 85-year-old can do. It ain't easy, but until the good Lord decides it's time for me to come home, I'll keep yelling and kicking my way through the rest of my life here on earth.

    However, I was given a wonderful opportunity by the late George Elsey during the early years of my retirement. To give you a perspective of his early life, he served as a young naval attaché in both the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Later in life, he served as the president of the American Red Cross for 12 years.

    After he retired from the American Red Cross, he sought me out and asked if I would be interested in assisting him with writing his memoirs. He provided the text in rough form, and I did the typing, cleaned it up, and made it look pretty. 

    His original plan for this book was simply to provide a story of his life for his two grandsons. As it turned out, it became much more, and as a result of him sharing the final draft with an emeritus professor friend of his at Indiana University, it was eventually published by a publishing company in Independence, Missouri, connected to the Truman Library. A book like this would usually take up to two or more years to actually be published, but the powers that be were so impressed with his book that they were able to fast track it into one year.

    My support of this effort led to a year of work between us and a commitment of my personal time that I willingly gave. It also led to a deep and lasting friendship I never dreamed I would have with this delightful and wonderful man. To this day, it stands as a major focal point in my life, and I will always be in his debt. 

    Mr. Elsey (he insisted that I call him “George”…whew, that was hard to do) did something that just blew me away. What I didn’t know at the time and only found out after the book was eventually published was that this dear man had thanked me for my contributions in the acknowledgements section of the book. Following is the actual quote:

    “I am especially appreciative of the efforts of a former Red Cross associate, Bonnie Virch, who with infectious enthusiasm, skillfully deciphered bad penmanship and poor typing to produce the clean text” that was eventually used in the final version of the book.”

    How many “nobodies” like me (at the time) would have had this kind of honor bestowed on them for posterity? As long as I live, I will have this rare distinction of being a small part of George Elsey’s life story and history. This dear man lived to be 96 years old, and to this day I miss his elegance, his beautiful voice, his caring spirit, and his zest for life.

    For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading about his amazing life, I genuinely hope that you will have an opportunity to do so. It’s titled ”An Unplanned Life, A Memoir by George McKee Elsey.” I highly recommend it.

  • 03/28/2024 3:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I treasure the friendships I made during those years and am grateful that Facebook has kept so many of us connected.”

    -       Bonnie Wright

    What motivated you to take a cruise around the world?

    The time was right, and I also had an inheritance! We have visited 16 countries so far. We left Miami on January 6, went through the Panama Canal, up the coast of Central America and Mexico, some stops in the U.S., and had a great sail through the Golden Gate to Hawaii. We experienced some seismic activity  from the big island and couldn’t dock. We sailed down through French Polynesia, where we were trying to stay away from a cyclone, so we had some rough seas and missed ports. We really had fun in Fiji, where we did the mud baths. We crossed the International Date Line. On to New Zealand and Australia, which were wonderful, especially the wine. Then we sailed north to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

    This was all new, so we have learned a lot about this critical region. Today we will dock in Sri Lanka, then on to the Maldives, then India. Our itinerary changed because of violence in the Red Sea, so we will go around Africa and finally end in New York— 160 nights total. I think my favorite stop was Singapore. It’s beautiful, safe, and the food is fantastic.  

    Tell us about your photography.

    I’ve loved photography since I was 10 years old, and I was always the “group photographer.” After I finished working as a consultant, I started a photography business….  I did events and personal photography.

    What positions did you hold with the American Red Cross, and when?

    From January 1970 to June 2002, I served at the following places:

    • Mid-America Chapter
    • Northwest Indiana Chapter, manager
    • Heart of Illinois Blood Region, division manager
    • Western Operations Headquarters, managing director
    • ·Northeast Region, executive officer
    • Grand Canyon Chapter, CEO

    What is one of your most memorable Red Cross experiences, and what made it memorable?

      Serving as the manager of the Northern California Earthquake Relief and Preparedness Project after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. I treasure the friendships I made during those years and am grateful that Facebook has kept so many of us connected. Our motto was “breaking new ground,” since the ground broke.

      This was the first time the Red Cross raised vastly more money than traditional relief efforts would cost. There was tremendous pressure from donors and political figures to spend all the money earmarked for disaster relief to be spent there. Ultimately, we set up what amounted to a foundation and received requests for assistance from cities and charities to fund disaster recovery. We also worked with California Red Cross chapters to do significant preparedness planning, which ultimately became the model for Disaster Preparedness across the country. We had the freedom to think outside the box!

      What experiences did you bring to the Red Cross?

      A college degree, driver’s license and my WSI (those were the basic requirements to start in First Aid, Small Craft and Water Safety).

      What advice would you give to recent former American Red Cross employees or those who are about to leave the organization?

      Do what you love.  Do what you always wanted to do.

      Tell us about your family and close friends. What do you like to do together?

      My partner Mary and I have been together for 20 years. We met in college 50+ years ago and traveled together in Europe right after we graduated. We met up again in Arizona. We now live in a wonderful retirement community on the campus of Arizona State University, where we both have taken on leadership roles.

      What do you do for fun now?


      What makes you laugh?

      Cat and dog videos!

      What are you looking forward to next?

      More travel!

    • 02/23/2024 5:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      Christie Phillips contributed this Q&A with ARCRA Board Member Sumner Hutcheson III

      Photos by Sumner Hutcheson III

      “Fishing with my great friends at the Red Cross was really the best experience in the world, and [as] you can imagine, when Frank Miller is in the house, we laughed the entire time. In fact, we probably laughed more than we fished.”

      When were you employed at the American Red Cross? What positions did you Hold, and where?

      My 35-year Red Cross career started in Miami, Florida (my home) as the Youth Services  Program coordinator. I was then promoted to director of Youth Services. I moved to the Washington, D.C. Chapter/National Capital Region and served as the director of Disaster Service, Brookland Service Center manager, and manager of Community Services. I then moved to the Pennsylvania Capitol Region Chapter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as CEO. My next job was as the Mid-Atlantic Region executive officer at National Headquarters. My last position with the American Red Cross was as CEO of the American Red Cross of Central Florida in Orlando.

      What experiences did you bring to the Red Cross?

      I was completing my master of social work administration degree as I started my career. That degree was instrumental in my success throughout my tenure with the Red Cross. I also served as president of the Red Cross club in elementary school and was a Red Cross-certified water safety instructor and lifeguard.

      What have you done since then that uses or builds upon your Red Cross experience?

      I developed a strong ability in fundraising both as a United Way loaned executive and campaign supervisor in both Miami and Washington, D.C.. That helped me with my Red Cross responsibility as CEO of two chapters where I doubled the budgets in both locations in less than five years. I also used those management and fundraising skills as vice president/advancement at three universities following my American Red Cross career.

      What was your favorite or most memorable Red Cross experience, and why?

      My favorite and most memorable Red Cross experience came as I accepted my first chapter  CEO job in Harrisburg. I was able to grow that chapter operation significantly with the help of an outstanding board of directors and community donors, many of whom have a long family history of supporting the American Red Cross.

      What do you do for fun now?

      I have been a professional photographer for most of my adult life, and now it is my favorite hobby—that is, when I am not fishing in the Florida Keys. 

      Tell us about staying connected with former Red Crossers, including fishing trips with Harold Brooks?

      COVID provided an excellent opportunity for me and many of my Red Cross friends to connect via video conferencing. My Mid-Atlantic friends and associates held several video calls. Blacks in the Red Cross also have held several video calls in recent years. Social media has also been a great way to stay connected.

      In recent years, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with associates like Harold as a volunteer with the IFRC, assisting with the development of Red Cross societies in the Caribbean.

      What advice would you give to recent former American Red Cross employees or those who are about to leave the organization?

      I would advise them to keep their ARC connections as strong as possible and know there IS LIFE after their Red Cross careers.

      Is there anything else you’d like to add?

      The photos [top of story] that I’m sharing are of our fishing club. We try to go fishing about every few years. Pictured are Howard Lipman, former CEO of ARC of Greater Miami and the Keys, “Little Brother” Frank Miller, former CEO in Baltimore, former ARCRA President Harold Brooks, and me. The photos were taken on our last fishing trip to Key West.

      All photos taken by Sumner Hutcheson, III

    • 01/28/2024 5:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      “The Red Cross response to 9/11 was immediate – in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. I was serving as vice president, Armed Forces Emergency Services. On the day following this horrible event, I received a call from our partners at the Pentagon – could the Red Cross arrange travel and pay for those family members who were desperately needed in Virginia in the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon? I was very proud to immediately say, 'Yes, we can, and we will!'”

        Sue Richter  

      When were you employed at the American Red Cross? What positions did you hold, and where? What experiences did you bring to the Red Cross?

      Only two years out of college, my experiences were limited. However, I had a talent for working effectively with people and a love of country driven by my father’s military experience during WWll, resulting in a strong sense of patriotism. This country was in turmoil, and I wanted to serve in some way. The opportunity to join a well-known organization and to serve alongside the military was more than appealing. I had no idea when I drove on base at Andrews that my career would exceed 50 years!

      What have you done since then that uses or builds upon your Red Cross experience?

      I’m volunteering in the local food bank here in Naples, Florida, and looking at additional volunteer opportunities when I return to Omaha.

      What was your favorite or most memorable Red Cross experience, and why?

      There are so many experiences and opportunities from which to choose! I’ve selected 9/11 because of the impact on our country. An event that will forever live in our memories. The Red Cross response was immediate – in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. I was serving as vice president, Armed Forces Emergency Services. On the day following this horrible event I received a call from our partners at the Pentagon – could the Red Cross arrange travel and pay for those family members who were desperately needed in Virginia in the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon? I was very proud to immediately say, “Yes, we can, and we will!”

      Very soon after that, Delta Airlines called the Atlanta Chapter to see if the airline could help in any way. This began a terrific partnership with the airline, the chapter, the Pentagon and national headquarters to quickly get family members traveling to where they were needed most.

      By law the military can provide travel only for next of kin. There was a huge need for additional family members to be on scene to support their loved one through this horrific situation. For the next several weeks, Red Cross staff and volunteers worked tirelessly in support of families and first responders who were working around the clock searching for the missing. To this day, I remain very proud of our Red Cross work following this horrific and historic event!

      What do you do for fun now?

      Travel – short trips and long – we’re planning a cruise in December to celebrate our daughter’s 40th birthday. Reading – mostly thrillers with some humor thrown in from time to time. Movies – when something exciting is on the big screen. The gym – 3 to 4 times a week- maybe not a fun activity but necessary to stay strong!

      Tell us about your family, and what you like to do together.

      My husband, FJ, and I have one daughter, Jane, who lives in Centreville, Virginia, with her husband, Mike, and our 4-year-old granddaughter, Lauren. Jane has a doctorate in physical therapy and loves working with military members and their families at the Fort Belvoir Army Hospital. Mike is a lieutenant with the Fairfax County Police Department. We visit as often as possible and also love to cruise with them from time to time. Travel to favorite cities such as San Antonio and New Orleans is on the itinerary as often as possible.

      FJ and I are once again spending the winter in Naples to avoid the winter chill of Nebraska. When the cameras at home broadcast the howling winds that too frequently visit during this season, we look at each other and nod – Florida is the right place to be in winter! We love our Omaha home. The flower gardens keep us busy, as do the birds at their feeders and the fish in our backyard pond.

      What advice would you give to recent former American Red Cross employees, or those who are about to leave the organization?

      Have a plan and a purpose. Develop a variety of interests that you can incorporate into your newly acquired free time. Stay active and stay engaged – there is a big world outside the Red Cross. AND, there are numerous volunteer opportunities within the Red Cross - as many retirees have already discovered. Pick one and stay busy!

      Is there anything else you’d like to add?

      Reflecting on 54 years of Red Cross service, I’m struck by how quickly the time has flown! In July of 1969, I anticipated duty in Vietnam and, indeed, spent a year in that part of the world at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. However, I could not anticipate the many opportunities and adventures that awaited me in the decades ahead. I will be forever grateful to the Red Cross people I’ve been honored to work with over the years – for their support, mentorship and helping hands. In terms of deepest gratitude, were it not for a very supportive husband and an understanding daughter, I would not have been able to accept assignments and relocate over the years. Their support was essential and incredibly helpful to me.

      The Red Cross is a movement that will continue long into the future, making a difference every day in communities around the globe. I was honored to play a small part in furthering the work Clara Barton began so many years ago.

    • 08/31/2023 4:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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