By Gene Jeffers, Board Chair, Red Cross San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter
“We take care of people,” said nurse Val Andler. “That’s what we do.”
And caring for people is exactly what Val has done as a volunteer for the American Red Cross.
As a young woman, Val worked hard for her nursing degree, but back in those days, her husband didn’t want her to work. He suggested that she volunteer with the Red Cross. He had been a prisoner of war and the Red Cross care boxes he received while interned – filled with cigarettes, Spam, chocolate, nuts, canned peaches – kept him going during those dark days. But not working was not in Val’s DNA. She is an RN operating room supervisor and while she never received a paycheck as a volunteer, Val has been hard at work for more than 70 years.
Let me repeat that: Val has worked as a Red Cross nurse volunteer for 70 years.
It has been nearly 140 years since the founding of the Red Cross, and nurses and nursing have been at the core of its mission. Clara Barton, founder of the organization, first came to public attention as an amateur nurse who provided aid to soldiers during the Civil War. Since then, the role of Red Cross nurses has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of the American people, whether during the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 or during times of global conflict and turmoil today.
Now, more than 20,000 nurses are active in paid and volunteer service with the Red Cross. Red Cross nurses focus on a wide range of community needs: teaching courses in home nursing and nutrition; supporting the Red Cross Biomedical Services and community blood drives; providing medical and training support to communities during national health emergencies, such as the severe polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s; and providing support to those affected by disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and fires.
“One night, I was part of a DAT (Disaster Action Team) response to a home fire,” Val said. “A single mother with five children had lost their home and had nowhere to go. The Red Cross found a place for her with separate bedrooms and a kitchen where she would be able to care for her children.”
This wasn’t something that was done often, she notes. “But she needed help that night. Even though my medical skills weren’t needed, I was so proud of being a Red Cross nurse in that moment.”
“I’ve worked with so many amazing Red Cross people,” Val said. “Giving their time to go out at all hours to help families in need. Willing to jump in a car and drive three days to help with a disaster on the other side of the country. Giving their time to teach others how to stay safe. Usually finding a way to make someone else’s life better when times are difficult. Red Cross people are special people.”
Over the years, Val has taught home nursing skills to countless wives and mothers; she taught them how to take care of their family members in years when income was sparse. She taught caregivers how to take their loved ones’ blood pressure and how to babysit safely. She taught new parents how to care for their infants. She trained teams for mini clinics that provided flu shots for their communities. She has worked tirelessly as a volunteer nurse recruiter and promoted the Red Cross program at UCLA and USC.
“We take care of people,” said volunteer Val Andler, a proud Red Cross nurse. And indeed, for 70 years she has.
Today, the need for that level of dedication and care could not be more apparent. Val is proud of the first responders and health professionals who carry on her tradition of service as integral members of the Red Cross, carrying out the work we do and supporting Americans most in need right now.
This piece is part of our National Nurses Week Series. Stay tuned throughout the week for more stories about Red Cross Nurses and the incredible services they provide.