International Volunteer Day 2020

Topics: Ontario, Volunteer
December 05, 2020

This year, December 5th marks International Volunteer Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the amazing work of volunteers across the world. More than 70% of the Canadian Red Cross team is made up of committed volunteers who help provide support to over 130,000 Canadians each year. From emergencies and disasters, big and small, to community health and wellness programs, Canadian Red Cross volunteers are ready to help.

On this International Volunteer Day, we want to thank our amazing volunteers who have been working harder than ever to keep Red Cross services running while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meet some of the many Ontario Red Cross volunteers below, who are supporting families and communities across the province. We are thankful to have them on our team.

Andrew Welch

Role: Emergency Response Team, Supervisor
Day job: Retired IT consultant and corporate trainer.

Red Cross activity: I have helped with logistics for the ERU deployment to Haiti, following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Most of my time spent volunteering is with the National Emergency Management Evaluation Team. I have also acted as the York University site manager for the 2019 Gosford blvd. apartment fire and as the Field Operations Team, Deputy Operations Lead for the Central and Eastern Ontario floods in 2017.

Why you became a volunteer: Dufferin county was creating their Emergency Management Team and I saw an ad in the local newspaper. I thought the role would be challenging and rewarding at the same time and being self employed, I missed working in a team environment.

Most memorable moment volunteering: My favourite memories are from my first real major response out of province in Saskatchewan, working with First Nations communities. I decided to try to learn the local language, which seemed to strike a chord with the community members. Individuals would share new words with me to learn. It helped create a positive atmosphere and build our relationship.

How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: Awesome! When you see a red vest, even if you have not met the person wearing it, you know a bit about them. They are representing the 7 principals. The Red Cross is a powerful symbol.

Fun Fact: I am a published author and I am currently working on my second book. 

Pamela Rybak
Role: Emergency Response Team, Supervisor
Day job: Retired transportation driver and trainer.

Red Cross Activity: Currently involved in Virtual Personal Disaster Assistance, mentoring and training new members on the team. First response outside of Ontario was Fort MacMurray Fires in 2016. Also assisted with BC floods and Ottawa floods.

Why you became a volunteer: I started as a First Aid teacher 30 years ago, but when Red Cross began using authorized providers for First Aid, one of the coordinators at the time, was reluctant to let me leave the Red Cross. She sent me to disaster management where I casually volunteered until I retired in 2012. Following retirement was when I started doing more and more volunteering. Helping people and the York Region team is what keeps me volunteering.

Most memorable moment volunteering: I was deployed in Winnipeg, Manitoba to support the emergency operation centre and the First Nations communities that had evacuated following the 2017 wildfires. It was interesting chatting with the First Nations community members and learning about their culture. Also, while I was in Manitoba, I unexpectedly met Canadian actor Tom Jackson, who was also supporting as a Red Cross volunteer.

How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: Proud. It’s an awesome thing to do. You feel like you’ve helped someone.

Fun Fact: I like meeting new people and having fun with them. I’m a gregarious person!

Ashwin Rajmohan

Role: Emergency Response Team, Responder
Day job: Emergency Response Team Supervisor with the Canadian Red Cross. Following my deployment to Trenton, I got a call to be an Emergency Response Team Responder and I have since been promoted to supervisor.

Red Cross activity: Recently, hired for the Canadian Red Cross’s COVID-19 response in Trenton in collaboration with the Canadian Forces, where we welcomed travellers back home from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship. I have also been deployed to Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Kapuskasing, and Winnipeg as an Emergency Response Team Responder.

Why you became a volunteer: When I came to Canada, I was looking for options to volunteer, and disaster management really piqued my interest. The Red Cross is one of the few organizations that responds to disasters at a massive scale and around the world. I love the people and organizational culture. I have been able to meet a lot of people with great experience and who have guided me along the way.
Most memorable moment volunteering: Every minute being with the organization is a happy one. I was proud of myself when I got the call to go to Trenton, because it was during the time when nobody knew what COVID was, and there were few individuals who said yes. To work with a team that was fearless, putting their lives on the line, it made me feel very proud.

How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: I think wearing the Red Cross vest means we are part of an elite class of individuals, and, anywhere you go, people turn their heads and know what we do, and are grateful that we support them. 

Fun fact: I have experience working in oil spills, cyclones, floods and landslides in Southern India!

Rod Cliffe
Role: Transportation and Meals on Wheels program
Day Job: Retired police officer

Red Cross activity: With a suspension of service early in the pandemic, I let my branch supervisor know that I was available for other services as needed.  As a result, I have helped with Meals on Wheels in Burlington, Food Basket delivery in Toronto and Burlington, and have been asked to interview volunteer candidates. I also serve on the Volunteer Experience Working Committee.

Why you became a volunteer: I knew the need was there after seeing the difficulty a relative of mine had getting to and from medical appointments.  A colleague was with the Red Cross and told me of the transportation program.  I saw this as fulfilling a need. I enjoy people and driving, so it was a natural fit.  

Most memorable moment volunteering: I enjoy the stories the clients tell of their lives and I also enjoy the stories about what Burlington was like in the late 40's and into the 50's and 60's.
How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: It is a pleasure. I'm as proud to wear that as I was to wear the uniform of my service.

How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: It is a pleasure. I'm as proud to wear that as I was to wear the uniform of my service.

Fun Fact: After almost 39 years in policing, it's great to knock on someone's door and have them be happy to see me!

Jen Huot
Role: Emergency Response Team, Responder. Recently transitioned to assisting with new volunteer interviews and onboarding.
Day job: Registered Nurse working at a hospital in Strathroy in the emergency department.
Red Cross activity: Last year, we supported a gentleman who had been renting an apartment where there was a fire. We met him and gave him necessities like clothing and laundry detergent to be able to get back and forth from his work. He was very grateful and appreciative that we were able to help him.

Why you became a volunteer:  I really like that we can help people when they are vulnerable, and I like being able to support that. If I have the time to do it, I want to be able to do it. Now being involved, I believe in what we are doing at the Red Cross, and the way we are doing things. I am proud to be a part of the Red Cross and its work around the world.
Most memorable moment volunteering: I did a city-wide emergency response activity with EMS Hospitals in London. That was a great learning experience. I would also say the time I’ve spent meeting and bonding with everyone on the team.
How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: I feel so proud – the vest and logos are recognized symbols that we are there to help.

Fun fact: I have also volunteered for 8 years at a wildlife rehab. I work with the animals to make sure they are fed, get enough exercise, and I also help by cleaning cages.

Andrew Johnston
Role: National First Aid Program Master Instructor and Communications Team.
Day job: I own a company as a Red Cross training partner, conducting First Aid training for the Red Cross.

Red Cross activity: Recently helped to write one of the last sessions prior to COVID on how to teach virtually with other Master Instructor Trainers. Also deployed to Ottawa, as well as in Bellville, when Kosovo refugees came over in 1999.

Why you became a volunteer:  When I first became a First Aid instructor, I was in university and met some people at the Ottawa branch of the Red Cross. They convinced me to come out and sit on some committees. Over the years, I’ve been able to convince other people to volunteer. I continue to work with the Red Cross because of the people. I’ve been fortunate to meet volunteers from across Canada from a wide variety of backgrounds and they all have a common willingness and desire to help others, which is the core of the society.
Most memorable moment volunteering: I have one memory that has stuck with me since I worked with Kosovo refugees in Belville in 1999. Refugees’ planes would fly in after dark into Trenton air base, they would receive a medical update, then be driven into Prince Edward County, where the Red Cross had set up a shelter. I remember one time a bus pulled in and refugees were instructed to walk towards the light ahead. They approached with a lot of trepidation. We would greet them with our vests on, and immediately we would see their faces change. They knew when they saw the Red Cross, they were safe, and we would take care of them. And that has stuck with me for all these years.

How do you feel when wearing the Red Cross: Humanity and impartiality are the two big things – helping people no matter what. We live in a political environment, and it’s important to make sure that we do not judge people and are there to help no matter what!

The Canadian Red Cross is actively recruiting volunteers to join its teams as they help the most vulnerable in Canada. Volunteering with the Red Cross could be a great opportunity for students looking for work experience, retirees looking for a way to give back, or those just looking to make a meaningful contribution. Opportunities are well-suited for individuals with a wide range of schedules and skills.

If any of the volunteer positions in this article interest you, visit to learn about the different roles available and how to apply.