Britta McKenna considers herself to be a problem solver. The description makes complete sense. With a career focused on innovation, she launched a new company in March 2020. Yes, right as the coronavirus pandemic began. The timing was disappointing for a company launch, so with a background in consulting non-profits at various points in her career, Britta chose to put the company on hold and help others instead.
In April 2020, Britta joined the Red Cross, after Governor Pritzker urged people to roll up their sleeves to help others during the pandemic. She hopped on the website, filled out the application and joined the mission.
“With everything that’s going on, and with all the disasters going on, I figured I’d help,” Britta says.
That’s exactly what Britta did. In Chicago, she joined the Volunteer Services Team to help recruit more volunteers, a role she’s enjoyed.
“I’m not afraid to ask questions, to really help the organization grow in areas it never thought,” Britta says. “I’m glad I found somebody who was very open to that and able to bring my background and gave me that flexibility and a long leash.”
But Britta didn’t stop in Chicago. She wanted to help others impacted firsthand by the disasters happening around the country. In September, she deployed for the first time to Baton Rouge, Louisiana after Hurricane Laura struck the South. She was prepared to assist as a Shelter Supervisor.
“I was nervous because I didn’t know what the environment was going to be like. It was easy once I got there, observed, on-boarded quickly and led in the shelter space that I was in,” Britta says.
Britta assisted at a hotel in Baton Rouge, sheltering 78 people who had been displaced by Hurricane Laura.
“You learned by doing. You learned from the person before you. It was more like being an RA in a dorm,” Britta explains. “I focused on service to the clients and making a difference at a personal level. I talked to them. I asked them questions. ‘How do you feel about the food? How do you feel about this?’ I took those cues and I acted on them.”
She quickly learned that residents were looking for activities to keep entertained in the hotel. Britta teamed up with the East Baton Rouge Library to get books for families.
She even helped organize athletic balls, cleaned them, and kept them within COVID-safety requirements, to allow kids to play with something while they were in the hotel.
And finally, she organized the Box O’Fun, filled with items like coloring books, toys, etc. for kids to choose and keep.
“We were able to do those small things like helping a mom with her two little kids who were going stir crazy,” Britta says. “Imagine being in a hotel room for a month. It was a little lifeline.”
In just her six short months at the Red Cross, Britta says it’s been impactful already. The mission is truly making a difference.
“I have loved meeting other Red Cross volunteers, learning their theories and stories and their why,” Britta says. “Why they volunteer, which is all over the map, and just seeing that we’re all in with our sleeves up and hearts open. The common thread is helping another person. The Red Cross allows you to do that in so many ways.”
While her business took a backseat during the pandemic, Britta says she most likely wouldn’t have become a volunteer if not for COVID. She encourages others now to join the mission to volunteer.
“We’re all in search of purpose,” Britta says. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. When you move throughout your life, whether you’re going to college, finding a career, your kids leave home and you’re empty nesters, there is something for everybody at the Red Cross.”
To become a volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.
Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager