Restoring Family Links Through Volunteer Dedication

Story by Lisa Ghali, National Headquarters, Caseworker for Europe and Asia

Working for the Red Cross has given me the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of life experiences. After dedicating the last nine years to the Red Cross mission, I can honestly say I’m still amazed at the commitment and effort of our devoted volunteers. From the time I worked at the local chapter to here at the national office, I have watched these wonderful people give their lives to alleviating the suffering of those in need. For this year’s International Volunteer Day, I would like to wholeheartedly thank three volunteers with the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, who through the years have exemplified the Red Cross Fundamental Principle of Volunteer Service. Betsy Amin-Arsala, Annie Werbinsky and Leslie Cartier, my hat is off to you. Thank you.

Betsy Amin-Arsala worked for the Red Cross long before I arrived and can always be relied upon to reveal the historical knowledge of our program.  She is able to answer questions that no one else can with a lively and generous spirit. Betsy’s investigative and research abilities enable us to locate and reconnect families across the nation and around the world. 

We also benefit from Betsy’s travels as she provides cultural insights through her storytelling, which always captivates the Restoring Family Links team. Once, Betsy invited the entire RFL unit to her home to teach us how to sew. Rather than paying attention to my stitching, I found myself wrapped in the details of her times living in Afghanistan! Betsy’s a lifer, meaning that she has made the commitment throughout her life to the Red Cross mission.

Annie Werbinsky has also dedicated her life to volunteerism, even when she was working full time. When I asked her why, she looked at me in disbelief and said “of course, it is always important to give back to society.” Annie began volunteering with the Red Cross in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, monitoring and evaluating how we provided services. From there, Annie worked with the Historical Tours program and the Safe and Well unit, making her a perfect fit for RFL.

Annie wholeheartedly brought a wealth of information from our counterparts and immediately engaged in the effort to reconnect separated families. I remember once we went to the National Archives to look at old Red Cross documents and Annie seemed right at home buried in the records and coordinating with our colleagues. Her attention to detail and great compassion is illustrated in her work consistently finding and reconnecting family members. 

Leslie Cartier had been a volunteer at the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, Maryland when it transitioned to the Restoring Family Links unit at National Headquarters. At the beginning of the transition, Leslie and I were introduced. We realized we recognized each other’s names from when I worked on WWII cases at the local level in New York! Our mutual dedication to the program was apparent and we quickly went about collaborating with each other on reconnecting families separated by various humanitarian crises. 

Leslie sometimes seems like a hard working ghost, because she is able to get work done without actually being in the office! Leslie is RFL’s first virtual volunteer, dedicating countless hours to the RFL mission from her home in Florida. She has strong research skills with a knack for finding information and people when all others have hit a dead end.

Leslie and I had a conversation the other day when we were figuring out how long we had been collaborating on casework. She said, “I’ve worked for you since the Center closed.” I immediately responded, “No, Leslie, we have been volunteer partners since then.” This is what I think of all the volunteers who dedicate their time to working for the Red Cross. They are our partners in a mission and critical to the success of the Red Cross Movement. Each year, thousands of families are reconnected because of the compassion and dedication of volunteers across the US and around the globe. For this year’s International Volunteer Day, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to these three volunteers as well as every volunteer that makes reconnecting families possible.