Volunteer Turns Compassion into Action for Restoring Family Links

Elissa Maish, International Services Volunteer and RFL Mentor, with colleague Vicente Baamonde at an RFL Mentor Meeting.

Elissa Maish, International Services Volunteer and RFL Mentor, with colleague Vicente Baamonde at an RFL Mentor Meeting.

Story by Richard White, Tucson Region, Regional CEO

For 13 years, Elissa Maish has been a tireless, determined and compassionate volunteer for the Southern Arizona Regional Chapter.

Elissa began her Red Cross career as a Disaster Volunteer and subsequently served as the Chapter’s Director of Volunteer Services and Community Outreach.  Since 2006, Elissa has been the Chapter’s volunteer Program Manager for International Services.

Elissa assists in reconnecting refugee family members who have been tragically separated due to armed conflict, disaster or other humanitarian crises.  She has been very successful in conducting outreach to the refugee community to introduce this unique service that provides hope to those who believe their family members may have disappeared forever.   Elissa has also developed strong associations with organizations that support refugees.  She conducts sessions on a regular basis to communicate the importance of referrals and because she is witness to the suffering of those who believe they are the last of their family; Elissa will participate in almost any activity to get the word out. It is not unusual to see Elissa holding open houses at apartment buildings where refugees reside or attending baptisms, picnics, naturalization ceremonies and other refugee gatherings.  She recently spoke to the United Nations Association of Southern Arizona about the activities of International Services.

Elissa demonstrates sensitivity and respect when working with people of diverse cultures and oftentimes is awestruck at the courage and resilience of her clients. Her caseload is one of the largest among all Chapters.  It is also not unusual to get a request from her for household goods, diapers, toys or any other needed item she identifies when visiting refugees at their homes.

In 2013, American Red Cross partnered in a pilot project with No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization serving the migrant community. The pilot was established to facilitate a short, one-time, well-being call from migrants to their families, desperate to hear from their loved one.  Elissa, who was involved in the pilot also attended an International Services staff meeting at National Headquarters in Washington D.C. comprised of Red Cross leadership from Mexico, Canada and the ICRC to develop best practices when serving the migrant community.

Elissa has been invited to participate in a Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance) observance at a local synagogue to remind the community that Red Cross has open Holocaust and World War II tracing cases, and continues to accept new ones for survivors and families who still hope to learn the fate of their loved ones.

Elissa is a Red Crosser who has a huge heart and is a volunteer who continues to demonstrate her ability to convert her compassion into action.