Volunteer Profile: Nancy Boosveld, R.N.

“It is my passion to volunteer using the skills and knowledge I have gained in all my years of nursing…that truly is my passion!”

Nancy Boosveld, R.N., lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been with the American Red Cross as a volunteer since 2017. She takes calls to respond after fires hit homes in her area and is available to work in shelters or multi-family fire responses.

Her great love is to help those impacted by major disasters around the country. She has deployed nationally as a health services volunteer multiple times. Boosveld works full-time as a nurse, but works to include Red Cross deployment in her annual schedule. She plans vacations during peak hurricane season and has used 100 hours of time off to volunteer.

American Red Cross volunteer Nancy Boosvelt, R.N., takes selfie wearing her Red Cross vest and pins. Credit: American Red Cross

”I have met a whole new family,” she says. “An amazing group of people. Like a second family. I have what I consider family across the United States.”

Noting that she is normally a highly organized person, Boosveld stressed, “I learned about myself, too. It’s sometimes a chaotic environment and I challenged myself.” At times volunteers may be in a shelter with limited electricity and cold showers. “Bring a jar of peanut butter,” she advises, since food may not be available while the volunteer is traveling to the shelter.

Providing health services in a shelter, the volunteer will assist with activities of daily living. For instance, helping an older person to eat; perhaps changing dressings; or offering the appropriate over-the-counter medications can all be part of the job. Health Services volunteers check blood sugar and blood pressure. “A lot of what we do is to help to replace meds, get the oxygen supplies, help get a glucometer and insulin,” she added.

“If they don’t have transportation we can go out and get their meds for them. We actually go out in groups. Or caseworkers go with us and visit homes if they’ve been affected. We verify with the doctor or pharmacist and help replace what they need,” Boosveld explained.

She recalls good experiences while serving in a recreation center after Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, TX. “The church ladies fed us every day,” she says. “I love the camaraderie.”

In Maryland, the nurses set up in each hotel and worked with people who needed eyeglasses and other critical items. Mothers with new babies were being sheltered, so baby beds were needed, as well as formula and feminine products.

Health services are available in other areas as well. “Sometimes we will set up a service delivery site where people will come to us and talk to the nurse there, or I might provide staff health. Someone has to take care of the staff,” Boosveld said.

Disaster health services is open to EMTs, paramedics, registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians. The volunteer needs to have an unencumbered and current license.

Health care volunteers can serve for just 10 days, or take a longer deployment if it suits their own schedule. If someone wants to be part of this work but cannot deploy they can participate from the comfort of their home as a virtual volunteer.

One of the most heart-warming memories for Boosveld came in a shelter. “Everyone worked together. We had limited electricity, with no internet inside, just cold water. A helicopter was rescuing people and animals and dropping them at our shelter. It was evening, a man was dropped off with 2 dogs and 2 cats. They were all wet.”

“He had an abscess that needed attention. We went to a picnic bench. I cleaned and bandaged him and the man stood up and hugged me! This stuck with me as a memory,” she reminisced. “He lost his home and he took the time to thank me. I always take home more than I give.”

After the same storm in Virginia, the American Red Cross opened an evacuation center, she said. No clients came but because the storm was hitting it turned into a staff shelter.

“We were there for 3 days. It became a family. We cooked together. We became our own little unit, our own little family. Never would I have thought I would be in a circle praying with people of a difference religion. This has opened up my world,” Boosveld reflected.

The seasoned volunteer stresses that skills learned on deployment such as tech skills, how to share a screen, how to hold a Teams meeting –all this has helped in her new nursing position.

Sometimes you step out of your role to help others, she said. Boosveld has cleaned cots. Once she worked in a shelter with 250 Hispanic men who worked for a potato farmer. Meals ready-to-eat were provided, with directions in English. She went outside with her phone and asked Siri how to say, “Add water” in Spanish to make a lemon pound cake.

In North Carolina: another shelter experience. “Sometimes you are working with public health nurses from that area. We had one client who was not feeling well and had chest pains. The nurses surrounded the person and took over the tasks. One took blood pressure, one was actually charting. We work as a team. If I need help, someone will keep an eye on a client for me.”

Integrated Care Condolence Team (ICCT), is another activity for disaster health. A mental health volunteer, a caseworker, a volunteer from pastoral care, and health services will work to assist the families who have lost someone in a disaster.

“It is a family. It’s a team. We’re all there for the same reason, which is to help the client,” Boosvelt said, touting the value of the volunteer experience.“It’s not a vacation, it’s hard work, and emotional but it helps you put your own life in perspective. In the end it is incredibly rewarding.”

Blog post written by Sandy Shirey.

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