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Diversity at Red Cross

Thirteen foreign-born summer interns, volunteers help agency’s local chapter with projects.

Michael Zimmerman, regional executive director of the Red Cross, left, discusses a project with John Zhao and Xiaoqiao Zhang, who are working on to bring delegates from China to Wilkes-Barre to see how the Red Cross works.

Aimee Dilger PHOTOS/The Times Leader

Zhemin Wang shows Xia Chen some of what she learned to pass a CPR class with the Red Cross. The two are summer interns from China.

WILKES-BARRE – When Jennifer Ramirez, 22, first moved into her parents’ home in Philadelphia, she felt like a houseguest.

To the 7-year-old, her aunt and uncle Yolanda and Antonio Osorio had been mom and dad as they cared for her in Colombia while her biological parents sought U.S. citizenship.

“It was insane,” said Ramirez, who spoke only Spanish upon reuniting with her immediate family. “I called my parents here in the states ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ because, to me, they weren’t my parents.”

Not until high school would Ramirez begin to view her hosts for what they truly were – her parents.

“I wouldn’t accept it. I was in denial,” she said.

Ramirez said her acceptance of her father and mother, who suffers from a skin disease that leaves her hands dried and scarred, coincided with her burgeoning interest in dermatology, which she pursued through volunteering in Red Cross blood drives and helping with medical records during high school.

Now pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at Wilkes University, Ramirez teaches local students about appropriate responses to grease fires and floods through the Community Disaster Education program.

Immigrant stories like Jennifer Ramirez’s abound this summer at the Wyoming Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, where 13 of the summer interns and volunteers hail from foreign countries that include China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Jamaica.

Among Ramirez’s peers at the Wyoming Valley Chapter are four Chinese students from Wilkes whose duties range from studying the efficiency of staff sharing to developing an itinerary for a Red Cross delegation visiting from the Henan province of China this November.

Through his internship, Wilkes student John Zhao has forged a renewed connection with China, where he lived before emigrating to Archbald, Lackawanna County, at age 8.

“I’m really interested in helping with this because I can actually help with something for the Chinese people,” said Zhao, who has teamed with fellow Wilkes student Xiaoqiao Zhang to organize the six-person delegation’s visit.

Zhang, who moved to New Jersey from Henan province when she was 16 years old, has found the experience especially rewarding. Living in China, she saw the Red Cross’s response to flooding from the Yellow River and to AIDS firsthand.

Wyoming Valley Chapter Executive Director Mike Zimmerman said he hopes the diversity will plant a seed from which increased volunteerism will sprout.

“That will enable us to draw in volunteers from the Latino community, from the Chinese-American community, from a variety of communities locally, because the Red Cross relies on volunteers,” Zimmerman said.

For volunteer Tanya Pyke, who saw the Red Cross help the hungry and homeless at her Catholic school in Jamaica, this summer’s worldly staff provides a constant reminder of the nonprofit organization’s global impact.

“I think it helps just knowing that there is such a far reach in what the Red Cross does,” she said. “It goes way beyond just this address.”

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