Stefanie Arcangelo and Marie Forster, American Red Cross

 By all accounts, Jan and Bob Bertolo have enjoyed active and fulfilling lives throughout their 47-year marriage. Proud parents and even prouder grandparents, the Bertolos have always felt rich with love and support from friends and family. Prior to retirement, they described themselves as happy “taxi drivers,” coaching and being their kids’ biggest cheerleaders.

3.29.16 Bertolo couple at Newton DRC (48)
Outside of the disaster recovery center in Newton, Texas, Jan and Bob Bertolo help three-year-old MJ Ashworth choose a snack from a Red Cross mobile response vehicle. Jan and Bob are volunteers from Connecticut and are on their second deployment in Southeast Texas.

Their lifestyles have always been quite active, including traveling, tennis, golf, hiking with their grandchildren, skiing and shopping. Amidst all of their varying activities, the Bertolos still felt something missing from their already enriched lives. Wanting to become active participants within their communities, they set out in search of meaningful volunteering opportunities in which they could work together. They drove for the Meals on Wheels program, delivering food to those who are housebound. In addition, Jan volunteered with Alzheimer’s patients while Bob helped with his granddaughter’s 4-H club.

Then, in 2012, Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast with a vengeance. Severe damage up and down the coastline was broadcast on a 24/7 news cycle. Seeing the news coverage of the devastation and destruction the storm left behind, they knew they wanted to help in some way.  They reached out to the American Red Cross, signed up to volunteer and began training.

The desire to help, compassion and overall warmth and friendliness of the Red Cross volunteers assured Jan and Bob they made the right decision. Even after long and challenging days, there were still moments full of joy and laughter. These moments drove the Bertolos to fully immerse in the organization, starting with volunteering for disaster drills. These exercises opened their eyes to the amount of planning, structure and teamwork needed in times of disaster. Over the course of the past few years, their time has been shared in logistics, sheltering, feeding, supply distribution and mobile response vehicle driving. They are also involved in the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, with Bob installing smoke alarms while Jan completes the necessary instructions and paperwork.

The Bertolos Red Cross career took them on their first deployment to the South Carolina floods in October 2015. This week, the couple again answered the call to serve, heading on their second deployment outside their home chapter in Connecticut. Arriving in Southeast Texas in late March to assist with the flood response, Jan and Bob hit the ground running by distributing food to those in need. The couple began their first day in Newton, Texas by handing out snacks to families visiting a disaster recovery center. “We had such a wonderful experience in South Carolina,” said Jan. “So far we’ve met wonderful people here, too, and we just got here!”

Jan and Bob feel their work with the Red Cross serves a purpose. “Serving the needs of other people is important. It connects us to humanity,” Jan said. While handing out snacks from a Red Cross mobile response vehicle, the couple commented on the little things everyone can do to help. “You don’t realize how important that human touch is, especially in times of need. Sometimes you can help those in need with a smile and a pat on the back.”