Very few people hold such a rewarding and challenging job, but Janienne Bella, Red Cross regional CEO, has made a career out of helping those in need.
But while Bella keeps very busy with the day-to-day operations of the Central Oklahoma Red Cross – including disaster relief in the wake of a tragically stormy spring – she almost missed her opportunity.
After graduating from Oklahoma State University with a degree in family development-child development, Bella spent two years as a drug and alcohol counselor for a school system in Indiana before returning to her home state and looking for work at the Red Cross.
“I interviewed for a secretarial position, but the deputy director at the time pulled me aside and recommended I interview for a volunteer coordinator position,” says Bella.
Sixteen years, four positions and countless lives touched later, Bella still feels it is one of the most rewarding careers possible.
“There is really something inspiring about working with volunteers,” says Bella. “They give us their time, their energy, their talents, their money to support us.”
With recent natural disasters affecting not only Oklahoma but also much of the country, the need for the Red Cross is as evident as ever.
“It is all about the local footprint, but also how that footprint fits into the big puzzle,” says Bella.
That big puzzle is an ongoing effort from the local to international level of the Red Cross. Regionally, Red Cross divisions routinely cooperate to meet community needs.
“I really think it has helped me in this position to understand how we (Red Cross) fit,” says Bella. “Not just in the United States, but how we fit into the world.”
Everyone working together seems to be the key not just in aiding those affected by natural disasters, but also by single-family house fires and even in the teaching of CPR and swim lessons – additional Red Cross initiatives.
Bella understands what it takes to turn the Red Cross’s goal into a reality.
“I don’t really know that there are words to describe what the last 16 years have given me,” Bella reflects, during a relatively calm moment for the Red Cross in Oklahoma.
“I kind of get emotional. It’s just incredible to work side-by-side with the staff and volunteers. At some point for me, those people that I get to interact with everyday surpass the mission.”
Bella says the support she receives compensates for the often-tense nature of her work.
“My husband, Tony, is just incredible,” says Bella. “He is not only supportive of me, but also of our mission and what we’re doing. I think that’s a great example for our son.”
When she’s not working or spending time with her son, Blake, playing sports or working on projects, Bella enjoys reading and working outside in her yard.
“We spend a lot of time as a family, but they understand when I have to be gone for work,” says Bella.