From her time as a Red Cross Donut Dolly in Vietnam, to disaster responses across the United States, to her current service in Lexington, Kentucky, Kathy Hoff has devoted years of time and talent to helping the Red Cross in a variety of capacities.
Kathy’s first volunteer experience with the organization was in 1969. As an adventuresome recent college graduate, she and her roommate saw a newspaper ad to go to Vietnam as “Donut Dollies”, and they signed up. She spent the next year there, offering moral support for the troops. The Dollies, a name inherited from their predecessors in World War II and Korea, would run recreation centers, put on self-designed programs to entertain the troops, and visit hospitals, which was difficult and heart wrenching for Kathy.
“As long as we could take the guys’ minds off the war, that was our main aspect of having them do these games. A lot of times I would just sit and talk. I did not like going to the hospital, because I had to smile and be cheerful, and seeing these guys that were my age and younger, and what they’ve been through [. . .] that was really challenging,” she said.
|Kathy Swanson Hoff serving as a Donut Dolly in Vietnam|
Following her service in Vietnam, Kathy occasionally volunteered for the Red Cross, but after Hurricane Katrina, she became more involved again. She was deployed twice following Katrina, spending three weeks in Mississippi operating an Emergency Response Vehicle, and then spending two weeks in New Orleans canteening and feeding the thousands of displaced residents. Since then, she has responded to numerous disasters across the country, including relief operations in California, Iowa and Texas, and on the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She used to teach disaster classes, she presents the Pillowcase Project (a free disaster preparedness program) to elementary school students, and she’s continued her work with the military, serving as a Service to Armed Forces Specialist and donating her time at the local VA hospital.
A retired teacher originally from the Seattle area, Kathy and her husband moved to Lexington five years ago to be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. Volunteering is a way of life for Kathy, and she has discovered plenty of volunteer opportunities in the Bluegrass. She’s an officer in the Citizens Police Academy, works with the Lexington Opera House, coaches a Special Olympics softball team, ushers for UK Athletics events, and helps out at her grandchildren’s elementary school. Connecting to others, especially those less fortunate, is a gratifying experience for her.
“It’s just giving of yourself, just thinking of other people, and not worrying about yourself and all that’s going on. It’s just such a good feeling to help. There’s a lady at the VA where I volunteer. She’s 98 years old, was a nurse in World War II, and she just beams when I walk in” she said.
She feels connected to other volunteers with their shared interest in helping others, and she’s stayed in touch with a number of fellow Red Crossers from her deployments around the country. Kathy is also relaying the importance of volunteering to younger generations by involving her grandchildren in numerous activities.
“It’s a great feeling to give of yourself. When you get a hug [. . .], that’s the biggest pay you could ever have.”