Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteer leads with compassion

By Alana Mauger
Nursing alumna Randy Miller poses with American Red Cross mascot, Fred Cross, during an event. Miller has been helping the community for more than four decades. Photos courtesy of American Red Cross

Nursing alumna Randy Miller poses with American Red Cross mascot, Fred Cross, during an event. Miller has been helping the community for more than four decades. Photos courtesy of American Red Cross

Like American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, Randy Miller’s first passion is being a nurse. She recalls with great affection the Florence Nightingale Pledge, which she first recited during her graduation ceremony from Montgomery County Community College as a registered nurse in 1982.

“You know, I still have my Florence Nightingale lamp that we carried when we graduated,” she shared.

Decades later, when Randy became the first nurse to receive the Beacon Award at Kennedy Health, she shared part of that pledge and how it called to her.

Randy Miller Randy is a board-certified psychiatric nurse, and she recently became a certified grief and loss educator. For most of her 41-year nursing career, Randy served as nurse manager in hospital psychiatric units. She also was an active part of a community Suicide Prevention Taskforce and was a first-responder in schools when there was a traumatic loss of a child.

When she retired in 2021, Randy searched for a way to continue serving the community. She soon found the Red Cross and became an active member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT), which provides immediate emergency assistance to those impacted by home fires and natural disasters.

She enjoys the unique teamwork aspect of the Red Cross, where volunteers and staff work together.

“It’s an unusual setup that 90% of the workforce are volunteers. It’s one of the things that keeps me going with the Red Cross – being part of a team, and we’re all bringing something different to the table,” she said.

Her work with DAT led her to join the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health team, which Randy now leads. She’s also part of the Red Cross Integrated Care and Condolence Team (ICCT), which is comprised of credentialed Recovery, Disaster Health Services, Disaster Mental Health and Spiritual Care volunteers and staff. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, ICCT mobilizes to support individuals and families impacted by home fires or natural disaster-related fatalities.

Soon after Randy received her certification as a grief and loss educator, she recalls sitting with a mother who had just lost her daughter in a home fire. The mother showed Randy pictures and shared stories about her daughter.

“It was just so powerful for me to sit with her and witness her grief, to just listen,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing you can do for someone in grief.”

Randy Miller walks with a couple impacted by a home explosion in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia on Jan. 1, 2023.

While much of the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health support is done virtually, Randy and a few other volunteers also meet with clients at the Red Cross House – a one-of-a-kind disaster recovery center in West Philadelphia that provides support to clients in a safe and comfortable environment. Families get their own room and key with a bathroom and three meals per day while they develop a recovery plan with a Red Cross caseworker.

At the Red Cross House, Randy and her team meet with individuals and families who are referred to them as part of the DAT intake or recovery processes. She enjoys the ability to meet with people in person, to “just sit with them and be present with them.” She also takes the opportunity to eat meals with families who haven’t been referred, just to check in with them and see how they’re doing. 

“When you’re sitting with someone and listening and allowing them to tell their story and witnessing their grief without trying to fix it, you’ve just created such an opening for their healing. You give them hope by your presence,” she shared.

In addition to her work with DAT, ICCT and Disaster Mental Health, Randy is part of the Red Cross Mass Care and Preparedness teams. She is also a Disaster Cycle Services basic instructor, teaching Psychological First Aid.

“Being of service is really a privilege. It’s exhilarating and so positive,” she said. “I wish that more people my age would realize that they can contribute. Plus, the Red Cross has so many different opportunities.”

To learn about volunteer opportunities at the American Red Cross, visit the Red Cross volunteer page.

This article is published with permission from the American Red Cross and was originally published on the Red Cross Philly Blog as part of the #LeadLikeClara profiles in commemoration of Red Cross Month and Women’s History Month.