It was December of 1955 when torrential rains caused rivers to overflow and levees to break throughout Northern California. The resulting floods left many homes destroyed and families looking for help.
Among those to lose their home in the disaster was elementary school student, Martha Griese. For Martha and her family, as with all who had lost their homes, the impact was devastating. But Martha soon found comfort and hope in the form of the many Red Cross volunteers responding to provide disaster relief.
“The volunteers who helped us were the ultimate humanitarian angels,” says Martha, reflecting fondly on her first introduction to the American Red Cross. “The heart and compassion of our volunteers – community members stepping in to help their neighbors in need – resonated with me then, and continues to inspire me now. I’m blessed to have been a part of what has become a second family for me.”
On August 8, Martha Griese, CEO for the American Red Cross of Northeastern California, will close the book on her Red Cross experience and begin a new chapter in retirement. With a new grandson to dote on, her commitment to family, and some burgeoning hobbies, she is looking forward to starting down her new path.
“It has been a wonderful 10 years. I’m so proud of what we have accomplished in that time and am excited to see what’s next for the Red Cross!”
Martha’s tenure with the Red Cross began in 2004 after first flirting with retirement following a 36-year career with Sutter County Superintendent of Schools. Her years working with youth in the community had instilled a passion for giving back and helping others. When the time came to make a choice, rather than retire, she instead jumped at the opportunity to lead her local Red Cross Chapter.
Since that time, Martha has guided the chapter through many changes, all of which have resulted in improved capacity and delivery of Red Cross services throughout the region. What began as a 6-county “chapter” when she arrived has since grown to 14 – an area stretching from Yuba City to the California/Oregon border. And in 2012, in response to growing needs within the Northern California territory, Martha paved the way for a merge with the Capital Region chapter; a move which formed the 24-county Red Cross Capital Region and bolstered disaster response capabilities.
Among her other successes, those that tend to stand out include the development of so many professional partnerships which have helped to strengthen community resilience and further the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross.
“Seeing so many individuals and businesses that, at one point may have known very little about the Red Cross, having become our most ardent supporters, and seeing those partnerships benefit our community – it’s just heartwarming.”
The continued development of Red Cross Youth Clubs, Red Cross participation in Yuba City’s Annual Sikh Parade, and the Annual Dancing With Our Stars event at Colusa Casino Resort are a short sampling of accomplishments for which Martha carries a great deal of pride.
But beyond the partnerships and the events, it is the people that Martha will miss the most in retirement.
“Our volunteers are an inspiration,” she says. “Everyday they come in with a heart to help, whether providing disaster relief, delivering training, or helping around the office. There is a sense of personal pride that comes from helping those in need, whether in your own backyard or elsewhere, and it has always been a gift to witness the positive impacts of volunteering first hand.”
Upon Martha’s departure, the Red Cross will begin the search to fill her position. Until such time as that position is filled, Red Cross services and programs for Northeastern California will continue uninterrupted.
“I saw the Red Cross as a chance to get more involved in this wonderful community that I have called home my entire life,” Martha says. “I have been truly touched by the compassion of our amazing volunteers and our humanitarian mission. And I have learned so much more than I ever thought I would, about not only this amazing community and region, but about myself as well.”
The staff and nearly 3,000 volunteers of the Red Cross Capital Region wish to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Martha Griese for her years of dedicated service. We wish her the very best in her hard-earned retirement!