For Cor Zandbergen, it all boils down to one word: service.
Despite suffering a stroke four years ago, Zandbergen has spent the last 18 years in service to the Canadian Red Cross, the last 10 of which he spent serving alongside his wife Cecile.
“The big picture for both of us, we love to serve our community, and the Red Cross community is worldwide. That’s how we both look at serving the world and community,” Cor said. “I like using the word to serve. I believe that’s what we’re here for. Even though I’ve had a stroke, I feel I can still contribute.”
Cor got his start with the Canadian Red Cross when his friend approached him about the need. In 2003, Cecile was a temporary volunteer to help during wildfire efforts. She later joined as a full-fledged volunteer in 2009.
Prior to their volunteer careers, Cor served 35 years as a paramedic while Cecile worked in the hospital as clerical support.
“I have always looked at it that way. Even professionally as a paramedic, I’m here to serve,” Cor said.
A recipient of the charitable organization’s highest honour, the Order of Red Cross, Cor said he has been very fortunate in his deployments. He’s volunteered in every province from British Columbia to Ontario, seen everything from New Orleans to New York and, however brief, was involved in an overseas escort in Pakistan.
During that five-day deployment, Cor acted as an escort as the small cargo plane made its way across the globe.
“It was around the world in five days,” Cecile chuckled. “That was a very unique response,” Cor added. “It was a really worthwhile deployment. It was really self-fulfilling. In my deployments, I’ve been very fortunate to help people in need. The gratitude we receive from beneficiaries, it’s heart-warming.”
Perhaps his most fond memory, however, came while volunteering for the Red Cross at a New Orleans shelter. While chatting with a local, Cor said the conversation turned to the Canadian Armed Forces and their perceived role as peacekeepers.
“You Canadian Red Cross volunteers are the real peacekeepers,” Cor recalled the words spoken to him. “That really hit home just because by looking after people’s needs we inadvertently do maintain peace.”
While he reflects on his role as team lead fondly, Cor is looking to transition into a less demanding role with the Red Cross.
“Cor has dedicated countless hours to helping people get through disasters. His commitment to continuous improvement and ability to find solutions has helped the Red Cross provide assistance to thousands of people in the North Okanagan and beyond,” said Liam Devine, emergency management coordinator. “We thank Cor for his incredible contributions as team lead with the Canadian Red Cross.”
However, Cor said he doesn’t ever plan on fully handing in the towel.
“I am wanting to step back and increase our volunteer capacity and, eventually, find someone to take our place,” Cor said. “It’s more and more important for us to have trained volunteers who can respond locally and, if they want, internationally.”
There are currently about 12 volunteers in the North Okanagan chapter of the Canadian Red Cross. A volunteer information session is planned in Vernon Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce. Applications are available at the event, by calling 1-844-818-2155, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or online at redcross.ca/volunteer.
Interested applicants are taken through a screening process before registering for online Red Cross courses that vary based on interests. Cor said opportunities are available in everything from logistics to administration, shelter management, direct contact with beneficiaries, relief and recovery and indigenous support.
Cor said for him, it was an incredibly self-fulfilling 18 years of service.
He said it’s all about “just seeing people come into a stage in their recovery where we feel comfortable that they can move forward on their own.”