In 2021, Cardinal Health celebrated its 50th year in business with a year of service, challenging its 44,000 employees around the globe to volunteer, collectively, 50,000 hours – a goal that employees easily surpassed. The company recently named its inaugural 2021 “Volunteer of the Year,” honoring the employee who logged the most hours of community service. The honor went to Chris Sias of Central Ohio, who tallied more than 1,500 hours of volunteerism with the Greater Columbus chapter of the Red Cross. Here are highlights of his story.
Chris Sias, a Cardinal Health human resources specialist, first saw Red Cross volunteers in action at the age of 14. “One night, a four-alarm fire took down my aunt and uncle’s house on the west side of Columbus,” he said. “My aunt and uncle escaped with their five children, all unharmed. But they lost every possession they had.”
By the time Sias and his parents arrived on the scene, the home was in ashes and Red Cross volunteers were well on the way. “Soon, these two very professional-looking people in red vests climbed out of their white vehicle and said they were there to help.” They were so knowledgeable and helpful, Sias said, “I just assumed they were paid professionals. They found temporary housing for my aunt and uncle and their kids, gave them $2,000 for emergency support – then worked with the family for the next year and a half, helping them replace important legal and medical records, getting them access to grief counseling and more.”
From the evening of the fire on, Sias said, he wanted to work with the Red Cross. “I wanted to do what those people did for my relatives,” he said. “I wanted to help.” He was able to do so right away, riding along with volunteer emergency response teams, handing out food and blankets to those in need. “Today, there are more age restrictions in place – kids can’t volunteer with emergency victims until they’re 18. But at the time, I was pretty hands on. And by the time I was 17, I was helping in all kinds of emergencies.”
Sias has volunteered regularly with the Red Cross ever since. Today, on top of his full-time work at Cardinal Health, he is part of the executive leadership team of the Red Cross’ Greater Columbus chapter, leading a team of 120 volunteers as the organization’s Disaster Action Program Coordinator. Typically, he devotes 45 hours a week or more to the organization, working long evenings and weekends. “Unlike many nonprofit organizations,” he said, “the Red Cross staff is there entirely to support its volunteers.” In fact, about 90% of the organization’s workforce are volunteers.
“In many ways, volunteering with the Red Cross is like having a second job,” he said. “I have an office at the Central Ohio chapter headquarters, a Red Cross vehicle, a Red Cross credit card for emergency supplies, and Red Cross staff people who report to me. I’ve received a lot of training over the years, and earned promotions in much the same way I’ve gotten promotions throughout my career.”
Before joining Cardinal Health in 2019, Sias was in law enforcement, serving for many years with the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “My wife also worked in public safety,” he said. “We both loved our work. Public safety is an amazing field, but it’s difficult and stressful. Once our sons reached their teenage years, we decided we wanted something different, for ourselves and for our family. We were looking for more balance, and we were both really fortunate to find jobs that we love in the private sector.”
For Sias, he said, human resources is a particularly good fit. “I have the opportunity to help employees all day long, and I feel like helping people is just sort of in my bones. The fact that Cardinal Health supports volunteerism is just an amazing bonus.”
As for his volunteer service, he said, “When I’m at the Red Cross, it really doesn’t feel like work. I hang out with old friends; I deploy teams in emergencies; I work closely with the city’s emergency response teams; I train new volunteers. I love all of it.”
His experiences with the Red Cross have shown him the very best of humanity, he said. “When a home burns down, or when there are damaging floods, we respond, we help. And when people who are struggling look at us and say, ‘Thanks to you, I have a place to sleep tonight,’ you see your own life in a different perspective. Your own ordinary problems just don’t matter as much.”
Sias recognizes that not every volunteer can give as many hours as he does. “I’m very lucky in that I work in a place where volunteerism is supported, and that I have a volunteer mission that means so much to me.”
His advice to others? “Whatever your passion is, go out and do that. Whatever you do, and however much you’re able to give, you’ll make a difference.”
You can learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross here.