One hundred years ago our community's landscape looked very different. Howard Street, with its street cars and main shopping area, was the center of downtown life. Baltimoreans who wanted to escape the confines of the city might venture out to visit faraway relatives in rural Roland Park. Many civic minded residents concerned themselves with charity and reform efforts—when they had the time; but most citizens were busy with their own lives.
After the great Baltimore Fire of 1904, however, that attitude began to change. Local movers and shakers joined forces to take up Clara Barton's challenge to organize a local branch of the nascent organization known as the American Red Cross. Their mission: "The relief of suffering by war, pestilence, famine, fire and other national calamities."
A century later our needs are not so different, but our capabilities have increased tremendously. Today we are able to mobilize thousands of volunteers to respond to disasters anywhere in the world. Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, whose Red Cross swimming and lifesaving training program is credited with cutting the rate of drowning deaths from 10 to 1.4 per 100,000 people, would be astounded by today's catalog of diverse health and safety training options.
Volunteerism has become a way of life. In Central Maryland, more than 2,000 citizens proudly call themselves Red Cross volunteers. These volunteers help us respond to at least three disasters each day (mostly house fires) in our community. Many are willing to travel across country or around the globe to bring disaster relief to victims of fires, hurricanes, floods and other emergencies.
Unique and historic events have created new opportunities for the Red Cross. High school students are now required to perform community service to graduate, and young people have the opportunity to donate blood as soon as they turn 16. Here in Baltimore, the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center responds to a need that our local Red Cross founders could not have envisioned a century ago.
As we celebrate 100 years of lifesaving service to the community, we look forward to a future where the American Red Cross continues to be vital a part of the Central Maryland landscape.
DONNA M. DORSEY FRANK L. MILLER