Volunteer Leader Who Ran to Fundraise for Her Friends with Disabilities

Dawn O’Dowd, 48, a quality engineer and emergency medical technician (EMT), first served as a disaster responder at the American Red Cross from 2019 to 2021. Subsequently, she volunteered as a befriender of the residents at the Singapore Red Cross' Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD) in 2022. She was invited to attend the Volunteer Leadership Programme (VLP), where she became a Volunteer Leader upon graduation.

It takes an iron will, tremendous tenacity and an indomitable spirit to register and complete marathons. But Dawn participated in the Singapore 200 Miles Ultra Challenge to run or walk 200 miles (321.87 km) within 74 hours from 17 to 20 November 2023 fuelled by the sole purpose of fundraising for the residents of the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD), who have become her friends. She hopes to purchase two tablet devices for her friends with disabilities.

When Dawn O'Dowd was living in Northern California, she volunteered with the American Red Cross from 2019 to 2021 planning and managing the evacuation of residents affected by the chaos and destruction that spawned the wildfire season. She was heartened to be there for the residents in distress. She also volunteered as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the American Red Cross.

She relocated to Singapore in April 2021. Inspired by the fond memories of her volunteering experience with beneficiaries and fellow volunteers of the American Red Cross, she registered as a volunteer with the Singapore Red Cross. 

Dawn, 48, a Quality Engineer and EMT, was checking her emails when she stumbled upon an email calling for volunteers to help out at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD) in May 2022. It was a proactive initiative by the RCHD to develop a contingency plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, if the caregivers (nursing aides) fell ill.

Touched by the Warm Welcome at RCHD

"My husband encouraged me to register because of my role as an EMT and my personality. Though I had some initial reservations about my inexperience in dealing with people with severe disabilities and the language barrier, my intuition told me to register for it, so I did!" said Dawn. 

To prepare for the role, she underwent online training, and another training in person at the RCHD, where she donned the full Personal Protective Equipment. 

She was warmly welcomed by the employees and the residents. 

"RCHD is the residents' home. It means the world to me to be warmly and kindly welcomed into their home. As soon as I stepped into the dormitory, I knew RCHD was for me!" she quipped as she recounted her first visit to RCHD. 

Though there were a handful of isolated COVID-19 cases at RCHD, thankfully, it was not widespread. She was not deployed for that role. 

Bringing Joy to Her Friends

Inspired by the warm welcome and hospitality she experienced at RCHD, Dawn registered as a volunteer befriender with RCHD. 

Dawn visits the residents twice or thrice weekly, engaging the residents in art activities. They also listen to music together. She overcame the initial language barrier by either speaking in English, leveraging Google Translate or engaging the help of an employee to translate and convey the message. 

An endurance runner for the past 15 years, Dawn regales her friends with her life experience of running marathons. Her friends enjoy listening to her experiences depicting courage, determination and inspiration. Having had frequent interactions with the residents of RCHD, Dawn now considers the residents of RCHD her friends. 

"I have forged friendships with male and female residents, who have become my friends. I see past their disabilities. Though we think differently, these are no longer barriers when we accept and respect our friends the way they are. Each of them has something unique to offer. I enjoy the conversations I initiate with my friends, I hope to spread rays of optimism to brighten their lives," Dawn said.

Dawn thoroughly enjoys interacting with her friends and witnessing their fun-filled and playful interactions among themselves. 

"My male friends were excited about my arrival because they were fans of Westlife, a band from Ireland, my home country!" Dawn quipped. 

She would also join a friend (resident) and her friend's parents monthly at a local hawker centre for lunch, bonding over Kopi (coffee) a beverage that they love.

Dawn also goes the extra mile to organise excursions for them to VivoCity and Sentosa.

"I expended much time planning and implementing the outings that created precious experiences and memories for my friends, which made it all worthwhile," she said. 

Running for a Good Cause

It takes an iron will, tremendous tenacity and an indomitable spirit to register and complete marathons. But Dawn participated in the Singapore 200 Miles Ultra Challenge by running and walking 200 miles (321.87 km) within 74 hours from 17 to 20 November 2023 fuelled by the purpose of fundraising for her friends.  

"Running ultras leads to physical and mental exhaustion and the firsthand experience enables me to empathise with those in need. I believe my experience running these marathons has contributed to my resilience and unwavering dedication to serving communities," she said. 

By participating in this challenge, Dawn hopes to fundraise to purchase two tablet devices for my friends who are residents of RCHD while raising awareness about the Home.

She is confident that these tablet devices will benefit her friends.

"Though the residents have multiple and severe disabilities, they still can communicate and learn. These devices will enhance their learning and interaction with us, volunteers. It also enables us to interact one-on-one with each resident instead of merely group therapy. Quan Yao, one of my friends, is working through a puzzle book I bought for him from my recent home trip to Ireland. He is a very smart and caring young man. I believe Quan Yao will be one of the key users of the tablet," Dawn said with a smile. 

She believes that the tablet would also benefit a female friend (resident of RCHD) who had sustained a brain injury. 

"Though the resident had speech impairment, I found that communicating with an iPad in English proved successful. Sometimes, they just require a listening ear. It can be comforting to share thoughts with another person," Dawn said. 

Benefitting from the Volunteering Experience

Dawn has benefitted much through this volunteering experience. 

"Besides developing empathy and compassion, I have become more patient and understanding of those who need help. Sometimes, they just require a listening ear. I am fortunate to have found RCHD. I feel my friends bring more joy to me than I bring to them. I love visiting my friends, and I will keep visiting them as long as I am here in Singapore," Dawn said. 

She hopes to inspire more people to volunteer at RCHD.

"Volunteers make a significant difference in the lives of the residents of RCHD through their acts of compassion and meaningful friendships forged. I hope our volunteering efforts will create ripple effects of kindness, empathy and compassion in communities," Dawn said. 

Inspiring Others to Volunteer

Dawn underwent the Volunteer Leadership Programme in August and September 2023. 

As a Volunteer Leader, she aspires to make a positive difference to her fellow volunteers. 

"I hope to foster a sense of belonging, respect diversity, and encourage volunteer collaboration. I constantly encourage others to give back to the community and reap the rewards of fulfilment and companionship. I will also work hard to develop my leadership skills. Hopefully, these efforts will inspire others to develop their skills and leadership abilities," she said. 

Dawn’s determination to uplift the lives of persons with disabilities at RCHD is an inspiring story of an indomitable spirit and compassion. She is an inspiration to other aspiring volunteers. 

By Krishiv Kukreja, Volunteer  and Sondra Foo, Marketing Communications


Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD) is one of a few homes in Singapore that cares for persons with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Besides tending to their activities of daily living, RCHD's team of dedicated nursing professionals, therapy and healthcare aides, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists engage close to 100 residents in therapeutic and recreational activities that ensure their physical, social and emotional well-being.

Lend your support by contributing to Dawn's fundraising campaign. Your magnanimous contribution will enable Dawn to purchase tablets for RCHD's residents, who have become her friends, bringing them joy and uplifting their lives.