Paula Green Johnson is receiving a lifetime achievement  award from the Utah Red Cross.
Paula Green Johnson is receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Utah Red Cross. (Paul Fraughton / The Salt Lake Tribune)

Paula Green Johnson is all about making a difference -- very quietly.

For more than a quarter century, she has given time and energy to the Red Cross, YWCA, United Way and others seeking to make the world a better place, but never looking for accolades.

The Red Cross of Utah will recognize her on March 3 with its annual "Lifetime Achievement Award."

"Paula is deeply engaged in the community in many aspects," said Kevin Potts, a former national Red Cross chairman. "She is a very effective volunteer and leader."

Among other things, Potts said, Johnson participated in the Red Cross drive to immunize children in Africa. "When the Red Cross was doing a measles intake in Ghana, Paula, at her own expense and on her time, booked a trip to Ghana."

There, the organization immunized 8 million children.

But Johnson's passion over the years has been protecting woman and children here at home. She has worked extensively with the YWCA on domestic violence issues, according to John Clower, who also knows her through the Red Cross.

"Paula is one of the most generous people in terms of time and commitment," he said. "When she makes a commitment, she's all in. She is a truly service-oriented person."

But Johnson is a selfless kind of servant, never looking for credit, Clower said.

"Most people see achievement as something they accomplish for themselves," he said. "But for her, it's doing things for others that counts."


For her part, Johnson said the "Lifetime Achievement Award" makes it sound like she's old.

"I'm 60, but that's not old to me," she said. "But it's nice to be recognized."

The mission of the YWCA is the "passion in my life," Johnson said. That is, "to empower women and girls and to eliminate racism."

She also has worked with Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way and Catholic Community Services toward that goal.

As a young mother, Johnson said she got involved in the PTA and with arts organizations, as many people do. But she recognized that many people were less fortunate and she wanted to make a difference.

"I decided I needed to get my hands dirty," she said. "I just can't live my life thinking that I'm all right, knowing there are other people suffering."

For like-minded people, Johnson said they shouldn't hesitate to jump. "Find what your passion is in life. And then go and make a difference, whether it's changing one person's life or many people's lives."

For Potts and others, Johnson is a great example. "There is nobody who deserves a "Lifetime Achievement Award" more than Paula."

Saying thanks to those who care

For the 9th annual Heroes Luncheon in Salt Lake City, the nomination committee for Utah's Red Cross chapter reviewed 91 candidates. Twenty-three people were nominated for the awards and a dozen were selected, said Woody Noxon, a Red Cross volunteer and committee member.

"I was impressed by every story we received," said Calvary Baptist Church Pastor France Davis.

The award winners were selected by Davis and four other community leaders: Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, Natalie Gochnour, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber, and Lynn Samsel, director of Emergency Services, LDS Humanitarian Services.

Reading account after account showed Davis "that people really do care, not just about themselves. And they put aside differences in order to make a difference."

He added the Red Cross awards highlight people who aren't usually spotlighted and show that everybody can make a difference.

Davis even plans on making a few nominations for 2011 local heroes.

"They haven't asked for anything for what they do," he said, "but it would be the best way to just say "thanks" appropriately."

-- Maria Víllaseñor and Jennifer W. Sanchez

Celebrating community heroes

The Greater Salt Lake chapter of the American Red Cross will recognize its 2010 Heroes at a March 3 awards ceremony at the Salt Palace Convention Center.