Red Cross reorganizes, eliminates staff

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2014

The local chapter of the American Red Cross is among those being affected by the Alabama Red Cross’s plan to consolidate 18 chapters to six and adopt new names for them. The changes are to be effective in October.

The reorganization means there will be no paid Red Cross personnel working in the local chapter, but state officials say locals will still receive emergency services when needed.

As part of a national restructuring initiative, the local chapter, which was once the Covington County Chapter and more recently the South Central Alabama Chapter, will merge with seven other counties to become known as the South Alabama Chapter. Those counties include Choctaw, Washington, Mobile, Baldwin, Clarke, Monroe, Escambia, Butler, Conecuh, and Crenshaw counties.

Mike Brown, executive director of the South Alabama Chapter, which is based out of Mobile, said the change will not close the local office.

However, volunteers, rather than an executive director, will now staff it.

“We will not be closing the office, and I’m hoping within the next 90 days, things will be better than they were,” he said. “We have a system in place right now.”

Wednesday afternoon, Brown said he had been in contact with County Commission Chairman Bill Godwin; however, he had been unsuccessful communicating with local Red Cross board members.

But at least two local board members said Wednesday they have had brief conversations with Red Cross executives involved in implementing the changes locally. The board was not notified before the local executive director was told his job was being eliminated in the reorganization, they said.

Both said Wednesday they hope Red Cross officials will meet with the local volunteer board next week to explain the changes, and until that time, they are giving the state organization “the benefit of the doubt.”

Brown said there was no specific area of improvement needed, but an overall improvement of the Red Cross structure in the state was the goal of the reorganization.

Locally, the chapter has played an integral role in helping families during emergency situations such as house fires by providing basic necessities such as hotel stays, food, clothing and personal hygiene items.

In 2010, the organization spent nearly $19,000 in five months helping aid local families who lost their homes to fires.

Local residents supported the Red Cross through its main fundraiser, “Taste of Covington County.” The event has raised between $10,000 and $15,000 each year to help aid in the assistance of locals in emergency situations.

In terms of future donations, Brown said funds that are designated for Covington County will stay in the area.

On Wednesday, Red Cross officials said locals could still expect these services to be provided.

“Ultimately, our goal is to provide an even higher level of service to our friends and neighbors who are impacted by disasters and other emergencies,” Brown said.

Red Cross Disaster Specialist Joseph Hilliard said services will not be cut.

Hilliard has been charged with organizing disaster relief until a volunteer schedule can be implemented.

Brown said the Red Cross has “fallen into a slump,” when it comes to volunteers and they want to change that.

Red Cross also administers Project Share, the statewide utility assistance program. The local board members said they have been told the Mobile office will send personnel to Covington County to administer that program during distribution periods.

Katherine Seibt, Red Cross volunteer development specialist, is currently working locally to establish a new volunteer system.

Hours of operation under the new structuring are currently being finalized, and they are working to create schedules for volunteers.

Once the schedule is in place, volunteers will be on hand to help residents.

Hilliard said that volunteers will be trained in disaster assistance.