Local Red Cross director says chapter in danger of losing charter

By Greg Miller

   Leigh McKeehan, director of the Carter County Chapter of the American Red Cross, on Tuesday told the Carter County Commission Budget-Finance Committee that the organization is in jeopardy of losing its charter.
   "We feel like in this chapter we are in danger of losing our charter, and it will be because of finances," McKeehan stated.
   The Red Cross moved to its current location in 1993. Red Cross is located in the same building as Carter County 9-1-1. Before the move, McKeehan said, "We were in a cinderblock building. And we gave out clothing, did Red Cross things. Services have increased since then."
   Since 1998, the single-family dwellings "that have suffered fires, and usually they're totally destroyed, have increased over 200 percent. In 1998, we spent over $30,000 helping these people. So that has cut into our budget. We have been trying to play catch-up ever since.
   "We have to have the community's help. We have to have the Commission's help. We need the city's help. We need for everyone to help us to hold on to our chapter."
   On a national level, Red Cross "is going through a re-structuring process. It has been rumored for a long, long time. Chapters are also going through this. It unfortunately has happened in Johnson County. It has happened in Unicoi County. Unicoi County fought long and hard to keep their charter.
   "The real basis for a chapter closing at this point will be because of finances. We need to provide our services, and these services affect everyone in the community. We have lots of good non-profits in our area, but Red Cross has something to offer everyone."
   Last year, the Red Cross requested $1,500 from the Carter County Commission. This year, the request has been raised to $5,000, and McKeehan said although she realizes the requested increase is large, it is very much needed. "If we don't get the support, and we do have to close the chapter because of the financial status, because we cannot provide the services any longer, the charter can't be retained or we can't ever get it back again."
   As with Johnson and Unicoi counties, McKeehan notes that American National Red Cross says it will still offer services to Carter County if the chapter closes. But, she observes, "We have seen services actually decrease in the counties that lost charters. So we'd really like to stay focused, and all the chapters do, on our mission. We really feel like in our community that we can help our own better than anybody else can. Without chapters, there's no national headquarters. But without a mission, there's not even a chapter.
   "A lot of things have been changing in American Red Cross. We really have made the news since Sept. 11. And we've experienced some things on a national level here since 1998.
   "This has always been an organization that helps people. And we always want to be committed to the mission of American Red Cross. With the times changing, the chapter changing, and the national organization changing, all on a broad basis, one thing that doesn't change is the people's needs. When the people hurt, they need Red Cross.
   "There are a lot things that will happen to people that will make them think of Red Cross, then there are times when things do not happen, where Red Cross is not in people's minds."
   The local chapter, McKeehan said "is on a mission of our own to make the community more aware of Red Cross services. We're always there when we're needed, even if it's to say to these people, 'We care about what you're going through...'"
   National Red Cross headquarters last week sent an internal auditor to audit the local chapter's records. "They praised our services, and the services are required by National, but they don't fund these for us," McKeehan said.
   The local Red Cross chapter, McKeehan said, has been in existence since 1917, and was actually providing services before the charter was obtained.
   "Money donated locally will stay in Carter County," McKeehan said. "The Carter County Chapter of the American Red Cross definitely honors donor intent."
   For more information, call 542-2833.