Local Red Cross chapter could close soon

By Greg Miller

STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

  
Without a major infusion of funds, The Carter County Chapter of the American Red Cross could be closed in the near future, according to local Red Cross officials.
   The local chapter is in "dire" financial condition, according to Tony Hardin, chapter chairman.
   The budget for the 2002-03 fiscal year, which began July 1, is $60,639, or a little more than $5,000 per month.
   "We probably have about $2,000 coming in each month," said Leigh McKeehan, chapter director. "We have a lot more going out than coming in.
   "We have made sacrifices here to stay open. We have not been turning in all of our mileage. That's our contribution to Red Cross."
   Some time ago, the water fountain was removed as a cost saving measure, and use of a cell phone was discontinued. "We have cut and cut," McKeehan said.
   "We have been told by the regional office that we can only cut so much, that we have to start exploring ways to bring money into the chapter. This responsibility is left up to the chapter board and staff, even though this is stressed to us by upper management in Red Cross."
   Both Hardin and McKeehan say that if donations don't increase significantly, the chapter could close by the end of the year. "I'm asking the people of Carter County, 'Don't wait until it's too late,''' Hardin said.
   McKeehan and Hardin say that like other chapters around the country, The Carter County Chapter of the American Red Cross pays an annual fee to the national headquarters. If payment of the assessment is not made, a local chapter can lose its charter.
   If the chapter were to close, "The people of Carter County who need our services would suffer," Hardin said. A larger surrounding chapter, such as Johnson City or Kingsport, would take responsibility for services, as their time and funding would permit.
   "Money donated locally will stay in Carter County," McKeehan said. "The Carter County Chapter of the American Red Cross definitely honors donor intent."
   Carter Countians' attitude toward Red Cross is "good and healthy," according to Hardin and McKeehan. "I think they like and respect what we do," McKeehan said.
   The bad publicity leveled at the national Red Cross office after 9-11 may have adversely impacted the local chapter, according to Hardin and McKeehan. "The effects of statements made by national cannot help but trickle down to the local chapters," Hardin said. "Some local chapters have felt the effects of the bad publicity."
   "The chapter board of directors and staff are pleased to see the restructuring at the national headquarters, and we are optimistically awaiting the results of the restructuring," McKeehan said.
   Referring to the national adverse publicity directed at the San Diego Chapter, McKeehan is glad changes came to that chapter. "As a smaller chapter that has had to be accountable to the national and the public for everything we do in this office, I resent the San Diego chapter for not honoring the Red Cross commitment and principles, and they did not. As of May 29, that executive director and board of directors have been removed by national headquarters. This chapter concurs with that action."
   While local chapters have been accountable to the national headquarters, McKeehan and Hardin say accountability is a two-way street. "Along with other chapters, we are asking national to be accountable to the chapters and to the American people," McKeehan said.
   Hardin notes that McKeehan, along with Disaster Director Natalie Smith, must "have a lot of patience and caring for the job to get done, because it's not in their paychecks. They're overworked and underpaid by a great deal. I think they do it because they want to do it."
   For more information, call 542-2833.