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Local Red Cross chapter to be downgraded
August 08, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
This article was updated: Aug. 9, 2011

Details are still sketchy and the impact unknown, but the Greater Nebraska Panhandle Chapter of the American Red Cross could possibly be downgraded to what is called a “service center.”

Under the new arrangement, administration will be handled out of the Grand Island Chapter offices. That agency will be responsible for scheduling babysitting classes, CPR classes and other training offered to the public. The announcement came in a letter from Jim Hamilton, division vice president for the Northwest and Pacific Islands American Red Cross.

“From my past experience in these situations, a Service Center can become stronger in capacity than it was as a chapter due to the ability to leverage combined resources and reduce back office overhead,” the letter stated.

The local Red Cross board met with the regional CEO to discuss any potential changes. Those changes are being faced by chapters across the country as the National Red Cross tries to close its deficit through massive cost savings.

Rick Tuggle, board chairman of the local Red Cross chapter, said there won’t be any layoffs in their office. There are two staff members and the rest are volunteers.
“The primary question of the meeting was whether we’ll remain a chapter or become a service center,” Tuggle said. “We’ll be asking both the divisional and national leadership that we remain a chapter.”

The local Red Cross office has, over the past three years, turned the chapter around from being a drain on the system to contributing to an overage. So they asked why the district would make changes that would only result in a loss of revenue for the Panhandle.

“Our chapter of the Red Cross dates back to 1917,” Tuggle said. “As a charter organization, we’re responsible for taking care of our own charter and making sure it’s properly financed.”

He said the board thinks a chapter would be able to better serve and fundraise in the Panhandle. And while the national organization isn’t making changes in services, they’re striving to find more economically efficient ways of delivering those services.

If the local Red Cross chapter is downgraded to a service center, a sticking point is how they would receive funding from the local United Way. Applications for United Way funding requires the inclusion of a full budget, board oversight and a full explanation as to funding being spent in the United Way service territory and nowhere else.

A lot of centralization has happened in the Red Cross over the past few years. Even before the current round of changes were announced, classes offered to the public were already being arranged by calling an 800 number, rather than going to the local chapter with the request.

Tuggle said the Nebraska Panhandle chapter is different from others around the country that is being subsidized by the National Red Cross. “Ours is a self-supportive chapter. We struggled at times because we weren’t doing an effective job of fundraising, but we’ve recouped the entire deficit. We’re now operating like a charity should and breaking even.” He credited the community, the staff and volunteers with playing a major role in getting the chapter back out of the red.

Restructuring became necessary as Red Cross donations continue to fall and the organization has had to deal with several major disasters since 9/11.
“This restructuring is nationwide,” Tuggle said. “We’re not being picked on. The board isn’t really for or against this, but we want to retain our chapter status. The question was asked whether we’d take the 1917 charter off the wall and the answer was no. So our next question was why we’re not still a chapter.”

He emphasized the most important thing for people to remember is that from the end recipient’s point of view, nothing will change. The organization will still respond to disasters throughout the Panhandle whenever they occur.
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