Red Cross director takes helm

WORTHINGTON -- On the first day of her new job, Joyce Jacobs knew she had a lot to learn. As the new executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross, Jacobs had to organize her office, take stock of what supplies w...

WORTHINGTON -- On the first day of her new job, Joyce Jacobs knew she had a lot to learn. As the new executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross, Jacobs had to organize her office, take stock of what supplies were on hand, and, most importantly, start getting to know the contacts, the volunteers and the answers to a lot of questions.

On the second day of Jacobs' new job, a blizzard started that lasted several days and had people calling and stopping by her office.

When the emergency management director stopped to let her know the highways were being closed and ask about shelters for stranded travelers, all Jacobs could do was shake her head and admit she didn't know.

"It was a wild start," she laughed and glanced around her desk. "I have notes everywhere. It has been a busy month."

Jacobs is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the southwest chapter, which covers five counties -- Nobles, Rock, Murray, Martin and Pipestone.


"It has all been very interesting," she said. "I have learned a lot and met wonderful board members and volunteers, and there are more I need to connect with."

The daily operations can include fundraising, contacting and recruiting volunteers, organizing classes in a variety of subjects, handling calls for the Armed Forces Emergency Service -- 11 in just one month -- and a myriad of other tasks.

"There are so many different programs and so much to learn," Jacobs said. "Just getting the acronyms figured out -- there are pages of them."

The American Red Cross deals with disasters, from single family house fires to large-scale destruction such as hurricanes and tornadoes. But the Red Cross also teaches classes, organizes blood drives, seeks out volunteers and raises funds for all of the above.

"We have to do fundraising to make sure dollars are available when disaster strikes," Jacobs explained. "We seek support from the United Way and contact businesses, organizations and individuals."

Without the people who offer financial support, Jacobs said the Red Cross would not be able to do what it does.

But the Red Cross isn't only about the funds. It also recruits and organizes the volunteers who help handle the disasters.

"I'm learning the operations of the programs and meeting with other staff to get trained in," Jacobs said. "I'm also learning the financial part, budgeting and reviewing bylaws -- all the important parts of managing an organization."


One goal she has is offering more classes, such as first aid, CPR, baby-sitter training and more.

"The more information you can get to people, the better they can be prepared for an emergency," she said, adding she would like to get more young people involved. "I'd really like to recruit new volunteers and get high school and college kids in here. They have a lot to offer."

A firm believer in education, Jacobs thinks training young people empowers them with knowledge and makes them confident. Referring to a brochure emblazoned with the words "Be Red Cross Ready," Jacobs spoke of the importance of the three actions anyone can take to help make a difference -- prepare a kit, make a plan and be informed.

"And when disaster happens, it is nice to have people available you can connect with -- people of all ages," she reiterated.

Talking about the things young people can help with reminded Jacobs of another Red Cross program that has recently been gaining notice -- pet first aid. Books and brochures are available, and in some chapters, classes are being taught.

"This is really in response to all the pets that were in need of care after the hurricanes," Jacobs said. "There has been a lot of interest in this all of a sudden."

Jacobs has plenty of brochures, skill cards and reference guides on hand that address first aid for people, along with CPR masks. The Red Cross teaches classes in first aid, CPR, AED (defibrillation) and more in an effort to keep people educated.

"Education is a big part of being able to handle an emergency," Jacobs said. "Or better handle any situation whether it's an emergency or not."


Jacobs is now faced with a conundrum familiar to others in the emergency field, such as firefighters, EMTs and first responders -- those who are trained to do their jobs and do them well, but don't want to see people suffer.

"I find myself in a job where I hope no one ever needs us," she explained. "We will have the volunteers and resources in place, but want the items to rot in a back storage room instead of being needed."

Having spent the last month cleaning and organizing, Jacobs is anxious to start meeting more people involved with the Red Cross and compiling lists of emergency contacts, shelters and volunteers.

Anyone interested in volunteering, classes or information can call the Worthington office at 372-4702, e-mail , or stop by the Red Cross office, which also houses the RSVP office, located at 321 11th St., between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Because there is generally only one staff person for each entity, Jacobs recommends calling the office before stopping by.

"Oh, one more reminder," Jacobs said with a smile. "The Bloodmobile is coming May 3 and 4, so we will be working with the RSVP volunteers, calling to make appointments."

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