South Charlotte

Red Cross services touch entire community

If you've driven by the complex of American Red Cross buildings on Park Road and imagined what they housed, wonder no more.

The Red Cross schedules free tours of its facilities for school and community groups, companies and other members of the public to showcase services.

The Red Cross name has long been synonymous with blood donation; but did you know the humanitarian organization provides a host of other services, in addition to collecting blood?

A family is burned out of their house by fire; floodwaters destroy a home's contents; a tree falls on a home, rendering it uninhabitable - these are all disasters to which the Red Cross responds.

The organization relies on volunteers to carry out its response. Rick Schou, 49, director of emergency services for the agency's Greater Carolinas Chapter, says disaster volunteers might be paged to mobilize any time day or night.

South Charlotte resident Jim Sheely, 64, is a former air traffic controller and dedicated Red Cross volunteer who began volunteering after his retirement. He cites the satisfaction of "giving back to the community" as one of the reasons he serves.

Whether it's deploying to eastern North Carolina in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes, as he did last spring, or responding to the scene of residential fires in Charlotte, Sheely offers assistance.

"We have a relationship with the fire department and the firemen that I wouldn't trade for a million bucks," said Sheely. "They look forward to our being there, and they look out for us just as much as we look out for them."

Volunteers also work as transportation services drivers, available to older adults and people with low incomes or disabilities who need rides to medical appointments.

Angela Broome, regional CEO of the Red Cross Carolina Piedmont Region, says friendships form between those drivers and clients. She said she knows a woman who returned early from vacation to drive a route.

Broome, 41, left a banking career to join the Red Cross in March. Her first days on the job were around the period the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

She has compelling reasons for feeling a pull to the organization. Her father was a Red Cross volunteer, and she remembers an uncle being aided by the Red Cross after a flood.

Health and safety education also are emphasized at the Red Cross. There are baby-sitting classes and courses on administering first aid and CPR.

And although it isn't well known, Broome says, there's even instruction available in pet CPR.

Services to men and women in the military are another key part of Red Cross work - from ensuring messages from home are relayed to service members to conducting outreach to military families to help them cope.