As the CEO of the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross, Anne Fox never has a dull moment at work. From coordinating disaster relief and emergency services to health and safety education for youth and adults, Fox stays busy. For the past 24 years she has dedicated herself to the organization which earned a high-performing ranking for the second year in a row this year. In the past 24 months, the Central Illinois Chapter was given the responsibility of four additional counties in the eastern part of the state. The organization has been able to reach over 400,000 residents. Her volunteer service and professional achievements have been recognized with many prestigious awards, including the Junior League Volunteer of the Year Award and the Bradley University Centurion Society. Fox and her husband Joe live in Peoria and enjoy spending time with their daughter Amy, son-in-law Richard and granddaughter Juliette.
You were interviewed by The Peoria Woman in May 1995. Since that time, you have become a grandmother and encountered a serious illness. Can you update our readers on how your life has changed in the past 12 years?
In many ways, my life really hasn’t changed much in 12 years. I still have the same rewarding career and the same wonderful husband and daughter. I continue to be blessed with very special friends and co-workers. I still love what I do and the people I do it with.
None of us knows what tomorrow may bring and usually, in retrospect, the darkest nights bring the sunniest days. My illness 10 years ago was a very dark night. It was certainly nothing I would ever have wished for, but my life is even richer and sunnier today.
Joe and I now have a fine son-in-law and an adorable granddaughter. We no longer feel guilty over a little indulgence and have experienced a bit more of the glorious world we live in. My work is more demanding but even more rewarding. It has been 12 fabulous years with a few momentous milestones.
Describe your current position at the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross.
I have the best job in the world as the CEO of the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross. We provide disaster relief, emergency services for soldiers and their families, first aid and CPR training and health and safety education for youth and adults in six central Illinois’ counties. In the past 24 months, we were also given responsibility for four additional counties in the eastern part of the state.
How has this changed since you first became CEO of this chapter?
We continue to provide disaster relief and help people to lead healthier, safer lives. The Red Cross mission remains the same, Knowing our volunteers is a special bonus for those of us who work at the Red Cross. On a daily basis, we see their personal sacrifice…although today we reach more people and address new threats to health and safety with more sophisticated services. There is an evolution in the way we evaluate our business practices and service delivery.
We are a business of the heart; but we are a business. We are accountable to the United Way and businesses and individuals who support Red Cross services. We operate efficiently to stretch every donated dollar. We are transparent in our business dealings, and we deliberately focus on the integrity of our business practices.
We evaluate our services not only by how many we deliver but also by the impact. Red Cross services have on those who receive them. We are committed to quality and results, and we measure outcomes. We are a well-run business that touches hearts and lives. We provide Red Cross service with the same love and compassion that we would give to our dearest friends. It’s often the warmth and caring of Red Cross volunteers that people mention when they write to thank us for our help.
Tell about the educational programs offered by the Red Cross today.
We are mission-driven, and all of our training programs are mission-related. The Red Cross mission is to help people prevent, prepare for and cope with emergencies. Our educational programs teach people to lead healthier, safer lives and how to respond to an emergency. We believe that prevention is preferable to response, and we focus on preventing fires, heart attacks, car crashes, drowning, strokes and other emergencies.
Childhood habits can last a lifetime. We have one of the strongest youth education programs in the entire Red Cross because we are committed to seeing children in our area grow up healthy and safe and with the opportunity to achieve their potential. Annually, we reach more than 30,000 youngsters with a progressive health and safety curriculum that reinforces good habits and develops lifesaving skills. We know we have made a difference when teachers tell us that their students changed their behavior after a Red Cross program.
We really celebrate when we learn about kids who used the Heimlich maneuver or were saved by their seatbelt or knew what to do in an emergency. Our youth instructors know they made an impact when youngsters greet them in public with, “Hey, you’re the Red Cross lady.”
We continue our life-saving educational programs with first aid and CPR training for adults. Participants in our CPR classes also learn how to use an AED, and they save lives. One teacher who begrudgingly took our Infant and Child CPR class used her new skills the very next week when her baby granddaughter stopped breathing.
Our mission is unchanging but the nature of emergencies constantly changes, so our programs shift as needs emerge. For example, we recently added programs on gun safety for children and flu prevention and care. We will always teach first aid, CPR and water safety, but we supplement these traditional Red Cross classes with others that address new community problems.
How has the volunteer program changed through the years?
In the 24 years that I have been at the Red Cross, I have seen very little change in volunteers. They are the heart and hands of the American Red Cross, and it is their faces that people associate with the caring services we deliver. The volunteers truly give. They are committed to making lives better and easing suffering.
On a moment’s notice, they leave their families, friends and lives behind for three weeks. They work long days in hardship conditions and sleep on a cot, if one is available, to help a stranger in need.
In the hours following the 9-11 terrorist attack when the call for volunteers reached our chapter, no one asked, “Will I be safe?” “Will there be another attack?” “What will happen to me?” The only question was, “When do I leave?” Then, as now, volunteers put the needs of those they serve above their own.
The changes we see are in the screening and responsibilities of volunteers. Today, all Red Cross volunteers undergo a comprehensive background check and participate in numerous, highly technical training programs. Red Cross volunteers have the same training and meet the same high standards of performance as paid staff members providing the same service. They invest a tremendous amount of their own time and energy in order to be able to volunteer to help others.
Knowing our volunteers is a special bonus for those of us who work at the Red Cross. On a daily basis, we see their personal sacrifice and commitment to serving others. They are our friends, our family and our inspiration.
What are some of the unique challenges that the Red Cross has had to overcome since the disasters of 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina?
In just days, and sometimes hours, the American Red Cross can mobilize thousands of highly trained disaster workers; locate facilities and suppliers; establish functioning, effective operations; open and operate shelters for thousands of people; establish both fixed and mobile feeding (areas) for disaster victims, relief workers, and emergency personnel; give financial assistance to victims; and provide health and mental health services. What the American Red Cross does during a disaster could be likened to setting up, opening and efficiently operating a business with thousands of trained employees serving many thousands of customers in less than a week.
But 9-11 taught us that we must be prepared to respond on a scale never before required. Then, Hurricane Katrina taught us that a massive disaster can affect not only the area where it strikes but also the entire country as disaster victims and their families relocate and need service elsewhere.
Our chapter grew exponentially as a result of these two disasters. Central Illinois volunteers were some of the first on the scene following the terrorist attack, and over 100 local Red Cross volunteers assisted Hurricane Katrina victims. The lessons learned from these tragedies will help us be even better prepared in the future.
Thanks to a generous and visionary gift from Mr. and Mrs. Warren Collins, we established a strong planning and preparedness component in our disaster relief program. We partner with other community agencies and first responders to ensure readiness, and we also conduct an aggressive public education program to help our community be ready.
Nationally, there have been improvements as well. Our staff and volunteer training now includes extensive education about dealing with mass casualties and catastrophic events. We used to think of sheltering 50 or 100 people for two or three days; now we are preparing to shelter thousands of people for several weeks. We are considering health concerns, decontamination processes, special needs and security issues.
Our mobile society means that disaster victims and their families are on the move and often widely separated. We now have a national electronic casework database, which enables a Red Cross caseworker to help a New Hampshire fire victim who returned home to California for assistance.
What are some of the misconceptions of the public regarding the Red Cross?
As a result of our work on major disasters, it is easy to think of the Red Cross as a national organization providing relief in national disasters. However, the American Red Cross has roots in every community and volunteers all across the country. All disasters start as local disasters and all relief efforts are launched by the local Red Cross with hometown volunteers. As more help is needed, other “local” volunteers come from other “local” Red Cross chapters.
The enormous Red Cross volunteer work force is composed of volunteers who are recruited, trained and deployed by their own chapter. This ability to instantly mobilize uniformly-trained volunteers is one of the unique strengths of the American Red Cross. It enables us to deploy needed workers anywhere, anytime there is a major disaster. But the important role of local chapters can be invisible in major disasters.
We also constantly battle the misconceptions that the government funds us and that our national organization supports us. Every local Red Cross depends on contributions from individuals, businesses and their local United Way organizations to train our volunteers and support our services. We receive no regular funding from the government or our national organization. We are supported by the communities we serve.
Tell about some of the programs offered to businesses by the Red Cross—such as the disaster preparedness programs.
Businesses turn to us for disaster preparedness education for their employees as well as tools for developing the business’s disaster plan. Employees learn the value of a personal or family disaster plan as well as the importance of knowing their workplace plan. People are far more likely to survive a disaster at home or at work if they have a plan and have rehearsed what they would do.
Employees and businesses learn what to have in their disaster kits, and businesses develop the specifics of their disaster plan as well as their plan of continuity of operations. This is another example of Red Cross programs developed to meet community needs. All businesses are more aware of the need for this type of planning since 9-11 and, even closer to home, the tornado that struck Parsons Manufacturing.
Tell us about the Armed Forces Emergency Services Program. How has the Central Illinois Chapter assisted local families in the past five years?
The Red Cross was born on the battlefield. Supporting soldiers and their families is close to our heart. The American Red Cross is the communication link between military personnel and their families in times of crisis. We are also the access point for emergency financial assistance.
Soldiers and their families know they can turn to the Red Cross for help, and the community looks to the Red Cross as a conduit to show support for the military. We work with the Proud Families of Marines, 182nd Family Readiness Group and the Inter-Service Family Assistance Committee. We connect schools, scout troops and businesses that want to help with military family support organizations looking for community partners. We have served as a collection point for grocery cards, gift cards and other financial assistance cards, which the military units distribute to families of deployed soldiers who need assistance.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your work with the Red Cross?
People. The people I work with and the people we help. I love being part of a team of truly great people who work together to help others. Our board, our staff and our volunteers are the best. And it’s a great feeling to know that we truly make a difference in people’s lives.
What is the most interesting experience you have had with the Red Cross since you have been involved?
Every day at the Red Cross is filled with new people and exciting opportunities. I couldn’t pick a most interesting experience. My life at the Red Cross is a rhapsody of growth and rewards and fascination and delight. We may work long hours and have overflowing in-boxes and continually face new challenges, but we are never bored and we can always help.
What future programs are planned by the Red Cross in the next five years?
The uncertainties of our world will keep the Red Cross focused on preparedness and disaster relief. We will have a dual approach—targeting both people and the community. We will continue teaching individuals and families how to be prepared and how to care for themselves and one another in an emergency. We will bring additional preparedness education to target populations who are more vulnerable such as children, the elderly and those with special needs.
We will increase basic and advanced training programs for volunteers to help in emergencies of varied causes and larger scope. We will continue working with our community partners to ensure community preparedness and the ability to care for one another. We will be prepared to handle multi-site disasters, mass evacuation sheltering and the emigration of disaster victims. There will be more reliance on technology to connect people and services as well as track assistance. Across the country, chapters will have increased capacity to provide relief to those who depend on us.
What do you like to do in your leisure time?
I am a very, very lucky lady. I love my work. I have wonderful friends. My husband and I cherish every moment we get to spend with our enchanting granddaughter and our daughter and son-in-law. We also love to travel, and I treasure a good book. Life is perfect.
What else would you like our readers to know?
I am very, very proud to report that our chapter ranked in the top tier of Highly Performing Chapters for the second consecutive year, thanks to the outstanding board leadership, staff excellence and volunteer commitment of our Central Illinois Chapter team.
There are approximately 800 chapters in the nation. Last year, 25 were ranked as Highly Performing, and eight of those, including the Central Illinois Chapter, earned the Highly Performing Ranking again this year.
Mike McCord, our Board Chairman, says that we have one of the best Red Cross chapters in the country. That’s because the community has generously supported the Red Cross. We are very, very grateful to all those who contribute to our chapter, and we take our stewardship responsibilities very seriously. Donors can be assured that those contributions have been well invested and produced solid returns in service excellence and a strong Red Cross chapter. TPW