ELKHART — The Elkhart County chapter of the American Red Cross won’t see a replacement for Frank Connolly’s recently vacated executive director position.
Connolly left the Red Cross earlier this month for a new position at Horizon Education Alliance in Elkhart. John Lyter, CEO of the Greater Indianapolis Red Cross, said that cutting back on administrative positions such as the executive director job is something that all chapters of the American Red Cross are doing nationwide.
“We are transitioning from a staffing model created in the early 1900s to a staffing model that’s more related to communication technology,” Lyter said Thursday, July 25. “In today’s world of technology and communications, we can verify families’ needs with a telephone or Internet connection — somebody doesn’t have to get in a car.”
Lyter said that most of the staff in Indiana Red Cross offices work across multiple counties. This started happening several years ago, Lyter said, and it’s already saving the organization money.
“Four years ago when we starting working on this, the average disaster case ranged in cost (for the Red Cross) from about $100 to almost $700,” Lyter explained. “The case average is about $50 now. We are serving more people, and we’ve added a certainty that people in Indiana, wherever they may be, receive consistent Red Cross service.”
What does this mean for people seeking help from the Red Cross in Elkhart County?
Lyter said services will remain the same or even improve.
“When you start to evolve from trying to duplicate all the services in every community to centralizing things that make sense and getting staff throughout the state to support each other, services improve,” Lyter said. “This is kind of an evolution we go through. People in the communities say, ‘Our Red Cross is leaving, our Red Cross is closing ... but over time what we are finding is that we have volunteers who are caring and show up to support their neighbors, and we have staff who are supporting the heck out of them.”
Kim Komdeur of the Elkhart County Red Cross said that all the lines of service in Elkhart County are covered.
“Really, nothing is going to change — we are still providing service,” Komdeur said.
She added that Red Cross staff in St. Joseph, Marshall, Fulton, Kosciusko, LaGrange and Elkhart counties have been working together for about eight years.
“We’ve always reached across county lines to help each other out,” Komdeur said.
Lyter said that money from other areas of the American Red Cross is used to support the Elkhart County chapter when needed. As an example, he said that preliminary numbers from the most recent fiscal year indicate that the Elkhart County Red Cross raised just under $500,000 for the year while expenses were $726,000.
“Money (donated) is used to help people locally, and we are trying to cut down on administrative expense to be able to support that,” Lyter said.
He added that all chapters of the American Red Cross are now under a single finance system, which saves the organization about $5 million each year.
“Two years ago was the first single audit for the American Red Cross,” Lyter said. “If you think about where risks exist, where people need services, we all (the chapters of the American Red Cross) help support services for the people at risk.”
He said that the Elkhart County Red Cross, and other Red Cross chapters in Indiana counties, are now more like parts of one large state organization rather than separate entities.
“We are in the process of converting (all the Indiana county Red Cross offices) now,” Lyter said.
Future changes for the Red Cross will happen as technology advances, Lyter added.
“We will continue to create systems that will align with the 21st century,” he said. “The things that are the core (of the American Red Cross), and the things people will see in the community every day, are well-trained volunteers helping their neighbors. That will never change.”
The Elkhart County Red Cross is located on Riverview Avenue in Elkhart. It is one of 22 American Red Cross offices in Indiana.