Posted on Dec 30 2011
By Clarissa David

American Red Cross-NMI Chapter executive director John Hirsh, second left, is flanked by, from left, Emergency Services director Juan Diego Tenorio, administrative assistant Mary Ann Taman, and Preparedness, Health and Safety Services territory service delivery manager Kennedy Benjamin at the Red Cross office along Airport Road. (Clarissa V. David) Established 33 years ago, the American Red Cross-NMI Chapter is still in its “infancy stage” compared to some of its counterparts in different states and territories who have been around close to 100 years, says executive director John Hirsh.

Hirsh said that it was Gilbert Ada who initiated efforts to create a local chapter of the volunteer-led humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education to those affected by natural and human-caused disasters.

Endeavors of the local chapter, Hirsh said, essentially follow the national organization’s three pillars:

Disaster Services, which focuses on meeting urgent disaster-caused needs of community members;

Preparedness, Health and Safety, which provides fee-based education and training in disasters and other life-threatening emergencies; and

Service to the Armed Forces, which provides support to service members and their families.

Hirsh, who has been with the organization for a decade and counting, describes the NMI Red Cross as “self-sufficient,” relying on volunteers for its labor force as well as corporate and individual sponsors and donors during its fundraising events.

“When I first started in 2001, the economy clearly was a lot better,” said Hirsh. Year 2011, however, was a difficult period. While the NMI Red Cross still has the backing of the island community, Hirsh admits that the local scene has changed drastically in the last few years.

To be sure, the NMI Red Cross is still blessed despite the islands’ economic woes. Its signature annual fundraisers remain popular and are always well-attended. The Red Cross Walkathon every May has forged a partnership with the Public School System, with the event drawing walkers of all ages. The Club 200 event this year even surpassed last year’s ticket sales and “still raises the lion’s share of income for the chapter.”

“We hope in our minds that people are still coming to our events because they believe in the Red Cross,” said Hirsh. “They believe in our mission and they know that we’re helping people in the community.”

It helps, too, that the NMI Red Cross is able to keep its operation cost to a minimum. With only four support staff, including Hirsh, the group is able to achieve its mission and conduct activities by leveraging the expertise of the organization at the national level and also with the help of about a hundred volunteers who take time away from family and work to help those affected by disasters and emergencies.

Fortunately for the CNMI, it has not had any major calamities in the last five years. Hirsh noted, though, that this year saw several house fires, including the back-to-back fires last month that rendered a number of families homeless. He said these families were assisted by the NMI Red Cross, giving them close to $10,000 worth of goods that included medicine, beddings, and school supplies.

But even without any catastrophic events, Hirsh underscored that the NMI Red Cross is still there for the community, spearheading emergency planning efforts coordinated with the local government and organizing, conducting presentations, and keeping the public informed about what to do should a disaster occur.

“We’re there as the disaster is happening or right after it happens to provide that bridge of emergency assistance until people get back on track,” he added.

Hirsh also takes pride in the fact that the NMI Red Cross reflects the diversity in the community, with individuals of different ethnicities representing its board of directors. “We always feel that we need to be a reflection of the people that we’re serving.”

He reiterated his gratitude to the community for still supporting the Red Cross even in these difficult economic times. “We’re just so thankful that people are supporting us. Part of the reason, too, is that there’s trustworthiness that comes with the Red Cross. We are good stewards of the resources they give to us. With Red Cross, there is that confidence level,” said Hirsh.

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