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Thursday, March 17, 2005 | I joined the Red Cross during a very dark time in our history of 106 years. I accepted the job as CEO because I knew the community needed a strong Red Cross – and I wanted to help. I must confess I have had to muster all the leadership experience I gained in my 31 years in the Navy, and more, to turn around this organization.

We proved our relevance in the community during the October Wildfires, we sent 70 people to the East Coast to help in the aftermath of the hurricanes and we have been raising money for our neighbors in Asia. It has been a very busy time.

It’s also been a very tough time and, once in awhile, I did hold my breath about whether we’d succeed in rebuilding the public’s trust. All the time, effort and challenges have been worth it. The volunteers tell me that they now can wear their Red Cross shirts proudly and people say thank you. We get invited to parades and the community cheers. Police and fire personnel stop me and thank me for the support our volunteers provide every year at hundreds of small disasters like home fires and flooding. And most importantly, I know that what we do makes a difference to our community every single day.

When I first started at the Red Cross, my community pals asked me what in the world I was thinking. Now people stop me on the street to thank me for bringing back the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Red Cross. But it was not just me. This kind of a coming out of the ashes was done by an incredible team who knew what needed to be done and did it.

Stories

Here’s one: The wife and small child of a sailor who had just deployed was scared when the police evacuated her from her home during a hostage incident. She said to me, “My husband told me to find the Red Cross if I needed help.” She spent the night in our shelter.

Here’s another: One of our volunteers learned that her home had been destroyed in the 2003 wildfires while she was working in our command center. Nonetheless, she spent hours and days helping her neighbors through their losses in spite of her own. And who can forget all of the people I spoke with who lost everything in the fires, who were grateful for the hugs and care of our volunteers.

Bat mitzvahs and weddings

We have a national survey from the wildfires that gives us the best satisfaction rating among victims in any recent disaster. An audit of the money raised during the fires says we did exactly as we said we were going to do with donors’ dollars. And the Red Cross nationally has received a four-star rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy for the good stewardship of those donated dollars.

What keeps me awake at night is that all of this costs dollars. We need staff, training, supplies and equipment ready to respond – to every disaster.

If every resident of our region would donate $1.33 we would have enough money to run our chapter each year. After a long roller coaster ride of the last 21 months, I love my job, I love this community, and I love working with dedicated people who are trained to truly make a difference.

Ronne Froman has served as chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties since 2003. She is a retired Navy Rear Admiral and the former “Navy Mayor of San Diego.”

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