Red Cross Director Jeff McPherson, who took over the post in April has taken a lot of changes in his professional life in stride. The one constant for the native of Prosperity, S.C., has been public service. He admitted numerous realignments of Red Cross Service districts which placed him in charge of this region have left him a bit disoriented.
“It has turned out to be a bit of a joke for me,” said McPherson. “I’ve been here for the past 90 days, so if they put me here as a practical joke it is a long one.”
The Appalachian State graduate settled into the Winston-Salem Triad area. He has a bachelor of science in communication and arts with a focus on advertising and began in radio broadcasting. He also has served as a mobile DJ for 20 years. He and his wife of 22 years, Denise, have three children, Nick, Nathan and McKenzie.
“I’ve been involved with nonprofit organizations for 15 years,” said McPherson. He said he started in sales and customer service for Replacements Limited of Greensboro, and through a series of other positions became acquainted with someone in the American Red Cross who liked his work with team.
When the firm he was working with declared for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, that acquaintance called and offered him the directorship of the American Heart Association (AHA), covering Southwest Virginia and much of the middle portion of the Triad in North Carolina.
McPherson spent 16 years with the AHA supervising a staff or 15. The economic downturns nationally in 2008 caused many nonprofits, including the association, to restructure and McPherson’s territory increased to the Midlands South Carolina area. He said in 2010 a third restructuring of the group eliminated his position.
“The positive side of this is at this point it gave me a chance to think about what I wanted to do next,” said McPherson. “One of the sayings we have in non-profits is whatever level you’re at you are not going to be rich in the pocketbook but rich in heart.”
Months later he accepted a post as the Chief Operations Officer at the YMCA in Winston-Salem. The opportunity to serve in the Red Cross happened after this.
“It really came up in an AHA interview which asked me if I knew someone affected by heart disease,” McPherson recalled. “I remembered my dad had a minor heart attack. I knew I wanted to be involved in something to make a difference in people’s lives I hadn’t met yet. That’s what makes working in a non-profit so fulfilling. The YMCA’s programs supported kids, women overcoming addictions and got kids off the street into a caring nurturing environment. Making that commitment was not really a difficult decision. The Red Cross is the best of both worlds. The AHA is more national but the Red Cross is local.”
McPherson said the Red Cross is a national brand. He said it serves local communities and was ranked as a second most recognizable brand behind Coca Cola. The task the group faces is getting the word out about the scope of things it does.
“If the Red Cross is called we will be there. If we don’t, there will be no one else to help them,” said McPherson. “That’s what inspires us. We support the national disasters but we support home. I didn’t realize what all the Red Cross did until I applied for the job. I remember a former volunteer telling me all we are known for is blood and floods.”
Getting the word out on what all the Red Cross does is one mission he has set for himself in his new directorship.
“People associate the hurricanes and the tornadoes with us but they don’t think of local projects,” said McPherson. “We have volunteers on call 24-7, 365 days. They’re there. The level of volunteerism is amazing. We get no money from the government. I want to spark as many as I can to change their perception of us. Some of our volunteers get so focused on the larger disasters they don’t realize all we do.”
McPherson said the process would be a “learning experience” for everyone about what the organization does. He said the group’s ability to be there locally as well is supported by a good relationship with Surry County Emergency Medical Services. He said the Red Cross is also able to share resources among its many regional chapters.
“We have a strong board of directors in Surry County to build on as we are undergoing a re-inventing period with a new focus, new director and new way of doing things,” said McPherson. “Red Cross is alive in Surry County with an important role to support every single person in Surry. It doesn’t matter if you have a million dollar home or a small apartment we will be there (in an emergency). There is no discrimination.”
He said another strong group helping to support the Red Cross locally is the United Fund of Surry County. He also plans to continue the tradition of local board members serving as advocates for the group and its mission as well a building on the already strong volunteer base. McPherson said the local chapter has a small staff with two for full time blood service-related tasks, one district case manager and one administrator besides himself.
“We can only accomplish what we do through volunteers,” said McPherson. “We want to grow that base. Surry County can feel proud it already has a good base here.” He said the need is here locally, citing that 70 percent of the 37 calls last year involved families with no insurance.
He said a part of this educational effort will be collaboration with local organizations including the boy and girl scouts and youth groups.
“I think students should start this in middle and high school years,” said McPherson. “Schools and churches here are so active in the community we need to get to know them so we don’t stretch into the areas of what they are already doing well at. We want to make sure we are serving the community the way we should.”
He said there are many organizations doing good things but in order to address needs and some social issues it is going to take “us all coming together to make that change.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.