Joe Elmore's may be one of the quietest voices in the islands, but for the past three years as manager of the St. Thomas-St. John chapter of the American Red Cross, it has also been one of the most effective.
About to end his tenure with the chapter, Elmore says with good humor that one of his major accomplishments has been "keeping my picture out of the papers for all that time.
"Except for once. . . I don't know how they got that one."
This says a lot about the soft-spoken Elmore's ideas of what's important.
Since he took over the manager's position in 1996, in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn, he has worked to make the chapter self-reliant — which is to say not totally dependent upon the manager's skills.
When that kind of team building doesn't happen, he says, "the chapter is left with a big hole in the leadership when the person leaves."
Elmore, who will be leaving his post at the end of the year, will have little say in the selection of his successor. That is a decision for the board of directors to make. However, he feels that the time is right to put someone from the local community in charge, as opposed to bringing in an outside Red Cross career person.
"I feel that we have enough training and systems in place so that we can look locally for a manager," he says.
Before Elmore came here on assignment from the national organization, the local chapter had seen some rocky times, with six people in the manager's position in the space of three years.
Since arriving on St. Thomas — which he did sight unseen — Elmore has broadened the organization's volunteer base from 300 to 1,000. Of these, 75 percent are have received disaster training.
One thing Elmore and his volunteers have done is to work with the Water And Power Authority and the V.I. Telephone Corp. training line crew members in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Asked to cite what he feels proudest about having accomplished, Elmore pauses. There are many things. Finally, with his slow smile, he says that the summer swimming instruction program has been one high mark.
"The Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation came to us to get a program started for the local kids," he explains. "We used John Brewers Bay and took kids who'd never swum in their lives and were afraid of the water. We used high school students and trained them to be instructors, and now, well, everybody's swimming!"
The program is already set to continue for the coming summer.
The American Red Cross has also certified lifeguards at local beaches. Elmore cautions that this means the certified individuals have passed the course; it is no guarantee of work performance.
Elmore has also been instrumental in the development of an HIV/Aids information and prevention program.
"We have received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we are looking forward to a big program next year," he says. This will be one of the responsibilities of the incoming manager and his or her team, and Elmore is very enthusiastic about having lain the groundwork for the program's success.
A career Red Cross worker, Elmore says he "first got started as a volunteer in high school." Before he signed on for his stint on St. Thomas at a time when the island was still in devastation from Hurricane Marilyn, his professional involvement took him to several mainland cities and a grueling overseas stint in the Persian Gulf.
"It was during the Gulf War," he recalls. "I was there for a year as lead representative for field hospitals." Addressing an obviously sensitive subject, he adds that the agency's job there was largely to help "the ones who weren't going to make it back. We did lots of counseling and attending to the wounded."
With his positive, almost boyish manner, he adds, "It was a very rewarding experience."
His St. Thomas-St. John experience has been rewarding, too, if in different ways. He says the Red Cross chapter here leads all others in the U.S. territories in fund raising and service on a per capita basis. "And there's an announcement coming up about nationwide status," he adds with a grin.
Under his leadership, the chapter has virtually tripled its budget, from $200,000 in 1996 to what he hopes will be $600,000 for the next fiscal year "if all goes well." The chapter now has two certified national instructors who are called upon to provide assistance and training to other chapters.
With a paid staff of six, the office in Nisky Center is busy on a typical day, with volunteers getting out a mailing, telephones ringing and people coming in and out.
"Another project we want to get to is completing work on the downtown facility" behind the USO center, Elmore says. Efforts are under way to get the balance of funding needed for a new roof. The building is a historic preservation site, he notes, so the work is very exacting. A federal Community Development Block Grant is in place but will not cover all of the costs.
Elmore is keeping his plans after Dec. 31 to himself for now. He says he is not leaving the Red Cross operation; he has simply completed his goals in this particular job. "I'll stay on island for a while, and see what happens," he says with a smile. "I feel very fortunate and blessed to have had this experience and to have directed the attention of the community to the entire operation -– not just the leader."


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