Feb. 13, 2002 – St. Croix Red Cross operations have been under the wing of the St. Thomas/St. John chapter since the start of the year, St. Thomas/St. John director Yvonne Zinicola said on Wednesday.
However, there will be no change in disaster response, Zinicola said. "Service delivery is seamless," she said.
Hours for the St. Croix office have been reduced to noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with Friday reserved for training. Zinicola said more volunteers must be willing to work in the office in order for it to be open full time.
The consolidation follows several years of problems for the St. Croix Chapter. Zinicola said the St. Croix chapter voluntarily surrendered its charter in 2000, faced with the threat of having the national office take it away.
The Red Cross in Puerto Rico then assumed oversight for the chapter's activities. When that proved unworkable, the St. Croix chapter was placed under the umbrella of the Green Mountain, Vermont, chapter.
Meanwhile, the St. Thomas/St. John chapter was getting back on its feet. Zinicola said the St. Thomas/St. John organization is now deemed strong enough to take over administration of the St. Croix office. While the entire operation currently carries the St. Thomas/St. John name, Zinicola is moving toward making it the "Virgin Islands" chapter. "It's a chance to build capacity with one voice," she said, and she expects the national organization to approve that move by March.
The St. Croix operations manager Sarah Roman agrees that putting the St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John offices under one agency is the best course of action. "You can accomplish more as a group," she said.
Zinicola said she expects to have a person in charge of each island, although they will carry different titles. St. Croix has an "operations manager," St. Thomas has a person who serves as the "point of contact," and she is looking for a strong volunteer on St. John to serve as "lead representative."
Down the road, Zinicola hopes to give each island more autonomy by creating branches of the Virgin Islands chapter. Those branches could have separate boards. Currently, the St. Thomas/St. John board has a St. John representative. Zinicola said St. Croix representatives will be appointed.
However, Carol McGuinness, who serves as co-chair of Red Cross disaster services on St. John, has some worries about the move to bring all offices under one Virgin Islands roof. "Will it delay services to St. John?" she asked, noting that St. John does not have a permanent office. It occupies space at the Morris DeCastro building, but the Health Department needs the space and wants the Red Cross to move out.
For the time being, Zinicola said, the St. Croix office will remain where it is, across from Sunny Isle Shopping Center. However, the building has termites and a leaky roof, she said, and the building sits on a large piece of land, which poses a financial drain for the Red Cross.
As with most any transition, this one has brought some dissent. On St. Croix, "Some of the disaster volunteers are supportive, and some are not," Roman said. She sees opposition to the merger coming about because each Red Cross office operates on a different culture. "We each do some of the things differently," she said.
And some people were upset when financial constraints forced Green Mountain staff to fire the other two workers in the St. Croix office, while keeping on Roman, who had arrived in November 2000 as a Vista Volunteer to organize a youth program. Zinicola then served as interim manager from September 2001 to January and accepted the permanent post last month.
Roman is in favor of putting St. Croix's previous troubles in the past and moving on. "Look at where you are, and move ahead in a positive way," she said.


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