Service area expands; new staff on board

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2002

Vicksburg Area Chapter Executive Director Beverly Connelly of the American Red Cross looks out the window of the Cherry Street office.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/24/02]The Vicksburg Area Red Cross Chapter has a new director, two new staff members and two new counties to serve.

All three of Red Cross full-time staffers, including executive director Beverly H. Connelly, have joined the organization in the past 10 months.

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And, in the past six months, the chapter has expanded its service area to include Sharkey and Issaquena counties as well as Warren and Claiborne.

Connelly became executive director on Dec. 13, replacing Oscar Barnes, who became the Red Cross operations manager for Mississippi.

Former executive director Bettye Jo Phifer, who retired in 1995 and has worked with the chapter for more than 30 years, is helping with the transition, Connelly said.

The Vicksburg Area Chapter, supported by United Way and memberships, conducts training in various levels of first aid and swimming and provides aid in individual and large-scale emergencies.

Connelly said the chapter has been busy lately, spending two-thirds of its time helping families burned out by fire.

“We assess the situation, talk to the family and make sure they have a place to stay,” Connelly said Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the chapter had been helping a family with three daughters whose house was damaged by fire the night before arrange for a two-night motel stay.

The chapter is also still helping six of the 10 families displaced by the New Year’s Day fire that destroyed an apartment building at The Landings.

The chapter also provides a variety of services to current and former members of the U.S. armed forces and their families.

Rolanda Grayer, an Air Force veteran of the Gulf War, last May replaced James Goldsmith, who retired after eight years as armed forces and veterans service officer. Her duties include helping military personnel and their families communicate with each other in emergencies.

Judy Turnage joined the chapter last August as training and volunteer coordinator. She schedules instructors for health and safety classes offered at the organization’s 908 Cherry St. offices, in workplaces and elsewhere, Connelly said.

Red Cross operates locally on a $205,000 budget, Phifer said. This budget year, the United Way allocation is $81,500 and the balance comes from fund-raising events and voluntary contributions. Red Cross does not charge for services.

Connelly said two of her goals are to add more volunteers from the newly acquired counties and to increase the number of CPR and first-aid courses taught in schools to fifth- and sixth- graders.

Two major fund raisers a year are typically planned by the chapter, Connelly said. This year a March 23 M*A*S*H B*A*S*H and a possible fall bicycle race are in the works.

The chapter currently has about 250 volunteers and is run by an executive board of 25, chaired by Curt Follmer, a casino executive. Connelly said groups of students from Hinds Community College, St. Aloysius High School and local Key Clubs are among volunteers helping with current projects, including getting ready for a March 2 yard sale at The Valley building downtown.

The Red Cross is accepting yard-sale donations, including furniture, which it will arrange to have picked up, Connelly said.