By Tricia Pursell

The Daily Item

Discussions of reorganization within the American Red Cross may have sparked rumors that Valley offices would close, an official said Thursday.

But they are only rumors, Kathy Felker said.

"What's happening is, we are in the process of developing 2011 budgets for all of the chapters," the regional executive director of the American Red Cross of the Susquehanna Valley said. Regional officials have been meeting with the executive directors of Sunbury, Upper Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties to consider ways to make business more cohesive and streamlined.

"Our intent is not to shut down the offices and leave town," Felker said. "We're not leaving town."

In fact, a new director of the Sunbury chapter was just appointed in February. Valerie Whyman, of Williamsport, has replaced Cheryl Beeler, who retired in December after serving as the executive director for 28 years.

Within days of beginning her job, Whyman said she was also hearing rumors that the chapter was closing. But she dismissed them.

"There's no truth to it whatsoever," she said Thursday.

Edna Reinard, executive director of the Snyder County Red Cross, said it was specifically stated in a letter from the national Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Gail McGovern that no offices would close.

Reorganization still being discussed, Felker said, and is meant to cut expenses in office administration, and allow workers to spend more time in hands-on service in the community.

All four Valley chapters employee a full-time executive director and several part-time workers to coordinate classes, keep records, instruct and market. But the problem is, they are all part-time, Felker said. What may work better is if one of the chapters focuses on marketing, one or two on teaching classes, and one on record-keeping.

"Each one will have a focus area," she said, "instead of trying to be everything."

Last summer, the regional office in Harrisburg took on the job of completing the accounting work for all of the chapters.

Every organization is struggling right now, Felker said.

"We're trying to do business smarter," she said. "Our responsibility, as good stewards of the donor dollar, is to spend it wisely."

She did say that she cannot guarantee that some hours won't be cut in the 2011 budget. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

As long as the community continues to support the organization, it will survive, Whyman said.

The health and safety programs offered through the Sunbury Red Cross are in high demand, Whyman said, and the region collects thousands of units of blood every year, saving countless lives.

"We are successful," Whyman said. "There is absolutely no reason to think there is any benefit in closing this unit down."

Coming through the doors on a daily basis are people who need help with fuel, food, and other advice on how to simply survive every day. Regularly, the Red Cross assists in disasters such as fires and floods.

"I see that we are really helping this community," Whyman said. "The Red Cross will always be here. We're always prepared."

The Red Cross is looking for people who can assist at the scene of a disaster, such as a house fire, or help should the need for a shelter arise. Help is also needed to plan fundraising events.

The 13 chapters of the Susquehanna Valley Red Cross region employ between 125 and 150 people. Approximately 15 of those employees are located in the four local offices, which serve about 130,000 people.

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