Mary Lynn Foster joined the American Red Cross in December 2016 to become the regional CEO of the Ohio Buckeye Region, but she had no idea everything the organization did.
“I now know why the Red Cross is the premiere humanitarian organization,” she says.
The Red Cross seeks to be the best part of someone’s worst day, Foster says.
This mission certainly struck home when she spent two weeks deployed to Corpus Christi, after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Foster saw firsthand how the Red Cross opens shelters, provides meals, gives spiritual support and more.
“There’s one image I recall, where I was driving by, the sunshine was coming in, and the houses were destroyed, except for one little closet, and I could see through it and all the clothes were perfectly hanging still on hangars,” she says.
Aside from large-scale disasters, the Ohio Buckeye Region — responsible for roughly half the state, a sash that runs from Toledo down through southeastern Ohio — responds to every home fire in its territory and supplies 100 percent of the blood for 40 Central Ohio hospitals.
In addition, most of its varied workload, from CPR training to communicating between the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, is done by volunteers.
“For every 100 people getting the work done, what the Red Cross does, executing its mission, 90 are volunteers,” Foster says. “Yet, you’d never know it. You pass volunteers in the hallway and our offices every day, all day long, and there is just incredible dedication and passion. You’d think they were paid staff because they are here every single day. And that’s really powerful.”
Last year, Ohio Buckeye Region volunteers put in more than 150,000 hours, which would convert to more than 70 full-time employees.
Caring for those within
Foster spent her first three months on a listening tour, intentionally trying to get to all 45 counties. She met with staff and volunteers and helped ensure meetings weren’t always in Columbus.
She also set up voluntary staff lunches on a monthly basis. There wasn’t a formal agenda and Foster, who describes herself as transparent, was willing to share what she knew.
“But I also want to learn from them. I wanted to make sure that the team understood that I was there for them, and that I’m there to listen. I’m there to hear their concerns. I’m there to answer their questions,” she says.
It’s about creating a culture of caring that matches the Red Cross’ mission for others.