American Red Cross
Q&A with Janienne Bella, Chief Executive Officer
American Red Cross Central and Western Oklahoma Chapter
What is your Hometown? Where did you grow up?
Edmond and I spent most of my childhood here.
I graduated from Oklahoma State University bachelor’s degree in human environmental sciences with an emphasis on youth and adult services.
Tony is my husband and we have a 10-year-old son named Blake.
What do you do in your downtime?
I love gardening, working in the yard and reading. We moved back to Oklahoma one and a half years ago. After living away for five years, I love spending time with my family here. I have two nephews and we are very involved in their lives. There is nothing like being home.
What is something about you most people don't know?
I can wrestle with the best of them. With a 10-year-old boy, we wrestle all of the time. I can put anyone in a chokehold!
What brought you to your current field?
I’ve been with American Red Cross (ARC) for 16 ½ years. Originally in my early to mid 20s – a friend told me about volunteer coordinator position open at the Central Oklahoma Chapter. I started as volunteer coordinator; worked in development where I served as assistant director; director of health and safety, and then even worked in Human Resources. I went to work for the national office of ARC for five years in Human Resources. We moved to Dallas due to a job transfer for my husband and later transferred to Bloomington, Illinois. This opportunity (to return to OKC and the Central and Western Oklahoma Chapter of Red Cross) came up when we were in Illinois, and we jumped on it to move back home. We are so glad to be home.
What is a typical work day like for you?
It is very diverse – that’s what I love about it. Since we are a disaster relief organization – we get deterred from our every day activities because things creep up like earthquakes. There are a lot of different facets to it. We take care of the community – we get education out to the community. If a disaster has happened to you and you’ve got damage, how can we help? The very end of January 2011, we had a wildfire on Saturday and an ice and snow storm on Tuesday. We were responding to two disasters in a short period of time. With the drought – we are doing day to day activities, and with the heat we started working with the City to be proactive to look at more cooling stations. The community resilience is outstanding. We are responding day to day and making sure we have the resources available not only financial and but also physical resources. From responding to a police standoff to manning a wildfire relief station – our volunteers and our staff are constantly faced by different challenges. I love the diversity of this job.
What is one thing about your organization people might not realize or know?
This is a broad answer but the Red Cross volunteers and staff are constantly watching out for the community. We are always looking around the next corner – about what is coming next. We have wonderful community partners, community education, and response equipment. We have our pulse on so many things. We are always looking out for the community – that night, the next day and the next day. We respond on Christmas night, New Year’s Eve – whenever we are needed. Our services just never close down.
What is the next exciting event coming up for your organization?
March is Red Cross month. Oklahoma will host the next nationwide tornado summit. We are very excited. I don’t think it has ever been here before. We have asked to be an integral part of the summit which will be held March 11, 12 and 13th at the Cox Convention Center. Governor Fallin is keynote speaker. Over the last year, we’ve gone through a lot of a transition. We have done a lot of evaluating of our programs and services for the 47 counties that we are responsible for. We are working to be the very best we can be with our donor dollars. Starting January 1 – we are very excited about what is in store for the Red Cross. We are getting creative and thinking outside the box. We are looking for new partners. We are now working with fire departments and will be including this training in our community education programs. We are looking for new programs we can offer. We are very pumped about this next year.
What are the current challenges your organization is facing and what steps are you taking to address these challenges?
One big challenge is the level of activity which has increased this last year. There has been no down time. Our volunteers get tired. Recruiting new volunteers has been a challenge. Many of our dedicated volunteers have gone back to work due to the economy. Seniors are taking part time jobs who might have previously served as volunteers. Volunteer recruitment is a constant challenge for us because we rely so heavily on our volunteers and we can’t stretch our services as far without them. Taking the time to recruit and find these people is time consuming. While many people volunteer – not everyone wants to go on a fire scene. It takes a very special person to work with someone who has lost everything.
Where do you see your organization five years from now?
I would love to see us really expand our community education program. We have a really great program now but I could see us doing a lot more and being creative with it. We don’t typically do earthquake education. I would love to see us expand education programs for seniors. I would love to see us target youth more. I think there is a real opportunity to get information to our youth more and to plant that volunteer seed. We would like to expand our youth programs. We have wonderful community partners – our community steps up for us. I want to mention how special our volunteers are – our Red Cross leadership, our community volunteers. Working side by side with these people truly makes you want to be a better person. Our staff goes above and beyond the call of duty every day. It amazes me the level of activity they maintain each day. How can you not love your job?