Letters for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

• Red Cross, reinstate Alfred Darling

• Confused, sad and angry

Red Cross, reinstate Alfred Darling

On Friday, Oct. 24, near the end of official hurricane season, the people of Kaua‘i were hit with a potential disaster of epic proportions, worse than any storm in Kaua‘i’s history; the callous dismissal of Alfred Darling, director of the Red Cross Kauai Branch, by Red Cross Hawaii State Chapter officials. Older Kauai Red Cross volunteers have said that this has happened before on Maui and the Big Island.

The vast majority of Kauai Red Cross volunteers were astounded by this arbitrary and capricious action by faceless officials from O‘ahu. Not one volunteer or any of the Kauai Red Cross Advisory Council members were even asked their opinion of the quality of the work Alfred Darling has done for the Red Cross here on Kaua‘i.

Alfred Darling is well respected in the Kaua‘i community as a dedicated advocate for training and preparedness. In our opinion a vast majority of Kaua‘i’s people believe him to have performed extremely well as our Kauai County Director of the Red Cross for many years. Mr. Darling has dedicated his life to bettering the safety of the people of Kaua‘i in a myriad of ways. Alfred has often gone above and beyond the call, with little or no support from the state Red Cross chapter leadership, responded to disasters, trained volunteers, held health and safety classes, worked with county, state and federal officials as well as many public and private organizations and businesses in VOAD, (Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster), all to assure Kaua‘i’s ability to respond to any and all disasters that may befall us in the future. Alfred Darling is also a single parent fighting to raise his children while performing admirably in a high pressure job with a great many demands.

This past week a great many Red Cross volunteers have tried to make sense of Alfred Darling’s dismissal, our only conclusion is that the Hawaii Chapter of the Red Cross is out of control, out of touch with the realities here on Kaua‘i and unable to effectively manage their own workforce. Many wonder that if a hard working, dedicated man such as Alfred Darling can be fired after more than nine years as Kauai Branch Director without reasonable cause by the Red Cross, how is the Red Cross able to manage its many disaster-related mandates?

The firing of a man who has worked tirelessly for the Kauai Branch of the Red Cross for nearly a decade shows a callous disregard for the safety of the people of Kaua‘i. It is obvious that the best interests of the people of Kaua‘i were not paramount in the decision to fire Mr. Darling. Today, any house fire had better be on a Thursday, or the Red Cross may be unable to respond as our local office is now open only one day a week. Volunteer disaster preparedness instructors who have been planning classes for the public for months now have their plans thrown into limbo as our office support is now basically gone. Volunteers who have the experience, training and willingness to respond are down to a very small handful after this action.

Already a large contingent of Disaster Services volunteers (17), have signed petitions and letters demanding Alfred Darling’s reinstatement, and failing that, have decided to have no further involvement with the Red Cross in Hawai‘i. While we wholeheartedly agree Alfred Darling should be immediately reinstated, I humbly ask those who are threatening the state chapter with suspending their volunteer service, to also reconsider what they are doing. Those who volunteer for the Red Cross here on Kaua‘i do so out of an abiding desire to help the people of Kauai respond better to the disasters of the future. While the initial invitation to join may have come from Alfred Darling, in the end, it’s our invaluable service to the Kaua‘i community that makes our efforts worthwhile. I have spoken repeatedly with Alfred, and he has made it clear, that despite this effrontery to him personally, he does not wish others to end their relationship with the Red Cross over this incident. This is just another indication of what kind of a man Alfred Darling is that the powers that be in Honolulu have decided to rid themselves of.

For many years there has been a prevalent idea here on Kaua‘i that those on O‘ahu don’t really care about Kaua‘i and we are treated with a callous disregard for our communities. This action seems to underscore that idea. Alfred Darling has spent years working with every community on all levels here on Kaua‘i and has built a level of trust and cooperation that will be impossible for any outsider to obtain without years of community involvement and a vast store of Kaua‘i specific personal contacts.

It is the considered opinion of the vast majority of Kauai Red Cross volunteers that the Hawaii State Chapter of the Red Cross should immediately review the decision to terminate Alfred Darling and rectify this situation by returning him to his job with all haste. This decision, if allowed to stand as it is today, will negatively impact the Red Cross on Kaua‘i for years to come. Many current volunteers are leaving and many are now more likely to simply refuse to help when requested. Donors will feel that their money will not be well spent supporting an organization that throws itself into chaos and appears so inequitable toward our Kaua‘i community.

In a phone conversation, Ms. Maria Lutz, the Director of Disaster Services for the Red Cross Hawaii State Chapter has told us that she expected a small amount of protest over this that would result in a small loss of volunteers who were “wedded” to Alfred, and that they would arrange a meeting in a month or so to try and make things right (pono) with the volunteers here on Kaua‘i. Frankly, 17 volunteers have already left over this matter and that is a number that is neither “small” nor insignificant to the people of Kaua‘i and our disaster preparedness in the near term. In addition, waiting a month to try and refocus the volunteers here on Kaua‘i is too little, and way too late.

Perhaps if a widely respected and admirable man such as Alfred Darling cannot live up to your expectations in his job, perhaps you should refocus the job description to something more meaningful and achievable. Do not let your hubris lead you down the road to ruin, and take the Red Cross on Kaua‘i, and in Hawai‘i, with you for the ride.

• Alfred Sarmento and Darline Rita-Sarmento, Volunteers

Kauai County community disaster preparedness instructors, Red Cross

Confused, sad and angry

I am a father raising two sons who worries about the recent comments someone made to me concerning the loss of Moana Benzon-aki. Not only did they think of her as a friend, but they also thought of her as a sister they never had. They loved her and don’t understand why she made a choice that forever ended their earthly relationship. Since we all care and love our children, my heart aches for my sons. Since I still have my children with me, my heart aches even more for the family that I’ve been a part of for the past two years. I see so much sad and confused hearts in them all. What makes me angry is I’m not a counselor and I have sons who need counseling. I asked if he spoke to his counselor at school and his reply was this: “My counselor is never there and doesn’t care.”

With such a tragedy in his life, I would think the counselor that he desperately needs would approach him and be there when any student needs to talk. There’ve been two more tragedies since Moana’s passing. One was an attempt and one was successful in ending their life. Both young, in school, and both needing help like Moana. Three young beautiful lives have been lost to suicide in October alone on this so-called Garden Island. I pray for those families and feel their pain. Kaua‘i children need help; it’s our responsibility to be there.

• Jack Caneda, Kapa‘a

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