Red Cross loses ‘Outstanding ambassador’

LIHUE — Good news, they say, travels fast.

Even if that good news is tinged with a bit of sadness, it still scoots quickly.

“Once you give notice, word travels,” said Keri Russell, Kauai county director of the American Red Cross, who’s phone was ringing off the hook Monday after she gave notice she’ll be leaving her post after two years. “Everyone keeps calling.”

Russell has accepted a position at another nonprofit on the island she can’t yet divulge. But her last day at Red Cross will be Friday. She said she accepted the offer because it was the best decision for her and her family.

“There have been a lot of highlights,” the wife and mother of two said of her time as director that began in September 2012. “Recruiting the volunteers has been a big highlight over the years.”

Under her guidance, the emergency preparedness and disaster relief nonprofit has bolstered its helpers from 25 to 130 on Kauai. Those increased numbers helped the local chapter deploy teams to the Big Island to aid during Tropical Storm Iselle as well as to monitor the lava flow situation. Another high point was working with partnering agencies such as the Kauai Visitors Bureau and the Kauai police and fire departments.

“We just have great, great, advisory councilmembers,” she said of the advisory group comprised of those agencies with which the American Red Cross works.

While news of her departure traveled quickly, it wasn’t music to everyone’s ears.

“Keri has been an outstanding ambassador for the Red Cross on Kauai, giving generously of her time and talents to ensure that volunteers get recruited, events get organized, money gets raised and services get provided,” advisory councilmember Jim Kelly wrote. “I’m personally very sorry to see her go because I really enjoyed working with her and appreciated her enthusiasm for fulfilling the Red Cross mission.”

True to form, Russell, who worked for the nonprofit Goodwill Industries of Hawaii before the Red Cross, is spending her last week working with 30 new volunteers the Red Cross signed up after a disaster training program this weekend.

“There’s something about the energy of new volunteers,” she said.

Anything she won’t miss about the job?

Well, Russell said, she won’t be on call 24/7 at her new position, which is required in emergency response that also assists families after fires damage homes. But the highlights far outweigh the stress.

“I learned so much there,” she said.

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