Isom retires from Red Cross after 26 years

Allen WorrellEditor

January 7, 2013

The Woods River Chapter of the American Red Cross will never be the same. That’s because Dec. 31, 2012 was the last day for Executive Director Joan Isom, who has retired to spend more time with her family after 26 years with the organization.

After joining the American Red Cross as an instructor in 1986, Isom became Executive Director of the Woods River Chapter three years later as a volunteer. The Chapter was able to hire her in a paid position on April 1, 2004, and she had been the leader of Red Cross in Galax and the surrounding area since that time, said Lee Clark, CEO of the American Red Cross, Virginia Mountain Region.

“For the people she serves, Joan is the Red Cross. She lives out our mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies,” Clark said. “She has done this in very tangible ways by mobilizing the tremendous power of dedicated volunteers. She has built a solid following of passionate volunteers who ensure that the Red Cross is strong in Woods River. She has invited donors to give generously to support our work. Because of Joan’s efforts, the people of Woods River support the Red Cross with their time, talent and treasure because they know they can depend on Red Cross to be there when the community needs us most.”

Entering into retirement, Isom will spend more time with her husband Nick and her children and grandchildren.

“But we know that Joan will once again join the volunteer ranks of Red Cross and continue to do her part to make sure the Red Cross is always there in times of need,” Clark said. “We are so grateful for Joan and her entire family.”

Isom said she’s been through a lot of changes with Red Cross since volunteering her services 26 years ago. The biggest, she said, has been seeing the local chapter change from a standalone unit to joining in with one Red Cross that works the entire region. Now everybody coordinates together, she said, and everybody receives consistent services all over. People locally that request help get the same attention as someone in a large city, Isom said.

“The biggest thing is it has been very rewarding being able to help people,” Isom said.

The American Red Cross is currently interviewing applicants for Isom’s position. The Woods River Chapter has been located on Bee Line Drive in Galax since 2005. As a whole, Isom said Red Cross does service to the armed forces, for disasters, individual fires in communities that occur frequently, to the large disasters such as Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Red Cross is there to help the victims, for both the short term and long term, Isom said. Red Cross also does health and safety classes and performs international services.

During her 26 years, some of the biggest events her chapter has responded to have been the major fire on Lowgap Mountain in 2000, Hurricane Katrina, and the tornados in Pulaski and Glade Spring in 2011. But other events, such as the Briarleigh Court apartment fire in 2010 in Hillsville that affected so many seniors have really hit close to home.

“That humbled me because those people were so appreciative of everything and so calm, and they were just exceptional to work with. Of course when you have families, we had one that had six children that lost everything they had. When you go out to those single family fires in the middle of the night and it’s cold and they are emotionally upset or maybe have physical results like losing a family member or being burned themselves, sometimes just giving them a hug and telling them you are there for them or a warm blanket or arrangements to get them into a motel, that is as rewarding as the big things. If you’ve lost everything you’ve got, it doesn’t have to be a Katrina or a Sandy. It’s yours and you have lost it and it’s gone, and the emotional frustration and hurt is just as much.”

Currently, the Woods River Chapter of the American Red Cross has 47 disaster-trained volunteers and about 20 additional volunteers that help with fundraisers and things of that nature.

“We need volunteers desperately. There is a job for everybody,” Isom said. “Anyone interested is encouraged to contact the local chapter here. I also want to thank the people that have supported me over these 26 years because I would never have been able to do the job I have done or grow the chapter the way I have done without their support.”