New faces of local Red Cross say mission still strong

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Aug. 11, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.
Updated Aug. 11, 2014 at 10:56 p.m.

The American Red Cross Crossroads Chapter restructured late last year but did not disband.

The nonprofit is still in a quaint, white building on East Red River Street. Now, it's teeming with not only new ideas but also new people.

Executive Director Phillip Polley started in January; Barbara Neville, the disaster program manager, started in February.

Both come from a background of helping others.

Polley used to be a fundraiser for a small, private university in the Fort Worth area and before that spent 11 years in West Africa as a missionary.

That experience carries over into this one, he said.

"Some people say, 'Oh, I can't ask for money,' but as a fundraiser, you're not asking for yourself," Polley, 53, said. "Asking for support for this kind of work is easy for me because it's so important. We save lives. What's a better thing to give to?"

Neville, 30, was with the Peace Corps in the low Atlas Mountains of rural Morocco.

Friday, the Red Cross dispatched some of its 50 active volunteers for two disasters - a house fire in Victoria and a large grass fire in rural Jackson County.

The organization also is beginning a Home Fire Preparedness Campaign on Oct. 11.

At least 90 homes in the Inwood Terrace and Morningside subdivisions in Victoria will be offered a free smoke alarm.

The subdivisions were the most at risk according to a mapping program that evaluated the number of fires and fatalities in the region, Neville said.

Polley also wants to begin training young people to be lifeguards, babysitters and perform CPR.

"Take preparedness seriously. The fact that we haven't had a major disaster in several years here shouldn't cause us to become apathetic because when we least expect it is when it will happen," he said.

Neville added, "There's no magic Red Cross button. It takes an entire community to be prepared, to be resilient."

The Victoria Advocate sat down with the new faces. Here's what they had to say about themselves and their mission:

Have you ever been touched by a disaster?

Neville: Not directly, I haven't. ... I've gotten really close with a lot of the clients who we've gone out on the calls with. All of them are pretty touching to be a part of, and it definitely makes the work worthwhile. My first call had a fatality in it. We went out, and I was a mess. I didn't know what to do, but we got through it. I followed up, and she (a member of the family) would come into the office. I was helping with insurance, and the policies were all lost. I am originally from Austin, so she said I was her "Angel from Austin."

Polley: Another one just recently was a gentleman down the street here. ... He was an elderly gentlemen in his 80s or 90s, and he was extremely neglected. He just couldn't take care of himself. Only by the grace of God was he not killed in that fire. ... We were able to help him, not just with his immediate needs, but we were able to get him into a nursing home. ... That's the beautiful thing. Red Cross is not just about meeting the immediate need, but we're also about making sure that the person gets back to a state of being prior to the disaster.

How do you prepare for a disaster?

Polley: I certainly think that preparing in advance is important. Set aside all of your important documents in plastic or protective bags and have them in a place where you can get to them quickly and take them with you. It's also important to have an emergency kit ready with first-aid supplies as well as food for three with dried foods or things that don't perish in water.

Neville: Information. You need to know ahead of time where you are going, where the evacuation routes are and how to get your family out of the house if there's a fire at the front door. ... You need to have a plan, and the whole family needs to be on the same page.

If you were in a disaster, what is the first thing you would try to save from your house?

Polley: Things can be replaced, but I am a book lover, so there are certain books that I would try to gather. My Bible and certain other books that I've had for a long time and mean a lot to me. ... I also have a sort of keepsake thing, birthday cards and letters my kids have written to me.

Neville: Pictures. It seems like when I'm asking about what the families have lost, they're not talking about their $2,000 couch, they're talking about their pictures.

Who is your role model?

Neville: My mother. She is a very strong woman. She raised me to have no regrets and to try to do the right thing all the time and make the right decisions for yourself and everyone around you.

Polley: I'm a Christian, and Jesus is who I really look to in terms of trying to exemplify someone.



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