New Red Cross boss in town

Melissa Buckley, new executive director of the Walla Walla area’s American Red Cross chapter, displays a blanket used in emergencies.

Melissa Buckley, new executive director of the Walla Walla area’s American Red Cross chapter, displays a blanket used in emergencies. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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Red Cross FYI

The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton in 1881, and in 1898 its presence in Walla Walla was established. Locally as well as nationally, it relies heavily on donations. Melissa Buckley, Red Cross Blue Mountain chapter executive director, said cash donations are more usable and versatile than contributions of items that need to be shipped to a distribution center.

“We don’t always know what the need is going to be,” she said, and cash allows purchasing items and services as needed.

To donate locally, call 509-525-7380 or visit redcross.org/charitable-donations.

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Melissa Buckley stands in the arched entrance of the historic Red Cross Building on the corner of Park and Alder streets in Walla Walla. Behind her are firefighters' lockers used today as storage for the local Red Cross volunteer needs.

Be prepared

Buckley encourages preparedness, you don’t have to prep for the end of the world, but you might want to have extra food, water and necessities in the house so if there’s a storm or the electricity goes out, you don’t have to try to get supplies at the last minute. Have a fire evacuation plan and discuss these things with your children. Have a plan and extra supplies for your pets, as well. A full tank of gas and blankets in the car is also advised.

Melissa Buckley has learned a few things since graduating from Walla Walla High School in 1995.

Like how to manage finances. How to run organizations. How to work with volunteers.

Even how to fit in when the language is unfamiliar, like when she lived in Germany for a year.

“I can ask for a beer really politely,” she said.

Back in Walla Walla, since 2010 she has served on the board of the Blue Mountain Chapter of the American Red Cross. In January she became the disaster and emergency support organization’s executive director.

“When I started thinking about it, it seemed like a really good fit,” she said of her new job. The volunteers and board members are people she likes and admires. The hours are part time, so it dovetails nicely with her other job as director of operations at Buckley Investment Group.

Buckley is the local Red Cross chapter’s only paid staffer. As executive director she does a variety of things, from fundraising, building community awareness, creating and maintaining good relationships with first responders to supporting volunteers.

“I really enjoy getting to know people and determining what I can do to make a difference,” she said.

Buckley was raised in Walla Walla. After graduating from Wa-Hi she attended Walla Walla Community College and, while working at a credit union on a U.S. Air Force Base in Germany, attended the University of Maryland, European Division, studying business and finance.

“I started in banking when I was 18,” said Buckley, who began her career at U.S. Bank as a teller. “Numbers just always made sense to me.”

She moved back to the United States and lived in West Virginia for five years, then returned to Walla Walla in December 2003 and worked at Banner Bank. “I started as a personal banker then I took a one year hiatus and sold real estate, which was always my dream.”

She then returned to Banner and became a branch manager. In 2006, she and John Buckley were married. In 2008 she went to work with her husband at the investment group, which he founded in 2003.

In recent years the Red Cross has undergone extensive restructuring, with many things are now done regionally rather than locally. Buckley draws on her background and connections in the business community in that effort.

“I think I bring energy and a fresh perspective,” she said. She embraces technology, such as using social networking to increase community awareness of the necessary and beneficial things the Red Cross is doing.

At the same time, she said, locally she’s “not wanting to change everything when so much is working so well. I’m starting with a clean slate. It’s fun, everyday is different. It’s interesting.”

Buckley gives much of the credit for the way the chapter operates to its “extremely competent” volunteers. The agency has about 20 volunteers with about 10 working in the office on a regular basis.

“I’m astounded every day with the spirit of these volunteers and their passion,” she said. “They want to help people. They are offering to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush off to help people.”

And that means also sending volunteers to disasters around the nation. Most recently local Red Cross volunteers were sent to help out in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that devastated much of the Northeast coast. Locally, the office most frequently responds to people made homeless by fires.

Each disaster has it’s own set of challenges and circumstances, Buckley said.

“Whether it’s a windstorm, earthquake, house fire or something else, the Red Cross will assess the situation and help as needed,” she said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as covering the victim with a warm blanket. But often times it involves putting them up in a hotel, giving them a pre-loaded card for food, replacement clothing and toiletries, as well as assisting with the many steps of getting them back on their feet.”

Depending on individual skills and capabilities, volunteers can deploy to move supplies, or provide social, medical and emotional assistance. During Sandy relief efforts, for example, Red Cross volunteers with forklift experience were in high demand to handle food, emergency medical and other supplies shipped to disaster areas. Nurses with current licenses are always need, she said.

Buckley has three immediate goals as head of the Blue Mountain chapter agency: educate people about preparedness, increase the visibility of the organization and boost recognition of what volunteers do.

It’s hard for Buckley to withhold her enthusiasm for the latter.

“They are a very special group of people doing special things,” she said.

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