When Pam Daigle held out for more flexible hours twenty years ago, she couldn’t know that she was beginning a career track that would lead to the top job at the Charlotte Red Cross. Today, she is CEO of the American Red Cross Greater Carolinas Chapter, with 52 staff reporting to her, and 25 times that in volunteers.
It was one of those 180 degree turns that happen in life – the kind that changes your career direction completely. It started simply.
Daigle, originally from Chicago, had been visiting friends in coastal Maine. She liked it so much, she stayed for college and graduate school, graduating with honors from both. Her special area of interest was art – everything from pottery to sculpture. “I always knew how to put colors together,” she says with a smile.
Daigle had the usual office jobs after college, and learned that she had a talent for fundraising consulting. But marriage and having a child changed her focus. “I simply needed regular hours to be a better mother to my son,” says Daigle, who didn’t want to miss her son’s growing up.
Family Needs Were Her Inspiration
When the Red Cross in Bangor, Maine, offered her manager’s job hours in 1985, Daigle jumped at the opportunity. At the time, the Pine Tree Chapter in Bangor had a budget of $65,000, and only one full-time and one part-time person working there.
In just eight years as chapter manager, Daigle grew the budget to $1.8 million. Her inspiration: To address an area with pressing needs, an area near and dear to her heart: serving families and children. It was one the Red Cross hadn’t tackled before.
“We took the Red Cross babysitting program, and expanded it to care for special needs children,” she says. “We provided training for respite care providers, and paid them for caring for special needs kids. The purpose was so that families could have a break, and get away. It was a model program in the country at the time.”
Daigle was so successful, that by the time she left the Bangor office in 2000, she was serving as coordinating chapter manager for the American Red Cross throughout Maine, providing leadership and coordination to other chapters and serving as vice chair of the State Service Council.
During that time, Daigle also developed an interest in International Red Cross services and became a certified International Humanitarian Law instructor in 1993. In 1996, she was asked to be a part of the American Red Cross Quick Response Team for major national disasters and led fund-raising efforts for national disasters in California, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Maine and Puerto Rico.
Daigle’s abilities hadn’t gone unnoticed. The Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Red Cross hired her as their chief operating officer, to oversee chapter services, budgeting, finance and audits, the chapter’s strategic planning and diversity initiatives.
As the Cleveland chapter’s COO, she visited Charlotte in 2001 for a Red Cross National Convention. She already knew she liked the area in general; her parents had retired to Hendersonville, and she visited them 3 to 4 times a year. “I loved North Carolina from the first time I saw it,” she says. So when the Charlotte chapter recruited her in 2004, it was easy to say “yes.”
“Pam brings an in-depth understanding of both the humanitarian mission and the operations of the Red Cross and of the critical role a chapter plays in the life of a community,” says Keith Butler, chair, Greater Charlotte Chapter board of directors. “She is a proven leader dedicated to exceptional service delivery, exemplary stewardship and visionary growth.”
Serving Traditional Needs
From the initial formation of the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross in 1917, the organization has steadily grown in response to community needs. Constantly building their disaster response capacity, it has been thoroughly tested. Whether providing shelter to thousands during ice storms or lending a shoulder to cry on to those who lost loved ones in the crash of US Airways flight 5481, the Red Cross has been there making an impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals in the community. The Red Cross is also there for thousands of local military personnel and their families as local reserve units are deployed overseas, helping service men and women stay connected with loved ones and providing quality of life items to troops overseas. The organization has always been focused on making the community a safer place to live, providing disaster preparedness information and collecting blood for area hospitals.
The Red Cross Greater Carolinas Chapter estimates that it has touched the lives of 1 in 4 people in Mecklenburg and Iredell Counties, providing services to nearly 224,950 individuals to date.
Daigle says most people think of disasters in terms of hurricanes and tsunamis. “But more often, a disaster is a fire that destroys a home or a stream that overflows and floods a neighborhood,” she says. The Greater Carolinas Chapter estimates that it responds to emergency situations more than three times a week. Within two hours of notification from the fire department, Red Cross volunteers can be on site to provide, food, clothing, a safe place to sleep and other necessities for individuals and families. A fairly typical situation is like Megan’s.
One Sunday in April, Megan stepped away from her stove for a minute to attend to one of her three children. She returned to find her kitchen engulfed in flames. In the aftermath, Red Cross volunteers worked with her to provide a hotel stay, meals, and other practical necessities including financial help in finding a new place to stay.
Expanding Facilities to Serve New Needs
For the Greater Carolinas Chapter, growth has happened on a grand scale, though Daigle is quick to point out that the new Education and Disaster Operations Center, just dedicated in June, was already planned when she got here.
It was in the aftermath of the events on 9-11 that the Red Cross began to focus on how well prepared they were to serve the community during a large-scale disaster. And partly in response, they committed to building a new 6,000-square-foot operations facility featuring upgraded communication capabilities along with a spacious disaster staging area. It more than doubled the chapter’s existing space for operations and provides a venue where Red Cross volunteers can respond to disasters more efficiently. Daigle remarks, “The new disaster operations center is a tremendous value to the Greater Carolinas Chapter as well as Mecklenburg County and Iredell County.”
The Education and Disaster Operations Center is a single-story facility is next door to the Red Cross office building and blood collection center in the 2400 block of Park Road. It provides 4,000 square feet of space for functions such as Disaster Services and Armed Forces Emergency Services, as well as serving as a training area for disaster preparedness and community education including CPR, first aid, babysitting and more. It also includes 2,000 square feet of warehouse space accessible to tractor-trailer trucks that can ship relief supplies to any area facing an emergency.
The center has flexible partitions which allow for creating larger or smaller work spaces, as needed. Communication capabilities include satellite telephones, built-in extra lines for computers and telephones, a media room with visual access to the Disaster Command Room and feeds for live television broadcasts, 24-hour access to the National Weather Center, and emergency communications to area county emergency operations centers.
“This new facility promises to make our efforts much more effective,” Daigle adds. “Only a few of the 1,000-plus chapters nationwide have facilities like this.”
Reaching Across the Globe
One of the Red Cross’ original campaigners, Clara Barton, would be no doubt impressed at how far the reach of the organization has spread from the Civil War battlefield. Barton’s original goal in creating the American Red Cross was to provide the critical link between servicemen and their families, although she subsequently expanded the concept to include assistance in any great national disaster.
The Red Cross received its first congressional charter in 1900 and a second in 1905. This charter – which remains in effect today – sets forth the purposes of the organization that include giving relief to and serving as a medium of communication between members of the American armed forces and their families and providing national and international disaster relief and mitigation.
The Greater Carolinas Chapter’s new center serves as an excellent steward of that mission. It goes beyond local disaster relief and training, reaching out across the globe.
With the new center as its hub – and the magic of instant messaging – the Greater Carolinas Chapter can help families of service men and women stay in touch with their loved ones around the world.
Last year, prior to the completion of the new center, the Greater Carolinas Chapter made this vital connection 1,115 times and gave family members the opportunity to send video e-mails to their service men and women via Operation Video Connect. During the holidays, the chapter, with the help of local restaurants, held a toy drive to give holiday gifts to children whose mothers and fathers were serving in Iraq. Daigle asks us to imagine the possibilities now that the new center is completed.
CEO in Charge
Recently, on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a cabbie questioned Daigle about being a CEO. It seemed to him that everyone was a CEO these days, and it didn’t impress him much that Daigle is the person in charge. He had a hazy idea that CEO status must be dependent on the number of people one managed.
He asked, in a doubting kind of way, how many employees Daigle had. Greatly amused, she asked, “How many employees do you think you need to be a CEO?”
He said, “Oh I don’t know – thousands, maybe.” She told him, “I have about 50-some employees…”
He made one of those pffft scoffing sounds. “…and about 1,200 volunteers,” she added.
“Oh,” he said, somewhat mollified, “you’re getting close then.”