New Red Cross director looks to rebuild local chapter

Al Breland compares the task before him to climbing a mountain. Within 90 days, Breland hopes to reach two peaks of accomplishment.

Breland was named the interim director of the Greater Edisto chapter of the American Red Cross Jan. 20. The chapter's service area includes Allendale, Barnwell and Orangeburg counties.

Breland fills the vacancy left by past director, Cindy Smith, who was dismissed Oct. 16, 2008.

Smith said she was wrongly dismissed and now has a $3 million lawsuit filed against Red Cross because of her dismissal.

When contacted, Smith referred most questions to her Columbia attorney, J. Lewis Cromer.

"We have filed lawsuit against the Red Cross and the person who dismissed her," said Cromer.

"She had a contract with the Red Cross," he said. "We are asking a jury to determine her damages."

"She is not suing the Red Cross chapter but the (national) Red Cross. She was supported by her board," Cromer said.

Smith said a number of her board members resigned after she was dismissed.

Cromer has filed the complaint for the lawsuit, which has not gone to trial yet, he said.

Regardless, the Greater Edisto chapter is in the process of reconstituting itself - a task Breland is shouldering.

Two of the mountain peaks Breland must scale are rebuilding the chapter's board and improving its financial development, he said.

There are now only five members on the Greater Edisto chapter board of directors. The board normally has 17. Nine members make a majority, Breland said.

"I would like to have a 20-person board - especially people from Barnwell. I know time and distance are issues but I would like to rotate the meetings around," he said.

Once a majority of the board is in place, the board will have the task of hiring a permanent director, which means Breland might either be working his way out of a job or into a permanent position, he said.

Breland said he would like to continue in the role he is now playing.

Previously, Breland had been a board member, having come onto the body in August 2008, he said.

Breland's second mountain peak is financial.

The chapter was running in the red and the national office of the Red Cross had to forward the chapter $80,000 to keep it running. The chapter needs about $15,000 a month to break even and pay its bills, Breland said.

Besides reconstituting a budget and a board, Breland sees another task as raising the awareness of the Red Cross and its resources within the chapter's service area, he said.

Breland has been making the rounds of civic groups speaking on "10 reasons why you need to have a Red Cross chapter in your area," he said. "I'd be happy to speak to any group."

"My goals is to spawn community service, community efforts and goodwill," Breland said.

Breland previously worked as the human resources director for Cox lumber products in Orangeburg until he was laid off Jan. 1, he said.

However, Breland has disaster and emergency preparedness skills, having been a CPR instructor and Community Emergency Response Team instructor. Breland also worked for the Department of Health and Environmental Control as a member of an emergency planning team that handled a five-county area, he said.

Breland can be reached at the office: (803) 534-5735, cell: (803) 375-6992 or e-mail at brelanda@usa.redcross.org.