by David Warren, American Red Cross volunteer contributor
A month into his tenure as CEO of the North Texas Region of the American Red Cross, Keith Rhodes is ready to a tell a story, and he hopes to repeat it until he’s hoarse.
He’s got some rich material to work with. It’s the tale of Red Cross operations, played out for decades in communities large and small as the agency has extended a hand to get them back on their feet following a natural disaster or other dire event.
But providing relief to thousands of people at a time is expensive, and so is maintaining a level of readiness that allows the Red Cross to nimbly and quickly respond to a disaster.
So Rhodes will sit down with business leaders in Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond, meet with corporate standard-bearers and glad-hand decision-makers to build the financial support needed to allow the Red Cross in Texas to expand its imprint.
“You have so many different opportunities to tell your story and to intrigue the community,” Rhodes said, “whereas other nonprofits perhaps don’t have such a broad story to share.”
Rhodes’ personal story is pretty rich, too.
The 48-year-old grew up in rural Alaska, the son of the first African-American state trooper there. His father saw the importance of reaching out to families, knocking down barriers and making a connection, particularly with kids heading more often to court than school, Rhodes said.
“It was his philosophy that if you can get to them early and get them to think differently then it would make his job as a state trooper easier,” Rhodes said.
The philosophy would serve Rhodes well for more than two decades as he worked closely with abused and neglected children from Louisiana to California and then Texas.
He was most recently president of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, based in Dallas, and held other leadership positions with the organization’s national headquarters. He also served in California as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Orange County. He led operations at Boys Town California and was previously head of the Methodist Home for Children in New Orleans.
Rhodes, a graduate of Grambling State University, said to understand why a child may have a troubled history, one needs to look no further than the adults in that child’s life.
“We really don’t have a juvenile delinquency problem in our country, we have something of a juvenile parent problem,” he said. “We have children who are being raised in ways that are not appropriate.”
Rhodes said over the years he’s benefited from mentors who taught him how to operate a nonprofit, particularly when it came to developing the acumen to stabilize then grow an agency’s mission when funding is lean.
“I think I’ve been preparing for 25 years to come to an organization (like the Red Cross) with such a strong brand and footprint,” said Rhodes, who lives in North Richland Hills with his wife Katina and four children.
He has a laundry list of goals to pursue but near the top is raising more financial support and making sure his office does a better job of telling the Red Cross story to the broader community.
Also critical is not just recruiting more volunteers, but also taking advantage of the experience and professional background those volunteers have.
“I’m amazed and blown away by the level of talent we have in our volunteers,” he said.