by Renee Felton, staff contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region
Every September for nearly 20 years, Americans have reflected on the events of 9/11. We know exactly where we were and what we were doing as the attacks unfolded. We were stunned as thousands of lives were lost. Yet through the devastation, we came together as a country, united in coping, helping and healing.
A massive relief effort ensued as the government, first responders, relief organizations, corporations and more focused on supporting those whose lives were forever changed.
The American Red Cross was there in the immediate aftermath and for years after, undertaking one of its largest humanitarian operations in the organization’s history.
Lives, careers and philanthropic beliefs were directly affected by what unfolded on September 11, and many of those people are still working to make a difference for others based on their experiences nearly two decades ago.
One such person is AT&T’s Veronica Bloodworth, who in her words, was “low on the totem pole,” working as chief of staff for the president of network services in the company’s mobility business in September 2001. Based in Atlanta, she supported her teammates as they worked tirelessly to restore network connectivity in a country that was hurting – a country that needed, now more than ever, the ability to connect with their friends and family at Ground Zero and beyond.
“That’s what inspired me. Watching the network team doing what they do so well, which is respond to disasters. I was in awe of my teammates’ abilities to make and execute decisions,” Veronica explains. “We put people ahead of everything. We were all supporting each other.”
Now, as the senior vice president of technology services and operations, a significant part of Veronica’s job is to support the mission of AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) Team.
“It’s in our DNA to be there for our customers and it’s very similar to the Red Cross. We want to help people. I love the Red Cross mission statement, [to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors]. It strikes a chord. To see what you have done for people impacted by so many different disasters, it’s amazing.”
AT&T, known for its strong philanthropic program, is a longtime supporter of the American Red Cross, last year donating more than $600,000 for disaster relief.
Veronica is a member of the Red Cross North Texas board of directors. She has taken a personal interest in the Red Cross’ blood collection program and has helped forge a relationship in which hundreds of AT&T employees donate blood at drives nationwide.
“The reach of Red Cross is nationwide. Blood drives are held where our employees live, work and play, and they bring everyone together,” she says. “You could be a brand-new employee and sit next to the CEO donating blood. Everyone is coming together for the good of the community.”
While Veronica was in the early years of her career in 2001, Jim Keyes was well-established, having been named president and CEO of 7-Eleven, Inc. the year prior after working for the convenience chain for 15 years.
“All of a sudden, it was my watch. It was the year 2001, I was CEO of 7-Eleven and grateful for the opportunity to lead the company. I went to the office on September 11 anticipating a trip to New York.”
Upon stopping at the office to pick up materials for his trip, he watched in horror alongside the rest of the world as planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a rural field in Pennsylvania.
His trip to New York was canceled.
“When we realized that this was a terrorist act, 7-Eleven stores began to report issues,” he explains. “There was a perception at the time, stoked by popular culture, that 7-Eleven was run by foreigners. Therefore, when our country was attacked, certain people took it in their hands to lash out.”
At the time, the Dallas-based chain had more than 40,000 stores worldwide. Many stores in the U.S. employed a high proportion of first-generation Americans that, Jim says, were working hard for their piece of the American dream.
“We had to find a way to say, ‘yes, we’re first-generation Americans in many cases, but we’re also American. We’re not the enemy.’ We decided there was no better way to do it than to leverage all of the good things we’ve done in the past and we knew we would do in the future. And we wanted to do it with a partner like the American Red Cross.”
Having a strong focus on corporate philanthropy since their founding in 1927, 7-Eleven stores had close relationships with their local Red Cross offices. In the wake of September 11, 7-Eleven partnered nationally with the Red Cross and sold millions of American flag pins and ribbons in every store in the nation, with monies being donated to Red Cross relief efforts.
Since then, Jim and his wife, Margo, as well as 7-Eleven have remained strong partners of the Red Cross.
Last year, 7-Eleven donated more than $420,000 to Red Cross disaster relief efforts.
Jim served on the national board of governors for the full three-term limit and still attends annual meetings of retired board members. Margo is a lifetime member of the Tiffany Circle, supporting disaster relief right here in North Texas and beyond.
“The common theme of Red Cross volunteers all over the world is an incredible amount of heart. It’s palpable. I remember putting on the Red Cross vest for the first time and feeling pride because I was part of a team of ordinary people who do superhuman things.
“The power of the American Red Cross to mobilize the kind of activities they do in support of our communities, that’s exceptional.”
To learn more about and get involved with the Red Cross, please visit www.redcross.org.