Story by Mary VanderGoot, Restoring Family Links Mentor, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Restoring Family Links is one of the oldest services of the Red Cross. It was born on the battlefield. Preventing and alleviating suffering has inspired the development of what today is a remarkable array of services carried out by volunteers and staff under the Red Cross banner. The familiar Red Cross on a white background is a symbol of hope recognized around the world. This is the part of the story we all know.
What comes as a surprise for some of us working in International Services is the fact that the mission of reconnecting families for those who have lost precious connections during war, natural disaster, and migration is one of the least known services of the American Red Cross today.
As part of our Outreach Program in West Michigan we determined that a first step would be to survey how easy (or difficult) it is for a client seeking services to make a contact. We defined a contact as a connection to either someone who could set up an appointment for a client, or at a minimum someone who would know enough about the Restoring Family Links program to take a phone number and promise a call back.
Our Outreach Team collected phone numbers of all twenty-five Red Cross offices in the Michigan region. We tossed out guesses about the percentage of calls that would result in a positive contact, hoping for 50% success.
We are sharing our results because we want to challenge our colleagues across the country to survey their own chapters and regions. Our results will tell you why. This is how our calls were answered.
- 11 had a recorded list of services but no International or Restoring Family Links services were mentioned.
- 6 were answered in person but the person on the phone apologized and tried to help us find services through other agencies or charities.
- 5 were disconnected phones with no answer
- 1 had a recorded menu option to an extension with a recorded message giving the personal phones numbers of persons no longer with the American Red Cross.
That is the bad news. The good news is that there was one phone number out of twenty-five that was answered by a person who knew about the program and was willing to take a number for a call back.
There is another part to the good news. The people who answered the phones in American Red Cross chapter offices were the kindest, most helpful, and most courteous people one could ever hope to reach at an agency or organization phone number. Even though they did not know about Restoring Family Links, they tried to redirect the call to 2ll, other charities, and even said to call back again if we did not find the help we needed. They are our volunteers. They are people with heart. If they do not know about Restoring Family Links, then we need to tell them.
So here’s our challenge: Call or write your local Red Cross chapter and see if they know about the Restoring Family Links program. If they don't - let them know. Point them in the direction of redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies or RestoringFamilyLinksBlog.com. Help us be a pioneer of the program!