20 years of dedication

A blood drive list is not something that you would expect to find in a woman's purse. But if it's Rebecca Melton's purse, that folded list will be with her.

Melton, executive director of the York County chapter of the American Red Cross, often pulls out the list for potential donors who stop her in the grocery store or pharmacy.

She doesn't mind sharing the information when she's out with her 9-year-old son, Bryan.

"If they are interested in knowing something about the Red Cross and how they can help, I want to make sure I respond," Melton said. "I believe in the mission and the people that we are helping and how we can help them. The reward is that the community needs the Red Cross. We need to be there to be the best that we can be."

The hard work and determination of Melton, 43, recently prompted Red Cross leaders, staff and volunteers to recognize her 20 years of dedicated service to the local chapter. A special glass vase was presented to her at the Red Cross volunteer recognition dinner last month -- an experience she'll never forget.

"I choked up," she recalled. "That was the only time I didn't have a response. I couldn't say anything."

Tears of joy and gratitude well up in her eyes when she thinks about the opportunity to lead the local Red Cross agency, which landed at her feet 20 years ago.

Amelia Lathan, a long-time volunteer, was there when Melton came to the agency in 1987 as an intern, during Melton's senior year at Winthrop University.

Melton became executive director in 1988 at the age of 24. Back then Melton was known as "Little Becca" and was "everyone's adopted daughter," Lathan recalls.

Lathan has watched Melton evolve in her role.

"She's grown with the job because the chapter's grown," Lathan said.

And Melton has managed to keep it all together, hiring good people to help, Lathan said.

"She makes people feel at ease in her business, and that's very important," Lathan said. "She just has a knack for getting along with everybody."

Melton has been part of several key events in the chapter's history, including the merger of the Chester and York county Red Cross chapters about three years ago. She also has been involved in collaborations and partnerships with other area agencies on projects, such as combating homelessness.

The local Red Cross and Melton both have worn several hats over the years. Melton insists each situation has been something new.

"The job hasn't been the same," said Melton, who referred to the growing needs of the community as the contributing factor. "It has changed from year to year."

Under her leadership, the chapter has assisted with local and national disasters, including the June 2006 Great Falls mill fire that led to the evacuation of about 500 families. It was by far the largest local disaster the chapter ever handled, Melton said.

National disasters in which the local chapter was instrumental included raising money to assist after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an effort which generated more than $1 million from York and Chester county residents, and helping displaced families from the Gulf Coast area in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

But one disaster stands out for York County Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell, who was on the Red Cross board when Melton became executive director.

Howell remembers when Melton helped seniors find shelter after their nursing home was damaged by fire. He said Melton deviated from state Red Cross policies, which advised against helping people who are institutionalized, and chose to help the fire victims.

"If no one is doing the job, Rebecca steps in to make sure that they are taking care of the situation," Howell said. "She found a way to help them (seniors) and provide them with a place to stay. It's the right thing to do. We stood behind her and with her."

When Melton looks back at her career, there are no regrets.

"A lot of work that we do, we are helping people in an emergency situation," Melton said. "We are trying to save a life. Everything that we are is stressful. But being able to give people the knowledge and the service to deal with the emergency overrides any stress."

Following is an overview of services the York and Chester county chapters of the American Red Cross recorded from June 30, 2006, to July 1, 2007:

n More than 500 volunteers gave 34,600 hours.

n A total of 7,900 blood donations were made.

n More than 9,000 people participated in life-saving skills classes such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid.

n Ninety families in York and Chester counties were assisted after their home was destroyed by fire.

n More than 275 services were provided to military families, including emergency messages from a service member.

n Almost $1 million was recently generated from donations, services and the United Way for its operating budget.