By Gordon Williams
It takes a wide range of skills for the Red Cross to carry out its mission of aiding disaster victims — from disaster responders to shelter workers to mental health professionals. But Ryan Rodin brings a very different set of skills to his job with the Greater Inland Northwest Red Cross chapter. His specialty is building teams and creating networks, He is more often found in meeting rooms and corporate offices than at disaster scenes.
Since mid-April, Rodin has been executive director of the chapter based in Spokane, Washington. As executive director, his mandate runs from making the Red Cross a visible, vital presence throughout northeast Washington to helping raise the money the organization needs to carry out its mission.
The challenges Rodin faces are considerable. There are more than one million people living in the chapter area, and Spokane, with over 200,000 residents, is the state’s second largest city. There is a satellite chapter office in Wenatchee which has 32,000 residents.
The chapter spans 15 counties in northeast Washington and northern Idaho. That makes the chapter the largest in land area of any chapter in the Northwest Region. “We are a little bigger than the whole state of South Carolina,” Rodin says. Much of that area is sparsely settled. So, one major challenge for Rodin is “building and maintaining a Red Cross presence in the outlying communities.”
Rodin tries to attend community meetings throughout the region. He is also actively recruiting community volunteer leaders — residents who will represent the Red Cross in their towns. “I have three good ones signed up, but I would like to have 12 to 15 more,” he says.
It is clear why the Red Cross needs a strong local presence throughout the chapter: many of the worst wildfires in recent years have been within this territory, Rodin says. The Carlton Complex fire in 2014 — the worst in Washington history — was substantially within the boundaries of the chapter. “It has been a very quiet wildfire season so far,” he says. “But if we have fires like the ones of three and four years ago, it will be all-consuming.”
Service to the Armed Forces is a major Red Cross function, and that is certainly true for Rodin’s chapter. Fairchild Air Force Base is only a few miles from Spokane. The base is home to the 141st Air Refueling Wing of the Washington Air National Guard. More Boeing KC-l35 Stratotankers are due to arrive at the base this fall. “That will make this the largest air refueling base in the Air Force,” Rodin says.
Ties between the Red Cross and Air Force base have always been close. The commander of the base medical group traditionally has an honorary seat on the Red Cross board, Rodin explains. Rodin himself has visited the base many times — in his role at the Red Cross and in a previous job on the staff of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA5).
What Rodin wants next is an expanded Red Cross presence on the air base. The chapter recently signed a memorandum of understanding that gives the Red Cross greater access. The Red Cross has its own full-time office on Joint Base Lewis McChord, the joint Army/Air Force base near Tacoma. Rodin can envision something similar at Fairchild.
While Rodin is still new on his job, he has been a member of the chapter board since June 2014. You could say he has been training for his current job for a good many years.
He was born in Tacoma but went to college at Whitworth University in Spokane. His major was political science, and his career goal was a leadership position in a non-profit entity. “I have lived in Spokane half my life,” he says. Along the way he has built up strong relationships with many of the individuals and organizations he meets as executive director.
Representative Rogers is one of the most visible Republican women in Congress. Being on her staff gave Rodin very strong local contacts. Before taking his present position, Rodin worked for Greater Spokane, Inc.— a local business development organization. His role at Greater Spokane was teaching small businesses how to bid for government contracts.
If a major wildfire breaks out and the Red Cross is called to the scene, Rodin expects to be there as part of the disaster response. Where Rodin feels he is needed most, though, is traveling throughout his chapter, making sure the Red Cross is seen as a vital, involved member of the community.
His board helps a lot, representing every corner of regional life. Board members have their own networks, and Rodin says he makes the most of them. He is out at meetings at least a night or two every week, and travels frequently out and around his chapter visiting as many of the rural communities as he can.
In the end, what every Red Cross chapter relies on most is the vigor and commitment of its volunteers. There Rodin counts himself fortunate. “We have volunteers who put in 15 to 20 hours every week and some of them have been volunteering for decades,” he says. “Our volunteer team is amazing.”