A House Becomes A Home

New Red Cross Office Became Operation Center After Floods
Our house became a home within weeks as we hosted volunteers from throughout our region and the country who mobilized to help the nearly 2,500 families who were affected by the floods.

Photo: Gail DeNicola (right), Vice President, Northeast Division of the American Red Cross, addresses volunteers, donors and special guests at the American Red Cross of Central New York Open House Aug. 8 in Syracuse. Rosie Taravella, CEO of the Central New York Region, listens as Gail tells the crowd how impressed she is with the new office.

It didn’t take long for the Central New York Chapter of the American Red Cross to baptize its new office at 344 W. Genesee St., Syracuse.

About three weeks after the chapter moved from its old office at 220 Herald Place, Syracuse, the Central New York Chapter became the operation center for the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts in the initial days after the flooding that devastated parts of Madison, Oneida, Herkimer and Montgomery counties.

About 200 staff members and volunteers worked out of the Central New York Chapter from June 28 through July 4, when the operation center moved to Utica to be closer to the flood zones.

“A house doesn’t become a home until the family celebrates a special moment such as a birthday or holiday,” said Rosie Taravella, Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross Central New York Region and head of the Central New York Chapter. “In our case, our house became a home within weeks as we hosted volunteers from throughout our region and the country who mobilized to help the nearly 2,500 families who were affected by the floods.”

To celebrate its new home, the Central New York Chapter hosted an Open House Aug. 8 for the general public, Red Cross volunteers, board members, donors, government officials and other special guests. Throughout the day and night, more than 100 people toured the office and met the volunteers and staff members who provide Red Cross services throughout the chapter’s five counties: Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison and Oswego.

Among the guests were New York State Sen. John DeFrancisco, YNN News Director Ron Lombard, Chuckie and Alex Holstein from FOCUS Greater Syracuse, and Syracuse New Times Publisher Bill Brod.

Special guest speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Paul Driscoll, Commissioner, City of Syracuse Division of Neighborhood Development and Division of Business Development; Kevin Wisely, Onondaga County Commissioner of Emergency Management (and an American Red Cross of Central New York board member); Gail DeNicola, Vice President, Northeast Division of the American Red Cross; and Jane Amico, Vice President of Chamber Services at CenterState CEO.

While the amount of space at the new and old offices is about the same (12,000 square feet), the new office is more functional because there’s more room for meetings and health and safety classes. There’s also more space for the volunteers who respond to house fires and other disasters, train for disasters, hold meetings, and work with clients who need assistance after a disaster.

That functionality came in handy during the flood disaster operation. The large training room was used as the hub for leadership making key decisions about sheltering, support services, and bulk distribution of food and supplies; smaller conference rooms were used for meetings and training; and the large gallery near the entrance was used to process “spontaneous” volunteers who wanted to help with the relief efforts.

In addition to serving the Central New York Chapter, the new office is also the hub of the American Red Cross Central New York Region, which covers 16 counties. It provides more space for regional meetings, and new space for teleconferencing with regional members to save time and money on travel.

The decision to lease the space at 344 W. Genesee St. was made after an exhaustive 18-month search that included a thorough investigation of several sites by Red Cross officials and Central New York Chapter Board members. The new location best fits the Red Cross’ geographic, space, parking and budget requirements.

The Red Cross did not consider building a new office because it wanted to utilize one of the prominent buildings that already existed in Syracuse.

“By remaining downtown, the Red Cross will remain close to its most-utilized partners, such as the Onondaga County Department of Emergency Management and the county Department of Social Services,” Taravella said. “And it’s important for us to remain downtown because we respond to house fires and the majority of fires in our chapter area are in the city.”

The new location is handicapped accessible, and provides an ample amount of parking for volunteers, staff and clients. There’s also more parking space for Red Cross rescue vehicles, making them easier to stock with disaster relief supplies and retrieve when there is a disaster.

The office is open during regular business hours, and the public is invited to visit at any time.