The American Red Cross has been serving South Dakota since 1917, and now the non-profit organization is making some changes.
When disaster strikes, those affected look to volunteer organizations like the Red Cross for help. But after major disasters, like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, it's been the stewards of good service that have needed the help.
"Those are two of our largest historical events that have happened in the last 13 years. Two of our largest responses in the history of the Red Cross. You can only learn from those experiences. And that's where it's taking us, is that we had a lot of change to do," Tony Burke, Community Chapter Executive for the Sioux Empire Red Cross said.
One of the changes to the Sioux Empire chapter has been personnel.
Tony Burke was hired as the new Community Chapter Executive in July. His nearly 20 years as a firefighter plays a big part in his new job.
"To understand what the Red Cross does, but now to be on the other side. So I have a unique experience to be able to share with the volunteers and leadership what the emergency responders are doing," Burke said.
It's this life experience that has brought new purpose to the Sioux Empire Red Cross.
Board Chairman, Anthony Siemonsma says one of the most exciting new projects for the organization came from Tony about fire prevention services.
"Go into homes. Test their smoke alarms. If they don't have one, get them one. So that's one where it's a one to one. It's an instant positive thing the community can feel. That home can feel," Anthony Siemonsma, Sioux Empire Board Chairman said.
Siemonsma also has a personal connection to the Red Cross mission. He served in the Air Guard for 18 years, and saw how the Red Cross was constantly involved with our armed forces, including within his own family.
"My uncle passed away of a sudden massive heart attack. My cousin was on a air craft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and 36 hours later he was touching down in Sioux Falls, so that he could attend and take care of his father's funeral," said Siemonsma.
These personal connections to the organization has made some of the changes taking place easier and yet also more difficult.
Locally, there have been about half a dozen full and part-time employees let go. While it hasn't been easy, many of the released employees have actually stayed on as volunteers.
"There's no question change is tough. But we believe, we still believe and continue to believe. that it is the best for our communities. Because the more money we can put back into the community we'll have a greater impact long term," Burke said.
Regional Disaster Program Officer, Tom Tezel agrees.
"We are even more client focused then we have been in the past. You know, we've taken off some of the overhead burden that we've had in our local communities. And now we focus on them. We've also, we're going to have more resources available to help our clients and our partners," Tom Tezel, Red Cross Disaster Program Officer said.
That includes an emphasis on communication. A new high-tech database of volunteers and Red Cross officials is designed to help connect those in need to those who can help in a matter of minutes.
And the Red Cross smart phone apps were recently put into action during the deadly Lake Poinsett storms this summer.
"With our tornado app, one individual had that on their phone. It went off. They started calling some of the elderly population in that area and it gave them a heads up that guess what, you guys need to take cover," Burke said.
Leaders in the Red Cross are hopeful that these changes happening from within the group are nothing but positive for the Sioux Empire community.
"You're going to see us utilizing this social media. Talking about these apps. Preparing your community. So what you're going to see is what we've always done but you're going to see a greater impact," Tezel said.
"Not only is it about response now, but it's about prepare, response and recovery. Long term recovery. And making sure our communities get back to living. Get back to where they were pre-disaster," Burke said.
For more information on the Red Cross and how you can get involved with a local chapter, you can go to the Sioux Empire Red Cross website.