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Orange County

Red Cross Drops Volunteer Credit Checks

June 19, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross on Wednesday rescinded a controversial policy requiring all volunteers to submit to a credit check and hopes to woo back longtime workers who had resigned in protest.

Most volunteers won't be required to show their financial data, chapter spokeswoman Lynn Howes said. However, those who work in accounting, finance or handle money will have to submit to the credit check. Howes said a committee will be formed to recommend which positions should be subject to the requirement.

About 35 of 500 volunteers -- from nurses to people handing out supplies at disaster scenes -- who were deactivated for not consenting to a credit check will be invited by board members to return, Howe said. Volunteers, however, estimated about 100 were deactivated.

"We're sorry for hurting feelings; we're sorry for the misunderstandings," said Frank Wilson, secretary of the chapter's board of directors. "Our desire was to ensure the public that our people are trustworthy and credible, especially after Sept. 11."

The unanimous decision to rescind the policy came after an emotional two-hour meeting attended by about 200 volunteers and staff members at the organization's Santa Ana headquarters Wednesday. Afterward, board members met privately for about 40 minutes and decided to scrap the blanket credit check, Wilson said.

Last July, the agency's directors agreed to start requiring complete background checks of new volunteers. It was an effort to increase security within the relief organization, which works closely with law enforcement and other government agencies and increasingly handles cash from fund-raisers, Howes said. The national Red Cross is testing similar policies in other chapters, she said, but the decision to conduct background checks in Orange County was made by local directors.

In December, it sent packets to volunteers seeking Social Security and driver's license numbers so the agency could conduct criminal and financial background checks. Those who didn't sign the forms were deactivated.

Joan Goldstein, 75, of Irvine signed the documents, but rescinded her approval after she decided it was unfair and an invasion of her privacy. The retired nurse and five-year volunteer was dropped in March.

She planned to enlist as a volunteer with the Long Beach Red Cross chapter today. But after the board's unanimous decision, she canceled her Long Beach appointment and re-registered with the Orange County chapter.

"I'm utterly delighted to be able to resume the responsibilities that we're trained for and to volunteer for an organization that we're proud of," Goldstein said, who also teaches nursing. "Nobody disagrees [with] going through a background check because we want to know who we're working with too. But I had a problem with the policy for people to have their privacy invaded for no reason. It was a matter of principle."

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