Local Red Cross Now Requiring Background Checks for Staff, Volunteers

(Saturday, September 30, 2006 11:36 AM EDT)
Officials at the Arlington chapter of the American Red Cross have embraced a new directive from the Red Cross's national office, requiring all employees and volunteers to undergo criminal background checks.

“We want to make sure everyone is here for the right reasons,” said Heather Pritchett, volunteer coordinator for the Arlington chapter.

Especially after what happened with Hurricane Katrina, these measures help ensure the safety of our volunteers, employees and the clients we serve, Pritchett said.

Arlington has not had trouble with its volunteers and employees, but a number of reports from New Orleans suggested that in the rush to find aid, volunteers with questionable backgrounds were hired.

The national headquarters will pay for the background checks through Oct. 31; individual chapters take on the financial responsibility at that point. Each check costs $3.50, and 250 Arlington volunteers and employees have completed the process so far.

“We still have a lot to go,” Pritchett said, but she doesn't foresee any major bumps in the road.

The process starts at www.backgroundcheck.com, and, after individuals provide basic personal information, the check begins.

“If you know how to use the Internet, it's easy,” said volunteer Kharry Wolinsky. “It took me two minutes.”

Volunteers and employees receive results directly from backgroundcheck.com via e-mail or regular mail.

Background checks aren't completely new to the Arlington Red Cross.

“The human resources committee of the Arlington chapter's board have performed background checks before on volunteers involved with at-risk populations,” said board chairman JoAnne Carter.

From what the Arlington Red Cross staff can tell, the new requirements haven't affected the chapter negatively. Almost all the employees and volunteers have agreed to the new measures without complaint.

“Our volunteers are dedicated,” said Carter. “They understand that their clients need someone they can trust.”

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