Meet T.D. Smyers, CEO of the North Texas Region of the American Red Cross since 2012. Smyers has a track record of executive leadership, transitioning to the nonprofit sector from a successful career in the US Navy, where he held numerous senior leadership roles in global operations in remote locations, as well as Navy Headquarters at the Pentagon. Before that, Smyers was named outstanding graduate from advanced navigator training at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and received the Legion of Merit for this leadership of Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base (JRB) as the installation's eight Commanding Officer.
Smyers brings all of those field-proven management skills to the Red Cross, where he is dedicated to leading teams of staff members and volunteers through local and national disaster assistance.
We wanted to get to know Smyers a bit better and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Red Cross, himself and the people he serves.
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about the American Red Cross-North Texas Region?
T.D. Smyers: The North Texas region is the largest region within the American Red Cross. It covers 9600 square miles, serves 9.3 mil people and spans across 111 counties. We handle more disasters than any other region in the United States. This tends to surprise a lot of people. We deal with all shapes and sizes of disasters: tornadoes, wildfires, hailstorms, floods and house fires to name a few! We have local staff and over 5000 volunteers within our region. We couldn’t service this broad of an area or mission without their time, skillset and heart for the mission.
DT: What are your duties at the American Red Cross?
T.D.S: I serve as the Chief Executive Officer for the North Texas Region. I oversee all operations from fundraising to media engagement to service delivery (which includes disaster response, International Services and Service to the Armed Forces) and I partner with the North Texas volunteer leaders that serve on our boards region wide. I also coordinate work with our blood services and health and safety business units.
DT: How did you become involved with the American Red Cross, and why are you so passionate about the work being done at the organization?
T.D.S: While I was leading the regions’ military installation Naval Air Station Ft Worth JRV, I built a relationship with the Chisholm Trail (Fort Worth) Chapter of the Red Cross which led to me coming on board as CEO in 2012. As a career naval officer, many times I experienced the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross as they assisted sailors though their emergency messaging system. Several tragedies occurred back home and if it weren’t for the American Red Cross, many soldiers wouldn’t have been able to make it back to their families.
DT: Why do you work in the non-profit sector?
T.D.S: I am privileged to lead my life in a career of service, beginning in the Navy. When I decided to transition and permanently route myself in North Texas, I wanted a career path where I could continue to give back and spend time in civic involvement within a leadership role. This opportunity within the Red Cross was perfect for me to “scratch that itch” as a vocation.
DT: It can be difficult for any non-profit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
T.D.S: The Red Cross mission is entirely funded through the generosity of donors. Our mission is dependent on our donors (both at the individual and corporate level) and their resources, time and effort contributed on behalf of our mission. We spend a great deal of effort telling our story so everyone understands how we can resource our mission which is ongoing- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
DT: How can the people of Dallas County and beyond help you meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
T.D.S: Our biggest needs are donations of both money and time. More than 90% of our work is done by volunteers. One thing we ask of folks is that they train in advance. Volunteers are most valuable when they’re able to knowledgeably respond to client needs, manage work equipment and efficiently setup and staff our shelters. We offer training for disaster responders through our Volunteer Services team. The Red Cross is very visible when disasters strike across the world but a lot of people don’t understand that, for example- in the Texas Region alone on average, we respond to 6 disasters every day. We have volunteers assisting clients around the clock in response to whatever the need is in the community at that time.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at the American Red Cross?
T.D.S: My first disaster after taking over as CEO of the North Texas region was the 17 tornadoes that hit the eastern part of the metroplex in 2012. We setup a shelter in Lancaster and it was there, working with the amazing volunteers that I saw how the work of the Red Cross was done by people with very noble hearts and capable hands. This immediately resonated with me.
DT: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day?
T.D.S: I like to grab a cup of coffee and walk around the office to catch up with some of the amazing staff that continues to resource our mission daily. We have incredible people on our team and we’re privileged to work alongside them. Our motto is “Sleeves up, hearts open, all in” and our entire team carries this message with them wherever we go.