When explosions rocked the Boston Marathon, the importance of Nick Rader's post as incoming director of the Central Virginia Red Cross really hit home for him, he said.
As American Red Cross chapters across the country mobilized to help open shelters, replenish blood supplies and connect marathoners with their family members, Rader said he couldn't shake the realization that he could have been among the three dead or more than 250 injured in the bomb blasts on April 15.
"That's the world that I came from," said the 33-year-old, who previously worked for a nonprofit organization that frequently planned mass sporting events. "I would have been on the finish line with my staff and sponsors of something like that; we worked events to that scale."
Rader moved more than 1,700 miles from Colorado to Charlottesville this spring with his wife and their 2-year-old son to lead the chapter, one of about 500 across the country. He replaces Keila Rader, no relation, who departed last fall, he said.
He joins the chapter at the end of a three-year period of organizational changes for the 133-year-old nonprofit.
"We used to operate as 700 independent chapters with 700 websites, different accounting systems, different payrolls, across the board running almost as 700 businesses, and as a result, some chapters were much stronger than others," Rader said. "When we went to provide disaster relief specifically, we were not consistent in our servicing of those affected. ... Typically, the areas with the most risk were the chapters that weren't in the best position of strength."
The national organization consolidated some posts and centralized services such as accounting and payroll, which resulted in some turnover, he said. Rader said the changes have strengthened local chapters by streamlining operations and leaving them more time to focus on fundraising and interacting with the communities they serve.
The Central Virginia Chapter received its charter in 1917 from President Woodrow Wilson and initially served Albemarle County, according to the group's website. It now covers the cities of Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro and 15 counties: Albemarle, Augusta, Buckingham, Culpeper, Greene, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, Orange, Page, Rappahannock, Rockbridge and Rockingham.
The chapter assisted 161 families in crisis across its coverage area in 2012, and already has provided relief this year to 39 households in Charlottesville and Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties alone, Rader said.
Disaster relief is one of the organization's five core missions. Red Cross groups also provide international services, collect about 40 percent of all donated blood, conduct health and safety training and education, and support military families. These services are provided through the efforts of a workforce that is 94 percent volunteer, said Lee Clark, CEO of the American Red Cross for the Virginia Mountain Region, which includes the Central Virginia Chapter. Clark was part of the team that selected Rader.
"Coming out of a period of transition, perhaps we've been a little internally focused," Clark said. "We're pushing to get out in the community, getting to know folks and building partnerships, and that's what Nick brings to the table."
Clark said Rader's prior experience planning and executing events for the Vail Valley Foundation in Avon, Colo., prepared him for the rigors of community work.
"Nick brought a great combination of being both a person who is detail-oriented enough to execute challenging tasks and has an ability to think broadly and see the big picture," he said.
Rader also has a sense of humor, recalled his former supervisor, Terry Brady. Brady said Rader once donned an eagle mascot costume to ski alongside pint-sized athletes at a children's event.
"He crashed a couple of times and got a little banged up, you could say the eagle had landed, but he kept after it," he said. "They are lucky to have him."
Brady also spoke to Rader's balance of creative insight and logistical ability. A self-starter, Rader is a good listener who thinks before he speaks, Brady said.
Rader said he has spent his first two months on the job learning more about the organization and getting to know his new community. He said he looks forward to continuing that work and beginning the University of Virginia's MBA for Executives Program at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration in August.
Rader said he wasn't familiar with all that the Red Cross does before applying. The more he learns, the more he likes, he said.
"When Hurricane Sandy happened, we went out the next day and borrowed $300 million to tackle the disaster relief ... I don't know another organization on the planet that operates like that," he said. "Any normal corporation would never take on that risk, but we know the level of support we have out there and we were able to recoup that money. That really made my jaw drop."