Jane Blocher takes risks on her personal journey, but not with other people's lives or their money.
Blocher is executive director of the Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross. She was raised in Chanute, the second of eight siblings, and majored in psychology and education at Kansas State University. After nine happy years as a kindergarten/first grade teacher in Kansas City, she became a regional trainer with KinderCare Learning Centers. The transition to teaching adults was easy.
"I'm an educator, and I'm passionate about bringing out the best in everyone regardless of their age," she says.
Her predictable life was safe and happy.
"Too consistent really," she says. "I had wonderful friends and family, had some great dating relationships, but was happily single. In my heart I knew I needed to take more risks and break out of my comfort zone."
The opportunity presented itself in 1997 when a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel tracked her down when he came to visit his parents in Kansas City. They'd met briefly some years earlier at a mutual friend's funeral but lost contact. After a whirlwind courtship they married. Blocher said goodbye to her job, family, friends and her predictable life, and the newlywed set off for Colorado.
"It was impetuous," she says, "but I knew Kim was the one. There was a more adventuresome life out there for me, and I wanted to live it."
She got her dream job as a corporate trainer in Colorado Springs.
"My office had floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the Rocky Mountains, and the company was as passionate about customer service as I was," she says.
The Colorado climate was perfect, and she loved being outdoors.
"During my first year there, I spent more time outside than I'd done in my whole life in Kansas," she says.
After nearly three years she missed family and being part of important life events like baptisms, weddings and funerals, so they returned to Kansas in 2000 and built their Lawrence house.
"Leaving Colorado was hard," Blocher admits, "but I was ready for the next adventure."
Six months later a friend encouraged her to apply for the Red Cross director's job.
"I didn't have any fund-raising experience," she explained, "but I knew it was a job where I could make a difference, and bring stability. They'd gone through several directors in the previous five-year period after a long-term director's retirement."
She got the job, and they agreed to give her fund-raising training.
"I started on June 18, 2001 -my parents' 50th wedding anniversary," she says. "I thought that was a good omen for stability. I was naÃive about what the job involved other than knowing the office needed serious overhauling."
A few days after her appointment, the fundraising training team arrived from Wichita, and one of them called her aside, wagged a pointed finger and said:
"Jane, YOU are the steward of the donated dollar."
"That had a profound effect on me," Blocher says. "I'd never heard that before. I had responsibility for ensuring every donation was used wisely and efficiently. This advice continues to guide me; I'm vigilant about everything we spend."
Three months later, 9/11 happened.
"It was baptism by fire," she recalls. "I got all the training I needed right then. We were inundated with offers of help from all over the country. I quickly learned the importance of preparedness."
She's on call 24/7 and trained teams are ready to respond and offer immediate assistance during emergencies - like the 2003 Lawrence tornado and the Boardwalk Apartments fire in 2005.
Visiting and coping with disaster scenes first-hand is challenging, but the support of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical, the volunteers and general public is phenomenal.
"It's the team effort that gets us through," Blocher emphasizes. "We go into automatic pilot because we need to remain objective in order to help. Everyone knows what they need to do and they do it."
Blocher believes Douglas County is among the most generous counties in the nation.
"One of the neat things about this job," she says, "is seeing people's donated dollars being put to immediate use in the community to help and support those whose lives have been shattered by disasters."