Things are looking up for the American Red Cross. Kicking off the 1998 national convention at the Salt Palace Saturday, organization president Elizabeth Dole shook a symbolic fist at those who doubted the commitment of its leaders and volunteers and the success of its services.

Admitting that the health events of the past two decades, especially the influx of AIDS, HIV and blood-born hepatitis, "rocked us to our very foundation," Dole said the Red Cross had no choice but to step up and respond to the challenge."We had to ask ourselves, who would fill our shoes? The Red Cross is not a public agency, but it does carry the public trust."

And through the development of new technologies that make donating and receiving blood safer and more convenient, the Red Cross carries the public's trust on strong shoulders.

More than 2,000 people, representing chapters from around the nation, were on hand Saturday as new technologies were unveiled that address the concerns of many would-be blood donors.

Dr. William Drohan, senior research scientist for the American Red Cross, led Dole, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a walking tour that highlighted a few of the latest scientific advancements. One product, by Salt Lake City-based IOMED, addresses one of the chief concerns voiced by blood donors: a fear of needles.

IOMED's Numby Stuff is a needle-free meth-od of delivering anesthesia that eliminates the pain of the needle stick blood donors hate so much. Using a low-level electric current from a battery-powered dose-control unit strapped to the donor's arm, Numby Stuff directly anesthetizes the skin up to 10 millimeters. The anesthetic takes effect within 10-15 minutes, and the skin stays numb for about an hour.

Other products included an instrument to determine - needle-free - whether a donor is eligible to give blood (someone who has not been deferred for medical or other reasons). Designed by Philadelphia-based Cryometrics Inc., a donor's blood may be examined by using computer imaging technology. Usually, a donor gives a blood sample, drawn either from the ear or finger.

In addition to teaching about the science of saving lives, the luncheon was replete with personal stories of the helping hand the Red Cross provides in times of crisis.

Bill Jensen, a Glendale, Calif., firefighter, received second and third degree burns over 73 per-cent of his body. During his recovery, he used more than 100 units of blood and blood products, without which he said he surely would have died.

"I thank God, and the American Red Cross, for saving my life," Jensen said.

Monique Traux, a Girl Scout from Wood-bridge, Va., received the Girl Scout Medal of Honor for helping to save the lives of her troop leader and fellow Scouts after a car accident sent them careening down a 45-foot ravine.

"My troop leader started getting sleepy, and I remembered from my American Red Cross training that it's a sign of head injuries when a person gets sleepy," Traux said, unable to keep back a flood of tears."So, I had my troop and troop leader singing their ABCs to keep her awake.

"Then I ran up and flagged down a really cute truck driver who helped us."

Many local and national dignitaries were on hand to lend their support for the Red Cross's commitment to providing life-saving blood services and disaster relief.

President Monson, first counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, stood to highlight the numerous occasions where Red Cross workers have labored alongside members of the LDS faith in rebuilding communities devastated by famine and disaster. He pledged continued cooperation with the Red Cross' ideals.

"You are here in pioneer country," President Monson said. "And here in pioneer country we introduced the principle of row irrigation, where a common phrase was `Get the water to the end of the row.' Well, I'm here to say that the Red Cross is a great example of really getting water to the end of the row, when we see you get food to the starving, delivering mercy to those who needed mercy, and hope and mercy replacing doubt and despair."

Closing the luncheon, Dole spoke with podium-thumping passion, urging the delegates to spread the good news of blood services:

"Blood is safe. It is our mission to reassure Americans that it is safe to give blood, safe to receive blood, and recruit more donors.

"Each of you in this room is a leader," Dole said, fists clenched. "We speak with one voice, because we are each a part of the same Red Cross family. We are united by compassion and the spirit of service, where we are first in our communities, best at what we do, and always there."

"First, Best & Always" is the theme for this year's convention, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the Red Cross' blood services programs, and the 100th anniversary of the organization's Greater Salt Lake chapter.

At a meeting later Saturday afternoon, astronaut James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame also made an appearance. He gave credit to the Red Cross for their commitment to excellence in leadership, teamwork, initiative and motivation. He said those same qualities helped him make a safe return from his fateful mission in space and will ensure the continued success of the Red Cross as well.