Good News Blog


Monday, Nov. 28, 2005

Outstanding Volunteer: Libby King

King has been a volunteer for the local Winter Haven branch of the American Red Cross since 1980.

“The Red Cross goes out and just does things for anybody, anywhere. There are no rules, regulations or standards. We just go out and help whoever needs help,” she said. [Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross]

While many Florida residents are hunkering down during a hurricane, King and the other Red Cross volunteers are put on alert and may embark on disaster-relief trips to deliver food and water to people in the affected areas when the weather clears.

One of her most memorable relief trips took place during the hurricanes of 2004, which left hundreds of people in Polk County without food or shelter.

“When the hurricanes came last year, we went out to Fort Meade, and the people we stopped and helped would say `Don’t give me too much, the people down the road need more,’ and those are people standing in knee-deep water. You don’t find appreciation like that too often.” [Hurricane Katrina: Stories of Rescue, Recovery and Rebuilding in the Eye of the Storm]

King also has been a Red Cross volunteer at Winter Haven Hospital since 1987, where she works at the front desk twice a week.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005

Officer’s Dedication To Youth Earns Angel Award

He’s saved the lives of countless Detroit kids. Now, one of Detroit’s own protectors of the streets is rewarded for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Detroit police Officer Geoffrey Townsend received the 2005 Grand Angel Award on Friday. The Caring for Children Angel Award is a recognition program that awards an individual for extraordinary volunteer efforts that help to improve the lives of children.

The award was given to Townsend for his founding of the Detroit organization, Reality Check.

Reality Check is a prevention program set up by Townsend that helps to assist in the redirection of at-risk youth from the criminal justice system, according to a press release from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, sponsors of the event.

Townsend reaches out to at-risk youth, ages 6 to 14, according to Local 4. He uses a variety of educational, social and behavioral programs that include a 12-week-long military-based boot camp.

“Most of the children that we see coming through the program are missing some of their role models,” said Townsend.

Townsend was without a father in his teen years and, at times, without a mother, too, Local 4’s Rhonda Walker reported. Townsend told Local 4 that most of the children in his program may also be without a parent or adult mentor.

Presented annually, Blue Cross Blue Shield awards one Grand Angel recipient the Grand Angel trophy and a $5,000 donation for the recipient’s organization. In addition, five finalists are chosen to receive a trophy and $1,000 for their nonprofit organization.

Townsend was chosen from the nearly 100 nominees this year.

Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005

Artist offers to restore statue

It appears that Nevada Union High School’s oft-neglected miner will get a facelift after all.

Solomon Bassoff, an artist whose works have included the restoration of a South Auburn Street apartment complex, has agreed to restore the miner’s magic, all at no cost to the Nevada Joint Union High School District.

“I was rather touched by the story, and I thought something like this should be restored,” said Bassoff, who specializes in cement structures and artwork at Faducci, his North San Juan-based business.

Bassoff read how the miner’s hands had been chopped off at least twice, and how the cement around his hat had been chipped away. The life-sized structure is also riddled with graffiti.

Bassoff said he would work to weld new steel into the miner’s hands, making the goldpan he holds nearly impossible to remove. He said he’d also like to recast some of the concrete statue and layer it with additives to protect against freezing and thawing. The hat, parts of which have been chipped away to reveal a chickenwire foundation, would be restructured and stabilized to prevent chipping. The entire statue, Bassoff said, will be coated with a sheer topping to prevent cracks and repel graffiti.

“We’re going to try to make this as bomb-proof as possible,” Bassoff joked.

Bassoff said it would take several days and little capital to refurbish the 27-year-old structure, and he plans to start as soon as the school will let him.

“Most of the work is in the skill, in sculpting the form,” he said.

Meek’s Lumber has also offered to donate materials for the work.

Nevada Union assistant principal Bruce Kinseth was more than happy to oblige Basshoff on Friday.

“I really do think this is going to work out. I’m fully expecting this to get underway,” he said. “(The miner) is at the point where if it doesn’t get care soon, it could be destroyed.”

Kinseth’s own home burned in the 1988 49er Fire and was restored with the help of strangers, so he’s not surprised that locals would step up to help fix the icon now.

Principal Marty Mathiesen, who’s never seen the miner without graffiti or his eyes gouged out, said he too looks forward to a new and improved miner.

“I think it’s neat that it means enough to people that they care about their community.”

For Bassoff, it’s a chance to give a familiar face a long-overdue makeover.

“This is something that everybody enjoys. It’s part of our environment.”

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

Memories: A generous angel

Betty Gibbons Baker started the “In As Much” food kitchen in honor of her late husband. Now, after Betty’s death on Saturday, she leaves her own legacy behind that will remind people of her dedication to feeding the hungry.

Betty, 75, died Saturday from congestive heart failure and diabetes, said her son Barry Gibbons.

The lifelong Anderson resident was well known in the community as an angel with a generous heart who felt no one deserved to go hungry. In 1991 Betty started In As Much at 515 Martin Luther King Blvd. with the help of her son David and her twin sister Patty.

“Mom and Dad had eight kids and they always had kids over from the neighborhood at dinner,” Barry, 55, said. “They always fed anybody that came in the house. That is still a tradition. Every one of my brothers and sisters, and myself, if you come by our houses you get fed.

“My dad (Richard Gibbons) had a dream after retiring to start it (a food kitchen) but he passed on before he had a chance,” Barry said. “After my mother retired she and my brother David came up with the money and started it in my father and her name.”

In As Much was open for dinner Monday through Friday and usually fed about 200 people a day, Barry said. Sometimes up to 300 or 400 people would stop in for a meal, which varied, including soups, chicken and noodles, sloppy joes, lasagna, vegetables and hamburgers.

“She’s helped so many people,” Barry said. “It’s strictly voluntary. She got no money from the government, only from people who volunteer money and time and goods.

“She did not want any government money because the government tells who can and cannot eat there,” he said. “She wanted to make sure that anybody that was hungry could come in anytime they were open — no matter their age, sexual orientation or money.

“We had a lady come in with a fur coat on and we’ve had people with no clothes practically at all on,” he said. “It didn’t matter to her. If they were hungry she would feed them — that was the way it was.”

When Betty started the food kitchen, she did everything and when needed would call upon her family members for help, said Barry, who for a few years volunteered doing security. Betty would make up the menus and had people help her get the food and cook it. In the last three or four years she was a greeter and helped raise funds.

“She had to sit in a wheelchair quite a bit but up until the end had a firm grip on things,” Barry said. “She was determined people would get fed. She didn’t care who they were.”

One of Betty’s biggest supporters and helpers was her second husband, Willie Baker. Willie had been one of her first diners at the food kitchen and in 1995 became her husband.

“My mother was the glue that held it together,” Barry said. “My stepfather underestimates himself in his ability. Although my mother was the glue that held it together, he was the glue that held my mother together.”

Barry and the rest of Betty’s family members are unsure of what will happen to the food kitchen now that Betty is gone. But Barry hopes someone can continue his mother’s legacy.

“God has always provided for them,” Barry said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now. Hopefully somebody will continue to feed the people because it’s something that needs to be there.”

Martha Fox said her sister Betty was so involved in the community because she loved people, especially children. Often Betty and Willie, who helped run the food bank with her, would sit and talk to people who needed someone to chat with.

“She was a wonderful person,” Fox said. “She did a lot of good for people in need and she asked nothing in return.

“She was grateful to be able to help people and was especially happy when people would help her to help others,” Fox said. “She had a lot of churches and individuals in the community that offered help. A lot of money that she spent was out of her retirement check. If she didn’t have enough money or donations, she still made sure they got fed.”

Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005

Teens and charity

Musicians and bands, participating in a program called “You Got 2 Give 2 Get,” were giving free concerts for teenagers who agreed to donate four hours of their time to various charities. When they completed the required time, they were given concert tickets worth approximately $100.

The program encouraged teens to see the importance of including volunteerism in their lives – something, the article said, they probably wouldn’t do on their own.

What about this carrot-on-a-stick approach to contributing – getting teens to volunteer by offering them incentives? Doesn’t this assume that teenagers are too self-absorbed and indifferent to the suffering of others?

And is volunteering important enough to warrant the efforts of organizations such as the concerts program? Or is it enough that their parents donate the money until the kids are more mature and able to make the decision of charitable giving on their own, when they have more means?

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, pointed out the effect that loving one’s neighbor has on the individual and the community. In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” she wrote, “Unselfish ambition, noble life-motives, and purity – these constituents of thought, mingling, constitute individually and collectively true happiness, strength, and permanence” (p. 58).

That phrase “noble life-motives” stands out to me. Isn’t that what the desire to give really is?

I think about Jesus, watching contributors in the temple line up to drop their offerings into the collection plate. According to the account in Luke 21, there were people in line who were wealthy and wouldn’t miss the money given. And this isn’t to say that such giving is unimportant.

But Jesus stopped to comment on two mites – a small amount of relatively inconsequential value – given by a widow who was generously giving apparently all that she had. Jesus said that her offering had the most value, because, not really in a position to give anything, she had given her all.

What would impel someone to give everything?

A few weeks ago, while I was volunteering a few hours at an alternative school for at-risk high school students, an appeal came in for girls to donate almost a foot of their hair to make wigs for children being treated for cancer. The pictures of the kids needing the wigs were heart-wrenching, and four of the girls at the school signed up to donate their hair.

It’s difficult for a teenage girl to give up her beautiful long hair, and, as the “cut-off” date drew closer, each of them had second thoughts. They helped each other through those cold-feet moments, and all four went down together to have their hair cut.

Except for a picture of them, standing shoulder to shoulder, holding their lopped-off ponytails, that was it. No fanfare, no incentives.

But as kids who come from families where the free dinner provided on Parent Night is a strong enticement to attend, these girls had given significantly.

When I’ve told this story to anyone who has really listened, the initial response is the same: awed silence. And humbly we begin to wonder together how we can follow the girls’ example. Those girls’ selflessness has moved others, who are already contributing, to find more personal ways to give.

A chemist made arrangements to come to the school to help with science experiments. A senior citizen asked if she could come to the school to see how she might help. Other friends gave me funds to buy art supplies so I could continue my work as a volunteer art teacher.

We each go away a little happier, a little stronger, a little more resolved to find opportunities to express unselfish ambition and to offer up our own mites.

Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005

Youth volunteer award a Cinderella tale

Tempe teenager Samantha Fox, her mother and a couple of friends came up with a great idea several years ago.

The Cinderella Affair, a prom-dress donation drive, has grown into a Valley-wide annual charity operation, collecting more than 2,000 prom dresses in 2005.

For this and many years of volunteer work with the National Charity League, the Corona del Sol High School senior will be presented with the United Way’s East Valley Youth Volunteer of the Year Award on Thursday. Volunteering always has been a way of life for her, she said, but being selected for the award was a complete surprise.

“I’ve always done it. My parents have always had us do it,” Fox said. “I’ve done it through church since I was probably 3. We’d go to feed the homeless, and I’d go with my parents. So we’ve always done philanthropy and I’ve always just liked it.”

Her advice to other young volunteers: “You have to like what you’re doing. Find something you enjoy and help in any way that you can.”

Also on the award list is:

• Valerie Cook, a pediatric nurse practitioner from Sun Lakes, dedicates pediatric care to charity through the free San Marcos Clinic.

Cook will receive the United Way’s East Valley Volunteer of the Year Award for her work, which includes volunteer medical assistance in foreign countries.

“I go with the Flying Samaritans to Mexico to a free clinic several times a year,” said Cook, who also traveled to Indonesia this year to help with tsunami relief.

She said her passion lies in helping children reach their full potential.

“If it means getting kids into Head Start, they need their physicals,” Cook said. “These kids in school need exercise, and if they need sports physicals then I’ll do those. This is all done through the blessings of San Marcos Clinic, which is sponsored in part by a grant through the Chandler Unified School District.

“You don’t go into this stuff for awards. You get out of it what you can give to these people who have nothing. That’s the nice part.”

• Mesa businessman Michael Pollack is receiving an East Valley Volunteer of the Year Award. Pollack has participated in a handful of notable causes, including drumming in a band which performs to raise money for charity.

Last year, he helped launch the second annual Feed the Need Valley-wide food drive for St. Mary’s Food Bank. He was named Father of the Year by the American Diabetes Foundation and has given money to causes that include the Gilbert Education Association and the American Cancer Society.

• Tempe native Andrew Ortiz will receive an East Valley Volunteer of the Year Award for his many hours of service beginning in 1982, when he served on the Tempe Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council at age 13.

Ortiz since has volunteered on boards and commissions as well as the Tempe Community Action Agency, Tempe Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, NewTown CDC and the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness. He’s logged more than 1,000 hours of community service each year since 1992.

• Receiving the first East Valley Lifetime Achievement Award is long-time Chandler resident Coy Payne, a retired educator who grew up in the East Valley and served as Chandler’s first African-American mayor as well as two terms on the City Council.

Payne volunteers for the non-profit Chandler Self-Help Foundation through the Mount Olive Baptist Church, which mentors underprivileged youths. A local junior high and a high school gymnasium have been named in his honor.

The awards luncheon takes place at Villa Siena in Gilbert. It’s a fitting location since Gilbert Public Schools was named United Way’s East Valley Organization of the Year. The district is being recognized for outstanding character education programs, parenting classes, prevention programs, encouraging student philanthropy, generosity to the United Way and offering a network of social workers in 18 school campuses.

Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005

Close call & lost job fail to derail volunteer crew

Members from Watson Chapel Baptist Church are living up to their state’s nickname, the Volunteer State. Even after a member of their chainsaw crew was pinned by a tree, almost paralyzing him, the church was willing to send a team of youth and adults to return to Louisiana the following week.

The team, led by youth pastor Russ Cooper, stayed at First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula and drove every morning to New Orleans to distribute food, water, ice and cleaning supplies at Calvary Baptist Church and to a non-church site.

By giving out Bibles at both sites, doors for ministry opened. One woman, after receiving a Bible, began to cry. Through her tears, she asked for another Bible for her mother because the hurricanes destroyed both of their Bibles left in their homes.

Tina Dalton was moved by “all of the love and kindness of the people” she helped. “People didn’t take any more than they needed. They didn’t want to be wasteful. I kept saying take more, but they would say, ‘No, No, someone else might need it,’” Dalton recounted.

One of the needs Dalton met was finding a walker for a woman who came to the site looking for help for her elderly mother. The woman and her family evacuated during the storm and took her elderly mother who lived in a nursing home with them. The nursing home is now uninhabitable and the daughter is responsible for the total care of her mother.

Volunteer Karen Raby, believing God wanted her to go to New Orleans, lost her job to be a part of the team. After telling her boss what she was going to do, Raby endured the taunts of some co-workers because they could not understand why she would risk her job to help others. But the faith of her 13-year-old son, Cameron Hawk, convinced her. “Momma,” Cameron said, “you know that if you go down there, God will provide [for us] when you come back home.”

Of all the Watson Chapel volunteers from Madisonville, Tenn., two of the most extraordinary were Raul and Amanda Spurgeon. The brother and sister evacuated with their parents from St. Charles Parish, La., to Tennessee. While at a community shelter, the family was told about Watson Chapel. They began attending services and soon made a decision to begin a relationship with the Lord. The church even began to house the Spurgeons in a room in their fellowship hall. While living at the church, Amanda and Raul started volunteering at the shelter in which they previously lived. And then they came back with their new church family to minister to others in New Orleans.

The story would be amazing enough if it ended there. But immediately before the first church service the Spurgeons attended at Watson Chapel, Donna Combs had prayed for unaccounted-for relatives in the New Orleans area during a prayer meeting. Not knowing how to get in touch with them, she turned the matter over to the Lord. When Donna walked out of the prayer meeting and into the evening’s church service, two of the missing relatives, great-nephew and niece Raul and Amanda, were sitting in a pew at the church, definitely not as a coincidence but as evidence of divine intervention.

Shanna Isbill realized during the week in New Orleans that what she saw on television was not the whole story of the city. “You try to help [people] get back to normal, but things will never be normal again,” she said. A woman cried while she told Isbill, “I lost everything. The only things I now own are in the back of my car.”

“She just didn’t know where to start,” Isbill said, “to get her life back together.”

As New Orleanians begin fashioning their new “normal,” however, Southern Baptist volunteers like those from Watson Chapel will continue to be on hand to provide help and hope.

Friday, Oct. 14, 2005

Volunteer says helping others worth it

A Red Cross disaster relief worker says it’s nice to take a hot shower and eat home-cooked meals with his family but he knows it won’t last.

Gerald Newman went to Baton Rouge, La., after hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the U.S. Gulf Coast in September.

He returned to Fredericton recently but is already making preparations for a second tour to the disaster zone.

Newman said Canadian Red Cross workers have plenty to eat and adequate sleeping arrangements but nothing tops being with family, friends and home cooking.

“Our families are a very important part of our volunteer work,” Newman said.

“They support us and pray for us,” he said Wednesday.

On Saturday, Newman joins an elite group of Canadian Red Cross volunteers for some specialized training in Ottawa.

After that, the volunteers will be dispatched to the Gulf Coast to continue providing assistance to U.S. disaster relief officials, including the American Red Cross.

“Some days the temperature reached 107 F,” Newman said. “I can’t take a lot of heat, and that was difficult.”

Newman said he and other volunteers were sheltered in churches and sanctuaries.

“We’d stay where ever we could find a space. There were about 135 people in my shelter and we ate well.

“The food was prepared by the local church groups.”

Newman said the specialized training in Ottawa will involve logistics.

“We will be trained to deal with large-scale disasters, how to organize and execute emergency operations and how to gather resources,” he said.

“The training will give us a better knowledge of what’s expected of us.”

In September, Newman worked with local disaster volunteers in Baton Rouge.

He was responsible for bringing in large groups of people for various assignments such as nursing or warehouse duty.

Newman said helping in the disaster zone was difficult but not without its rewards.

“I remember a young woman I met in Houston,” Newman said. “She was leaving New Orleans and going to Minnesota.”

The young woman walked up to him and asked if he was working with the Red Cross.

“I told her I was with the Canadian Red Cross in Atlantic Canada,” he said. “She was surprised and pleased we had come all the way from Canada to help.”

Newman said the woman gave him a package to pass along to disaster survivors.

“She started crying and wanted to make sure I said thanks to all Canadians helping relief efforts,” he said. “And that’s about what we have been getting from everyone we talk to/

“They are so very grateful for our help,” he said. “I haven’t met anyone who didn’t have a thank you for us.”

Newman said the expression of gratitude makes the relief efforts meaningful. He said it’s hard for volunteers working in a disaster environment and they need the support of family and friends.

“Canadians are providing a lot of help to the victims,” he said. “Keep it up,” he said. “We need lots of prayers and money.”

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005

An angel in the sky

A private pilot in town volunteered his time and airplane to fly reunification flights for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

John Rickert has been a volunteer for Angel Flight America since 1999. The mission of the national organization is usually to provide free rides for persons who need to get to medical care. So, Rickert said, this latest mission was right up his alley.

“This is all done by volunteer pilots,” said Rickert. “Some of us have their own planes and some rent them. The missions are done by us, using our own resources.”

Rickert said Angel Flights are traditionally medical flights, taking people with medical needs around the country.

“I often go to northern Maine and pick up patients to bring to Boston,” said Rickert. “I bring children to the University of Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital. I am part of the Northeast group, but there are regional groups around the country.”

During Katrina, Angel Flight America mobilized through its national dispatch center.

“After the evacuation, they started to move volunteers to locations such as Houston and Gulf Port (Mississippi),” said Rickert. “Over a two week period, I flew about five to six flights. I took nurses down to San Antonio. I brought some special-needs people to Atlanta to be reunited with their caregivers. They had gotten separated from them.”

Rickert, who owns a small turboprop plane, also brought people from Mississippi to New York for medical help, including one person who needed a spinal operation and had to be transferred because the hospital in Gulf Port had been damaged.

“There were not a lot of local doctors available,” he said. “Many had relocated with the rest of the evacuees.”

“It’s something I could do,” he said “But, it’s not just me. There were hundreds of us out there.”

Rickert said he keeps his plane at the Pease airfield. Currently it is undergoing a mandated 100-hour maintenance check. The plane can carry up to nine people.

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005

Red Cross Volunteer does Double Duty

American Red Cross volunteers working on the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort expected to face difficult conditions and challenging assignments; they don’t expect a new do.

When Red Cross volunteer Dan Guevare called out to his fellow volunteers at the Woodlawn Baptist Church staff shelter in Baton Rouge “Does anyone need a haircut?” he took everyone by surprise.

Guevare is assigned to Red Cross Client Services and works out of Headquarters in Baton Rouge, La., serving locations in the area where he processes and distributes Client Assistance Cards to Hurricane Katrina victims. There was no response to Guevare’s call from the group in the staff shelter.

“Really, I’ll give anyone that needs a haircut a trim, right here, right now!” he said, adding: “I even trim beards. What do you say?”

“I’m game,” I said. “I wasn’t able to get a haircut before I left home in Maine, and I’m starting to look a little shaggy.”

Guevare led me to a metal folding chair that he had set on the walkway outside the shelter, sat me down and cloaked me in a plastic barber’s sheet. Hurricane Rita was blowing through the Baton Rouge area making the sheet flap and billow.

“You’ll need to hold that down, I’m afraid,” said Guevare. “If we’re lucky I’ll be able to finish before the rains come again.”

He asked how I wanted my hair cut, and then pulled out a complete set of clippers, scissors and barber tools and started clipping away. Guevare is a new Red Cross volunteer from the Pomona Chapter in Los Angeles, Calif. He is a barber in his civilian life and wanted to help not only the victims of Hurricane Katrina but also his fellow Red Cross volunteers in any way he could.

He has been in Louisiana for a week and is enthusiastic about his Red Cross assignment, helping hurricane survivors get financial assistance.

“I really like working with the clients, and I think we are doing great things for them,” he said. “I’ve been going out with our four-person team to sites in the Baton Rouge area, meeting with families and helping them with their disaster assistance.”

To provide emergency financial assistance to Hurricane Katrina victims the Red Cross began offering emergency financial assistance in Louisiana for disaster-caused needs on September 11, 2005, through a hotline.

Without pausing in his clipping, he told me how his team had met with Katrina victims at financial assistance sites set up in partnership with local groups and community organizations, such as the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. These sites are intended to augment the hotline and to broaden the outreach of financial assistance.

“Yesterday we distributed cards worth $2 million to clients in the space of five hours,” he said with a grin. “I really feel we are helping these people get back on their feet, and it makes my work with Client Services very worthwhile.”

Guevare is a well-rounded Red Cross volunteer and is as enthusiastic about both his Client Services work and providing a needed service for his fellow volunteers. He does a good job in both areas, and I was very pleased with my trim. All my clipped hair blew conveniently away in the Hurricane Rita winds swirling around us. As I stood up Guevare shouted out “Does anyone else need a haircut?”

Friday, Sep. 30, 2005

Mobile van educates women about breast cancer

The Komen Breast Cancer Foundation travels to local universities to make college students aware of the risks of breast cancer.

The group visited Raleigh on Thursday. N.C. State students watched informational videos, picked up pamphlets about breast cancer and talked with experienced counselors.

Laci Weeden is the Assistant Director for the N.C. State’s Women’s Center and says it’s important for students to realize that this cancer doesn’t just affect older people.

“Breast cancer can occur in your early 20s, so you need to be aware of any changes that are happening, especially with your breasts, so you can notify your doctor,” Weeden said. “A lot of students do think ‘Well that’s when I’m 40, that’s when I’m 50’, but it does happen now.”

The pink van traveled to Chapel Hill as it continued its quest to educate college communities.

Monday, Sep. 26, 2005

Red Cross volunteer helps Katrina refugees to wed

A couple who fled New Orleans to avoid Hurricane Katrina got married in Wisconsin, with the help of an American Red Cross volunteer.

Jessica Luebke and her fiance, Dahlak Keleta, tied the knot Saturday at the Paddock Lake home of her parents, Tom and Sharon Luebke.

The Red Cross volunteer, Jacklyn VanHeirseele, met the couple as she was interviewing Katrina evacuees in Racine County.

VanHeirseele had recently started a wedding and event-planning business and been ordained in the Universal Life Church, so she helped them make the necessary arrangements and was even able to officiate at the ceremony. She did it as a gift for the couple.

“It’s hard to believe that someone who doesn’t even know you, who never met you before, could do something so kind,” Luebke said. “We are just so lucky considering what so many people went through.”

The couple had planned to be wed at a historic New Orleans mansion before 100 or more people before Katrina hit, but instead held the ceremony before a small group of relatives and friends.

“The most important part is that we’re here together, and we’ve got each other right now,” Keleta said.

VanHeirseele said she was happy to help.

“There are things that come past you, and your eyes are either open to them or they’re not,” she said. “When you’re receptive to what comes to you, life is so much more rewarding.”

Thursday, Sep. 22, 2005

Volunteer sees signs of mercy

First-time national disaster relief volunteer Harvey Lorenz expected scenes of mass confusion when he arrived at his Gulf Coast destination, but said instead he witnessed compassion on a grand scale.

At the BancorpSouth Center in Tupelo, Miss., the American Red Cross had converted the coliseum into a shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Lorenz said church groups and restaurants fed between 200 and 300 people three warm meals a day, anything from grilled cheese to prime rib.

“This was a community north of the hurricane impact and evacuees were coming in … fairly steadily,” said Lorenz, who returned home to Neenah late Tuesday evening from an assignment that began Aug. 31, when he prepared to leave Wisconsin for a Red Cross operations staging area in Mississippi.

“I was surprised at how many people from the Gulf shores had relatives in the community of Tupelo,” he added. “Many (Tupelo residents) were hosting as many as 15 or so, just to give them temporary shelter until they got organized.”

Lorenz is one of the handfuls of Red Cross volunteers on national assignment who soon will be returning from Gulf Coast municipalities neighboring the communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and now may be threatened by Hurricane Rita.

The local volunteers — including four from the Neenah-Menasha chapter and 15 from the Outagamie County chapter — have been sent to the Gulf Coast and to Red Cross call centers in Virginia and Washington, D.C., as assignments come in through a Midwest office in Des Moines, said Rebecca Bergin, executive director of the Neenah-Menasha Chapter of the American Red Cross.

“It takes a lot of commitment and compassion,” Bergin said, who added that most of the Neenah-Menasha chapter’s volunteers are expected to trickle back in early October. “There’s a lot of emotional stress that they’re going to be faced with. With this disaster we’re not going to send people out to do damage assessment because we know the place has experienced complete devastation.”

The volunteers, she said, focus first on meeting people’s basic needs of adequate shelter, palatable food and safe drinking water.

“Once their basic needs have been met, we can help them start to rebuild their lives and point them in the direction of agencies that can assist them in long-term recovery,” Bergin said.

Lorenz, a retired banker, and nine other volunteers set up a makeshift office in the Tupelo coliseum’s hallways to interview families. Over two and a half weeks, he said, his team assisted close to 3,000 individuals from 1,000 families.

“I heard all sorts of stories, from people putting infants or young kids into coolers and floating them across deep waters while they either swam or walked across ditches and got to high land,” Lorenz said. “Very few of the people I talked to really knew what was ahead of them because they had very little to begin with and it was taken away from them.”

If the call comes for volunteers to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita over the coming months, Lorenz said he’ll answer it.

“It gives you a lot of faith in your fellow humanity to see a lot of people being able to respond,” Lorenz said. “It’s remarkable that so many people come in from all over the country and function so well together.”

Sunday, Sep. 18, 2005

Volunteer of the Year

While growing up in Smithsburg, Thomas C. Newcomer would help his grandparents with their farm. While he was working in a field one day, his grandfather, who once served in the General Assembly, asked a simple question.

“What do you want to do with yourself?”

Newcomer talked about his ambitions and how he wanted to see the world. Then, his grandfather asked another question.

“And after you’ve done all that, what are you gonna do for your fellow man?”

These days, Newcomer does a lot.

In addition to running R. Bruce Carson Jewelers in downtown Hagerstown, Newcomer has been a leader for local nonprofit organizations of all stripes – from business groups such as the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation, to educational concerns such as Grace Academy and the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown’s steering committee, to cultural organizations such as the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, and to groups that help such as the United Way.

Volunteering was a family tradition – he remembers both parents and both sets of grandparents giving of their time, Newcomer said.

“It’s also part of my faith – to plug into things where you’re called,” said Newcomer, a member of Tristate Fellowship Church. “There’s great fulfillment in helping.”

Yet Newcomer said he was surprised he was chosen as the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Volunteer of the Year.

“I’m really surprised and very humbled by it,” Newcomer said. “It hit me from left field.”

“These are things I enjoy doing. A lot of people in the community could say that – this is a community that has a lot of good volunteers,” including many of what Newcomer called the “unsung heroes” who quietly help out every day, such as the World War II veteran he knows who regularly collects loaves of bread for the needy.

“I’m not worthy,” Newcomer concluded. “What I’m excited about is celebrating what we are as a community. Sometimes, we get mired down in the problems and don’t celebrate what we have here.”

Thursday, Sep. 15, 2005

NZ volunteer helps reunite Katrina victims and families

Lynne Pope woke up yesterday to find 191 emails waiting for her.

Now she is trying to figure out what to say to a family from New Orleans who watched police shoot a relative, and now can’t find his body.

And how does she reply to a mother looking for her 22-year-old son who is autistic and can’t communicate?

The Palmerston North City councillor, Peter Koch in Switzerland and Texan Jonathan Cutrer are the core of a group of volunteers who have set up a website, Katrina Evacuee Help Centre at, to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Mrs Pope, who runs an internet design business, was participating in an international software development forum, online, when a pastor from Louisiana, who is in charge of the shelters in his area, posted a message asking for help with his website.

“When Peter got talking to him we found the problem wasn’t his website, but that there was not a centralised unified database for people to use,” Mrs Pope said.

“We actually thought that the federal Government disaster agency would have set something up before the disaster … so as nobody had done it, we did.”

In the first 24 hours more than 500 people visited the site and by the time it was launched 12 families had made contact with each other for the first time since the hurricane struck, she said.

“We didn’t even get to develop the site and test it before people were using it.

“The need is so urgent.”

The site contains the names of more than 300,000 people missing after the hurricane. While Mrs Pope receives a couple of emails a day asking to have names removed from the list because people have been found, she receives “dozens and dozens” asking to remove names because their bodies have been found, she said.

“There have been many tears.”

The team members, who do not get paid, have had hundreds of volunteers from all around the world, including web designers and software programmers, helping out and have been working flat out for 18 to 20 hours a day for the past 11 days, she said.

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A big problem was getting word out to people on the ground that there was a large website worth looking at, she said.

As well as missing persons, other features of the site include downloadable Government aid forms, a volunteer register, morgue listings and a job registry. The database can be searched via cellphone and one volunteer group has been distributing cellphones around the shelters and others have been setting up internet booths at the shelters.

Mrs Pope said they were now getting support from US senators and many agencies were contacting them to add their databases to one central location. “It’s getting bigger by the day.”

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Massive Local Volunteer Response for Katrina Aid

Red Cross volunteers usually have to take several courses before they can help out with disaster relief.

But, Hurricane Katrina has created a desperate need for volunteers. So folks interested in helping only have to take the basic mass care and shelter class before they get in line to head down south.

And there is no shortage of volunteers to take that class.

They’re tough.

Red Cross volunteer Tim Kuykendall says, “I think its a difficult road to volunteer for the Red Cross.”

They’re determined.

Volunteer Lindsey Sepp says, “I just really had a calling and felt like I really this was something I really wanted to do.”

They’re the newest batch of Red Cross trained volunteers. And they’re ready to face one of the biggest natural disasters in our nation’s history. Red Cross trainer Dallas Flener says, “We’re trying to tell them the housing that they might have, the conditions they’d be working under, what they might be doing.”

Dallas and Marji Flener spent Tuesday morning teaching these volunteers the basics of mass care and shelter operation. Sepp says, “I’ve learned just how hands on this really is. I never really understood that they do shelter people and feed people and just the basic necessities of life they really take care of.”

After completing the course, the volunteers will be heading down to help Katrina victims sometime within the next month. They’ll be in the disaster zone for two to three weeks… Donating their own time to help ordinary people.. Struck by an extraordinary storm.

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Kuykendall says, “I’m sure we all know somebody that has benefited from the Red Cross. I have personally. They came all the way out to Solitude, Indiana to help out our family when my dad’s house burned down.”

Sepp adds, “If we were ever in this situation I would want people like me and my friend and my aunt to come and help me.”

The Evansville Red Cross is running one mass care class every day.

Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2005

Local merchant turns relief volunteer

When Mark Johnston began watching coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the images he saw of children and the elderly convinced him to do something drastic.

He immediately picked up the phone and began the application process to enlist as a disaster area volunteer for the American Red Cross.

Johnston, owner of two Coldstone Creamery locations in Fremont, is one of more than 100 volunteers who have enlisted in the Red Cross’ Deployment to the Disaster Area program to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

An estimated 1,000 people have completed the walk-in application process since Sept. 4.

Because Johnson is a candidate who already has completed the application and training process, his cell phone can ring at any minute and he’ll be on the first plane to Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.

“Dead bodies don’t bother me,” he says. “I can handle it because those people need help.”

Although Johnston’s familyis concerned about the conditions he’ll face as a volunteer, they know there’s no stopping him.

“They don’t want me to go,” he says, somberly. “But they have also realized this is something I’ve already decided I’m going to do.”

The process for deployment is not a simple one. Candidates must complete an application, an interview, screening and a day of training, among other things.

Johnston, who grew up in Fremont and lives in Livermore, completed his training Sept. 5 and is waiting to be deployed. And his employees at Coldstone couldn’t be prouder of him.

Ashley Sturm, 19, works at the Coldstone Fremont Hub location and is stepping up with other employees to help out any way she can while Johnston is gone.

“Mark is doing a great thing,” she says. “He has a new business he is leaving to help people in need. It’s an inspiration because he’s such a great person.”

An Eagle Scout, Johnston recently returned from Boy Scout leadership training camp, and his backpack is still by the door at home.

“Most of the things I used camping I’ll bring with me to the Gulf,” he says. “I’ve even got a water purifier. I have everything I need, and I’m ready. I want to help.”

Sunday, Sep. 11, 2005

Recognizing our local heroes

Today is a living reminder of the best and worst our country has to offer its people and the rest of the world in what it means to be an American.

We are a proud nation built on individual and collective achievement.

Yes, we are the richest and the mightiest.

But that doesn’t mean we are never going to take it on the chin.

Today’s fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks comes on the heels of Katrina, likely the deadliest natural disaster in our nation’s history.

Whether President Bush showed leadership before or after the two horrible events is not for this journalist to decide. That is reserved for pundits on the editorial page.

What is appropriate is to recognize local citizens who have gone out of their way to help the victims of these tragedies. And the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces.

Among our first few editions on Katrina, we spotlighted Taunton 18-year-old Jenna Wilkinson, 18, who tried to set up a Katrina relief fund through local banks, and after dealing with the red tape, pushing instead to encourage others to support the victims through the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Then George Pereira, a volunteer with the Taunton emergency Management Agency since 2002, flew down to lend assistance. He was followed by a bevy of Taunton firefighters who volunteered to go to New Orleans and other trouble spots to help: Mark Baptiste, Danny Laffan, Jeff Harden, Brian Rose, Jay Hayes and Todd Meyers.

Five-year-old Abby O’Connell had her heart in the right place, making homemade pins in red, white and blue and selling them with the help of her Taunton parents, literally raising close to $300 in a matter of days for the Katrina relief effort.

Taunton siblings Kaitlyn and Steven Turcotte , 15 and 12, along with friend, Nick Brennan, 15, canvassed their Taunton neighborhood with a homemade sign, soliciting Katrina money donations door to door.

Taunton native Bethany King, 27, is on the front lines, helping hundreds of refugee children at a shelter in Baton Rouge, La.

Taunton’s Elizabeth Enos and her daughter, Brittanie, were thankful knowing relatives in Alabama were alive and safe, even though the family’s boating business was destroyed.

Joette Beaulieu was making preparations with her family to open her Taunton home to relatives displaced by the wrath of Katrina, while also trying to figure out employment opportunities for them.

Terry Furtado, who works at Taunton State Hospital, organized a clothing drive to collect adult, child and infant sized clothing.

Austin Heroux, 9, a fourth-grader at the Elizabeth Pole Elementary School was among several youngsters who held a charity party to raise funds for Katrina.

The list of local contributors goes on and on, including many local merchants, public service agencies and private entities.

There is no shortage of heroes and responders for a devastating natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina.

Saturday, Sep. 10, 2005

Volunteers Make Life a Little Easier for Hurricane Rescue Workers, Evacuees

As evacuations and recovery work continue in New Orleans, Americans are pitching in to aid evacuees and help the rescue workers. Mike O’Sullivan reports from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, businesses and residents are doing what they can to assist with the relief work.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in private aid have been donated to the relief effort through national organizations, including the American Red Cross. But the number does not include the many donations to private shelters in places like Baton Rouge, where residents have mobilized to help their stricken neighbors in New Orleans.

Tonja Myles runs a treatment center called Set Free Indeed, which is usually filled with recovering drug abusers. Today, the center houses some 200 relief workers, most of them from Georgia. They include state police, corrections officers, and park rangers. They are given food and a place to sleep after their grueling days working in New Orleans.

“Not only that, but we provide counseling for them as well,” she explained. “We have a staff of licensed counselors, because a lot of them say it’s just like being in a war zone out there. So we want to make sure that this place is as therapeutic as it can be.”

Friday evening, somber rescue workers gathered at the center to discuss their experiences. Some had spent the day searching the attics of houses in New Orleans for survivors. An officer had heard of one, a 42-year-old man, badly dehydrated but alive. The officer said some attics held dead bodies. He says the work is difficult and the stench from stagnant water, decomposing animals, and pollutants is terrible.

Here, however, the rescue workers find a refuge. Volunteer Aaron Seal points to a warehouse with food and supplies, donated by local residents and businesses.

“People have stepped up to the plate (donating) these industrial-size freezers to keep the ice cold for the guys,” he said. “And we were not prepared. The first day, we just went and bought food and were feeding the refugees. Since then, people have stepped up and donated things. Everything’s been provided as needed.”

A well-known Louisiana chef prepares food at the shelter, aided by volunteers from other parts of the country.

Dawn Johnson is a student chef from Minneapolis.

“And there are two other chefs here, and another student, and then my friend who is here, and we all just came down to see what we could do. And this is where we ended up,” she explained.

She is mixing eggs for a baked dessert, and says a hot meal makes a difference for the rescue workers.

“They’re so exhausted and they’re getting so little sleep and working 12 hour shifts,” she said. “And it’s an hour to where they want to be and an hour to come back. And they’re doing stuff that’s hard and heartbreaking, and so this is just a little something.”

In shelters and hotels, displaced residents are also coping with the uncertainty. Evacuee Lionel Hall is staying at a hotel in Baton Rouge with his elderly parents and large family.

“We have clean towels, clean sheets very morning. We’re doing fine,” he said. “They even let us bring our pets.”

He says the disaster had an unexpected result, bringing together the people of this region.

“We meet a lot of folks from different parts of the city. I have met some folks from Kenner, Slidell, Saint Bernard Parish. And you’d be amazed because it’s not the color of your skin, it’s what’s in your heart now that counts. And so far, everybody’s been pulling together,” he said.

He says his family lost no loved ones. All of them survived and plan to return to the city.

“When they rebuild New Orleans, we will be back,” he said.

Friday, Sep. 9, 2005

Heroes come in all ages

The debate over what went wrong with the response to Hurricane Katrina will rage for months, if not years. But disasters also bring out the best in many people. Amid the recriminations, it can be too easy to lose sight of the many acts of unsung bravery and generosity that alleviated suffering and prevented the awful death toll from going even higher. The stories of Americans pitching in to help each other, without regard to color or class, are inspiring. Here are just a few:

• Navy Petty Officer Nicholas Kontodiakos waded through fetid floodwaters and found three elderly people huddled in the attic of their New Orleans home. Petty Officer Royce Burroughs helped him evacuate them by helicopter. “This is what I joined the Navy to do: save people’s lives,” Kontodiakos said.

• Americans have raised $587 million since Hurricane Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, surpassing the $239 million donated in the 10 days after 9/11 and the $163 million in the nine days after tsunamis hit Southeast Asia last December, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy newspaper. Relief centers are overflowing with donations of clothing, food, water and supplies. “People are just pouring their hearts out,” said Sarah Marchetti, a Red Cross spokeswoman.

• Absconding with a school bus doesn’t usually warrant a hero’s welcome. But the first bus of New Orleans evacuees to reach Houston’s Astrodome was driven by Jabbar Gibson, 20, who sort of stole it — at the hint of a police officer who knew quicker help wouldn’t arrive. Gibson, who had never driven a bus before, picked up 70 stranded people, who pooled their money to buy gas for the bus and diapers for the babies on board. “I don’t care if I get blamed for it as long as I saved my people,” Gibson said.

• Companies and foundations have given or pledged more than $200 million. Carnival Cruise Lines volunteered to house 7,000 evacuees on its ships. Wal-Mart has given $17 million in aid and $3 million worth of diapers, toothbrushes and other necessities. Pharmaceutical companies have donated $42.5 million in medicine, supplies and cash.

• After four days without food, seven young children were rescued from a New Orleans home last week by helicopter. In the chaos, the helicopter didn’t return for their parents. The oldest child, Deamonte Love, watched over the others at an evacuation center — a 6-year-old in charge of six toddlers and infants. They were taken to Baton Rouge while their frantic parents were later evacuated to a San Antonio shelter. Eventually, parents and children were reunited in Texas.

• When local, state and federal officials appeared overwhelmed by the hurricane, many wondered whether anyone was really in charge. Then cigar-chomping Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, head of the military task force overseeing operations in three states, hit the ground running. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called him a “John Wayne dude” who can “get some stuff done.” And he did, leading National Guard troops in restoring order while making sure troops knew this was a humanitarian mission. “Point those weapons down!” he barked. “This is not Iraq.” Sometimes it takes a tough man to show needed sensitivity.

Politicians and journalists will, appropriately, investigate what went wrong and who was responsible. While that gets sorted out, it’s also appropriate to recognize those who rose to the occasion.

Anonymous heroes stand, deliver for Katrina’s evacuees

Just before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the South, the U.S. Census Bureau moved Detroit to the top of its list of the country’s poorest cities. But the storm that chewed up and swallowed New Orleans reminded us that, when it comes to deciding who is poor and who is rich, spirit counts, too.

New Orleans’ heroes included many ordinary people whose stories you might never see on the news: the restaurant workers who created meals from leftovers and scraps, the mechanics who hotwired cars and kept generators humming, the nurses who manually forced air into the lungs of unconscious patients, the doormen who pried people out of shut-down elevators.

They weren’t wealthy, but had spunk. Meanwhile, our local heroes include a Detroit woman who has come up with a novel plan to help at least a handful of the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Melinda Lewis is best known for teaching people to combat diseases by leading healthy and spiritually wholesome lives. She and her husband, John, are the founders of Great Joy Health Ministries. They conduct classes in which participants learn the healing benefits of meatless meals, natural foods, exercise, stress management, colon cleansing and water drinking. The classes are usually held at Detroit’s Holy Hope Heritage Baptist Church, 18641 Wyoming.

A frequent visitor to New Orleans, Melinda Lewis has been keeping track of 34 people displaced by the storm, the oldest of whom is 93. Some are Lewis’ friends, and some are affiliated with RhemaWord Enterprises, a Christian audio visual program production company in New Orleans. Members of this group are now scattered throughout the southwest, living in hotel rooms, mobile homes and apartments in Houston and Dallas, Texas, Alta Loma, Ca. and Lithonia, Ga. Lewis has a list of their clothing and shoe sizes and other special needs, including support hose.

She wants people to rummage through their closets and basements, scoop up bundles of clean, used clothes and shoes, stuff these items into boxes and ship them to some of the families on her list

Melinda Lewis has no trouble identifying with people forced to flee their homes and leave everything but their memories behind. She has never forgotten the fire that broke out in a former apartment and kept her away from her belongings for a week. She had nothing but the clothes she was wearing and a pair of flip flops, which she wore to church.

“I just remember how people rallied around us and brought in clothes, sent money, made me feel like we weren’t alone,” she says.

In dollars and cents, Detroit is indeed the nation’s poorest city, but in 2000, the Detroit Branch NAACP raised over $250,000 to aid homeless flood victims in southeastern Africa, $500 of the money raised single-handedly by an 11-year-old girl.

I’m willing to bet that people here and elsewhere will be even more generous to victims of Katrina, a disaster worsened by people poor in planning skills, poor in leadership and, it often seemed, poor in humanity as well.

Volunteer hot line overwhelmed: needs to pull the plug

The city of Greenville says it is temporarily suspending its Hurricane Katrina volunteer hot line.

In a press release, officials said more than 8,000 calls have come in since Tuesday, overwhelming any chance of returning the calls.

“We will temporarily suspend our call for volunteers to allow us time to accurately assess the needs of our guests at the Palmetto Expo Center and to effectively apply the appropriate resources to meet those needs,” the release said.

“We will also focus our efforts on returning all of the messages we received and will continue to compile and sort our now extensive database of volunteers and human resources,” it said.

Donations will still be accepted at County Square through Friday at 5 p.m., and after Friday, people can drop off donations at any Greenville County BI-LO store.

Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2005

Amateur radio networks help victims of the hurricane

With telephones down and wireless service disrupted, at least one group of people did manage last week to use technology to come to the rescue of those in need.

Often unsung, amateur radio operators regularly assist in emergency situations. Hurricane Katrina was no exception. For the past week, operators of amateur, or ham, radio have been instrumental in helping residents in the hardest hit areas, including saving stranded flood victims in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Public service has always been a large part of being an amateur radio operator. All operators, who use two-way radios on special frequencies set aside for amateur use, must be tested and licensed by the federal government, which then issues them a unique call sign. (Mine is W2GSK.)

Ham operators communicate using voice, computers, televisions and Morse code (the original digital communication mode.) Some hams bounce their signals off the upper regions of the atmosphere, so they can talk with hams on the other side of the world; others use satellites. Many use short-range, handheld radios that fit in their pockets.

When disaster strikes, ham networks spring into action. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service.

In this disaster a number of ham emergency stations and networks have been involved in providing information about this disaster – from WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Center to the Hurricane Watch Net, the Waterway Net, Skywarn and the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN).

On Monday, Aug. 29, a call for help involving a combination of cell telephone calls and amateur radio led to the rescue of 15 people stranded by floodwaters on the roof of a house in New Orleans. Unable to get through an overloaded 911 system, one of those stranded called a relative in Baton Rouge. That person called another relative, who called the local American Red Cross.

Using that Red Cross chapter’s amateur radio station, Ben Joplin, WB5VST, was able to relay a request for help on the SATERN network via Russ Fillinger, W7LXR, in Oregon, and Rick Cain, W7KB, in Utah back to Louisiana, where emergency personnel were alerted. They rescued the 15 people and got them to a shelter.

Such rescues were repeated over and over again. Another ham was part of the mix that same Monday when he heard over the same Salvation Army emergency network of a family of five trapped in an attic in Diamond Head, La. The family used a cell phone to call out. Bob Rathbone, AG4ZG, in Tampa, says he checked the address on a map and determined it was in an area struck by a storm surge.

He called the Coast Guard search-and-rescue station in Clearwater, explained the situation and relayed the information. At this point, the Coast Guard office in New Orleans was out of commission. An hour later he received a return call from the South Haven Sheriff’s Department in Louisiana, which informed him a rescue operation was under way.

Another search-and-rescue operation involved two adults and a child stuck on a roof. The person was able to send a text message from a cell phone to a family member in Michigan. Once again, the Coast Guard handled the call.

Relief work is not just relegated to monitoring radios for distress calls. The organization representing amateur radio operators, The American Radio Relay League or ARRL, now is seeking emergency volunteers to help supplement communication for American Red Cross feeding and sheltering operations in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle — as many as 200 locations in all.

Hams who wish to volunteer their time and services should contact the Hurricane Katrina volunteer registration and message traffic database.

And, for the first time, the federal government will help hams help others. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) will provide a $100,000 grant supplement to ARRL to support its emergency communication operators in states affected by Hurricane Katrina. The grant will help to fund what is being termed “Ham Aid,” a new program to support amateur radio volunteers deployed in the field in disaster-stricken areas.

One last note for ham operators in the stricken area: The FCC has announced that it’s extending amateur license renewal deadlines until October 31, 2005.

From Evacuee To Volunteer

She’s a Katrina victim from New Orleans, who says she feels like a queen. The generosity and compassion of East Texas, is making her find a way to give back.

Michelle Jones said, “I’m from New Orleans, I’m from the heart of where everything started.”

She does not know where her family is, or if her home is destroyed, but she still finds a way to be thankful for what she does have.

Jones said, “They have given us clothes, personal items, fed us constantly, they have shown us so much love and compassion. We are just so grateful and thankful, not only to be alive, but to be here in Texas.”

So thankful, that even though Jones came in as an evacuee, she is now a volunteer.

Jones said, “I came in as an evacuee, and I decided that they are doing so much that I need to give something back to them, so I’m helping now as a volunteer. It’s great, I feel like I’m doing something.”

Jones knows she has a long road ahead. But, already, she feels like she has a second home in Texas.

“Thank you Texas, thank you Texas, and the people of Texas currently,” Jones said.

Thousands volunteer to help with local shelters

About 3,000 in West Knoxville who’ve volunteered to maintain the shelters and take care of the evacuees say they are ready to go.

The volunteers received training Monday night and as Volunteer TV’s Jensen Gadley tells us, they are eager to help out in any way they can.

A sea of thousands of faces, people from across East Tennessee showed up to help the massive effort to feed and house people coming from areas hit by Katrina.

Once the sanctuary filled up at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church for the Red Cross training program, people took their places against the wall, and in the hallways, any where they could find a place to stand.

About 2,500 to 3,000 people showed up at the church for the three-hour training session.

“We’re talking about running shelters 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 3 months. So, doing the math if you can work a 4 hour shift or an 8 hour shift, we need 750 to 1200 volunteers to run the Civic Coliseum alone,” says Andy Rittenhouse, from the Compassion Coalition.

Even though around 3,000 came, more are still needed. There are 500 evacuees coming to the civic auditorium, 250 more coming to the church.

“We’re preparing as if that 750 is just the first wave and that there will be others to come. We’re working on setting up other shelters throughout the community,” says Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.

Mothers, children reunited after Hurricane Katrina

Rescue workers are resorting to shoe leather and lots of old-fashioned detective work to reunite some of the hundreds of families blown apart by Hurricane Katrina.

“We just try to follow the trail of clues that are offered to us. But we are having some early successes,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The latest victory came Tuesday when 5-year-old Lecour Boyd was flown to Houston to be returned to his mother, Lakerisha Boyd, who is staying in a hotel near the Astrodome.

Investigators at the National Center first learned of the splintered Boyd family on Friday when social workers assembled a list of missing children from anxious parents assembled in a shelter near Baton Rouge, La.

Lecour’s name was on the list along with his date of birth and the cellular telephone number of his mother. Social workers also included the commentary that Lecour was “last seen on the bridge,” an apparent reference to the Interstate 10 causeway where thousands of New Orleans residents fled their flooded city.

The next clue came Saturday.

“Our hotline received a call from a social worker in White Castle, La., who said she had a child by the name of Lacour Boyd. But she didn’t know where he was from because he’d been transferred there from another shelter,” Allen said. “She thought the mom’s name was “LaQuisha” Boyd and that the child knew the name of his school and that he had three siblings.”

The Case Analysis Unit at the National Center began looking for the mother and noticed two reports with similar names. Workers couldn’t reach the woman through her cell phone since most of the New Orleans telephone system has failed.

National Center investigators in Baton Rouge tracked down the social workers who took the initial information and learned the mother had evacuated the area and was thought to be in a Texas hotel room across from the Astrodome. “So our staff started calling hotels under we found the mother,” Allen said.

Investigators on Sunday reunited Gabrielle Alexander, 2, with her mother, Marcelina Alexander, at the San Antonio Airport after successfully linking the missing child report with a report that a very young child who identified herself only as “Gabby” had been evacuated by helicopter from a New Orleans rooftop.

“We just keep looking for that one key piece of information that ties a parent to a child,” Allen said. “And we have to keep taking these one case at a time.”

Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2005

Volunteer spirit

As Hurricane Katrina refugees begin to pour into Monroe County, they are being welcomed with open arms.

“Our basic concern is to provide a hot meal and shelter,” said Red Cross volunteer Robert Ramsey, adding that he hoped to have families out of shelters within three days of their arrival. The Monroe County Red Cross and Emergency Management Agency are working to find refugees more permanent places to live and jobs here, since most have nothing left to return to.

The Monroe County Chapter of the American Red Cross created a shelter at the Hopewell Volunteer Fire Department on Friday. It expects to take in some 25 now homeless people from hurricane and flood ravaged areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Ramsey opened up the county’s new regional shelter response unit and began pulling out blankets, cots, first aid kits and personal hygiene kits as the Hopewell Springs community began arriving with food and drinks.

“I’m proud of my community, very proud,” said Ramsey as he shuffled cases of bottled water around and answered his continuously ringing cell phone. He had been busy all morning trying to arrange bus tickets for a family separated during the storm and aftermath. Of the family of six, the parents and two children were to be reunited on Friday. Two other children are still among the missing.

But, in the face of this unprecedented natural disaster, the people of Monroe County are showing their volunteer spirit.

Two churches pitched in and borrowed a truck and tractor-trailer and parked it at Wal-Mart in Madisonville hoping to fill it up this holiday weekend and deliver the non-perishable food items to wherever the Red Cross sends them.

Amateur radio clubs are helping families make contact with each other. Two Red Cross volunteers from Monroe County, Donna Bolinger and Sandy Moore, are even going to help in disaster areas.

Dr. Sigrid Johnson at Sweetwater Family Medical Center has pledged to treat refugees (with their drivers licenses). Call 351-7000 or Sweetwater Hospital at 337-6171 to have her paged.

Charlie Satterfield, mass care coordinator for the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency, said the Red Cross needed volunteers and money more than anything else right now. The Red Cross has set up a post at the visitors center in Sweetwater to tell people about the shelter.

It needs people at that post and also at its headquarters in Madisonville. A fund has been set up at Volunteer Federal bank for donations.

Satterfield also stressed the need for hurricane victims to find homes and jobs, saying, “We want to help them get their lives started again as soon as possible. That will help them feel better about themselves.”

Anyone with rental properties available for people needing long-term housing can call Howe Realty at 337-9355.

People with job openings can call Randstad in Madisonville at 420-0645 or the Randstad office in Athens at 745-9501.

Residents from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia can seek employment in Tennessee through the state’s career centers and file inter-state unemployment reports through the state’s Department of Labor by calling 1-800-576-3467.

Tennessee businesses wishing to recruit displaced workers should also contact the department. The travel industry has even set up a job bank at where jobs can be posted by all businesses across American industry in order to help provide work as quickly as possible for those who have been displaced.

Gov. Phil Bredesen asked President Bush to declare a federal emergency for the entire state of Tennessee as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

The governor also deployed more Tennessee National Guard troops, then signed an executive order providing guardsmen and women who are also state employees with partial pay while they are away serving.

In addition, Tennessee will accept displaced students whose schools have been forced to close indefinitely due to storm damage and flooding. A toll-free hotline, 1-800-669-2678, is now in operation to assist eligible students.

Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005

More than 30 years later, Agnes victim repaying favor

Christine Mizenko was a newlywed and living in Swoyersville for about a month when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Agnes destroyed her home.

The attic where she had moved her belongings for safekeeping collapsed. Her Slocum Street house was demolished after the June 1972 flood devastated the Wyoming Valley.

“We lost everything,” Mizenko said. American Red Cross volunteers came to her aid with clothing vouchers and emotional support. “I never knew how I could pay them back.”

She said she could not afford to donate money, but she could make time to help.

The 55-year-old mother of five is now a local Red Cross volunteer and will assist in Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts. She doesn’t know exactly where or when she will go. “Thank goodness my kids understand,” she said.

Mizenko has been a Red Cross volunteer for about 10 years and saves vacation days from her full-time retail job for times such as this. She has assisted in local Red Cross emergencies like fires. She volunteered for her first national assignment last year after Hurricane Charley. “I was scared. I was excited.”

It was an emotional experience. She volunteered in a service center in Florida helping people obtain vouchers for food and other items. Sometimes she handed out water. Young bilingual children helped her and other Red Cross volunteers communicate with adults needing help. “There were many tears, definitely.”

Mizenko said the experience was unbelievable. “I made a difference in someone’s life.”

One hurricane victim’s house burned down when the power was restored. The woman then offered to assist Red Cross volunteers because she had no home to return to. Mizenko remembers people like her.

She can identify with some of the challenges that disaster victims face as she recalls her own post-Agnes experiences. “You’re so confused; you don’t know what’s going on.”

Former Wilkes-Barre resident and longtime Red Cross volunteer Joe Jackson left Tuesday from the Wyoming Valley Chapter to help man the organization’s national hotline based in Virginia. Jackson, 69, first assisted the Red Cross after flooding in Iowa in 1993. “I fell in love with the Red Cross.”

Jackson, a Department of Veterans Affairs retiree now living in Chester County, said his first Red Cross experience encouraged him to continue as a volunteer. “That was a beautiful thing to feel.”

He has helped after numerous natural disasters such as an earthquake in California and hurricanes in Florida last year. “When they need me, I’m ready to go.”

Jackson said disaster victims’ stories still affect him. They tell of hiding in a closet for hours during a storm, praying and fearing that they will die. “You have to feel something that these people went through this.”

He said he would much rather help people, than be in their place. “I just listen to their stories and pray I never have to go through what they’ve gone through.”

Amy Gabriel of the Wyoming Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross said 10 local volunteers will be among approximately 11,000 Red Cross personnel who will assist with Gulf Coast relief efforts. The local chapter has scheduled a second training session for disaster relief team volunteers for Sept. 8 because today’s session is filled.

Those who complete the training could be used for local emergencies in the future or for disaster relief in a few weeks.

Gabriel said local homemakers, retired teachers, nurses and others are enrolled in the training sessions. “There’s more of a desire to help with this because it’s so massive.”

Friday, Aug. 26, 2005

Perpetual volunteer giving back again, this time with her feet

Lori Raudnask is a familiar face in volunteering. She has given her time and energy to worthy causes throughout the community.

Ms. Raudnask was named 2003 Stoney Creek Citizen of the Year. As well, she won a 1996 volunteer recognition award from the City of Hamilton and was nominated for 2003 Woman of the Year.

Now Ms. Raudnask will be going the distance for the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, an event bringing 4,500 women and men together to walk 60 kilometres in a weekend of hope.

The event runs, or more accurately, walks, from Sept. 9-11 through the neighbourhoods of Toronto. Walkers have to raise a minimum $2,000 in donations to get into the walk.

But Ms. Raudnask decided to raise the bar and make her goal five times that.

“I decided to do this walk because so many people in my life have been affected by cancer and it seemed like a challenge.”

As well, last summer, she and her daughter volunteered as camp counsellors at Camp Trillium, which proviides recreational programs to children living with cancer and their families.

“It was a very emotional week for both of us,” says Ms. Raudnask.

She was then asked to volunteer at McMaster Hospital in the cancer ward helping kids ñ playing with them and talking with them before, during and after chemotherapy treatments.

“Their courage and strength is amazing. As hard as it is, it’s rewarding because you’re helping them.

“They’re all going to be in my mind when I’m walking.”

Ms. Raudnask recalls how cancer affected her at an early age. Her first boyfriend died of the disease.

She recites a list ñ mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, a mentor and a special friend ñ who have succumbed to cancer.

“The walk is for breast cancer but I figure if they find a cure for cancer, it’s going to be a benefit for all.”

Ms. Raudnask has been walking since April, in anticipation of the event. She gets up at 6:30 a.m. to walk before her day starts.

As well, she has recruited friends to walk with her while training.

“I figure they should have a challenge too.”

The challenge at the Weekend to End Breast Cancer will be to walk 34 km on the first day and the balance on day two.

Donna Donnelly, of Stoney Creek, completed the weekend event last year and will be walking with Ms. Raudnask in September.

“Last year’s challenge was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had,” says Ms. Donnelly.

She raised $5,000 in 2004 and hopes to do even better this year.

The money raised from the walk will benefit Princess Margaret Hospital, a leader in the fight against breast cancer.

To support a participant, donors can contribute online. Log into and click on ‘Toronto 2005.’ Click the link for ‘sponsor a participant’ and type in the walker’s name to get to their home page.

“I’m having a T-shirt made up and anybody that donates can give me a name of someone in their life that’s been affected by cancer. Their names will be added to the shirt and I’m going to wear it on the days that I walk,” added Ms. Raudnask.

Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005

Volunteer sets good example

Last year, 65-year-old Fran Clark made the difficult decision to move out of her apartment and into Pioneer Manor. A degenerative spinal condition was making it almost impossible to care for herself.

But even though it is hard for her to walk even a few steps, she always keeps herself busy through volunteer work.

Clark was presented with a volunteer award by the Coniston Lions Club recently. In particular, members wanted to thank her for putting two PowerPoint slide shows together on her computer two years ago for their 40th anniversary celebrations.

“She really re-energized us in her volunteerism. When she can overcome such difficulties, we have minor difficulties in relation to what she has. To all of the members, she is our shining star,” says the club’s past-president, Alice Shaw.

In appreciation, the Lion’s Club also donated $500 to Clark’s favourite charity, Sudbury Regional Hospital’s assistive communication clinic.

These days, Clark is still busy helping others as she zips around Pioneer Manor on her motorized scooter. She’s the vice-president of the long-term care facility’s residents’ council.

“I was going down in the elevator just now, and there was a lady…(who) was complaining about having to go to the front office to mail the letter.

Clarke said, ‘Give me that. I can be there in two seconds.’ I made her day. From now, all the ladies on this floor are going to give me all their mail.”

There’s always something to look forward to in life, she insists. Being in a long-term care facility doesn’t mean you’re in a dead-end situation.

Clark recently contributed to Pioneer Manor’s Year of the Veteran celebrations. She acquired old military photos of eight veterans who live in the building, digitally restored them, and put them on a poster along with new photos of the same people.

Computers are alien to most seniors – but that’s not the case with Clark. She learned how to use the technology six years ago, when she was a physiotherapy patient at Sudbury Regional Hospital.

Clark was having trouble with her handwriting, so the hospital’s assistive communication clinic staff introduced her to computers. She applied for funding to get a computer under the Ontario government’s assistive devices program.

Clark took to the technology like a duck does to water. Not just content to learn the basics, she took a course in Adobe Photoshop and now uses a voice-to-text program called Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Sudbury Regional Hospital occupational therapist Lynne Berthiaume is thrilled her department is receiving a donation from the Lion’s Club in honour of Clark.

Berthiaume, who worked with the woman at the hospital, has a long wish list of assistive technologies she’d like to buy. The donation is just enough to pay for a specialized mouse.

Clark is an amazing person, says Berthiaume. Not only does she volunteer herself under difficult circumstances, but she motivates others to volunteer as well.

“People are attracted to Fran in certain ways. She makes other people volunteer without them even knowing. She’s like a recruiter of volunteers.

You’re doing stuff, and it all feels right, but you don’t feel like a volunteer,” she says.

Inside Good News Blog