Monday, Nov. 28, 2005
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.disastersearch.org, 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.
The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls, Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a TimeA 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.”
This would be an incredible act of faith and kindness if it were created by an American. The fact that you aren’t a native and took the time and effort to do this elevates you to saintho