Hello. My name is Jammie Carlisle and I am a proud Volunteer for the Louisville Area Chapter in Kentucky.
In 1991, as a young wife and Mother of two small children, we sustained a total loss house fire. Before the local fire department arrived on the scene, a Red Cross volunteer was in our driveway ready to provide assistance.Hours had gone by and the fire hoses had been wound tight. The firemen were finished with their investigation and the police cars had left the scene. Suddenly, we were alone to deal with our grief. But this stranger who had shown up out of no where was still standing with us. How did this person come to be when we didn’t call them, our neighbors didn’t call them and the fire department said they hadn’t called either? But yet, here he was. A simple man with the compassion of a priest and the patience of a Saint, he waited with us as the fire department tried to save our home, our belongings and our family pet.
In the end, nothing was salvageable. We were devastated, to say the least.As the volunteer asked us the many questions that fill up a 901 form (if you don’t know, just ask the next Red Cross Volunteer you encounter), we sat in disbelief. The hour was late and our insurance company was closed. Back then, you couldn’t make a report 24 hours a day. You were left to your own devices until such time that you could reach your agent. But wait…..there was still this man who seemed to just drop from the sky. When he had finished the paperwork, we had a place to lay our heads that night and we had resources to purchase food and clothing to sustain us until we could meet with our insurance adjuster.
Had it not been for that “Lone Ranger” on that day, I’m not sure what we would have done.As the days passed and the ashes settled, it was easy to reflect on what had transpired on that fateful day. It was like a movie playing over and over in my head. But the question still remained, where did the Red Cross man come from and how did he know that we were in need?
As I answered my own questions, it became clear to me at that time in my life that I HAD to pay it back. Over the years, the donation checks were easy to write but it never seemed like “enough”.I made up my mind that once my children were grown and I had the opportunity, time and resources, my donations would come in the form of time. I wanted to repay the compassion that had been shown to my family during our traumatic experience.
So I made the call……how do I become a volunteer? Of course, I never dreamed that my timing would fall on the heels of the worst disaster in US history. With my crash courses completed, standby was mode of each day and the nerves were crawling. Then came the call. I was going to Louisiana.
I flew into Baton Rouge on the day, AND specific moment, that Hurricane Rita hit. The pilot comes across the public address system and clearly says, “We either won’t land here ladies and gentleman or it will be hard and fast.” My heart was pounding so hard and there it was……..hard and fast!!!! The rain was blinding and the wind took your breath. I had flown into an area to assist Hurricane Katrina victims and was now in the middle of a hurricane. The storm lasted 2 full days, with many new volunteers on their first disaster relief operation, including me.
The excitement of being there to help those in need was offset by the fear of being in the middle of another massive storm.Once the storm cleared, the assistance process began. The days were long, sometimes upwards of 16 hours. The work was mentally and physically exhausting. But it is what came during those hours that really mattered. You had touched people’s lives by leaving your home and families, giving them hope that someone DID care; by eating, sleeping and breathing what the next challenge you would face. It was exhausting but yet intoxicating.I came home, the first time, from Louisiana completely spent. But when the call came again 9 days later, I did not hesitate to go out as a Supervisor in a Financial Assistance center in the middle of the 9th Ward of New Orleans.
I’ve seen the wild fires in California, the floods in the mid-west, the tornados in Georgia and at home – I currently serve as a DAT Captain.Since joining the Red Cross, I have trained numerous individuals to provide financial assistance to families in need. It is a true blessing to serve my community and to be able to “Pay It Forward”. Whenever a client asks what they can do in appreciation of the assistance we are providing, my response is and always will be, “call the Chapter office and ask how you can volunteer”.