Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Gary Gardner’s smile said it all as he received an award on July 11 for his volunteerism.
The Berkeley County resident and American Red Cross volunteer had just returned from the disastrous wildfires in Colorado Springs, Colo. There he had a three-week stint of managing shelters and feeding operations working with families, many of which are military.
Gardner now manages shelter operations for the Red Cross Carolina Lowcountry chapter.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Judd, commander of the 628th Force Support Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, presented the Volunteer Excellence Award to Gardner. It is a lifetime achievement award given to volunteers dedicated to the military.
Gardner was initially sent to Colorado as a shelter supervisor, was assigned as a mentor to a local volunteer, then oversaw mass care management. He was involved with providing shelter, food and bulk distribution cleanup kits.
He was guiding a trainer in managing those functions, he added.
“We ramped up what was going on then,” he said. “They moved me from shelter manager to mass care manager.”
Gardner said the night manager of the hotel he was staying in lost her home to the blaze.
“One morning she was pretty down,” he recalled. “The mental health volunteers talked to her. We took her under our wing and helped her through the five stages of grief.
“My reward for all of this is the hug or thank you I get at the end . . . volunteerism has been in my blood for a long time.”
Gardner said he volunteered for the military service and after retiring he was unable to sit around the house and twiddle his thumbs, so his wife got him to volunteer at the Naval Health Clinic, where he has managed up to 50 volunteers.
In 2008 he joined the Red Cross and has since volunteered more than 12,000 hours for them. Gardner is also a Red Cross volunteer in the Roper St. Francis emergency room.
He said getting involved with the Red Cross just escalated his volunteerism.
“It’s almost a full-time job,” he said. “I enjoy what I do and look forward to continuing.”
He has been deployed to 11 national disaster operations for the Red Cross, including 12 weeks in New York and New Jersey earlier this year following Superstorm Sandy.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is there are people who care,” Gardner said. “The Red Cross is one big family.”