Saturday - Nov 10’ 2012

Our flight departed Charleston, West Virginia for New York City at 6:00 a.m. this morning which meant a very early rise for all. Even though Joyce’s flight for home wouldn’t be leaving until a couple hours after ours she rode with us to the Charleston airport in order that the Fab 4 could stay together as long as possible. Saying goodbye to new friends is never easy but we choked back the tears and said our goodbyes and the Fab 4 -1 touched down at Laguardia Airport at 7:40 a.m. and call into the Red Cross Headquarters to find out about transportation. True to form the Red Cross said a shuttle would pick us up but it never materialized so we took our chances with a New York cabbie. If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking a ride in a taxi in New York City you should try it sometime. I tell you it’s not for the feint of heart. I though at one point we were going to have to put blinders on Carmen but she did fine and we arrived about 30 minutes later in Manhatten near Red Cross HQ.
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$$$$$$

The roads were terrible but thankfully traffic was somewhat light for New York City. Most of the streets were lined with trash which made the city look dirty from ground level as opposed to how it appeared when we saw the skyline flying into it which made it look more like the Emerald City from above.

Unfortunately, as it turned out we found out after getting out of the Taxi we were still blocks from the Red Cross HQ where we had to check in. We had to hoof it on foot for several blocks with all our luggage in tow navigating through a maze of humanity. We finally arrived there around 10:00 a.m.
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And this isn’t even close to the tallest of the tall.
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Finally time to check in and get our work assignments and get busy.

Wrong. Instead we spent a frustrating day going from Red Cross work station to work station trying to figure out what, when and were we were supposed to be and do. After much confusion each of began to get phone calls instructing us as to what shelters we would be assigned. Yes … they split us all up and we each had to report to a different shelter to support.

Carmen was first to get a call … she would be going to a Staff Shelter in Deer Park which was somewhere in the middle of Long Island. She had a very difficult time getting transportation coordinated but eventually she did and a text I received from her late in the day said that she made it there safely. Her text back to me was that she was at a staff shelter that had 75 staff people for rec and kitchen workers.

I was next and I was excited to learn I would be working at a shelter on Staten Island. It’s actually on a ship, The SS-Wright dedicated to the Hurricane Sand Relief effort. Check out this picture of the ship and its history at the web link below. Very cool! I hoping to arrange some transportation out to that location first thing in the morning. Note in the article below it mentions it was deployed in November for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Wright_(T-AVB-3)

Allen is still waiting to get an assignment to a shelter but he has a lead on one but no one at the Red Cross has followed up to confirm it yet so I’m not sure exactly where he will be going. Allen and I are in a hotel room at the Milford Plaza on 45th street in Manhattan tonight. This will probably be our last night with all the amenities so we’re going to try and enjoy it while we can.

Although Al and I were extremely tired we just had to get out and walk around some and take in some of the atmosphere and sights of New York that were close to us.
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Luckily we were very close to Times Square (above) so we headed there. One Word …. WOW. Here are some other pics from our walk around and the strange encounters with some of the inhabitants there.
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Honesty is the best policy
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What trip to New York City would be complete without seeing the Statue of Liberty. This guy was kind enough to bring it directly to you. Funny but I don’t remember that our Lady of Liberty was expecting :-)
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This doesn’t look like the Dynamic Duo although I was glad to see that at least Batman was on duty protecting Gotham City although slightly out of shape. As I walked away after this pic the guy said “We do this for tips” in broken English several times. I gave him a $ 5 dollar bill. I wonder how much these creative individuals make on a good day. With the economy the way it is you make money any way you can.
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One last parting shot of Times Square at night

This would probably be all the sight seeing we would be doing in New York but I was thankful for that. Al and I will be turning in early tonight in prep for tomorrows work. Carmen called and checked in with us later this night and she is doing fine at her location. We have committed to each other to continue to check in with each other each day going forward and we all hope we can see each other again when we out process later in the week and our two week deployment comes to a close.

Sunday - Nov 11’ 2012

After a good nights rest I was up early and excited to get to my assignment on the SS-Wright over on Staten Island. Said good-bye to Allen and checked out of the Milford Hotel and hoofed it back over to Red Cross HQ with all my gear to get a ride. Only problem was no one in transportation could help me. Being a party of one and wanting to get transportation anywhere put me way down the priority list. After a couple hours of trying I gave up and call my new supervisor and told him and he said if I could just get to Staten Island he could pick me up from there and drive me to the ship. My first thought was the subway but with a full set of luggage I wasn’t in love with the idea of tackling that. I didn’t want to spend money on a Taxi but after talking to one he said it would be about $20 to get me down to the Staten Island Ferry and from there the Ferry ride over was free and it runs every hour.

The cab driver was from India and very cool he even knew how to speak Korean some. We chatted all the way there and we drove right by the site of 911. I took this shot real quick after jumping out of Taxi at a long stop light at his suggestion.
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One of the new Freedom towers going up.

I was dropped off in front of the Staten Island Terminal building near Battery Park and I made my way inside with luggage in tow to see when the next Ferry would depart. Next Ferry was at 9:30 a.m. There was a ton of people there, even for a Sunday morning, and I wasn’t sure how many the Ferry held and whether or not it was going to be a rush to get on when it arrived. Looking for a seat to wait I sat next to an elderly gentleman that had and inviting smile. Boy did I pick a good guy. His name was Nathan and he was heading over to Staten Island to see his girlfriend he had not seen in while. We struck up a conversation and became instant friends.
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Great picture of Nathan … He was one cool dude and extremely helpful to me

We chatted the entire time and I was riveted by his description of the events of 911. He was there that day working on a building only blocks away from the former World Trade Center towers the morning the planes slammed into it. He recounted the event and it was chilling to hear his first hand account of what happen that day. When the Ferry arrive he lead the way and made room for me to get through the crowd to board. We sat and as we traversed the upper bay and I got a good look at everything as he provided info on every attraction. Here are some pics as we crossed the upper bay on the way to Staten Island.
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You can see two of the new Freedom Towers in this shot
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Lady Liberty in the background but check out the armed Coast Guard escort the Ferry gets as they cross the upper bay. If you look carefully or expand this picture on the boat you will see an M60 Machine gun mounted to the front. Sign of the times we live in.
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Little closer shot of the Statue of Liberty

After about a half hour or so we docked and true to his word Dave (My new supervisor in charge of the shelter on the SS-Wright) picked me up and took me to the ship.
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Shot of me and the SS-Wright that will be my new home for the rest of this week
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Captain of the Ship on the left and Dave, Shelter Supervisor on the right
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A picture taken from the back of the Ship. The views are spectacular from the deck back there and today was an exceptionally beautiful day.

This ships shelter supports 75 of our Red Cross workers and 35 Baptist Volunteers workers. We are charged with taking care of their needs as they go out each day into the affected communities delivering food and services. I had my first shift earlier today and my next one starts at 3:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. They aren’t long shifts and there are house keeping duties to take care of at other times. Resting tonight on the SS-Wright docked on Staten Island.

Monday - Nov 12’ 2012

My role here on board the SS-Wright, Red Cross Staff Shelter, is not exactly what I expected it to be. It’s not front line work directly facing the needs of the clients and those that have lost so much as it was when I was serving in the snow stricken areas of West Virginia last week. Instead, our team’s role is to support the Red Cross Staff that drag themselves out of their bunks tired and stressed every single day but yet determine to do what they came here to do … serve others.

They work long difficult hours tirelessly each and every day and they wear the pain and frustration on their faces as they return to the shelter each night burden with the devastation they see daily yet inspired by the stories of people they encounter that have lost everything yet still see a way forward. These are volunteers like John and Linda age 80 & 67 respectively. They still find time to give of themselves when they could easily be enjoying other more leisurely pursuits in their golden years. In contrast I’ve seen young adults in there early 20’s, as well as every age and nationality in between, volunteering their time and talent as well. They forgo their families, school & college pursuits, their jobs and their own self interest just to give a little of themselves to another.

I try and talk and listen to as many of them as I can as the opportunities present itself each evening and they inspire me as I see them choke back tears as they tell me about the victims they assisted that day or they may share stories from other disaster that they have been on. On this deployment I’ve met many that have been on 25, 50 even 75 deployments for various disasters that have spanned years and years of service to others. Linda shared a very poignant story with me tonight about a couple that had lost everything in a disaster and when they came to the shelter and were asked about their feelings and needs and the elderly gentleman said “
I can be bitter or I can be better. I choose to be better”. What an attitude in the face of just having lost everything you worked your whole life to gain.

There are countless other stories out there to be told. Even though I haven’t gone out to the devastated areas here myself I don’t have to look far to see the affect of Hurricane Sandy. I took a break today and left the ship and walked just a half mile down the debris litter seashore to this sight.
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Off in the distance on the right side you can see a ship that was washed up on to shore as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The bridge in the background is the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
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Here’s a closer shot but it’s a little grainy but this was as close as I could get. There was a crew there working to free her.

Staten Island where I’m at accounted for 10 of the 40+ deaths from Hurricane Sandy in New York State alone and took the brunt of Sandy’s storm surge. It was the low lined area of Midland Beach on Staten Island just 5 to 10 miles south of me was where those 10 people died. They were elderly immigrants of Italian & Russian decent many to old and unable to evacuate or just to stubborn to obey the evacuation order and decided to stay in their homes that were quickly just washed away as the storm surged roared through here.

I was talking to Helen today. She is in charge of a group of Red Cross workers that are assisting at a State run Client Shelter only 2 miles from here at Bayley Seton Hospital that is housing about 175 people on the 5th floor of that hospital using a wing of the hospital that was apparently in disrepair and not being used. She has a team of about 6 or 7 Red Cross people (all women) and she was telling me she needs more “manly” help down there but hasn’t been able to get additional resources there yet from HQ.

I discussed the issue with my supervisor and asked if I could take a vehicle and go over there tomorrow afternoon after my morning shift here is done and maybe provide some assistance to her and the others women there that were trying to care for all these people. He agreed to let me go as long as I could be contacted to come back to the ship in case I was needed here. Kind of like volunteering within a volunteering effort.

Time for bed … I’ll have to relay on another day what life is like living on a ship. These tiny bunks on the ship feel like mini coffins when you crawl in to one to sleep but at least I have a place to sleep this night.

Took a picture of a pigeon today flying free. Reminded me of my Honda Goldwing Motorcycle sitting in the garage at home waiting for me to set it free. I miss riding it and being on the road riding but that’s a luxury I can easily wait on in light of what’s before me
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Amazing how throwing yourself at something like this can refocus your whole life and show you what is truly important. I’ve hardly had time to miss riding as strange as that sounds for me. In fact, it’s only now as I get closer to the end of my two week deployment and coming home that my yearning to ride is picking back up and some of my thoughts are returning to my former life and riding my motorcycle on the open road again.

Tuesday - Nov 13’ 2012

After my shift on the ship this morning I grabbed lunch and headed over to Bayley Seaton Hospital 2 miles south in order to give an afternoon of my time to a contingent of about 7 Red Cross workers assigned to a Client Hurricane Sandy Shelter there. I mistakenly said in yesterday’s log that this shelter was being run by the Red Cross. This was incorrect and I have corrected that in yesterdays post. In fact, in New York State apparently none of the client shelters are run by the Red Cross. Instead they are managed and run by the State with the Red Cross only assisting in that effort.

I was upbeat, positive and eager to see the operation over there and help out Helen and her team in any way I could. Any one that knows me outside of this deployment well knows that I’m usually anything but positive and upbeat most of the time in my mood so even I was surprised. In fact, this entire Red Cross deployment experience has given me a chance to see a side of me I don’t usually project. It is a positive change that I hope would carry over in my demeanor when I return home. Little did I know that within 5 short hours I would be depressed, dejected and angry at what I was about to experience.

It’s hard to know exactly where to start to recall my experience today in words. I do know that the images of what I saw and experience today will be with me for the rest of my life. They were that powerful to me. As I rounded the corner and enter the hospital property I was immediately struck by how incredibly old this hospital was. In fact, in my research of it I discovered it is well over a century old and some of the original buildings, many of which are abandon and condemned now, were initially constructed in the mid 1800’s. It was Staten Islands first hospital.
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Not the main entrance but you can get a flavor of the nature of the building from this picture

As I walked through the doors and found my way to the 5th floor where the shelter was I thought I was entering a police state. There were so many police there you couldn’t hardly walk a few hundred feet without seeing one stationed at various post throughout the hospital. In hindsight I guess it makes sense. When you have close to 175 people sheltered here it’s a true microcosm of society and order must be maintained. Nevertheless … it was intimidating.
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Policeman exiting the elevator. Blurry I know but taking pictures here wasn’t something people exactly welcomed and I reframed from taking any direct shots of any of those sheltered here by themselves.

I checked in with Helen and she assigned me some work and I immediately began interacting with some of the clients that were there eating lunch. I maned the coffee machines, helped with serving, handing out water and supplies and helped move the belongings of one family that was moving out of one of the rooms to a home that FEMA had provided them. Least that was my understanding but not sure of the details.
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Helen and another Red Cross volunteer serving one of so many sheltered here.

The 5th floor had been quickly renovated and rooms repainted to make them habitable. These were previously hospital room that probably held 2-3 beds in them for the sick at one time that had now been converted to shelter families, couples even their pets. They had reached max capacity and there was on going work on other abandon wings of the hospital in order to quickly provided more room for many that were still coming there looking for shelter.
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Workers trying to quickly ready more rooms

As I was serving coffee, and a lot of coffee was being consumed, Mr. William Lundy entered my life. He was a frail old man that had to be in his 70’s or 80’s. He was by himself with only a single suit case by his side. I fixed him a cup of coffee, one of several that afternoon that he had, and each time I interacted with him he would ever so gently grab my arm and quietly lean into me and softly ask me if I had heard if they had found a room for him yet. He explained that his nephew had dropped him off earlier in the day and had completed all the required paperwork they had asked for but his nephew had to leave and go to work. He was told to wait and someone would let him know when they had processed his paperwork and had a room for him. It seemed hours had passed and several more had passed since I had been there and he was getting worried and wondering if I knew the status.

Of course I didn’t but I tried to reassure him as best I could and said that these things take time and that I was sure they would eventually find space for him. This exact conversation played out a couple more times as the afternoon progressed and by the end of the day I had to know the answer myself. I wrote down his name and a few more details about his nephew and took off to find someone that could give me an answer. I knew it was probably a futile task but I had to try so down I went to the second floor where the FEMA administrators were to tactful ask someone if they were aware that Mr. Lundy had been waiting all day. I eventually found the right people but gained little info. They ruffled through their paperwork for his name but it was more for show. Eventually they stopped their half hearted attempt and said we will get to him please tell him to continue to wait. With no authority to press the issue I had to let it go and return to face William with less than substantive news.

Of course it wasn’t the news he wanted to hear but he took it positively. He was so grateful that I had tried and he said that at least he knew that they were still working on things and thanked me profusely for checking on his status and said he felt better. I didn’t feel better at all because I knew in all likelihood he had many more hours to wait and wonder where he would spend the night. Why his nephew left him here I will never understand. I pray he’s coming back to check on him and take him to his house. I can’t help but wonder this cold wintery night where William Lundy is resting his weary head.

The room where meals were being served and many of the hallways were sprinkled with the most sincere and simplest expression of love and drawings that you will every find anywhere. They shared consoling words, love and hope from grade school kids from neighboring schools and scout organizations in a way only children can do. It sure warmed my heart to read them and I’m sure if provide some comfort to those sheltered there.
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Local Children’s drawings and well wishes for the victims of Hurricane Sandy sheltered here.

At one point during the day myself and a couple of other hospital volunteers were tasked with helping one family actually move out of the shelter and that was a positive thing. As I entered the room to start dragging things out you can only imagine the odor and filth these poor people had to put up with living in these kinds of conditions. They also had a cat. Many other families had dogs and other pets. Every single thing they owned now was in a plastic bag. No wonder they were so happy to get out of there.
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One families entire belongings after we moved it outside and waiting for a truck to take it all to their new location.

I know this has been a long journal entry, and I thank you so much for reading it. Believe me I could go on and on with many other things I saw and experienced today but these are the ones that stood out to me that I wanted to share with you. I will never forget this day and the people whose life I only put in an appearance for a few hours. There life will never be the same and in many ways neither will mine.

This was extremely difficult for me to write through all my tears and I hope and pray better days are ahead for these proud and honorable people. So hard to understand why bad things like this happen to good people. I know there is purpose here somewhere and I hope one day to understand it once the entire story of all our lives have been written and put into context.

As darkness fell outside I walked into the cool evening air and as I left the hospital and drove back to the staff shelter at the ship I felt a strange emptiness inside. I was so drained this day both physically and mentally that I couldn’t even sleep. I know I will bounce back but this was a very tough day.


*** Forgot to give an update to everyone on what I had heard from Carmen and Allen. Allen is doing fine and actually has Wednesday off, will out process on Thursday and plans to fly home on Friday the 16th. I believe he’s in a hotel in Manhattan until he leaves. Carmen had a late night excursion to a shelter they directed her too but it was closed and no place to stay there. She ended up driving an additional 2 hours and is in a staff shelter in White Plains, New York. I’m not sure when exactly she plans to fly out home but I’m guessing on Friday as we are all on the same two deployment schedule. ***

Wednesday - Nov 14’ 2012

Today, per my supervisor’s request I stayed on the ship for my normal duties related to supporting the Red Cross staff that were being housed there. Aside from the daily cleaning chores and covering a shift or two accounting for the number of people we had on board there was little else to do. Things picked up towards the end of the day as we found out there was about 30 Americorps workers coming in that would be taking up bunks in our portion of the ship. We were about half full at that point but once they settled in our little living space got pretty crowded pretty quickly. Americorps workers are generally between 18 - 24 years of age and where here to help out with the Hurricane Sandy relief as well. I had never heard of this group before but found this web site that explains what these young people are all about.

http://www.americorps.gov/for_individuals/why/index.asp

Many of us older volunteers were encouraged to see some of our youth taking an interest in helping out others especially at such a young age. However, as with any group of people of any age there’s always a bad apple somewhere. Prior to their arrival everyone on board was pretty lax about charging their cell phones and electronic devices by generally placing them around the living area on the floor near plugs. I was no exception and even with the influx of people this pattern of trust continued. I had my iPhone plugged into an outlet charging while I was showing some of the new folks around the ship early that evening and when I came back my cord was there and my iPhone was gone. Many tried to convince me I had simply misplaced it and that it was lost but I knew better and that it had been stolen. Unfortunately, I did not have the app on my phone that will allow you to locate it or manipulate it once it turns up missing. All we could do was call it and try and listen for the ring and that turned up nothing. I called AT&T and suspended my number and they blacklisted the phone so it would not work for anyone else going forward

I was so upset and angry and I’m actually glad I’m writing about this after a few days has transpired and my angry has subsided some otherwise I might have shared a few choice words here for the person that took it. Anyway this really soured me the rest of this day and into the next but there was nothing I could do about it until I get home and get my new one that fortunately I had ordered right before I left. It was sad to think that amongst all the good people that were here giving to others that someone else in our group had the exact opposite objective. Probably a good thing I didn’t get my hands on the person or found out who it was least I’d done something I would have regretted. I do have a temper that even at 61 years old I have not learned to control very well. Oh well … time to get over it and move on.

Thursday - Nov 15’ 2012

Out processing was the order of the day and our supervisor had made it extra easy for us since all we had to do was out process over the phone with Red Cross HQ back in Manhattan. This was great because it meant I could avoid another day of dragging my bags all over the city just to get back over there. I completed my out processing on the phone and made my reservations to fly home tomorrow out of Newark airport which was only a short distance away from where we were at. I spent most of this evening sharing stories with the friends I had made while I was there and exchanging contact information so we could hopefully stay in touch some in the future. I slept just a little better this night knowing that I would be sleeping in my own bed in another 24 hours.

Friday - Nov 16’ 2012

What can you say about going home? There’s nothing like it especially if you’ve been sleeping on a cot or fold up bunk on a ship that felt like you were in a coffin for most of the last two weeks. There were a few nights in a motel here and there but there were many more that were spent to cold, to hot, very noisy and uncomfortable in many other ways. I was truly looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again and relishing the fact that I would be able to finally get some contiguous sleep. The past two weeks you pretty much just sleep whenever you could or got a chance.

After a plane change in Baltimore, Maryland we landed in Nashville, Tennessee late afternoon and a couple of Red Cross workers from my local chapter greeted me and drove me home. I was very thankful for that as my wife was out of pocket this particular evening and I needed the ride home arriving around 6:30 p.m. this evening.


Final thoughts

Looking back and reflecting over this experience, which was in fact my first deployment with the Red Cross, I came away with an overall positive feeling. However, that doesn’t mean there were not many facets of it that really got my blood boiling in regard to the inefficiencies. I expected some confusion and I expected to “hurry up and wait," an old military expression, but I had no idea that the level of confusion and miscommunication could ever reach the levels we experienced. You just can’t prepare yourself for it as it’s that bad. There were just too many really really big disconnects that just could not be explained away. I’m sure geography, politics and interagency bickering would explain a lot of it but I’m still of the mind the Red Cross could do a better job than they are doing now managing their resources (people and supplies) and getting the right amount to the right places … they should at least be in the ballpark.

Don’t get me wrong they are doing all they can and the workers in the trenches are above reproach in their efforts but the bureaucratics running this show need to take a hard look at trying to streamline many of their processes for committing and utilizing their resources. Easier said than done I’m sure. Being retired myself and volunteering my time to the Red Cross in times of disasters is my time so if it’s being wasted I’m the only one being affected. However, there were so many Red Cross volunteers that I met and worked with that had left their jobs, put their schooling and or college efforts on hold just to volunteer their time. When they don’t get utilized effectively they lose a lot more and that unfortunately discourages many of them from returning to volunteer again.

For me …. I will come back and volunteer again and the next time I will know exactly what to expect and I will be much better prepared to serve. I’m also going to talk to my local Red Cross Chapter about some of my concerns and see if I can work with them to maybe establish some type of mentoring program for those deploying. That was an idea a few of us discussed and kicked around as one possible solution to help those that volunteer for the Red Cross and are thrown in to this confusion to deal with it better and not be discourage from coming back.

If you’re thinking about volunteering some of your time to the Red Cross like I did I would strongly encourage you to do so. I hope my journal of my experience will encourage others to volunteer and give their time. Time is our most valuable resource that we can give because we all only have a finite amount of it to give to others in our lifetime. Giving money is great but to be honest you really don’t know where that money is going or exactly what it’s being used for (especially these days). Giving your “time” on the other hand you have totally control over and you know first hand you are doing good for others.

Take Care … and if you enjoyed this story you might like to read a few of my Road Trips stories which can also be found on my web site by clicking
here.