July 1, 2013
Since I began my blog in early 2011, and until December 2012, I had only written stories on my website about places I visited, things I did, and people I met. Only a few close friends knew how bad my health was and the challenges I was facing as I traveled. For many years I have donated to various charities, and animal and wildlife care centers. I told very few friends about my charitable donations. I kept this very private. It seems now the time has come for this part of my life to become public. It’s been a tough decision, but I know that I prayed about it and God, through emails and messages from my friends, and those I helped, that now is the time to make it public in order to bring awareness to the needs of the volunteer fire departments around the country.
Before I left on my trip the end of March 2013 I knew as I drove around the country that I would be looking for charitable organizations such as rural fire and police departments, libraries, etc. I had planned to be on the road for nine months. As it turns out, I was only out for about a month before I had to return to south Florida due to my worsening health condition.
After I left Bluffton, South Carolina, in early April, I headed north to Tennessee to visit another friend. Several hours later, my check engine light came on and after a couple of hours it didn’t go off, so I thought before I went over the mountain towards Asheville, I would get it checked. After many stops at mechanics, all who said they couldn’t check it for me, I was led to a mechanic named David who is the owner of Bowen Auto repair in Inman, SC. If you ever need auto repairs, and you are near Inman, find David’s shop. I arrived at his shop just as he was closing and he said I could park in his yard until morning when he would check my camper. In the morning, it was checked and found that a sensor was for some unknown reason giving an error code. I think the unknown reason is that God had a plan and the check engine light coming on was a big part of the plan. As a result of the light coming on, and me being led to David’s auto repair shop, I met Fire Chief Caruso, this was no coincidence. As David’s mechanic was checking my camper, I talked with David and asked if he knew of small local police and fire departments who could use some financial assistance. He said he knew of a fire chief that he felt could use some help so he called the chief. A short time later, Fire Chief Caruso arrived and we had a really nice talk and he told me his department, the New Prospect Fire Department, had recently purchased a truck and they needed a water tank for it. He told me the amount and I wrote a check and gave it to him. He was very surprised, and I think in shock. We exchanged contact information and said we would stay in touch. So far to date, we have, and not only that but his wife Pam and I have also become friends. What a special blessing it has been for me to include Chief Caruso and Pam into my inner circle of friends. Even though we have only known each other for about 4 months, it feels like we have been friends for years. Pam is a hospice nurse and like her husband, is a very caring and special person. My life is much richer for knowing them.
Anyway, after donating to the New Prospect Fire Department, realizing how much they were in need of funds, I asked Chief Caruso to locate other departments near him that could also use assistance. He provided a list and I was able to purchase fire hoses for several departments, their current hoses were 15 to 20 years old. Another department needed water rescue equipment for a portion of a river recently opened to kayakers, the county did not give funding to purchase the necessary kayaks, boat, and water rescue training. I also helped a homeless shelter that was in serious need of assistance. Being able to help others has always brought me joy. Before now, my donations were to places I knew and/or did volunteer work for. Donating money to organizations where I didn’t know the people gave me an entirely different perspective and realization of how much of a need there is, and the impact it can have on an entire community and the people it serves. The sincerity of the recipients has truly touched deep in my heart. They are so moved that a complete stranger would help them for no reason other than wanting to help. Most of the departments didn’t believe it was true, that someone they never met wanted to give them money to purchase needed items.
On my way back to Florida after leaving Tennessee, I was driving on backroads through Georgia and stopped in a town called Ludowici and left my contact information for the police and fire chiefs, and library director, to see if I could help them. I won’t go into the story about this here, you can read it in a link in my story about the Georgia firefighters. A Georgia newspaper wrote a nice story about my donation, which started the ball rolling, and was what caused my story to become public. At the bottom of the Georgia firefighter story, there are links to several articles that were written about me, I feel very honored and humble that I am able to take this path and help others.
I didn’t know the story in Georgia was going to be written, I received a comment on my website from a newspaper asking permission to use a photo of me from my website, when I asked why, he told me about the article his newspaper was writing about my donation to Ludowici. I felt like God was telling me that this part of my private life is supposed to be public, in order to bring awareness of the needs of not only volunteer fire departments, but also small police departments, libraries, homeless shelters, animal rescue groups, and others, but primarily volunteer fire departments. I had no idea this was to become my mission, and my passion, and probably what’s keeping me alive longer than my doctor and I thought my time here on Earth would be.
The night the Georgia reporter contacted me, and sent me the link to the online newspaper, I prayed about whether or not to go public with my donations, especially to volunteer fire departments. In the morning when I woke up, I had two emails, one from a friend, and one from Chief Caruso. They both said pretty much the same thing, which I took as a message from God about whether or not to go public. Part of what Chief Caruso wrote was “What a fantastic article! Once again, it is amazing how many people you have touched and continue to touch with your generosity. It is much more than the employees of each one of these agencies, you are touching the entire town or community that receives a donation. You will never be able to determine how many firefighters or citizens have been helped because of a piece of equipment that was purchased with one of your generous donations. I know you don’t want all the attention, but others need to know what a blessing you are and how much you care for people you have never met. Your donations to the animal shelters not only helps save the animal, it enables that animal to be adopted and enrich the life of someone else and it is all because of your desire to help anybody. The LORD has a special place in Heaven for you. Pam and I feel so fortunate to have crossed paths with you and call you a friend.”
So, after discussing the pros and cons of going public with several of my new fire chief friends, I decided that in order to bring awareness of the need of funds to purchase life saving equipment for volunteer fire departments to go public. I don’t think any of us had an idea at the time how much of an impact it would have around the entire country, not only in our local areas.
Once it was in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, somehow, we don’t know how, Fire Rescue 1 put it on their website and Facebook page, we were amazed how many likes, shares, and comments those sites received. All the comments were positive, one person said she would have a garage sale to benefit her local fire department. Wow… it started to make a difference. Then a few other fire sites picked up the story. CBS Miami, Channel 4, contacted me and wanted to do a story… the word is spreading… I feel so humble and grateful to be able to share about this important mission.
When I got back the beginning of May 2013, I went to see my doctor. Both of us thought I would have a month or two left to live, based on her examination of me, and the symptoms I described. On July 1st when I went to her, we were both surprised that I am still here. We talked about all that has happened in the past two months, my blimp ride, Matt meeting Sue Arnold at the Wildlife Care Center, my involvement to the extent it is in helping the firefighters, and much more. The doctor and I talked about whether we made the decision for me to come back towards the end of April too early, should I have stayed out longer on my trip. I told the doctor that if I had stayed out longer that none of this would have happened. It worked out the way God had planned. I had been donating some money but nothing to the extent I have the past month. Instead of having it all donated after my passing, I wanted to donate more while I was alive because it brings me so much joy to know the impact I am having helping these departments, and in the process we are all becoming friends. I know my life and the lives of others are richer because we are a part of each others hearts.
I’ve received so many notes, emails, texts, phone calls, and other messages from the fire chiefs and their members, and people in their communities. All of them touch my heart so deeply, their comments are too many to include in my story. One chief gave me a card with words that I feel would reflect the thoughts of all the chiefs. In part it says “… the gear and equipment you are helping us purchase will help protect the lives of my firefighters and help make sure they return home safely to their families after the fire. Also, the funds to purchase the Jaws of Life will help us serve the public in those traumatic times when those few moments can mean the difference between life or death.”
I feel truly blessed, grateful, and my heart is full of love, joy, faith, and so much more. How many people get to know before they die that they are so very loved, respected, and that what they are doing now will have a positive impact for others for years to come. Every time a firefighter has bunker gear to put on to fight a fire, or a fire hose or nozzle that works, or they use other life saving equipment, they will know that someone cares about them. In many of the comments and posts I read, many firefighters and their family members thanked me for caring about them and helping to give them the equipment they need to do the job they love… helping others and saving lives.
We can all help make a difference, a donation in any amount will help a volunteer fire department or organization in need.