By Stephanie Heckman, Red Cross Public Relations Intern
Keith Parrill finally returned to his Columbus home after spending the past several weeks helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York. Keith, a retired military man, spent a successful career flying helicopters and building houses. As a Red Cross volunteer for the past eight months, he said volunteering for disaster relief efforts is now his passion.
Five years ago, Keith went through a personal crisis and decided to change his life’s direction. After volunteering in the Dominican Republic, he realized that he could also help his own community by volunteering for the Red Cross. He said he always drove past the Red Cross building without giving it much thought.
When Keith decided to train to become a Red Cross volunteer, his sister asked him, “You’re pretty good at building houses, but how good are you at saving lives?”
He went out to prove himself by attending training sessions with the emergency service department.
Keith said volunteering led him to place personal relationships first in his life and to open up to others. Helping those who are going through a crisis has led him to reevaluate his life and become more appreciative because “we have so much right here.”
“If you want to build relationships, come to the Red Cross,” Keith said. “I was the guy a few years ago, who worked 7 days a week and didn’t have time for family.”
His future plans including taking more classes with the Red Cross and FEMA. He said the Red Cross is a “great coach” and prepares volunteers for everything they will face. His goal is to do disaster relief globally, with Columbus as his home base. “It’s not about knowing [the victims], they’re you and I,” he says.
Keith recommends this to everyone, especially “middle-age empty-nesters,” stating that there’s a “void that needs to be filled.” He claims that once you get the volunteering bug, it “ruins you” by changing your world view and preventing you from returning to “the self-centeredness.”
Going to Sandy to be a “worker bee,” he likes to tell others that you don’t have to be in a leadership role to help others. Like most busy Americans, Keith said he felt like he “couldn’t afford to volunteer, now I feel like I couldn’t afford not to. We all have something to give.”
Keith said volunteering for the Red Cross is hardly routine and that he enjoys being a student, always learning more. He said the richness is in helping others and that “no one can take this feeling away, it’s incredible.” He suggests that by helping to financially support the Red Cross, donors allow volunteers like him to continue helping others.
“I just found out what I want to do when I grow up – at 54,” he said.
Visit our website for more information on becoming a Red Cross volunteer.