In this journey of life, it’s great when a wide, well-marked road stretches as far as we can see in front of us. It’s another matter when that road abruptly ends and there are no clear signposts toward the future.
Almost six years ago, my wide, clearly marked road ran out. After a 38-year professional career in the technology sector, culminating in a high-responsibility position with a prominent computer services corporation, I was laid off.
In my entire working life, I had never been laid off. My career moves had always been my choice, not my employer’s.
It was a shock.
I was 62 years old at the time. Who wanted to hire an old guy with not that many years left in the workforce? Life was not good. I started moping around the house. I became angry and was sliding into emotional despair.
My wife and daughter observed my anger and frustration. They agreed that I needed something meaningful to do.
My daughter had just accepted a position with Lutheran Ministries of Alabama, a fledgling non-profit. She was excited about her work and the direct help she was able to give to those in need.
I had helped people indirectly by contributing money to worthy organizations. But I had never worked directly with people in need.
My daughter began a full-court press to get me to volunteer with her organization. My first assignment was to analyze LMA’s operations in Bayou La Batre, which were transitioning from Hurricane Katrina recovery to naturalization of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian populations.
The next opportunity was to help expand LMA’s programs, especially supervised visitation for non-custodial parents and its educational enrichment program for youth, into some of Alabama’s poorest counties.
In April 2011, as we were beginning to expand, one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history struck Alabama especially hard, killing 238 people in our state. The disaster demanded LMA’s significant engagement.
LMA, a Lutheran Disaster Response affiliate, had been involved in disaster recovery before, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina was a significant event, but the devastation occurred mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi. Neither LMA nor our state was prepared for an event as devastating as the April 2011 tornados.
I vowed that LMA would help the citizens of Alabama prepare better for disaster. LMA began establishing relationships with a multitude of federal, state and local governmental agencies and with faith-based and other not-for-profit agencies. Their commitment to survivors was what impressed me most.
Some were experts in mass care, others in warehouse management or disaster case management. For its part, Church World Service offered specialized supplies and support for long-term recovery.
Because LMA could reach out to Church World Service for CWS Kits and Blankets, we were spared having to collect and assemble these important items. Instead, we could focus on getting materials and services to disaster survivors.
In July 2011, Lutheran Ministries of Alabama was among the coordinators of a CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” seminar, which laid a solid foundation for individuals, communities, churches and other groups wanting to revive or establish long-term recovery organizations to help the most vulnerable people affected by the tornados.
The April 2011 tornado outbreak was my “first disaster” but it wasn’t the last. Most recently – just this past April – two dozen tornados touched down throughout central and northern Alabama, killing five people and damaging or destroying more than 10,000 homes in nine counties.
Once again, Church World Service responded to LMA’s request for help in the form of 100 CWS School Kits for children from communities battered by the most recent tornados and severe storms. We handed the CWS School Kits out along with tips on disaster preparedness.
We continue to apply our learnings from the 2011 Recovery Tools and Training and to reinforce the training with CWS webinars.
CWS clearly demonstrates the values promoted by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster: communication, collaboration, cooperation, coordination. LMA’s partnership with CWS has been rewarding for all involved.
As I have become more deeply involved with Lutheran Ministries of Alabama, I have become convinced that it is not by accident. I couldn’t see it at first, but I understand now that after my wide, clearly marked road ran out, God left me a trail to a new future.
After losing my job, I thought it would be impossible to regain a high level of contentment in life. I was wrong. At the end of every day, I am tired but joyful. I am doing work that allows me to use my time and talents in a very meaningful way.
I receive no financial compensation. But knowing I have helped someone each and every day is a reward of immeasurable value.
Ron Turney is a board member and volunteer for Lutheran Ministries of Alabama. He belongs to Shades Valley Lutheran Church in Homewood, Ala.