The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 am to 2 pm, just like clockwork, American Red Cross Volunteer Donna Carman, sporting a radiant smile, can be found at the Mid-South Chapter of the American Red Cross, where she has been a volunteer for twenty-five years. In recognition of her long, dedicated service and her strong will to volunteer despite a disability that makes it a challenge, we are delighted to name Donna Carman as the Volunteer of the Month for October, 2014.
After negotiating her wheelchair off the ramp of the Memphis Area Transit Authority bus that serves as her transport, Carman spends the next few hours maintaining a computer database containing records of the use of all of the Mid-South Chapter’s vehicles. “I call it my miles and miles and miles of data,” said Carman. She also maintains a database of all the housing vouchers provided by the Mid-South Chapter to persons displaced from their homes by fire.
“I can’t keep a regular job,” said Carman. “At least I can use the knowledge I have to help people. The Red Cross helps people, and that’s why I’m here.”
Carman is noted for her radiant smile and warm words for those she encounters during the course of her day at the Red Cross. “If you are feeling down, just go and visit with Donna,” said Kim Motschman Cribb, the Mid-South Chapter’s former Community Development & Public Affairs manager. “When many of us get bogged down with difficult issues related to home or work and give in to a pessimistic outlook, we need only talk to Donna to be reminded of how truly blessed we are and how we can make a difference even under the most difficult of circumstances.”
In recalling her many years with the Mid-South Red Cross, Carman has especially kind words for her previous, long-time supervisor, Priscilla. “She was the best person and taught me so much,” Carman fondly recalls.
In 1969, Carman, then a student at White Station High School, was in an automobile accident that resulted in injures that now confines her to a wheelchair. It was an icy night, Carman recalled, and I was out later than I should have been. My car slid on the slick, icy street and was struck by a truck. The impact knocked me into the back seat and caused me to suffer extensive injuries, including a brain injury.
“I was in a coma for five to six weeks and could not speak for four months” she said. “It was only when my fiancée came back from Seattle to see me that I began to make some one-syllable sounds.”
“I have one good arm, one good leg, and my mind that works. Lord why am I here?” Carman recalls thinking after waking up in the hospital. She credits her Christian faith and the good people of the Audubon Park Baptist Church with keeping her going through that difficult time. “My faith filled me. Otherwise, I would have not made it. It keeps me going today,” said Carman.
After her accident, Carman went on to study computer science and accounting at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Computers remain her passion. “I’m doing what I love to do. Ever since computers came out this is what I love to do,” said Carman, talking about her work at the Mid-South Red Cross.
After finishing college, Carman worked for a short period as a Maintenance Computer Programmer for the City of Memphis through a program funded by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). When that program ended; however, she found the demands of a full-time job to be too much for her to handle with her disability. So she embarked upon volunteer work.
In addition to the Red Cross, she has volunteered at the Memphis Veteran Affairs Hospital and at the Independent Living Center at St. Peter’s Manor. At the VA, she worked with spinal cord patients. “I talked with the guys, helped cheer them up, and sometimes I would go shopping for them,” she recalls.
At St. Peter’s Manor, her volunteer work was to serve as a catalyst for generating interests in activities for the residents. “I would start putting together a puzzle, and once I got it started the residents would come over and help out,” she explained. Carman has fond memories of how the maintenance workers from St. Peter’s came to her nearby home and constructed a wheelchair ramp for her so she could get out and commute to do her volunteer work.
Today, when not working at the Red Cross on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Carman is busy with lots of activities. “On Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays I love to swim,” said Carman. Every Monday she accompanies her mother to the Church Health Center. While her mother enjoys an exercise class, Carman can be found in the swimming pool. Afterwards, they usually have a picnic with their brown-bag lunches. On Wednesday and Friday, she goes to the City of Memphis’ Raymond Skinner Development Center where she enjoys spending even more time in the pool.
On Sundays, you can usually find Carman at Audubon Park Baptist Church where she teaches a Sunday School class. When all of these activities are not occupying her time, she loves to just sit in the sun and sew.
Carman’s many years of volunteer work at the Mid-South Chapter of the Red Cross has been a genuine asset to all of those who have the opportunity to interact with her. “She always has a kind word. She has overcome so many obstacles to be here. Her passion for the Red Cross is a wonderful morale booster,” concluded Maggie Adkison, Office Manager for the Mid-South Chapter.
Story and Photo Credit: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross