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.
Memphis Fire Department dispatchers and captains of Disaster Action Teams (DAT) at the Mid-South Chapter of the American Red Cross may not know her face, but they certainly are familiar with Carolyn Smith’s ever-so pleasant voice, even at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. Smith handles all disaster calls as the single point of local contact for mid-south fire departments, the Red Cross national dispatch center, DAT Captains, and local Red Cross emergency workers.
“Carolyn ensures that clients get the help they need. She is a critical piece of our service chain,” said Jeana Bailley, Emergency Program Manager for the Mid-South Red Cross.
“Everybody knows I have a third leg, and it goes with me everywhere,” said Smith, referring to her ever-present dispatcher’s cell phone. “I try to never miss a call. No matter what I’m doing—at work, in class, or at church—when it goes off, I excuse myself and take the call. Thank God I’ve never taken one for a disaster at my address,” she continued. Smith has handled these duties continuously since September of 2013.
Recently, Smith went beyond the dispatcher role when she responded to an apartment fire with DAT Captain Linda Bomes. “I called Linda about the fire around 12:30 a.m. She had no one to accompany her, so I told her that I would meet her at the chapter. When I woke my 29-year old daughter to tell her I was going, she got dressed and came along too, and she is not even a volunteer. Responding and helping those in need made me feel really, really good,” Smith recalled.
Smith’s daughter is an important part of her life. “It’s just the two of us. She’s my baby,” said Smith
Professionally, Smith is a Training Specialist and Accreditation Manager for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Police Department. She became a Red Cross volunteer in 2008 after visiting a Red Cross recruiting table that was part of an event held in what is now Health Center Park, near her office at UTHSC. Smith had to go on volunteer hiatus for a while when she, with lots of help from her siblings and church, became the primary care giver for her mother and sister, both of whom she ultimately lost. But once she recovered from the trauma of their death, she came back to the Red Cross. “I felt a strong need to do something to give back,” said Smith.
When not at work Smith is likely to be found taking night courses, although she is currently taking a break from her studies. A graduate of Southside High School in Memphis, she received an Associate’s Degree from Belhaven College and has started working on a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Phoenix. She hopes to begin working on completion of her Bachelor’s degree in 2015.
After serving as a caregiver for her mother and sister, Smith says she found she had developed a much deeper spiritual awareness and that religion had become an even more important part of her life. “In December of 2012, I accepted the call to ministry,” she shared. Smith hopes to enter seminary early next year. “My passion is to slow down and live in a way that shows God through my actions, by how I see and hear him on a daily basis,” Smith continued.
When not working, volunteering, or going to school, Smith loves to cook. She is an avid baker and enjoys taking old, traditional recipes and converting them into more healthy dishes. “I use spices to give them a kick, while still keeping them healthy,” said Smith. She is also very much involved with her women’s Bible study group.
“Carolyn Smith is a wonderful volunteer. She is always there and can be counted on to get critical information to staff members and volunteers who respond to disasters and provide the humanitarian help that is the mission of the Red Cross. Naming Carolyn as Volunteer of the Month is certainly an appropriate recognition for the essential role she plays in our organization,” said Kevin Kuhns, Volunteer Specialist/Grant Administrator for the Mid-South Chapter.
Photo and Story Credit: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross