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Furloughed federal employee finds good use for his time — volunteering

SALISBURY — The first day, Bruce Rider mowed the lawn.
The second day, he cleaned out the garage.
The third day, Rider told himself he had to start making better use of his time.
So he drove over to the Elizabeth H. Dole American Red Cross Chapter and asked Roy Beam, disaster team co-coordinator for Rowan and Cabarrus counties, to put him to work.
Friday, Beam and Rider readied materials for the Red Cross’ tent at this weekend’s Autumn Jubilee, where they will be distributing disaster preparation kits and information.
It’s the hurricane season, you know.
Rider is an area resource conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency employs 153 people in the state, including eight in Salisbury’s area office covering 31 counties.
To put it simply, Rider is a federal employee who has been placed on furlough by the government shutdown.
“I said, ‘Nah, they’re not going to shut down the government,’ ” Rider recalls of how he felt heading into last weekend.
But they did, and instead of moping and piddling around his house, Rider decided it was a perfect opportunity to put in more volunteer hours for his favorite nonprofit — the American Red Cross.
“There are so many things you could get involved with,” Rider says. “You just got to do it, whether you’re on furlough or not.”
As a volunteer in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Rider was deployed to Louisiana with a Red Cross disaster assessment team. He used up leave time and stayed for four weeks working on communications, trying to provide connections for people who suddenly found themselves displaced.
Someone’s outlook changes immediately when you can bring them closer to others through cellphones, by providing Internet or even through ham radios.
The experience changed his life, Rider says.
Today, he’s captain for the Elizabeth Hanford Dole Chapter’s Disaster Team 3. Those are the teams which take turns being on call for Rowan Emergency Services when disaster hits here at home and individuals and whole families need immediate help.
The American Red Cross disaster teams that are called, for example, when a 2:30 morning fire sweeps through a house leaving a whole family without anything, not even a place to spend the night.
The Red Cross teams try to furnish the basic necessities, including a hotel room if needed.
On the first house fire he responded to as part of a disaster team, Rider made friends with an 8-year-old boy whose only possession after the fire was a still-smoking Tonka truck.
To be able to give him a stuffed animal that night, Rider says, “that really made his day.”
Beam is a retired state highway patrolman, National Guardsman and Nationwide Insurance adjustor who also is a Red Cross volunteer.
Beam can’t emphasize enough the importance of volunteering and how big the need always is for manpower at the Red Cross. He’s happy to have Rider’s extra help, and it gives him someone to kid around with.
Besides their preparations for Autumn Jubilee, Beam and Rider spent one day making sure the Red Cross’ disaster-relief trailers were organized, equipped and set to go.
Rider, 59, has been with the USDA for 30 years. When the last federal shutdown of this magnitude occurred during the Clinton administration, the USDA’s budget already had been approved. So Rider wasn’t placed on furlough then.
Rider says he really appreciates the people who donate money toward the Red Cross, but for individuals who volunteer themselves, the rewards are even greater.
“I don’t like to get up at 2:30 in the morning to go on a call, but that’s what people need,” he says.
Rider’s message basically is this: Don’t wait to be furloughed to volunteer for something, anything.
“There are just so many needs out there,” he says.
Or you could mow the lawn and clean out the garage.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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