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Gentle Giant With a Heart Just As Big

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The main reason I volunteer is to help people that have nowhere to go after disaster.

Joe Norton, a life-long Baton Rouge resident, volunteered his nights and weekends to help the Red Cross manage several shelters in his home state since the historic flooding began. He even spent some of his time working in the same shelter he worked at 11 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005. 

Fast forward to August 2016 in Southern Louisiana. According to meteorologists, nearly seven trillion gallons of water deluged the state. Despite being flooded himself, Norton did not hesitate to volunteer to help. When asked why he spent his days since the historic flood at a number of Red Cross shelters, Norton said, “Because there are people in greater need than me.” He shared that it’s been a bit Déjà vu, as well as bittersweet seeing clients coming into the shelter that he helped 11 years ago. 

About eight years ago, Norton came to a point in his Red Cross volunteer career where he wanted to make a significantly greater difference. In 2008, he stepped up to become a shelter manager in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.

Come back to today, Norton sits at the customer service desk in various shelters. He makes a point to walk the floor every hour or so to check on the shelter residents and get to know their individual stories. With heartfelt sentiment, he says, “Why would I leave them? They’re my people too.” 

Joe has a few more years until he’s eligible for retirement. He is grateful to his employer—the State of Louisiana—for paying him his full wage and benefits for 15 days a year while serving as a volunteer. 

A gentle giant with a heart just as big, Norton concludes, “The main reason I volunteer with the Red Cross is to help people that have nowhere to go after disaster. While I was fortunate enough not to have to seek Red Cross services, I did apply and received assistance from FEMA to help rebuild my home.” 

Norton plans to volunteer his nights and weekends until the last resident in the shelter departs.