Neighborhood Spotlight: Volunteering gratifying for Jim Thorpe woman
Gail Solomon, a lifelong Jim Thorpe resident, has volunteered with the American Red Cross since 2015. See a video at tnonline.com. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS
The timing was perfect.
It was 2015 and Gail Solomon had just retired from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as a casework supervisor. Two weeks later, she saw an advertisement in the newspaper for American Red Cross volunteers.
Having decided life was too short after her husband passed away in November 2014, Solomon signed up.
“It was a great fit, because I started doing disaster services for the Red Cross and was responding to home fires and severe storm situations to help people with temporary lodging, monetary assistance and other resources to get them back on their feet,” said Solomon, a lifelong Jim Thorpe resident. “With my job for the state, I was already working with a lot of those partnering agencies.”
Shortly after signing up with the Red Cross’ Pocono Mountain Chapter, Solomon was thrown into action. She received training on a Monday and that Friday she was called to the scene of a fire on South First Street in Lehighton that killed a 7-month-old infant. There were four apartments involved in the fire and although Solomon did not work directly with the family involved in the fatality, it was not the easiest first week on the job.
“Everyone was traumatized,” she said. “It was sad. They all just lost their homes.”
That is where Solomon and the Red Cross step in. She calls helping people in their biggest moment of need one of the most gratifying parts of the job.
“I like knowing I can see someone’s needs and figuring out how I can best help them in that moment,” Solomon said. “As a caseworker, I used to be able to sit down with clients and see what brought them before me. I carry that over to the Red Cross. It’s not cookie cutter for everyone. Every situation is different. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and talk with people and let them know I’m there to help them.”
The Red Cross is more than offering assistance at fire scenes. Solomon said no matter what one’s interests are in life, there is usually a volunteer position at the agency to match.
“There are office positions, dispatch positions, it’s not all out in the field,” she said.
Solomon has volunteered as a caseworker to make follow up calls to clients to discuss recovery steps, assisted at shelters and warming centers following blizzards or prolonged power outages, and canvassed the area to arrange fire alarm installations in homes needing them as part of the Red Cross’ “Sound The Alarm Campaign.”
She has also stepped up as a bloodmobile ambassador to register blood donors during blood drives.
“Whatever you want to do in life, the Red Cross probably has something to meet your skill set,” she said. “They’re a great group of people to work with.”
The most difficult part about volunteering with disaster services, Solomon said, is arriving to a fire scene and encountering a family who has just lost everything.
“You’re going to eventually get them aligned with the service providers they need, but in that moment the best thing you can do is put your arm around them and tell them they’re going to get through it,” she said.
Solomon’s volunteer experience extends well beyond the Red Cross. She is the secretary for Diligent Fire Company #3 in Jim Thorpe, where her husband volunteered for 44 years and her son started as a junior firefighter at age 14. She is also the treasurer for the Jim Thorpe Community Watch program and serves on the board of directors for the Carbon County Action Committee.
“I help my elderly, ill, disabled neighbors with a ride to the store or the doctor, a meal, paperwork, etc.” she said. “I take a gentleman to Philadelphia for ongoing medical care and have been teaching several of my grandchildren to drive.”
Anyone interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, she said, can sign up online at www.redcross.org.
“If someone has a need and you can help, why wouldn’t you?” Solomon said. “It is a rewarding feeling you will experience knowing you have helped make someone’s day a little better.”