Teen shows character with Red Cross

Published 2:56 pm Monday, September 26, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
With the influx of hurricane activity in the Gulf Coast region, we have reaped from the benefits offered by numerous relief organizations. The American Red Cross is one such agency that has moved to the forefront in hurricane relief. Without volunteer assistance, even they would not be able to function. Many people affected by a natural disaster want to help. Some people give money, and others time.
One Atmore resident gives his all to the Red Cross, but he is not your typical volunteer. Colby Troy Howard, 17, has been volunteering countless hours with the American Red Cross for one year.
"I went to donate blood at a blood drive in Atmore with my friend, Josh," Howard said, "We met, Mrs. Boyle (Charlotte Boyle, Chairman of the Board for West Escambia Chapter Red Cross). She knew both of our Dad's and told us we should volunteer."
Howard and his friend Josh Husband went almost immediately to sign up as American Red Cross volunteers. Husband has not been able to volunteer as much as he would like because he is still attending school and working a job as well.
Howard however has worked daily for no pay since Ivan hit the area last year. He works everyday the organization opens from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. and sometimes later depending on what the workers need from him.
Howard was born in Bitburg, Germany in 1988 and later relocated to Atmore with his mother after his military parent's divorced. Howard attended Bratt Elementary, ECMS and ECHS before obtaining his GED from Jefferson Davis Community College in Atmore just recently.
"I was having trouble in high school," Howard explained, "I wanted to join the military. I talked to a recruiter and decided to go ahead and get my GED, so I could go on with my plans."
According to Howard, he has wanted to go into service ever since he was a young child. Both his grandfather and Dad were in the Air Force. Howard is enlisting in the Army National Guard with plans of joining the Marines once he completes basic training.
"I'll be in basic training for six weeks," Howard said, "Then I'll go to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for the Marines."
Howard is slated to leave Atmore in February enroute to Paris Island, S.C. Howard could have gotten a full or part-time job prior to leaving, but he wanted to do more. Howard has thought through his future plans quite a bit. He wants to train and work in the MP (military police) division once he is officially enlisted. Howard, who will be eligible to retire from the military when he is 36, plans to take the state license test to become a state trooper.
Howard hasn't second-guessed his decision at all, but for his mom, Dana Howard, his decision has not come as easy. Howard's mom was concerned about Colby taking the time off before he left for basic training.
"Mom was very skeptical about me not going to work before boot camp," Howard said, "She didn't want me joining the military either." According to Howard, it took some time before his mom would sign his release papers to join the guard.
Now after working unselfishly for a year, his mother's skepticism is gone. Howard said that her son has always had a tender heart and cared for people.
"I am so proud of Colby," Dana Howard said, "He is such a good boy." Howard's mom is not the only woman impressed with the young teenagers admirable actions. Executive Director of the West Escambia Chapter of Red Cross, Dot Killiam, Charlotte Boyle, chairman, and Red Cross Volunteer, Alice Holmes are ecstatic over Howard's commitment and drive.
"He has always been a wonderful volunteer from the time I met him, until now, " Boyle said, "No chore seems to be too difficult for Colby."
Howard remembers reporting to duty for the first time and finding three older women working feverishly alone.
"I couldn't stand those ladies being alone and not having any help," Howard said, " They were working so hard and there was just things that they could not do."
From that point on, Howard came daily to over his help to these 'damsel's in distress.' His volunteer work has turned into full-time volunteer work. Something that few high school graduates would be devoting themselves to before leaving for boot camp.
In fact some of Howard's friends find it strange that he is spending his days working with three older women for no pay.
"My friends will call me on Friday afternoon," Howard said," They want me to go out with them to Pensacola." But according to Howard, he turns them down because he feels he could be more helpful at the Red Cross.
"I couldn't think of me in Pensacola having fun with my friends," Howard added, "while Mrs. Dot, Mrs. Charlotte, and Mrs. Alice are here alone not being able to get stuff done."
In fact Howard chooses to volunteer with the Red Cross over anything else. He says that no matter what is going on in his life, that he will find a way to help other people.
The young teen has definitely found a way to help other people. Howard was volunteering when the daily deluge of victims poured into Atmore after Katrina's devastating blow.
"He always does things so cheerfully," Boyle commented, "Colby has always been willing to work and has such an easygoing disposition that makes people feel welcome and comfortable."
Atmore Red Cross is extremely proud of Howard and are equally impressed with his dedication and maturity. However, they do have fun with him too!
"They are always picking on me about my girlfriend," Howard said," they ask me if my girlfriend gets mad at me for spending more time with them than her."
Howard has learned countless life lessons from his encounters with people he has assisted through the ARC. One family, who lost everything to Katrina, stands out the most in his mind.
"A family from New Orleans came in for help. They stayed at home during the hurricane as well as their nephew who lived across town near one of the levee's," Howard said,
" The two families communicated by text messaging each other during the storm. The
Nephew told them that the water was rising forcing his family to retreat to the attic."
The family told Howard that they had not heard from their teenage nephew since. Stories such as that are hard for an adult to understand, but for one special teen, it's stories like that one, that makes him keep going.
"It makes what I'm doing worthwhile and makes me feel good." Howard said. Other Red Cross volunteers have come to Atmore from all over the state in the aftermath of Katrina and Howard is the most unusual of them all. It is not everyday that you find a young man of that age to be so respectful and caring about others needs, according to Boyle.
Boyle who doesn't know what she will do without Howard when he leaves for basic training has seen Colby Howard take such pride in the Red Cross itself.
Boyle commented, "He is always most cooperative and that is what the Red Cross is about – 'Saving Lives Together."

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