Bruce and Jan Brooks take the concept of paying it forward, where someone who has been helped in the past in turn helps someone else, to heart every day. As they enjoy their retirement years together, neither could conceive of sitting at home all day every day while there are so many people out there they could be helping.
"Both of us have a desire to help people out of problems that they have," Bruce said. "We've been helped a lot, and we just want to help other people when they get into distress problems."
Bruce said they have been volunteers with a number of different organizations since they moved to Minot 15 years ago. They were looking for something helpful to do to get involved in the community and also wanted to get to know people.
Bruce and Jan Brooks have lived in Minot for the past 15 years and volunteer for a number of organizations, including the Mid-Dakota Chapter of the American Red Cross. Bruce currently does Armed Forces Emergency Services casework while Jan volunteers in the disaster call center.
Foremost at the top of their efforts is the Mid-Dakota Chapter of the American Red Cross, where they have both volunteered since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina all but wiped New Orleans off the map.
"We were doing call center stuff during the Katrina hurricane, and that was kind of our baptism by fire, I guess," Jan said.
"It certainly was," Bruce added.
During their time volunteering in the disaster call center, Bruce and Jan took phone calls from people affected by Hurricane Katrina who were looking for help. While they couldn't directly help the callers, Bruce said they could refer them to other resources they might not know about or hadn't tried yet. Just as important as giving the hurricane victims resources to help aid them was listening to them.
"The thing that felt really good to me when I was taking phone calls was the number of people who said, 'Thank you for listening.' They just wanted somebody to hear them out," Jan said. "I know what that feels like ... when you're in trouble you want somebody to hear you out."
"We were last resort, that call center was last resort. They tried everything and nothing seemed to work, and in a disaster of that size it tends to get automated, you lose a personal touch," Bruce added. "Just being able to talk with a person, as Jan said, was extremely important to these people because they could explain their problems."
Bruce called the experience very rewarding and hopes they were able to help some people down there at a time when they really needed it.
"The Red Cross is a good place. We'd been here a while before we got into the Red Cross, but we kept hearing about them and then when this Katrina thing came up and the call center opened we thought that would be a neat way to try to help. So that's really when we got directly involved with the Red Cross down here," Bruce said. "But we volunteer lots of different places, lots of different things, not all Red Cross."
Since then Jan has continued volunteering in the disaster call center while Bruce has moved onto other efforts for the Red Cross. He said during Minot's spring flooding he helped throw sandbags and when that got to be too much work he shifted to giving out sandwiches to other volunteers.
Bruce has also volunteered for the Armed Forces Emergency Services for three or four years. If a family member needs to get in touch with someone in the military due to an emergency such as a death or illness in the family, they call their local Red Cross chapter, who then gets in touch with the American Red Cross, which in turn contacts the military on behalf of the family. This also works for members of the military who need to contact family back home.
"We're the link between the person with the problem and the military in the field, and it could be vice versa, too," Bruce said.
Volunteers carry a phone a week at a time and they are on duty when the Red Cross office is closed, which means getting an emergency call at 3 a.m. is not unheard of.
Of all the resources the Red Cross has, it's probably the volunteers who are most important. Bruce said it's getting harder to find volunteers for every organization, not just the Red Cross. Fortunately, since they are both retired, it's easier for them to find time to volunteer than it would be for someone younger who has work, family and other responsibilities to juggle around any volunteerism.
Bruce and Jan have both noticed that volunteers seem to be aging out, not just from the Red Cross but from numerous organizations around town. Jan said there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers just at the Red Cross alone. She mentioned she recently helped make Christmas cards for veterans at the Red Cross, and also noted the Red Cross teaches babysitting classes, CPR classes and a host of other things. Everything the Red Cross does to help the community happens because of volunteers, and the couple hopes more people will be able to find a little time here or there to help out in the future.
For more information on volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross in Minot, call 852-2828.
While there aren't enough hours in the day for Bruce and Jan to volunteer for everything at the Red Cross, they do as much as they can and enjoy every minute of it. Their golden years are hardly slow-paced affairs where they sit on the porch and watch day after day go by, and they wouldn't have it any other way.
"We care for people and it's a good way to help people in times of great distress. It's the most we can do for the problems that aren't here (in Minot)," Bruce said. "Rather than just sit and watch and hear it on the news or read it in the paper, hopefully you're able to help people directly and that's a very good feeling."