By U.S. ArmyApril 4, 2014
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- In a world full of gaps, Carol Edlin, Carolyn Jones, and Jeanne Ann Mullins are a bridge, linking U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District employees and their loved ones to much-needed and welcomed resources. Each woman is a Department of the Army civilian and together, over the course of a decade, volunteered nearly 16,000 hours to help employees and their families better manage deployments to combat zones as well as natural disasters. For their efforts, each was recently honored with the President's Volunteer Service Award, the nation's premier volunteer award.
"In the beginning, volunteering was simply about fulfilling an unmet need," said Mullins, who has served as a paralegal for the district for more than 21 years.
The United States had been deploying troops and public servants, including Huntington District technical experts, to combat zones. While troops could expect well-established deployment and family support programs, there wasn't a similar program for Huntington District employees and families locally.
After consulting with advisers at the district and developing processes inspired by the U.S. Army Family Readiness Group model, the Huntington Employee Assistance Resource Team (HEART) was born. Jones and Mullins were the co-chairs and Edlin, their most reliable and selfless teammate.
In a pre-social media world before online technologies made it easy to connect with family and friends regardless of distance, HEART set up several video teleconference breakfasts, so wives, husbands, children and parents could see and talk to each other. HEART has held various clothing drives, school supply drives, and even obtained brief cases for Afghan engineers working with USACE when deployed Huntington District employees told HEART Afghan professionals were carrying plans and specifications in plastic bags. HEART collaborated with other organizations, including churches and schools to obtain clothing, toiletries, and blankets for Wounded Warriors. Edlin, Jones, and Mullins even endeavored to learn about Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be better equipped to provide support and friendship should any returning employee need some help.
"It was our mission every day to make sure every deployed employee; every family member was well taken care of while their loved one was serving. We truly care about these people," said Jones, a statistical assistant who has served with the district for more than 27 years.
HEART assists in the coordination and preparation of durable medical and power of attorney documents, American Red Cross emergency communications, and has provided families with love and support through crisis including natural disasters and deaths. Volunteers have eliminated small-scale emergencies, too, such as when the family of a deployed civilian had a leaking roof after a terrible storm.
"We're an organization full of engineers, maintenance mechanics, and just a bunch of good people, so we knew we had employees who were willing and able to volunteer their time and expertise to fix that roof," said Mulllins.
HEART organized a team and the leaky roof was fixed.
Countless other activities benefitting employees and their families HEART sponsors include a banquet for deployees and their guests, book drives, and bake sales, always with the purpose of investing in people and helping them thrive.
HEART is not the trio's only venture into serving others. Both Jones and Mullins served during Hurricane Katrina emergency response, and Edlin, a military spouse, has volunteered at military installations in both the United States and Europe.
"There is no greater gift than to give your time, love, and friendship to those in need," said Edlin, the project assistant at Grayson Lake who also volunteers at a homeless shelter.
Recognizing and honoring volunteers sets a standard for service, encourages a sustained commitment to civic participation and inspires others to make service a central part of their lives, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
"Despite working fulltime, nurturing their own families, and even volunteering at other organizations, Carolyn, Jeanne Ann, and Carol have set a high standard for volunteer service at the district," said Huntington District Commander, U.S. Army Col. Leon Parrott.