When Seattle City Light Field Operations Supervisor Greg Carlson takes a vacation, life gets a little better in some part of the world.
Since 1992, Carlson has saved up and used his vacation time to help people in need, using his civil construction skills to fix houses, build shelters, dig wells and anything else that needs a skilled hand. He has worked in volunteer projects in 20 different countries. He helped deal with the aftermath of 9/11 at Ground Zero. He travelled twice to Mississippi to help the victims of Katrina.
And on April 9, Carlson will be heading to West Liberty,Ky., for 10 days with a team of 24 volunteers from his church, Westgate Chapel in Edmonds, to help rebuild and fix housing for victims of the March 2 tornadoes that devastated 21 counties.
“Some people will need help with their windows. Others are people who now have trees in their living rooms,” Carlson said. “We are going there to bring some sense of what was their home back to them.”
Carlson is trained in disaster relief, hazardous materials, and incident command by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). These skills place him in great demand during natural disasters and other unexpected events
Carlson, who lives in Lynnwood, is devoted to volunteerism, and has been active in church-sponsored poverty relief efforts all over the United States And the world. He recently spent time in Armenia,China, and El Salvador, where he helped to build a schoolhouse, a clinic, bore a deep well, and install water pumps for the rural village of Turin.
That well in Turin became the village’s first reliable source of clean, potable water. By a happy accident, the water turned out to be from a thermal source (about 140 degrees), which saved the villagers from having to find expensive fuel to heat the water for cooking, washing and bathing.
Carlson and his fellow volunteers pay their own way and bring their own tools and equipment to the sites the visit. For the Kentucky trip, each volunteer is spending $750 just for food and housing. Carlson also is packing a brand new chainsaw, which, along with his tool belt, he plans to leave behind for residents to use when he comes back to Seattle.
Those gifts of tools are often life-changing for the people who receive them. In Armenia, for example, Carlson gave his tool belt to a local carpenter who had helped them in a construction project. When Carlson surprised the man with the gift, he broke up in tears. The tools in that belt alone were better and more valuable that almost everything the man had in his shop. They immediately made his livelihood easier.
“I get complete satisfaction out of this,” Carlson said. “I enjoy what I’m doing when I’m there, and I don’t ever think of it as work.”