BANTAM, Conn. -- Glenn Kaminsky of Bantam, Conn., started volunteering when he was 10 years old -- and has been going strong ever since.
He has served as a disaster relief volunteer for the American Red Cross for years, giving thousands of hours of his time, including helping out with the spring flooding in the Midwest, working as a relief manager at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La., after Hurricane Katrina, assisting in Texas after floods and helping out in Florida after hurricanes. Trained in the culinary arts, he often works at soup kitchens.
His volunteer work even interfered with his wedding plans. He and his wife, Lindsay, were supposed to get married the second week in March in a small wedding, but then Kaminsky got a call from one of his friends to do volunteer work in New Orleans. Instead of celebrating with 50 wedding guests, they said their vows later at the town hall.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Kaminsky, who was employed as an emergency medical technician at an ambulance company in New York City, raced to the Twin Towers to help with rescue efforts after the terrorist attack. He was at Ground Zero giving medical aid and doing search and recovery for two days. Then he volunteered to help search the rubble for the next few days. Then he worked for the Red Cross coordinating volunteers for several more weeks afterward.
"It was the greatest loss of human life I had ever had to deal with at one time," he says. "The magnitude, the scale, the smells were horrible. I can still smell it."
Unlike other disasters, this one "hit closer to home because it was home," he says. "It's one thing to go into someone else's community and deal with their trauma and their loss. You get to separate yourself afterward. Being in my own backyard, it was more difficult."
On this year's 9/11 Day of Service, he plans to return to the site to do more work there.
It took a toll
His volunteer work at Ground Zero has left him with severe asthma and respiratory problems. He has had three surgeries to remove polyps from his throat, and his voice box has been shaved down.
But he doesn't think of himself as disabled and isn't taking any help from the federal government. "No matter how sick I get, I just keep going."
He is able to devote so much time to volunteer work because he lives in the woods in a one-bedroom cottage, drives a 10-year-old car and has received some financial support from his family, he says.
Kaminsky is studying forensic psychology at the University of Connecticut in Danbury and preparing, along with his wife, to join the Peace Corps.
His love for volunteer work started early. His grandparents went to live in a nursing home, and the visiting hours didn't fit into Kaminsky's school schedule very well. He started volunteering at the home so he could see them more.
When he was 14, there was an announcement at his high school that the Red Cross needed volunteers. He signed up. He realized early on that volunteer work "felt good. It cleanses the soul."
Now, when he gets on a plane after helping a community recover from a disaster, "I look out the window and I can see the physical improvements that we've made and there's nothing greater."
'Lived 100 lives from giving'
His wife supports what he does. "He's only 35 but has lived 100 lives from giving, and the best part is that he never asks for anything in return," she says. "He just keeps giving."
She is now joining the Red Cross so they can have more time together.
Volunteering "is very rewarding," he says. "My entire life has been about giving. You only get one shot at this life, you've got to give your all."
To others who are considering volunteer work, he says: "You've got to do it. God is watching."