Parkite receives president’s service award
Bill Decker says he didn’t do it for the accolades.
Because that’s not what you think about when surrounding you are the faces of people whose homes have just been wiped violently and without prejudice from the earth. That’s not what matters when your eyes trace the pained creases on the forehead of someone who has just lost a father or a husband or a daughter or a friend.
Nonetheless, recognition has found Decker, a local resident of Jeremy Ranch. He was recently honored with the President’s Call to Service Award, given to those who complete more than 4,000 hours of service over the course of a lifetime.
Decker earned the award from his work with the American branch of the United Kingdom-based organization ShelterBox, which provides humanitarian aid to areas that suffer man-made or natural disasters.
He said the honor — which is the president’s highest service award — is humbling. He hopes it raises the national profile of ShelterBox, which is not nearly as prominent in the United States as it is in the UK, and can always use more resources and support.
"It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by the president of the United States for helping to make the world a better place," he said. "It’s most meaningful to me because it reflects the incredible work by the entire organization and all of the volunteers. It’s the collective will and the collective effort that makes us able to do what we do."
Decker became affiliated in 2008 with ShelterBox, which has 280 volunteers across the globe and has responded to 240 disasters over the last decade. The organization’s volunteers ensure that aid — notably ShelterBox tents, blankets and water filtration systems — ends up in the hands of the people who need it most.
His role in the organization has varied, from training volunteers and spearheading fundraising efforts, to serving from 2010 until the end of last year as Chairman on the U.S. affiliate’s Board of Directors — during which time its fundraising grew from $1 million annually to $10 million, he said.
"My experience is pretty broad-based," he said. "I wear a few hats, is I guess the best way to say it."
Four times he, himself, has volunteered in disaster-stricken areas, including in Haiti after a 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and in the Philippines following November’s tsunami that swept away much of the countryside.
And it is those experiences — walking among the ravaged towns and helping the people who called them home — that have been the most profound for Decker. He described needing assistance from the U.S. army’s 82nd Airborne Division just to access some areas of Haiti. He spoke, too, of the difficulty of reaching many areas in the Philippines, whose countryside was impossible to travel because of the devastation; the only option in some cases was to take small fishing boats packed tight with goods and supplies.
"It was an incredible logistics challenge because of the broad range of damage," he said. "That storm had such a wide area of land that it affected and created barriers to accessing the places we needed to access. We get our aid wherever we need it to go any way we possibly can."
He also spoke of what it’s like to see destruction of that scope and of the effect it has on those who witness something that many Americans cannot fathom. One glimpse, Decker said, can change one’s entire worldview.
"There are few times in your life when you interact with people who are literally having the worst day of their lives," he said. "They’ve often lost everything they have. It’s been swept from the face of the earth. And they have often lost family members. There are few times in your life when you witness that kind of broad devastation."
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