You Would Be Surprised What You Can Do Out in the World

Every morning, Ray Carter starts his day with a bowl of oatmeal—but don’t forget the raisins, bananas, and blackberries on top. With a life as exciting as Ray’s, it’s no surprise that he needs to start every day with a hearty breakfast. After retiring from a lifelong career of working for the government (including fraud investigation in Chicago), Ray has been a volunteer at the Red Cross of Greater Chicago for five years.

I met Ray when I responded to my first fire as an intern at the Red Cross. Ray happened to be on call that day, and I met him by the big van bearing the Red Cross logo. Rather than hopping into the van on our respective sides, Ray opened the passenger side door and extended his elbow, chivalrously helping me up the big step and into the van.

As we drove to the fire on Chicago’s South Side, Ray spoke easily about his life working for the government, playing golf in his free time, and visiting Chicago schools. When I asked further about the school visits, he told me about talking to football and basketball players. If the students just get their diploma, or “that piece of paper” as Ray casually called it, there is a whole different life waiting for them. “You would be surprised what you can do out in the world” he tells them, hoping to impart his lifetime of knowledge onto the younger generation.

Ray Carter assessing the damage from a house fire in Chicago

Ray Carter assesses the damage from a house fire in Chicago

I had become so enthralled by his stories that I almost forgot about the fire. We rolled up to the scene and saw that the fire department had come and gone, leaving the house soaking, charred, and abandoned. Ray found the homeowner in the garage behind the house and asked her to lead us through her home so he could assess the damage. I nervously trudged behind him, kicking glass shards from the broken windows out of my path, while Ray strode through several inches of water, soot, and glass with his high-powered flashlight. I worried about the safety of the infrastructure, as one part of the ceiling had fallen in and hung loosely above our heads. Yet Ray radiated the confidence of a veteran fire responder, and I knew that he would not lead us somewhere unsafe.

Ray’s hearty laugh, kind nature, and tall stature emit safety and comfort. As we assessed how the Red Cross could assist the homeowners, he consoled the woman with a pat on the shoulder and a “hang in there.” We finally pulled away from the scene in the big van, having provided the family with food, clothing, and shelter. I sat in the passenger seat once again, overwhelmed by how grateful the family was for our contributions. Ray, however, drove with one hand on the steering wheel and a content expression on his face, as if to say, “All in a day’s work.”

Ray is just one of the many volunteers who help make a difference in peoples’ lives every day. To learn more about how you can volunteer, visit

By Michaela Zook