When he was growing up in Texas and later in Memphis, Tenn., Gary's parents set aside a few weeks of most summers to travel to the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky to help rebuild homes in need of major repairs.
"They would raise the money to buy the materials and take them up there in their own trucks," Gary recalled. "We would live in a school or a church for a week or two and help rebuild homes. That's probably where I got the idea to get into Habitat for Humanity," an organization that builds houses for lower-income, working families who work alongside volunteers in the construction of the home.
Gary and Jari Grimm, meeting coordinator for Dobbs Center and Cox Hall, informally discussed the possibility of Emory's sponsoring a Habitat house. They were both excited by the idea and began making inquiries around campus. What Gary and Grimm did not know at the time was that Jan Gleason, director of News and Information, was already at work on planning such a project.
After reading the first report of the committee planning the activities for the April 5 inauguration of President Bill Chace, Gleason got the idea for Emory to do a community-oriented project to commemorate the inauguration. "Habitat seemed like an easy thing for us to plug into," said Gleason, who is chairing the Habitat Project Leadership Committee. The cost of the $35,000 project is being covered by the president's office from funds already budgeted for community relations but not being spent because of personnel changes.
When she learned of Gary's background and interest in Habitat, Gleason asked him to become the project's volunteer coordinator. "Rod is really the perfect person to be the volunteer coordinator because he knows so many people on campus who know lots of people in their divisions or schools," said Gleason. "He knew the right people to tap into. He's been a bedrock of the committee."
While Gary will be preoccupied with making sure that almost 250 Emory volunteers over the eight-week period get to the work site, he hopes to spend some time actually working on the house. "I'll be responsible for getting people there and making sure we're covered," said Gary, who has helped build Habitat homes in Cabbagetown and near the Atlanta-Fulton County Sta-dium over the past five years. "But when I'm not doing that, I plan to help drive nails."
Gary hopes that Emory's sponsorship of a Habitat house becomes an annual tradition. "The students have had a Habitat organization off and on over the years, and I have participated with them on a house or two," said Gary. "That operates on the strength of the students who are running it. If there is a base of support from staff and faculty, in the future we may be able to sponsor a house each year. Funding would probably by the primary decision as to whether or not we can do that. We know there's enough interest in the Emory community to help do a house. It's just a matter of whether we can support it each year."
"Rod is one of the most selfless people I know," said Grimm. "When he's not working or going to school, he's doing volunteer work. He's a very self-effacing person with a great sense of humor. He's not shy at all, but he's great at working behind the scenes to make things happen. He gets things accomplished. If I leave him a message or share information with him, I know that it will be taken care of. He is very accountable for what he commits himself to."
Some of Gary's volunteer activities include:
*Serving as a volunteer and part-time employee for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). For the past three years, he has volunteered in ACOG's merchandising division selling Olympic merchandise at retail outlets and special events around the city. He is also working with the Paralympics, the Olympic Games for "elite athletes with physical disabilities." The Paralympics will be held in Atlanta 10 days after the Olympic Games are completed in many of the same venues.
*Serving as co-chair of the Emory Recycles Steering Committee. "That's one of my personal obsessions, recycling and just being thrifty and resourceful," he said.
*Serving on the University Senate Environ-mental Policy Committee. "On the committee, we try to look at the big picture, not just a building or a room, but the whole campus and the impact of anything you do on everything else," he said. Gary also serves on a committee that monitors accessibility of campus buildings.
Although his volunteering schedule is exhaustive by most standards, Gary views his work in the larger context of needs that must be met. "I believe the old saying that if every person who has the capability to volunteer or help out somehow did so, that still wouldn't meet all the needs that are out there in our society," he said. "But growing up in a family where [volunteer work] is always going on, it just naturally rubs off. I like being at Emory because you get the sense that there are a lot of people willing and able to give their time."