Of all the years that Carolle Butler has volunteered, the first year was her favorite.
Her oldest son, Ronnie, had died in a car accident and rather than giving in to grief, Butler offered herself to others that Christmas season in 1998.
Butler said she treasures the nights she spent shopping and wrapping Christmas gifts for needy children because it helped her cope.
Joining the annual effort at Duke Energy’s Crystal River Energy Complex to help the Citrus County Family Resource Center in Florida gave her a purpose and put her focus on others instead of her own loss.
“You have to set the example for others,” Butler said. “How do you want people to see you? As a defeated, pitiful thing? Or that you can accept what happens and move forward?”
The last thing people would call Butler is defeated. Her co-workers at Duke Energy, where she has provided administrative support for 25 years, describe her as the site cheerleader – enthusiastic and inspiring.
This year Butler organized and recruited co-workers for several events benefiting the George Washington Carver Community Center, American Cancer Society Relay for Life campaign and Citrus County’s Save Our Waters Coastal Cleanup, to name a few. She hosted a back-to-school notebook paper drive that helped fill 1,100 backpacks for elementary school students. The list goes on.
“If I see a need, I want to help,” she said, “and I expect others to help, too.”
Duke Energy employees, with help from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 433, sponsor more than 100 children in the Holiday Hope program. Each child receives 10 gifts, and donors are asked to spend $150 per child because these are usually the only gifts the child will receive.
Butler and her husband, Ron, sponsor a boy and girl each year, and her daughter, Catherine, and son, Joshua, help wrap gifts. In addition to her own contributions, Butler shops for co-workers who want to donate but don’t want to buy the gifts. One year she purchased gifts for 28 children.
Butler said to get the most she can for each child, she shops the sales daily.
Social workers make a list with the children, who usually ask for basics like bed sets, clothes for school and blankets. They also list a special gift they’d really like from Santa. For younger children, it’s usually toys, LEGOs and coloring books. Gifts get more expensive for older children, who would like MP3 players, fishing poles and skateboards.
Ginger West, Citrus County Family Resource Center manager, said she has run into Butler at midnight during Black Friday sales when both of them were shopping for the children.
West, who has worked with Butler as a volunteer for more than a decade, said whenever Duke Energy is involved with the center, you can expect to find Butler in the middle of the work.
Because more than a dozen employees volunteered for the annual Holiday Hope gift wrapping party she organizes, the center qualified to receive a $500 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation.
For Butler, improving her community all year long and helping needy children at Christmas is more than a duty – it’s a reminder of her love for her son.