Helping a 'family' of first responders

January 9, 2021 7:29:20 PM

Isabelle Altman - [email protected]

 

Less than a week before Christmas, Jacque Brown was admitted to the hospital for the second time since Thanksgiving.

 

The Columbus native, who has worked at Lowndes County E911 off and on for more than 20 years, had contracted COVID-19 and had double pneumonia on top of it. This was less than two months after breaking her arm and needing surgery to repair it.

 

She went home on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas with her daughter, Cassie Daniel, and her two grandchildren, but even then she was still sick.

 

 

"I was very weak, I had no energy, I couldn't get enough air," Brown recalled Wednesday from her desk at E911, her first day back after her series of medical disasters. "I couldn't get my breath. ... It was tough because I didn't get to buy anything for my kids or my grandbabies for Christmas because I was sick in the hospital, having surgery, or sick from the COVID, and I couldn't afford to."

 

With all the medical emergencies, Brown had used up the majority of her sick days at work, concerning many of her coworkers. Then Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Shelley Strickland got an idea about how to help.

 

Strickland is one of about 10 committee members with Salute to Lowndes' Finest, an organization that raises money to aid area first responders in need. She called the chair, Mark Smith, about getting some help for Brown and her family.

 

"She reached out to me a couple of weeks ago via email and just gave me the story," Smith said. "... I immediately turned around and sent the request to our relief fund subcommittee."

 

The subcommittee reached out to CREATE Foundation in Tupelo, which manages Salute's funds and helps the committee raise money through corporate sponsorships. With their help, Salute presented a check to Brown and her family.

 

Brown declined to say exactly how much money she committee raised for her, but said it was a "blessing."

 

Daniel said her mother was crying when she called her to tell her about it.

 

"She said, 'Lots of people are coming together. They're helping me because of the broken arm and the COVID,'" said Daniel, who, along with her 5- and 1-year-old children, lives with Brown. "Of course we're all just emotional people over here, so we cry just at the drop of the hat. It was really, really touching. I'm glad we have people in the community that still want to come together and help like that."

 

 

'Lowndes' Finest'

 

Brown first began working for E911 in the 1990s, patching emergency calls through to local police and sheriff's offices. She said she immediately loved it.

 

"You had to push-button everything," she said. "It wasn't anything like it is now. I've actually got a picture somewhere that we had up here that shows the old switchboard ... back then when I first started."

 

She worked there 10 years before leaving to work for a local day care. After about a decade of that, Brown said, she returned to E911, about three and a half years ago.

 

She said she loves being able to help people who call, especially elderly people and children.

 

"Those are the ones that pull at your heartstrings more than the normal," she said. "You just want to help. Sometimes the elderly are a bit confused. They don't know what's going on."

 

The job also requires some patience and empathy, she said. She said she's fielded calls from children who thought they'd been home by themselves for hours, when really their parent or the person watching them has just stepped outside for a few minutes.

 

"Their emergency may not be an actual emergency to you, but to them it is," she said.

 

Brown's job allowed Daniel to grow up around first responders.

 

"I've grown up with all the cops, firefighters, everybody in town," Daniel said. "They all know me, they all know my mom, they all know my kids. It's kind of nice growing up in a tight-knit group like that. It's just kind of comforting, to say the least."

 

That same community of police officers, firefighters and other first responders have been the recipients of aid from Salute to Lowndes' Finest before. Smith first started the organization in 2002 as just an annual luncheon to honor responders after he made a trip to Ground Zero in New York City, mere months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

"It just had a profound effect on me, so I came back and formed up a couple of folks to say, 'Hey, we want to do something for our local first responders,'" Smith said. "That was just, at the time, in the form of trying to feed a few police officers, so we had a small event at the police station where we fed about 40 or 50 of them and had an event to say we appreciate them."

 

But the committee ended up raising more money than was necessary to host the event, Smith said, prompting the idea to make the event annual and save the excess funds in a Salute to Lowndes' Finest Recovery and Relief fund to aid responders with medical emergencies and other needs. Those have included everything from the purchase of training ammunition for sheriff's deputies who were shot during a welfare check in 2014 to transportation funds for the family of an officer whose child spent time at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis.

 

This year, the committee had to cancel their annual luncheon for first responders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. In addition to being a regular way to help first responders, the luncheon is also the event that drives awareness of Salute's fundraising efforts, he said.

 

Luckily, the committee was still able to help out Brown and some other first responders this year.

 

"We wanted to try to come alongside her and provide some relief to help her because she had run out of her paid time off," Smith said.

 

He said he's grateful to the committee members and the sponsors who helped raise and donate money. He's also especially grateful to first responders, he said.

 

"(When) you pick up the phone when you're in need, they're the ones who go running toward the gunfire or the fire or the bleeding person," he said.

 

Brown used the funds to pay bills while she was absent from work. Now she's back and feeling better.

 

Both she and Daniel said they're grateful to those who helped them when Brown was in need.

 

"I was shocked because I had no idea there was anything in the works, but I was so very thankful because it was able to help relieve a little bit of pressure off of (having) no Christmas," Brown said. "... It was a blessing."

 

Anyone wishing to donate to the Salute committee can send money to CREATE Foundation at https://createfoundation.com/make-a-donation/ and designate the donation to the committee, Smith said.