The Faces and Stories behind Those Who Stepped Up to Volunteer During the Waldo Canyon Fire.

(Photo courtesy of Tanisha Tankersley - Volunteers who helped an organization called, Operation Barbecue Relief, to feed evacuees and firefighters during the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012.)

When the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado started, volunteers from all over the United States stepped up to help - from serving meals to donating their time and their money.

Who are these individuals and what makes them step out of their comfort zone to help out in times of crisis? Meet Brian Nevel, a small business owner from Pennsylvania. Nevel began packing the moment that he heard about the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His wife, Christy Nevel, was not surprised, in fact she expected it. Shortly after they were married, Nevel did something similar, the day after 9/11 he drove down to an Army Recruiter office and signed up. That is just how he is, Nevel has a volunteer spirit, and he is a true American, he believes in helping out in times of crises.

Nevel recently joined an organization called, Operation Barbecue Relief (OBR). The group is made up of volunteers who are competition barbecue grillers. When disasters strike, these men and women pack up their BBQ grills and drive or fly out to where the crisis is. They work hand in hand with local agencies, finding areas where they can set up and serve those in need.

Nevel says that he and four other members made the commitment to head out to Colorado when they heard about the Waldo Canyon Fire. Cory Sisto, Jordan Sisto, William Ledford, David Forney and Brian Nevel, five men with a common goal and that is to help.

Once in Colorado, with the help of local agencies and the Sheriff’s department, the crew set up camp and began recruiting local volunteers to help them feed the tired firefighters and the evacuees.That is when Mike Bratton got involved. Mike himself is a born leader and is not afraid of hard work. When he learned about Nevel’s operation; he began helping to recruit volunteers. He asked employees at FedEx in Colorado Springs for help in serving the food that Nevel and the crew were grilling up.

(Photo courtesy of Tanisha Tankersley - Brian Nevel and his crew of volunteers served both lunch and dinner to evacuees and firefighters during the Waldo Canyon Fire.)

Angie Oliver accepted the offer and signed up for a shift. I asked Oliver what made her decide to help? She said that it was the least she could do for those who’d been displaced because of the fire and for those firefighters on the front lines. Oliver has respect for those firefighters who battle the flames; she understands firsthand the sacrifices they make. Oliver herself comes from a long line of firefighters, her father Paul Scruggs was a firefighter and her grandfather Robert Mathis was as well. It is in her blood to help out in times of need.

Kathy Holstead, another volunteer that came out to help, was in Phoenix when the fire broke out and her heart dropped when she learned about the fire. She raced back home to assess the situation and within days of being home she responded to an article written in her Church’s newsletter that was asking for volunteers, they put her in touch with Nevel.

Among the volunteers that came out to serve was an old acquaintance of mine, Ms. Kathy Scherb and her daughter Kristin. As long as I’ve known Kathy she has had a servant’s heart, so it was no surprise for me to see her on the front lines helping out with this endeavor. When you see people like Kathy it makes you wonder, are some people just destined to be helpers? Whatever the case, volunteers are truly a rare breed.

I’d begun to think that although some might be born to be helpers others have had it role modeled to them. Volunteerism is an action and it can bring with it positive vibes that tie people and communities together. However, thirteen year old twins (soon to be fourteen), Chris and Alex introduced me to a third theory. The boys tried to convince me that they were dragged and forced to help, but the smiles on their faces told me a different story. The young men were a delight and I asked them how they were coping with the fires.

Since the boys live fairly close to the neighborhoods that were destroyed by the fires it had to affect them. Chris and Alex said they kept in touch with their friends during the fire by connecting on Facebook. Sharing their thoughts on Facebook and reading the updates has been healing. The boys were saddened to learn that their friends Justin, Conner, Brandon and Tyler Flowers' home burned to the ground. Volunteering helped them feel productive during the Waldo Canyon Fire.

I spoke with Chris and Alex’s mother who said that at first she was reluctant to allow the boys to use Facebook, but it has turned out to actually be a good thing. During the fire, the boys were able to keep in touch with their friends and that was of great comfort to them. As I spoke with the boys and their parents I noted a strong sense of family. Seeing the boys out there helping tugged at my heart - this was indeed a family who bonds together in moments of crises and together they are reaching out to help others.

Each and every volunteer that day had a story and many of these volunteers that I spoke with had never really thought about why they felt the desire to volunteer, instead the attitude among the group was, "why not". Tom Thompson said it best, “Why wouldn’t I like to help the firefighters, the evacuees and the citizens of this community?”

Although I didn’t get the chance to speak with everyone individually that day, their smiles and their kindness spoke volumes. The men, women and children that came together to serve during the Waldo Canyon Fire are amazing and our community is better because of people like them. Volunteers help because they want to, despite what Chris and Alex say,and organizations like Operation Barbecue Relief need the help of their community to keep them going.

Organizations like OBR, are an asset in times of crises and Colorado Springs was the benefactor of this wonderful organization during one of the cities largest fires, the Waldo Canyon Fire.  I'd like to say, a special thank you to Cory Sisto, Jordan Sisto, William Ledford, David Forney, Brian Nevel and OBR for coming to our aid, your generosity and time was much appreciated.

Operation Barbeque Relief relies on goodwill donations to be able to purchase food and supplies needed to operate these undertakings. These volunteers are prepared to head out of town at a moment’s notice to help those in need, but they could use your help. If you would like to donate, check out their website -

Tags: Barbecue, Brian, Canyon, Colorado, Community, Contributions, Donations, Fire, Nevel, Operation, More…Relief, Springs, Volunteers, Waldo

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P.S. Brian is an excellent griller and just so you know the firefighters loved his BBQ burgers! Thanks Brian for all you did for the community of Colorado Springs, the firefighters and for the evacuees.



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