Reporter/Lynchburg Bureau Chief
5:52 PM EDT, June 8, 2011
Many college students spend their days after graduation celebrating and looking for a job, but a recent Lynchburg College grad didn't have time for parties or career planning. He was busy helping tornado victims.
"This is a house where a lady survived in a closet," said Richard Szymczyk Wednesday as he looked through pictures of devastation in Joplin, Missouri.
"Some areas you really couldn't tell how many buildings were there, or what they were," said Szymczyk. "Everything was just in piles."
Szymczyk was sent to Joplin, days after an EF-5 tornado hit last month.
"One morning the news is on and I hear that something happened in Joplin, Missouri," said Szymczyk. "I didn't even know where that was at that point."
Szymczyk is an EMT and volunteer with Boonsboro Fire and Rescue. Last year, he joined the American Red Cross.
"My dream job for as long as I can remember has been search and rescue," said Szymczyk.
The opportunity came right as he was crossing the commencement stage at Lynchburg College.
"I was called the day of my graduation and asked if I could leave immediately," said Szymczyk.
He left for Joplin and went straight to work.
"I just filled backpacks full of medical supplies," said Szymczyk.
He spent days building relationships with people who were still in shock.
"You really needed to talk to them before they'd let you close enough to help them," said Szymczyk. "I was really amazed by these people."
People with nothing left but their generosity.
"One person had lost loved ones and his house was completely destroyed," said Szymczyk, describing one of the victims he encountered. "We had all this stuff to offer him and he says 'no, no, you give that to someone who is in need.'"
The experience changed Szymczyk's life and strengthened his resolve.
"I realized this is exactly what I want to do," said Szymczyk. "I want to be one of the first ones there when this stuff happens."
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