By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

HOUSTON, Texas – Jose Castillo seems to bring out the best in people.
Maybe it’s because he gives people his best.

The American Red Cross volunteer was sitting in his wheelchair outside the shelter at the Greenspoint Mall in Houston recently when a shelter resident walked up.
“You uplifted my spirits, man,” the man said. “Thank you.”

Typically, Jose would reply with a joke. He’s quick to make himself the subject of a punch line, to put people at ease – especially people who have been traumatized by events like Hurricane Harvey.

But this time, Jose smiled warmly and simply told the man, “You’re welcome.”

“Everyone needs words of encouragement sometimes,” Jose explained. “I help people with emotional support. I’m a people person. I like face-to-face. I like making people smile. I like cheering them up.

“I like letting them know that no matter what the situation is, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jose lives with cerebral palsy, which limits his mobility and causes him pain. “They look at my situation. I tell them, ‘Life is what it is. It’s what you make out of it that makes you better’.”

The Houston resident first became aware of the Red Cross as a disaster victim. “I was a customer of Tropical Storm Allison.” After seeing first-hand what the organization does for people in need, “I thought I would give them a year of my life – and here I am, 16 years later,” still wearing the volunteer’s red vest as part of the shelter staff.

His devotion to helping others is contagious. “I’m so proud of him,” said his sister, Connie Summerlin, now a Red Cross volunteer herself. “Seeing him do this, I decided to go ahead and do what he did, because I’m so proud of him helping people.”

Jose doesn’t let his physical limitations hold him back. “I’m here at five o’clock in the morning like the rest of my crew,” he said, “carrying my own load and doing what I do best, representing the Red Cross.”

Red Cross volunteers Jose Castillo and his sister, Connie Summerlin, outside the shelter at Greenspoint Mall in Houston, Texas. (Red Cross photo by April Oppliger)