After Family Tragedy Kathryn Martin is Making a Difference
On November 6, 2005 a 200 mph tornado ripped through Southwest Indiana. The wind lifted her mobile home and smashed it back into the ground. Twenty five people lost their lives in the disaster, including Kathryn's two year-old son, C.J., her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law.
In spite of this tragic event and the loss of her youngest child, Kathryn continued on her path to receive her degree. "If there was one thing my mother-in-law would have wanted me to do, it was finish school," Kathryn said. "I knew I had to keep going."
Only six months after the tornado tore through her life, Kathryn was able to walk with her 2006 Ivy Tech Community College graduating class. She received her associate degree in Human Services.
Kathryn's degree gave her a specific understanding of the environmental, social and psychological needs of those in crisis, along with an understanding of how not-for-profit organizations work. Armed with this knowledge, she decided to work to help others.
One of the things that angered Kathryn most about the tornado is that there was no warning to citizens in the affected area. She started calling and writing to local politicians in support of the installment of weather radios inside new manufactured homes. The radios would give off a piercing sound whenever the National Weather Service issues a severe weather warning.
That work quickly paid off. In April 2007, Governor Mitch Daniels signed Bill 1033 making the installation of weather radios mandatory. Known as "C.J.'s Law," this was the first step Kathryn took to converting her loss into something positive.
Professor Mary Hess of Human Services at the Evansville Ivy Tech Community College campus could not be more proud of Kathryn. "The things she learned in class, she really took to heart," Mary said. "She is using what we taught her."
Because of her work with C.J.'s Law, Kathryn recently received the Mark Trail Weather Service Award honoring individuals devoted to saving lives during severe weather episodes and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis award in Washington D.C. for public service.
While in Washington, D.C., Kathryn and Mary Hess petitioned for C.J.'s Law on the national level. "We were all over Capitol Hill," Mary said. "We were very well met and we want to get this bill passed nationwide."
But Kathryn isn't even stopping there. With first-hand experience in a disaster situation, she saw the need to help parents and children in the aftermath. She came up with the idea for C.J.'s Bus.
Funded entirely from donations, C.J.'s Bus is a rapid-response, self-contained vehicle unit to be deployed nation-wide in the face of disasters to keep children distracted and entertained in a safe environment.
"After finding out about family, kids want to know about their friends," Kathryn explained. "C.J.'s Bus will give children ages three to twelve a place where they can play with their peers while their parents work at cleaning up the mess."
C.J.'s bus was completed in August of this year (2007) and will be deployed to disasters in the Midwest, including tornadoes, and flash floods. The bus will be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to keep children entertained in both active and passive ways. Certified volunteers specially trained in disaster child care will be on hand to play with the children and guide them through the devastation that a disaster brings.
The majority of money raised for C.J.'s Bus has been small donations from the Evansville area, including donations made online at www.cjsbus.org. Kathryn, Mary and other members of the C.J.'s Bus Foundation Board also have gotten the word out through several fundraisers and countless public appearances.
Kathryn's efforts to honor C.J.'s memory have been a huge success. "About two months before the tornado, my mother-in-law told me to treat people like it is their last day on Earth," Kathryn said. "I really believe that and I live by that."