NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Whether it’s tearing down ceilings and cutting tree limbs after a hurricane, or helping immigrants along the U.S. Mexico border, John and Martha Gorman of Norfolk have spent the last decade traveling the country to lift up those in need.

“It actually started because in 2004 both our mothers lost their homes in Florida to a hurricane,” Martha Gorman told WAVY.

They began volunteering when John Gorman was in the Navy. They worked with orphans and school children while he was stationed in Ecuador.

In 2016 they hooked up with Operation Blessing International.

“It starts to really drive home how fortunate the great majority of us are,” John Gorman said.

“One disaster, one health issue, one job loss and we’d be in the same – same boat,” Martha Gorman added.

They have trailer packed and ready at all times.

“Our kids will call, you know after something has happened,” Martha Gorman said, laughing. They’ll say, ‘So, when are y’all getting on the road,’ ’cause they know that’s just what we do.”

They’ve done it time and again, responding to Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Ian, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Michael.

While recent data, collected in part by the U.S. Census Bureau, shows formal volunteer participation fell 7% between between 2019 and 2021, the Gorman’s thrive on it.

They are energized and inspired by the people they meet, such as a woman who lost her home to a hurricane after having a stroke. They recalled how the woman, who could not speak without a stutter, flawlessly serenaded their work group every day to give thanks.

The emotions and the back breaking work take the Gormans out of their comfort zone,
but the rewards and their sense of humor keep them coming back.

“Use it or lose it,” the couple exclaimed in unison.

Said John Gorman: “I’d rather burn out then rust out.”

The Gormans said they especially like volunteering with Operation Blessing because they run into the same volunteers all over the country, and the organization makes it easy because they handle the logistics and supply the tools. All they have to do is show up.

Martha encourages people to do what they can based on their time and talents.

“There are food pantries, there are soup kitchens, there are a number of opportunities right here in the Hampton Roads area,” she said. “They’ll take you in a heartbeat.”

Whether you work a week or an hour, the Gorman’s say volunteering can change your perspective.

“So that my sense of living is not just me in my own little space, but I’m connected. It’s empowered us,” John Gorman said, with his wife adding, “And we enjoy it.”