Published on March 23, 2016
This month, CCANO Crisis Counselor Gary Carbo is in the spotlight for his extraordinary life of service, showing us what it really means to put God and others above ourselves.
Carbo grew up in a New Orleans public housing project with four siblings, where they qualified for free lunch and tuition at the Marianite St. Mary of the Angels School. He spoke of the Marianites as his family, saying that they provided him with the “love, foundation, and ministry that he still draws from today.” In 1967, Carbo joined the New Orleans Fire Department and worked there for 39 years. God called upon him to change his path in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he found himself on a FEMA-run ship with a group of first responders, 90 percent of whom had lost their homes in the storm. In this intimate setting, Carbo provided comfort and hope to his fellow first responders, and found his calling as a crisis counselor.
In the five years following Katrina, Carbo worked as a crisis counselor under the combined efforts of the Fire Department and Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans. Even after the program was no longer funded with grant money, Carbo continued to volunteer as a counselor to provide support and hope to communities affected by the storm.
In 2010, Catholic Charities asked Carbo to bring his counseling services to the victims of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, this time as a team leader. These communities had just begun to recover from Katrina and were now affected by this disaster, he explained, and they had no means of income. Noticing high rates of substance abuse in the affected population, Carbo started a substance abuse support group. Looking back upon the populations that he has worked with, he said “an addict has the heaviest cross to bear. You have to gain the trust of an addicted person and show them that you have their best interests at heart. Most importantly, you have to show them that you have sincere compassion, concern, and love.” In the years following the oil spill, even after federal funding for relief services ran out, Carbo continued to hold substance abuse support groups in the affected communities.
Today, Carbo volunteers with Health Guardians, providing counseling services to homeless veterans. Every Friday, Carbo holds a substance abuse support group for these veterans, guiding them with love through their recovery. The most difficult part of the job, according to Carbo, is the statistically low chances of sobriety among addicted populations. “A support group is like a family,” he said, and relapses and overdoses are a difficult reality.
Despite the harsh realities that accompany his work, Carbo said that he has found happiness and peace in life. When asked about his favorite part of work, he brushed the question aside. “Sure, it makes me feel good when someone hasn’t used,” he said. “But the main thing is what they get out of what you do. You can’t be in it for you.” On the weekends, Carbo spends his time as an extraordinary minister at Mater Dolorosa Church, and delivers communion to homebound residents around New Orleans with his wife.