The death of actor Paul Walker in a fiery automobile crash this past Saturday after a charity event has left the organization he founded, Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW), without a dedicated and involved member of its staff.
“Paul wasn’t someone who would just write a check and lend his name to an organization. He was the heart and soul of Reach Out WorldWide,” said ROWW Operations Manager JD Dorfman. “He led one of the first teams into the hardest hit areas of Haiti and traveled to (Chile) to bring water, medical aid and hope after the Earthquake and Tsunami. He ran a chainsaw clearing debris and helping people get back into their homes during the hottest days after the tornadoes in Alabama… Some people play a hero, Paul was a hero.”
Walker, 40, formed the Burbank, Calif.-based ROWW in 2010 following relief work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. He noticed how the demand for skilled first responders such as doctors, heavy equipment operators and firefighters far outstripped their availability. ROWW seeks to connect skilled volunteers with communities in need after disasters.
Dorfman said there is no official plan for moving forward. “We all loved Paul very much, and as long as I’m allowed to I’m going to come in every day and represent the organization as best I can,” he said.
Walker was reportedly a passenger in a Porsche driven by his friend Roger Rodas when Rodas lost control on the afternoon of Nov. 30. Walker and Rodas were pronounced dead at the scene. The two had been at a toy drive in Valencia, Calif., where about $150,000 worth of toys was gathered, according to Dorfman.
According to its federal Form 990 for the fiscal year ending 2011 (the most recent available), the net assets of ROWW jumped from negative $4,708 to $607,750. “We started as a bunch of do-gooders and transformed into a real organization,” said Dorfman. “Every year we get stronger.”
Walker, star of “The Fast and Furious” franchise and the upcoming film “Hours” about Hurricane Katrina, is listed as the organization’s principal officer and president on the Form 990. Dorfman said Walker was instrumental in the organization’s day-to-day operations. “Paul wasn’t just someone who leant his name. He was very involved,” Dorfman said. ROWW is wholly volunteer-run, from the responders to the staff, according to Dorfman.
ROWW responds to disasters domestically and internationally. Until a few days ago, said Dorfman, ROWW had teams on the ground in the Philippines in response to Typhoon Haiyan and in Illinois helping people recover from a tornado that hit in mid-November. In May, ROWW responded to the tornado that killed two dozen people in Moore, Okla. ROWW has also responded to disasters in Chile, Indonesia and Alabama since it was founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
“We try to be below the red tape,” said Dorfman. “We get in and help people, and we’re not there for a long time, about two weeks. We try to bridge the gap between initial need and long-term care.”
Roger Phelps, promotional communications coordinator for tool company Stihl, said he met with Walker early in the two organizations’ partnerships when the actor went to Stihl’s Virginia Beach, Va. facility to thank workers for their support of his organization. “He was just a great guy, a real person and meeting with him just reinforced all the reasons why we wanted to partner with Reach Out Worldwide.”
Phelps said Stihl wanted to partner with ROWW when they saw a photo of Walker using a Stihl chainsaw in Haiti. “We did some research and found that Reach Out Worldwide is a for-real organization. So many times with these celebrity charities, it’s about PR for them. One of the things that impressed us was when Reach Out Worldwide responded in Haiti, it was not about Paul. These are some of the most humble, selfless individuals we’ve ever worked with.”
Stihl will continue its support of ROWW through 2014. “The agreement was always with Reach Out Worldwide,” said Phelps. “As far as we’re concerned, nothing’s changed. While it’s tragic that Paul’s passed away, the best way to honor his memory is to continue our support of the organization he cared so much about.”