NAPA (KPIX 5) – A North Bay man found his calling in some of the worst situations possible – and the support he lends in a crisis has earned him this week’s Jefferson Award.
In a crisis, police officers, firefighters, and sheriff’s deputies are on the scene to help. But who helps those first responders? In Napa County it’s Chaplain Lee Shaw.
“I’m in a place where there’s no greater need,” Shaw explained.
Shaw was a local pastor in 1996, when the Napa police chief at the time asked him to help his officers dealing with trauma on a daily basis.
“I was talking to the officers and I said, ‘Our number one goal is to help you go home at night and for life to be better for you,'” Shaw recalled.
And life is better: Shaw started a non-profit called Law Enforcement Chaplaincy of Napa County. Today, he and his team of trained chaplains support police, fire, and 15 other county agencies, free of charge.
Current Napa Police Chief Rich Melton said he’s never seen anything like it.
“He just has a way of connecting with people in crisis and being able to help, and be compassionate and supportive all at the same time,” Melton explained.
365 days a year, Shaw and his chaplains are on call — and on scene — when there’s a traumatic event, calming emotions, notifying families, supporting the professionals as well as the survivors. In the 18 years that Shaw has been serving as Chaplain in Napa, he’s helped over 1600 families deal with the unthinkable, the sudden death of a loved one.
He was there when Marie Tarap lost her 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Raney, in a car accident 16 years ago.
“Basically we couldn’t even function, we couldn’t even hold ourselves together,” Tarap said. “No one knows how to reach out. I’ve lived through it now, and there was no one else who reached out other than the Chaplaincy.”
Shaw helped her family deal with the grief, funeral arrangements, and has been a part of her life ever since.
“He’s part of my family and he was a complete stranger, complete stranger, before the accident,” she said.
It’s a story told over and over again. When the call for Chaplains goes out, Shaw is there, often paying his own way to help at catastrophes like the World Trade Center attacks, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and Hurricane Katrina.
“I think the most rewarding thing is just loving people, and being able to help them and being able to give them hope,” Shaw said.
So for bringing hope and compassion to his community of Napa and beyond, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Chaplain Lee Shaw.
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