Nonprofit searches for missing people

When someone goes missing, Central Piedmont Search and Rescue, a nonprofit based in Cabarrus and Stanly counties, is ready and eager to help.

Its volunteers are certified to search on land or still water, and they have worked on 30 cases this year.

Team leader Rusty Starnes, one of the founders of the group, said it is unique in the area.

“We are the only rescue group in the area that’s not attached to a local fire department or rescue squad,” Starnes said. “We are totally dedicated to search and rescue, and we accept active as well as cold cases.”

Because it is an all-volunteer organization that does not charge for its services, it depends on donations to help it stay afloat. It operates on a shoestring budget, but it still needs funding for equipment, supplies, canine care and, especially, insurance costs, which eat up a huge chunk of the group’s $2,500 annual budget.

So why do these volunteers spend an extraordinary amount of time and money trudging through some extremely rough terrain in all sorts of weather?

“We all just want to assist the community. We love helping people,” Starnes said. “Not many people would like to do this, but there’s a real need.”

Central Piedmont Search and Rescue is just one of several hundred area nonprofits working to make lives a little better for folks they probably don’t even know.

In today’s paper, you will find the Charlotte Observer’s annual Giving Guide, a listing of nonprofit organizations that can use your help.

The list includes a description of what the organization does, contact information and details on how you can assist them.

You’ll find groups working to feed hungry people, care for those who are sick, rescue abused and homeless animals and much more.

The needs are great, but when everyone pitches in to help, amazing things can happen.

12 people, big difference

Take CPSAR for example.

It is a small group, about a dozen members from several counties. But they make a big difference, not just in crisis situations, but also in educating the community.

“We do a lot of public relations. We’ve helped the Cabarrus County and Rowan County American Red Cross with training, and we assist Boy Scouts with their Search and Rescue merit badges,” Starnes said.

“We do outdoor festivals and other events as well, but it takes a lot of time and money, especially with paper and printing costs.”

The group often joins other services to help cover a wider area when a search is launched.

“Many time we’ve worked with the CUE Center in Wilmington, a group that searches for missing persons nationwide,” Starnes said, referring to the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons. “We come out as a resource, as another tool in their toolbox, to assist a family in finding a loved one.”

Besides taking part in regular ground searches, many members of the team are also trained to use a variety of techniques and equipment, including searching on all-terrain vehicles and on horseback, and relying on the skills of the certified search-and-rescue dogs that belong to members.

Starnes said the group needs volunteers, not only for searching but also for other tasks that don’t involve walking through fields and woods.

“We need people to staff the command center when we are on a search. We need IT help, people to assist with paperwork and much more,” he said.

“In addition to financial donations, we also need first-aid supplies, gift cards to office supply stores, printing donations and all the other things that go along with running a nonprofit organization.

“Our work is important, because we need to help the families find closure. They need some sort of closure so they can come to peace with it,” Starnes said.

“We have the happy closures, where there are kisses and hugs and tears. We also have the deceased closures, where the families are heartbroken, but are still thankful that they were able to bring their loved ones home.”