Our Story

In November of 2002, my wife, Paulette, and I were expecting our second child. We were a little nervous because the doctors said the baby was going to be on the small side. We were pleasantly surprised when he was born at 5 lbs. 7 oz., 19 ¼ inches, and appeared healthy. Then about one hour later, life threw us a curve ball. Having always been straight fastball hitters, we missed it. The doctor sat us down and told us Garrett may have Down Syndrome. We were confused, sad, afraid, and angry. But as my daughter, Kyra, told my Dad that day, “There is nothing to worry about. God will take care of us”.

I cannot tell you how many people have told us that if any couple could handle this, it is Joe and Paulette. I guess we took that as a compliment. You see, our strength comes from God, our families, our friends, and our community. The support, love, and understanding that were shown to us are what gave us the ability to handle it.

In September of 2008, I decided to go to Chilton’s ER with some numbness on my left side and I didn’t want to take any chances in the middle of the night. My parents met me at the hospital. In between getting poked and prodded, my Dad and I watched what we could of the last game at the old Yankee Stadium. They gave me a CAT scan finding nothing. The doctors said it was nothing seizure or heart-related but rather probably just a muscle strain. I told them that made sense as I had been staining my porch the day before. A nurse I knew got me out quicker than usual; I called Paulette to tell her I was out of the hospital and was headed straight home. It was approximately 10:55 p.m. when I pulled down my street and saw a strange orange glow in the driveway. I thought, did the kids leave a light on in the basement? Oh my God, there is a fire in my driveway!

I’ve been a police officer for over 15 years and encountered countless house fires. That night I had to make the hardest decision of my life. From what I can recall, the fire had not spread yet. Can I put this out? My entire family is asleep inside. I wasn’t feeling 100% as my seizure medication had been changed, I just spent the last five hours in the ER, it's dark out and time is ticking away. I can do it. I run to the side of the house where the hose has been for the last ten years, bring it to the gate and out towards the fire, and “Shit!”, I forgot to turn the water on.

“Screw it!” I got to get them out. I sprint up to the newly stained porch and try to get inside. Where are my keys? In the damn truck, still running. I began banging on the door, ringing the doorbell. “Wake up! Get the kids out!” Paulette runs downstairs in seconds. We get the kids across the street to the neighbors, who I apparently woke up screaming. I back my car out of the driveway and contemplate running into the burning house for our home videos. A neighbor was taking her own home video while I watched in horror as the house that I helped build for over 10 years went up in flames.

Looking back at the fire it was almost as if I was destined to give this talk about growth in the community. It was surreal. Family, friends, and neighbors all came running to see that we were ok; and we were. Still, we lost nearly everything in the fire—our home, our furniture, our clothes, cherished family possessions, photographs, and even one of our cars. We immediately recognized our blessings because our entire family was physically unharmed. It’s truly a miracle that we all made it out of our burning home safely. God was watching over our family that night.

When thinking about our new home, I wanted to best, cleanest, and most efficient house for my family. I have been interested in solar for my house, especially with the cost reduction on my energy bills and a passive income stream that could help with all of my kid’s activities. A friend in our community offered a house that they had been working on and let us know they were making it completely green. The first words out of my mouth were "I don't care what color it is, we just want a place to call home for now." For me and my family, having solar helped with expenses, brought in more income to the household, and was just cleaner for the planet for my kids, their kids, and their kids.

Joe Rude

Founder of Panel The Earth