To volunteer at all is a noble feat, to volunteer for over 40 years is extraordinary.
Meet Mary Brenner, a 94-year-old woman who has volunteered with the Huntington Community First Aid Squad for the last 41 years.
Brenner’s home life was immersed in volunteering before she got her own start. “I was aware of people taking care of others on a volunteer basis,” she said. “My husband was a chief of Huntington Manor Fire Department, and ever since I knew him, he was a volunteer fireman.”
When her son joined the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, a volunteer organization that offers life support ambulances and medical services in emergencies, Brenner got involved too. “My son said to me, ‘Mom, you should go down and take the course! They’re wonderful!’” Brenner did just that, and found her son’s wondrous words to be true. Now the HCFAS is full of Brenner’s family, “My grandchildren are there, my son, my daughter in-law. We’re an all-volunteer family!”
In addition to her literal family, Brenner feels she gained a volunteer family over the years. “You form a nuclear family with your four-hour crew,” she said. “You know when they’re happy and when they’re sad, you know if they’re having a baby or if they’re having money problems, because you share that information. I have made so many friends that I would never have had the opportunity to meet if it were not for volunteering.”
Brenner works with her crew as a dispatcher, sending out ambulances after getting calls from 911. For her first 22 years of volunteering, she was an EMT who rode in the ambulance. She’s also co-chair of the Fund Drive, where she handles donations.
While HCFAS requires at least one four-hour shift each week, Brenner does not know the amount of hours she’s put in over the last 41 years. “I don’t calculate,” she said. “We change shifts every four hours, so that’s the minimum you’re expected to do, but there’s always committees that you’re needed to join to keep the organization going. I don’t consider it work.”
Brenner and her crew have helped countless ill and injured people get to the hospital quicker, implementing early intervention whenever possible to increase survival, relief, and wellness.
“If they say, ‘Thank you,’ that’s our reward,” Brenner said. “People say you get back more than you give, and there’s satisfaction at the end of the day, but the next day we start all over again and keep on going.”
Brenner has found volunteering to be truly enriching. “You get to meet lovely people and you learn so much,” she said. “At first, you’re nervous because you don’t know what to expect. But once you’re there and you have your friends, your crew, right there, you do the best job you can. It’s an extended family that just knows no boundaries; an expandable family, because your whole world expands.”
Brenner’s volunteering advice to all is, “Everybody has extra time. You will find that you get such satisfaction.”