By Elli Ament, Red Cross of Greater New York
The first home fire that Celia Vollmer--a longtime employee of Brentwood Public Library on Long Island--responded to as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, was in fact at the home of one of her colleagues.
Vollmer recounts standing alongside her fellow library team member as he helped calm his distraught mother. “Celia's here,” he said. “It's OK. It's going to be OK.”
Vollmer, a lifelong resident of Brentwood, N.Y., has dedicated most of her life to serving and helping others. She is a pillar of her community, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to empowering those around her through everything she does: working at the Brentwood Public Library, volunteering with the Red Cross, and so much more.
“My mother always emphasized to me--I’m one of five children--that you might not have the money to donate to an organization, but you always had time,” said Vollmer. “That time was more important, giving back directly to the community.
For the last 25 years, Celia has brought this volunteer spirit to her job at the library, an invaluable resource hub and community center for families across Brentwood, N.Y., a town of more than 62,000 in Suffolk County. In addition to library services, the establishment also provides information, education, and language skills, for kids and adults alike.
And with 89% of students in the Brentwood School District--that the library also serves-- considered economically disadvantaged, Vollmer’s work providing free resources and programming to tens of thousands of Brentwood children and their families is all the more important.
Vollmer began giving her time to the Red Cross in 2008 when Brentwood Library was approached by the Red Cross and Suffolk County representatives to recruit a group of local leaders to be trained to manage a shelter at Brentwood High School in the event of a major disaster. This was the beginning of a journey for Vollmer, who went on to support almost every aspect of the Red Cross mission, all helping build up her own community.
“This organization was my niche. It makes me feel like I really had a direct impact on somebody's life... With the Red Cross, that direct contact with giving aid to somebody, especially giving aid to somebody in your community just was such a value to me.”
As a shelter manager, Vollmer has put her training to use following multiple large-scale emergencies on Long Island, including Superstorm Sandy. She also joined a Red Cross Disaster Action Team, providing comfort and relief following smaller, more-common disasters like home fires.
“The local knowledge, community relationships, leadership and compassion that Celia has brought to the Red Cross is remarkable. She is invaluable to our efforts on Long Island,” said Jose Dominguez, CEO, American Red Cross on Long Island.
Additionally, Voller helps families and individuals prepare for the unexpected by bringing critical resiliency and life skills to her neighbors. She does this by connecting the Red Cross with the library, the local police department, and other partners to provide free CPR/First Aid/Babysitting classes, preparedness courses, fire safety education, and free smoke alarms.
“The Brentwood Fire Department responds to more fires [in this region] than any fire department outside of New York City, so that's why the Sound the Alarm fire safety program here has been really huge,” said Vollmer.
Having lived and worked in such a diverse community for so long, Vollmer also understands the need for volunteer teams with language skills. To that end, she has worked to strengthen the Red Cross’ capacity in that area.
“I’m trying to recruit volunteers who speak different languages to be instructors so that we can address the needs of the diversity in all different communities,” said Vollmer.
Looking forward, Vollmer isn’t showing signs of slowing down her steadfast commitment to her community. Her dedication stems from the value she places on giving one's time to help another person.
Reflecting on conversations she has had recruiting volunteers for the causes she holds dear, Vollmer says: “What I try to convey to people who say, well, I don't have the money to donate to particular organizations. We don't need that. I need you. I need you and a little bit of your time.”