Long Island's Red Cross recognizes its volunteers
Miguel Moreno responded to fires for more than 20 years as a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department. After his retirement, he continued his service efforts by working with the American Red Cross on Long Island -- getting up in the middle of the night, answering the call for those in need and speaking Spanish to soothe non-English speakers in distress.
Moreno, 64, of North Babylon, won a top honor for his commitment, motivation and performance at an annual awards event Saturday in Baldwin that honored more than a dozen volunteers and partner organizations for their wide-ranging work on the front lines of disasters, at blood donation drives and in schools.
"My badge of honor is not this award. It's what I feel in my heart," said Moreno, a volunteer since 1992. "To help people is one of the best honors."
John Miller, the group's chief executive, said volunteers make up more than 90 percent of the local organization.
"It can't be said enough -- without the volunteers, we can't do our job," he said. "We hope that they feel that they make a difference in the lives of Long Islanders and . . . that they're engaged and energized to go do it for the years to come."
Doreen Brienza, 49, of Port Jefferson Station, who received an award for providing effective disaster services, said she joined the group after witnessing its work on the South Shore as devastation mounted during superstorm Sandy.
"It just blew my mind to see that -- seeing bulldozers with everybody's stuff," she said.
Brienza, who has logged more than 2,600 hours in the past year, said she drove an emergency response vehicle during a massive fire that displaced about 300 Hempstead Village residents last month -- handing out meals and blankets -- and gave cleanup kits to Brookhaven residents whose homes were damaged by floods last summer. "I just like to help people," she said.
Chris Kutner of Rockville Centre and Michael Ryan of Middle Island, both 54, received awards for their work as co-chairs of the organization's board -- having doubled it to nearly 40 people.
Kutner, an Air Force veteran, said he was drawn to the Red Cross by its service to military families. "When there's a human being that's suffering and in need, it's up to us to help them out," he said.
Red Cross officials said expanding volunteerism -- even among students -- is key.
W.T. Clarke High School in Westbury and St. Joseph's College in Patchogue received awards for outstanding clubs.
Bianca Compas, 20, of Manorville, a junior biology student and president of the club at St. Joseph's, said she juggles coursework and volunteering.
"My mom has always taught me that I need to give in order to receive," she said. "It really does make me feel whole."