Best job despite no pay


Red Cross volunteer, 91, looks back on three decades of service

By Thomas Tracy - New York Daily News



Dottie Brier. American Red Cross/TNS

Dottie Brier. American Red Cross/TNS


Dottie Brier on the set of the film, "Sully." She was one of the Red Cross volunteers who responded to the real "Miracle on the Hudson." American Red Cross/TNS

Dottie Brier on the set of the film, "Sully." She was one of the Red Cross volunteers who responded to the real "Miracle on the Hudson." American Red Cross/TNS


NEW YORK – At 91, Dottie Brier has found the secret to eternal youth: volunteering.

For the last three decades, the plucky nonagenarian has been a proud member of the Red Cross, offering her strong hands and warm smile to those who have survived the worst disasters in our country’s history, from Hurricane Andrew and Superstorm Sandy to the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had and I don’t get paid for it,” the Upper West Side resident joked.

As the Red Cross kicks off Volunteer Week, Brier, one of the organization’s oldest volunteers, recalled the first disaster she was called to: when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992, leaving 175,000 people homeless.

“That response went on for a very long time,” the retired assistant director of social work at Lenox Hill Hospital said. “I really learned how to use my skills in a different kind of way.”

After helping scores of hurricane victims, Brier quickly found her calling, and a niche as a mental health volunteer. Besides handing out water and blankets, Brier had an additional goal of caring for the psychological well-being of survivors.

By 1995, she was asked to become head of Disaster Services for the Greater New York Chapter of the Red Cross, where she created a mental health program for those who both live through disasters — and witness them.

“It’s not just the survivors who need our help, sometimes it’s the bystanders,” Brier said, recalling a 2015 plane crash in Coney Island that killed four people. There were no survivors, only those who watched the plane plummet from the sky.

“Nobody was on the beach, thankfully, but they were on the boardwalk and saw the incident. It left them really traumatized.”

Brier spent the day offering a friendly ear to anyone who needed it.

“I just went through the crowd, just letting people know who I was and that I was available to talk,” she remembered. “Knowing that I was there was very meaningful to people.”

Brier quickly became a go-to volunteer for the Red Cross.

Over the years, she’s responded to the TWA Flight 800 crash in 1996, the Egypt Air Flight 990 crash off of Massachusetts in 1999 and Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in 2009. When director Clint Eastwood started filming his dramatic version of the real-life save, Brier played an extra, as, of course, a Red Cross volunteer.

“Dottie truly embodies the humanitarian spirit of the Red Cross,” said Mary Barneby, regional CEO of the American Red Cross in Greater New York. “She has been there for our city and for our country to alleviate human suffering after some of the worst disasters in recent memory. Her compassion, especially in the field of Disaster Mental Health, has touched countless lives and given them hope to move beyond their loss.”

Brier’s connection to the Red Cross started long before her retirement in the 1990s. When she was a child during World War II, the Rhode Island native knitted squares that the Red Cross made into blankets for U.S. troops fighting in Europe.

“We all thought it was the squares that helped them win the war,” she joked.

Today she is doing more teaching than physically responding, sharing her experiences on what she’s learned over the years.

“I always had a lot of compassion for people in difficult situations no matter what the situations were, whether because of mental illness or poverty or disaster,” she explained. “I had a strong wish to have them be in better conditions. I found it very, very gratifying.”

She also donates her time because the Red Cross has given her something else: a family.

“I really have enjoyed the people I have met. They’re very nice to me and nobody seems to care that I’m older than anyone else,” she said. “They keep me young and active.”

Dottie Brier. American Red Cross/TNS
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/04/web1_SRS-REDCROSS-VOLUNTEER-1-MCT.jpgDottie Brier. American Red Cross/TNS
Dottie Brier on the set of the film, "Sully." She was one of the Red Cross volunteers who responded to the real "Miracle on the Hudson." American Red Cross/TNS
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/04/web1_SRS-REDCROSS-VOLUNTEER-3-MCT.jpgDottie Brier on the set of the film, "Sully." She was one of the Red Cross volunteers who responded to the real "Miracle on the Hudson." American Red Cross/TNS
Red Cross volunteer, 91, looks back on three decades of service

By Thomas Tracy

New York Daily News

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