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Retired Firefighter Makes a Difference at Camillus House

Thursday, May 15, 2014 by Mary Ellen Harris-Gelberg

Danny Maree describes himself as a Type A personality.  “I always like to be doing something,” he says,

“so it might as well be something I like.”  A firefighter with 31 years of service, he wanted to “give back to my community,” when he retired.  Over the years, he had both direct and indirect contact with Camillus House and was impressed with the fact that his interaction was “always pleasant, nice, and accommodating.”  So when he chose a place to volunteer, he chose Camillus House. “It wasn’t important what job I did.  I just wanted to help.”

Danny ended up volunteering in the mail room, and explains that Camillus House is “one of the few places the homeless can receive mail.  It’s just like any Post Office,” he says. “It’s a regular place to get your mail, like checks from the Government.   It has to be safe and secure.”

One of the services the Camillus mail room provides is to help guests get a new ID.  “If someone has stolen your stuff, how do you get an ID? We learn how to help.” That includes checking court records and other sources to help people qualify for services. “It’s the basis of a start for a new ID. It’s multi-faceted and never boring,” Danny remarks on the work they do. He volunteers five days a week.

During the week, the mail room at Camillus House receives hundreds of pieces of mail and hundreds of clients.  “We have our regulars,” he adds. “Some people come two or three times a day, even though the mail only comes once a day.  It’s the need for human contact.  It may be a good excuse, but it’s the contact that’s important.”

Some Camillus House clients help out in the mail room while they’re recovering.  “They do what is expected – and more,” he says, adding that “the environment is conducive to being positive.”  Now in his third year as a volunteer, Danny has discovered that “the homeless are just like you and me.  They made unfortunate decisions, but they have the same wants and needs as anyone. Here, they get showers, mail, clothing – it’s critical to their getting better.”

When asked to describe his feelings about volunteering, Danny grows reflective.  “For me, society requires that we contribute. It’s very rewarding, a sense of fulfillment.”  He pauses, then resumes.

“Sincere,” he says, referring to Camillus House. “That’s what makes it special.  It’s not for everyone to do.  You have to be breathing it.  The services they provide are essential to the community.  You have to be understanding.  You see a complete change in someone – that part is rewarding.”

Referring to his career in Fire Rescue and helping those in pain or fear or stressful situations, he used to tell his teammates “It may not be much to you, but it’s a big deal to them.  Pretend they’re your mother, father, sister, brother.  Treat them like family.”

And five days a week at Camillus House, that’s exactly what Danny does.

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