Communities are filled with volunteers

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Whether they are fighting fires or distributing goods to the needy, volunteers are everywhere.

Just ask the Rev. Bryan Thiessen, pastor of the Journey Church on Prestley Road in Collier. Thiessen, a native of Missouri, wears several hats. He is a counselor, a preacher and a “man of God,” Thiessen said.

“I think once you see someone who benefits from something you have done for them, that makes you feel so good. It makes your day, no matter what else happens in the day,” Thiessen said.

Phil Makowski is a driver for the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department in South Fayette. He became a volunteer firefighter in 1980 and will be 71 in March.

During his time as a volunteer, Makowski can remember several times when he walked away from a fire or accident scene with a special feeling.

“I can remember a lot of calls where people just came up to me, gave me a hug and said, ‘thank you,'” Makowski said. “When you see that you have helped someone who is thankful for everything you have done, that means a lot.”

Longtime volunteer firefighters will say that the inspiration to join the firehouse began with the thrill of the calls. But those who have stood the test of time, such as Fairview's Ron Baselj, say it means more to them now.

“Firefighting is something I love to do now,” said Baselj, 40, a Bridgeville resident who has been a volunteer firefighter for 22 years.

Baselj, in fact, spent 100 hours of training outside of the department in 2011, he said.

“I just can't see my love of firefighting changing. When I first started, yes, it was different. I was a kid. But now, I want to help people,” Baselj said.

Chief Dan Dernosek agrees.

“I will keep doing this until my health tells me no longer can,” said Dernosek, 55, a South Fayette resident who has been a volunteer firefighter for 38 years.

According to numbers provided by The Federal Agency for Service and Volunteering, about 27 percent of Pennsylvania's residents volunteer in one form or another. This ranks Pennsylvania 31st among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Thiessen also volunteers in multiple ways. He provides food and clothing to those in need at the Bridgeville Community Outreach Center at 715 Washington Ave. in Bridgeville. He is a firefighter, as well, for the Presto Volunteer Fire Department.

“I have always wanted to be a volunteer firefighter. I always wanted to help people in that way,” Thiessen said.

His outreach center is sponsored by churches and ministries in Bridgeville. It is located directly across from the U.S. Post Office.

The center opened in October and is open 8 a.m. to noon the first Saturday of each month, Thiessen said.

The 300-square-foot room, which otherwise would be used as a small apartment, contains several boxes of food and about 25 coats.

Most of the coats are for young children, although some are for adults. It also contains baby diapers and formula, and emergency supply boxes.

The community outreach center is Thiessen's way of reaching out to those in need.

“This was something that I felt was needed. I just felt that other churches needed to partner together, and this is a great way to do it,” Thiessen said. “It feels amazing when the people come here and the people need food or clothing and they find it here. They say, ‘thank you,' and there is no thanks needed. That's what I love about it.”

Thiessen has future plans for the community outreach center.

“My personal goal is we want to be able to have free health screenings. We have nurses that attend (Journey Church) and they would be willing to volunteer for this,” Thiessen said.

Most volunteers do not want to be recognized for the hours they put in.

“I think people know we just want to help others. And we do. And that's enough for me,” Thiessen said.

Jeff Widmer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5810 or

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