A Conversation with Denise Schoen

By Mara Certic at the Sag Harbor Express 

The Sag Harbor Village attorney, and member of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, is forgoing her plans to spend Thanksgiving in Cancun with family to volunteer in Greece for 10 days. She spoke about why she decided to change her plans.

When did you decide to spend your Thanksgiving in Greece?

I knew I was going to go as soon as I found out there was a local group going over, which would have been on Facebook, through East End Cares. My sister, Melissa Mitchell, is a teacher in Southampton and co-founded that group after Hurricane Sandy, so I’d been following that group to see if there was anything I could do. At the time, I had booked a trip to Cancun for Thanksgiving with my mother and my two kids—we’ve had a really bad year. I had six surgeries in the past 18 months, but I just recently got the all clear back on my arm, so I could go back to my work with the ambulance company.

How long have you been a member of the ambulance company?

Thirteen years in September. My husband’s family is very involved though, too, because his grandfather founded the company with Edmond Downes. So it’s a huge part of my existence here in Sag Harbor.

Why did you decide to change your holiday plans?

I don’t know how to explain it in words, but for some reason I know that I couldn’t not go—and that’s a double negative which I hate because I’m a lawyer—but there’s some incredible draw. I don’t know if it’s because I missed the ambulance corps so much. Volunteerism has always been a big part of my life. I grew up in a household with my mom, where she would give you the shirt off her back. I was raised with that frame of mind—that to give to others is better than to receive something yourself. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community. And I really wanted to go with this group—there’s another EMT and an RN, but it’s not just people in the medical field. They’re looking for anyone who can help, anyone with organizational skills. So we’re going over on November 25, and I’m coming back on December 7. I’ve been in contact with a doctor over there through an international doctors’ association, and I’m hoping to meet with him when I arrive so he can guide me. Right now, the major areas where they need help are resuscitation efforts, also many cases of hypothermia. These are human beings, and I can’t imagine anything more important right now.

How did your children react to the change of plans?

They completely understand. Honestly, Emily, 16, came home from school today and asked me why I wasn’t leaving tomorrow. It worked out pretty well with my work schedule, too. And the good news is she and Sara, 12, will be with their dad, grandmother, and my sister and her family.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

Other than a pretty intense desire to give back, it’s run the gamut of training guide dogs to my Fresh Air Fund child, but no, I’ve never left the country to go help in a humanitarian crisis. I feel privileged they’re taking me with them and putting their trust in me.

What can those who can’t go do to help?  

Tax-deductible donations can be made to doyourpart.org, and that will go toward buying supplies, clothes and blankets for people on the ground there. Also, a personal goal of mine is to get as many donations as I can from the local ambulance companies. The Montauk Fire Department already sent over pediatric equipment, after doctors in Greece lost an infant because they didn’t have a pediatric intubation tube—a piece of plastic. So I’m hoping to get even more equipment over there now.


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