Community of Gratitude

First responders share their reflections on gratitude and service

Article by Erica Hernandez

Photography by Shannon Raske | Lunalux, Daniel Arizpe, Richard Carson

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

What are you thankful for this year? We asked that exact question to some of the most dedicated people in our community: first responders. From the emergency room to our kids’ schools, these community servants have experienced incredible circumstances over the last year and yet continue to inspire with their sense of gratitude and purpose. Daily, they choose to put the needs of others' health and safety above their own, and daily they help make the lives of those around them just a bit brighter, a bit more hopeful. So next time you see a first responder around town, take a moment to be grateful for their service. Take a pause and think positively or even personally show them your appreciation. Because even the smallest act of gratitude is a powerful deed.

Katie Pawelek, BSN, RN, CEN

Registered Nurse, Emergency Services Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital 

What are you thankful for personally?

I am most thankful for God, my family, and my friends. I am thankful for my job and team who have become a second family to me. When you weather the storm together, it bonds you in an indescribable way. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to help others and continue to grow in my career. I am thankful for all of those along the way that have helped mold me into the person I am today.

Why did you choose to become a nurse?

I chose to become a registered nurse because I love to take care of people. I have always had a giving heart and a soul that remains calm in the storm. Being a nurse allows me to care for others in their darkest moments. I am able to offer support, knowledge, and be a source of comfort, which in return, makes me feel like I am fulfilling my life’s purpose. 

When you think of the future, what or who inspires you?

My husband inspires me the most. He had the courage to change careers and start over. He is now an officer in the Navy and is currently teaching at the collegiate level. He has been my biggest cheerleader, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He encouraged me to apply to my master’s program and has been there to lift me up in the challenging times. He has not only made an impact on me, but he is an amazing mentor to his students. I hope that one day I can be a mentor and leave a lasting impression on my students

How do you like to show gratitude?

I show gratitude by giving gifts. I learned from my parents and life experiences that Heaven only knows what’s going to happen. We must make the most of our time. Say thank you and give compliments. Life can be unpredictable. 

Blake Dornak

Lieutenant, Cy-Fair Fire Department Station 13

Why did you choose to be a firefighter?

I chose to be a fireman because I enjoy helping people, I enjoy solving problems and I just love adrenaline. I also wanted to keep the family tradition going with being a second-generation firefighter. But most of all, this job takes a certain kind of person and I feel that it was my calling. 

What did you recently witness or experience personally that warmed your heart?

The overwhelming support from our community for our fellow firefighter, Hugo Guevara, when he passed away. The community lost one of the best firefighters of this department.

What are you thankful for personally?

I am personally thankful for my mom and dad who kept me in line growing up. They fully supported me from the day I was born, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I am also thankful for my girlfriend who drives me to better myself each day. And last but not least, I am thankful to the Cy-Fair Fire Department for letting me work for their organization.

How do you like to show gratitude?

Striving to make myself and my department better every day.

Dailem Corzo

Officer, Cy-Fair ISD Police Department

Why did you choose to become a police officer?

When I was twelve years old, I was impacted by a D.A.R.E. school female officer. She left a lasting impression which motivated me to want to serve the community. 

What are you thankful for personally?

Being blessed with a healthy 8-year-old daughter and my most recent blessing, my 18-month-old baby boy.

How do you like to show gratitude?

I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. I enjoy noticing things that bring people joy and or happiness. Small actions like giving people coffee, snacks, or mentioning something about their favorite sports team tends to have a positive reaction. Finally, supporting local businesses is another way I like to show gratitude.  

What did you recently witness or experience personally that warmed your heart?

Seeing volunteers help families in need at a recent school supply and food pantry event made me feel good about humanity.

Erin Holmes

In-Charge Paramedic, Cy-Fair Fire Department Station 11 

Why did you choose to become a paramedic?

I moved to this career from a previous corporate job. I love helping people whether it be medically or sometimes just listening. 

What are you thankful for personally?

I’m personally thankful for my family and health. I’m also thankful that I can serve my community. 

When you think of the future, who inspires you?

My family. They push me to be better all of the time. Living with a first responder can be hard on families. I am grateful that my family completely supports me.

What is your hope for 2022?

I hope for both my work and personal family to continue to stay healthy. My hope for our country is that we can have grace and patience with one another. 

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