HOLMDEL, N.J. -
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1. A person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. A person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
3. Debbie Brew
Debbie Brew is always in motion. In addition to managing a busy household, she co-manages (with Laura Mihalenko) the Holmdel Parents Facebook page and volunteers in many school initiatives. Recently, the Holmdel Parents Facebook page reached an astounding 1715 members and counting. Debbie recounted during her Mother's Day message that members are active and regularly viewing, liking, posting and/or commenting. "We celebrated our 3 year anniversary in March and have remained an active group each and every day". said Brew. It is a closed group that Holmdel parents can request to join (Search FB for Holmdel Parents).For a professional, premier and active resource for parents in Holmdel, the numbers are sure to grow even higher. That success is but one aspect of the ubiquitous and dedicated Debbie Brew.
Volunteers have impacts that folks often don't see during their busy lives. We hope that everything simply 'works'. It's not that simple. The schools, church functions, the recreation activities. Behind all these community events are volunteers. These are dedicated men and women who serve as coaches, class moms, firefighters, EMT's, CCD teachers and so much more. They are involved because they love their town.
The story of Debbie (McMerty) Brew is easy to write. She grew up in Holmdel and remembers how things were. She shared the experiences of an earlier time in Holmdel Recreation, with events such as Frogtown Frolic, expansive Christmas Tree Lightings, July Fourth Parades, and Fireworks at Holmdel High School.
Her work as the Activities Coordinator at the Holmdel Swim Club made it what it is today. Speaking of the Holmdel Swim Club, Debbie also speaks very fondly of Ines Csulak, who after many years of dedicated recreation service to the community, still serves at the swim club, as a manager. Said Brew, "Ines represents so many of the elements I love and admire – having fun and doing things with the kids. Teaching and creating memories! Ines simply means the world to me, and I thank her for the memories she created for me, and for so many others in our town. I loved all my experiences as a kid growing up in Holmdel."
These kind of 'great growing up memories' don't happen without parent involvement and great volunteers. They simply do it because they believe it matters and they are called to service. How fortunate we are for that. Some things come naturally, some things learned. For Debbie Brew, serving the community is both. It's also a generational thing, and in her family, a 'multi-generational girl thing!'
Ingrained in Brew's story is a passion for making memories for her family that last forever and working in the community so that other families can have the similar experiences. Much came natural to Debbie but she learned from others. She learned from strong women. In particular, according to Debbie, she learned from her Grandmother and Mother.
"My Grandmom was a United States Navy Aviation Machinist, and is honored in the US Women's Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. My Grandmom's name was Vera Lee Nordstrom and she was absolutely incredible. I remember very clearly the pink toolbox she gave me when I was a little girl. She showed me how to fix things, and to this day, I'm the one in the house who fixes things," said Brew. Learning about Debbie's family history points back to that little pink toolbox that gave a little girl the tools to get things done, and created a family legacy of helping others and giving back! Debbie's parents were the original home owners on Heyward Hills Drive, and moved in during 1972. Debbie's dad was very involved in the Swim Club Committee and served as the club's head of the Finance. They were also very involved with St. Benedict's Church, where her dad was on the Finance Committee. "My father's name is Clarence McMerty, but everyone called him Mac. He grew up in Philly, where you were either a Mick or a Mac, so he was a Mac," said Brew. Her mom's name is Lee, and this is where it gets even more interesting.
Brew says, "My mom was president of the Parent Teaches Association (PTA), so I suppose the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Back then, Village and Indian Hill were K-5 on each side of town, and then you met everyone in 6th Grade. So, unless you were involved together with the Holmdel Youth Athletic Association (HYAA), you usually didn't meet the kids from the other side of town until 6th grade". HYAA, now called the Holmdel Youth Activities Association, had soccer only for boys when Debbie was growing up. Of course, Debbie played! "Since there wasn't a girls team, I played on the boys team, and my dad coached," said Brew. She knew early on that girls can obviously do anything they want to do! Her mom used to drive her to all the various functions. They would participate together which not only taught Debbie so many things about organizations, but also allowed her precious time with mom.
Brew continues, "My mom started the Indian Hill Carnival in the hallways - it was set up for penny games. I would help them with set up and then we would ride our bikes home together from the school. I believe I'm doing what I'm doing now, due to the wonderful things I learned how to do by working with, and learning from my mother." Brew continues talking about some of her fondest memories via an organization started by her mom, "The Holmdel Social Action Committee (HSAC), was started by my mom at Holmdel High School (HHS), to aid and partner with children from Monmouth County, with special needs. Every week on Wednesday, we would go to Airport Plaza Roller Rink (in Hazlet), and meet. Many of us would roller skate together, or enjoy various additional interactive activities. In the spring time the HSAC would unite to bowl together at the Aberdeen bowling alley, and everyone had group bowling lessons together. It meant a lot to all of us. We had a real togetherness, and I was a part of HSAC all four high school years," said Brew. Debbie also started working with Special Olympics while at Holmdel High School, and she still is involved with supporting the Special Olympics to this day.
While a student at HHS, Debbie also helped the elderly. "We would get a list of senior citizens from the county who needed help and we'd go to their houses to help clean the house as part of community service." This also provided credit towards HHS's first Congressional Award, at that time. An award that Debbie Brew would go on to win. "I was the first to win the Congressional Award from HHS, and there was an extensive criteria. That was a proud moment, going down to Monmouth College for the ceremony and having Congressman Howard present me with the medal. We were always taught to help other people, it was just natural," says Brew.
Words her parents instilled in all of her siblings; "Your friends may come and go. Your family is forever. Love each other". Brew continues, "It's generational. My grandparents and parents experienced different levels of service to their country and fellow citizens. It's ingrained in how they think and act." Brew is the oldest of four children and both Debbie and her husband Michael grew up in Holmdel. She worked in New York City, for a retail company where her dad was Vice President, in a different division. Initially, she studied for elementary education, but the city drew her in. She worked 14 years in the retail field, and stopped when she became pregnant with her son, Connor.
"I loved the way I grew up and wanted my kids to have the same experience" said Brew. So she rolled up her sleeves got to work wearing a hat from her days growing up in Holmdel. She started volunteering in the preschool, then in the elementary schools, and eventually served on the parent group boards. With Connor born in 2000, she soon had two others at home in 2003 and 2006; Carlee and Casey. She always helped the groups, but did not want to be in charge. Then, in 2011, "Dina D'Ambrosi asked me to help her run the Village School carnival. I helped her and we had a great time. Working with everyone, we were able to improve aspects of the carnival experience in the first year - more of a learning year. In the second year, no more cash, we introduced using one ticket to use for everything. We reinvented the carnival, and put everything previously set up inside, outside instead (weather notwithstanding). We reworked the way bingo was run and it's still done the new way to this day, and is now is held in two schools."
Brew served on the Village Board 2012- 2014 as VP of Fundraising, Satz Board as VP of Membership 2013-2014, and Indian Hill Board 2014-2017 as VP of Fundraising, then Co-President.
Brew is most proud of the way the parent groups have grown. "We think out of the box, we are our own organization and all four parent groups try to work hard together, to benefit all the groups as a whole. It is hard balancing everyone's schedules, and trying to spread the wealth while not stepping on toes for same type programs and events, but I think we do a great job at that, and we all offer many activities and events for all of our schools. Important events at Indian Hill this year included their Welcome Back event at Casola Farms, Bingo night, Boardwalk, and our Hangout nights for each grade, to name a few. In the past at The Village School, we earmarked $14,000 of our fundraising every single year so every kid went on a class trip gifted from us - nobody had to pay. I was very proud of that. They enjoyed the trips to Liberty Science Center and other trips yearly. I really enjoyed that the children could use the funding to go on trips that make memories that will last forever. Carnivals and Boardwalk are other fun examples for me – I love creating memories," said Brew. "Kids still talk about the boardwalk and the carnival. It's priceless".
She endeavors to impart similar lessons in her own children. Her daughter, Carlee, has a keen sense of being a kindred spirit to others. Brew says, "My daughter Carlee has a volunteer mindset and deep understanding of the world around her. She wants to work in special education, in her own classroom or elsewhere. She believes as many children do that we are all one, and must look out for each other. She is involved in unified sports and they share such a great time together. She became President of Student Council in 6th grade, and a goal was to do an Alex's Lemonade stand. She was student council president when I was on PLG Board as VP Fundraising--so cool. We worked together great; she thought of and organized the Alex's Lemonade stand, and together with the student the council, raised $2500. She is very proud of that. It was a goal she made... and met! Carlee was elected President of Student Council at Satz, so she's continuing with more goals."
Debbie is also proud of another major initiative she created that has helped hundreds of students - a volunteer system for community service. In 2012 Brew sent out an email to ten parents and listed events for service hours. The parent groups needed help at events and her oldest son and his friends needed service hours. "They told ten friends etc. etc. and I ended up developing a 350 student (& growing) 7th-12th grade database for volunteers and organizations, who rely on us regularly for assistance. We are in the Satz bulletin every week, and work with all students including the National Honor Society. Our working groups include the churches, Monmouth County Parks System, Meridian Hospitals, Bridges and more. It's a great help to everyone, and I am so proud of it."
Many are proud of Debbie Brew as well. Joanne Toomey says, "We were members of the Holmdel Swim Club for 20 years, and Debbie was a major part of that. Debbie is a wonderful person, always ready to jump in and help anyone or any effort. She's passionate and she was so instrumental in bringing families together at the Holmdel Pool Club, When Debbie came on board, we saw her bring back many programs that had been let go like arts and crafts for the kids and family nights....she brought back programs that we had enjoyed years ago that are real community builders. Thats what she is, Debbie is a community builder."
Holmdel Township Committeeman Eric Hinds concurred. "Deb is a true example of a community steward. She does so much for Holmdel and never asks for credit. She is fully committed to making our town the best it can be. Deb is a special woman for Holmdel."
Brew has a vision for Holmdel moving forward: A Fourth of July Parade, fireworks, a recreation center but... it's more than that. She believes we should communicate more, build the community, stay together and, of course, make memories.
"I would love to see the higher level of old time spirit come back and everyone join together and get the spirit back – come together – embrace your hometown – pack the football games – people are still here who grew up here – come together – this is going to be your families' memories." Brew said.
"People are still here based on our experiences so we should extend an embrace of the entire community, so more kids want to stay here as well. It’s a different world and things change - people are so busy - but I would still love to have the whole community come out in force for community day and for any special event day."
Brew is a community maker who is now teaching a fourth generation about stewardship and civic duty. Four generations of strong women, with families who care about where they live and what they will leave behind.
An ongoing legacy of service and the values of loving each other, making memories and helping others. Well done!
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Story originally published 6-26-17 updated 5-14-18