Volunteerism comes naturally to Mario Banez.
Born in the Philippines, Banez moved to Chicago when he was 20. Soon after, he looked for ways to contribute to the community.
Making the transition from a tropical environment to the blustery winters on the shore of Lake Michigan was a shock but it didn’t stop Banez from becoming a volunteer firefighter and fire inspector.
After his job with NutraSweet transferred him to the Augusta area in 1994, he once again found ways to help improve his community.
“I was director of emergency services for the Red Cross for a while,” said Banez.
That was before he was offered a position as a lab analyst with Corvidien, a healthcare solutions company. He prefers the night shift because that gives him time to do other things after he gets off work at 8 a.m.
“I was part of the first CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) back in 2004” said Banez, “Now I’m part of the simulation team that helps train new CERT members.”
Banez is also one of the qualified drivers for the Emergency and Operations Center’s Mobile Operations Center. He drove the vehicle to Wrens a few years ago when the community lost power after a tornado downed power lines, hampering emergency communications.
“The MOC truck is self-sufficient. It has generators and communication equipment” said Banez.
Sometimes volunteering involves sacrifice.
“ You remember the ice storm?” asked Banez. “I was here (at EOC) while my family was freezing at home.”
Since he has a commercial drivers license, Banez also volunteers as a driver for Columbia County Cares food pantry.
“When I get off work every Tuesday I call Sconyers to see if they have something for Cares, and then I pick it up and deliver it,” said Banez. “Sometimes I deliver food to other food pantries in the area.”
Banez is also a support person for the county’s dive team.
“My function is to drive the boat, help the divers get off on their dive, time keeper, communications, everything,” said Banez.
EMA Deputy Director Rusty Welsh clarifies Banez’s role, “He supports the divers. There is three or four times more work topside than there is in the water.”
Banez has also set an example for his two children, Maritess, 26, and Angela, 25.
“They both took the CERT training while in high school,” said Banez
His wife, Tess, is a nurse at the medical prison.
Welsh doesn’t hesitate to heap praise on one of his top volunteers. “We love him to death. He participates in a lot of things. He’s a great asset to the county,” said Welsh.