Menlo Park couple Gail and Ben Brian have spent more than 20 years acting in quiet ways to do good. They donate blood together. They've adopted rescue dogs. And, after raising their own children, they've spent the last several years working as foster parents.
They're also humble and wary of the spotlight. In a recent interview held over Zoom, Ben explained that the pair is pretty media shy and agreed to talk mainly with a hope that their story could inspire others to consider donating blood or providing foster care.
About every two weeks for years, the pair has visited the Stanford Blood Center, where they sit for roughly 60 to 90 minutes to each donate two units of platelets. Ben has donated around 515 units and Gail has now donated around 370, they said in an interview. They make it a point to schedule their appointments together and over the years, have gotten to know the small staff at the center. They have come to treat their joint donation sessions as "donation dates."
When asked why they keep going back, month after month, Gail replied, "How can you not, once you know what people are going through?"
"We're such a small part of a real, giant team," she added. "Everyone is working so hard to get these people better. You can't walk away from that once you've started."
"They do a good job of making you feel appreciated," Ben said, describing some of the rewards programs Stanford Blood Center offers to encourage donations. Today, he said, most of the T-shirts he owns have come from the center's promotional T-shirt programs, expanding his collection of each year's summer tie-dye shirt or winter "ugly sweater" long-sleeve shirts over many seasons.
Since 2017, they've also become foster parents, and have hosted a total of 11 children in their home over the years.
"There are so many great foster families out there that are in the trenches with these kiddos – and these kids are dealing with some heavy stuff. We're kind of just toiling away in the background (but) we want people to know that this is very doable," Gail said. "We've built this great network around us and that's what helps us. Nobody's going through it alone."
"We don't see ourselves as anything other than run-of-the-mill folks that can do this," she said. "The real heroes are the kids."
Throughout the interview, both insisted that they're not that special. Gail called herself and her husband simply "average humans who want to help out little humans."
"It's not like we're out there curing cancer," Ben said. "I think we get a lot more out of (the blood donation) than we put into it. But it's a partnership. Our marriage is clearly a partnership."
And by engaging in trainings and committing to help the young people in their care, Gail said, they're becoming better at being humans and partners.
"I would say that being foster parents has made us better partners to each other," Gail said. "That comes from learning how to communicate, readjust and manage expectations."
"You become better at being a human when you do foster care," she said.
It's hard work, but dogs and chocolate can help, they noted.
"I'm happier now than I've ever been," Gail said. "Knowing that he (Ben) has my back, it means so much. It's the little things you learn to appreciate."
Learn more about Gail and Ben on the Stanford Blood Center blog here.