Sharon Britz understands the challenges first responders face daily.

The Main Street United Methodist Church’s new youth pastor served as a paramedic and firefighter in her native Johannesburg, South Africa, for 18 years before an on-the-job injury forced her to retire. She said her experience gives her an insight into the struggles faced by first responders.

“It’s a profession where if people call, they just expect you to be there,” she said. “It’s very rewarding, but on the other hand, how many people show their appreciation for you?”

So when deciding what would be her first major event as the church’s youth pastor, an appreciation dinner for Greenwood’s first responders seemed like the natural choice.

“I just thought, from our side, let’s do something to show our appreciation for them and let them know we care about them,” she said.

Last Monday, Britz and the church’s youth group hosted about 60 people from the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenwood Fire Department, the Greenwood Police Department and Greenwood County Emergency Services.

“We invited all the first responders,” Britz said. “It’s a tough job, and most of them have got families of their own and when they leave home to go to work, they don’t know if they’re going to come home or not -- you don’t know what’s going to happen. So we just want to say from the church, we’re just all appreciative.”

Derek Kinney, director of Greenwood County EMS, said the recognition meant a lot to the first responders who attended.

“It’s a really good gesture for them to reach out and show their appreciation,” he said. “It was definitely appreciated by the crews who are working in the streets.”

Britz said in addition to showing gratitude to the county’s first responders, the dinner gave members of the youth group an opportunity to interact with first responders, particularly law enforcement, on a personal level.

“We got the youth to actually serve them,” she said. “They realized these are actually normal human beings. They’re not just uniformed people that if you seem them, you’re scared of them.”

Britz looks forward to making appreciation dinners regular events, she said.

“I’m looking at doing it maybe two or three times a year,” she said. “In the summer, we can grill burgers and there’s so much more we can do. So I’m looking at least two or three times a year, so it’s not going to be a one off.”

Contact staff writer Conor Hughes at 864-943-2511 or on Twitter@IJConorHughes.