Editor’s note: This story is part of our “50 Stories of
People Helping People” series. As we celebrate Penske’s 50th
anniversary in 2019, we are spotlighting associates every Friday
who are making a difference in their communities.
A rough-and-tumble boy who loved wrestling and helping others,
Torrin Breneman was determined to give back what childhood cancer
had robbed from so many children: their hair.
For three years, the Michigan teen grew his hair to donate to an
organization that made wigs for children, only to become diagnosed
a few months later with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Sadly, Torrin’s courageous 14-month battle with cancer came to
an end just before Christmas, but not before touching the hearts of
so many who knew him, including a group of Penske associates in Warren,
Michigan, who rallied around the family to support
them through Torrin’s fight.
“Meeting him changed us as individuals and as a district,”
said Taylor Brown, an assistant district administrator who, along
with Kelsey Ginther, customer experience specialist, spearheaded a
fundraising campaign, which eventually raised $4,000 for the
Yet, it was Torrin who gave so much to the associates in ways
they said would last for a lifetime.
“The reason we all adopted him was because of the mentality he
had – that even though he was going through something so hard, he
was willing to do what he could to make someone else feel
better,” Brown said. “For all of us, that brought a sense of
what we could do as individuals to make the most of the life we
have been given.”
It Started With A Cough
For many children, Christmas is a time of expectation. For
Torrin, in the midst of his own cancer fight, it was a time to
Instead of gifts for himself, Torrin asked for gift cards to
purchase Christmas presents for hospitalized children who were too
sick to spend the holidays at home.
“Most of these kids are worse than me, and they have less than
me,” Torrin would often say to his father, Jason Breneman.
Torrin’s own cancer battle began with a persistent cough.
Months later, Jason and his wife Carrie would learn their son had
Following the diagnosis, Torrin underwent treatments to fight
back but nothing worked, including experimental treatments and
protocols normally given to adults.
This meant long hospital stays for Torrin, which forced him to
miss school, but he was not without the love and comfort of his
parents. His mother was by his side every day.
Both parents were forced to quit their jobs to be with Torrin
throughout his cancer battle, which put a strain on the family’s
finances. The couple also cared for Torrin’s younger sister.
There were some fundraisers to assist the family, but Mr.
Breneman said the Penske fundraiser was the most impactful.
“There were a few fundraisers which the family wouldn’t be
able to make it this far without, and we are so grateful and
appreciative, especially Penske, which by far has put on the
largest fundraiser for Torrin,” Mr. Breneman said.
Months before meeting Torrin’s family, Brown participated in a
local event to raise money for Torrin’s medical expenses and to
assist the family.
A few weeks later, Brown and Ginther were discussing ways the
Detroit District could become involved in community service, and
the idea of helping Torrin’s family was brought forward.
The pair organized a can and bottle drive to raise money for the
family. With a district match, the total rose to $4,000.
Torrin and his family received the check on Oct. 26 at
Penske’s Warren location. It was “Pink Out Day,” a day set
aside by associates across the company to promote breast cancer
“We figured what better day to help this sweet little boy than
the day we are all showing our Pink Out love,” Brown said.
As fate would have it, the family’s vehicle broke down the day
before, and without money to repair it, they had no way to
“As an added gift, our service team offered to help the family
fix their vehicle in their spare time to help reduce the cost to
the family,” Brown said.
When the family arrived, Torrin was presented with a bag full of
Penske items, including winter hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts and
other Penske items, including a fidget spinner.
“We also created a banner with his hashtag #TorrinStrong in
his favorite color. All of the associates in the building signed it
with best wishes and words of encouragement,” Brown said.
“Seeing the happy tears of his father and the smiles around
the room on all of our faces made one thing clear to me: Helping
this little boy and his family meant more to us than we will ever
be able to put into words,” she said.
A Lasting Legacy
In the days leading up to Christmas, as his health began its
final decline, Torrin never stopped thinking of others.
“Torrin’s dad reached out us and let us know that Torrin
asked since Penske helped him so much, was there any way we could
help the kids on his hospital floor?” Brown said. “Even though
he was not doing very well, he reached out to us to see if there
was anything we could do.”
Just as the conversation started to help make Torrin’s
Christmas wish for other children come true, the teen lost his
battle and passed away. Torrin was just 13 years old.
Torrin’s passing, while not unexpected, came so suddenly and
deeply touched the Penske associates, who considered Torrin and his
family a part of Penske’s extended family.
“It affected all of us,” Brown said. “We are really just
focused on keeping his memory alive and making sure the changes he
helped us make continue to grow.”
For the associates, Torrin’s legacy can be felt in a shift in
how they view community service. They were able to see up close and
personal the impact their community service can have on
Just before Christmas, the associates adopted six families from
a school in Ohio. The families had limited means for basic
necessities, so the associates purchased gifts for the
“It was an amazing experience. We were able to play games, eat
lunch, do arts and crafts, decorate cookies and really just
experience Christmas with them,” Brown said. “We collected over
150 gifts for these children, which we delivered to their homes so
their parents could place them under the tree for Christmas
The associates have also committed each year to send gifts to
hospitalized children at Christmas in memory of Torrin.
“Having Torrin here and seeing the impact that it made changed
our mindset and outlook on the personal connection you can make in
any situation,” Brown said. “Seeing it has shown us the value
of being part of the community.”
By Bernie Mixon
Source: FS – Transport B.
Penske Associates Move to Keep Michigan Teen’s Memory Alive