VA Voluntary Service Next Gen Volunteers: What’s Your Why?

Volunteering has tremendously
changed me as a person. What started
as wanting to give back to those
who have served our country has become
much, much more than that. Volunteering isn’t necessarily
mopping floors or taking out the garbage. It’s a way
that you can help people through something that you love and something
that you’re doing already. Alan:
The Veterans that I volunteer
with are in the hospice, so they’re going through
the final stages of life. And it means a lot to me
to be able to give back to them at this time. It expands your world view. It enlightens you. Those people have names. Their eyes are warm. They have stories
that match mine, in some ways. So, as the child
of Lebanese immigrants, I grew up in the United States with an admiration
of the freedoms. I have a photo
of myself and my mother at around the age of 2 in front
of the Washington Monument. And that’s kind of what has led
me to volunteer with the V.A. I volunteer a lot,
and I greet a lot of Veterans
when they come in. Listening to someone’s story
is very important. And just a hug sometimes —
very important. Never knew
how important that was until I started volunteering. Dan: Fly-fishing had been
a hobby, a pastime of mine. And I didn’t see
how this could be used and how this could have
therapeutic properties to it. There was a World War II Veteran
that came in. Now, you know that there’s
very few World War II Veterans alive now, today. So, I just told him
it was very special and an honor to meet him and greet him. Kind of touched him by the hand,
’cause he was on his walker. And they walked away. Maybe three or four days later,
his grandson came to me and told me
that he had passed away. But he had mentioned me. “Did you see that lady that was,
you know, talking to me?” So that made my day,
that I made him smile. I had the opportunity
to comfort a Veteran in the final stages
of the dying process. He didn’t have any family
with him at the time. And at that point, I sat
with him and held his hand. And it was quite
a powerful experience for me. I wanted to make sure that he
had the most peaceful experience at this stage as he could. When I was spending time
with my grandfather — Battle of the Bulge combat
Veteran from World War II — we really spoke a lot
about being outdoors and fishing and hunting. And he began sharing stories
of his time overseas in combat. And these were stories that
no one in my family had heard. He never spoke of it at all. Sitting with him at a diner
over breakfast one day, and out of the blue,
he turned to me and said, “Did I ever tell you
about the first time I jumped out of an airplane?” And my jaw just dropped. Hearing his stories
of returning from Europe and how he sought refuge
in the outdoors, it was an epiphany moment — that I could take something
that I love to help other people. That was a truly powerful
moment in my life. Alan: The most surprising aspect
of volunteering in the V.A. has been how bright and happy
the hospice actually is. A large number
of the Veterans there have quite a sense of humor. They give it back to me. “Hello! It’s so wonderful
to see you today!” Dan: I oftentimes, after a day
of volunteering at the V.A., drive home feeling
enlightened and empowered and unbelievably happy. And that is a feeling, I think,
anyone — young or old — should experience.

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