Launched in May, VA’s Summer of Service initiative highlighted the work done each and every day by volunteers across the country. In all, almost 300,000 volunteers stepped forward to serve Veterans, exceeding VA’s goals. Community by community, state by state, VA and the country came together to serve Veterans during this year’s VA Summer of Service, and it had an overwhelming impact on Veterans and their families.
Here are some of highlights from VA’s Summer of Service.
Three generations volunteer for Veterans
When 15-year-old Paxton dePingre volunteered at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in the summer of 2015, she didn’t realize the impact her experience would have on her personally and two of her biggest role models. Her father, Paul dePingre and grandfather, Bill dePingre, both Marines, also volunteer several hours a week. It wasn’t until Paxton devoted most of her summer break to volunteering that her father and grandfather became even more involved.
“It is important to volunteer because you make a difference,” said Paxton. “Some of these Veterans may have no family and I may be the only person to spend time with them. A lot of times they need an ear to listen.”
NY, NJ Veterans unite for annual adaptive sports softball game
They served on the teams that protect our country – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and on Aug. 5, 20 disabled Veterans from New York and New Jersey formed two new teams to do battle on an indoor softball field.
The #VASummerOfService event put Veterans into two teams – American and National – and paired them with volunteers and VA employees to see which club could best the other. And while it’s all for fun, the event is meant to help the disabled Veterans in a number of ways.
“It’s an incredible program for our Veterans who wish to get connected with the athletic side of themselves,” said Pedro Gonzalez, recreational therapist for VA Hudson Valley. “It provides them an opportunity to work through challenges, taking skills they may have used in the past, modifying and using them in a new way.”
Tampa tram volunteers make getting around easier
When a patient visits the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Florida their first experience is often the face of a VA volunteer.
The size of the medical facility’s campus and the sporadic Florida weather necessitates the fleet of trams, or six passenger golf carts, to move Veterans around the grounds. Volunteers like Dan Biser and Dick Arens, both Veterans, will happily take you to your appointment.
“We just help people out as much as we can and I enjoy doing it. I get to meet a lot of people, talk to people,” Biser said.
Volunteers restore Civil War era grotto at Dayton VA
In the early 1900s, the grotto and surrounding grounds of the Dayton VA Medical Center were recognized nationally as a garden paradise. It saw more than 600,000 visitors a year – nearly six times the population of Dayton at the time.
Over the last few years, many Dayton VAMC staff, volunteers and community partners have joined together in an effort to restore the grotto’s glory. The combined effort includes Dayton VA’s voluntary services, engineering and director’s office, as well as the American Veterans Heritage Center, Ohio State University Extension master gardeners and many volunteers, community supporters and donators.
“It’s a great example of a unique volunteer assignment that benefits the Veterans, the VA and the community as a whole,” Ryan Pleasants, chief of voluntary services, who oversees the volunteer program at Dayton.
Team Depot and American Legion build obstacle course for wheelchair Veterans
To help Veterans train for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, Team Depot and the American Legion partnered with the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital to build a wheelchair obstacle course.
Rebecca Muldoon, the local Home Depot store manager and district Team Depot captain said, “We feel it’s a great way for us to partner with VA and their summer of service, working on this project for the patients here at the spinal cord injury (SCI) center.”
Muldoon brought 12 Home Depot volunteer employees to build the obstacles and Home Depot donated the materials needed.
Honoring our Veterans at Fort Sill National Cemetery
Four years ago, Matt Doerr, the president of Turf Appeal, an Oklahoma City lawn management business, saw a cemetery sign in Eglin, Okla., that caught his interest. He was impressed with the beauty and symbolism of not only that sign, but the acres of meticulously kept grounds beyond it. The sign marked the entrance to VA’s Fort Sill National Cemetery.
Doerr contacted Marty Talley at Fort Sill National Cemetery. Even though he wasn’t a Veteran himself, Doerr said that wanted to give back to the community and honor our Veterans. With a background in lawn management, Doerr and his company’s volunteers were welcomed.
VA partners with Richmond International Raceway to increase access to benefits
VA is partnered with the Richmond International Raceway to promote greater access and awareness to VA benefits as a part of its Summer of Service initiative – an effort designed to encourage and grow the number of individuals and organizations serving Veterans in their communities.
VA honored past and present military members during the pole qualifying and Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races on Sept. 11 and 12 in Richmond, Va. VA’s Mobile Vet Center was onsite with a team of health and benefits experts to answer Veterans’ questions, share information and help Veterans and family members’ access VA benefits and services.
Prior to the Richmond race, VA and the raceway will held a “Driving VA Benefits and Services Home” event Sept. 10 at the Richmond VA Medical Center featuring NASCAR drivers, VA benefits services and a NASCAR pace car.
“Richmond International Raceway is proud to partner with such an important organization as the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Richmond raceway president, Dennis Bickmeier. “NASCAR is a very patriotic sport, and we pride ourselves on supporting the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country. There’s no better way to do that than by partnering with VA to set the field for the Federated Auto Parts 400 ‘Last Race to Make the Chase.’”
Want to read more about how volunteers are helping VA? Here’s an archive of all the stories featured on Vantage Point this summer.
VA takes its commitment to care for the nation’s Veterans and their families very seriously, and even though VA’s Summer of Service initiative has wrapped up, we invite everyone to keep the momentum going. Community by community, state by state, our nation can work together to serve Veterans each and every day.