A portrait of volunteer service: Helen Glass


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As a little girl, Helen Glass visited a VA hospital in New Jersey with her father, a WWI Veteran, which sparked a lifetime of service to Veterans. At 96, Glass’ passion for volunteerism and serving Veterans is still thriving.

“Back then, they didn’t have volunteers; they didn’t have equipment; they didn’t have anything,” said the Navy Veteran. “I volunteered without even knowing it.”

Glass assisted Veterans with seemingly simple tasks, such as reading to them, writing letters for them and guiding them around the hospital in their wheelchairs.

“They had one on the bed that they used to call a basket case,” said Glass. “I wondered why. He was in sort of a basket because he had no legs and needed help. I would sit and talk to him. A couple of times he would have me read and write letters.”

Glass’ family lineage is one of service and sacrifice, which includes her brother’s death in WWII and her own service in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

She explained her brother was killed just before 9:00 a.m. on September 11, 1934 on the USS Savannah (CL-42) while she was at the Navy Air Technical Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

“I went home on leave, and we got the telegram from the War Department that he had been killed,” she said. “They were going to give me special leave, but my father said no. I went to my next base.”

It was her time as a WAVE and her brother’s death in WWII that solidified her commitment to serving Veterans.

“I did my job in the service, and to honor my father and brother. I vowed that I would do this (volunteer) for the Veterans.”

Eventually, Glass found her way to Tucson, Arizona, to help her daughter. In 1978, she started volunteering full-time at the Tucson VA. Over the years, she has scaled back on her volunteer hours. Yet, Veterans still hold a special place in her heart. She still sews blankets and other items for Veterans.

“They are the ones that keep me going,” said Glass.

Volunteering has opened many doors for Glass, and she is an ardent ambassador. Over the years, she has spoken with numerous schoolchildren on the importance of volunteerism and service.

“One of the school teachers asked me, ‘What do you advise these young people?’ I said if they have any free time, or make some time to volunteer, these young people who volunteer at the Tucson VA really love it.”

Not only has Glass dedicated her life to volunteering, she is also an accomplished poet that has been featured in many publications. She has won awards for her poetry at the VA’s National Veterans Creative Arts competition. Her poetry is filled with themes of the sacrifices and volunteer service.

“I wrote a poem: Somewhere a Soldier Died Today,” said Glass. “They put their lives on the line, and some of them with no legs, no arms, we take our freedoms for granted until you see what they did,” she said.

“I tell everyone, if they volunteer, they will get to know their real selves. Everyone has talents. They may never truly know those talents. Volunteering may help dig them out.”

To learn more about VA volunteer service, please visit the VA Voluntary Services web page at www.volunteer.va.gov for available opportunities.


Luke Johnson is an assistant public affairs officer at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System

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