VA Maryland Health Care System
Celebrating People in Action
During National Volunteer Week (April 15 -21), the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System plans activities and award ceremonies to honor its 1,300 community volunteers. In fiscal year 2011, community volunteers contributed over 104,000 hours of service worth an estimated $2.2 million to support the needs of Maryland's Veterans at three VA inpatient facilities and five community based outpatient clinics throughout the state. This year, more than 25 volunteers—including adults and teens—are being honored with the prestigious Presidential Volunteer Service for giving their time and talent.
"This small army of volunteers stands ready to serve America's newest generation of military Veterans, and they play a vital role in the recovery and well being of Veterans from all combat eras. Volunteers offer a link to the community, remind Veterans that their service has not been forgotten, and often provide the only visits for some Veterans whose families are distant or non-existent," says Dennis H. Smith, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. "Veterans gave their best for our nation. We have an obligation to honor and respect their service, and volunteers fulfill that obligation daily."
Among the 1,300 community members being honored for volunteering is Betty Meyers, an Army Veteran and Aberdeen, Md., native, who hasn't stopped serving her country. Meyers began volunteering at the Perry Point VA Medical Center about a year ago, earning the Perry Point Volunteer of the Year award for her work in helping the medical center implement a new finance system in the fee service area. She shrugs off the accolades, saying that she didn't do anything exemplary, but she did note that "volunteering makes a big difference to the Veterans who benefit from it."
Once a week for three years now, Sylvia Lubman and her husband Barry, a Navy Veteran, drive to the Loch Raven VA Community Living & Rehabilitation Center to visit with and help Veterans – many of whom they now consider friends. "It's something I look forward to every week," Mrs. Lubman said. "It's very satisfying to me." The pair volunteer once a week in recreational therapy or hospice care, but they agree they're happy to help where they can, doing anything that needs to be done. Mr. Lubman often helps with photography projects when needed and serves as a "patient advocate."
They both participated in special events and outings with patients – something Mrs. Lubman describes "a lot of fun." For the Lubmans, the best part about volunteering is making friends. Mrs. Lubman said she often goes to the Loch Raven VA facility just to talk to patients because she being a sounding board for those needing to vent or sitting with others simply so they know they are not alone.
Brother and sister team Asmayt, 18, and Sensay, 17, Berhe began volunteering at the Baltimore VA Medical Center mainly to satisfy their high school community service requirements. But they didn't expect to fall in love with the work and with the feeling they get form helping others. Asmayt loved being at the Baltimore VA Medical Center so much that she began treating her volunteer time as a paying job, showing up every day to work in the Pharmacy and Public & Community Relations Services. While volunteering at the facility's pharmacy, Sensay discovered that the pharmacy field was a lot more interesting then he first thought, and now he's planning to pursue pharmacy as a career goal. The siblings worked many more hours than they needed to satisfy their school-related community service requirements and wracked up enough time—more than 100 hours each—to snag a Presidential Volunteer Award, which recognizes individuals, families and groups who have achieved a certain standard—measured by the number of hours served determined by age group over a 12-month period.
"Volunteers work on hospital units, at community living facilities, in pharmacy areas, and patient drivers. Some participate in recreational activities, birthday celebrations or holiday events, and others simply sit and visit with Veterans, helping improve their overall quality of life," said Susan Kern, program manager for Voluntary Service for the VA Maryland Health Care System.