April is National Volunteer Month, and this week marks National Volunteer Week. I haven’t come across too many people who know this. Until about a year ago, neither did I. What is interesting to me is that those who always seem willing to roll up their sleeves and give of their time, talent or treasure, without the expectation of receiving anything in exchange, do so all throughout the year. They seem to find joy and contentment in the simple act of helping others. Nonetheless, I think April is a great time to applaud their efforts and appeal to those who have yet to lend a hand.
Before joining the staff of the Veterans History Project (VHP), I spent my entire career raising money and awareness for non-profit organizations. Those organizations’ very existence was dependent upon the generosity and volunteerism of their constituents. Sure, some benefactors participated just to get a tax deduction or to see their names listed among the top donors’, but most participated because they cared about either the people, the cause or the organization benefiting from their generosity–not unlike the thousands who have served as volunteer interviewers for VHP. To each of them we send a heartfelt, “thank you.”
I would especially like to applaud a few VHP volunteers with whom I have worked closely during these past few years, like Gwendolyn Copeland, a Washington, DC volunteer interviewer, who stands at the ready to collect the stories of local veterans who are without nearby loved ones or friends to do it for them. An ardent volunteer with both young people and the elderly, Copeland has recruited several others to participate with VHP, including students at my undergraduate alma mater, Howard University (H.U.! You Know!), and Model Cities Senior Wellness Center. Copeland said she considers volunteerism a privilege.
Working as a community volunteer for the Veterans History Project, I have learned so much history, geography, and of the humble sacrifice that Americans have made.
As the consummate pinch-hitter, Copeland saved the day by serving as one of VHP’s on-site interviewers during the 2012 National Book Festival. She even went so far as to provide transportation to and from the event for the veterans she interviewed, one of whom was a 91-year-old Tuskegee Airman.
There is also David “Kelly” Williams, a retired, decorated Navy veteran employed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who has spearheaded a campaign to capture the stories of fellow veteran colleagues in all 11 HHS operating divisions. The ongoing campaign has been incorporated into the agency’s annual “Salute to Veterans” program held at HHS headquarters. A Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) survivor, Williams also served as a panelist during the Veterans History Project’s 2014 PTSD Awareness Day Panel Discussion. Watch a webcast or read a transcript of this educational and inspirational program here.
Then there is Don Moore, who has single-handedly interviewed and submitted the collections of more than 300 Florida-area veterans. In addition, Moore, a journalist for the “Charlotte Sun” newspaper in Florida, also publishes a feature story on each veteran, posts the articles on his website, www.donmooreswartales.com, and then adds them to the site’s searchable archive.
I could go on with tons of examples, but I will stop here. There are thousands more volunteers out there, each of whom is just as valuable as are these, whether they have donated a single interview or upwards of 300.
So, if you are not one to normally roll up your sleeves and pitch in to help others because your schedule is too busy or you are just not sure where to volunteer, consider taking the time to interview a veteran for VHP. This is a worthy cause–preserving the oral histories of America’s veterans for future generations–that needs your help. There are millions of veterans–21.8 million, in fact–who have stories to share. April is as good a time as any for you to lend a hand.
Pledge to interview at least one veteran during National Volunteer Month in the comments section below. Visit www.loc.gov/vets to find out how to make it happen, then return to the website the week before Memorial Day to access a new “Experiencing War” website feature dedicated to more VHP volunteers, with links to some of their interviews.
Happy April. Happy volunteering!