America Supports You: Volunteerism Benefits Troops Recovering at Walter Reed
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2007 Since Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom began, patriotic Americans have stood at the ready, willing to provide servicemembers with comfort and support.
Volunteers for "Comfort for America's Uniformed Services" hold up videos and games donated by hockey fans at a Washington Capitals game at the Verizon Center, Feb. 8, 2007. Photo by Carmen L. Gleason
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"The Defense Department is grateful for what people are doing across the country to support our troops and their families in a variety of ways - sending cards and letters to our deployed forces, supporting the wounded, providing scholarships for family members and offering assistance in many other ways," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "Volunteers matter."
Volunteers are helping the nation’s wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in many ways. Becoming a volunteer is as easy as reaching out to groups supporting the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
“Comfort for America’s Uniformed Services” is just one of the groups sharing its compassion with Walter Reed patients and their families. Based in Herndon, Va., this all-volunteer organization provides entertainment and recreation programs to Walter Reed patients 365 days a year, its executive director said.
“Our signature program is the digital library that we run out of Mologne House (a hotel for recovering patients and families visiting patients). It’s like a mini-Blockbuster (video-rental store), only no fees,” Barbara Lau said. “We loan out DVDs, video games, gaming systems to the wounded (servicemembers) and to their family members.”
Other programs include spa days, which have licensed professionals come into offer massages, manicures and hair cuts. Once a month the group holds what Lau called “massage marathons,” which are, as the name implies, a day of free massages.
“Those things are always over-subscribed by the soldiers and their family members,” Lau said. “We never get through our waiting list.”
In addition, Comfort for America’s Uniformed Services holds regular picnics and Sunday brunches throughout the year. Its gift packs and video game tournaments also are big hits. And the organization recently started an art-therapy program for servicemembers.
None of this, Lau said, would be possible without the group’s volunteers. “We could not exist without our volunteers,” she said. “I’m always in need of volunteers. There are always slots where I can put people.”
Other groups working with Walter Reed patients and their families include the Roanoke, Va.-chapter of the Wounded Warrior Project. The organization offers many programs for wounded servicemembers recovering at Walter Reed, including providing patient and family support.
This group offers help with expenses that arise from a servicemember’s hospitalization. Patients can take advantage of peer-mentoring programs, seminars on coping with combat stress, and a program to help wounded warriors find employment.
Volunteers for another group, “Angels of Mercy,” also lend their time and talents to raising the morale of Walter Reed’s patients and their families. Volunteers visit patients weekly to provide clothing, comfort items and messages of caring, according to the group’s Web site. The organization is sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean, Va.
“(We began by) … personally shopping for food and other needed items for the families and delivered them to the Fisher Houses prior to (our) weekly visit to the recently wounded military in the hospital wards,” said Jay Edwards, who co-founded the group with his wife, Marian Chirichella. "(Today) the Angels of Mercy program also sponsors special events like holiday gift giving, Super Bowl parties, baby showers, and escorts off-campus trips.”
For more ways to volunteer in support of the nation’s servicemembers, please visit the U.S. map on the America Supports You Web site and click on your state.