“I can’t think of any place I’d rather spend this day”
Veteran Volunteer Story
November 11, 2020
Every year, I spend Veterans Day having breakfast with some of my fellow American Legion members, friends who are also military veterans and my Congressman, Representative David Loebsack. It’s a tradition I’ve kept up for more than 10 years because I enjoy the camaraderie, the chance to be with others who share similar experiences, and to catch up with those who understand what it means to have served on active duty in the U.S. military.
This year, for the first time, I chose to spend this day among others who serve in a very different capacity. I’m currently on Great Abaco, Marsh Harbour, Bahamas with All Hands and Hearts as part of the first DM12 program — created so volunteers can assist in areas affected by natural disasters while also keeping people in the communities we serve, volunteers and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My time as a Veteran has served me well so that I mesh nicely with the All Hands and Hearts’ community. During the first of my volunteer opportunities in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, staff discovered my prior leadership experience and I was asked if I was interested in becoming an Assistant Team Leader (ATL) and then Team Leader (TL). It was exhilarating to be trained and learn so many new construction skills, utilize them as a volunteer and eventually as a TL whereby I was able to pass them on to other volunteers and train up the next generation of ATL’s and TL’s.
While working on homes in Puerto Rico, I would always tour the home with the homeowner to have them point out any areas that leak or are of particular concern. Many homeowners want to be hands-on and join the team while we work on their roof or inside their homes. I remember one homeowner fondly, who put up his own ladder so he wouldn’t be in our way and he would climb up and observe us while we worked. When I am out in the community people regularly wave and honk and state “All Hands and Hearts” with a warm smile.
There are times we arrive at a home and I just want to hug the homeowner after they share their story with us, but can’t due to safety precautions for COVID-19. However, I can show up with a bright smile (with my eyes due to my mask), play peek-a-boo with their children, scratch their dogs and cats ears and be a good listener.
This is now my sixth time volunteering with All Hands and Hearts in two years and my third program. Each program has a unique mission, much like duty stations did when I served in the U.S. Navy. What I’ve found is that having served in the military makes Veterans ideally adaptable to the communal living you find on program — we’re great at rising to any challenges, and we’re all about including and encouraging everyone on the team because we’ve already learned that we all must join together to reach our common goals. That is exactly what All Hands and Hearts is about.
The other part of All Hands and Hearts that this Veteran loves is the adventure! When I joined the Navy nearly 40 years ago, I was a spirited 18 year-old looking for an adventure and to do something outside of my comfort zone. I see much of the same spirit and drive in the volunteers and staff that I have had the honor of working with over the last two years.
I feel a kinship with our volunteers because of this similarity and their willingness to completely step outside of their comfort zones in order to serve a common good. Sharing a space with up to 30 other people can be challenging, and the work can be backbreaking at times. The bugs, weather and heat (or cold) can be intense, but the community, the adventure, the challenge, the experience and the memories are worth it.
The DM12 program has its own challenges — handling COVID-19 precautions being one of the biggest. Whenever someone presents any symptoms we go to “heightened awareness,” which means even further restrictions for safety and, sometimes, isolation. Isolating by yourself is not easy. It’s lonely and it can cause a person to really get inside their head. However, we all lift each other up when someone may need a boost, sending notes and messages of encouragement (a staff member even used his drone to send candy to an isolated person!).
We know we are working for something that has meaning and gives others hope. It fills this old Veteran’s heart up to the tippy top and I can’t think of any place else I’d rather spend this day than with all the lovely All Hands and Hearts’ volunteers and staff.
Thank you for asking me about what it means to me to be on program on a day that is about honoring the service of Veterans like myself. Maybe someday there will be a holiday for all those who serve in any kind of capacity to make this world a better place.
All Hands and Hearts is grateful to Veterans for their service and care, both as military service members and in our global volunteer community.