Wednesday, April 13, 2016

RICHMOND, VA - National Volunteer Week, which runs April 10-16, 2016, is a time to inspire and encourage people to serve and engage in their communities. It’s also a time for Paralyzed Veterans of America to recognize the many volunteers who make a difference in the lives of our disabled veterans.

“Paralyzed Veterans of America volunteers do invaluable work that makes a real difference to veterans, their communities and Paralyzed Veterans' chapters,” said Christi Hillman,membership and volunteer program manager for Paralyzed Veterans of America.

This year marks the 42nd anniversary of National Volunteer Week, which was established in 1974 by Points of Light. The week long effort aims to inspire, recognize and encourage people to serve and demonstrate the collective power of communities to make a difference.

More than 700 volunteers offer their time and talent to Paralyzed Veterans across two volunteer programs. One program is run through each of the 34 Paralyzed Veterans chapters, where volunteers help with chapter activities as well as chapter and local adaptive sports events. 

Paralyzed Veterans of America also works with the Veterans Administration’s Voluntary Service (VAVS) program, which includes more than 140,000 volunteers who devote their time and talents to helping veteran patients.

The variety of adaptive sports programs run by Paralyzed Veterans of America often involve a range of activities and events throughout the year, from fishing tournaments to hand cycle clinics to the annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Those events also rely on the helping hands of volunteers who provide their time, expertise and in some cases equipment.

“It becomes a lot more than just having the volunteers coming out and helping,” Alan Earl, associate director of sports and recreation for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “It works both ways. It changes people’s outlook, as so many of our Paralyzed Veterans of America members are very inspiring. It gives these volunteers and the communities a sense of pride and a new look at people with disabilities.”

Robert Bryant, a volunteer with the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said he felt called to work with veterans after his retirement from Phillip Morris. He’s since dressed as Santa and made dozens of Christmas cookies for the annual Christmas party at the VA hospital, and has volunteered his time and photography talents at various chapter sporting events.

“I thought Paralyzed Veterans of America was a worthwhile organization to work with,” Bryant said. “We need to take care of our soldiers and people in need, and it means a lot to see the smiles and be a bright spot in someone’s day. I think I get more out of it than they do.” 

John Helfert, a volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, also has volunteered at the Richmond VA’s Christmas parties, as well as billiards and air guns tournaments in the area. Helfert, who has worked for the past 10 years in life insurance, disability and long-term care, said his work has helped him better understand the challenges associated with disability, making his volunteer work with Paralyzed Veterans all the more important.

“Almost every male in my family was in some branch of the military, so I’ve always felt strongly about supporting the military,” Helfert said. “It just makes you feel good about what you can do for them and for their families.”