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Those who have their hearts in volunteering hope that their work will make someone else’s life better. I was fortunate to have several discussions over the past month that reinforced the broad and varied impacts that volunteering can have in the military.
For 17-year-old Gage Dabin, named Operation Homefront’s 2014 Air Force Military Child of the Year, the kindness of other people was a turning point. When his mother, Jennifer Adam, was bedridden while undergoing cancer treatments from 2008 to 2010, their church friends brought the family meals for three months straight.
Gage stepped up to help care for his younger brothers. “I realized in my hour of greatest need, people were there to help us,” Gage said in an interview. “It gave me strength to be a pillar for my family.”
He’s now “paying if forward,” assisting at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, VA hospital and elementary school.
Volunteering can change the life of the volunteer in any number of ways. Thomas Brady, a retired Army colonel who recently became the director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, was drawn into his second career as an education administrator through volunteering at his children’s high school.
After he retired from the military, he volunteered as the public address announcer for his daughter’s high school soccer team. He became president of the school’s PTA, and got to know the principals and teachers. “From that I got an appreciation for public education, more so than I had before,” he said in an interview. Brady had earned his bachelor’s degree in education, and had been a substitute teacher before he entered active duty.
“Once you get your toe in the water, it becomes something different,” he said. He applied and was hired for his first in a string of jobs with several school districts.
At one time, many military wives were pressured into volunteering to help their husbands’ careers, but hopefully the culture has shifted to encourage those who genuinely want to help others. And spouses often underestimate the value of their volunteer experience, said Tammy Moore, an Army wife who began volunteering for the American Red Cross after she had trouble finding a job when she and her husband moved to Fort Bragg, N.C. That experience led her to volunteer for the Red Cross at a number of duty stations.
Moore, who spoke at a recent military spouse employment symposium hosted by the Military Officers Association of America, said the Red Cross helped her to develop a new set of job skills, and to build a network. She advised spouses to look for opportunities to develop leadership skills, and to consider volunteering as an audition for their next job. There is no place a military family can move where there is not a Red Cross chapter. And the Red Cross is filled with military spouses and veterans serving their communities, she said.
Karen Jowers is married to a military retiree.