On April 19th, the Tomah VA Medical Center held their volunteer appreciation banquet. The event, held at Murray’s on Main, on Superior Avenue, got underway at 10:30 a.m. Awards were presented to those volunteers who had reached an increment of 100 hours, 1,000 hours, and all the way up to 12,500 hours.
After volunteers had signed in, they seated themselves at a round table, with other volunteers. Jennifer Conzemius, Voluntary Services Officer, started out the ceremony by reminding everyone in attendance that it was National Volunteer week. Conzemius stated that volunteers vary in age, gender, income, education, race and ethnic background. She talked of the volunteer’s patriotic energy, and how they use their unique talents and skills to improve veterans’ lives, both in the medical center and in the outpatient clinics. “The very root of our volunteers’ selfless service is sincere appreciation,” Conzemius declared.
Conzemius then went on to state some of the services that the volunteers provide or assist with. “Our volunteers show up, with their arms wide open, for tasks that range from driving veterans to their appointments to providing directions throughout the medical facility. They also make phone calls to isolated veterans, who may just need someone to talk with. Some even hold the hands of veterans, at their bedside, to keep them from being alone during trying times. These are monumental acts stemming from gratitude and they are rooted in beautiful hearts.”
Finishing up her introductory speech, Conzemius stated that the reasons why people volunteer are as diverse and varied as the volunteers themselves. She said, “I believe the reason most [volunteers] stay is because giving of their time and service gives them a purpose, opens a passion, or it introduces them to the person they have always wanted to be.” She then told everyone about the binder, which was on the sign-in table, that contains a photo of a high percentage of the volunteers, with a synopsis of who they are and why they volunteer.
Conzemius then read off the volunteer numbers and statistics, from the previous year. “Here at the Tomah VA, we nearly had 200 volunteers. They provided 17,000 hours of service to veterans, and we received donated funds of $749,136,” she informed the attendees. “Last fiscal year, we had volunteers make 540 calls to 40 veterans, as part of the Compassionate Contact Corp. Our 53 Department of Veterans (DAV) drivers drove 9,558 hours, covering 265,116 miles; transporting 5,216 veterans to their medical appointments.”
She went on to tell everyone that the facility now has 6 volunteers and 7 animals, who make up regular pet therapy teams that do not just visit inpatient veterans, but also outpatient veterans and staff, as well. She stated that the programs, Loving Spoonful, No Vet Dies Alone and Recreation Therapy have provided endless hours of compassionate support directly to inpatient veterans.
Karen Long, Medical Center Supervisor, said a few words as well. “There are no words to accurately describe the gratitude each and every one of you deserves, for the time and service you have given to the veterans in Tomah and our outpatient clinics. How do you put into words the quality of a hand to hold – a selfless stranger becoming a close companion in a veteran’s final days? How do you quantify the value of a reassuring smile at a patient’s bedside, or so many memories shared over so many miles driven?”
Long went on to talk about how volunteers go beyond the measures that the awards represent. “Volunteers bring more than their service to the halls of our medical facility,” Long remarked. “You, the volunteers, bring life, you bring hope, you give laughter, share tears, honor veteran patients and inspire our staff.” Long then went on to say that National Volunteer Week is a wonderful time to showcase the impact volunteers have on the ones that they serve.
The award ceremony followed the speeches, with 42 names being read off, for reaching a milestone and still others, who were in between milestones, but continue to volunteer. Pins were handed out to those who hit milestone markers, while certificates went to those finding themselves a bit shy of their next milestone mark. There was also a remembrance of those volunteers who the volunteer organization had lost, since August of 2022. They were Dr. Ken Yarnell, Peter Allen, Martin Callaway, Richard Coffin and Robert Keene. The ceremony concluded with photos, and a catered lunch.
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