Today’s guest blogger is helping us kick off National Volunteer Week, which runs from April 19 to 25 this year.  The theme is “Celebrating People in Action,” and is designed to honor “the individuals who dedicate themselves to taking action and solving problems in their communities.”  We think that sums up USO volunteers perfectly!  Now let’s hear from one of them…

I’m Rasheedah Sands.  I’m an active duty Navy service member, a wife, a full-time college student and a mother of two.  I arrived in Naples, Italy in May 2008 and immediately felt that it would take me and my family awhile to adjust to the Italian culture.  Unbeknownst to me, were the different community organizations available to service members to help ease the transition, primarily the USO Naples.  I was familiar with other USO centers at various military bases in the U.S. but had never experienced first hand, the contagious enthusiasm of the USO.

My first experience with the USO Naples was in August 2008 at the annual National Night Out, a community event that focuses on maintaining safety and security throughout the base. There were local safety demonstrations by the Fire and Police departments, food, music and the entire community of Americans and local nationals thoroughly enjoyed that type of family atmosphere. The event was the first my family and I had ever attended and it involved various support and military organizations including the USO Naples.

[caption id=“attachment_1974” align=“aligncenter” width=“500” caption=“National Night Out, 2009”][/caption]

The volunteers at the USO Booth were mostly active duty military members, like me, and we engaged in an evening of face painting and games with the children. It was then that I’d decided to continue to help the USO create similar events that would promote positivity and boost the morale of our service members and their families.

Therefore to create such events, I along with the rest of the USO Volunteer committee, meet weekly to brainstorm and schedule programs and events that will last throughout the year.  In 2009, the USO Naples committee hosted a large variety of events to include a Masquerade Ball, USO Birthday Bingo, USO Multicultural Festival, Halloween Freight Fest, the Taste of Home Night, and many more. I made it a priority to participate and support each of these events, which benefited and supported my own military family first hand.

I also hold the position Sailor Outreach Chair, on the USO Committee. This leadership role within our Committee is designed to take the needs of the single enlisted service members into considerations, and help the USO center develop and execute programs to support them.

[caption id=“attachment_1973” align=“aligncenter” width=“500” caption=“Taste of Home, 2010”][/caption]

One of the most recent ideas developed was a USO Taste of Home Night, in an effort to bring wholesome home cooked meals to the Bachelor’s Quarters, and remind the service members of their own family’s cooking.

There was hardly any difficulty in finding spouses and other service members to donate entrées and desserts. Everyone jumped at the chance to support the single sailors. As the night progressed we had an abundance of food to include salads, casseroles, meats and desserts donated from the spouses of the community and a roomful of service members in attendance.  We have over 6 different types of Shepard pies that came piping hot from the ovens of the military spouses.  The USO volunteers also set up a video game tournament and a free giveaway to entertain the sailors.  I was extremely grateful and surprised at the amount of support provided by the community.

The event was so well received, that we decided to make it a monthly event. Last month I decided to give it a “Sunday Dinner” theme. The menu consisted of baked macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, potato salad, pot roast, baked cabbage, rice dressing, gnocchi, fried empanadas and much more.  The turnout was even better than the last, as there was over 100 service members that came out to enjoy the cuisines.

I am proud and honored to be part of the USO Naples Volunteer Committee.  Living in such a small community, thousands of miles away from our American home, it is so comforting to know and be constantly reminded that there are people in this world making sure the military members and their families are well taken care of.  And the USO Naples, that’s exactly what we do.

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Rasheedah Sands and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.