USO Director of Volunteer Services Betsy McWhirt profiles the first quarter of 2011’s nominees for the Regional Volunteers of the Year.
When it comes to supporting our troops, Ellen Allen’s need for sleep goes out the window. As a matter of fact, when most people are still snug in their beds, Ellen is up to ensure deploying troops record a United Through Reading® DVD for their children or to supply the last smiling face they’ll see on U.S. soil for many months.
Ellen is always professional and calm and the amount of service she provides truly goes above and beyond the call of a volunteer. She has developed a relationship with a local restaurant which produces over 500 casseroles for “welcome home” and deployment dinners, netting the USO a substantial food budget savings. She recently organized a Phillies baseball game fundraiser that grossed $5,000 and initiated a blanket collection drive that resulted in 300 blankets for the center.
Over the past quarter, Ellen contributed over 100 hours towards planning the center’s gala. She spearheaded a collection of auction prizes and gifts for volunteers and honorees and volunteered for guest registration and auction check-outs. In short, if there is a shortfall of volunteers, Ellen is there to fill in. If no one is able to deliver casseroles, Ellen shows up with her car. If men and women in uniform need a picture taken, a cell phone to call home or simply a hot cup of coffee, Ellen is there.
And she finds time to do all of this while holding down a full time job as a third grade school teacher so it seems we can all learn a lot from Ellen Allen.
What’s that saying: That you never really know a man until you walk in his shoes? It says a lot for James Hourican, a volunteer for USO Vicenza that no distance is too far to serve our troops. James averages about 130 hours per month at the USO and frequently walks the three and a half-mile roundtrip from his home to the center located on base. More often than not, he works from opening to closing to generate a family atmosphere for USO visitors.
Although he was never asked, James stepped forward during a time when the center was short-staffed. Recognizing the need, he became a stabilizing presence, fielding questions from visitors, assisting with operations and supporting the efforts of the center manager.
As proof of his character, James is able to communicate sincerity and trust to visitors and staff alike. His ability to help visitors feel comfortable in the center and his understanding of center procedures allows the center manager to turn over many operations to him unsupervised.
James has a talent for engaging and entertaining USO Vicenza visitors because of his deep knowledge of movies, music, sports, worldly events and even board games. He always succeeds in uniting the entire group of visitors in the center with some form of discussion or game. The evidence of James’s impact is displayed in the faces of patrons who are always smiling and engaged.
During the summer, James worked the military’s “Summer Hire” program, while continuing to meet his goal of volunteering 30 hours a week for the center. With college classes in the fall, James is determined to maintain his dedication to the USO and it’s obvious that this is a man who will go far in life – no matter how he gets there.
Forget New Orleans and Bourbon Street. Camp Humphreys is the place to be to get your personally designed Mardi Gras mask by USO volunteer Vidisha Kay. As a matter of fact, Vidisha helped create nearly 100 masks for the center’s Mardi Gras Ball in March 2010.
As one of Camp Humphreys’s most dependable volunteers, Vidisha’s talents and creativity have had an impact on a vast array of projects at the USO. She has “branded” several of the center’s ongoing programs such as USO Lunch Box and the Java Buzz Donut Shop, designed flyers to promote events and created banners for a local USO Lunch Box sponsor. She assisted the center manager with the Parody Music Video Awards and created a clip of music videos to use as a sample to advertise the parody contest. She also created a video with clips from different eras to show during the USO “Blast from the Past” decade party fundraiser.
One very significant contribution has been Vidisha’s leadership with the English Language Program (ELP). As an experienced teacher of English, Vidisha prepared special lesson plans to compensate for books that were too difficult for the children.
She then trained other ELP volunteers on how to use these plans to teach English to Korean elementary kids. Additionally, she used her previous teaching experience to better organize and structure the ELP program to make maximum use of a limited number of volunteers.
Vidisha is one of those rare individuals who sees what needs to get done and steps in to do it. As a perfectionist, she can be counted on to meet any challenge and deliver a high quality product. She is hardworking and can always be depended on to serve our troops with pride and care.
Tie-dyed fashions of the ‘70s have nothing on Captain Catherine Reynolds, who has elevated the craft to a mission of joy at Camp Buehring in Kuwait. As a volunteer at USO Camp Buehring, Catherine rose to a USO’s challenge: use a special skill or talent to create a unique project for fellow service men and women. Her response? She organized a series of workshops to teach men and women in uniform how to tie-dye and bring a little color and fun to their desert surroundings.
Since April 2010, Catherine has run tie-dye workshops almost every Saturday. It is an intensive process; before each workshop, she prepares the dye and pre-washes each t-shirt. She then conducts three workshops in a day that last from 0800 to 1700. Once the workshops have wrapped up, Catherine then helps with the USO front desk until 2200. On the days that follow, she spends hours finalizing the t-shirts, organizing them for pick up and mailing shirts to servicemen and women who have departed camp for Iraq.
And if that weren’t enough, on her non-tie dye days, she continues her active duty military service and teaches extension classes five days a week at Central Texas College.
The tie-dye workshops were intended to lift the spirits of her fellow service members, offer them fun, colorful attire and create gifts to send to family and friends back home. Each week her workshops are filled to capacity. Her services have even been requested by the military command, which stands as an example of her success with the project and contribution to the USO.
Catherine’s charisma, leadership and natural teaching abilities have been an inspiration to other Buehring volunteers who have offered to lead a bracelet workshop and run a Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament. She is proof positive that enthusiasm is contagious and that our service members can truly make a difference.