VA Volunteers Make a Difference in the Lives of our Nation’s Heroes

by Mary Dillinger, Public Affairs Officer, NAVAHCS

This is the 73rd anniversary of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) and Northern Arizona VA Healthcare System (NAVAHCS) has the opportunity to recognize our amazing volunteers for everything they do. NAVAHCS has so many wonderful volunteers, and we would like to share some of their stories.   

Ron Lepore is known as the “popcorn guy.” An Army Veteran who served during the Vietnam era, Ron has volunteered at the Prescott VA for almost 13 years and loves meeting all kinds of interesting people and putting smiles on their faces. Starting as a patient escort, Ron moved over to “Popcorn Distribution” and is now recognized even when he’s not at the VA. “It is a great feeling to make people happy with something as simple as a bag of popcorn,” Ron said. “I like that I can make a difference.”

Voluntary Service Manager Trish Aljets pointed out that, “We have so many amazing volunteers, ranging in age from 14 to 95 years old. But, they all share one thing in common; they are here to serve Veterans We asked our staff for the names of which volunteers they wanted to recognize and were overwhelmed with the number.”

Gary Warner, a volunteer in Information Technology since 2013, has accumulated more than 1,000 volunteer hours. Gary began volunteering after his friend, Donald “Jake” Jacobson, who volunteers in the outpatient pharmacy, told him it was a good idea.

One of the oldest volunteers at the Northern Arizona VA is Alberta Fritz (age 94), who volunteers in recreation therapy in the Community Living Center caring for short and long-term in-patient Veterans.

Don Frasier is 76, but no one can tell by looking at him. A volunteer since 2007, Don served 19 years in the Navy and also worked at the Northern Arizona VA for several years. He brought both of his sons to volunteer, and their time and experience changed their lives. Volunteering in nutrition and food service, Don’s oldest son, Greg sharpened his skills and knowledge and became a manager at the Bonfire Grill in Chino Valley. Now he works at the Olive Garden in Prescott.

An Air Force Veteran, Al Lucero, decided to volunteer in 2015 because he wanted to make a real difference in the lives of Veterans. “Volunteering is one of the few things you can do that you can see the results of your work,” said Al, who decided to apply for a job in 2016 with the Northern Arizona VA Voluntary Service. “This is the first job I have had since I left the Air Force that I actually look forward to each day.”

Volunteers are making a difference in Veteran lives no matter where they work. At NAVAHCS we have many departments including patient escort, front desk, hospice ward and other clinical areas where you can find our volunteers assisting Veterans every day. More than half of the 435 volunteers at the Northern Arizona VA are Veterans.

“The number of hours our volunteers put in at the Northern Arizona VA is equivalent to about 40 full-time employees. Our volunteers are amazing and their dedication to our Veterans is remarkable,” said Lisa Martin, Associate Director. “But, we are always in need of more volunteers, especially at the information desk and in administrative areas. Many VA employees who retired can’t stay away. They’ve became volunteers to continue the exceptional work at our VA.”

The Northern Arizona VA’s Youth Volunteer Program helps teenagers develop new skills necessary for the job market such as leadership, communication skills, dependability, time management and decision making. Research has shown that teens who engage in community service are more responsible and have higher self-esteem and resilience.

“Our Youth Volunteer Program has been a huge success,” Aljets said. “Each year more and more students sign up to volunteer during the summer months, and many of them stay on as volunteers throughout the year.”

The Northern Arizona VA thanks each and every one of our outstanding volunteers for their hard work and commitment to our nation’s heroes. If you are interested in joining our volunteer team, contact voluntary service at 928-776-6013 or visit www.prescott.va.gov/giving.