Volunteers honored at VA Hospital

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COLUMBIA — More than 200 volunteers gathered for the 42nd Annual Truman VA Hospital volunteer recognition ceremony Friday. Volunteers were awarded by category, ranging from 50 hours of service to over 10,000 cumulative service hours.

Stephen Gaither, Truman VA Hospital’s public affairs officer, said 2016 marks the 42nd year of the volunteer program in Columbia. He said volunteers provide a variety of services to veterans.

“We have volunteers that provide coffee and who assist folks waiting for their appointments,” Gaither said. “We’ve got volunteers who man the information desk, who help guide people where their appointments are and help move patients within the facility.”

Carl Niewoehner is one of those volunteers. He began volunteering in January 1991 and said his service in WWII inspired him spend his free time serving other veterans.

“It’s my way of giving back and helping,” Niewoehner said.

Niewoehner is part of the patient transport service team, which uses wheelchairs, beds and carts to transport patients throughout the hospital. He said there is a sense of camaraderie between the veterans he assists.

“We talk to them and they’ll talk to us and a lot of times they wont talk to someone else,” Niewoehner said.

Over the past 25 years, Niewoehner has volunteered over 11,000 hours at the VA Hospital. He said this is time well spent.

“Volunteering is a good way to give back to people who help build this country and kept this country safe,” Niewoehner said.

In 2015 alone, over 900 volunteers provided more than 63,000 hours of service to Truman VA Hospital. Gaither said volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds.

“They come in all sizes, all ages, male, female, veteran, non-veteran, so there really isn’t a stereotypical volunteer,” Gaither said. “It’s someone who really is motivated to be at the facility.”

Gaither said the reason for volunteering is unique to each individual.

“Some people have a commitment to serving fellow veterans, some people want the practical experience of volunteering in a healthcare facility because they may want to pursue that later on through their education or through job training,” Gaither said.

And the program continues to grow due to positive volunteer feedback.

“The most effective recruitment tool is word of mouth,” Gaither said. “Our volunteers help recruit future volunteers.”

The hospital offers 45-50 different volunteer positions. Friday’s ceremony marks the end of National Volunteer Week activities celebrating the Department of VA Voluntary Service program’s 70th anniversary.