One silver lining of the pandemic seems to be the recognition of Elks volunteers. Now that many members are unable to get out into the community and serve like usual, people are starting to realize just how much Elks do for veterans.
For example, we recently learned that Robert Wheeler, member of Bath, N.Y., Lodge No. 1547, was named the 2020 Volunteer of the Year at the Bath VA Medical Center!
Wheeler has been volunteering at the Bath VA for more than 30 years, and has more than 2,162 volunteer hours.
“This year our volunteer of the year is no stranger to any of us,” writes the Bath VA Staff. “Bob has helped in various locations. He is instrumental in coordinating the annual Elks Carnival, is a Patriot Guard Captain, volunteers as a volunteer driver, museum docent, patient activities and coordinates many picnics and functions here at the Bath VA.”
Clearly, Wheeler keeps busy. But his work at the VA is only part of his service. And despite his humility, the accolades are piling up.
Bob was also recently honored as the Central Southern Tier Chamber of Commerce Veteran of the Year. And, he was named the New York State Senior Volunteer of the Year for Steuben County.
“I’m grateful for the recognition,” shares Wheeler. “It inspires me to continue.”
Wheeler found time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.
On his inspiration for volunteering:
I’m an Army Veteran, having enlisted in 1968. I was very fortunate to have been stationed, as a Lab Tech at Walter Reed Army MC for almost eighteen months. There I witnessed firsthand the rehabilitation of wounded warriors and the incredible influence that volunteer groups and individuals had on veterans’ recoveries.
I was honored to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Bath NY for almost 30 years. As an over 40-year member of the Elks, on a regular basis I saw the positive effect that Elk Volunteers had on the lives of the patients residing at the facility.
On changing and adapting:
Volunteering for Veterans has changed over the past few decades. We have become accustomed to working with long-term residents in the Domiciliary and Nursing Home. We strived to provide entertainment and recreational support to meet their ever-changing needs.
We work with Voluntary Service and Recreation staff to meet the needs of a younger, more diverse group of Veterans to include the increased needs of female Veterans. Elks do this while providing for the ongoing needs of veterans in long term care.
I see a need to focus support on the Suicide Prevention Initiative and Homeless tragedy that faces our veterans.
On his favorite part of volunteering:
There is still no substitute for face-to-face interaction between dedicated Elks Volunteers and our veterans. There is nothing, in my opinion, more important to veterans’ quality of life than knowing that Elks have not forgotten them.
“There is nothing, in my opinion, more important to veterans’ quality of life than knowing that Elks have not forgotten them.”
On his motivation:
If you believe in “paying it forward,” I can think of no better way than volunteering for veterans.
As the VAVS Representative, I can’t thank the Elks enough for their continued fiscal support during these very trying times. The funds received from the ENF/ENVSC and the New York State Major Project allow us to assist the Homeless Coordinator and staff to meet the needs of veterans in our area.