VA salutes our thousands of Volunteers during this National Volunteer Week.
We celebrate the volunteer service and shine a light on the men and women in VA facilities across America. We hope they inspire you to volunteer and, like them, lend your time and talent to help us care for our Veterans.
Our volunteers come from every occupation and neighborhood. Here is the journey of one dedicated young lady from Volunteer to VA employee who proudly states that she is “Forever Rooted in VA Voluntary Service.”
Meet Melanie Thomas.
If you were to ask my 16-year old self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would’ve said that I wanted to be a Marine in the drum corps. I grew up heavily involved in music, played every instrument I could get my hands on, sang in my church choir, school’s chorus and took professional voice lessons.
My grandfather, father figure, and Korean War Veteran didn’t have the heart back then to tell me that my dream would never become a reality. I was born with a genetic vision impairment that would ultimately be the deciding factor impacting my ability to serve my country in this capacity.
Still pursuing my desire to serve and utilize a completely different set of talents, I found an alternative career path that I’m sure he would be proud of me for today.
Shortly after graduating college with a degree in Communications, Public Relations and Rhetoric, I volunteered at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center in Public Affairs. Helping with event coordination, various writing assignments, and working with Veterans gave me the same sense of excitement and fulfillment that I had originally envisioned for my future.
Listening to Veterans’ stories
As a volunteer I assisted the Public Affairs Officer with event coordination, writing press releases and feature stories, designed maps of the congressional district. Most importantly, I had the pleasure of sitting with Veterans and listening to their stories.
My favorite memory was my very first Christmas as an employee in Voluntary Service.
In 2014 I dressed up as Mrs. Claus for Christmas and delivered gifts to Veterans on Christmas morning. I had my whole family attend and be part of the gift distribution because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make all the deliveries by myself.
We had an amazing turn out of volunteers who choose to be with us that morning. That was when I realized how important and impactful our volunteer force truly is. They could’ve chosen to be home with their own families but were at the VA with me. Without volunteer participation in these types of activities, Veterans would otherwise go without. The outpouring of generosity displayed by that group on Christmas morning was overwhelming.
Encouraged by the professionals who surrounded me, and my passion to serve Veterans, I completed a master’s degree in business administration. I accepted a Public Affairs Specialist internship position at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and will complete the program this August.
Forever grateful for volunteer experience
My volunteer experience in the VA Voluntary Service program as a volunteer and later as an employee has provided me with a solid foundation for my career and I am forever grateful.
It has shaped me as a servant leader, enhanced my overall perspective of the organization and life in general, has helped me develop as a compassionate collaborator, skilled communicator, and a problem solver.
Melanie Thomas and her son RJ
On a personal level, volunteering has also helped me to demonstrate and set an example for my son with the same genetic condition. Although challenges are sometimes inevitable, there will always be opportunities to accomplish great things if you work hard and persevere.
As I continue to advance my career with VA, I’m excited about my future and am thankful for my roots planted in VA’s Voluntary Service program.
For more information about how you can utilize your talents to help serve Veterans in your local community please visit: https://www.volunteer.va.gov/.
Melanie L. Thomas, MBA, Public Affairs Specialist, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System