Operation Veteran Connect: Veterans Helping Veterans, Even Now.

Operation: Veteran Connect engages volunteers who are veterans or military family members who feel a special calling to serve other veterans.   Many are mobilized as AmeriCorps Members, committing 20 hours/week for a full year to empower veterans in their journey to personal wellness, in partnership with James A. Haley and Bay Pines VA Whole Health initiatives.  With social distancing restricting their ability to serve at the VA, many like Sarai Simmons, find new ways to make a difference.Sarai Simmons brings to life the AmeriCorps pledge to “Get Things Done”.   A busy pre-med student from a military family, she enlisted as an AmeriCorps Member through Operation: Veteran Connect to empower veterans who visit the VA with information about the new Whole Health initiative.   Clearly not a senior, Sarai laughs as she tells how wearing her Seniors in Service t-shirt made people curious to learn why she was there.  She loved sharing stories with veterans in the VA waiting areas about the common experiences that only those with military backgrounds can truly understand.  And that made them receptive to hearing about how Whole Health services at the VA could change their lives.Then COVID-19 put all VA volunteer activities on pause.  But, as she explains, it didn’t stop her for long.   “As a person with a servant’s heart, during this tough time one needs to be able to step up to the plate. Being only a college student in pursuit of studying medicine, there was not much that I could physically do to help during this critical moment. This broke my heart because this situation is one of the reasons why I want to pursue a career in medicine. I also was inspired by my mom who is currently a nurse manager.  She volunteered to be on a federal team to help the nursing homes that were impacted badly with COVID-19. She has been working long hard hours to help these local nursing homes. Her willingness and drive to help others has sparked a fire inside of me.”After watching many news stories, Sarai saw the shortage on certain essential items and tells how she turned it into an opportunity to give back to the community that she loves.  “One key shortage was masks for people to wear. My attempt to make face masks was quite challenging at first because I had no background in sewing. After many failed attempts, I successfully created a mask!   At that time this was groundbreaking to me because I understood how important these masks are going to be to others throughout the community.”Sarai reached out to a local church who had been donating masks and food items to those in need in the community. “They were ecstatic to accept the mask that I have made for the community. Currently, I have made over two hundred masks and I am continuing to make more mask each day!”Thank you, Sarai, for “Getting Things Done”!  We appreciate your service.To learn more about opportunities to serve through Operation: Veteran Connect, contact Glarisol Traspalacios at [email protected].
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