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High School Senior Has Volunteered Since She Was Four

Volunteer looking at a card with a man

 

A Week Dedicated to Saluting the Work of Volunteers at VA Medical Centers

“Once you find out how far goodwill can take someone, you may just find yourself volunteering throughout the year.”
— Kate Hoit, VA Volunteer

Read more of her comments on the Vantage Point blog.

The volunteer spirit is alive and well as the Department of Veterans Affairs takes time to recognize and celebrate the efforts of thousands of volunteers during National Volunteer Week, April 15-21.

During FY 2011, through VA Voluntary Services, VA volunteers and organizations donated 12,366,753 million hours of service and $90 million in gifts and donations for a total value of $354.6 million in volunteer giving.

Those statistics mean a major impact to VA and to the Veterans we serve.

For more information on VA’s outstanding volunteers, and how you can volunteer: www.volunteer.va.gov

Portrait of Elizabeth Leneski

Volunteer Lizzie Leneski spends a lot of time volunteering at the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center, where she’s been hanging out since she was four.

Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Leneski has been volunteering at the VA Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., since she was four-years-old.

Four. (No misprint.)

“Well, I didn’t actually get registered as a volunteer until I was 10,” the high school senior said, “but I started coming here with my mom when I was four. So this place is kind of like my second home. Everybody here watched me grow up. We’re like a big family.”

Elizabeth, or ‘Lizzie,’ as everyone calls her, has racked up over 1,200 volunteer hours at the medical center, doing everything from answering phones to helping organize Hawaiian Luaus and other entertainment programs for Veteran patients.

“It makes me feel good to be able to give back to Veterans,” Lizzie said. “They’ve sacrificed so much for us.”

In FY 2011, nearly 87,000 volunteers contributed over 12 million hours of service to VA.

“Last year she coordinated our summer youth program, which usually has about 60 students in it,” said Lizzie’s mom, Beverly Leneski. “And for several years her 4-H Club came in and did a cowboy bingo for the residents at our Community Living Center. They’re an equestrian club. One year they came in with their little stick horses…they did a routine for the patients, riding their stick horses. That was really cute. Lizzie was about 13 then, I think.

“She’s always been mature for her age,” she added, “and she’s always had a big heart.”

4-H Club members lined up in two rows

Lizzie (back row, center, lime green shirt) poses with her 4-H Club. For several years they entertained Veteran patients with ‘cowboy bingo.’ She was around 12 or 13 when this photo was taken.

Leneski, who serves as Chief of Voluntary and Chaplain Services for the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said 950 volunteers donate the time at her medical center. “We need every single one of them,” she said. “Their service here is critical to the smooth functioning of this hospital, or any VA hospital for that matter.

“And the emotional boost they give to our patient is incalculable,” she added. “Our nurses and doctors don’t have time to put on Hawaiian Luaus or distribute Valentine cards and things like that. Our volunteers do.”

One of the bigger volunteer events at VA Ann Arbor occurs every Christmas Eve.

“We always do Christmas dinner here with the patients,” Leneski said. “We have Kentucky Fried Chicken over at our Community Living Center. We have plenty of food, so we also invite all the hospital staff to come. We do gift bags for all the patients. Then, later, we visit patients room by room.”

Lizzie said one particular Christmas a few years back really stands out in her mind.

“There was one Christmas Eve…my parents and I were there really late,” she said. “I remember we visited this one man who was really, really sick…I think he was in the intensive care unit or some place like that. We stayed with him awhile and talked with him. That made me feel really good.”

“I think she was 13 or 14 when that happened,” said Lizzie’s mom. “Lizzie went to his bedside and talked with him. He thanked her for visiting with him on Christmas Eve. I think she was very touched by that.”