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Celebrating Volunteers & A Lasting Impact to Veterans Across Tampa VA

Tampa VA Red Coat Ambassadors

Interwoven in the fabric of world-class healthcare across James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital & Clinics is a valued force called volunteers.

During National Volunteer Week, we’re honored to recognize nearly 250 individuals who currently support Veterans through their efforts in 70 unique assignments.

“Our volunteers are seamlessly integrated into teams and become part of that unit.,” said Mitra Gobin, chief, Center for Development and Civic Engagement, James A. Haley veterans’ Hospital & Clinics. “They are so valuable to our identity of who we are and what we do for Veterans.”

Nationally, CDCE has been part of VA since 1946. During this time, 7,400 national and community organizations have supported the program with more than 760 million hours of service and nearly $1.9 billion dollars in gifts and donations.

Over the past year Gobin said volunteers provided 15,829 hours of service, equating to $430,549 in hourly impact to Veterans and the Tampa VA mission.

Volunteers provide many important functions throughout the hospital and help make our patients' stay more enjoyable. Coming from a variety of professions, physical abilities, cultural backgrounds, and schedule availability, we match volunteers to assignments that will have the most impact to allow us to extend and maximize services.

One of those volunteers is U.S. Army Veteran Hilario Benitez-Rivera who jumped at the chance to support his local outpatient clinic.

“When you do something with love and care, you get rewarded,” added Benitez-Rivera. “I just want to make a difference in my community.”

Benitez-Rivera said his reward is the appreciation he feels in actions and words from Veterans and staff – simple, but meaningful, responses that fill his heart with joy and inspires him to continue giving back. 

Another volunteer is Steven Champ who is a self-identified “way finder” who operates the tram from the parking garage at the main hospital and assists patients with getting to the right locations for their appointments.

The Vietnam-era Air Force Veteran is also a retired VA employee.

“When I retired, volunteering provided an opportunity to be involved in the community,” said Champ who acknowledged the unique camaraderie he feels with Veterans due to their common bond of military service. Doing good – and for others – is a very powerful concept, and I have found the rewards of that to be very powerful in my daily life.”

Gobin admitted COVID-19 restrictions prevented a lot of in-person volunteering over the past year, but where one door closed, another opened.

“When in-person volunteering was severely restricted, we created virtual volunteer assignments to maintain the outreach to Veterans,” said Gobin. “One of those new opportunities was the Compassionate Contact Corps where volunteers made phone calls to Veterans to check in and reinforce the appreciation by a community grateful for their service.”

The CDCE chief also acknowledged the support by organizations who support Veterans in a different way.

“Tampa VA provides amazing medical and psychosocial care to Veterans,” added Gobin. “But it’s through donations that we are able to go above and beyond world-class healthcare to provide necessary and meaningful niceties that truly enhance the Veteran experience.”

Examples of those niceties included decorations for residential units which promoted home-like environments, gift cards to new moms in the Women’s Program when baby showers were not possible, thermometers for chemotherapy outpatients to monitor for fevers and infection, and celebratory items to Veterans for various observances.

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but gives a snapshot of the impact generosity has on the Veteran experience.

In total, volunteer hourly contributions plus donations yielded more than $800,000 of positive impact that supplemented the care and morale of Veterans across the Tampa VA in 2021.

“The kindness of so many has also been invaluable with contributions from across our communities and national partners throughout the pandemic,” continued Gobin. “Now spanning over two years, the generosity of individuals, businesses, and community groups resulted in over $200,000 worth of donations specifically related to our COVID-19 response efforts.”

Gobin also mentioned that volunteers aren’t always former service members or retired professionals.

“We also have college students from the University of South Florida who are part of our volunteer team,” added Gobin who stated the university’s proximity to Tampa VA and our long-standing partnership offers multiple benefits for collegiate volunteers. “Regardless of the degree, students can find unique jobs at the VA and students often find volunteering as an opportunity to give back to their community and make connections in the healthcare industry.”

Gobin and his team believe volunteers choose to give their time as part of the Tampa VA family because they believe in the mission and care provided by our facility.

“Tampa VA’s focus on continued improvement and service with exceptional care to Veterans is a powerful message,” said Gobin. “Volunteers are a critical part of our legacy of service; without them, we wouldn’t be who we are.”

Volunteer opportunities, along with a complete list of needed items for Veterans, can be coordinated through the Tampa VA CDCE website.

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