Writer reflects, recommends giving back during National Volunteer Week

4/19/24 (Fri)

Writer reflects, recommends giving back during National Volunteer Week

Photo By Jean Graves | Jean (left) and Baker Graves plant a tree for Arbor Day while stationed at Fort... read more



Story by Jean Graves 

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital  


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FORT JOHNSON, La. — “Never volunteer for anything,” was the sage advice an older veteran gave me as I headed off to basic training. I’ve never been one to take advice and have always opted to learn things the hard way. But ignoring his advice was one of the best and most rewarding decision I have ever made. Even volunteering in basic training gave me an opportunity to listen to music and have some alone time buffing floors on Sunday mornings while the rest of the company was at the chapel, it got me out of the cold Missouri winter by volunteering for kitchen patrol (KP) duty and elevated me to a leadership role after voluntarily sharing concerns of suicidal ideations expressed by a fellow recruit to our drill sergeant. So, I say volunteer for something, for anything, and you will be rewarded.

I often joke that I get “suckered” into things, like my current volunteer role as the chairman of the board for the Home of Heroes Thrift Shop.

Last year, the former chair approached me, and I reluctantly said, “I guess!” But I’m no sucker and will say no to anything that I don’t want to do.

Through this volunteer experience, I’ve gotten to meet some amazing women with whom I’d wouldn't have met otherwise. I’ve made new friends. And I get to give away thousands of dollars to good causes in our community each month. Serving on the thrift store board has been so rewarding, I decided to volunteer for another year.

Now, I can hear you say, “but Jean, I’ve got a full-time job; am a full-time student; have four kids; home school; my husband is deployed; fill in the blank; I don’t have time to volunteer.” But honestly, volunteering can only enhance those things.

Once upon a time, lost in the woods, far, far, away, at Fort Leonard Wood, I was a volunteer Army Family Team Building instructor and eventually master trainer. The experience was great in and of itself. I got to help new military spouses navigate this unique world we live in. I taught them how to read a leave and earning statement, about military customs and courtesies, etiquette, and leadership skills. When my husband got orders to move to Fort Carson, Colorado I added that experience to my resume and was hired as the Casualty Assistance and Notification Officer Trainer.

Volunteering isn’t a job title, it’s a pay grade. The experience and training I gained volunteering with AFTB, was how I qualified for my position with the Fort Carson Casualty Assistance Center.

Now working at casualty, especially when my spouse was deployed, took a toll on my heart. So, during my free time in Colorado, I devoted my time to my son.

When he took an interest in the Boy Scouts, I took him to a membership rodeo, where he immediately wanted to join the Cub Scouts. I remember standing there at Iron Horse Park, surrounded by a bunch first through fourth grade boys running amuck, their parents, and a bunch of grown-ups in brown Boy Scout uniform shirts, when I was approached by Cindy Howick, who asked if I wanted to be a Tiger Den Leader. Cindy said, “Tiger parents have to be at meetings anyway, so you might as well volunteer as a den leader,” and for the next ten years I volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America at Fort Carson and here. My husband, an Eagle Scout, also volunteered throughout our son’s scouting years as the extra parent on campouts to eventually serving as Scout Master of BSA Troop 124. And we did it all while serving on active duty and working full time. We taught our son about service to the community, and he eventually earned his Eagle Scout too.

But Jean, “I’m not really into scouting!”

That's ok, I’m not here to plug scouting, but for my family it was a perfect fit. For you it might be youth sports, your church, 4H, the American Red Cross, Kiwanis Club, the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, The Lions Club, The Pilots Club, Junior League, Fort Johnson Community and Spouses Club, your unit family readiness group, Army Family Team Building, the possibilities are endless. There are so many organizations out there that do so much for our community.

There are also things you can do as a volunteer without affiliating yourself with any one organization. Participate in a community clean up project, walk dogs at the shelter, place flags and wreaths at veteran’s cemetery, pick up trash on the side of the road, plant a community garden, teach a class about something you are passionate about, drive your neighbor to the airport or watch their kids while they have doctor appointment; the possibilities are endless.

I’ve found that things that are good, beautiful, or beneficial to a community are often spearheaded by a group of dedicated volunteers who want to improve something. I was recently asked to serve on the Leesville Friends of Main Street Board, and I agreed without hesitation. People always complain there is “nothing to do here” but I know that’s not true, and I know Tammy Anderson and the rest of the Friends of Main Street team have been working hard to attract business and revitalize 3rd Street. If you haven’t been in a while, come down any Saturday, enjoy the farmers market, check out the boutiques, and have lunch.

But Jean, “how do you juggle it all with a full-time job?”

I’m inspired every single day by other volunteers.

At Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital we have a dedicated group of American Red Cross volunteers who support our clinics and administrative departments throughout the hospital. We have volunteers who man the desk at Entrance B who help patients navigate the facility. We have a volunteer who works in our linen department folding laundry every day. When she isn’t volunteering here, she’s volunteering at the main post chapel. We have a volunteer in our managed care office answering phones and assisting patients. We have a volunteer who works in our information management division providing customer service. When he isn’t volunteering at BJACH with the Red Cross he’s volunteering at the Alexandria Zoo. We have nurses volunteering in our labor, delivery, and post partem ward. Combat medical specialists form other units volunteering in our emergency department. And we have volunteers who participate in deployment fairs, the new family welcome and other on and off post events.

At BJACH we also have individual employees who volunteer to spearhead diaper drives, food drives, breakfast with Santa, Easter Egg hunts, trunk or treat, breast cancer support groups, make New Year baby baskets, or to raise awareness about a variety of health-related causes. They volunteer outside of their normal day-to-day activities to enhance the organization or help their fellow Soldiers or staff members. They volunteer to educate patients and improve the lives of our beneficiaries.
I volunteer because of them. I make time to volunteer for causes that are important to me because I’m inspired by other volunteers.

I’m inspired by colleagues who volunteer with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, to name a few. These colleagues dedicated their lives to the service our country, work fulltime in a variety of roles across the installation and still give back through their volunteer service.

“But Jean…”

I’m not saying go out and over commit yourself, but if you see a need; before you hit the keyboard and post your indignation about something our community is lacking, maybe think about how you can help improve the situation. Have an issue with your daughter’s school? Volunteer. Not enough coaches for your son’s little league team? Volunteer. Not enough time for your high school football, baseball, tennis, soccer, volleyball player to eat before an away game? Volunteer. Not enough adults for the scouts to camp? Volunteer. Think the park is a mess? Volunteer. Wanting to make friends? Volunteer.

April 21-27 is National Volunteer Week. If you are considering volunteering, make a commitment this week to volunteer for something. Anything, that will help our community, build your resume, contribute to our society. We are all in this thing called life together, and volunteerism is a great way to support each other and make a positive impact.

“But Jean, I wouldn’t know where to start, even if I wanted to volunteer.”

No worries, Army Community Service has someone who can help. Joanna Garcia is the Army Volunteer Coordinator for the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson; and she will help connect you with a rewarding volunteer opportunity. You can call her at 337-531-1895 or send her an email at and she can help you find the right volunteer organization or opportunity for you.

Still not convinced…

Then simply take an opportunity this week to thank a volunteer for everything they do for our community! Happy National Volunteer Week!

Editors Note: If you are interested in volunteering at BJACH with the Red Cross please contact Chandler Morgan at 318-484-8083 or

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, the Defense Health Agency, the United States Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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