Monday, April 14, 2014

Volunteering for the American Red Cross Makes One Volunteer's Heart Flutter

by Heather Wedel, Communications Specialist, American Red Cross North Texas Region

American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Julie McDaniel says volunteering at the Tyler, TX veterans home is where she is meant to be. 

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) includes linking military families during times of emergency, connecting families with local community resources, providing resiliency training and supporting wounded warriors and military hospitals.

After suffering a stroke, McDaniel, a mother of four, had to accept the fact that she was going to have to find a new normal. With her kids fully grown and her husband retired, she was looking for something fulfilling. Her husband, who is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that travels to various events to honor fallen military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans, inspired Julie to think, "Why golly, why can't I do something?"

McDaniel started volunteering with the Red Cross East Texas Piney Woods Chapter in June 2013 and wasn't sure what she would be able to provide for her community. She figured that she would be wonderful as an office volunteer, which she does every Friday at the chapter. Yet, when she saw an opportunity to volunteer at the veterans home, she knew she had found her place. 

"When I saw that volunteers were needed at the veterans home, my heart just kept beating," said McDaniel. "I couldn't help but think 'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.' I didn't know what was involved in the opportunity, I just knew that I wanted to be there."

The veterans home in Tyler, TX opened in 2012, and the partnership with the Red Cross was new when Julie joined the volunteer team. The Red Cross was assigned Cottage D at the veterans home which housed ten veterans, two of which are bedridden, one capable of walking and the rest in wheelchairs. 

"When I first walked in, I had nothing to go on, it was a blank canvas. I immediately fell in love with the guys, the staff and the concept. It was a twofer, I work with veterans that I greatly care about, and I work with the Red Cross which I also greatly care for."

McDaniel's role at Cottage D of the veterans home quickly turned into a type of activity's director role. With her cottage not being so mobile, she focuses on trying to motivate them to do things that are fun. McDaniel says she loves hosting parties for the vets; everything from Super bowl parties to decorating sugar cookies at Christmas. 

"I've never seen grown men have so much fun doing something so simple," said McDaniel. "We're family now, we celebrate their birthdays and I take cake and balloons. We even had a sweet heart dinner for their spouses and significant others on Valentine's Day." 

In the next couple of months, McDaniel plans to help build a raised vegetable garden for the veterans. She says that the garden will help get the less mobile veterans outside, and will give them the chance to feel like they have ownership of something. 

After volunteering at the Veteran's home for less than a year, McDaniel says that she's learned more about the wars now than she ever learned in movies or in school. 

"My guys are from all over, some were in World War II, the Korean War and the Afghan War. When they tell their stories, some with tears in their eyes, their posture changes, they sit up straight as if they almost want to salute you," said McDaniel. 

"Mr. Barker, the first vet to approach me when I started at the home asked me if I wanted to see a book in his room. He brought out a book, almost like a high school yearbook but instead a book full of documents and images of the ship he was on during the war," she explained. "He took me picture by picture, and I knew that this is something I wanted to be a part of. Mr. Barker took me under his wing to welcome me, he is my hunny bunny and I will be forever indebted to him."

McDaniel said that when she first started looking for volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross she was afraid that she wouldn't be accepted because of her stroke, or that she wouldn't find the right place to serve. Her mindset soon changed when she got involved.

"Under the Red Cross umbrella, there are so many opportunities for people. If you're interested in the military aspect, you can do SAF. If you're interested in disaster, you can join the Disaster Action Team (DAT). They have a place for everyone. It doesn't matter who you are - that is it, they just accept you. I didn't know if I was going to get involved but I learned that if you give a little, you'll get so much more in return," marveled McDaniel.

"Oh, and the people!" exclaimed McDaniel. "The people, the staff and the volunteers, they're like family now. I have never encountered such a group of people that are so dedicated and focused on their cause and the purpose of the Red Cross. It doesn't matter which group of people I'm speaking about, they all amaze me."

Last week was National Volunteer Week, and we continue to salute volunteers like Julie year-round. Volunteers make up more than 90 percent of the Red Cross and are the reason we can work toward our mission every day. To join Julie in Service to the Armed Forces or to learn about other volunteer opportunities, visit to start your Red Cross story today. 

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