By: Jenna Soliani, IML Guest Writer
Those of you who follow us here at It’s a Military Life know that we are avid supports of the veteran community. Christina’s initiative, the Veteran Pen Pal Project (VPPP), pairs our nation’s veterans with pen pals from around the country with the mission to spread joy with the simple act of kindness of sending a letter. With the onset of COVID-19 nursing homes, veteran centers, and senior centers shut down to keep their residents and participants safe and limit the spread of the virus. Although this was a necessary action, many of our veterans began to suffer from loneliness due to increased isolation from their friends and families. So, Christina started the VPPP to spread cheer to those who might otherwise not have any communication with their loved ones by pairing volunteer pen pals with veterans around the country.
In order for organizations like the VPPP to be successful, volunteers are a necessity. Our pen pals make our program possible because of their willingness to donate their time to write letters. We are so fortunate to have such selfless volunteers and we are so incredibly grateful for them.
Another wonderful organization that depends on volunteer participation is Veteran’s Last Patrol, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by Colonel (Ret) Claude Schmid that pairs veterans in hospice care with volunteers who are willing to provide friendship during such a difficult time. Christina first learned about Veteran’s Last Patrol (VLP) when she came across Operation Holiday Salute on social media. Operation Holiday Salute is a letter writing campaign where people from all over the world send holiday cards and small gifts to veterans in hospice care through VLP. Christina’s passion for supporting our veterans through letter writing, specifically IML’s Veteran Pen Pal Project, made this an obvious opportunity to have both organizations work together. Their goal was 10,000 cards and in the end of the event they received over 34,000 cards! Both communities continue to support each other throughout the year.
I had the honor of talking with Mr. Schmid about his organization and how his volunteers have made an impact on the precious community that they serve. During this conversation Mr. Schmid mentioned that one particular volunteer, Mr. Art Allum, is the volunteer that every organization wished they had. Not only does he devote himself tirelessly to Veteran’s Last Patrol, but he also drives a van for the local Disabled American Veterans chapter, delivers for Meals on Wheels, and donates his time to the Shriner’s Hospital. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Art so I could learn of the secrets to volunteerism.
So I present to you, Mr. Art Allum…
Mr. Art Allum is originally from Washington, Pennsylvania. He joined Navy just three days after high school graduation and spent his time as an electrician on submarines or sub-type vessels to repair larger ships. Due to his job field, Art worked under Admiral Rickover, who pioneered the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program, developed the Nautilus (nuclear-powered submarine), and helped to develop the first full-scale nuclear power plant in the United States. After a fulfilling 20 years in the Navy Art decided to retire, though his love for the Navy and his fellow service members never faded.
Art learned about Veteran’s Last Patrol when Mr. Schmid attended a local American Legion / Vietnam Veteran’s Association meeting to present the organization’s mission and recruit volunteers. Remembering his desire to serve the veteran community Art thought, ‘this is my type of thing’ and signed up to participate. But this wasn’t just Art’s ‘thing’ – serving others is in Art’s blood. As a boy he was an Eagle Scout and watched his mother frequently volunteer at nursing homes in his local community and as an adult Art continued to donate his time to various organizations. From there, Mr. Schmid added Art to a hospice group where he received the necessary training and began visiting with veterans who were receiving end-of-life care. He now serves for three different hospice centers in his local area.
Most of the time, the veterans on hospice care simply want someone to listen to their stories. Art mentioned that people often ask him, “Well, what do you talk about?”, to which Art replies, “I don’t talk about anything. It’s their show”. After a quick introduction, Art respectfully listens to whatever the veteran wants to talk about. Some don’t feel comfortable sharing information about their time in the service with their loved ones for fear that they won’t understand the experiences and sacrifices that they have been through, so that is where Art and Veteran’s Last Patrol’s other volunteers come in. The common military background, regardless of branch or time served, creates a significant bond between veterans that allows them to feel understood and safe. A veteran volunteer like Art is also important to VLP because as a veteran himself he can assist family members with acquiring various military records such as DD214’s or medical records. On more than one occasion Art has been able to show family members how to locate documents or access VA benefits. Additionally, the presence of a VLP volunteer allows loved ones and caretakers to take a much needed break. Often times, the surviving family members are spending much of their time at the hospice center trying to squeeze in every last second with their loved one, but that can cause stress, exhaustion, and sadness. Having a volunteer like Art who can donate a few hours to let the family member or caregiver take some time to themselves helps both parties remain the best version of themselves during such an emotional time.
Although being a volunteer with Veteran’s Last Patrol is incredibly rewarding for a multitude of reasons, Art recognizes that it can also be incredibly difficult. He spends quite some time getting to know the veterans that he meets with, learning about their upbringing, their time in the service, and their families, but as we know with hospice care, these friendships will come to a close. But, in true Art fashion, his dedication does not end when a veteran passes on – Art continues to honor these men by performing honor ceremonies at their memorial services.
At the end of our conversation I asked Art, “Why should someone volunteer for Veteran’s Last Patrol?” To which he simply replied, “Put yourself in their shoes” and I don’t think any other statement would more accurately portray Art’s selflessness. He emphasizes that volunteering is not about you and whether or not you need hours for school or a job. It is and always should be only about those you are serving. You should want to participate in any volunteer opportunity because you genuinely want to help and to care for those in your community.
Art is very lucky to have led a rather blessed life. Whenever he was in need of assistance others did not hesitate to provide support to him and his family so he made it his mission to pay it forward in whatever way he could. So many of our veterans in nursing homes and hospice centers do not have loved ones who are either still living or who care enough to come in their time of need. This is where Veteran’s Last Patrol steps in and provides an invaluable service to our most valuable men and women. Please consider supporting Veteran’s Last Patrol in whatever way that is suitable for you. Whether you can donate your time or a few dollars, Mr. Schmid and the veterans he serves will be tremendously grateful.
If you would like to learn more about Veteran’s Last Patrol and how you can support their mission, you can watch the video below or visit their website here: https://www.veteranlastpatrol.org/how-to-help
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with the Veteran Pen Pal Project, please complete our Sign-Up Form and join the Veteran Pen Pal Project Facebook Group. We will match you with a veteran pen pal as soon as possible so you can begin spreading joy to our precious veterans just like Art does.
And, if you are already a volunteer, we appreciate you more than we can say! Thank you for believing in our program & supporting our veterans!