AWAG conference supports volunteers - 'leading by serving'
December 10, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany -- Col. David Carstens, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, can begin to tally the amount of money volunteers save the community. The American Red Cross alone, which tallied nearly 5,000 volunteer service hours last year, saved the garrison more than $100,000.
What Carstens cannot begin to tally, however, is the worth of comfort given to deployed Soldiers and their families, the lives saved through donated blood, and the skills and knowledge that youth have learned from volunteers.
That is something for which Carstens can only say thank you.
Carstens did exactly that during his opening remarks at the AWAG Hessen 2012 Area Conference held Nov. 29 at the Little Italy Restaurant and Catering Center on Clay Kaserne.
It is groups like AWAG, which stands for Americans Working Around the Globe, that keep the guiding light of volunteerism burning for other generations to follow, Carstens said.
More than 60 volunteers, mostly from the Wiesbaden community, attended the conference to learn how to become better volunteers. The organization's motto is, "Leading by serving."
Those who attended the conference went to a variety of classes that included, "Anticipatory Grief: The Hidden Challenge of Wartime Deployments," with Wendy Sledd, "CrossFit Liberty," with Tony Neal, "How to Avoid Firing a Volunteer," with Jill Vogel, "Professional Development for Volunteers," with Camille Howes and "European Living and Your Child's Education," with Kathy Tone, Malinda Martin and Lisa Craven.
AWAG started in 1946 in post-World War II Germany, Carstens said, when Margaret Biddell, the wife of Anthony Biddell, commanding general of the U.S. Army of Occupation, formed a group to help coordinate the distribution of relief aid that stateside clubs and church groups sent to help those in need in Germany.
"Over 65 years later, that spirit of giving, perseverance and teamwork continues and is stronger than ever," Carstens said.
The attendees ranged from longtime volunteers who have been to several AWAG conferences to those who were attending for the first time. When asked who was attending an AWAG conference for the first time, roughly a third of the people in the room raised their hands.
Connie Tree, a longtime volunteer who has attended about 10 AWAG conferences, said she spends a lot of time volunteering and likes going to the conferences because she always learns something new.
One of the best skills AWAG teaches is how to get along better with volunteers, Tree said. "I figure you always have to learn how to get along better with people," she said.
Alicia Baily, who was attending her first AWAG conference, said she recently moved to Wiesbaden from Pennsylvania, and wanted to get involved in volunteering in the community.
Baily, who volunteers at the Wiesbaden Community Spouses Club Thrift Store and local schools, said she signed up for the conference because the classes seemed interesting.
Carstens praised AWAG as an organization that helps spread the spirit of volunteerism throughout the community.
Carstens said there are three characteristics that make the United States great - we are a nation of givers, we persevere through adversity and we come together when the chips are down - and those same characteristics are what make AWAG a great organization.
Carstens noted that his wife Aida was in the audience as a conference attendee, and said she exemplifies the spirit of perseverance that makes the United States great.
After the communist regime in Romania collapsed, Aida Carstens came to the U.S. on a student visa with $300 in spending money to complete a second engineering degree, Carstens said.
Aida Carstens worked to put herself through college and did not borrow from anyone or the government, Carstens said. She went on to work for the New York Comptroller's Office and Fortune 500 companies.
In the meantime, she spent 11 years working her way through the immigration system to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, Carstens said.
"Only in America can you do this," Carstens said. "I truly believe this."
For more information about AWAG, visit www.awagonline.org.