CHIEVRES, Belgium -- This week USAG Benelux is recognizing its volunteers and the impact their 17,000 hours of service have had on the community. From leading Family Readiness Groups, to coaching youth sports, to assisting administrative offices, volunteers play a huge role in building a strong community, according to the Army Volunteer Corps.As such, Volunteer Appreciation Week is an opportunity to recognize and thank volunteers who lend their time, talent, voice and support to causes they care about."They're essential," said Wallace "Spider" Turner, Benelux AVC, of the estimated 120 volunteers he oversees. "A lot of support services couldn't be done without our volunteers. It would be hard to fulfill our mission."The Army Volunteer Corps, through Army OneSource, is a program which people use to find volunteer opportunities, log service hours and receive support and guidance. AVC aims to strengthen volunteerism by enhancing volunteers' career mobility, establishing partnerships with off-post organizations and promoting a life-long commitment to service.Some volunteers may do it for networking purposes or to earn promotion points, Turner said, but a big percentage of people who volunteer do it from the heart."We come from the States and are used to certain programs. That's what is so unique about the Benelux; they care and want these programs to survive."He cited this past holiday season when the Benelux post offices made the call for volunteers to help sort through the backlog of packages and mail that had accumulated."I couldn't even get up out of my seat, so many people were coming in to volunteer," he said. "Some even went on to get full-time jobs at the post office."While many people volunteer for specific programs like an FRG or an event like this month's Eggstravaganza, it is the schools that are always in need of volunteers."From chaperones to coaches, what I find is parents won't let you down," he said. "They get it done. If we didn't have parents step up, it would impact the kids."Christine Ebinal - More than 700 volunteers hoursFor Christine Ebinal that reason is exactly why she volunteered to become a football coach despite having never coached before."I literally read Football for Dummies," she laughed. "CYS always needs coaches. If it brings a unit or kids or an activity together, I'll do it."Ebinal did take CYS up on their free training and certification for potential coaches. For the stay-at-home mother of four, who range from nine to 19 years old, volunteering has been a way to keep busy and allow her kids to meet new people."[Last year] we had a girl from Turkey as quarterback and we've had kids from Croatia join," she said. "It's fun to see them grasp a sport they may never have seen before. It's so much more fun than sitting on the bleachers watching."
The reward for her is seeing the smiles, hearing the laughter, and knowing the children had fun. On top of coaching, Ebinal plans events with the AFNORTH FRG and regularly volunteers with the schools as a chaperone and even helped with a 7th grade book club. She said having her children help her with coordinating AFNORTH FRG events has its benefits."It's great because all the Soldiers and family members now know my kids so there's always a pair of eyes on them," she said.Kipperey Carlson -- More than 500 volunteer hoursKipperey Carlson's volunteerism began years ago when during a "low time" in her life a friend asked her to join her for a Special Olympics soccer match."It was the best two hours of my life," she recalled. "I forgot about what was going on in my life and focused on other people."She went on to become a Special Olympics coach in Virginia for seven years along with volunteering with the USO. Since moving to the Benelux nearly three years ago Carlson has done everything from volunteering with ACS, to helping newcomers get acclimated to life in Belgium through Host Nation Orientation, to working the chili bar at Crossage to raise money for premature babies, and helping DES with parking during Trunk-or-Treat."That one was fun," she laughed. "I felt very powerful in that reflective police vest. The lighted cone became the wand of power."Volunteering is rewarding in a number of ways; not only can it help someone make new friends in a new country but it can help keep the resume filled, the Navy wife noted."As spouses, job openings can be few. I went into ACS like it was a job interview. I wanted them to know I took it seriously," she said. "Volunteering shows that you were working, doing something. You don't need to volunteer 40 hours a week but the networking helps."
While her service did help her get her name out and eventually land her a full-time job, Carlson has continued to volunteer namely for ACS' relocation services putting together welcome packets or helping Lindita Celaj, Relocation Program Manager, with the newcomers tour through Mons.She said at Host Nation Orientation she asks the newcomers to remember where they are today and come back in a couple months to help the next generation."It's so easy to stay in your little safe haven," she said. "We all need a little love here and there's always someone that needs help. And you usually get paid in smiles and laughter."Gia Braithwaite - More than 800 volunteer hoursWhether it is starting a magazine, being a school teacher, or opening the first wildlife conservation in the Caribbean, Gia Braithwaite has always looked for the opportunity to help."I'm constantly looking around asking 'What is there to do? What is there to do?'" she laughed. "Sometimes I just look at something and it clicks. I touch it and realize I have a passion."During her first year in Belgium she was just trying to occupy her time and break up the monotony but found she could make a difference in someone's life."I do it because I enjoy it. Not because I think I have to do it," she said. "Even with all of the drive I have it is easy to do nothing for a week. I ask myself, 'What did you do to make the world a better place this week?'"Braithwaite is a regular volunteer with ACS and also uses her journalism background to create and edit the AFNORTH weekly newsletter. And while she admittedly hates the word, she finds fulfillment in being a "gap-filler.""I like doing something that makes a difference that no one wants to do or can do whether it is nursing animals back to health or streamlining a project," she said. "Volunteering makes a tremendous difference in how you see yourself."Learn more about the volunteer opportunities in the Benelux at: https://www.myarmyonesource.com.