By Dr. Steven Galvan (Army Medicine)June 21, 2018
The United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County presented Sandra "Sandy" Montelongo with the 29th Annual Military Volunteer of the Year award June 6 for volunteering at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The USAISR Burn Center is collocated with Brooke Army Medical Center which provides volunteers to the Burn Center through the Office of Volunteer Services. Montelongo, a Red Cross volunteer, was the BAMC Office of Volunteer Service Volunteer of the Year which put her in the running for the San Antonio-wide award.
"As I saw all the nominees and the different categories of volunteer service at the United Way Volunteer of the Year Awards ceremony, I was happy to see I am a part of a large group of caring people in the City of San Antonio who help others in need, and that makes me feel great that our city has a big heart," said Montelongo. "I was happy to accept this award on behalf of my grandfather, who recently passed away. He was an inspiration for me because he worked hard his whole life to provide for his family. He often shared his wisdom with me and taught me to consider other people and their needs. He had his own plumbing business and wouldn't charge families who couldn't afford his services. I believe that he and my little sister in heaven have always guided me. They are my angels and I can smile that my sister has her grandfather with her now."
Montelongo took the words of wisdom from her grandfather to heart and has been a volunteer in the burn community at several cities throughout the U.S. for more than 15 years. She knows firsthand the impact volunteers make on the recovery and life after a burn for burn survivors.
"My sister and I were severely and intentionally burned when we were children and my little sister didn't make it," she said. "I was treated at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Galveston and was given the best care by all the healthcare professionals there. I remember my nurses at Shriner's were so loving and often made me smile. Many years later, I decided to give back to my burn community the way my family, doctors, and nurses helped me during my recovery."
Montelongo is currently a full-time graduate student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio earning a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy. She is spending the summer doing fieldwork rotation at the John S. Dunn Burn Center collocated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston and will complete all requirements for her masters in December.
"Working at the USAISR Burn Center or Brooke Army Medical Center is at the top of my list," Montelongo said. "Volunteering at the USAISR Burn Center is an amazing experience because it is the best in the world in burn care and in my hometown of San Antonio."
This is Montelongo's second masters. She earned a Master of Arts in Public Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York. She worked full-time for many years across the U.S. in cities like New York and Miami for the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and MTV while never missing a chance to volunteer at various burn survivor community organizations.
"I've had some amazing experiences. I've lived in different parts of the U.S. and have traveled the world with my work, and volunteer work, but the best part is that I get to share my experiences to inspire or help others, and use my media/marketing background to help organizations and non-profits with their marketing efforts such as Texas Burn Survivor Society," added Montelongo. "I get to work with San Antonio Fire Department fire fighters and educate my community on burn prevention, fire safety, and overall awareness."
Montelongo also said that the best part of volunteering with burn survivors is connecting with them and their families. She shares the healing process, her experience and understanding and coping with loss whether it's self-image or the loss of a family member.
"Because I was burned at a young age, I can relate to most people of all ages who have been injured or have experienced a burn injury," she said. "For example, when a family visits the USAISR Burn ICU, they may have to wait a short while to see a patient because that patient may be undergoing a procedure. While in the waiting room, I may share I'm a burn survivor and/or studying OT so that I can help patients recover from their burn injuries in the near future. At that moment, families express what they are going through and ask me all sorts of questions, or want to have a conversation about anything. I sense that being there and having that connection helps comfort them even if for a brief moment."
Red Cross volunteer and Burn Center Volunteer Coordinator, Paula Davidson, described Montelongo in the volunteer of the year nomination package as "one of the most vivacious and motivated volunteers that the Red Cross could ever dream of having because she is constantly looking for new ways to aid people and her community. Her service to the USAISR is just one of the many outstanding outreach programs that she is vested in, but it is her heart and her history that makes her so valuable to the Burn ICU where she currently gives much of her time willingly and graciously."
Montelongo's award came with a one thousand dollar donation to her favorite charity which she designated to the Texas Burn Survivor Society in San Antonio. She chose that program because she has volunteered there for more than five years and has seen its programs in action and how those programs benefit military and civilian burn survivors from all over Texas. Some of those programs include camps for kids and young adults, scholarship programs, to wounded Warrior rehabilitation and family retreats. She added that she's very honored to have received this award and encourages everyone to give back to their communities.
"Serving others makes you feel good," said Montelongo. "If you are passionate about something, you can find an organization and share your God-given talents while serving others, if you have a personal experience with key learnings, you can share it with others so that they can succeed, or if you have access to resources, share it with folks who need it. You may not realize it, but you may be uplifting someone with your words, your efforts, or just your presence."