FORT POLK, La. - Whether playing guitar at the Main Post Chapel, coaching peewee soccer, or helping new Soldiers and Family members feel welcome, Fort Polk's volunteers dedicate countless hours in making their community a better place.
For their selfless efforts, volunteers from across the installation were recognized May 2 at Fort Polk's annual Volunteer Awards Ceremony at the Warrior Community Center.
At the ceremony, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general Brig. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, thanked the volunteers for giving one of their most precious resources - time.
"Right here at Fort Polk, it's our quality of life that's been refreshed by the sweat and some of the tears of our Army volunteers," he said.
"You don't get any monuments, no history books, no movies made for you, but we thank you for your tireless efforts because all we can really do is give you a simple thank you."
Chinn said that volunteers can be found everywhere on Fort Polk, from spouses to neighbors, Soldiers to children.
"Volunteers are the people who coach our children in all of our youth sports, they help get our new families settled, teach English as a second language, work as victim and sexual assault advocates and all the volunteers that we have at our Family Readiness Groups," Chinn said.
"None of them do it because anyone is making them do it, they do it because they want to - they want to make a difference."
The ceremony recognized 49 out of hundreds of volunteers from Fort Polk organizations such as the American Red Cross, chapel services, Scouts, Child, Youth and School Services, Spouses' Club, Thrift Shop, Army Community Service, Family Readiness Group and Family, Morale Welfare and Recreation.
Each volunteer was placed in one of five categories: Family Readiness Groups, large community group, child and youth group, small community group and youth group - the winners of those five categories were placed in the running for the coveted Volunteer of the Year award.
Volunteers benefit the community financially as well. The 543 volunteers that work on the installation have dedicated 58,460.5 hours, representing a savings of $1,248,716.28 that would otherwise have been spent on wages.
Sixteen-year-old Stephen Perez, winner of the youth group award for his chapel services, said he felt great winning the award and he didn't do it for the recognition, but to lend a helping hand.
Perez said he volunteers on Wednesday evenings at the chapel but his favorite part about volunteering is playing the guitar on Sundays because it allows him to express himself in a different way.
"I go to the chapel right after school and help set up the dining area, sound and slides for the praise band and I also sing in the praise band," he said.
Tracy Kerlin, winner of the large community group award, also dedicates her free time to the chapel, which she has been involved withsince 2000.
Kerlin said she has many duties at the chapel including Eucharistic minister, Catholic catechism teacher, administration, vacation bible school and mass preparation.
"I think volunteering helps you grow as a person, and everyone should volunteer a little bit of their time," she said.
"We have a good community. It gets you out there and helps you learn more about it."
Amy Yates, who has dedicated 17 years of her life volunteering for different organizations, felt right at home when she began volunteering for the Fort Polk Spouses' Club in 2007.
Since then, the winner of the small community group award has planned activities, fund-raisers, events and monthly luncheons for Fort Polk's spouses.
As of now, she is acting president for the club, which has raised $10,000 in scholarship money to be awarded to active-duty family members.
"I just enjoy volunteering and trying to make my community a better place," she said. "I might not see every step that's being made to make it a better place, but you can put those steps into place for the people that come after you."
Anastasia Stipe, who has volunteered her time since she was a 13-year-old at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., said people's talent, effort and time makes Fort Polk what is it today. Stipe, the winner of the Child and Youth group, is involved in the South Polk Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, the school liaison office and coaches peewee and youth soccer.
Stipe said her most memorable moments are having children come up to her who recognize her through her volunteering.
"It's warming that they remember you and seeing the impact you have on their lives," she said.
For her efforts as FRG senior advisor of 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the winner of the Fort Polk Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Bridget Payne.
Payne, who was also awarded in the FRG category, said she was overwhelmed by the recognition and felt that she was just doing what she loves.
Payne first became involved in FRG in October 2009 when her husband's unit needed an FRG leader. She now is a senior advisor for 519th MP Battalion, and her job description includes assisting new families on Fort Polk, organizing fund-raisers and acting as a go between for spouses and company commanders.
Payne said it's important for young people and new arrivals to get involved in the community because it helps them appreciate the people and things around them.
"There's so much to do on the installation that if anybody gets involved, it makes the installation a better place," she said. "I notice that when you get here, you don't want to be here, but once you're here and you start getting involved, you don't want to leave."
Payne said the memorable moments she takes away while volunteering with FRG is helping new families.
"Seeing young families that are either new to the installation, or are new in the Army and it's their first time away from home - helping them understand the Army way of life makes what I do worth it," she said.