By Sarah Schmidt, USAG Schinnen Public AffairsApril 16, 2008
SCHINNEN, the Netherlands - Jen Greenfield's adventure into the world of volunteering began unexpectedly when her fitness instructor asked her to teach a class in his absence.
It turned out to be the most fun she'd had since moving to Europe three months prior with her military husband. Now she's a volunteer fitness instructor, teaching adult circuit training two days a week at the U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen fitness center.
"I 'm doing something I totally enjoy," Greenfield said. "Helping people improve their health and physical fitness is so fulfilling. I get such satisfaction from seeing these students grow ... or in this case shrink," she laughed.
Greenfield teaches three classes in those two days, with 10 to 12 students in each class. Besides the obvious benefits of improved health, she also notes the students' improved attitudes. The volunteer stint has given her a unique venue for watching positive changes in people's lives. "I find myself forgetting that I'm not getting paid to teach these classes. Instead, I'm paid more than enough with 'thank yous'," Greenfield said.
Like Greenfield, Ralf Gers' entry into volunteering came at the request of someone else: his son.
A military assignment brought Gers and his family to the Netherlands several years ago, where he serves as a first sergeant in the German army. His two sons enrolled at AFNORTH International School and attended the after-school program there, sponsored by USAG Schinnen's Youth Services.
"Youth Services did a magnificent job helping the boys with their homework, improving their English and social skills," Gers recalled. "It was a good thing, especially for my oldest son. It really helped improve his grades in school."
When the boys wanted to play sports with the Youth Services program, Gers was all for it. Soon thereafter, his youngest son begged him to coach a team.
Gers had coached various teams and ran a youth boxing program at a gym in Germany. He admitted it was something he missed after relocating to the Netherlands. "So my young son came and asked me to coach or do something like we did in Germany. That's how we came up with the idea of teaching these boxing classes, because Youth Services wasn't offering boxing at that time."
Now in his fourth season as a Youth Services boxing coach, Gers said volunteering has not required a big sacrifice. "It makes me very happy. These classes give me an excuse to play and move around. It's big fun for me," Gers said smiling. "But it's also important to me because it is something I can do to payback the good work that Youth Services has done for my own kids," he stressed.
That's the kind of positive feedback Sylvia Bowron, USAG Schinnen's volunteer coordinator, loves to hear. She currently manages more than 160 volunteers like Gers and Greenfield. Thanks to the "joint" aspect of the Schinnen Tri-Border community, these volunteers come in many varieties: active-duty servicemembers, spouses, family members and retirees from all four military branches, plus Department of Defense civilians.
"For us, it's not just an Army program, it's a military program," Bowron explained, "and everybody benefits." Take Gers for example. "Volunteering fills an empty spot in peoples' lives, no matter where they're from or what they're doing here," Bowron said.
The program also attracts a lot of spouses like Greenfield who came from a busy career environment in the States, only to find few job opportunities here. "We're able to find a program or a project these highly motivated, highly skilled people can believe in and get excited about. Then it goes on their resumes, so there's not a big three-year gap they must explain to potential employers later," Bowron said.
Bowron gives an example of how volunteering augments a professional resume: "A volunteer at Schinnen's Bowling Center, for example, can use that experience on a resume to highlight their suitability for jobs in retail, sales, accounting, the hospitality industry - you name it."
Employers look at the depth of an applicant's volunteer work because it gives them an indication of how much the applicant would be dedicated to the company, Bowron said. She's seen it happen time and time again with Schinnen's volunteers. They spend a three-year assignment here, enjoy Europe, become an active volunteer then return stateside and land a great job.
Bowron herself followed a similar path. She volunteered at Schinnen's Army Community Services for three years before stepping into the paid position as volunteer coordinator. "It's been a great experience," she smiles, "and it gets better with every new volunteer who walks through the door."