Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center volunteer of the year Larry Dodson talks with spinal cord injury unit patient Donald Thomas of Alabama on April 28, 2004.
Photo by Samantha McKevie
Without its volunteers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers might be a different place, officials said.
One of those volunteers is a Columbia County woman who contributes to morale at the hospital.
During a recent awards luncheon to honor the VA's volunteers at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta, Miriam Stein of Evans received the leadership award.
She bakes cookies, makes candy bags, plays bingo and takes 10 birthday cakes each month to various hospital units.
Larry Dodson, a volunteer who has spent more than 2,400 hours in four years volunteering in the spinal cord injury unit and who started a bike and antique car ride last year that raised personal care items for the hospital, was named volunteer of the year.
About half of the hospitals' 500 volunteers attended the luncheon.
"It's our recognition of our volunteers to let them know how much we appreciate all they do," said Ann Arnold, the acting chief of voluntary services.
She said volunteers run all the information and pharmacy concierge desks, drive vans to pick up veterans for appointments, raise flags on special occasions, feed patients, do recreational activities, give haircuts, spend one-on-one time with patients and work in various hospital units.
Esther Cooper received a special recognition award for having volunteered 30,000 hours, and an award for special contribution was given to William Harris for his 21,289 hours during his 18 years of volunteering.
Choosing the volunteer of the year always is difficult, Arnold said, "because everyone is deserving."
"Larry is special because he's a paralyzed vet, and so many days he doesn't feel well himself, but he knows the (hospitalized) vets feel worse than he does and he comes in," she said.
Dodson said he moved from Charlotte, N.C., to North Augusta four years ago to be closer to the VA rather than make long trips for spinal cord-related treatments. He said he began volunteering after he arrived.
"What I want to do is smooth out bumps in the road, to help those with spinal cord injuries avoid some of the pitfalls I had when I was first injured," Dodson said while wheeling through the unit several days after he received the award. "If I can do anything to help them have a better quality of life, that's what I want to do."
Dodson said more volunteers are needed to help patients.
"Something as simple as writing letters for them, reading them books or magazines," he said. "Even if it's just to talk to them for 30 minutes. Some of them are just lonely."
For more information about volunteering, call 823-3919.
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