Volunteer program honors veterans

By Traci DiPietro
Staff Writer
Posted 4/12/07

FAIRHOPE — For many, a family and a military career would be enough responsibility.

But Daphne resident Matthew Beckley, a husband and father of two and a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Mobile, thinks …

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Volunteer program honors veterans


FAIRHOPE — For many, a family and a military career would be enough responsibility.

But Daphne resident Matthew Beckley, a husband and father of two and a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Mobile, thinks otherwise.

Beckley recently signed on as a volunteer for a hospice program providing outreach and education for military veterans approaching the end of their lives.

He said he learned about the program after his wife, Melissa, a volunteer with Daphne’s Covenant Hospice, brought home a newsletter requesting volunteer “military ambassadors.”

“Melissa said she wanted to volunteer for the program, and I thought it would be great if we could do it together,” said Beckley.

He said he called the next day and was given permission for his family to participate.

Beckley and his family made an introductory visit to civilian-run William F. Green State Veterans Hospital in Bay Minette Tuesday night.

‘It was a good experience,” said Beckley.

It was different, he said, because in a typical hospice setting, you usually only engage with the patient that requested the hospice representative. But at the VA hospital, veterans walk around freely and there is a broad range of interaction.

“I think a lot more people would want to do this if they just took the time to go out to Green,” he said. “Before I did this, I did not even know there was a veterans home in Baldwin County.”

Beckley’s children, Hannah, 4, and Dylan, 2, enjoyed the visit so much they did not want to leave. He said that throughout the visit they wandered around, from patient to patient, asking “Are you in the Army?”

Beckley said he encourages other veterans and servicemen to consider volunteering. It’s a way to give back to the community, he said, and a volunteer with military experience puts most veterans at ease.

“There is already a connection there,” he said.

“America owes a huge debt of gratitude to all of our veterans.

Through the Covenant Hospice Military Ambassador program we can show our appreciation and gratitude to our nation’s greatest generation. “

A veteran’s perspective

Joe Birendelli, of Fairhope, is an independent contractor working for the Army Corps of Engineers.

He is also a veteran of the Vietnam war — one of thousands of veterans living in Baldwin County. (There are 25 million veterans in the United States, according to current hospice data).

Birendelli said he expects a good number of these veterans to step up and volunteer for the ambassador program, because veterans of previous wars understand what it was like for them.

The rewards of volunteering benefit both parties; volunteers will know they have reached out to help a brother in arms — and the vets who receive assistance will know people have remembered them.

“I really do think there is a great need for this,” said Birindelli. ”It would be great for a veteran that is in despair to know there are people who care and who can help.”

Birendelli said he is grateful for the respect and care that veterans have available today, because it was not always this way.

”It is so different today. When we came home from Vietnam, we were met with apathy; Many vets were shunned and spit on … although that was not my experience. In my case, no one really cared.

“In my own office, for example. I had been away for two years … but when I returned from duty, no one said anything. No one asked questions. It was like I never left. But that was the mindset then. No one wanted to hear.”

A history of honoring veterans

Although the Military Ambassador program is a new project for Covenant Hospice, concern for veterans is not.

Each year, Covenant hosts a Veterans Appreciation Day, where volunteers visit convalescent homes and veterans hospitals throughout Baldwin County.

They host a two-hour program for patients that includes entertainment, a color guard and refreshments. Lapel pins and certificates of appreciation are given to veterans in what volunteers say is usually an emotional ceremony.

CJ Weinstein, the volunteer services manager for Covenant, shared a story that she says she will never forget.

“As the ceremony began, I felt someone began tugging on my skirt. I looked over, and right next to me there was a man sitting in a wheelchair.

“‘Please, Miss,’ he pleaded, ‘Don’t let me sit through the National Anthem. Help me. Please help me stand up.’”

Weinstein said she was overwhelmed by the man’s plea.

“I said to myself, ‘Wow’ … We just don’t see that kind of conviction anymore.”

Weinstein has participated in the celebration for the last two years, and said she plans to continue.

“There’s not a dry eye in the place,” she said. “It’s one of our most memorable events.”

Covenant Hospice, a nonprofit organization that provides services to people with terminal illness, regardless of ability to pay, seeks volunteers with military backgrounds to serve in their veterans program.

For more information, or to become a volunteer, contact CJ Weinstein at 626-5255.