VA Maryland Health Care System Recognized with The American Spirit Award for Excellence in the Youth Volunteer Category

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The Department of Veterans Affairs recently recognized the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Voluntary Service office with The American Spirit Award for Excellence in the Youth Volunteer category.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently recognized the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Voluntary Service office with The American Spirit Award for Excellence in the Youth Volunteer category.

“Their enthusiasm and hard work yielded a tremendous number of cloth masks for distribution to our patients and non-clinical employees, which truly made a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Susan Kern, program manager for Voluntary Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently recognized the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Voluntary Service office with The American Spirit Award for Excellence in the Youth Volunteer category. The Voluntary Service office earned the award for its highly successful recruitment of high school students who answered the call of the VA Maryland Health Care System Handmade Mask for Heroes program during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Allison Moon, then a junior at Winston Churchill High School, the High Schoolers for Front Liners program she created involved students making much needed cloth masks for the VA Maryland Health Care System. In total, the group donated 3,162 masks, of which 1,861 were made of fabric and materials donated by the community through monetary funds or in-kind donations. The High Schoolers for Front Liners became one of the primary sewing groups to complete masks that were distributed to veteran patients and non-clinical staff, allowing the health care system to save personal protective equipment (PPE) for clinical use and stretch resources.

“Their enthusiasm and hard work yielded a tremendous number of cloth masks for distribution to our patients and non-clinical employees, which truly made a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Susan Kern, program manager for Voluntary Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Moon formed the group by first recruiting a few of her friends to sew a handful of masks, and before long, with masks and personal protective equipment scarce, word spread among students throughout Maryland counties and the group ballooned, making and donating masks to local hospitals. As their output increased, they began supplying cloth masks to the VA Maryland Health Care System.

“While we were making them, I discovered an article online about how some frontline responders were having to make their own masks because of intense shortages of PPE,” Moon said. “I thought this could be an opportunity for students in our local area to be a part of the fight against COVID and donate masks to health care facilities in Maryland. I feel that even as students, we have the responsibility to help out our community in some capacity,” she added. “In all sincerity, I truly just wanted to support our front liners, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything.”

Moon’s answer to the call for masks benefited veteran patients and those who serve them throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System.

“When we look back at the spring of 2020, masks were scarce, so many of our veteran patients were especially grateful to receive a handmade mask that they could take with them for their daily use,” said Kern. “Groups such as this allowed us to serve our veteran patients in a unique and necessary way.”

Although Moon and her group were not alone in donating cloth masks to the VA Maryland Health Care System, which received more than 12,000 masks to support veterans and VA employees, the High Schoolers for Front Liners made a huge impact.    

“We are thrilled that our Voluntary Service program has been recognized for their efforts to inspire and recruit the next generation—today’s youth—to donate their time and talent in support of our veterans,” said R. David Edwards, chief of Public & Community Relations for the VA Maryland Health Care System.”

The American Spirit Award is a national honor created by the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize highly successful volunteer recruitment initiatives in seven different categories: student recruitment, senior recruitment, corporate recruitment, civic recruitment, faith-based recruitment, veteran service organization recruitment and military recruitment. This year’s award recognizes the work done with student volunteers whose goal included serving Veterans and the VA health care system during the pandemic.

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The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at three medical centers and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans’ health care, research, and education. It costs nothing for veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a veteran can do. To enroll for VA health care, interested veterans can call 877-222-8387 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or they can visit http://www.va.gov and clinic on “Apply now for VA health care.”

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Rosalia Scalia
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