Great volunteers of Joint Base Lewis-McChord

A look at those making a difference

By Melissa Renahan on March 20, 2014

According to a report released earlier in 2014 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013. Sadly, that number is down from previous tallies over the last decade, however, in certain sectors, like on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, volunteers are still stepping up and making a difference.

"My husband says that I get paid in soldier's smiles and that is actually the truth," said Debbie Zeller, a perpetual volunteer at the Northwest USO on JBLM who got involved after hearing a chaplain mention that the public was becoming desensitized to the military and their needs.

"Each time I make someone else's life a little easier, happier and make it better, that's my reward," added Zeller, who has no military ties of her own aside from the 30 to 40 hours a month that she spends serving servicemembers with the USO.

Another familiar face at the USO is Patty Bert, who was named Volunteer of the Year in 2013 for her work with the Mobile Canteen. Bert's late husband served in the National Guard and her son, who is still a citizen soldier, suggested that she volunteer with the organization to fill her time. Currently she works at least one shift a week with the canteen, which she loves because of the interaction with the servicemembers who are always grateful for just a hotdog, according to Bert.

"They thank us, but really we are thanking them," Bert said. "It's really nice to give time to an organization that has such a positive effect."

Similarly, Kristie King, a USO volunteer for the last five years, got involved because someone in her life was serving in the military and she demonstrated her level of support by going all out.

"As much as he appreciated it, he suggested I do it on a bigger scale," King explained. "So I came to the base and started."

Like the USO, the Fisher House on JBLM is run by a large group of volunteers that are essential to the organization's day-to-day operations.  

"It's very important that we have volunteers we can rely on for a variety of tasks and events. While the two fulltime staff members are busy with the operations of the house, our volunteers are able to attend outreach and fund raising events; provide assistance in the office; do light housekeeping and gardening; and help keep the house organized, ensuring our guests have everything they may need during their stay," explained volunteer coordinator Krista Brandt. "We currently rely on our volunteers approximately 300-500 hours per month and that number is going to increase with the opening of the second Fisher House so we're always excited to find people willing to donate their time."

"I have always volunteered for something and I've been at the Fisher House for eight years," explained Barb Baguhn, who was named the JBLM Volunteer of the Month in February. "I come from a military family, so that is part of the reason I chose Fisher House. I have also volunteered for Make A Wish so I kind of understand what the relief is for the families when they only have to worry about their injured loved one."

Clearly the rewards from volunteering are intangible but also irreplaceable.

"I continue to volunteer because it makes me feel better about myself, it helps troops and their families and because it's the least I can do. I love doing this and I won't stop. It will change your life," advised King.

See Also

Where to volunteer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord