Going Above and Beyond
Making a Difference in the Lives of Veterans through Volunteering -
Helping people has been a way of life for United States Air Force Veteran Otto Keller for as long as he can remember. While serving in the Air Force he was in the training command, responsible for teaching pilots how to fly B-52s and he went on to have a successful career in Consumer Affairs for a major airline. Even after retiring, Keller is instrumental in helping people and making a difference as an active volunteer at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO). Every Wednesday he can be found taking vital signs of Primary Care patients and he also assists occasionally with selling popcorn, as a laboratory runner and a patient escort. By September 2010 he had volunteered 4,000 hours at VHSO, making an impact in the lives of countless Veterans that he touched.
“Everybody in life has a got a nitch” Keller states. “I believe that we should help each other… [Volunteering] is my way of helping everybody.” Helping is exactly what he does every time he sets foot inside VHSO. He is known for his love of talking to his fellow Veterans and works to make them comfortable and feel at ease. “A lot of them [Veterans] are afraid,” Keller notes. “I talk to them about my open heart surgery and my experiences. If we can help Veterans to be more at ease [they] will come out with [their] problems to the nurses and doctors.” Keller and fellow volunteers are the first line of defense in many instances and are often some of the first people that Veterans and families come into contact with at VHSO. Their friendly smile and welcoming nature is essential to creating a warm and inviting atmosphere throughout the health care system.
In addition to being an active volunteer, Keller is also the President of the VA Voluntary Services Committee and is instrumental in shaping and influencing the direction of the VHSO Voluntary Service program. “He’s my go to guy” states Carol Kick, Chief, Voluntary/Library Service at VHSO. “He doesn’t stop until whatever needs to be done is done. He’s not shy about giving suggestions and ideas and he encourages others to join in on the fun.”
In 2011 more than 630 volunteers donated more than 45,000 hours to the VHSO at the Fayetteville campus and at Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Fort Smith, Arkansas; Branson and Mount Vernon, Missouri; and Jay, Oklahoma. “Volunteers are the heart and soul of the organization” remarks Kick. “They give the intangibles… the staff and the Veterans value the volunteers.”
Volunteering and giving back to Veterans is especially important to Keller “because I am one” he states. “We counted on each other years ago and we still do. It’s a bond, and the bond between Veterans is stronger than the bond between brothers.”
While it is impossible to fully thank our many volunteers for all that they do and selflessly give each and every day, the VHSO is so grateful to Keller and the hundreds of other volunteers who make a difference in the lives of Veterans. This is especially true during National Volunteer Week, which is April 15 – 21, 2012. For more information on volunteering at VHSO please visit our website or contact Voluntary Services at (479) 444-5060.