More than three decades of selfless dedication to veterans
American Legion Auxiliary members are known for their dedication to veterans, military, and their families. This year, one ALA member is being recognized for going above and beyond to serve veterans.
Donna Ray of Ohio has been named the VAVS National Advisory Committee Volunteer of the Year, an honor bestowed upon those who have given extraordinary service to our nation’s veterans. The award — given by peers — is the highest honor for VAVS volunteers.
“I was in a state of shock, to be honest with you,” Ray said. “I feel that having this honor isn’t really for me. It’s for everyone who has worked with me and supported, and just done everything for our veterans. This award is awesome.” She also said she is proud to be an American Legion Auxiliary member.
Ray is a 36-year member of the Auxiliary and has been volunteering at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center for 35 years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she spent countless hours at the VA.
“If they needed me there five days a week, I was there five days a week,” said Ray.
Her husband Bob also volunteers at the VA.
“My husband is my biggest supporter,” Ray said.
The pandemic didn’t stop the couple from serving. Instead, they thought outside of the box and found a way to continue to reach veterans — from a distance.
“I’ve missed my veterans this year because of the COVID pandemic,” Ray said, “but I’ve still been able to be at the hospital since last March.”
Despite not being able to have in-person contact with the veterans, every week the Rays deliver personal care items and snacks to the VA.
“Even though we can’t be near them, or get close to them to talk to them, at least they know that we’re there,” Ray said.
The veterans miss having Ray and other volunteers in the center. Before the lockdowns began, volunteers would host parties with holiday themes and decorations in the community living center. Since the beginning of the pandemic, veterans have been asking when the volunteers would be coming back.
Those who know Ray know that volunteering runs deep in her soul.
“She first and foremost always wants to take care of our veterans and our servicemembers. She is the physical embodiment of our mission,” said Chrystal Daulton, Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation program manager at ALA National Headquarters. “Donna’s energy, her dedication, her devotion doesn’t know any limits. It seems to go forever.”
“I can walk in the hospital and not feel good, I can be exhausted, and when I walk out of that hospital, I am cheerful, I am happy, and I feel like I’ve made a difference,” said Ray.
She encourages others to give volunteering a chance, even if it is just one day a month.
“Veterans need somebody, and I want to try to be that person. And when I can get other people to get involved, that makes it even better.” She says once you try it, you’ll want to stay.
Ray’s dedication is not just to the act of volunteering, but to the difference she can make in a person’s life and the connection that can be created.
“She gets to know the veterans, bonds with them, and genuinely loves each and every one of them,” said Daulton. “She’s what the veterans deserve, and I’m so proud of her for winning this award. I’m just delighted that she’s being recognized for who she is and the job she does.”
VAVS Volunteer of the Year Award
- Last ALA member named female Volunteer of the Year: Patti Williamson of Illinois (2015)
- VAVS has more than 63,000 volunteers
- VAVS National Advisory Committee consists of 240 veteran service organization