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Student Finds Rewards as VA Volunteer

Shannon smiling.

VA Volunteer Shannon Mathew is the recipient of the Miami VA Healthcare System’s James H. Parke Memorial Fund Youth Scholarship.

By Tom Cramer
Thursday, May 22, 2014

There’s no doubt that soft-spoken Shannon Mathew, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Coral Springs, Fla., likes being of service to others. But she seems to have a special place in her heart for Veterans, which is why she’s spent a lot of time volunteering at the Miami VA HealthCare System.

“I know kids my age don’t know what Veterans go through,” said the South Florida native. “You know, a lot of Veterans have served in (wars) and they come back wounded and just shaken up inside. They’re looking for help, and they’re determined to get better.  And just being there for them makes me feel so blessed because I know that if I were in that position… I don’t know how I would have been so determined…..”

Maritza Nogueras, supervisor at the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center's Physical Medicine & Rehab unit where Shannon volunteers, described the high school senior as a joyful spirit.

“Shannon was with us for four summers,” she said. “She was just so helpful, so full of life and happy.  The Veterans just loved being around her.  She had the ability to relate to them, and they felt comfortable with her.”

“When I started here, I didn’t want to stop,” Shannon said.  “Each day I wanted to wake up early. I wanted to go and just help out.  I was just so ecstatic to go.  I never felt that way about anything before…

“It wasn’t like school,” she added, “where you wake up and you dread going… dread taking those tests.”

“She was there to encourage me,” said Army Veteran Dale Mohorn, who is undergoing physical therapy at the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center. “She was like, ‘I know you can do it….. just keep on pushing, just a little bit harder.’

“And for her to be as young as she is, you know, a school kid, encouraging me as a Veteran of the U.S. Army, I feel like, you know, if she can tell me that, then I can push a little bit harder.”

In addition to providing encouragement, emotional support and a warm smile to all the Veterans receiving treatment at the clinic, Shannon also helps out with the many small tasks needed to keep a physical therapy department running smoothly.

“I make sure everything’s sanitized, everything’s clean,” she said. “I help the physical therapists, if they need a heating pad, of if they need an ice pad.  I remove the sheets from the mats. I help the occupational therapist, if she needs anything, any equipment….”

Zahilly Salinas, a physical therapist who worked with Shannon, admires how the teenager kept returning to the Physical Medicine & Rehab unit year after year.

“Because we’re such a complex clinic, it’s helpful when people stay longer with us, and that’s what was so great about Shannon,” she said. “Even when other teenage volunteers would come in to help, Shannon would be the one training them because she knew the in’s and out’s.

“We’re so happy for her,” Salinas added. “She’s going to do really well in college. We’re excited to see what happens with her.”

“I’ll be going to the University of Florida,” Shannon said. “There’s actually a VA in Gainesville, so every chance I get I want to volunteer there. Even though I’m not going to serve in the Army or the Navy, I can do my part here and help those who have suffered, who have gone through so much pain.”

Shannon is a recent recipient of the Miami VA Healthcare System’s James H. Parke Memorial Fund Youth Scholarship.  As a first place winner she’ll receive $20,000--a nice going-away present from the VA that will help with her tuition, books and other expenses at the University of Florida.

To learn more about volunteering at a VA facility near you, visit www.volunteer.va.gov.

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