For Neal Lazarus, a volunteer for Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Bass Tour, it was 29 years ago that then-tour director Jerry Daniels asked him to help out. Jerry never had to ask Neal again.
“I was in my early 20s, and I hadn’t been around any disabled individuals other than Jerry,” Neal says. “He said, ‘If you come just one time, I’ll never ask you to come back again. That was 29 years ago, and he was right. Whenever I talk to new volunteers, I say the same thing. You want to come back.”
Neal, along with his wife and daughters, have since volunteered their time, expertise and equipment – including their bass fishing boat – to the Paralyzed Veterans Bass Tour in Sanford, Fla., and other tour locations across the country.
For Neal, it’s been the positive mentality of the disabled veteran anglers – a mentality that is not always present in able-bodied competitions – that has kept him coming back.
“One of the things about the Paralyzed Veterans Bass Tour is the attitude is always positive,” Neal says. “You don’t hear a lot of quibbling like you do at a normal tournament. If these guys have a great day, my little piddly problem doesn’t matter. It’s a reality check, and it’s a great time.”
Neal never served in the military, instead working as a transportation operator for Lockheed Martin for over 30 years. Fishing has always been a favorite pastime, and through Paralyzed Veterans of America, he’s grateful that pastime has also provided him a way to give back.
“I have no reason for being here; I don’t have any background or studies in helping individuals with disabilities,” Neal says. “I am just a layman who got involved with Paralyzed Veterans and enjoyed what it was about. I’m very dedicated to the organization and all of the events we do.”
As the nation recognizes National Volunteer Week – an effort aimed at inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to serve their communities – Neal hopes his story will inspire others to find ways to give back, particularly to Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I would welcome anyone to get involved with Paralyzed Veterans or come out and see some of the events,” he says. “There are all sorts of sporting and outdoor events. The research and everything Paralyzed Veterans as a whole does, it’s just an opportunity to come out, lend a hand, help these veterans have a great time, make some friends and learn a lot along the way.”