It’s been 17 years since Paralyzed Veterans of America administrative assistant for sports and recreation Mary Hobbs invited her best friend Kathleen Hession to attend the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, in Pittsburgh. Kathleen has never turned back, volunteering at every one of the games since.
“Each year, they put me to work every minute I’m there,” Kathleen says. “This summer will be my 17th year volunteering at the Games. I haven’t missed any, and I have to say, I’ve enjoyed every single year.”
Kathleen, along with fellow volunteer Barbara Holmes, works each year to ensure all of the wheelchair athletes are classified appropriately for their respective adaptive sports events. After that work is complete, the two volunteers manage all of the data for the Games – from keying in event results to answering questions from athletes and staff.
“I enjoy going because there’s a beautiful sense of community among the athletes, coaches and volunteers,” Kathleen says. “I’m always welcomed into the group, even though I’m not an employee, athlete or coach. Even though I only see these people once a year, it’s really neat to reconnect and see the smiles on everyone’s faces and everyone chipping in 150 percent to make sure everything goes off well.”
Kathleen has devoted her life to public service, having served 32 years as a federal employee at the Social Security Administration and at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where she retired in 1999.
Kathleen’s altruistic spirit does not end with her public service career or her volunteer service for Paralyzed Veterans, either. She actively volunteers with NeighborRide, a program that pairs volunteers with senior citizens to help with transportation to medical appointments, shopping and other services. Kathleen also has been on four medical missions trips to Columbia and Peru, with a fifth trip planned this summer.
As the nation recognizes National Volunteer Week – an effort aimed at inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to serve their communities – Kathleen remains thankful for her 17 years serving Paralyzed Veterans of America and encourages others to use their talents and get involved.
“It really is nice to feel appreciated when you do something like this,” Kathleen says of her work with Paralyzed Veterans. “I don’t need to hear it, but it really makes me feel good when so many of them think of the time we spend and are grateful for it. It keeps me coming back.”
Learn more about National Volunteer Week
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.