Friday, October 05, 2012

Interview with a Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Honoree

Back in April, I posted for the second year about the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

I was recently contacted about a chance to interview one of this year's honorees, and below is my interview with this inspiring young volunteer, Krystal Shirrell

Krystal Shirrell. Krystal, 18, of Brownsburg, Ind., a senior at Brownsburg High School, has engaged in a variety of activities to assist and support U.S. veterans and soldiers. While attending a workshop organized by her sister to make hats for cancer patients, Krystal heard someone talking about how patients undergoing kidney dialysis treatment often struggle to control their body temperature. Shortly afterward Krystal was at a Veterans Day banquet when she learned that many veterans need dialysis, and an idea took shape: she could make lap blankets to help kidney-damaged veterans stay warm during treatment. Krystal spent up to eight hours making each blanket. She also taught middle school students and senior citizens at a local nursing home how to make the blankets. So far, she has delivered more than 250 of them to the local VA hospital. On one visit, she learned about the VA’s domiciliary program for homeless vets, and immediately wanted to do something for these veterans as well. She conducted a collection drive that provided more than 5,000 needed items for vets in the program, and she hosts monthly bingo nights for them, too. In addition, Krystal designed a “thank-you” coloring sheet for elementary school students to send to veterans, and launched a campaign to send decorated Christmas trees and care packages with special gift items to troops over the holidays. Krystal says she wants to “let veterans know the younger generation has not forgotten them and is reaching out with thanks and support.

How young were you when you first began volunteering?
I can remember community service activities from a very early age. I remember collecting pop tabs as a preschooler and kindergarten student for the Ronald McDonald House and I made ornaments in Daisy Girl Scouts to hang on our town’s tree during the annual Christmas Sing. From there, many activities resulted in volunteering for various community service initiatives. During the past several years, my service to country and community further developed as the result of a passion I acquired for our military troops, veterans, wounded warriors and their families.
Why was volunteering important to you?
“I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.” This is the Girl Scout Law. For some, it is simply words. For me, one phrase, “make the world a better place,” has become a mission statement that has shaped my life and helped prepare me for the future.
I was brought up in a household where my parents always encouraged volunteerism. I am also a life time Girl Scout so service to others has always been an important aspect of my life and a strong emphasis for me and my sister. My older sister also set the stage. She started her own nonprofit organization called Hats of Hope which provides hand knitted hats to cancer patients. So basically I just followed her lead. I saw her do something really incredible and I wanted to do that too and I wanted to make a difference. I started with something small and it has really been incredible to see the effort grow.
What is the biggest change that volunteering has brought to your life?
Being a volunteer has changed my life immensely. Volunteering actually is what made me determine what I want to do with my life and what my future plans are hopefully going to be. For the longest time I thought I wanted to be an Athletic Trainer. However, after I started volunteering and working with veterans, I realized that is where my passion lies and that’s what I want to do with my life. So now I am in college to pursue a degree as a pharmacist and I would like to work at a veteran’s hospital. I just want to give back to those who have served for me and getting paid to do so is just a bonus.
Did your family have a military connection before you began volunteering to support veterans and the troops?
There is no immediate family military connection. I just looked around and saw the brave men and women who fight for our country and I wanted to do something of service for those who have served.
What would you say was the most challenging part of your volunteer work?
For me it has been difficult to deal with all my emotions and the emotions that come along with volunteering. I have spent a lot of time with homeless veterans and it breaks my heart to know that these men and women can go and fight and put their lives on the line for my freedom and come back to the states and have no place to call home. I think the easiest way to overcome this has been to allow myself to be emotional. Others do not see it as a weakness but rather it is me just putting my whole heart into what I am doing and how passionate I really am about helping. The veterans will give me a hug and thank me a hundred times for the smallest things I do even for something as small as just hanging out with them. It has also been difficult to come to grips with the fact I cannot help everyone – that’s probably the most challenging part of it all.
What advice would you give to someone your age looking for a volunteer opportunity?
Being a volunteer is something to be really proud of and even through the smallest acts of kindness you would be surprised at what a difference you can make and how big of an impact you can have on other people. Being really involved in your community or with service projects is not something to be embarrassed about; it is awesome and really something to value. It is easy to make a difference. Just look around and you will see endless opportunities to help. People often think they need a foundation or strong financial support to make a difference, when in fact, quite the opposite is true. All it takes is a little passion. Find something that interests you, develop a passion, and use that passion to do something outside yourself. Don’t give up on volunteering when things get rough because it is during those times that I have gotten to experience some of the most incredible things. There is nothing more personally rewarding than service to others and nothing more powerful than making a difference in the community.
What plans do you have for future volunteer work?
The results of my activities have further instilled in me the importance of making a positive contribution to society. I want to teach current and future generations the value of community service. Even though I am out of state at college, I am mentoring younger students back home to insure continuation of service to our veterans. I am involved in a leadership class at Iowa and our group has elected to expand the service efforts to our veterans in Iowa City. I have also just begun volunteering with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program with a few of my softball teammates.
Through contacts at the Indianapolis VA, I learned about an opportunity to organize a medical team to provide services in the Amazon. I have begun to lay ground work and look forward to making the trip in the next few years as a pharmacy student. After completing my degree, I envision myself working at a VA hospital or medical center as a pharmacist, perhaps specializing in oncology. I aspire to have a career of service and make a valuable contribution to society.
 
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Thank you, Krystal, for the interview!
 
And thank you to Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, for honoring young volunteers such as Krystal.
 
Do you perhaps know of a young volunteer who should apply for the 2013 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards? Applications can be found at their  website and must be completed by Nov.6 ,2012
 
 
 
 
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