(BPT) – Did you know that 35,000 hours of volunteering is the equivalent of working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year with no days off for 17 years?

For American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) member Sarah Brooks, who was recently recognized for volunteering more than 35,000 hours in service to military veterans, those are hours spent offering fellowship, kindness and attention to those who made sacrifices for our freedom. Brooks’ decades-long dedication to the military community has helped hundreds of veterans in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. The veterans she serves have become her family, her lifeline and a blessing she never thought she would receive.

How did the 91-year-old come to dedicate her life to serving others? “It starts with a hello,” Brooks said.

Brooks shares her time between a veterans home, ALA-sponsored events and a veterans rehabilitation center. “A hello can be the bridge to a great interaction and a wonderful memory. In my 59 years of volunteering, I can say I don’t have a favorite memory from my volunteer efforts because every day is a new and beautiful experience,” Brooks said.

People can give back in many ways, such as donating material items like canned goods and clothes or offering financial support. But giving time is one of the most unselfish actions we can perform. By becoming personally involved with others through volunteering, we have the opportunity to deliver simple acts of kindness that can help others find healing, support and a new beginning. In addition, volunteering has real benefits for the volunteer. It can provide a sense of fulfillment that benefits our minds and bodies. Studies have shown that people who volunteer live longer, healthier and happier lives.

“When I returned home from military service in my early 20s,” said Victoria Pridemore, a former truck driver, battalion paralegal and division chief paralegal in the U.S. Army, “I wasn’t sure how I could serve my community since I didn’t have the means to donate monetary gifts to any organization. I realized I could have an impact on my community just through my actions and donating my time.” In 2012, Pridemore founded ALA Unit 1 in Washington, D.C., to help serve veterans and families in that area.

Now serving as president of the American Legion Auxiliary unit, Pridemore, 33, works with local community organizations to plan monthly volunteer events for ALA members and non-members in the area. Their local activities range from cleaning the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to holding a holiday drive for donations for inpatient veterans to send gifts to their family members. In 2016, ALA Unit 1 helped almost 200 veterans in the D.C. area.

While Sarah Brooks recently received a lifetime achievement award from the ALA for her 59-year commitment to service, Pridemore reminds us that there is no “small” act of kindness and service. “Every give-back moment is an opportunity to have a real impact,” she said. “A touch, a smile, just a brief conversation can make a difference in someone’s day.

“And, when a group of people do come together for a day of real service, it’s so fulfilling,” Pridemore said. “That is why I believe so strongly in the ALA’s mission ‘In the spirit of Service Not Self.’”

Pridemore and Brooks agree that all it takes is a few hours and a heartfelt commitment to caring to help change someone’s life. To learn how to get involved and volunteer, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

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