15 Years of Making Volunteer Service a Part of Her Life

Val Szymanski lived through not one but two fires in her lifetime. For the past 15 years she has been on the disaster action team helping others. As a member of the disaster action team, Val has received specialized training to provide relief to those affected by disaster. She has helped those in the Lakeland Chapter’s eight county jurisdiction and also represented the Lakeland Chapter during national disasters. Having lived through tragedy herself Val says, “It made me appreciate what I could do for someone else in that situation.”

Val and her son JJ cheering on the Packers in a box seat donated by the Green Bay Packers.

Val and her son JJ cheering on the Packers in a box seat donated by the Green Bay Packers.

15 years ago the Red Cross came to Val’s employer and provided a learning session for the employees, describing the unique services the Red Cross provides and offered to train the employees on-site so they could help their neighbors. “For me something struck home when they talked about what they did in disaster services,” says Val. “I was there. I remember the feeling of watching your home burn and being lucky to have the clothes on your back.”

“I thought if I could help one or two people in that situation, I would feel like I was making a difference,” says Val. The learning session by the Red Cross hit home and Val received continued training. She has now helped many fellow citizens during hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires, as part of the team of dedicated volunteers.

The company, now known as Humana, has changed hands over the past 15 years but Val is still there as an IT Manager. She says the company is very supportive of her volunteerism. They allow her to leave work when a national or local disaster occur without losing compensation.

Val says volunteering is an internal need and when it’s something you feel like you want in your life then you fit it into your life no matter what the obstacles are. Val and her husband, Geno, tried to have a baby for five years. During the tragedy of 9-11, Val felt like she had to help out despite the fact that they were going through fertility treatments. Val went to the Red Cross Headquarters in Virginia to assist with the Family gift-giving program. While there she assisted by helping families from 9-11 tragedy emotionally and financially with the donation from the American people but she had to return home early when she discovered she was pregnant with their first child.

Geno and Val now have two children and still try to make volunteerism an important part of their lives. Her husband Geno has been a volunteer fireman for Little Suamico for twenty-four years. Val hopes their children pick up some of their core values. “There is more than just yourself. There is community and volunteering is a good thing.”

“You can give them food, shelter, and clothing but you’re not replacing what they lost.” Val says working on the disaster team is not always easy because you are helping people at their worst moment. It’s hard but it’s important to walk away knowing you made a difference.

Val says one of the reasons she has been a volunteer for so long is that she found a way to help people she can relate to their loss and has the skills to do so. She says there are so many ways to help out at the Red Cross because they perform so many important functions but it’s important to find your niche. “You have to do it for yourself, not anybody else. That’s what volunteering is about and how it becomes a part of your life.”

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