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VA volunteer receives award for thousands of hours of service

Stacy M. Brown | 11/10/2017, 6 a.m.
The leadership of the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center honored a special volunteer with the President’s Voluntary Service Lifetime ...
Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center honored Mary Allen, 91, (left) for her dedicated service as a volunteer since 1992 and logging in 16,236 hours to veterans over the years. She received the President’s Voluntary Service Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Allen is shown with Sabrina Clark, director, Veterans Administration Voluntary Service. Courtesy Photo

The leadership of the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center honored a special volunteer with the President’s Voluntary Service Lifetime Achievement Award.

The prestigious honor is granted to select individuals or organizations that have dedicated their lives in service to others, according to VA officials.

That’s exactly what earned 91-year-old Mary Allen the coveted award, which was presented at an appreciation luncheon hosted by the VA on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Allen has been a volunteer since 1992 and has logged a stunning 16,236 hours to veterans over the years. It never occurred to her that she would give so much of her time.

“I did not believe I’d ever reach so many hours, but there was always work that needed to be done, so I kept on volunteering and supporting the veterans,” Allen said. “I did what needed to get done and that’s what volunteers do.”

VA officials and others call Allen an icon and a bit of a celebrity at the medical center where she has shared her time and talent in support of numerous services and outreach programs like the center’s Winter haven Homeless Veterans Stand Down; Nursing; Safety and Surgical; and the Senior Companion Program.

Born in Macon, Georgia, Allen moved to Washington with her family when she was three-years-old.

While growing up, her parents maintained strict control of her time, including keeping close tabs on where she was and when she had to return home from outings.

“You could catch a movie on Saturday “You could catch a movie on Saturday and then you went to church on Sunday,” Allen said. “Sometimes, there would be a church social on Sundays, too,” she said.

Speaking about the various changes she has witnessed from her teen years as compared to modern day, Allen says the differences are readily noticeable.

“Clothing has changed a lot,” she said. “I don’t remember girls wearing shorts when I was growing up and kids today, they think they’re all grown up.”

Allen conceded that the fault doesn’t always lie with the youth.

“Some parents influence their kids to act more grown up before their time,” Allen said.

“You see young ladies wearing heels and carrying purses and young people today don’t always dance properly.”

Once Allen retired from the State Department more than two decades ago, she began volunteering at the D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She picked the VA center for volunteer work because her husband served in the Navy during World War II. He was also a disabled veteran and her son is a Navy veteran.

“I started to volunteer in 1992 and my first volunteer assignment was working with the diabetes clinic where a lot of filing was required for all of the information that was being collected,” she said. “I worked in many locations throughout the hospital and was always able to contribute.”

Her vast contributions have made her famous— at least at the center.

“I feel good about that. When I started to volunteer, I was given a number of assignments and I was able to help a lot of veterans,” Allen said. “They respected my opinions and I was always able to contribute in positive ways,” she said, adding that most individuals usually value her opinion.

For anyone seeking to volunteer, Allen’s advice is simple.

“When you volunteer, do your best and if you don’t understand what needs to be done, ask someone to explain, so that the job is done correctly,” she said. “Don’t just sit around, there are always things that can be done.”

According to those who know her, Allen continues to be a steadying influence on all those whom she meets. She says that after more than 16,000 hours, she doesn’t know when she’ll stop offering her time and service.

“I just like helping people and I learned about how to care for people, which is important work,” she said. “I believe God has healed my body to keep me going. I don’t have any pain and that has kept me going.”