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National Service and Volunteerism: Building a Sense of Community

By Robert Fernandez

I’m certain the statistic that 22 veterans a day are being lost to suicide isn’t new to a lot of people. I can recall scrolling through Facebook over the past year or so, seeing titles to videos labeled “22 Pushup Challenge.” In these videos, people recorded themselves performing 22 pushups for the purpose of promoting awareness for veterans’ suicide. These videos were liked, shared, and certainly brought awareness to the topic, but how much do we really know about veterans’ suicide? Why is the suicide rate of veterans terribly higher than that of non-veterans? Is there a big-picture message that we’re not seeing?

When a veteran finishes their time overseas or time in their contract, one could assume that they’re happy to be back home and with their families. This is certainly the case for most. The day they return home is a day that is longed for by a lot of veterans. But as many come to realize, maybe home isn’t home anymore.

When serving in the military, a sense of camaraderie is built due to the values that have been ingrained in us. On my first day of Basic Combat Training, I distinctly remember a drill sergeant informing my platoon, “There will be no discrimination in my platoon, or in my Army. There is no white, black, yellow, brown, red, purple or any other color under the rainbow. The only color I see here is Army Green. You don’t know who could be entrusted with your life someday, but I guarantee they’ll be wearing green. We’re all brothers and sisters now, and we’re going to treat each other that way.” This is the mindset we’ve been bred into since day one, and what ultimately unites us all as one. This unison makes it hard for us to be separated.

Throughout a veteran’s service, strong bonds are made between the people they spend day in and day out with. It’s an inseparable bond, glued by a common passion for serving and being a part of something bigger than yourself. For some service members, coming to the end of their term of service means that they’re not only separated from the people they’ve become close to, but their drive and purpose in life as well.

I recently had the privilege of having guest speaker Amy Marcotte come to my Veterans’ FIG class. Amy is a social worker for the Sanford Vet Center and came to bring awareness to our class in regard to the overall health and well being of veterans.

At one point, she brought up the topic of what the mental health of a veteran returning home might look like. We went on to discuss how a veteran returning home might feel isolated and as if they don’t belong anymore. Friends they had years ago aren’t around anymore, and the friends and family who are left no longer recognize them or understand the hardships they’ve been through, thus being unable to relate to them anymore. The sense of camaraderie is gone.

But maybe there’s a way we can make veterans feel more at home, one that could also benefit our own lives and the communities we live in as well.

In today’s society, I believe we all struggle with this feeling of isolation. With the rise of technology and social media, communication has become increasingly easier. We can text, call, snapchat, tweet; the list goes on and on. But having such easy access to this form of technological communication sometimes causes us to forget how important face to face communication is. Communicating with the people around us, in person, allows us to build and strengthen the emotional bonds we have with these people. Face-to-face communication and spending valuable time with the people around you is the foundation for building a sense of fellowship/community within our social circles, towns, cities, and ultimately, country.

How can we contribute to the strengthening of our communities and, ultimately, the relationships between the people within our country? I believe the simplest answer to this question is volunteer. I’m not saying you need to sign the dotted line, raise your right hand, and swear into the United States military, but try to get out and volunteer for something that’ll benefit your community. Whether it be through the community-service club at your school or through a national volunteer service such as AmeriCorps, you’ll not only be benefiting the people you’re serving, but also yourself, through the development of values you’ll learn throughout the experience. I believe that building this common passion for serving community and country is the perfect way to strengthen the relationships within them, and unite us all as one.

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