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 who’ve dedicated their lives in service to others, VA officials said.
That’s exactly what’s earned 91-year-old Mary Allen the coveted award, which she received at an appreciation luncheon hosted by the VA on Tuesday, Nov. 7 in Washington, D.C.
Allen has logged a stunning 16,236 hours to veterans and she’s been a volunteer since 1992.
It never occurred to her that she’d 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 sup- porting 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’s 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 3.
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 and then you went to church on Sunday,” Allen said. “Sometimes, there would be church social on Sundays, too.”
Speaking about the various changes she’s witnessed from her teen years as compared to modern day, Allen said 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 also was a disabled veteran — and her son is a Navy veteran, Allen said.
“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 has made her famous — at least at the center.
“I feel good about that,” Allen said. “When I started to volunteer I was given a number of assignments and I was able to help a lot of veterans.
“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 those seeking to volunteer, Allen said her 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 whom she meets. She said 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.”