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Volunteer finds passion through Service to the Armed Forces

Volunteers bring a gift in themselves. They are here because their heart is here; they don’t get paid.

Maria Lacayo is used to losing friends. She has lost some good friends in the past year and expects to lose others over the next year.

She is saddened by this fact but accepts it as part of her job.

Lacayo, 54, is a volunteer with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program whose responsibilities include working in the hospice unit at Miami’s Bruce W. Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

There she supports the program “No Veteran Dies Alone,” which relies on specially trained volunteers to accompany veterans during their last hours.

Lyn Blank, recreational therapist at Miami’s VA Medical Center, says American Red Cross volunteers like Maria play an essential role in helping to provide comfort to veterans at the unit who might be experiencing feelings of isolation, loneliness, regret or of wanting to do an activity they can no longer do, such as reading.

“They might like to stay on top of the politics, but they can’t read, can’t focus, so that’s when it becomes so important to have a volunteer who can read to them,” said Blank.

“Volunteers bring a gift in themselves. They are here because their heart is here; they don’t get paid.”

She adds that working in a hospice can be particularly difficult, something to which Lacayo can attest: “The saddest part of this job is that you lose your friends,” said Lacayo. “Your friendships are short-term.”

Lacayo has been an American Red Cross volunteer for two and a half years. She joined the South Florida Region office of ARC immediately after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. She herself had been a victim of a hurricane in her native Nicaragua in 1972, so she understood what the people of Haiti were going through.

“Most of my friends died in the Nicaragua earthquake of ’72,” she said. “I remember seeing dead bodies everywhere.”

Since joining the Red Cross, Lacayo has become an integral part of SAF, where she oversees the Veterans Affairs Volunteer Services and also provides assistance in International Services.

The SAF Program Director, LtCol Tony Colmenares USMC (Ret), depends on Maria on a daily basis to help him with numerous tasks and responsibilities. “She is a tremendous asset to our program,” said Colmenares. “I wish I had 10 more volunteers like her.”

As for Maria, she is just happy to be able to help.

“I am very proud to help the veterans,” says Lacayo. “We should all give back to this country and be grateful for the freedom we have.”

If you are interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, visit www.redcross.org or contact your local chapter. Volunteers are the foundation of the Red Cross, comprising approximately 96% of the workforce. Our volunteers are the presence of the Red Cross in the communities they serve.

To volunteer at the Miami VA Medical Center through the American Red Cross, please contact Maria Lacayo at (786) 314-8126 or at maria.lacayo@redcross.org.

HOW YOU CAN HELP You can call, click or text to make a donation today. Please consider making a donation by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Photo caption (from left to right): Maria Lacayo, Lyn Blank.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.