Retirees, civilians serve Offutt, local community

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. James M. Hodgman
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
One teaches youth about the history of Omaha, another answers phones at the Red Cross call center and delivers meals to hungry families, and yet another lends her voice to sing the national anthem.

These are just a few examples of the ways that military retirees and civilians serve Team Offutt and the local community.

Retired Capt. Jim E. Mays left the Air Force after 22 years of active-duty service. Today, he can be found at three different locations in Omaha weekly helping in any way he can.

Mr. Mays said his wife of 46 years, Gail Mays, an information and referral technician with the 55th Force Support Squadron, was a major reason he started volunteering.

After he retired, he said, he spent a year redecorating his house and sometime around Christmas 2008, while he was sitting in his favorite chair Mrs. Mays came home with a listing of volunteer opportunities.

"She told me to pick something, so I looked through it and that's how I started," he said.

Ever since, the retired captain has become a regular volunteer at the Durham Museum and Lauritzen Gardens where he gives tours, works as a security guard or even sweeps the floors. He also volunteers at the Stephen Center, a shelter that helps homeless people get back on their feet.

Mr. Mays shared what motivated him to contribute his time to the shelter.

"Gail and I were cleaning closets and we came across several winter clothing items we don't use any more, and it was a bad winter," he said. The couple decided to donate the clothes to the center and while doing that, Mr. Mays said, a woman walked in with her little girl, who wasn't smiling.

When they left Mr. Mays asked the manager if she needed volunteers. Since that day, he's answered phones, assisted the shelter's clients with various activities and helped a homeless woman get off the street.

"That's my whole thing with volunteering," Mr. Mays said. "It's about doing things for other people and making their lives brighter, not for reward or prestige."

Helping that woman felt good, he continued, she was scared and she needed help, after she was told that she would be admitted into the shelter, she was so thankful.

"At that point she had hope," he said with a smile.

Retired Master Sgt. Lonnie L. Hyter, a systems administrator at the Bellevue Christian Center, spends much of his free time answering calls at the Red Cross Heartland Chapter Call Center in Omaha and delivering food to hungry families with the Meals on Wheels program.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Hyter recalled how he provided support for many people who desperately wanted to know if their loved ones were alright.

"(At the center) we take calls after large scale disasters," he said, "and Hurricane Katrina was the first one I worked.

"I took calls from people who wanted to know if they're family was safe, (they) were trying to find out if their family members were alive and how they could find the support they needed," he added.

Knowing that he was helping was all the reward he needed, Mr. Lyter said.

The retired master sergeant also volunteers once a month to distribute meals to needy families in Bellevue.

"It's very rewarding to be able to hand somebody a hot meal and wish them a good day, or happy Easter, or merry Christmas or whatever," he said, "(it's rewarding) to see the joy on their faces.

"My own family is neglected sometimes because I'm so willing to help others," he added.

Mr. Lyter also stressed that it's important for military members to volunteer.

When civilians see servicemembers volunteering in the community they're inspired by those efforts, and those who volunteer strengthen their communities and help the nation, he said.

Judith L. Frison, a dental technician with the 55th Dental Squadron and the wife of Master Sgt. Robert J. Frison, with the 55th Operations Support Squadron, works approximately 40 hours a week, yet still finds time to volunteer about 20 hours every month.

In her spare time, Mrs. Frison serves as the troop leader for Boy Scout Troop 476 in Bellevue where she helps with fundraising activities, numerous projects and even serves as a chaperone on camping trips. She also sings the national anthem at military and high school graduation ceremonies and even helped raise funds for a local family who lost everything in an apartment fire last year.

After learning of the tragedy the family was facing, Mrs. Frison said, she asked her co-workers, church members and friends to help the family in any way they could.

"We spent the rest of the year making sure the family had furniture and food," she said.

Several people donated clothing items, a gentleman at her church donated beds, while others donated toys, blankets and even purchased food so the family could have a nice dinner for Thanksgiving, she added.

Helping others, Mrs. Frison said, brings her great joy.

"I just (love) doing it, the only thing I get out of volunteering is knowing I've made someone's life a little better," she said. "If I can bring a smile to someone's face, it makes my day."

One way Mrs. Frison brings smiles to people's faces is with her voice. She's been singing since she was 6 years old and said she enjoys performing at base and local events. One song Mrs. Frison is asked to sing often is the national anthem and she's sung it at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, the Civic Auditorium and at various ceremonies.

"I love singing the national anthem," she said. "I'm proud to do it and I never get tired of it, I absolutely love it."

Mrs. Frison said she loves singing the song because it connects with so many people and has the potential to brighten their days.

Whether they're giving tours at a local museum, helping the homeless receive the care they need, singing their hearts out or helping feed the hungry, members of Team Offutt are dedicated to supporting the community.

For more information about volunteer opportunities on base or in the local community, call the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 294-4329.

(Editor's Note: This is the final story in a three-part series on volunteering.)