A typical day for Paul Cress begins the minute he sits down at his desk inside the VA Medical Center in Lebanon, Pa.
“When I first come in here in the morning, I sometimes have 25 or 30 messages on the phone,” Cress said, who is a member of DAV Chapter 81 in Lebanon. “I listen to them, call everyone back and schedule everybody. The first three or four hours I’m here I’m on the phone and scheduling.”
In addition to his duties as a DAV hospital service coordinator, Cress helped initiate the local transportation network in 2003 and is closing in on 20,000 volunteer hours as a driver.
“According to our records, there is only one other veteran that has ever reached more hours than what Paul currently has,” said Jeremy Fees, Chief of Voluntary Services at the Lebanon VAMC. In Pennsylvania, one DAV Transportation Network volunteer has amassed more than 20,000 hours, with two more, including Cress, following close behind and nearing that milestone.
Cress served on active duty in the Navy from 1958 to 1960, before working two jobs for more than 30 years that uniquely qualified him for his current volunteer role.
“I worked at the hospital as a nurses assistant for 36 years,” said Cress. “My second job was as a driver for a local beer distributor. As a veteran, I understand that side of my work. Being at a hospital and working with patients is also something I understand, and since I was a driver in the area, I know all of the best routes to take.”
“He is committed to serving veterans and goes out of his way to make sure needs are met,” Fees said. “By coordinating transportation, Paul is playing a key part in veterans’ access to the healthcare they need and deserve. Many of the veterans who utilize DAV have no other way of getting to the facility.”
The lack of options for some veterans to attend their medical appointments is something that has fueled Cress to keep going over the last 14 years.
“Years ago, I’d pick someone up and I’d say I think I’m going to stop volunteering and they’d say, but what would I do without you?” Cress said. “When they’d say that—and you knew that you were needed—then I’d think, I have to keep going with this. Sometimes we are the only transportation these veterans have. They have nobody else.”
While Paul’s goal is to achieve 20,000 hours, he said he won’t stop volunteering after reaching the milestone.
“It’s easy to hear a number like 20,000 volunteer hours, but let that sink in for a moment,” said DAV National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. “That’s averaging more than 27 volunteer hours per week over the last decade and a half, and that is on top of his position with DAV at the VA Medical Center. That is dedication, commitment and a motivating factor for us all to do more.”
“Your pay is a handshake and a thank you from another veteran,” said Cress. “You get used to taking care of people. I don’t know what I’d do without this.”
If you or anyone you know have interest in driving for DAV’s Transportation Network please visit dav.org/help-dav/volunteer/drive-a-van/.