When Daniel Finney was old enough, his mother, Tammy, told him he would be coming with her to work. As the chief of community relations and engagement at the Columbia VA Healthcare System in South Carolina, she wanted her son to learn from veterans and see the amazing care they receive every day.
“He was extremely reluctant,” said Tammy. “He gave me a list of other activities that would take the place of volunteering. No. 1: sleeping.”
Parents often have the last say. Finney did join his mother that day, and in just his first day of volunteering, his life took a whole new trajectory.
“At first, it was kind of do what I was told,” said Finney. “She knew the importance of volunteering. At the time when I was 13 years old, I really didn’t see the importance of volunteering. I knew it would help with colleges, but I really began to appreciate it when I made a connection with the veterans.“
As the top recipient of DAV’s scholarship program, Finney will receive $20,000 toward his education for his efforts to give back. DAV Youth Scholarship—previously known as the Jesse Brown Memorial Youth Scholarship—has changed the lives of many students looking to offset higher education costs, give back to those who served and begin looking toward their future careers. It awards more than $75,000 annually to young people who volunteer to support veterans through the charity.
Finney is currently a junior at Winthrop College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he is studying exercise science intending to become a physician assistant. For seven years now, he has dedicated his life to helping veterans and encouraging those his age to follow in his steps and become volunteers.
“I started having friends come in and showed them my experiences volunteering, helping veterans on a day-to-day basis,” said Finney. “I enjoyed listening to the veterans’ stories, hearing the life lessons that they had learned and given to me. I would’ve never gotten that experience without volunteering. It inspired me to come back each day.”
“To understand what patriotism means on a whole other level, beyond learning it in school—those are the opportunities I wanted him to experience,” his mother said. “There was never a question after that of whether he wanted to continue.”
Finney found his passion while volunteering with veterans. He realized that the medical field would be his life and attributes that to his experiences made while volunteering. But that wasn’t his only takeaway from his experiences.
Finney has become a leader among his peers. His accolades include being named secretary of the National Society of Leadership and Success; serving as one of three mentors for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ national Student Leadership Council; and volunteering with the VA “Geek Squad,” a telehealth group that focuses on virtually assisting veterans.
His passion was infectious. Finney introduced more than 15 new volunteers to the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center’s summer student volunteer program while in high school.
Finney said its important for veterans to know their sacrifices haven’t been forgotten, which youth volunteers can do by showing them that the next generation is here to help them and make a difference in their lives.
He plans to continue his studies and help his community and America’s veterans. With the scholarship, those dreams are now becoming a reality.
“I look at this scholarship as another door opening up,” said Finney. “This has allowed me to do so many things. One of them is to pay for college. I want to continue to be a civil servant wherever I go. I want to continue to help veterans, whether that’s a part of my job or whether I’m still volunteering. It can be working at a hospital or helping with a food drive for the homeless veteran community. It can be anything. I now have that desire ingrained in me to continue to serve our veterans.”
“Daniel is the exemplary candidate of what we look for in a youth volunteer,” said National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. “At age 20, he has already given so much back to veterans in his community. We at DAV know that contributing to the education and growth of volunteers like Daniel will benefit them and their communities. Congratulations to Daniel and his family on the well-earned scholarship.”
To apply for the DAV Youth Scholarship, visit davscholarships.org. Applicants must be 21 or younger and have a minimum of 100 lifetime hours in service to veterans through DAV.