Each year Volunteer Florida selects a Florida AmeriCorps member who best exemplifies national service to honor as the Volunteer of the Year. In April, our very own Keith Smith, an Operation: Veteran Connect member, received this award for his exceptional service. Mr. Smith is a Vietnam veteran whose name may be ordinary, but his service to his fellow veteran brothers and sisters is anything but.
As he sits high in his sturdy pickup with a long trailer, he navigates through the busy Tampa traffic with the expert skill from his military service. His mission? To deliver precious cargo to veterans leaving temporary housing at New Beginnings and help them transition to their own apartments. Mr. Smith delivers donated beds, sofas, chairs, and tables to create a home and give hope that living independently again is possible.
When Mr. Smith discovered that veterans needed bicycles for transportation to get to work, he immediately sprang into action. He set up a bicycle repair garage, rekindling skills from his youth, and collecting donated bikes throughout the community to repair and put back into use.
For Mr. Smith, the significance of this award went beyond mere recognition. It represented long-awaited appreciation for his service and the welcome home he deserved. Upon receiving the award, Mr. Smith shared:
“While a few of you may know some of the things we as servicemen experienced during and after returning home from Vietnam, I now realize that most of you don’t. We can’t unsee what we’ve seen. We can’t put into words what we’ve heard, and it’s all burnt into our minds with the emotions we felt at the time. I say that because of all the things I have experienced since my time in the service, nothing has made me feel welcomed home until receiving your award today. Tonight, I feel proud to be an American, I feel blessed to have been able to serve my fellow countrymen and especially the Veterans we serve and the staff we work with. In my heart I know there is no other organization that does so much good to help us all become better Americans.”
Mr. Smith shows the power of extraordinary service, helping one veteran at a time create a living space they can call home. His dedication and commitment to his fellow veterans make him a deserving recipient for Volunteer of the Year.