By Hayley Hervieux, AARP
With a passion for his community and a drive to make meaningful connections, Art Garza is an exemplary example of what it means to have the heart of a volunteer.
After retiring from the Air Force, Art began volunteering. One of the first places he gave his time to was the Brooke Army Medical Center, a treatment center for military burn victims.
“That’s where all the serious patients, soldiers coming in from Baghdad, Iraq or Afghanistan—and previously from Vietnam—come in,” he says.
As a volunteer, Art assisted staff in the waiting room with patients’ families, escorting them to see their loved ones and acting as a liaison for services they needed such as chaplains or social workers. It was often an emotional experience, but seeing wounded veterans recover made it worthwhile. One of the patients Art worked with even went on to win Dancing with the Stars.
Art also volunteers at University Hospital, interviewing with patients to assess the quality of their care. His findings are considered as the hospital recognizes staff for their good service.
Art has been an AARP volunteer for 10 years, but it’s not the only way that he works within the community for positive social change. He is currently the chairman of a committee devoted to finding funding for a new senior center in the northeast district of San Antonio.
“Our current center is temporary. It’s about 11,000 square feet, no capacity. Right now it provides free meals and lunch for seniors; we feed 200 to 300 seniors at lunch every day, which is above capacity for that room,” he says.
Recently the committee received approval for $10 million in bonds to be used for building the new center. Architects started planning the new building in 2012, working to create a functional space that can help more people and better provide for seniors’ needs.
“The best part of my work is the contact with people and the effort I have in encouraging people to be active in any capacity,” Art says.
Aside from his work as a volunteer, Art enjoys taking lessons in acrylic landscape and still life painting. He gives most of his paintings away; he enjoys the process and isn’t worried about profiting from it. He has also encouraged retired friends to try new things – volunteering their time or trying out things they liked but maybe hadn’t done before.
One of his friends, he says, took up woodworking on his advice. Now he makes children’s tables and chairs, and sometimes sells them.
“He was enjoying it, and thankfully I helped him find something he liked to do. I felt good knowing I’d helped make someone’s life better,” he says.
And isn’t that what volunteering is all about?