Walter Helmick, commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 46, received a standing ovation when he was named United Way veteran volunteer of the year last week. He rolled onto the stage in a motorized wheelchair and graciously accepted the award.
“I’m humbled and am honored to have received it,” Helmick said. “I received the award on behalf of the members of my chapter and the veterans who are in the community. It will drive me to continue helping the veterans in our area as well as the surrounding area.”
The United Way soldier volunteer of the year, Staff Sgt. Andrew T. Candler, made a point to shake Helmick’s outstretched hand. Both were cheered by a crowd filled with active-duty and retired service members.
Candler said he loves working with military veterans.
“They built this community,” he said.
Candler, who is assigned to 385th Military Police Battalion, has embraced the community, according to United Way board member Kathryn Fox. This past year, the young soldier logged more than 270 community-service hours. He helped with Backpack Buddies, Read Across Liberty, food drives, Toys for Tots, back-to-school rallies, Make a Difference Day, and he helped build a ramp for an elderly couple who no longer could use the steps to their house.
“There are families that don’t have the opportunities that I do,” Candler said. “My wife understands that and supports that.”
Candler’s wife, Ruth, is expecting their second child, who will be named Caleb. The couple also has a 7-year-old daughter, Isabel. She helped her father greet the public as they arrived for the United Way campaign kick-off celebration and accompanied her father onstage during the awards ceremony.
Candler said the more he helps others out, the better the community is as a whole. Members of the soldier’s battalion applauded him, and Candler’s commander, Lt. Col. Jerry E. Chandler Jr., presented him with a military coin.
Helmick is in his third year as DAV chapter commander, and he served as adjutant for four years. He describes the DAV as an advocate for disabled veterans, saying the chapter is a liaison between veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Helmick puts in time at the DAV chapter office, which is open from 10 a.m.-
2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and attends military-related ceremonies on Fort Stewart and Hinesville.
“These are part of my duties as commander of the chapter,” he said. “I’m the voice and the face of the members of the chapter.”
The DAV commander’s family supports his efforts to assist veterans. Helmick’s wife, Merlinda, is in the DAV chapter’s ladies auxiliary, and his 15-year-old son, Walter J. Helmick III, and 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, participate in the junior DAV chapter.
Helmick said he approached the United Way to see if any of their volunteers could help the chapter by performing office-administration-type work. He said the DAV’s national headquarters would recognize United Way volunteers and the local DAV members for the volunteer hours they log.
Helmick said veterans today need assistance more than ever.
“Especially now, with the economy the way it is,” he said. “I don’t want to see people go homeless. The VA has a program for that. We pass on all that information that comes from the VA and we, in turn, explain it to the veterans.”