USO: Bringing A Part of Home to Our Service Men and Women

USO located at Terminal 5 of JetBlue at JFK
John and Martha, USO Volunteers

The USO, United Service Organizations, strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. The USO is a nonprofit, charitable corporation chartered by Congress that relies on donations from individuals, organizations and corporations to support its programs.

The USO offers a variety of programs and services designed to support our service members and their families. One of those services is the USO Centers located throughout the world. While the USO has more than 180 locations worldwide, the majority of those are on and around military bases and airports across the United States. In our area, they have centers at JFK International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn and The Port Authority Bus Terminal- Square.

The Centers rely on volunteers to stay open every day. I met with Suśan Sobers, the Manager of Volunteer Services from the Metropolitan NY area. We met at Terminal 5 of JetBlue at JFK. Suśan is an energetic, warm and welcoming person and is passionate about what she does. We went through an overview, tour of the center and next steps on becoming a volunteer.

I went home and completed the on-line volunteer registration forms. It was quick and easy. Once it was complete, Suśan contacted me to arrange a shadow day. A week or so later I went back the JetBlue Terminal to work with other volunteers for a shift.
It was a great experience and they make it easy for us. They have parking available for USO volunteer’s right next to the JetBlue terminal. It is also very close to the AirTrain. The center is located on the lower level in the baggage claim area, so you don’t have to go through security checkpoints to get there.

I was once again met by Suśan, she introduced me to two freshman college students from the ROTC program of St. John’s University. Evan was from Queens, studying Homeland Security and hopes to be in the Army as Military Police. Vincent was from Los Angeles, he is studying Political Science and hopes to be in the Army as Infantry.

The other volunteers that day were John and Martha, a husband and wife team from Queens. They believe in giving back wherever they can. They showed me around the center, showed me how to check ID’s and sign in active service members and families.
We had a steady group of service members and families enjoying the center. There are snacks, coffee, drinks, TV’s, Xbox games, library books, reclining chairs, computers, printer, and tables for doing work or eating a meal. Tony Rivas, the JFK USO center operations manager was there stocking the snack cabinets after a trip to BJ’s. He was showing me the in’s and out’s of working at the center and making sure I would be prepared. He also manages the volunteer schedule and is an all-around great guy to spend a few hours with.

Things got a little exciting when an active service members wife came into the center. She was traveling with a 2 month old baby that needed to be fed. She was panicked about getting water for the baby’s bottle and also didn’t know where she was supposed to catch her connecting flight. She saw the USO center and knew she could get some help. She was going to be moving a Bahrain for several months to be with her husband. We quickly got her into the center and got her water for the baby and helped her settle in. Then we casually asked what time her next flight was. Well it was boarding in less than an hour at Terminal 4 and she had to go through security and customs. It was good news for her that we had so many volunteers on the shift at the center! John to the rescue! He walked with her over to the next terminal helping her with her suitcase and made sure she got checked in at her airline. Whew…that was exciting and very close. We hope they made their flight and enjoy their new adventure in Bahrain.

Everyone that came into the center, whether it be the National Guard working at JFK, active service members travelling, families traveling or waiting for their loved ones return, they were all so appreciative of the volunteers. We were quick to let them know how much we appreciate their service and the sacrifice of their families, and in return, every single one of them thanked us for volunteering. The centers provide the environment that exemplifies the mission of strengthening America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.
When my shift was over, we were relieved by the next volunteer. His name was Mike. He’s a JetBlue pilot. He grabs a shift here and there when it coordinates with his flight schedule.
The volunteers can sign up for any shifts available. One shift a week or one shift a month and anything in between. The sign up for shifts is done on-line, you can see what shifts are full and which ones need someone.

The shifts are 7 days a week:

  • 5:00am – 9:00am
  • 9:00am – 1:00pm
  • 1:00pm – 5:00pm
  • 5:00pm – 8:00pm
  • 8:00pm – 11:00pm

If you are interested in getting more information please contact Suśan Sobers, Manager of Volunteer Services at ssobers@usonyc.org or (212) 695-5590, extension 243.

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