My name is Natalie Bates, and I am a rising junior in the class of 2024 Levine Scholars. I am double majoring in Operations and Supply Chain Management and Management Information Systems with a minor in Russian. Last year, I was a member of the AFROTC program at UNC Charlotte and planned to pursue a career in the US Air Force. While life had slightly different plans for me, the opportunities I had to connect with service members while in AFROTC grew my appreciation immensely for the people who protect our country. Coming into this academic year, I carried a renewed desire to serve those who have served us. This led me to volunteering at the VA Health Clinic in South Charlotte. Every week I look forward to meeting and helping people from all walks of life who come for care at the VA. Each person brings such a unique life experience, but all share the personal sacrifice of having served. My favorite part of helping out is being able to offer a genuine and welcoming ear to listen to other people. It feels almost insignificant sometimes to be present and kind to the people in front of me while I am there, yet for some veterans a listening ear makes all of the difference in their experience at the VA, and I love contributing to their comfort.
My name is Kayla Walker. I am a rising sophomore Levine Scholar in the class of 2025. I am planning on double majoring in Public Health and Mathematics with a Statistics concentration on the pre-medicine track. I started volunteering at the VA in February 2022 in order to get experience in a clinical setting and have the ability to serve a population that is very important to me. Before I was born, my father served in the Navy as an Operations Specialist. In this role, he was responsible for tracking, plotting, and identifying surfaces and aircraft contacts. Since volunteering at the VA Health Clinic, sharing some of the stories I hear while working with the veterans has given us the opportunity to bond over his experiences in the Navy. I learned that my dad loved having the opportunity to serve his country while learning a trade, travel the world, and develop a strong camaraderie. Although I have only volunteered at the health clinic for a short time, getting the opportunity to speak to veterans and other volunteers who also served always brings me immense joy on my Friday afternoons.
As greeters, we stand in the lobby of the clinic and assist veterans in getting to their appointments. Primarily we are there to create a welcoming and helpful environment as people enter the building. Depending on the needs of the clinic that day, we may wheel veterans to and from their appointments, assist with their appointment check-ins, assist with securing their transportation from the clinic, and troubleshoot any questions veterans may bring to us as the first people they see when they walk through the doors.
Volunteering at the VA Health Clinic in South Charlotte has given the both of us another opportunity to engage with the greater Charlotte community. Being on a college campus, we often do not get to interact with those affiliated with the military on a routine basis; however, since volunteering at the VA Health Clinic, we have both been able to learn about issues veterans may face with accessing healthcare. For example, transportation is one of the largest and most consistent issues we have seen in our greeter positions, as we assist the veterans on their way in and out of the clinic. Our time thus far at the VA Health Clinic, working with the veterans, and seeing the potential access issues they face to their healthcare has also sparked conversations between us about potentially creating a new civic engagement project involving the Charlotte veteran population. Stay tuned over the next few years, as we hope to be able to continue to give back to our Charlotte community and our local veterans throughout our time as Levine Scholars.