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Youth Volunteers Bring Happiness to Veterans

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The 2014 VA Pittsburgh Youth Volunteers at the University Drive campus.

The 2014 VA Pittsburgh Youth Volunteers at the University Drive campus.

By Keith Gottschalk
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You will see them with smiles on their faces and wearing blue shirts as they hurry through the halls of VA Pittsburgh, bringing coffee, books and supplies to Veterans. They are the student volunteers whose hard work means much to  Veterans and staff.

This year's Youth Volunteer Program started in June and runs to August 8. There are 26 volunteers helping the Veterans Experience Office at the University Drive campus take coffee carts, games, books and hygiene items to the Veterans on the wards. The youth volunteers come from schools all over greater Pittsburgh and most have a parent or friend of a parent that works for VA Pittsburgh.

This year's slots filled up fast according to Voluntary Specialist Kristy René Coie. There are enough students to cover the entire week including a few volunteers on weekends. The volunteers fill slots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"They're a great group of kids whose energy in the hospital really makes people smile," said Coie.

The volunteers get their marching orders during a morning 'huddle.'

"Every day we start with a huddle around 11 a.m. in the main lobby," Coie said. "They've formed their own teams and texting networks to keep themselves organized and get things done,"

Sruthi Muluk, 17, a senior this year at The Ellis School, is one of the volunteers who has a special mission.

Sruthi Muluk

Sruthi Muluk

"We take the hygiene cart filled with toiletries around," Muluk said. "Kristy said that it would be a great idea if we could distribute these items at admission. So I started organizing an effort to collect toiletries to do that."

Muluk has been putting donation boxes out at local businesses. So far, she has collected over $1,200.

Muluk, who wants to follow her parent's example as a doctor, says she wanted to give back to the people who keep our nation free and remind her how lucky she is to be an American.

"I don't take for granted what we have here," said Muluk. "I wanted to help people who have sacrificed to keep it this way."

The volunteers have found out how much joy they can spread with just simple pleasures.

"One of my volunteers told me the other day that when they were delivering coffee, one of the Veterans hugged all three of them and did a little happy dance," said Coie. "All of that over a cup of coffee."