by Cristina Villarreal

Reaching out to help someone most often turns out to help you more. I have not felt this more than a recent experience at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. 

Why I Volunteer at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum

We have always had such high regard for those who serve – members of the military, police, firefighters… However, I did not realize the sacrifice, the strength and the courage involved until my son enlisted. We witnessed his (and his family’s) experience through deployments and now, through his transition back to civilian life. It was then, I learned the impact of his service on the whole family, and how it uniquely affects each person.

As a military mom and grandmother, it is a helpless state of being. As my son struggled to transition from service, this helpless feeling was accompanied by anger. I asked questions like, “Why isn’t anyone helping these guys?!” 

One morning I woke up with a new question, “What lets ME off the hook?” I looked around for how I could help. My passion quickly focused on education and connections – two pillars of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. At that point, I knew I wanted to be a part of the museum. 

As a Volunteer, I Can Do Plenty

Today, I am able to introduce people to this amazing place and the incredible heroes the memorial and museum honors.

I have an opportunity to educate visitors on the elements of military life.

I am able to provide opportunities for guests to be inspired by varied examples of leadership and service.

I am also able to connect the military community with members of our local communities.     

How I Get So Much More

Throughout the museum, there are examples of how the human spirit serves whoever is in need regardless of the enormity of the situation. As a result, I have an increased faith and belief in what we are able to do as individuals and as people brought together.

Through the words of so many represented in the museum, my leadership and decision-making skills are continually shaped, from grounding my decision-making in my values to leading by example.

I have had some of the most precious conversations during my volunteer hours. Once, I saw a lady sitting in the Great Hall. I walked over to see how her visit was going, and we started talking while she waited for her family to finish their visit. At one point, I said, referring to my son’s deployment, “It is unnatural to send your child off into harm’s way….” She responded with something similar and my heart melted. I have said that to people many times, but this is the person who gave me that precious connection. This is the person that helped my heart settle. 

I have many wonderful memories with my grandchildren at the museum. We have fun while I get to make sure they have an appreciation for their own accomplishments and their own strength as military children. They delight in adding more details as I give them a tour. They delight even more if they beat me to the details. The museum also provides a place where they can connect with other members of the military community in fun and celebration.

Above all, I am able to better understand why my son’s transition will continue as a lifelong effort. How to help him will continue to be a question I have to answer throughout his transition, but I have faith that those closest to him will find a way to rise and be what he needs when he needs them. And, the ever-present mom-guilt is no longer overwhelming.

Join Me! Join Us!

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum experience is unique to each visitor. Join us! Your experience can help many. And, you will be amazed at all you gain. You can click here to learn more.

Cristina Villarreal is a military daughter, wife, and mother. She and her family have traversed deployment and transition back to civilian life. This experience has fueled a passion for advocacy of military families through support of several non-profit organizations. Cristina is a valued volunteer and member of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.  She is a financial industry professional serving business owners.

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