Award salutes volunteers who help veterans

World War II veteran John Dicks, 86, has already given his country so much. And yet he finds that he wants to give more.

The Baltimore resident volunteers two days a week at the Loch Raven VA Community Living & Rehabilitation Center, a facility within the VA Maryland Health Care System, providing rehabilitation to Maryland veterans.

"I generally work five hours a day," Dicks said. "I work in the therapy department. We give them exercise. We give them therapy to get them ready to go home."

Dicks and five others were honored in November by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger for the time they devote to Maryland veterans. Also recognized with the 2012 Congressional Volunteer Recognition Award were Joseph Sirera, Lillie Edwards, Robert Filippi, and William and Helen Rochford.

"I commend these volunteers for bringing joy and happiness to the lives of the men and women who served our country," Ruppersberger said in a statement marking his ninth year giving the honors. Recipients are chosen by the Veterans Advisory Council, an advocacy organization Ruppersberger founded in 2003 to promote policies for veterans, active troops and military families.

Sirera, 79, who lives in Carney and has been a Knights of Columbus member for 46 years, was recognized for the bingo games he organizes for veterans, giving cash prizes and refreshments.

"It gives them a diversion and an understanding that there are people who respect what they have done," said Sirera. The games, held the third Friday of the month at the Loch Raven center, attract 25 to 30 participants, he said.

"It's all part of reaching out to our neighbors and to vets who really do so much, especially those who have seen combat," said Sirera, who joined the Air Force right out of high school, during the Korean War, and served in Alaska and Florida. He was trained as a surveyor, he said, and helped with construction of bases. "We're letting vets know that we do care and doing a small thing with the entertainment, a little bit of cash flow and refreshments."

Filippi, of Parkville, is another veteran honored for his work helping others. He visits the Loch Raven center every week and manages the greenhouse there. He is also active with the Sons of the American Legion Post 130 and the American Legion 183.

Edwards, who lives in Baltimore, volunteers at the Paul L. Thompson Post of the Disabled American Veterans, in Baltimore. And the Rochfords, who live in Timonium, take on the difficult task of providing hospice care to patients in the VA Maryland Health Care System during the last hours of life. William Rochford is a World War II veteran. Helen Rochford frequently helps with bingo games and cook-outs as a member of American Legion Post 183.

Dicks, who has been part of the Northeastern American Legion Post 285 for 20-plus years, was born in South Carolina, but moved to Baltimore in 1946, after serving during World War II. Stationed on Staten island in New York, he was working on a barge when his left hand was severely injured. Even today, he said, the hand is not 100 percent better, but that didn't keep Dicks from working as a pipe-fitter at Koppers, retiring in 1987.

After his wife, Essie Dicks, passed away in 2000 after 49 years of marriage, "I had some leisure time on my hands," Dicks said. He decided to "put it to good use," and filled out an application to volunteer at the Loch Raven facility. He has been helping out regularly since 2006.

Most of the people he works with are either elderly or were injured recently in combat, he said. He enjoys working with them all, because everyone has "a different story to talk about," he said. "We introduce ourselves to one another and have a nice time."

He said his own experience with the Veterans Administration inspired him to get involved. "They took care of me," he said of the Veterans Administration. "I was young then. I was only 19 years old, and I was young and strong. I got well pretty quick. I just want to help people who have been less fortunate than I was."

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