VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Single Mom Volunteers to Make a Difference in Veterans’ Lives
In a season of movies devoted to superheroes like Thor, Green Lantern, and the X-Men, we might all need to be reminded of what superhuman means in its true place: as an adjective usually found in front of a word like "effort." Consider, for example, Lisa Tkoch: full-time worker, full-time mom, and vital VAPAHCS volunteer. A visit to the courtyard at the VAPAHCS Spinal Cord Injury Unit (SCI) would show you the difference a REAL superhero can make.
"It all started when my church, Twin Lakes of Aptos, was focused on 'The Hope Series'. The question was posed - who could you send encouragement to? My answer - Soldiers in Iraq. This answer snowballed to a project of 78 'Because We Care Packages', each valued at approximately $75.00; shipping alone was $974.00. It was a great way to involve my daughter, the church and community - it came together incredibly efficiently and effectively with support across the board. Frankly, I consider it God's idea; I just go where I feel led, regardless of perceived ability."
When Lisa was laid off from her job and couldn't find employment immediately, she decided to volunteer at the Palo Alto and Menlo Park VAs. "My initial intent was to create a bridge between my church and community; I started volunteering and found many opportunities to serve. It's really the simple things that make a big difference in our Veterans' lives – a smile, a hug, and sincere thanks," Lisa said. "It's been an incredible honor to be able to serve those that have given so much; I am absolutely compelled to continue, and seem to be getting pretty good at it!"
She has delivered multiple meals - donated from fine restaurants - and gift baskets to the Women's Trauma Recovery Program at Menlo Park, donated clothing for homeless and indigent Veterans, given MP3 players to the Blind Center and Hospice, and passed out over 600 cards and several appreciation posters - all designed by kids from Twin Lakes School and signed to capacity with well wishes, gratitude, love, and support.
'Operation Love Our Vets' Courtyard project was conceived during a conversation with Dr. Graham Creasey, Chief of Spinal Cord Injury Unit, while serving at a BBQ. They had agreed the courtyard was in disrepair.
When spring rolled in, she approached her employer, EfficientNow, to get the Courtyard project started. Her company's substantial donation covered the majority of SCI Courtyard project costs.
"It was easy to find companies that would help and the people who could volunteer the man-hours needed. Everybody loves our Vets! ELG Landscape did prep work and planted perennials and fruit trees for a reduced rate," said Lisa. "Home Depot donated some of the flowers and veggies, Travis Tree donated lumber for trellises that were planed and constructed to custom specification by Staingrade Construction, which were then delivered and set in concrete by SM Concrete Construction crew. I had another crew of volunteers planting poppy seeds, annuals and perennials, and staining trellises as well. It was truly a group effort." True enough, perhaps, but a story that never would have had such a happy ending without Tkoch's leadership and effort.
"One of the unexpected personal benefits is the way service has healed my soul; I have a past that's far from enviable. Giving without expectation has truly healed the deepest scars I've carried for so many years -- I feel lighter for lack of baggage."
"I want my daughter to understand that it's important to give back to those who have given so much," said Lisa. "She also volunteers and we've brought carloads of teens to help. It's easy to get caught up in our own drama, helping Vets puts our privilege in perspective. Where else can you find history and a hero in the same baseball cap?"