During the holidays, we are often reminded of the spirit of giving. A time when we spread joy to those around us, share gifts with our loved ones and find ways to shower people with our love and gratitude. For some, this spirit is something they spread all year long.
At TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest), employees find meaning and purpose in their daily work and spend additional time volunteering in ways that impact our military and Veteran communities in powerful ways.
“Everyone has something to share—money, talent, time. Find an opportunity in an area you are passionate about and be committed to following through.” – Carmella Burton, TriWest Customer Service Representative
TriWest encourages employees’ support for not-for-profit organizations that align with its mission of supporting Veterans, including military and Veteran-centric events. TriWest provides employees time off from work with pay to volunteer in community service activities, as part of its paid volunteer time program.
This holiday season gives us a chance to hear employees’ stories and honor their important work.
Carmella Burton, TriWest Customer Service Representative
Before coming to TriWest, Carmella Burton worked as a mechanical/packaging engineer in the automotive and aviation industries for many years. After retiring from General Motors, Carmella realized she needed a change. “I wanted to give back to the community by directly impacting someone’s life,” she said.
Now, through Carmella’s work at TriWest, she can do that every day. Her primary job is scheduling medical appointments for Veterans, and she loves the interactions she has with Veterans and their families. “Working at TriWest allows me to assist VA medical centers in providing care to our Veterans and making a difference in their lives by getting the medical care they deserve,” Carmella said. She recalled a rewarding moment. “I had a Veteran living at a hotel with no car, just a bicycle. I found a doctor less than a mile from his hotel, right on the bus route.”
Carmella’s love of helping others extends beyond her work at TriWest. She also spends a great deal of time volunteering in her community. “I love helping people. Not only does being kind help others around you, but it positively impacts your life as well,” she shared.
As a teenager, Carmella began volunteering as a candy striper with Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, LA. “I filled patients’ water pitchers and read cards and letters,” she recalled. Thirty years later, she moved back to the area and visited her own uncle, a Vietnam Veteran, at the same medical center. For Carmella, this solidified the importance of volunteerism. “Sometimes people don’t get a true understanding of the impact volunteering has until it’s them or a family member,” she noted.
Now, Carmella works with Parkview Baptist Church to serve dinners at a homeless shelter once a month. Fourteen percent of the residents are Veterans, and Carmella and the other volunteers purchase food, cook at the shelter and serve the residents. “The first meal we served was chili dogs with chips and cookies. Residents were allowed multiple servings, and several stated this was the first time they had been full in weeks,” she recalled. The church has progressed to cooking full meals, feeding up to 120 people at a time.
In addition, Carmella personally adopted a nursing home close to her residence. A few years ago, she started out helping with bingo and progressed to visiting a few residents who had very few or no visitors. One of those residents was a man named Mr. Johnson. When Carmella asked him what she could do for him, he said he’d like to have a newspaper every now and then to see what was going on in the community. During the last four years, Carmella has taken him several newspapers every month. “People need human interaction, especially when facing adversity, such as a health issue or homelessness. I believe everyone needs a village,” she said.
Volunteering and giving back are a part of who Carmella is, but she shared that volunteering can be for everyone. “Everyone has something to share—money, talent, time. Find an opportunity in an area you are passionate about and be committed to following through,” she said. “Ask friends or coworkers for recommendations, join a community group that volunteers or call any agency you might have an interest in.”
Carmella’s work is not easy, but simple acts like cooking meals and sharing newspapers provide such a powerful reward for both Carmella and those she serves.
Bradford Toth, TriWest Senior Program Manager
Bradford Toth is another TriWest employee with a personality designed for service. Bradford was born and raised in Indiana and served in the Marine Corps for eight years, deploying overseas during Desert Storm. Since his time in the military, Bradford has spent 25 years in the health care field. At first, he struggled to find his purpose. “I always thought the people we served were the members who needed health care services, that those people should be our focus, but very few corporate health care plans focus on their members,” he recalled.
Bradford was able to find a home at TriWest, a place that’s “all about the Veterans.” Bradford loves TriWest’s personalized approach, where as a Senior Program Manager he gets to feel like he’s back to serving his military community. Bradford shared, “We don’t have members—we have Veterans. Every day I do something that has honor and value. I am part of a machine that helps provide Veterans with benefits and health care and every day I do something to better that machine and make it more efficient.”
Like Carmella, Bradford spends a lot of his free time volunteering, giving his time and energy to the service of others. Bradford has belonged to the American Legion and the American Legion Riders for more than ten years. “Our mission is to continue our service to active military, Veterans, families of Veterans and first responders.” With a motto of “Veterans strengthening America,” it seems there isn’t much The Legion and the Riders don’t do. Bradford shared some examples of their tireless work. “We host dinners, bingo nights and karaoke nights. We organize rides and raffles. We escort the departed to their final resting places. We visit the elderly in nursing homes. We run programs to assist Veterans with understanding their benefits, obtaining health care, researching service records, even paying their bills. We participate in parades and events to honor those that came before us.”
Within this work is a program called Angels of Hope, which Bradford explains is a program that helps Veterans who may be having trouble paying the rent or a utility bill. Bradford reflected on an experience that sticks out to him. “We had an elderly Vet who could not pay his rent and asked for help.” Bradford and another Legionnaire went to his residence to hand the landlord a check and noticed that the Veteran had next to nothing. He recalled, “We arrived when he was having his dinner, which consisted of baked beans in a hot dog bun. That was it. It really got to me to see a Veteran, who served his country, living in such conditions.” When Bradford returned to the post, he shared the story with the others. A few days later, they returned to the Veteran’s home. “We brought food, cleaning supplies, health and hygiene supplies and even food for his dog,” Bradford said. As a follow-up, they invited him to the post, letting him know his steak dinner would be free. A few months later, they learned the Veteran had passed away. Through their service, Bradford and his fellow Legionnaires were able to impact this Veteran’s life, making him more comfortable and welcoming him into the nearby Veteran community.
Bradford has always believed in service. He asks, “Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do? Help others? Help our country and our communities?” He, like Carmella, believes that giving enhances the lives of others and our own lives. When asked about how to get started, he has this advice: “I tell people all the time—pick something. It doesn’t have to be Veteran-related. Go volunteer at your local library or church. Go play with puppies and kittens at a no-kill shelter. Go plant trees and save our environment. It doesn’t have to be about giving money. Time is the most valuable asset anyone has. Find something that has your interest or a personal connection to you and get started.”
Bradford leaves us with this piece of wisdom. “Wanna make your own life better? Start by making someone else’s life better.”
Both Carmella and Bradford exemplify the spirit of giving. They selflessly give their time, energy and compassion to others in their communities, and if you ask them, they get a lot in return too.