Epsilon Pi Omega, a chapter of 100-year-old Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. in southeast Queens, certainly embodies their motto “service to mankind.”
Their membership comprises 150 college-trained women of various professions, 12 of whom are on their health committee, spearheading the effort to help the veterans housed at the Veterans Extended Care Center in St. Albans, Queens, one of many projects to which they have committed themselves.
Some of these veterans have returned from Iraq, and in spite of being in a hospital, they find themselves in need of several very basic necessities. The women of Epsilon Pi Omega have discovered this need, and have been making every effort to fill it, and more.
All year long the sorority collects donations from their members, using the funds to purchase items for the veterans, including, but not limited to, washcloths, soap, combs, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, T-shirts, dress shirts, shaving kits, hats and gloves for those in wheel chairs. In the spring, and at Christmas, they visit the hospital and personally interact with the veterans.
Former sorority health committee chairperson Dr. Betty Carrington said the idea came about in 2006 when there was so much sympathy for the troops fighting abroad, and even more for those returning home wounded. She said, “We felt the need to personally say to all of them, thank you for your service.” Betty said they wanted to have a hands-on approach, so instead of only having Christmas parties or other types of gatherings, they visit the veterans in the wards and communicate with them at their bedsides, one on one, using the opportunity to give them gifts/care packets.
Yvonne Jackson, who still helps the veterans today, said she began volunteering at the hospital during her junior and senior years in high school. She would help the veterans by writing letters for those who could not, reading stories to them, rolling socks etc. She said, “I fell in love with what I was doing and was very happy to have the opportunity, even at such a young age, to help lift the spirits of these veterans recuperating from a variety of injuries, knowing how much they sacrificed for us.”
She continued her work to help the veterans while attending Queens College, dancing in a group at the Black Spectrum Theater where various shows were held by the Red Cross, to which the veterans were brought, as part of their therapy.
Yvonne said she first met her husband at the hospital when she was a teenager. He became a Navy Corpsman and was eventually stationed at the hospital in St. Albans. September 2010 they would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, had he lived.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for this sorority, is a “day on” instead of a “day off,” said Chapter President Jeanine Taylor. For this holiday, the sorority organizes a talent show/fun day for the veterans involving skits, singing, dancing and the spoken word. Jeanine said, “The veterans have done something great. They have served our country and it is our time to give back to them, whether they have served recently or long ago.”
Current assistant to the chaplain and former chairman of the executive committee at the Veterans Extended Care Center, Bill Lamariana said, “The vets love it when the women of this sorority visit, especially because the majority of them have no family, or their families do not live in this area. The faces of the men and six women veterans light up when they receive the presents and that’s the thrill of giving, to see the reaction. This sorority does great work and I wish we had more people like them. They are very happy when they visit us and are amazed at the reaction they get from the veterans.” He said everyone tries as much as possible to have more of a home-like environment in the wards and less of a hospital atmosphere.
A World War II veteran himself, Lamariana said he returned on a hospital ship after being in the First American Air Force in Europe, so he understood what the vets were going through. Most of the veterans here, he said, were from the Korean and Vietnam wars, and many still had the scars of not being appreciated and that was part of what motivated him to volunteer and why he appreciated the sororities work so much. He said that in the winter, he would walk from his home to the hospital, even in the snow (a mile and a half, when his car won’t start) and people would call him crazy.
Lamariana has been a volunteer at the hospital for 25 years and has amassed an incredible 49,000 hours of service. He said his wife used to tell him “someday you will get a job that pays money.”