Meet the 2022 USO Southeast Region, Janice K. Emmert Stateside Volunteer of the Year
USO volunteers play a critical role in strengthening America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country throughout their service to the nation.
Volunteering at the USO is so much more than just putting in the hours and getting the job done – a great deal of the role requires volunteers to boost the spirits of service members and military spouses in order to keep morale high and make these military families feel welcome and at home.
In the U.S. Southeast region alone, approximately 4,228 volunteers donated 204,700 hours of their time in Giving More Than Thanks to our service members and their families in 2022.
One of those dedicated volunteers is Debra “Debbie” Keller who donated well over 2,061 hours of her time supporting service members and their families and was selected as both the USO Southeast Region’s Volunteer of the Quarter, and the Janice K. Emmert Stateside Volunteer of the Year - named after a beloved USO board member and tireless advocate of the USO’s mission for decades who passed away in July 2016.
“It’s a special award and I applaud the USO for valuing and appreciating their volunteers in this manner.”
“It’s humbling, and a bit overwhelming to be chosen for these awards from the thousands of volunteers who demonstrate the same passion to be the force behind the forces,” said Keller. “I’m also honored to receive the USO’s Janice K. Emmert Stateside Volunteer of the Year award. Janice was a very giving person who seized the opportunity to give of herself to make others’ lives easier.”
Keller hails from a military family and has known a lifetime of support for our military community. For over six years, she has been an exceptional lead volunteer with USO Central Florida, supporting thousands of service members and their families in the Orlando/Space Coast region. With over 2,061 volunteer hours, she has provided world-class administrative, logistical, program, and volunteer on-boarding support.
“Debbie has demonstrated time and time again what it means to be a USO volunteer,” said Annamae Kacsandi, Center Operations and Program Manager for USO Central Florida. “Her entire USO journey has enabled USO Central Florida to produce positive results and execute our mission to as many service members and family members possible.”
Keller can be counted on to lead center and offsite programs, whip up snack kits for deployment send offs, inventory supplies, or rally volunteers to assist with airport events.
“An energizer bunny – perhaps not pink and fluffy, but she does not stop.”
This past year, Keller supported two large-scale USO programs and events, greatly assisting local and regional USO staff.
For the past nine years, USO Central Florida has conducted its annual Back to School program, helping to fill and distribute over 2,009 backpacks for military children headed back to school. Keller organized storage, inventoried supplies, and even made her own schedule of volunteer teams that helped to stuff backpacks.
After helping send military children back to school with fresh school supplies this past year, Keller immediately jumped in the following week to support the USO’s sponsorship of the 2022 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando.
To support the DoD Warrior Games, Keller gathered supplies from the local wholesale store, and organized her own team of volunteers to prepare over 1,300 snack kits for the athletes competing in the Warrior Games, and their families who were present to cheer them on. Keller was also the go-to volunteer to assist at the USO poster making party at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort where the families of the athletes were staying, and snack kit distributions.
A forward thinker and planner, Keller is already working with USO Central Florida staff to plan for the 2023 USO Holidays season coming up this year.
“Debbie is truly an energizer bunny – perhaps not pink and fluffy, but she does not stop,” said Kacsandi. “Her enthusiasm for the USO and dedication to supporting the staff and local military units, makes her an invaluable volunteer, and we are honored to recognize her for continuously going above and beyond to support our military.”
When asked what would you tell others interested in volunteering with the USO, Keller responded.
"Volunteering with the USO is one of the best things you can do to serve those who serve us, said Keller. "Just do it…you won’t be disappointed.”
If you’re interested in volunteering at any one of our USO centers or others around the world, please visit volunteers.uso.org to register.
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