Sweetwater Creek State Park, Georgia


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"Volunteers don't get paid -- not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless."   
~Sherry Anderson

Well before we were retired and had more time on our hands, Jim and I found many ways to give back to the community and our favorite causes. I learned as a young child by observing my family and others around me who did a lot of volunteering. It's just how I grew up.

Looking back, I can't  believe how many volunteer activities I did when I was in my 20s, 30s, and 40s while I was still working, running every day, racing most weekends, and had more energy than spare time. How did I ever do all that??

Jim and I both retired young. In our 50s and 60s, we did a lot of traveling around North America in our RV but still found time to volunteer for things like maintaining trails, volunteering with our running clubs in Montana and Virginia, and working at foot races all over the country. A lot of that has been documented in this website since 2005.

July, 2007 at the Hardrock 100-miler: Jim (far right, back) was the
captain at Cunningham Gulch aid station, where we had lots of help!

We've been more stationary since we stopped full-time RVing in 2017 and bought our current property in Georgia. Now that we aren't traveling as much, we have started volunteering even more hours of our time for causes that mean a lot to us. I admit it's not all altruistic -- we get a lot personally out of helping others!

In this entry, I'll highlight some of our 2022 volunteer activities. Let's start with Jim's involvement with his local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post:


Jim joined our local VFW post as soon as we moved to Peachtree City. A short time later he was elected to be their Quartermaster, an officer position. The post doesn't have its own building so Jim isn't in charge of all the supplies and equipment but he does handle all the finances.

In addition to attending monthly meetings with members of his local post, Jim also goes to quarterly district meetings for the officers and periodic quartermaster training sessions.

Jim (L) and another member of the VFW unveil a plaque for the new Space Force division
of the military during a ceremony at Peachtree City's veterans' memorial site (6-5-22)

Jim's engraved commemorative brick at the Peachtree City Veterans' Memorial

The VFW conducts a number of fund-raising events during the year so they can donate money to local veterans in need of services, assist a few non-profits that serve veterans, purchase American flags and Buddy Poppies to give out at Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the July 4 parade, and other causes.

Jim usually participates in the fund-raising events, where post members also encourage new members to join the VFW.

Jim (R) and other VFW members at WWII Heritage Days (10-8-22)

Jim on the bugle at a Memorial Day ceremony (5-30-22)

Jim (L) with Dapper Don at the farmers' market (11-12-22)

Since Dapper Don, our therapy dog, is sort of the post mascot, I sometimes attend VFW fundraising and ceremonial events with him. He's been to the farmers market, ceremonies at the veterans' memorial and Somerby Assisted Living, WWII Heritage Days, July 4 parade, and others.

Dapper Don (L), his girlfriend Aloha, and Jim greet people at another 
VFW fundraiser at the Peachtree City farmers' market (5-21-22)

Jim is also a member of his VFW post's Honor Guard, where he assists with military funerals by playing Taps on the bugle, helps to fold the flag for family members, and does other duties.

Patch on his shirt

Jim (center back) and other VFW members at a military funeral (10-6-22)

On a happier note, once a month VFW post members visit veterans who are living in one of several local assisted living and memory care facilities.

Dapper Don and I usually go with Jim on these visits since the facilities are ones we already visit as a therapy dog team. The men and women love seeing a sweet, well-mannered dog! The VFW provides a bag with fruit, snacks, and sometimes a special card or magazine for each veteran.

Don gives puppy love to one of his favorite veterans on one of our
VFW visits (we see this man on other pet therapy visits, too). (6-16-22)


Jim has been donating blood periodically his whole adult life but really ramped up his donations the past couple of years.

I wanted to start donating whole blood last year but had to wait until late June, 2022, which was a year after my cancer surgery.

We can donate whole blood only six or seven times a year. Platelets can be donated every couple weeks, which is what Jim's been doing more this year. (He also donates Power Reds and plasma.)

I donated whole blood three times from June to December. Jim's way ahead of me in donations!

Jim's blood donation tally to the Red Cross as of 12-5-22

Jim went with me on 6-28-22 for my first blood donation.

Unfilled bags (6-16-22)

Bags with platelets and plasma (1-1-22)

The American Red Cross does not pay donors like some private companies. They do receive donations from large and small companies so they can provide gift cards or items like hats, shirts, beverage cups, and other items to donors.



Jim is trained in basic disaster response skills and has volunteered during local emergency situations, such as the tornado last year in nearby Newnan, GA. (He also learned valuable emergency skills when he was on a fire and rescue squad when we lived in Virginia.) He did not respond to any disasters in 2022 but remains a member of this group. 

Some of our other volunteer activities involve dogs (that shouldn't come as any surprise!):


Jim began volunteering with the group this year. This organization doesn't house dogs in a shelter (we have those in our area, too). Most puppies and dogs served by the Fayette County Humane Society live in foster homes with volunteers and a few live in private boarding facilities.

On the first three Saturdays of each month several of the puppies and dogs that are available for adoption are featured at the local Petsmart store for three or four hours.

Jim helps at those events a couple times a month, sometimes helping with transporting the dogs in one of the boarding facilities to and from the store.

He answers potential adopters' questions, cuddles and keeps the dogs occupied while at the store, takes them outside to potty, and assists in other ways.

Since we have three lovable dogs of our own, he's never been tempted to bring one of these pups home. He's just happy to do what he can to help them find their furever homes with someone else!


We both became involved with Warrior Canine Connection in early 2018 when a local friend told us about this service dog school based in Boyds, Maryland. I've written about them before, primarily in the 2019 journal when we drove up there twice to volunteer on campus.

As a military family, our hearts are with this assistance dog school because it is devoted 100% to providing service, facility support, and emotional therapy dogs to veterans and their families.

Their Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) Program was the model for the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act passed by Congress last year. This program has provided animal-assisted therapy to thousands of veterans suffering from PTSD by allowing them to help with the training of pups for their fellow servicemen and women -- warriors helping warriors.

Jim holding a 5-week-old Golden retriever puppy from the
WCC Dawn x SEGD Moose litter in late June, 2019

The power of a puppy is very obvious in that photo! I bet Jim's blood pressure dropped quite a bit that day when we took the puppies outside for new sensory exposures.

Although we haven't been back to Warrior Canine's main campus since the summer of 2019, we continue to support them financially and on social media. They are also in our wills. It is our hope that someday we can help raise puppies for them, although they are not set up for remote raising like some of the bigger schools and we don't plan to move closer to any of their satellite locations in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Colorado, or California.


We became involved with Southeastern in the summer of 2019 after discovering they have a puppy raising group in Atlanta. We went through training and got puppy Don in September of that year.

Although we hated driving in Atlanta's traffic to attend training sessions and outings, it was a memorable experience and we were proud of how fast Don learned everything we taught him.

Awesome focus on me at our puppy group's Braves stadium tour in Feb., 2020

Don was released from the program at the beginning of the pandemic in spring of 2020 and we adopted him, but we continued our involvement with the group.

During the months when our group was unable to meet in person, I attended the online virtual training sessions so I could keep up with ever-morphing training protocols and be familiar with the pups.

Since we began meeting in person again at the beginning of 2021, I've attended about half of the in-person training meetings and outings for a variety of exposures and watch most of the virtual training sessions online. Sometimes Don is invited as a distraction dog for the program puppies and for an extra dog for new puppy raiser applicants to handle:

Don is being handled by a GA Tech student at this Halloween exposure in October.

Paulson (Don's brother, L, who was also released) and Don were handled
by several different people at this training session in September.

Don has lots of  jobs! Because he is so sweet, calm, and compliant, he's also good advertisement for SEGD fundraising events and recruiting new puppy raisers:

Fundraising/recruiting at a Kiwanis Club meeting in Smyrna in September

Recruiting new Puppy Club members at Georgia Tech in August

We occasionally sit for puppies in our group when the raisers go on vacation or need a break.

I am on our groups' "leadership team," where I have two main volunteer jobs. One is to welcome new puppy raiser and sitter applicants and guide them through the qualifying process.

The other job, which lasted for a year, was to do our local group's social media posts. Just about everyone in our group is more tech-savvy than me, so I asked to be relieved of that job in August. I still follow a lot of WCC and SEGD pups/dogs on social media and encourage the raisers.

We also help out some financially by donating directly ourselves and by encouraging Jim's VFW post to donate money to Southeastern. In the past they've sent money directly to SEGD or our group's Walkathon account. This winter Jim purchased $50 gift certificates to Hollywood Feed with part of the VFW donation for each of our raisers so they could use it for food, treats, toys, or whatever they needed.

Jim and I help people and groups out in other ways, but these are the most meaningful to us currently.

Next entry:  Dapper Don, Therapy Dog Extraordinaire -- Don and I also stay busy as a therapy dog team!

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, Holly-Holly, & Dapper Don

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2022 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil