Angel Blog

TRIBUTE TO OUR HEROES: Volunteer Chris Leonardini

In the latest episode of “A Tribute to Our Heroes,” we talk with 2023 Soldiers’ Angels Volunteer of the Year and VA Male Volunteer of the Year Chris Leonardini. Chris is the Sacramento VA Representative for Soldiers’ Angels and is getting ready to apply for medical school.

Chris shares his background, Military family, and volunteerism with Soldiers’ Angels and Sacramento VA.

You can view our full video interview with Chris below.

Q: What made you want to start volunteering, and what about Soldiers’ Angels stood out to you and made you want to volunteer with us?

A: My plan is to go to medical school and one of the reasons medicine attracts me as a career is that it’s ultimately a life of service. I just wanted to seek out different ways to give back and serve others while I still had some more time to do that. I do have a Military family background, my father was in the Military, uncles were in the Military, so I thought giving back to Veterans would be more rewarding as they hold a special place in my heart. I initially started volunteering just at the VA doing transportation, wheelchairs, and stuff like that, and then the opportunity presented itself. The chief reached out to all the VA volunteers about the Sacramento VA Representative position as Soldiers’ Angels was trying to establish a team there. I was interested in the leadership position and I did some research. I think just the amount and types of support Soldiers’ Angels provides and I especially like the idea of “morale boosting support” and “socializing support.” That’s one thing I was seeking. I do like interacting with others and interacting with Vets. The types of events we have in person and the support that’s provided virtually, I think that’s what really sold me.

Q: What was it like growing up and having your father deployed?

A: He was in the Marine Corps. I think his first deployment I was in kindergarten and his second deployment I was in 5th grade. I don’t know which one was worse or more difficult. Maybe when I was in kindergarten because I didn’t necessarily understand — I was just younger. It was tough. Anyone you know who’s deployed, especially during an active war, you wonder if you’re going to see them again. That was the most difficult thing. I’m blessed that he did return home. He’s the first to admit that he struggled to return to civilian life, and even to this day, he struggles with it. That’s another reason that prompted me to want to give back to Veterans specifically.

Q: You’ve made quite an impact in your local area and made some waves for such a young man. Why don’t you explain the recognition you’ve received through Soldiers’ Angels?

A: Well thank you. I’ve had great support through Soldiers’ Angels and my local chief, she’s awesome. I was awarded the Soldiers’ Angels Volunteer of the Year award for 2023 and then I also got the VA National Advisory Committee’s Male Volunteer of the Year award for 2023 as well. I honestly didn’t know there were national volunteer awards, so it was a real shock to me, but it was nice to be recognized. You don’t volunteer to get awards, you do it because you care and you want to give back. But it was nice to be recognized, I accept the awards on behalf of our team though. It’s a team effort, I’ve done some behind-the-scenes work, but we need the volunteers, the resources, the supplies, the donors — we couldn’t do it without all of them

Q: Is there an end goal for you volunteering with us?

A: My goal is to make it a “Big Seven” cities, to get us a food distribution. And that really involves more community involvement, getting some more local donors, and an even larger volunteer base. Ultimately, as a volunteer, I want to reach as many Veterans as possible. Obviously, resources are limited and whatnot, but I think the more resources we have as a site then the more possible it is to do that. So growing our local volunteer base and donors is one way to do that.

Q: Have you seen things you’ve learned volunteering with Soldiers’ Angels translate to other aspects of your life?

A: I have gotten better at managing my time, that’s a big thing because I do have all of these activities going on. Also, prioritizing things, having to respond to emails, or following up on certain things. Some of them are a higher priority than others, so I think that’s definitely a big thing whether it’s in work or my day-to-day life. My leadership skills have grown, I’ve always thought I was a pretty good leader, but I think the way I communicate with others in a leadership position, even though it’s just a volunteer leadership position, you’re still managing the team and setting up events. That’s a big thing too and will pay dividends in the future. As a doctor, you are the highest level of care. All your nurses, your team, you have to manage them. It’s just improved my communication skills in general which is good to have in whatever you’re doing. I think volunteering and having a leadership role in Soldiers’ Angels will be helpful, interacting with people on a daily basis whether it’s inpatient visits or any other event, it’s really important to know how to talk to people.

Q: With you being as good of a volunteer as you are, what is some advice you have for anybody wanting to volunteer with us or with any organization?

A: You should find a cause that’s meaningful to you, that has a special place in your heart, that you have experience with. You have to devote some time to volunteering to really make an impact. If you find something that is really meaningful to you and important to you, however niche it is, you’re more inclined to devote time to it. The other thing is to really understand it is volunteer work, it’s not a job, but you should approach it with some professionalism and think of it as the old adage of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and as if you were receiving support. Be presentable, be kind to whoever you’re interacting with, and just overall try to enjoy yourself while you’re doing it. I’ve had a great time not only interacting with the Vets and Military personnel at our events, but our volunteer team has been awesome to get to know and I’ve gotten fairly close with some of them, so enjoy it.

Want to watch more? Click here to watch more vlogs from the Tribute to our Heroes series.