Thirty-one-year-old South Dakota native Keifer Severson joined the United States Air Force just a year and a half ago. While he’s volunteered in the past, his service kicked into overdrive when he landed at the Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. From bringing dinner to a veteran who suffers from depression to taking orphans Christmas shopping and much more, Keifer finds many different ways to show he cares. He uses his off-duty time to give back to his new community with the Dyess We Care Team and beyond.
What led you to join the Air Force?
It’s something I always wanted to do, but I was doing really well in normal civilian life until the oil recession hit. Then I was forced to find a new occupation, and it just hit me that this was the time. Before that, I’d had a foot in the door with construction and did a wide variety of things with machinery tech, like building flameless heaters that required diesel engines.
Now, I work on aircrew flight equipment. We handle a lot of the gear that the pilots use on a daily basis, harnesses and stuff that assist in loading cargo onto the planes. We also handle survival equipment like parachutes, life preserver units similar to what you’d see in a commercial aircraft, helmets and gear that helps pilots fly.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I’ve really enjoyed doing it at home, but when I got here to the Dyess Air Force Base, I started doing more. The Dyess We Care Team is a huge supporter of the community in Abilene. The leader at the time happened to come into one of my initial classes and talked about what they do. It was when my family was still back to South Dakota, before they moved here. I offered up a lot of my time and got a good chunk of hours in with them beforehand and did several projects. It escalated from there.
Describe your volunteerism.
The We Care Team is focused on utilizing new airmen, because it helps them get a foothold on the Air Force Base. They’re far from home. It gives them the chance to collaborate and meet new people as well as get them out of the dorms. In a way, it’s like a break from military life. They can go out into the community and help us with projects.
Last year, we gathered over 100 bags of donated Christmas presents for a nursing home facility through another organization called Friends for Life. This year, we did a large project where we renovated a community center that was long overdue. We did some carpentry, put in cabinets and completely renovated the building. In general, we’ll go out to build handicap ramps or clean and do minor repair work on houses. I was the lead carpenter on a house painting project for which we did some minor fabrication on the outside of the house to fix holes.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
For me, it’s seeing the end product, the fruits of our labors. I also like that it gets everybody together. You don’t even know half the volunteers sometimes, but you’re able to come together as a team in the community and accomplish the goal.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned a lot about leadership and how, when working with other people, you have to be open to different perspectives, particularly through the renovation project. There is occasionally some head butting between volunteers over how to do certain things. It was kind of eye-opening experience, because it was the first project like that with the Dyess We Care Team.
Another thing I’ve learned about are tools of the trade. I’ve learned electrical stuff. We worked on circuit boards of a pinball machine, for example. And a lot of general construction things: framework, trim work, painting. Demo is probably the most fun part. For the record, it’s so much easier to watch on TV than actually doing it!
Are there any future programs or events that you are excited about?
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do anything for a while, because I’m on a GDI [Global Defense Initiative]. But there’s another carwash coming up. We do them a couple of times a year. Our Captain America Carwash in July raised over $5,000 for the First Sergeant’s Club here at the at the base.
We use community funds to help the community, and the military utilizes the airmen who want to get involved on the Air Force Base. The car washes are designed to support the first Sergeants who take care of the airmen with issues that arise with finances, family, emergencies away from home, etc.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Keifer? Find local volunteer opportunities.