IN THIS POST: Six tips for volunteering with Wreaths Across America. Specifically, this post is based on our experience at Arlington National Cemetery, but the organization hosts similar opportunities across the country.
This school year has an emphasis on volunteering. One, my daughters wanted to try to earn the Bronze level of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Two, I signed us up to try to earn the American Citizenship Award (ACA).
(I’m not going to get into the details of these recognitions in this post, but if you click on the links, then you can find a brief description of how each one works.)
This was not by design. I signed up for the ACA first and was surprised when both girls wanted to participate in the other opportunity.
We’ve been busy, and it has been a great way to explore our community. My eldest daughter has a particular passion for community service, and this has been a good year to explore the myriad types of opportunities that exist for involvement.
The Citizenship award has an education and a volunteer component. When I read that laying wreaths was an opportunity for volunteering and that Arlington Cemetery was an option, I signed up quick.
Family History at Arlington National Cemetery
My husband’s grandfather served honorably in several wars and administrative posts. When he was buried in Arlington it was with full honors. The ceremony was sobering and special. It was a privilege to attend.
My husband’s grandmother is also buried there. We attended that ceremony also, but I was wrangling a toddler and don’t remember it as well.
It is a special place for our country and for our family. Please remember that as you participate in these types of activities.
What is Wreaths Across America?
Wreaths Across America is an organization that coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at over 3700 cemeteries across the United States, at sea and abroad. According to their mission, they provide an opportunity to remember fallen veterans, honor those who serve, and teach children about the value of freedom.
On one day in December, volunteers place fresh evergreen wreaths with red bows on each headstone. It is a simple activity and one that young people and families can manage. We saw toddlers to teenagers volunteering.
To see if there is an event near you, click here.
6 Tips for Volunteering with Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery
If you’re in the DC area or have personal interest in volunteering at the Arlington National Cemetery, then this next bit is for you.
This was our first year volunteering, and we learned a few things.
Sign up for the Newsletter
First, sign up for the Wreaths Across America newsletter. This will be the fastest way to learn when volunteer sign-ups are open. Slots open hour-by-hour so it is first-come, first-served.
In other words, if you want to sign up, when you get the email announcement that they are running volunteer sign-ups then you can click to their site. Pay attention to the time slot that you are signing up for. They don’t open the next hour until the first hour is nearly full.
Second, not to be redundant, sign up. For best results, I recommend volunteering as early as you are able. Remember that they will only open the next hour’s slots after the previous hour fills.
I made it to the site quickly and signed up for 8 AM, the earliest time available. In hindsight, this was a good idea – more on that later. If we do it again, that’s exactly what we’ll be aiming for.
Pay Attention to Transportation Options
Third, pay attention to your transportation options. A lot of people are volunteering with Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. There are three entrances, and you must enter by the gate that you sign up for.
How you plan to get to the event or where you plan to arrive from will determine which entrance is the best option for you.
If you are driving, then I recommend the Service Complex Gate. There are two parking lots in that area, though they will fill up. The South Parking lot is the closest to the entrance, but the North Parking lot has a bus to shuttle volunteers to the South Parking lot. From the South Parking lot you’ll take a 10-minute walk to the entrance.
The other two entrances are best accessed by the metro. If you do decide to drive to one of them, then you’ll need to find parking in the area.
Dress for the Weather
Fourth, dress for the weather. Regardless of where you park, you will have a walk to get to your entrance gate. Further, you’ll be volunteering outside.
Bring ID and Registration
Fifth, bring your ID and registration.
Sixth, respect the place, people, and work. We didn’t have or see any trouble with this, but it still is worth mentioning. No running, shouting, etc. If someone is spending time near a particular site, quietly walk around them.
It doesn’t have to be silent. We saw many wonderful families helping little ones or talking about the importance of the work. We saw teenagers talking and taking pictures in the walkway. But we didn’t encounter boisterous or out-of-control people while we were there. I expect you won’t have any problems either. This is just a reminder.
Why Earlier is Better
It’s true that we don’t have experience with the later time slots, but our experience gave us solid perspective on why earlier is better.
One, we found decent parking. In hindsight, I would’ve liked to have tried for the South Parking Lot, but the shuttle to and from the North Parking Lot was timely and quick.
Two, we were able to lay a wreath on my husband’s grandfather’s headstone. If you enter at a later time, then you run the risk of someone else laying a wreath on the site you would like to honor. You can’t sign up in advance for a particular headstone, but if you’re in the first groups to enter the cemetery, then you have much improved odds.
Three, it was a blank slate for where to lay the wreaths. Within the hour that we were volunteering a sizeable chunk of our location filled. We occasionally found a headstone here or there that had been missed as we walked back to the exit. I expect that the later time slots need to do a bit more searching to find places to lay their wreaths.
We had a great experience volunteering with Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. It is an historic place to remember and honor. While we put the wreaths on the headstones, we talked about history and symbology and wars and freedom. In order to get an early time slot (which I highly recommend), I signed up for their email newsletter. Pay attention to parking and come prepared to be outside for an hour of memorable community service.
If you’re not near Arlington National Cemetery, check the Wreaths Across America website to see where the closest opportunity is for you.
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