LIVERMORE (CBS 5) – After 23 years in the Air Force, flying 150 missions over Vietnam and earning 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, this week’s Jefferson Award winner is turning his talents to a mission on solid ground: creating a unique program for other Bay Area veterans.

On a recent Friday afternoon at the Livermore VA Medical Center, music filled the community room. Center stage to entertain the residents was a band of volunteer musicians, and the man with the guitar was Bud Donaldson – a veteran himself, and a musician. But the band gig is just a fraction of what he’s bringing to those who have served our country.

“When you give unconditionally, you receive tenfold,” Donaldson said. “It’s where I should be at this point in my life.”

At this point, Bud is combining his two passions: people and painting. He created a weekly art class at the VA when he realized the patients weren’t getting out of their rooms.

“The most I ever painted before this was my house and a couple of fences,” laughed former Air Force Captain Michael Sturdivan. “It’s a real enjoyment to come.”

Sturdivan has been paralyzed from the neck down for 20 years, but he’s painting in Donaldson’s program for two years now – holding a brush with this mouth.

Vietnam veteran Jim Sellers uses a glove he altered to grasp pencils and brushes to help him paint in spite of the immobility of ALS.

“It’s been therapeutic,” Sellers explained. “Now I’m gaining mobility of my right hand, which is the one I use to paint.”

For Donaldson, it’s therapeutic in another way. He’s giving vets a way to tell their stories.

George Martin was a paratrooper in the Korean War.

“Painting makes me forget my problems,” he said.

Marine gunner John Schultheis fought in Guadalcanal in World War II.

“It means everything to me,” he said. “I look forward to Mondays. And I don’t know what I would have done without Bud.”

Donaldson admired the artwork that lines the hallway of the VA, “I see so many beautiful people, each one has a story behind it.”

He displays the art with frames he collects at garage sales. He’s organized community art shows, sales, and enlisted a team of local artists and volunteer teachers.

“We don’t have credentials, we’re not therapists, we’re not psychologists,” he said. “We are dedicated and compassionate, and I think that’s what it takes.”

So for celebrating the stories of veterans with his love of the arts, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Bud Donaldson.

To find a VA Center where you can volunteer, use this link:

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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