‘Find a need and fill it’

In his nine years as a volunteer at Canandaigua, N.Y.’s VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System, Gabe Cinquegrana has logged over 9,000 hours, doing everything from administrative work to using his musical talents to entertain veterans.

Those efforts earned Cinquegrana, a member of Detachment of New York Squadron 457 and the Sons of The American Legion representative on the National Advisory Committee of the VA’s Center for Development and Civic Engagement, the organization’s 2021 National Male Volunteer of the Year Award.

Cinquegrana was honored with an event at Post 457 in Phelps, N.Y., on May 28.

“Gabe is deserving because he does everything with his heart. And when he’s given a task, he puts his heart and his soul into it,” said Detachment of New York Commander Dennis George.

Cinquegrana volunteers in memory of his father, Michael Gabriel Cinquegrana, who served as a cook in the Navy on the USS Brookings from 1943-47.

Robin Johnson, voluntary service manager at Canandaigua, said Cinquegrana “always has an idea” to improve the volunteer program.

“He’s always looking for ways to improve the program, and he always helps us with our needs; if we have anything, he gets other volunteers involved, other organizations, specifically the American Legion Family, to help us with whatever we need,” Johnson said. “He’s great; honestly, he’s like a staff member.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down Canandaigua’s volunteer program last year, Cinquegrana continued to work in the voluntary service office, assisting staff, keeping other volunteers informed and coordinating the delivery of some 3,000 snacks and meals to front-line staff.

“He does everything from administrative tasks to special projects; sometimes we have unique needs that are laid on the table, whether it’s from recreation therapy or a wish from a hospice patient, and he says, ‘Hey, I’ve got a guy for that’ or ‘I know how we can meet that need,’” said Regina Deck of Canandaigua’s voluntary service office.

“The veterans are so fortunate to have him around, they really are,” said Hank Riegel, recreation therapy supervisor at VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System.

For Cinquegrana, the award is “a validation that what I do is important, that the services that I’ve been able to provide, the assistance that I’ve been able to give, and the differences that I’ve been able to make are important; that they do indeed make a difference. That’s really what’s important to me.”

Cinquegrana noted when he asked his first boss out of college what he wanted him to do, the answer was “find a need and fill it.”

“I’ve always carried that forward,” Cinquegrana said. “And it’s the same in the community; there’s so many things that take place in the community, so many organizations that are out there, so many needs that community members have, and I think it’s important for everyone to find what those needs are and to fill those needs. And that’s what I do.”