From The Top: Finding PVA’s Next Leaders

Our organization has done great things for members in the past, and it’s up to all of us to continue paying it forward

By David Zurfluh/National President


Like any organization, leaders don’t just grow on trees at Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). Good leaders are cultivated.

I, and many other leaders at the national and chapter level, have learned from those who have mentored and shaped our future thinking along the way. Being a part of a leadership team such as the executive committee or serving as a national director, chapter board leader or national employee requires hard work, self-confidence and, often, coming out of our comfort zones.

While I was serving at the chapter level, I was fortunate enough to be influenced by three individuals: Jack Michaels, Gary Pearson and Chuck Karczewski. These men mentored and guided me until the time was right for me to venture down my leadership path. Al Kovach Jr., was the individual at the national level who encouraged and guided me to national leadership until I found my own path.

Our members have served in wartime and peacetime. Some bravely accepted serving in battle, while others were drawn in unexpectedly or served peacefully in quiet times. The bottom line is, as men and women of this organization, whether volunteering or being drafted into service, we all raised our right hand to serve our country. 

It’s that spirit that propels us to always strive to do what is right for this country and to help our fellow comrades. It’s this same spirit that drives us to serve fellow veterans. There are divides and generational differences in veterans culturally and the way we go about our daily business, but this undying spirit to serve unites us all.

I believe we, like many organizations, are on the precipice of a significant generational shift between a physical world (mechanical generation mostly) and a virtual technology-driven world that will eventually marry into a combination of both. Like past shifts, it will redefine our country and the world going forward.

How we, as leaders, prepare for and be a part of this change will preserve our relevancy and ensure paralyzed veterans receive their benefits and enhance their lives for decades to come. Our organization has done great things for members in the past, and it’s up to all of us to continue paying it forward.

This millennial generation has been called the “if it doesn’t fit my lifestyle, I am not interested generation.” We, as leaders, need to make what we do fit. Our challenges and old man/woman organization perception isn’t unique in the veterans service organization world. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion and Disabled American Veterans have it, too.

Recently, I saw on the news that the VFW is reaching out to younger veterans to reshape their perception of the organization. I believe that PVA should do the same, sooner rather than later.

I’ve formed a PVA ad hoc committee on membership to figure out why people joined PVA and specifically why veterans with spinal-cord injury and disease aren’t joining. We need to find new ways to attract the next generation of members and leaders by creating more opportunities to be actively involved in their communities. Results from this new committee will be reported at the fall board of directors meeting in Orlando, Fla. 

We all need to invest in a succession plan for the future. If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to develop one or to form a committee to attract new leaders. Remember, as I said at the start of this column, new leaders don’t grow on trees. You can find and mold new leaders by purposefully giving members good volunteer opportunities, mentoring and leadership roles when the time is right. Tweaking these methods to the next generation and your environment is the key.

I would like to challenge each of you to develop one new supportive relationship by becoming a mentor, positive critic or good friend to someone you want to inspire by sharing your personal successes, failures and life experiences.

Let’s fill our PVA leadership pipeline and set them up for success to best serve our members in the future.


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