TALLAHASSEE – Volunteers are an important part of the daily routine in the lives of residents at Florida’s network of state veterans’ homes. In some cases, due to the absence of family members, they constitute the only primary source of social interaction for elderly residents.
“From individual bedside visits to group activities and sponsored outings, volunteers are an integral part of the social life of resident veterans, allowing our health care professionals to concentrate on delivering award-winning care,” said Connie Tolley, director of the State Veterans’ Homes Program. “Volunteers are special to us in their own way and all of them are vital to the life of our facilities.”
The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs operates skilled nursing facilities in Panama City, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Pembroke Pines, Port Charlotte and Land O’ Lakes. The state agency, which represents Florida’s more than 1.5 million veterans and their families, also operates a veterans’ assisted living facility in Lake City.
The Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans’ Nursing Home has a thriving volunteer program with a variety of needs filled by volunteers. “Some of our volunteers meet us at local restaurants to share a meal and some come to just sit and visit or hold a hand,” said Kay Maley, administrator of the St. Augustine skilled-nursing facility. “There are volunteers who are not able to visit as much as they would like but enjoy sending individualized birthday cards to each resident to celebrate their special day.”
From lending their talents with hobbies and ubiquitous bingo games to mending torn clothing, volunteers are not shy about helping, added Maley. “Our residents also have their spiritual needs met through several individuals and groups who come in to provide Bible study, worship services and Communion,” she said.
The residents of the Emory L. Bennett State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Daytona Beach also benefit from the generous support of local volunteers. “Volunteers change our residents’ lives. We had more than 1,200 hours of volunteer support in the last quarter of 2015 alone,” said Gray Kilpatrick, home administrator. “Our support and donations have been so sustained that our volunteers have established a ‘store’ at the home that is stocked with clothes and personal items for residents to shop at no cost.”
From raising money and purchasing gifts for residents at Christmas to paying for or providing entertainment at the homes, volunteers and volunteer groups are an integral part of the daily living for resident veterans.
At the Douglas T. Jacobson State Veterans’ Nursing Home, members from nearly 30 veteran-support organizations logged more than 3,800 volunteer hours in 2015. “We’ve had everything from an Elvis impersonator to a 98-year-old gentleman who has been volunteering at our home since 2004,” said Liz Barton, administrator at the Port Charlotte home.
Joan Jacobson, widow of the home’s namesake, volunteers as president of the Resident Fund, a non-profit organization of 25 members whose proceeds directly benefit the residents of the home. “I can’t imagine serving our resident heroes without the generous contributions of time and money from our corps of volunteers,” Barton said.
If you would like to donate your time or talents to one of Florida’s state veterans’ homes, call (727) 518-3202, Extension 5562.