Contest to recognize outstanding community volunteers
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- One of Virginia Gaunt's favorite parts of volunteering for Blue Ridge Hospice in the old Winchester hospital at 333 W. Cork Street is seeing the other volunteers. They greet each other with hugs even though they might have seen each other as recently as the previous day, and though Gaunt volunteers at Winchester Medical Center, where she spent her entire career, the 91 year old said volunteering is very different work.
"I think a lot of people don't realize how fun it is," Gaunt said recently. "You're coming to see the people you're familiar with. We laugh and talk and work and enjoy it. I like the camaraderie of it."
"You're doing something for somebody, but it doesn't feel like it's work," she said.
It's little wonder that Home Instead Senior Care of Winchester considers Gaunt a contender for its local Salute to Senior Service award.
The organization, which serves seniors in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, is accepting nominations for the award through March 15. Nominees must be 65 years or older and volunteer at least 15 hours a month.
Gaunt had been married for two years when she started working at the hospital in 1947. A friend who worked there asked Gaunt to fill in for two weeks.
"They offered me a job," Gaunt said, "and I stayed 38 years." For the first 10 years she learned to do everything, she said. Then in '57 the hospital divided its employees into departments.
"They told me I wouldn't be good in credit because I'd pay everyone's bill," she said, smiling. So they assigned her to admitting where she supervised seven admitting clerks.
"I did my own hiring and the payroll and scheduled hours," she said. "I didn't have much turnover in my office."
A volunteer for much of her life, Gaunt recently recalled how she started rolling bandages for the Red Cross with a group of friends while they attended the old James Wood High School on Amherst Street.
"Us girls got together and wanted to do something," she said. "We also addressed the envelopes for the United Way."
Now, almost 75 years later, Gaunt works closely with other volunteers binding resource books for families of cancer patients.
"I volunteer at hospice on Monday and I volunteer at the hospital on Tuesday," she said. "If they need me, I'll be glad to come."
They put together 50 to 60 booklets a week, said Kelly Miller, coordinator of volunteer services for Blue Ridge Hospice.
"Honestly, this is what her niche is now," Miller said. "She's so valuable at what she does."
"It's very time consuming," Miller said.
Home Instead, an international franchise, sponsors the Salute to Senior Service program in order to honor seniors, said Aaron Blight, owner of the Winchester office. Home Instead will choose 50 state winners and one national winner to introduce during Older Americans Month in May.
The local office serves the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester.
"We know that there are a lot of people just like Mrs. Gaunt who are devoting their time in selfless service to others," Blight said. "Just a thank you, a recognition that what they're doing is worthwhile ... that makes a difference."
The recipient of the Salute to Senior Service award will win $5,000 for a choice charity, and Gaunt said hers, if she wins, will go to hospice.
Hospice accepts volunteers in patient care, family support, administration, event fundraising and in hospice thrift shops around the area, Miller said.
People have a lot of misconceptions of hospice care, she said. They might think it's only for cancer patients and that it's only for those in hopeless situations.
"Only 40 percent of our patients are cancer related," she said. "Hospice is called in because so much more can be done."
Most of the volunteers for Blue Ridge Hospice are seniors, she said.
"Probably a good 70 percent," she said. But hospice can use hundreds more volunteers.
"I would love to see the day when I have enough patient volunteers that each patient has a volunteer," Miller said.
She and Blight hope that the award program not only will honor current volunteers but also bring in new ones.
"We knew that all over the country there are seniors that volunteer," Blight said. "More than half of seniors volunteer their time. About a fifth of people say that that's the most rewarding thing they do."
As for Gaunt, volunteering is too ingrained in her life for her to think of quitting any time soon.
"If there's a holiday and you don't come, it really messes up your week if you're a volunteer," she said. When that happens she said she feels like she's missing something.
"The people that you volunteer for appreciate you," she said. "[I] get a hug every day. We're not working for that, but it makes us feel good. You meet a lot of friends."
Submissions to the Salute to Senior Service program are accepted through March 15 at www.SalutetoSeniorService.com.