Local volunteer wins national award

When Courtney Urban began volunteering at the Gulfside Hospice Thrift Shoppe, at 1930 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., in Lutz, it was just a way to spend some extra time with her grandmother.

“The big thing in the beginning was just going with her,” said Urban, who began her volunteer work in 2013.

Courtney Urban now volunteers at the front desk at Gulfside Center for Hospice Care in Zephyrhills. She used to volunteer at the Gulfside Hospice Thrift Shoppe in Lutz. Recently, she received a national honor for her volunteer work. (B.C. Manion)

“But then it became my own thing. I loved going there. When I got to be the cashier, it was fun to interact with all of the customers. I kind of took it into my own hands, rather than just to be there with grandma,” the now 19-year-old said.

Over the years, she has logged more than 800 volunteer hours, and recently, Urban was honored with the Volunteers are the Foundation of Hospice Award by the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, at a conference in San Diego. Urban was recognized in the Young Leaders category.

The University of South Florida student was both surprised and delighted to be singled out.

When she started her volunteer work, she was sorting clothes and having fun with her grandma. Then, she began cashiering and enjoyed interacting with customers, she said.

Most recently, she has been pitching in at Gulfside Center for Hospice Care, at 5760 Dean Dairy Road in Zephyrhills.

Initially, she served as a compassion companion volunteer, and now she’s helping at the front desk.

Her work as a volunteer has changed her.

“It’s helped me come out of my shell. I was very shy in high school. I was the kid that hated when I had to speak in front of the class. I wasn’t good at making friends.

“Now, I can walk into a room and instantly strike up a conversation with a patient or their family. I enjoy speaking with people, now. I feel like I opened up,” Urban said.

It also has broadened her perspective.

“I also didn’t realize how many different kinds of people are out there in the world. When I come here, I talk to all kinds of people, from different backgrounds,” she said.

She’s listened to patients reminisce, she said.

“Some patients can’t talk for an extended time, so I’ll tell my story to them. But most of them, they love talking about the good old days, when they were younger, what they used to do,” she said.

The volunteer work has influenced her career path.

She’s studying health science at USF, with plans to continue her education and pursue a career in hospice nursing.

“I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field,” said Urban, who attended Sunlake High School, Rushe Middle School and Lake Myrtle Elementary.

She had considered possible careers in anesthesiology or public health.

But, when she began volunteering at Gulfside, she realized she wanted to become a hospice nurse.

“I always knew I had a connection with elderly people. My time here, in just a few weeks I realized that I loved it here. I loved the atmosphere. I loved talking with the patients. I thought, ‘Hey, this is something I want to do.’,” she said.

“I come in here and I talk with the patients a lot. I just feel like I fit in.

“Yes, it is very sad, when I come back the next week and there isn’t a patient that I talked to, but I feel like I have a calling here. I can do the work here, so I need to be here,” she said.

She attended the conference in San Diego with her mom and her grandmother.

Her grandmother is Carol Antrim, of Lutz.

Her parents are Suzette Urban, the principal’s secretary at Sand Pine Elementary, and her dad, Joseph Urban, an electrical inspector for Pasco County. Urban lives with her parents in Land O’ Lakes.

The young woman encourages anyone who has ever considered volunteering, to give it a try. It doesn’t matter whether the volunteer is young or old, or what kind of work they do, she said.

“You could volunteer at the animal shelter, at the hospital, youth centers, rec centers, anywhere. “It really helps you find something that’s greater than yourself,” Urban said. “You get that satisfaction: You know you’ve helped somebody.”

Published November 1, 2017

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