By Kyle LoJacono
Florida Hospital Zephyrhills has thousands of reasons to be thankful for its helpers during National Volunteer Week April 19 to 25.
Since its formation in 1988, the Florida Hospital Zephyrhills Auxiliary has pledged or donated $499,235 dollars to the hospital’s foundation and given 530,000 hours. Those numbers, provided by hospital spokesperson Lyn Acer, seem larger after learning that auxiliary members are all volunteers.
“I love it,” said auxiliary president Wilma Eshenour about being a volunteer. “I feel good and I’m going to do it until I can’t anymore.”
Eshenour has donated about 1,400 volunteer hours to the hospital during her nearly seven years with the auxiliary. The hospital only started keeping track of the total hours worked the last 10 years.
“I like people and wanted to help,” said Eshenour, 82, whose husband John also volunteers at the hospital. “Just liked to do what I can to help and I enjoy the society of people.”
One volunteer who is close to recording his 1,000 hour volunteered is Stanley Murphy, who has been with the auxiliary for at least seven years.
“I retired from (the hospital) 12 years ago,” said Murphy who was a medical technologist. “My wife (Grace) still works part time here. I’ll do it as long as she works here…I also like to be around people.”
Auxiliary members commit to helping four hours each week. Eshenour said there are presently volunteers are as young as 14 and as old as 94. There are currently 360 members, of which many are seasonal.
Volunteers work in various ways to help the hospital and added there is some special training to be a volunteer, such as CPR instruction. Eshenour escorts patients to different areas of the hospital, while Murphy is one of the first people many of the patients see.
“I drive the shuttle that helps people get to and from their cars,” Murphy said. “…Sometimes you see the same people come back for more treatment and you develop a relationship with them. Almost everyone thanks us for helping.”
Eshenour added the first people many patients see at the hospital is a volunteer, whether it be Murphy or someone else. She said having someone to help from the beginning is one of the goals of the auxiliary.
In addition to the hours volunteered, the auxiliary has donated or pledged nearly $500,000 to the hospital’s Foundation, which makes the group the largest single donor.
“We would be almost a nonfunctioning organization without the auxiliary,” said Gene Whitefield, hospital foundation chairman. “…The hospital and the foundation appreciate them and they are truly the heartbeat of the hospital. They do a great job and we all appreciate everything they do.”
A recent major contribution by the volunteers was a $50,000 pledge at the hospital’s annual gala last year that will go to the hospitals future Compressive Breast Center. Of that, the group has given $20,000.
Other recent large donations by the auxiliary include $25,000 to renovate the employee child care center and $10,240 for a new shuttle.
“I drove the shuttle before the new one and I drove the one before that too,” Murphy said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, like hospital president (John Harding) who I had a nice conversation with the other day while he was getting out of his car. It’s not just him, but everyone from the janitors and people who work in the kitchen and the patients. We all become friends.”
Much of the volunteer donations come from sales in the Auxiliary Gift Shop in the hospital. The money made in the shop currently is going to help repay the group’s pledge to the foundation.
Eshenour has spent the equivalent of 583 days, more than one and a half years, volunteering at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills and she is not close to growing tired of the facility.
“It’s a wonderful place to exercise your mind as well as your body,” Eshenour said. “I love this place as much as I love helping the people.”
Stanley agreed with Eshenour and emphasized the fact that they and the other volunteers could easily spend their time doing other things, but they instead help the hospital.
While the auxiliary is always looking for people interested in volunteering, the need for helpers increases during the summer when the winter residents return north. Many of the volunteers are younger, but many more are in the retired population who head for cooler climates in the hotter months.
Anyone looking to volunteer should be willing to donate four hours a week and must be at least 14-years-old can call (813) 779-6256.