Empath Health volunteers Rita Giles (left) and Maddy Nasin (right)

Rita Giles and Madeleine “Maddy” Nason are a package deal. They have been best friends for 45 years. Thanks to their accidental matchmaking skills, they became stepsisters. Now they form a dynamic duo for Empath Health and member organization Suncoast Hospice, serving as indispensable volunteers and unofficial day-brighteners at the Community Service Center in Palm Harbor.

“They’re amazing. From the moment they walk in, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, they’re here!’ It’s just immediate happiness,” said Senior Volunteer Coordinator Melissa Givens.

Every Wednesday and Thursday morning, Giles and Nason report to the Suncoast Hospice Green Team office. They print and fax team reports to physicians on the Green, Aqua and Lavender teams. They update instructional booklets and write bereavement cards for four teams.

As valuable as that work is – Givens says it saves Suncoast Hospice clinical colleagues hundreds of hours each year – Giles and Nason make nearly as big an impact with their positive attitudes and exuberance. Their friendly smiles and banter raise spirits throughout the building.

“We always have a story to tell,” Nason said.

Giles and Nason said they receive as much as they give to Empath.

“When I started working here,” Giles said, “I was amazed at how much they appreciated us. There’s hardly a day that goes by that we don’t have somebody say, ‘Thank you for everything that you do.’ I never had a job that paid that made me feel as needed. It’s a joy to come in here every week.”

Giles, a Kentucky native, and Nason, who is from Massachusetts, met in the late 1970s while working at C-Ran, an electronics company in Largo, and quickly became close friends. A few years later, they took their recently widowed parents out to dinner when Giles’s father visited from Kentucky.

“They immediately clicked, and we were surprised,” Giles said.

“Happily surprised,” Nason added.

“He went back to Kentucky, and within a year he had moved down to St. Pete and they got married. We became sisters,” said Giles.

Giles was the first to begin volunteering at Empath. In 2015, another friend, Shelley Abblett, suggested to Giles, who had recently retired, that they give back to the community by volunteering at Empath’s Community Service Center in Clearwater.

“We didn’t know what we were volunteering for,” Giles said. “We thought maybe they’d put us in one of the Resale Shops. Neither one of us thought we could work with patients. We get too emotional. Then, when we went to orientation, the lady who was leading the group said, ‘Oh, by the way, we need people in the office.’ We got excited because we had always worked in offices.”

After taking a break from volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic, Giles returned in 2021. Abblett was unable to come back, but Nason joined Giles after her own retirement.

The pair has been serving Empath Health ever since. They would recommend volunteering at Empath to anyone looking for purpose and a way to support the community.

“If they’re looking for some fulfillment in what they’re doing, this is a great opportunity. You come here and you feel so loved by everybody,” Nason said.

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