Pinellas County Volunteers Honored at Appreciation Events
In April we celebrate National Volunteer Month and Empath Health’s extraordinary volunteers. Our nearly 2,000 volunteers help provide Full Life Care, support and comfort for the communities we serve.
Volunteers in Pinellas County were honored during Volunteer Appreciation Events in March.
The Mary J. Labyak Legacy Award is the highest honor bestowed on Empath Health volunteers in Pinellas County. It has been presented since 2013 in the memory of former Suncoast Hospice CEO Mary J. Labyak, who led the organization for more than 30 years and had a passion for encouraging and rewarding the service of volunteers. Suncoast Hospice is a member of Empath Health.
This year, a special couple, St. Petersburg volunteers Ray and Dia Stoner, received the Labyak Legacy Award for nearly a decade of dedicated service. Since October 2014 the Stoners have donated more than 900 hours to Suncoast Hospice’s Coral Team, supporting the mission and providing Full Life Care for patients and families.
Ray and Dia moved from Richmond, Va., to Florida permanently after trying out the Sunshine State as snowbirds. Fittingly, they began their Empath volunteer journey as a team, making pet therapy visits with their Terri-Poo Diamond, the name a combination of “Dia” and “Raymond.”.
It wasn’t long before the Stoners branched out. Dia has taken virtually every palliative arts training available. She began with Reiki I training in 2016 and became a Reiki Master in 2019. She often takes on a new Reiki assignment and assists in co-facilitating Reiki trainings for new staff and volunteers beginning their Reiki journey. She has also completed Music in Caregiving, aromatherapy, Caring Touch and vigil volunteer training
It was a surprising turn for Dia, who spent her career as a registered nurse and healthcare inspector.
“I became involved in the palliative arts as a fluke,” she said. “The science background in me could not grasp that so many patients could make so much improvement without medicine. The relationship between a volunteer and a family/terminally ill patient that has been allowed into their life at the end of their life is permanent. To be able to participate in that phase of a patient’s life is the most rewarding phase of my volunteer opportunity.”
Ray, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy’s submarine service, is an Empath Honors volunteer. He takes pride in visiting veterans to present them with an Empath Honors Veteran Certificate and a pinning ceremony to thank them for their service. On several occasions Ray also has helped organize veteran pinning ceremonies for individuals within his retirement community, Westminster Suncoast in south St. Petersburg.
The Stoners helped recruit volunteers at Westminster Suncoast and hosted a training session of 13 volunteers. That number dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic, so Dia said she is hoping to restart the recruiting initiative.
Ray and Dia also make bereavement calls, checking in on the family members of Suncoast Hospice patients who have passed away as they embark on their grief journeys.
“Even though it’s a phone call you feel you’re just as much involved with that person or that family because of the stories they tell you as they heal,” Dia said.
Empath Health honored other Pinellas County volunteers during the Volunteer Appreciation Events.
Mary Ellen Phillips
Miriam “Bunny” Farsheim Award
Patient/Family Support Volunteer
Mary Ellen, who began volunteering in May 2012, has given more than 1,361 hours of her time at the bedside of many imminent patients, comforting them and their families. She was the first volunteer back into Mid-Pinellas Care Center after the COVID-19 shutdown and Hurricane Ian. She was willing to wear any PPE necessary to access a patient regardless of their isolation issues so she could provide Reiki and her comforting presence. Her journey began in the social work field, where she spent 30 years working in drug, alcohol and AIDS programs within Veterans Affairs.
Organizational Support Volunteer
Suncoast Hospice cared for Marlene’s husband in 2009, and she decided to say thank you and give back by becoming a volunteer in April 2011. Marlene began volunteering in the Green Team office, providing telephone support and triage services. Since then, her role has grown, and she assists with multiple administrative tasks. She took bereavement training in October 2018 and Reiki I and II training beginning in October 2019. In the past year, she has volunteered 160 hours in the office alone.
Specialized Volunteer Service Award
Dave, who began volunteering in May 2017, contributes an average of 439 hours per year as a volunteer on Suncoast Hospice’s Bereavement Team in St. Petersburg. Beginning as a bereavement office volunteer, his goal was to provide phone calls to survivors, ensuring they had the support they needed. Dave has been instrumental in developing reports that assist bereavement leadership track volunteer hours and provides valuable insight to fellow volunteers during bereavement support meetings.
We Honor Veterans Award
Bob, who began volunteering in August 2011, was one of the first volunteers trained to assist with the Veterans History Project, interviewing and recording veterans’ stories submitted to the Library of Congress preserving and honoring their military experiences. As a veteran of the National Guard, Bob appreciates the contributions of fellow servicemen and servicewomen. Bob has provided many veteran pinning ceremonies for patients and community members. In addition, he has participated in many specialized trainings to expand his ability to support patients, including music, transitions, spiritual support and Reiki. Bob has contributed more than 1,800 hours, supporting nearly every team and program within Empath Health.
Empath Member Award
Diane has contributed more than 2,222 hours since starting as an Empath volunteer in February 2020. She began as an office volunteer in the bereavement program, then took bereavement volunteer training to begin making bereavement check-in calls when extra help was needed. Later, Diane began volunteering at the welcome desk at the Clearwater Service Center. Diane began volunteering at the Suncoast PACE Adult Day Center (ADC) in July 2022 after being recruited by a PACE sewing volunteer. The sewing group has become one of the favorite activities at ADC. Diane also volunteers at the PACE office.
Outstanding Young Leader Award
Caitlin Nguyen began volunteering with Suncoast Hospice/Empath Health in May 2019, when she was in middle school. She later became a teen volunteer and took Patient and Family Support training when she started ninth grade. She made her first patient visit within two months of graduating from her training class. Caitlin has also volunteered in several support roles, including serving in the pharmacy and Durable Medical Equipment departments.
The Wilder Family Teen Scholarship Award
Alyssa Abraham has contributed more than 200 service hours to Empath Health since becoming a volunteer in June 2019. She has served on the North County Teen Leadership Board and participated in community outreach activities, special events, crafts and continuing education. She directly supports our patients and clients by visiting with them and joining them in celebrating milestones.
Help Your Community – Be a Volunteer
Visit EmpathVolunteers.org to learn more about our volunteer opportunities or to contact volunteer services for more information.