As our celebration of volunteers continues, read about our next set of Volunteer of the Year Award winners and their extraordinary service.
Sandra “Sandy” Hart – Specialized Volunteer Service Award
Sandy Hart began volunteering with Empath Health in the fall of 2014. Since then, she has donated nearly 2,000 hours of her time and her works reaches nearly every program in the organization.
“Sandy’s heart is pure and open,” says Volunteer Coordinator Traci Sutton, who nominated Hart. “She is willing to use her talents and skills to help any and all.”
Initially, she began as a volunteer with the Suncoast PACE Adult Day Center, helping participants sew their own projects as well as items for Suncoast Hospice patients, such as pillows and catheter bag covers. She also joined a group of sewists based out of the Mid-County Community Service Center. As a part of this group, Hart has made tote bags for Community Counselling bereavement groups and EPIC’s food pantry, as well as activity “bibs” for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients, blankets, laps robes, neck and positioning pillows. Additionally, Hart supports the perinatal loss doula volunteers by creating tiny jackets, robes and diapers to fit babies of 14-weeks gestation to full term. The doulas are then able to offer these items to grieving mothers.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hart has sewn more than 2,000 face coverings for Empath Health staff and volunteers, including military-themed masks for the Empath Honors veterans program. She also stepped into a leadership role with sewing group, visiting each volunteer to pick up completed items and drop off materials for sewing to continue. Hart continues to help PACE participants who sew via weekly Zoom sessions.
“Sewing for Suncoast Hospice gives me a lot of pleasure. When I’m at PACE I not only get to sew but I get to work with the participants there. It’s a little family group,” says Hart. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity Suncoast Hospice has given me to be of service which is a blessing to me and hopefully to others too.”
“Sandy came to Suncoast PACE after being inspired by her neighbor. Now, it is Sandy who inspires others to volunteer,” adds Sutton.
Bernie Ouimet – Empath Health Members Award
Since December 2015, Bernie Ouimet has been a dedicated volunteer for Empath Partners in Care (EPIC.) During that time he has given more than 1,000 hours of his time to employees and clients at the Clearwater location. When COVID-19 put many volunteer positions on hold, Ouimet was one of the first volunteers to return to EPIC once they were allowed to do so.
“Bernie makes a difference every day he is here,” shares nominator Jessica Seldin, on behalf of EPIC staff. “He has made a meaningful impact on our staff with his kindness, initiative and compassion. He has a huge heart and it is plain to see by his actions.”
As a volunteer for EPIC, he is the first person a client or community member sees when they visit the Clearwater office. He is compassionate and welcomes visitors with a smile. Ouimet always listens to the needs of others to assist to the best of his ability. He is able to understand and empathize with those he meets and strives to create a safe and comfortable space for all.
His commitment and passion for EPIC is apparent to all the staff he works with. Ouimet helps with restocking the food pantry; lends a hand cleaning up; and assists staff with testing forms. He excels at creating a relationship between clients and volunteers and providing comfort during times that may be a struggle.
“Bernie is an inspiration by being so willing to go above and beyond for anyone around him,” says Seldin. “He inspires all of us to do more and be our most compassionate to all.”
“I work with a really great bunch of case managers over at EPIC. They always go the extra mile for their clients which makes my job a whole lot easier and a lot more fun too,” adds Ouimet. “I want to say thank you to all the folks who every time I come in say thank you, whether they are from EPIC or another part of Empath Health. It’s really great and I appreciate it.”
Jim Blincoe – Empath Honors Award
Jim Blincoe has been a dedicated part of the We Honor Veterans volunteer program for the past seven years. He started serving in the North Pinellas Care Center and joined the Pearl team soon after to provide veteran to veteran companionship visits. Within his first year he also completed additional training to support the Veteran History Project. Blincoe has completed additional training in palliative arts, music, aromatherapy, bereavement and transitions to serve patients who are in their final hours. He accepts as many assignments as his schedule will allow.
Even though Blincoe retired in 2017 and moved out of Pinellas County to Spring Hill, he continues to volunteer for Suncoast Hospice. He has remained dedicated to serving fellow veterans by assisting with veteran outreach and pinning events, preflight preparation and companionship for Honor Flights and other unique requests that make lasting impacts for veteran patients and their families.
“Jim has always been willing to go above and beyond to make sure our veterans were given their certificate and pin even if that meant rearranging his schedule to accommodate the patient’s needs,” says Empath Health social worker Teresa Kelly. “His genuine care is evident by the kind words patients speak about him after a visit.”
Blincoe takes the time to honor each veteran as a hero and learn their story. He tailors each visit to the needs and preferences of the patient, offers a healing presence to grieving families and uses his skills in palliative arts to create the best environment possible for those in their final hours. During the pandemic he continued to make bereavement phone calls to families and was the first volunteer scheduled to make an in-person visit once volunteers were allowed back in facilities.
“As a fellow veteran I consider it my duty to these men, women and their families to serve them with empathy and understanding as the veteran nears their end of life,” says Blincoe. “We owe these real American heroes who truly sacrificed a debt of gratitude that only through our honor and care and end-of-life support can we attempt to repay.”
Blincoe often assists with trainings for new volunteers, sharing his knowledge and experiences during the We Honor Veterans module. He also mentors volunteers out in the field, giving them the confidence and tools to connect and support veterans and all patients.
“I always find it inspiring to hear Jim humbly describe the role he plays and the service all of us can provide to those who have sacrificed to preserve our freedom,” adds senior volunteer coordinator Judie Bortness. “Although I am a confident trainer of new volunteers, I never want to do a training without Jim by my side to encourage new volunteers to join him in supporting our veterans.”
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