Rhoden uses free time to help others in hospital

When Shirley Rhoden retired from the food service department at Nederland Independent School District after 30 years of work she soon found she had a lot of free time on her hands.

“After I retired I realized I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with,” Rhoden, a senior citizen, said.

So, in 2003, she began another important chapter in her life — volunteering as a hospital auxiliary member. She started at what was then Mid-Jefferson Hospital then moved on to her current location at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas.

“I have worked all the positions; gift, shop, registration desk, information booth,” she said as customers moved about in the hospital’s gift shop.

Now in her fifth year as president of the auxiliary she works more than the eight hours a week asked of her, taking shifts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“There are only 46 volunteers. That sounds like a lot but when you break it down, volunteers work in four hour shifts from 8 a.m. to noon or noon to 4 p.m.,” she said.

Volunteers are typically 55 years or older and work in various capacities according to their skill set.

As Rhoden speaks, first time grandmother Kelly Secrest walked into the gift shop and stopped in front of a pink ribboned wreath. After asking a few questions Secrest happily decides to purchase the item to celebrate the birth of her new granddaughter, Alice Rose.

Barbara Acrond, another gift shop customer, picked up a small white teddy bear and pressed a button on the item when suddenly music began to play “You Are My Sunshine.”

“They have wonderful stuff in here and their (volunteers) personalities are wonderful,” Acrond said, adding she is often at the hospital. “When you walk in they have a smile on their faces and ask if they can help.”

The personal touch; a warm smile and pleasant demeanor, is what helps visitors to the hospital and something Rhoden thoroughly enjoys.

Rhoden’s desire to help others is what brought her to being a volunteer, she said.

Fellow auxiliary members Jeri Tingle, Louise Jones and Lynn Begnaud are all longtime friends as well as volunteers. Tingle and Rhoden were baseball moms together as well as being involved parent-teacher organizations and Rhoden, Tingle and Jones live near each other in Nederland.

Begnaud, who is the auxiliary’s new treasurer, receives help from Rhoden with the task, she said.

“Sometimes we (auxiliary volunteers) do the silliest things,” Rhoden said. “We laugh a lot.”

Jones responded with,” the best way to face anything is to laugh a lot.”

Tingle also took time to speak about Rhoden and her work.

“Shirley is always willing to jump in and do what needs to be done,” Tingle, a 16-year-voluunteer, said. “She’s a good volunteer.”

Joan Sheehan, director of social services and director of volunteer services at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas, speaks highly of Rhoden and her contributions.

“Shirley really is the meaning of a multi-tasker,” Sheehan said. “She’s an active grandmother and is here on a regular basis, almost a daily basis. She leads by example. I couldn’t do without her.”

The gift shop is more than a place to pick up a gift or a snack. Funds from the 501 C3 nonprofit group go back to the community.

The gift shop, Rhoden said, helps fund a scholarship program for graduating seniors at Memorial, Port Neches-Groves, Nederland and Bridge City high schools.

Sheehan said funds have also gone toward cancer and a sizeable donation was made to help the victims of a typhoon in the Philippines.

“The volunteers are a wonderful representation of The Medical Center,” Sheehan said.

Giving to and helping others is important to Rhoden.

“It’s something that makes you feel good,” Rhoden said. “Patients come in and look lost, you ask if they need help. We try to be pleasant because we’re the first people they see when they come into the hospital.”

Rhoden moved to the area from Oklahoma in 1962 when her husband was transferred here by DuPont. She was widowed in 1986 and has two boys and one girl, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

When she’s not volunteering she spends her time baby-sitting, going on trips, crocheting and loves to read.

She also encourages other seniors to become a volunteer.

For more information about volunteer opportunities contact The Medical Center of Southeast Texas at 853-5762.

Email: mary.meaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews

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