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Senior Living: Seniors enjoy volunteering at gift shop

At age 68, Betty Gay has finally found her perfect job. She's a volunteer in the gift shop at McDuffie County Regional Medical Center.

"My childhood dream was to work in a store; I like selling," said Gay, who has worked in the closed pants factory in Thomson, sold Avon and run a day care from her home.

Gay started volunteering at the hospital three years ago after visiting her brother who was a patient. Eva Newsome, then the director of the volunteers or Auxiliary, convinced her to come on board.

Gay, who volunteers two days a week for four hours each day, said she enjoys meeting people and getting out of the house.

Gay actually counts every day as a blessing after having a heart attack at 49. She celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary in December with her husband, Edward, who works full time delivering prescriptions for Moye Pharmacy.

Gay is one of 35 active members of the Auxiliary, said Ray White, the president of the group. To be an active member, one must volunteer a minimum of eight hours a month.

White, 67, retired in Thomson in 2005 from Vero Beach, Fla., where he worked as a civil engineer for a residential development company. He and his wife, Mary, chose Thomson because it was a little, quiet, residential town. A neighbor, Wanda Willis, encouraged him to become a volunteer.

"She wore me down," White said. "I joined."

He calculates he puts in more than 500 hours a year but loves the work, including one day a month in the operating room.

"Everybody has a smile," White said. "The people here are such professionals. This hospital is unique in that everybody knows everybody. I feel I've become part of the family."

Mary White, the gift shop manager, said the Auxiliary needs younger retirees because many of the current members are in their 70s and 80s. Men would be particularly welcome, she said.

"Men have an advantage because they're stronger," said White, 63.

After her husband's death 10 years ago, Frances Hobbs, 82, wanted to be more active. She started working eight hours a month at the front desk and in the gift shop about eight years ago. Because she is unable to drive, her daughter, Beverly, drives her to work.

"I like to feel I'm needed," Hobbs said. Ann Carter, 71, worked as a floor nurse at the Medical College of Georgia for 24 years until retiring 11 years ago. She's been a volunteer in the emergency room for six years.

"I'm a retired nurse; I could do a little something," Carter said to herself.

Her work includes making beds, taking blood work to the lab and visiting patients. Edna Kennedy, 68, is a part-time staffer about 24 hours a week in the business department but also works at least 30 hours a month as treasurer of the Auxiliary. The Auxiliary's major event, Tree of Love, involves sending letters asking individuals for a $10 donation. A Christmas tree is lighted outdoors in front of the hospital in December. Proceeds from the six fundraisers each year purchase items needed by the hospital, including chairs in the waiting room and $7,000 for a stretcher in the x-ray department.

Carter, Kennedy, Hobbs and Gay chatted about their jobs and families over lunch in the hospital cafeteria. All four have great grandchildren. One of Kennedy's grandchildren adopted a 3-year-old girl, Lia, from China, who will have surgery for a cleft lip.

"She's precious," Kennedy said.

After half an hour, they return to duty.

"We better get back to our job, or we'll be fired," Carter joked.

Web posted on Thursday, March 24, 2011

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