If you would like to volunteer your time at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, call the hospital’s Volunteer Services at 770-219-1830.
Lorena Collins doesn’t deliver the patient mail any longer, but putting on age hasn’t stopped her from making Monday her day of volunteer work at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
The 83-year-old Gainesville woman has logged more than 22,000 hours of service over 47 years at the hospital, helping out wherever needed and offering a smile or encouraging word as she can to folks passing through the doors.
“After a while, it sort of becomes like family here,” Collins said Monday while sorting mail in the hospital’s Volunteer Services department. “The people have always been real kind to me and I felt like I was helping a little bit.
“And if they brag on you a little bit, you like that. It’s just been a joy to me. I’ve enjoyed it.”
During an April 20 volunteer appreciation luncheon at the First Baptist Church banquet hall, Collins received an award acknowledging her years of service.
“Lorena is one of the most loyal people I’ve ever known,” said Lynne Allen, hospital Volunteer Services director. “There is no doubt that she is committed to her volunteer service.”
The amount of time she has given to the hospital “is a record number ... by one individual,” Allen added.
Collins, a native Mississippian who has lived in Gainesville since 1958, began volunteering at the hospital in the fall of 1962, first arriving as part of the American Red Cross.
“A friend wanted me to volunteer,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about volunteering and hadn’t thought anything about it.”
Her friend left volunteering, while Collins went on to become a regular volunteer at the hospital.
“Basically, when I started out, this hospital was just a T-shaped building that has grown ever since I’ve been here — seems like from one week to the next I didn’t know where what was,” Collins said.
Her work schedule and duties have changed over the years.
“When I started out, my children were in school, so I could work in the mornings,” Collins said.
“Then, my mother came to live with me. She didn’t like for me to go anywhere, but she never complained about me coming over here, so I would come and work till noon.”
Collins later started working all day on Mondays. “If I work other days, it’s because I’m filling in for somebody else,” she said.
Over the years, she has worked with lab reports, made beds and carried trays, “basically anything the nurses had for us to do.”
These days, she handles patient mail and works at the information desk.
“I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and it’s good for me,” said Collins, who has two sons, seven grandchildren, two stepgrandchildren and three stepgreat-grandchildren.
Her husband, Cecil W. Collins, who had retired from the Social Security Administration, died in 2006.
“I was out about 10 months when (he) was in the nursing home,” she said. “He fell and broke his hip. He went there for rehab and wound up having to stay. ... I stayed with him every day he was there, but (the hospital) held my place for me.
“And that was good for me — to get out of the house and not dwell on things.”
The work has been “quite interesting” through the years, she said.
“I thought I’d seen about everything, but I found out I haven’t,” Collins said. “Every day or two, something else (happens) that you’re sort of left with your mouth open.”
Many people passing through the hospital aren’t in the best of spirits, having to deal with medical problems they or loved ones have.
“I try to give them a smile, something that might brighten their day a little bit,” Collins said. “And there have been times where I was urged ... to take a different route and I’ve run into someone who needed a kind word.
“And I’ve thought maybe I was meant to do that. People are sad enough and have enough problems — they don’t need any more — so I just try to encourage them.”
Also filling Collins’ time is a monthly game of bridge and staying active in her Sunday school class at First Baptist Church on Green Street.
She doesn’t expect to quit her hospital volunteering any time soon.
Collins plans to keep at it “as long as I have the mental capacity and the physical capacity to do it, and as long as they’ll let me.
“If I get to the point where I mess up, they may throw me out. I’ve enjoyed it and would hate to give it up.”