It’s safe to say Betty Jo Schuder has touched the lives of thousands of children across North Georgia.
That’s because Schuder has spent the last 50 years volunteering to help disabled children through what is known today as Children’s Medical Services. It’s a service offered through District 2 of Georgia Public Health that assists children with special needs, along with their families, in getting treatment for a range of disabilities.
The office on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville serves more than 500 children in 13 counties who cope with diabetes, asthma, spina bifida or hearing loss, among other issues.
And on any given day, Schuder, 83, can be found organizing patients’ charts or shepherding children to their next appointment.
“It has meant so much to me,” said Schuder, who also volunteers at the Salvation Army. She moved to Gainesville in 1954 with her husband Raymond, a lawyer for 40 years and later a Magistrate Court judge. He passed away in 2007; they have two grown children.
The facility keeps several doctors, physicians assistants and other specialists in-house, so a child who needs a regular checkup along with an X-ray and a brace can get all those taken care of in one visit on the same day, according to Stella Head, a nurse at Children’s Medical Services.
“She helps us most in the orthopedic clinic because it’s the largest,” she said. “She kind of keeps us organized and keeps us together.”
Schuder said she started volunteering when the state approached the Elks Auxiliary in 1960 about staffing a clinic in Gainesville. At that time, the state provided one nurse who would oversee the medical care at the clinic, and the Elks Auxiliary members would staff the office, shuttle the kids to different doctors in the clinic and provide milk and sandwiches.
From the start, Schuder said, the need was great. The office opened with 80 patients and had outgrown its small office on Prior Street in Gainesville before it even opened.
Today, the office has more room and a larger staff. And Schuder said the people who work there keep her coming back almost as much as the children do.
“I like it — I enjoy working with the children, and the staff is incredible,” said Schuder before sitting down to a small luncheon in her honor on Monday. “These girls are just exceptional people.”
Because she has been volunteering so long, Schuder said she has been able to see some of the children she’s helped grow up and have families of their own. Some may return to the office as parents of children with similar genetic disorders, while others learn a trade and gain their independence.
All of the children are inspiring, Schuder said, but one little girl she helped years ago sticks out in her mind.
“There was one little girl — her diagnosis, I believe, was spina bifida. She wanted to be better so bad, and she had a good outlook on life,” she said, adding that sometimes you can’t help but form a bond with a particular child.
In this case, the little girl grew up and is now working with computers.
Schuder also keeps a scrapbook of her time with Children’s Medical Services, including newspaper articles going back to the start of the program in Gainesville. She has letters signed by Jimmy Carter, Zell Miller, Roy Barnes, Casey Cagle and Cathy Cox, among other local and state politicians, congratulating her on her years of service.
And those were sent on the occasion of her 40th year volunteering.
On Monday, as the staff gathered to once again thank Schuder for her years of dedication, Schuder instead thanked the health care professionals who work with her.
“They not only take care of the patients, they take care of me,” she said.
And, she added, she has no plans to retire from her volunteer position any time soon.
“It’s like a learning process. I’m still learning,” she said. “And everyone is very kind — it’s just a really good program.”