In the three years since the opening of Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, 124 volunteers have donated over 31,500 hours, equal to $697,479 in time value.

In the three years since the opening of Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, 124 volunteers have donated over 31,500 hours, equal to $697,479 in time value.

While this seems like a lot of minutes, hours and seconds, volunteers Sylvia Whaley, Sherrill Russ, Bonnie Wilson and Juanita Cross can’t imagine doing anything else. Having been with the program since day one of the hospital’s operation, they’ve watched the campus grow and have helped thousands of patients and their family members feel better simply by greeting them with a smile as they came through the doors.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Whaley, who initially read the call for volunteers in the newspaper. “One of my passions is that I love working with people. Sacred Heart is a lovely place to be.”

Volunteers are staffed seven days a week with shifts that run from 8 a.m. to 9 pm. Most volunteers work a four-hour shift once a week in various positions that include front desk, gift shop retail, interacting with patients and guiding them to the appropriate wing of the building, administrative duties, public relations and even miscellaneous projects and pilot studies.

“We couldn’t accomplish all we do without them,” said Physician and Volunteer Services Advocate, Paulina Pendarvis, who coordinates all volunteers within the hospital. “Our volunteers make the most significant impact with their effectiveness at making people feel at ease.”

She reported that whether volunteers have no experience or are looking to further develop a specialty, there’s a position available that will suit them. Volunteers are trained to work each position and retrained annually to ensure that customer service across the hospital functions on the highest level possible.

“Training keeps us on top of possible problems,” said Cross. “It’s my pleasure to come out and think I have helped someone.”

When bringing on new volunteers, Pendarvis looks for those who have excellent customer or community service skills and a passion for helping others. Other requirements include a background check, TB screening and completion of a two-hour orientation session.

Russ, the hospital’s very first volunteer, said, “It’s a great facility with wonderful people.”

Wilson waited several years for a position to become available as the hospital grew and ultimately her patience paid off and she got her chance.

“I love it. We provide a service for the community,” she said.

“It’s a life-warming experience,” added Cross.

In addition to the fuzzy feelings that come with the position, volunteers are awarded special pins when they reach hours benchmarks of 100, 250, 500 and 1,000. Recently, thank-you letters were sent to each volunteer from Chief Nursing Officer, Kathy Chastain and Hospital President, Roger Hall which voiced their appreciation for the time and dedication the volunteers had shown.

Hospital Chaplain Bob Chandler grew up in Port St. Joe and is the son of former commissioner Frank Chandler. A two-year volunteer, he took up the position due to a personal goal to think more of other people than himself.

“Prayer is a big thing,” said Chandler. “When a patient has someone to listen, pray with and uplift them, it means a lot to the individual.”

Former Wewahitchka Elementary teacher Esther Taunton, who volunteers in the gift shop, views her role as “presenting goodwill.” She understands that even if people don’t purchase anything, they’re likely taking a break from an emotional situation and she does everything she can to make them feel comfortable and welcome.

Whaley added, “It’s frightening to come to the hospital. I feel useful and make others feel comfortable.”

As the volunteers shared their stories and experiences the smiles never faded from their faces. Conversations were often interrupted to say hello or give a wave to passersby, even those who were complete strangers. Each volunteer summed up their experience the same way, saying that it was rewarding and they feel that they have gotten more out of the experience than they have given.

Those interested in becoming a volunteer with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf can download an application online at or contact Paulina Pendarvis at 850-229-5627.