100 years of support: RSH honors volunteers

by By Cristin Parker cristin@thecherokeean.com

Administration, staff and clients of the Rusk State Hospital acknowledged 100 years of support from area residents during the facility’s annual Volunteer and Donor Appreciation luncheon held Thursday, April 18.

Lunch, from the Brookshire Brother’s deli, of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pinto beans and cake was served to a packed house. This year’s theme was ‘100 Years of Service.’

“This year, our residents were extremely involved in the planning of this event,” RSH Director of Community Relations & Peer Support Services DD Clark said. “They were instrumental in coming up with our theme, making the decorations – they really did a fantastic job.”

A patient of the hospital presented a brief history of volunteerism.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support, in donations, in money, in services,” he said. “You’ve made our stay here a lot brighter for holidays, birthdays and special events. Never regret what you do for others and always appreciate what others have done for you – that’s our motto here at the Rusk State Hospital. “Therefore words can’t describe how much we, as patients, need and appreciate your contributions. Your support has made it possible for the hospital to be more resourceful, entertaining and to offer incentives to motivate those of us willing to make progress in our recovery.

“So thank you and may God continue to bless you!”

The event recognized the RSH Volunteer Council members Chairman Ben Middlebrooks, Vice Chair Larry Long, Secretary Mary Jane Jones, Frank Dobrovolny, Pat Richey, Davlin King, Debra Dominy, Kris Morgan, Eldridge Moak, Jeanie Swink, Jeannie and Jesse Whitaker, County Judge Chris Davis and Tim Sansom.

As everyone enjoyed lunch, event organizers explained just how important the hospital’s volunteers are. In 2018, volunteers provided an estimated 2,490 service hours, for a value of $61,359. Goods donated to the facility’s programs were tallied at $49,329, averaging $147 per donor. Event coordinators presented the annual DEC awards, RSH Choice awards and two special state level awards to volunteers.

“Volunteers are critical to our mission of providing high-quality, individualized services to Texans,” HHSC Deputy Executive Commissioner Mike Maples said. “Whether it’s hosting events, raising funds to enhance our campuses, or simply being a friend to the people we serve, they provide extraordinary experiences for our clients. Our All on DEC award winners go above and beyond by generously sharing their time and talents and help serve as goodwill ambassadors for our facilities.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) representative Rachel Samsel presented the RSH’s council members with the HHSC’s “All on DEC” Volunteer/Advocate of the Year award for National Volunteer Month.

The RSH Volunteer Council received the award for having gone “above and beyond in their service to Rusk State Hospital patients,” Maples said. “In addition to ongoing activities like providing a monthly birthday party for the patients and giving gifts and money donations to patients’ trust funds at Christmas, the council’s members have restocked the lake at the hospital’s wilderness camp and purchased a pontoon boat for use by the patients. The generosity of this group of volunteers has been recognized by the patients of the hospital who awarded the Volunteer Council with its first ever “Patient Choice Award” at the annual volunteer and donor appreciation luncheon in 2018.”

The “All on DEC” awards are named for the Deputy Executive Commissioner who oversees the state hospital and state supported living center systems and approves the selection of recipients for this high-profile award. The volunteer service awards underscore the importance and value of volunteers and the role they play in supporting the people served by Texas state hospitals and state supported living centers.

The awards were handmade bowls featuring painted bluebonnets on the side and a Lone Star inside the bowl, and they were fashioned by patients at the Kerrville State Hospital.

Samsel also presented Rusk High School with the DEC Spirit of Youth award.

“These young people are amazing,” Samsel said. “We appreciate all you’ve given. Own this day. What you’ve done here for our patients will stay with them for the rest of their lives. And that’s something you can carry with you for the rest of yours.”

which recognized them for their work individually and through several student groups – the Rusk High School Instructional Practice, Student Council, Peer Helpers, Lady Eagles Basketball Team, Eagles Football Team and the Eagles Cross Country Team – in service to the patients of Rusk State Hospital.

“In all, the students have logged a combined total of more than 2,000 volunteer hours and donated $550 worth of food, goods and money,” Clark said. “Through their work, these groups have helped to erase the stigma of mental health in their community and spread the word to their friends, teachers, and family that patients are people.

Rusk resident Jeannie Swink was named the 2019 RSH Volunteer of the Year.

“She is an avid recovery advocate and speaks for the patients, when they cannot speak for themselves,” Clark said. “Her most heartfelt contribution comes during the most giving season of the year, Christmas, when she personally sponsors a stocking of fresh fruit for every single patient at Rusk State Hospital.”

Donor of the Year was RSH employee Joe Ericson, who provided an entire house full of donations.

“Three days, three separate vehicles for a total of nine van and truck loads – (Ericson) allowed us to pick up over $5,300 in goods alone,” Clark said. “Clothing from this home dresses our patients. Funds made off the sale of the furniture pay for patient events, programs and parties.”

Service Group of the Year award went to the Rusk Junior High art program, who volunteered their time and talents to the RSH’s art partnership program.

“Working alongside our patients in a joint art project, these students partnered with a patient to create artworks that helped fight against the stigma of mental illness,” Clark said. “Their efforts were displayed at local banks, the Courthouse, churches, law offices and civic organizations facilities – some even managed to make it to the state offices in Austin!”

The second annual Patients’ Choice award went to the cast and crew of the Cherokee Civic Theatre’s production of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’

“This group left us very happy and spread lots of cheer and joy to us,” the RSH patient presenting the award said.

Volunteer Longevity awards were presented to Debra Dominy, Leslie Curtis and Christine Dominguez for five years of service; Alto Trail Riders for 10 years of service; Starville Church of the Living God for 40 years of service; and Rusk First United Methodist Women’s group for 45 years of service.