A life of service

Empath Health Volunteer Nero Jones

BY LASHANTE KEYS, Empath Health Community Partnership Specialist

CLEARWATER — May is Military Appreciation Month, and Empath Health gives a big shout out and thanks to all present and past military members and families for their service and sacrifice.

Military, college and family

Empath Health Volunteer Nero Jones

It’s our honor to serve veterans in our community and have veterans support us such as Nero Jones. For nearly eight years, he has volunteered in the welcome center of our Clearwater service center.

Joining the military positively changed Jones’ life. He grew up in Brunswick, Ga., and after high school served for two years in the army.

“The army gave me the chance to be on my own, settled me down and helped me be responsible. I was in a heavy weapons company,” said Jones, noting that he was scheduled to go to Korea but a cease-fire happened. “I went in to fight for our country, and I stayed in to get the GI Bill. Going into the service before college made a difference.”

His first mission after the service was reuniting with his mother and family back home. He next moved to New York, helped take care of his cousin’s four children and started a new job at the New York Department of Mental Health at Brooklyn State Hospital.

Then he set off to West Virginia State College. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education, met and married his first wife and had a son and a daughter, and she served as a Marines gunnery sergeant for 24 years.

Serving veterans

Another path led Jones back to the military working as a recreation therapist at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center. He rose up the ranks to recreation and volunteer administration, met and married his second wife and retired after 32 years of service.

“Working at a VA was something like hospice. We had a small section for hospice patients, a nursing home care unit, a psychiatric facility, outpatient programs and a day treatment center for therapies and activities,” he explained. “We had to change focus when the younger guys came back from Vietnam. It was quite an experience building programs to meet the needs of Vietnam veterans.”

Suncoast Hospice care and volunteering

In 1999, the couple transplanted to Florida for warmer weather and his wife’s job in software development at Bay Pines VA. After her retirement, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and went into Suncoast Hospice care.

“She was being treated, and it metastasized. While she was in the hospital, they were doing her prognosis, and Suncoast Hospice was brought in for the discharge planning. She said she wanted to go home,” he recalled.

By the time his wife was discharged, the social worker from Suncoast Hospice had made sure whatever special equipment she needed arrived at their home before she did.

“Suncoast Hospice nurses came in to cover and help with her care. She passed away on a Saturday,” he said.

Jones turned to Suncoast Hospice’s bereavement support.

“I came for group bereavement with other families. It was excellent. People would show pictures of their loved ones, and they could provide support because they were going through the same things,” he noted.

The beneficial care and support inspired his desire to volunteer.

“I had to give back. I feel that I help people with a warm greeting and helping them get where they are going. I’m not counseling anyone, but we provide refreshments and talk to them. And once you get to know a person in the first and second weeks, it’s like greeting an old friend. We are there to help,” Jones expressed.

Jones said his service is very satisfying.

“There are mornings when I wake up and say, ‘I really don’t want to get out of this bed, but I’m going to get up and go.’ I enjoy doing work and being of use. The staff is unbelievable. They treat everyone so well. There is satisfaction that I see when people come in, their needs are met, and they are happy with the services.”

While Jones lives fully with golf, reading, jazz, the symphony, travel and other activities, he remains committed to serving Suncoast Hospice and the community.

“For anyone who needs assistance, I would suggest this hospice. It’s an untapped resource in health care. The services are amazing. Give it a try. Call someone at Suncoast Hospice,” he stated.

Volunteers make a difference. Learn more about volunteer opportunities and orientation at EmpathHealth.org/Volunteer.

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