One of the most active volunteers at Heritage Park Nursing Center in Dade City is also a resident.
Danny Bush, who is 49 and uses a wheelchair, sorts and hand delivers mail sent to residents at the nursing center every Monday through Saturday. He rides from room to room with a smile, greeting residents, doling out hugs and handshakes, and even stopping to read letters to those with vision problems.
"My favorite part is when I get to deliver a letter to someone who doesn't usually get mail," Bush said. "It always makes their day—and mine."
When Bush, a double amputee, first arrived at the nursing home in November, his first question for activities director Nila Premer was not where he could play bingo or shuffleboard, but how he could help other residents.
"One person can lift the atmosphere of a whole place," Premer said. "He hasn't had the easiest life, and he still lifts us all up."
Helping others always has been important to this Kentucky native, who originally attended Western Kentucky University with the intention of becoming a social worker.
"I need to be able to help others," Bush said. "If I can't, I'm just not as happy."
Before he graduated, he scored a job at a children's psychiatric hospital and went to work in 1983 as an assistant supervisor at Res/Care in Bowling Green, Ky., helping to coordinate and administer the residential care of mentally challenged adults.
"I always reminded staff members to be respectful of their patients," he said. "I told them, 'This could be your family member in this chair. Or it could be you.' "
Bush himself learned this lesson July 7, 1988. He was 24 and making a casual convenience store run on a dark, hilly country road, when he hit a curb and spun out of control. His truck flipped and he was ejected from the driver's seat.
His spinal cord was sliced, costing him the use of both of his legs; and from that evening forward, the onetime collegiate football player and weightlifter faced life in a wheelchair.
"My son has faced terrible obstacles in his life," said mother Sandra Bush, 72. "Since 1988, he has had 65 operations."
Even so, Sandra and husband Owen, who moved to Dade City 14 years ago, say that their son has never lost his kind spirit or his light, silly sense of humor.
"My son is a very, very special man," said Owen, 74.
Bush also didn't lose his drive to succeed. Working from his wheelchair, he continued to serve in facilities for mentally challenged adults, serving as a behavioral specialist, a trainer and eventually as a residential coordinator. He also stayed as active as possible, eventually participating in wheelchair racing and weightlifting events in the ParaOlympics, as well as coaching Special Olympics kids. He continued his work until 2006, when a multitude of health problems, ranging from continued leg and hip problems to overexerted shoulders, along with diabetes and various infections, forced him to leave his job. He held a computer data entry position for the next two years; and in October 2009, a severe infection prompted the amputation of both legs.
What he didn't lose was his will to survive.
"I have no regrets in my life," he said. "I always tried to live life to the fullest."
That's why, when Bush was finally confined to a Kentucky nursing center in July 2011, he made it a point to offer a helping hand to older, more infirm residents.
"I brought them coffee when they wanted it," he said. "One guy liked music, so I played him tunes on my CD player."
Longing to be closer to his parents, Bush came to Heritage Park as a resident in November 2012. He goes out for frequent social visits with his parents and is currently on a quest to replace his 5-year-old wheelchair with one that is more comfortable and readily mobile.
Premer aims to help Bush find a new chair. And recently, she presented him with a volunteer's appreciation certificate; one that honors his "volunteer time and heart to Heritage Park, for improving our quality of life."