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Volunteers for Veterans says 'mission completed'

SPRING HILL — "Mission completed."

That was the declaration of Fran Finley, chairwoman of Nature Coast Volunteers for Veterans, as the organization recently closed its books after providing for residents at the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O'Lakes for the past 11 years.

It was a mission to which members were dedicated from the start, with the belief that veterans at the home were not receiving the attention from the public they deserved.

In its first year, Finley said, the Spring Hill-based group learned that all of its donations were going into a state pot in Tallahassee that benefitted Florida's seven nursing homes for veterans.

Group members wanted their contributions to be designated solely for Baldomero Lopez. So, the membership incorporated as a nonprofit agency to assist patients at the home, where 120 veterans, ranging in age from 56 to 98, from at least five area counties reside.

"It took over a year to put this together," Finley said. "I had never tackled anything like this."

Brooksville attorney John Keller helped with the paperwork, she said.

"Tallahassee," she said, "finally realized we were helping (the veterans) so much" and approved the organization.

When veterans check into the home, they turn over their Social Security checks, Finley explained.

"They got to keep $35 (a month). They would have to buy their own toothbrushes, toothpaste, Depends. The money just didn't stretch."

In addition, few of the patients have relatives live close by.

"Veterans come down here to Florida and they have nobody here," Finley said.

Finley and her group, mainly members of Spring Hill American Legion Auxiliary Post 186, reached out. They spoke to civic groups, schools and other organizations.

"We started fundraising," she said. "People gave to us."

The groups were impressed that the volunteers held back only 2 percent for operational costs. After looking ways to further cut costs, mainly by replacing mail requests with emails, the group eventually was able to give 100 percent of the donations to the home.

"It was a mission," Finley said. "Now so many schools, churches and organizations are supporting us."

Finley counts as the greatest donation to the nursing home a $5,000 snoezelen machine, a multisensory device that projects soothing sights and sounds in a quiet, light-subdued room.

For patients, she said, "It calmed them down so that they didn't need any heavy medication."

The volunteers have since purchased an upgraded mobile version of the machine for $10,000.

Although not all of the patients need such therapy, many appreciate other things the volunteers have done: birthday bags and Christmas gifts, for example.

Each birthday bag contains at least $10 worth of personal items, including a shirt and hygiene items. Then the recipient gets a birthday cake and a round of Happy Birthday.

"The main thing is that they get a birthday bag," said Joanne Burley, the home's director of activities. "Some of our residents don't have a family."

Also, she said, the Volunteers for Veterans "have done parties for us, provided entertainment. It's just like they've been there to provide things when they were needed, from the little things to the big things."

Burley pointed out that while Volunteers for Veterans is disbanding, the group has made sure the veterans at Baldomero Lopez will still have outside support.

"They've gotten other organizations involved so they can step back," she said. "We have a lot of community support now."

Volunteers for Veterans has turned over its treasury of $6,600 to the Millennium Sertoma Club, a nonprofit civic service organization based in Lutz.

Finley says she plans to continue her volunteer work with other groups in Hernando County.

In the meantime, she's certain the Baldomero Lopez veterans are in good hands.

"With all these clubs coming out of the woodwork," she said, "they'll be well taken care of."

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Volunteers for Veterans says 'mission completed' 02/03/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 3, 2012 7:49pm]
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