Celebrating those who give of themselves.
by Judith Lawrenson
Photography by Bill Lawrenson
Beth Whiteford has a history—as a volunteer, that is. As a longtime volunteer in her home state of Massachusetts, it was important to her to find some way to help in her new community. Three years ago she saw a request for volunteers for Operation Safe Harbour, called their office and went in. It was a good fit and she has been there ever since.
Pink: Beth, what do you do at Safe Harbour?
Beth: I have primarily been a driver who takes members to various appointments, outings, classes and grocery shopping trips. This sometimes means picking up and dropping off, but often it includes assisting with shopping when eyesight is a problem, or checking on them while they are shopping to make sure they are getting along all right, or need help finding something specific in huge Wal-Mart. I have also been a visitor to provide respite for both the member and spouse, and even done small household chores from time to time.
Pink: How do you do it? Do you get a call or does someone recommend you?
Beth: A potential volunteer is interviewed by Safe Harbour and goes through a background check. Once that takes place, Safe Harbour has a wonderful web site with an online calendar, which makes it very easy to volunteer when it is convenient for me. It lists assignments by month and day. Each assignment includes time frame, the member, what the assignment is and on what part of the Island they live. Volunteers are also able to get information about the members they might be helping. We get address, directions and perhaps what limitations they may have. Weekly, I go to the site with my calendar to see where I can help and sign up on line. I try to do at least one or two assignments each week.
Pink: How would you describe one of your visits or assignments?
Beth: After signing up, I receive a reminder email the day before. I call the member, introduce myself if we have not yet met, and confirm what we will be doing together and verify the time. If we are going to an appointment, I generally accompany them in and ask if they would like me to sit with them while waiting. The best part for me is our conversations, although sometimes I know I just need to listen. I have shared member’s family photographs and been the recipient of the best tomatoes EVER from one member!
Pink: Talk about why you have chosen to make this particular volunteer commitment.
Beth: In the past, I volunteered primarily for groups such as church, schools, soup kitchens, etc. I felt this would be a new opportunity for me to help one-on-one. I have an aging mother in Illinois and appreciate so much those who have helped her. I can’t be there to help her as often as I would like, so this is my chance to pay it forward where I am.
Pink: What sort of population do you serve?
Beth: I believe our youngest member is in their early 40s and the oldest is over 100, but I would say that most members are in their 80s. I have enjoyed all the members I have had assignments with.
Pink: What is your territory?
Beth: Safe Harbour serves residents of Hilton Head Island, but we do take members to appointments in Bluffton. I focus mostly on driving members to the north end.
Pink: How do you relate to those who need your services? I guess I am asking if you draw a line about relationships or jobs that you do. What are some of the volunteer guidelines?
Beth: I try to treat all the members I see with the sensitivity, courtesy and respect they deserve. These are wonderful people with lives full of experiences. As volunteers we are expected to be professional and respect the privacy of our members. I do not inquire about their health or circumstances and I generally follow their lead in conversation. Some of the members have become very dear to me so, of course, there is the occasional hug too!
We are “One Island, One Community, Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” Organized in 2009 from a needs assessment meeting, Operation Safe Harbour is an organization designed for and by Hilton Head Islanders for those who want to stay in their own homes as they age. The knowledge that assistance is just a phone call away, enables aging residents to continue to confidently enjoy lifestyles that make the Lowcountry the special place it is.
We provide "members" with transportation for shopping, medical appointments, beauty salon and barber shop appoints, and yes, even theater trips. We even stay to see a movie with them! That is what makes us different. We also provide arts and crafts workshops, jewelry making workshops and greeting card workshops. We provide respite sitting for the infirmed, which we call “sitting companionship.” We are not just a ride by any means. Through these programs, we are also enriching the lives of our seniors and giving the gift of options to those who are aging.
We have worked with over 100 families in recent years and our members and volunteers come from very diverse backgrounds. We are proud of what we do and of our volunteer Beth Whiteford being selected for this honor.
-Renee Smith, Executive Director, Operation Safe Harbour
Who do you admire? My parents. They were wonderful role models.
What book are you reading now? I just finished All the Light We Cannot See. I really enjoy talking about books I have read that are thought provoking like this one.
Do you have a favorite place on HHI? Yes—I love Islander’s Beach at sunrise, especially with my dogs and a group of friends.
Do you have a motto or words to live by? Always try to be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I am sure those whom Beth serves feel the same way. If you feel this sort of volunteer commitment is for you, contact Operation Safe Harbour for more information! This Charity Angels article is a win/win. Hilton Head Island is the better for this fabulous organization, and I am much the better for learning about Beth Whiteford. What a kind, dear hearted individual.