Stories flow as veterans recall their past glory
Cheryl Thornton, left, is a volunteer for Hospice of St. Francis’ Honor Veterans Program.
Hospice of St. Francis’ Honor Veterans Program celebrates the military service of its hospice patients with a moving ceremony where volunteers such as Cheryl Thornton present the individuals with a pin and hat representing their branch of service. Family members are invited to participate.
“It can be so emotional,” Thornton said.
“We have had as many as 70 family members gather.”
An Army veteran, Thornton loves to chat with the vets about their military service. The conversations often open flood gates of memories for the vets.
“Sometimes the vets begin reminiscing at these events and it is the first that even their loved ones hear the stories,” said Vicky Hamilton, volunteer coordinator for Hospice of St. Francis.
Military veterans such as Thornton can be heaven sent for some hospice patients.
“We often have patients who served in the military and would like another veteran to visit them weekly,” Hamilton said.
“There is an instant connection when talking with another veteran. That common ground builds rapport and trust.”
Thornton joined the Army in 1979, the first in her family to do so.
“I wanted to see the world,” said the Titusville resident.
She served in Germany, and when her military assignment was completed, settled into civilian life working for the General Services Administration and, later, NASA. She started her career as a secretary and ended it as a television producer, awards program manager and STEM education lead.
When she retired in 2015, Thornton wanted to give back to the community. Impressed by how hospice had cared for one of her best friends, Thornton signed up with Hospice of St. Francis. Veterans quickly became her special focus.
“Cheryl is passionate about honoring our military veterans,” Hamilton said.
Her work with hospice also encompasses raising awareness of hospice services within the community and helping with administrative duties such as patient tracking projects.
An avid videographer, Thornton also often uses her photography skills in documenting the events.
In addition to her work with Hospice of St. Francis, Thornton currently is creating an oral history video for the Moore Cultural Center in Mims. At her church, First United Methodist Church of Port St. John, she often is with camera in hand, recording events and teaching kids videography.
She considers herself a surrogate daughter for the elderly lady she and four other women from her church help to maintain her independence. The octogenarian has no family, very limited financial resources and is suffering from early dementia, so her church “dream team,” Thornton included, take turns cleaning, cooking and helping around the house. It’s a year-round job, but Thornton doesn’t mind at all.
“We are her family and we want to help her remain independent as long as possible,” she said.
Hamilton wishes she could clone a volunteer such as Thornton.
“Cheryl’s people skills shine in her caring interaction,” Hamilton said.
“She brings enthusiasm to all the area that she works in.”
Hospice of St. Francis welcomes new volunteers. An orientation is provided for all potential volunteers. A criminal background screening is required.
For more details and information on upcoming orientation classes, call 321-269-4240 or toll free at 866-269-269-4240