‘It only takes a hug’ and a selfless teen

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Railey Connor, left, addresses the audience following her award presented by Kristen Knapp, communications director for Florida Health Care, Aug. 29.

HOLT, Fla., Aug. 30, 2018–A Holt teenager was the state recipient of a youth volunteer award at a Crestview senior care facility Wednesday.

Baker School senior Railey Conner, 17, received the 2018 Youth Florida Health Care Association Volunteer of the Year award for the state of Florida during a ceremony at the Crestview Rehabilitation Center.

“Just a hug, that’s all it takes,” she said as she encouraged others to give a little bit of their time to brighten an elderly resident’s day. “I never thought I’d be recognized with an award for doing what I thought was right.”

Mom Angie Holland is proud of her daughter’s work and accomplishments.

“She’s my daughter but she has touched so many people with this mission of hers to make sure that we don’t forget the people who have have the privilege of growing old,”  she said. “As her mom, I couldn’t be more proud.”

Since she was 11 years old, Conner decided she wanted to help senior citizens who appear to have been forgotten, tucked away in nursing homes.

She does this by leading her donation project called Railey’s Annual Birthday Project/Remembering Our Elderly in Nursing Homes.

Conner’s December birthday so close to Christmas was a logical time for the teen to help others, which she’s done every year since she was 11.

Since then, all she wanted for her birthday was donations for nursing home residents like her great grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Conner got her first donations in October 2012 and her project has continued to grow each year. She now delivers Christmas gifts to five area nursing home facilities in the Crestview, Destin and Niceville areas.

At the Crestview center where Conner volunteers, administrator Renita Enfinger said she’d been submitting people throughout the years for this competitive award with no success until this year.

“I’ve been doing this for 31 years and I’ve nominated and nominated people, but this is the first time I’ve ever had a winner,” she said.

When Enfinger arrived at the Crestview Rehab Center, she was surprised to find out residents had their own Santa who delivered Christmas gifts each year.

“Every year at Christmas we would give money and buy gifts for our residents,” she said. But when she got to CRC, “Nov. 15 arrived and I told my staff we have to get all our presents bought and they said, ‘Nope, it’s all furnished.'”

Enfinger was surprised because she’d always had to scrounge to get gifts for the residents.

“Railey makes our patients’ lives special every year,” she said.

A judging panel reviewed all the nominations submitted for the 2018 recognition, according to Kristen Knapp, director of communications for Florida Health Care Association who sponsored the award.

“Railey’s nomination stood out above the rest,” said Knapp. “She touched our hearts at Florida Health Care.”

The award ceremony was attended by representatives from Florida Health Care, Florida Rep. Mel Ponder from District 4, Crestview Mayor David Cadle and Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, among others.

More importantly, Conner was also surrounded by the people she’s given her heart to, the residents of the rehabilitation center who responded with a round of applause as Railey’s name and award was announced.

“I love the standard you’ve set for others,” Ponder said, speaking to Conner before the award was presented. “You’ve shown it’s cool to be dedicated.”

Stephanie Holcombe

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