Super Volunteers: Giving Overtime by Jeff Roslow

Super Volunteers: Giving Overtime
By Jeff Roslow

There are a few volunteers in Polk who give more time than the norm. So, we’re shining a light on these deserving folks.

In most cases when you see someone you know you get a handshake but if it’s Donna Delf you get a hug. 

Laurentiis Smith speaks to high school students at Winter Haven High School. Photo provided to The 863 Magazine.

“Jeff, Kathryn, and I all know we’ll get a hug and know she prays for us,” says Virginia Condello, the communications director of the Greater Bartow Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t take that for granted. We need that.”

Delf says she volunteers because it lets her get out of the house, which underplays the volunteering she does at the Church Service Center – for 13 years – and as a “Diplomat” volunteer – nine years – at the chamber. 

“I’ll do whatever needs to be done,” Delf says, adding she enjoys being a part of the community. 

For Claire Parks, it’s for the satisfaction: “When you see a face light up because you  are at the door, if you stay for a minute and listen to the latest going-ons in their days… showing interest in them and their families if they have one, that warms your heart.” 

Parks has volunteered for Meals on Wheels, Winter Haven Hospital, Ridge Art, St. Joseph’s Catholic, Cypress Gardens. And she’s worked as a caregiver.

Volunteering is a large part of the life of Winter Haven resident Laurentiis Smith. He helps out where ever he can. 

Donna Delf wraps cookies for the free lunch program at the Church Service Center. Photo by Jeff Roslow.

“I love to give back,” he says. “I like to help push the kids.” 

Smith volunteers at Winter Haven High School, Theatre Winter Haven, The Ritz, Boys Scouts of America, Polk State College, and Florida A&M’s band, which he was part of when he went to school there. 

“He’s looked after the school when I’m locked down with a parent and can’t be on duty,” says Winter Haven High School principal Gina Williams. “He’s worked the crosswalk, managed traffic, directed cars, does lunch duty, orientation. He’s an extra set of eyes and he knows the parents and students.”

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” — Muhammad Ali

On top of his full time job, Smith made lifelong friends with and helped a Vietnam veteran suffering from Parkinson’s disease who was fighting cancer.

“He would take him to a movie, the doctor, the VA Hospital, for haircuts,” says Kathy Erickson, the veteran’s sister. “Because I work, Laurentiis came into my brother’s life and to tell you the kind of person he is, he would come over when he got off work at 11 (p.m.) because my brother would be awake.”

She adds that her brother’s cell phone had Smith as the first number on his speed dial. “I was third and my sister was fourth.”

On top of giving her time at the Church Service Center, Delf helps the community helping to organize monthly free concerts at the Bartow Civic Center. The two hour free show has nearly 80 musicians and draws 300 people. For years Delf has helped put together the program. 

“Mary Jordan just asked me,” Delf says. “I’ve seen every show since 1991. I thought it was nice because I get hugs from people I know.”

Though not a musician herself, her family gives back to their communities volunteering in orchestras. One daughter plays the bagpipes that were once her father’s in the Pipes and Drums in Waterbury. Conn., and her other daughter plays clarinet in Michigan.

Spreading their faith to help others is not something they necessarily urge others to do, but volunteering for them is what they feel should be done. 

“(Community activist) George Tinsley and Earl Williams who had the community band (in Winter Haven)… they gave back to the kids. Mr. Tinsley was part of the church and he and his wife would take a lot of youth on trips and around Winter Haven,” Smith says.

Smith says for others to feel volunteering is good could take some time. “They will learn in their due time,” he says, adding that his volunteering is because he believes it’s what God wants him to do.  

Parks says she’s always felt like she had to volunteer her time. “I’ve always answered the call of whom can I help? From school to staying late on the job to working on weekends. That need to raise my hand to answer does not go away – pay or no pay.” 

“If you want to touch the past, touch a rock.  If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life.”  – Author Unknown

Volunteers realize their presence makes most of the difference. 

“They really care and care about each other,” Condello says of Delf and the other Diplomats for the Bartow chamber. “They keep track of each other.”

She adds the volunteers make it a point to get together once a month.

“We always have a great time,” she says. “It keeps our spirits up.” 

Delf had done a lot of work to help the chamber with its monthly newsletter but as the process got more sophisticated less help was necessary. That meant time to do something else. 

“I send out all the birthday and Christmas cards,” Delf says, adding she packs up plenty of food for the free lunch offered by the Church Service Center. 

And for just about all of the 13 years she has been there she has collected and crushed the cardboard boxes the CSC receives in supplies. “It’s very rewarding to me,” she says. “I’m doing God’s work.” 

Parks says seeing her fellow volunteers is one of the highlights of volunteering. “You have so much in common. You look forward to seeing those friends on the days you work together. The friendships are precious.” 

While Erickson lost her brother five years ago, she and her family gained a life-long friend in Smith. 

“When he’s with you, people can never let him go. He will just go by and check, never any money involved. It’s normal to him… he’s just like family.” 

She mentioned Smith was going to pick up her 15-year-old grandson but he’d have to accompany him on a trip to Orlando. 

“He just wanted to ride with him,” she says. “(Smith) can talk on any level, make it with whatever age group is around.” 

On top of his caregiving and volunteering, Smith spends as much time with his triplet nephews, Erickson says. 

“He’ll keep them at night and get them ready for kindergarten,” she says. “He’ll pick them up at 10 or 11 and takes them home and puts them to bed. I would ask him when he sleeps and he’d say, ‘OK, I’m a little tired now.’” 

“It’s easy to make a buck – it’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” – Tom Brokaw

While Smith does most of his volunteering in his hometown of Winter Haven, he does do a bit of traveling to lend himself. 

“At Florida A&M I marched in the band,” Smith says. “I still go back (to Tallahassee) and help with the band. I just came in from Los Angeles in January, they performed at the Rose Bowl.”

He says he’ll lend a hand on whatever can be done, whether it’s musical or not. 

“I make sure the students have their uniforms, we have the support things. I make sure the field is all right and we have water,” he says. “I just want to lend a helping hand.” 

Williams adds, “For me as the principal of the school I appreciate all the support Smith gives.” He’s there for anything, she says. At football games he will help monitor the crowd. At basketball games, he’ll do door security. 

“It’s not so easy,” she says. “This is a school with 2,300 students.” 

The pleasure the volunteers gain from helping where they can was perhaps best summed by Parks: “The pay is so precious when you volunteer.”