A smile, thumbs up, fist bump, hug and even a special dance – these are all things 38-year-old Matthew Ransdell brings to the table as one of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s most cherished and exceptional volunteers.
Matt became part of the Bay Pines team more than two years ago with encouragement from his parents. Since that time, he has dedicated more than 1,000 hours of his personal time successfully "turning frowns upside down" throughout the hallways and corridors of the healthcare system’s Community Living Center and main medical center building.
"Matt was born with several disabilities," said Teresa Stephen, Matt’s hired companion and confidant.
"Instead of idly sitting home, he is here contributing to Veterans and being a valued member of society. His parents are very happy that he is able to share his love with the men and women who risked so much for our country."
His father is a retired Army Veteran, and his brother spent 12 years in the Coast Guard. Both spent time overseas. Volunteering is the way Matt shows his patriotism and gives back to our Nation’s heroes, Stephen said.
"They say everyone has their genius. With Matt, his genius is love, inspiration, tugging at the heart strings, laughter, joy, happiness, and so much more," she said.
One of Matt’s most popular ways to brighten up the day for Veterans and staff is his "happy dance." A wiggle, swirl of the hand and smooth twist are all characteristics of this special performance.
"The happy dance started with a nurse in the medical center," Stephen said. From that time on, it has been a pretty common request from both patients and employees. People dance with him – they each have their own style. Even the director, Ms. Klinker, has participated," she said with a smile.
Even though Matt specializes in smiles, he also works in Voluntary Service storage room organizing books, shirts, lap robes, and toiletries that he later delivers to Veterans in the medical center, said Denise Cracchiolo, a program assistant with the Bay Pines Voluntary Service office.
"Everything he does – he does it with a smile," Cracchiolo said.
"He is a wonderful member of the team and means so much to everyone."
But it is not just the handshakes, hugs, dancing and volunteer work that makes Matt special, Stephen explained. It is his ability to spread joy and happiness to everyone he comes in contact with.
Matthew Ransdell (right), greets Tony Quarles, Medical Support Assistant, while visiting patients and employees Bay Pines VAHCS Community Living Center in May.
"Somehow, someway, Matt seems to know where he needs to be. Sometimes he insists on going into a room and visiting with a patient or resident. Other times it's just being in the right place at the right time in the hallway. It is just so wonderful that he has a place to share his love."
Matt is just one of about 1,500 volunteers registered with the healthcare system’s Voluntary Service program. In 2012, Bay Pines volunteers dedicated more than 189,000 hours to our Veterans. Like Matt, these volunteers donate their time to Veterans and their families while completing various tasks and functions to include parking lot attendants, shuttle drivers, clerical support, patient transport, appointment reminder telephone calls, voting assistance and much more. To learn more about Voluntary Service, please visit www.baypines.va.gov/giving or call 727-398-9394.