Atlanta, GA,
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Volunteers Help Patients and Families Feel Like Themselves Again

From haircuts and facials for patients to massages for family members, four Shepherd Center volunteers help patients look and feel their best.

On the last Tuesday of every month, hairstylists Pat Reeve and Kelly Holder set up shop in one of Shepherd Center’s therapy gyms to give complimentary haircuts to patients. Sometimes the line is out the door, yet they stay until every head of hair is cut.

Once a month, in the sixth floor family lounge, you’ll find massage therapist Mark Pace setting up a massage chair with the goal of easing the stress family members experience while their loved one is at Shepherd Center.

Sydell Harris, former owner of Spa Sydell, a chain of spas around Atlanta, has been involved with Shepherd Center for the past 35 years and comes to Shepherd Center monthly to give facials and makeovers to patients. She’ll even come during an unscheduled time if she hears a patient needs a pick-me-up.

These are just some of the ways long-time Shepherd Center volunteers use their time and talent to transform the look and attitude of patients and their families while they are going through a difficult time.

Mark Pace knows what it’s like for a family member to spend a lot of time in the hospital. When he was 17, he sustained a brain injury in a car crash. He spent 32 days in an Atlanta hospital with his family by his side. So years later, when he was looking for a volunteer opportunity, he came to Shepherd Center.

“My family was where these families are now,” he says. “And I wish someone had done this for them.”

He explains that people tend to hold stress in their neck and shoulders, so massage helps them relax and relieves some of that stress. He estimates he massages 10 to 15 people in each visit he makes to Shepherd Center.

“There are many physical and emotional benefits of massage,” he says. “I get satisfaction from making a difference in the lives of these families.”

As for Kelly Holder, a fellow hairstylist invited him to accompany her to Shepherd Center while she was cutting patients’ hair. He came with her a few times and helped. eventually replacing her in that role. That was in 1996. Pat Reeve joined him in 2003 after she was encouraged by a friend to volunteer at Shepherd Center.

A haircut can be transformative for both the patient and their family.

“They look like themselves again,” Kelly says, adding that because of their injury, they can go months without a haircut. “And they are so appreciative.”

Both say they enjoy being part of the positive environment at Shepherd Center.

“I’ve seen miracles over the years,” Pat says. “Because we are there monthly, we get some repeat customers. Seeing the progress they’ve made over a month is amazing.”

When her spa business was just beginning, Sydell Harris tucked gift certificates into the goody bags given at Shepherd Center fundraisers. Then she began visiting patients to give them facials. Although she retired and has sold her business, Sydell still gives her time and talent at Shepherd Center.

“It improves their mood and their outlook,” she says. “I know how good these services can make someone feel. I wanted to do it outside of the spa.”

Though she comes regularly to give makeovers to patients, she also gets calls about someone who needs an extra lift and will go to the hospital as needed.

“I got a call once that a young girl was very depressed, and she wouldn’t even get out of bed,” she recalls. “I went down there and gave her a facial and put on some makeup. It made all the difference in the world.”

All four volunteers feel that they get back way more than they give by helping patients and families at Shepherd Center.

“If I can do one little thing to help them through their journey, then I feel like I’ve done a good job,” Kelly says. “The patients I meet are so positive. I leave with the hope that I can be half as positive with half of the strength they have.”

“I’m in awe of everything they do at Shepherd,” Pat adds. “I tell people if they have the time, they need to volunteer.”

More information about volunteering at Shepherd Center is available here.

By Sara Baxter
Photos by Louie Favorite

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.