Atlanta, GA,
08:52 AM

Whatever it Takes

Shepherd Center board members engage in a variety of creative ways to help during the pandemic.

Sara Chapman, who has been volunteering at Shepherd Center since shortly after the hospital was founded in 1975, remembers how often Shepherd Center co-founder Alana Shepherd would say, “Whatever it takes.”

“That attitude has been the culture at Shepherd Center from the very beginning,” says Sara, who has served on the Shepherd Center Board of Directors since 1993. “Still today it is what makes our patient care second to none.”

The hallmarks of Shepherd Center – a family atmosphere, a can-do attitude and doing whatever it takes to keep hope alive – have been exemplified in countless ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the crisis hit in March, Sarah Batts, MBA, executive director of the Shepherd Center Foundation, knew the hospital would need to come up with ways to help patients and their families while boosting morale for the staff. The Foundation team created a list of things that would be needed to help get everyone through the difficult and uncertain time in creative and supportive ways.

“I knew board members would call and ask how they could help,” Batts says. “That’s just their nature. I wanted to be ready.”

The list was long – everything from planning morale-boosting activities to lending a helping hand to patients and families to finding ways to support the staff. The board responded in an unbelievable way.

Sara was one of several board members who “adopted” a patient family, providing them with basic necessities and other items they needed during the quarantine. When Trustee Justin Jones learned that the hospital was in need of personal protective equipment (PPE), he and his in-laws, Elizabeth and Carl Allen (also longtime Shepherd Center supporters, with Elizabeth also serving as a Trustee) used their network to procure 10,000 protective gowns and donated them to the hospital. Juli Owens, a member of the Board of Directors, turned her kitchen into an assembly line and put together 100 decoratively wrapped “Hero Bags,” filled with healthy snacks, treats and gift cards to be handed out to the staff.

“Of course we’re going to help during this time,” says Juli of the boards’ efforts. “We’re family, and that’s what family does.”

Batts says other board members brought in ice cream for the staff, furnished gifts for Nurses Week and organized a Halloween in April event to lift spirits. They also provided the food and décor for graduation ceremonies for adolescent patients who could not attend their high school graduations and donated new clothes to replenish the clothes closet supply for patients and families. The events were coordinated remotely, and all the items were dropped off curbside to keep everyone safe.

“We are very fortunate to have boards that are very engaged and very willing to get involved,” Batts says. “All I have to do is ask, and they come through.”

But volunteers think what they’re doing pales in comparison to the efforts of staff at Shepherd Center.

“What we do will never match up to what the employees do,” Justin says. “They are changing lives every day. Helping where we can is our way of supporting them and saying, ‘We have your back.’”

Juli agrees with that sentiment.

“I can’t take care of the patients,” she says, “but I can take care of the staff and help in other ways where needed.”

This goes for the families, as well. With volunteers checking in on them and donating things they need, it can make things a little easier. Sara’s assigned family has two little girls, so she often filled goody bags with activities – such as bead kits, puzzles and games – to help keep them occupied, as well as snacks and fresh fruit.

“It’s a gift to be able to do something that helps the families know that they are not forgotten,” Sara says. “We want them to know we feel their pain and their struggle, and we want them to feel loved and cared for just like their patient is.”

Whether the effort is great or small, it is appreciated. And the way the board volunteers see it, they are helping Shepherd Center fulfill its mission.

“[Shepherd Center co-founder] James Shepherd made sure everyone was clear that Shepherd Center was all about turning ‘I can’t’ moments into ‘I can’ moments,” Justin says, “and that holds true for board members and staff just as much as it does for patients. Anything we can do to help the staff allows them to have more time to continue to work their magic.”


Written by Sara Baxter

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.