By Dan McWilliams
The St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic marked its sixth anniversary Nov. 4 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City with its fifth Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.
The day began with Mass celebrated by Monsignor Pat Garrity, assisted by Deacon Gil Campos, who is one of the mobile clinic’s drivers.
“Today we are blessed to give thanks for six years of the mobile clinic reaching out to the exact same type of people that Jesus is speaking of in the Gospel, and trying to live and do what Jesus told us to do in the Gospel,” Monsignor Garrity said in his homily, “to invite the disenfranchised, to invite the marginalized, to invite the poor to experience that love and mercy of Jesus through the care of the mobile clinic. We give thanks to God for all of the blessings that he has given for these past six years.”
The clinic celebrated its sixth anniversary Sept. 11. The mobile clinic vehicle was delivered to the Diocese of Knoxville on Sept. 11, 2013. It provides medical care in Athens, Decatur, Crab Orchard, Rutledge, Washburn, and Gatlinburg. Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, is a medical doctor and the founding executive director of the Legacy Clinic. She emceed the luncheon at St. Thomas.
The first honor presented at the luncheon, the Judy Award, is named for founding volunteer Judy Schmidt and was given to Lin Helsel by Phillip Schmidt, the late Mrs. Schmidt’s son.
“I came in October of 2012,” Sister Mariana said. “Judy called me up sometime in November-December. She had heard about my arrival and said she had been praying about what God was asking her to do and felt called to support this ministry. She became, as I like to say, my right hand, my left hand, my right foot, my left foot—whatever I needed done, Judy was there. . . .
“Really for the first six to eight months, Judy was the one I had to call on as my helper. God took her from us in 2017, and as a result of all the donations that came in from her passing. . . . so many people loved Judy that we decided to institute this award in her memory. . . . She was a doer, but she was also a be-er, and she was a very spiritual person who brought that spirituality and her faith to every patient encounter. She was a real nurse’s nurse, not one hiding behind a computer but out there treating the patients and making them feel loved.
“Our foundress, Mother Catherine McAuley said, ‘There are things which the poor prize more highly than gold, though they cost the donor nothing: among these are the kind word, the gentle, compassionate look, and the patient hearing of their sorrows.’ To me that just embodies what Judy brought to the clinic and what we want to honor in our volunteers going forward.”
Eight nominees were named for the Judy Award.
“It’s a really great group of nominees. It’s difficult to choose from when you have that many nominees and so many deserving people who do such great work on behalf of our patients,” Sister Mariana said before the award was presented to Ms. Helsel.
“We chose one person who’s been with the clinic almost since the beginning whose commitment to patients and to her teammates is above and beyond sometimes the call of duty.”
Sister Mariana also announced several honorable-mention awards.
The first went to Carolyn Hall, who served as temporary program manager when the clinic was between executive directors earlier this year. Sister Mariana stepped down as executive director in July and was succeeded by Brandy Fuesting. Sister Mariana is now medical director of the clinic.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that [Ms. Hall] saved the clinic,” Sister Mariana said.
Additional honorable-mention awards went to the legacy clinic warehouse cleaning crew from St. Joseph Parish in Norris; to “The Preppers,” Ms. Hall, Patti Pemberton, Gloria Risko, and Beth Williamson, who keep the clinic looking clean and professional; to the clinic drivers, Bruce Fisher, Deacon Campos, and Carla Neale; and to the clinic’s four translators.
The Mercy Sister also honored five-year clinic volunteers, including Mr. Fisher, Ms. Neale, Bob Nevil, Lynn Venafro, and Ms. Williamson.
The final honor of the night was the Volunteer of the Year Award.
“The need to acknowledge our volunteers was definitely one of our founding goals,” Sister Mariana said.
“Obviously, a volunteer-of-the-year award . . . every year it’s a diffi cult one to decide on. . . . It’s hard because there are so many of you who do so many different things and contribute in big ways and small ways. Some are behind the scenes, doing apparently little jobs, but you do them with such regularity and you’re so dependable and you come every day or come every week or come every month and do work for us.”
The clinic was without a nurse manager at the same time it was without an executive director, and the two volunteers of the year, Ms. Pemberton, a registered nurse, and Diana Seaver, also a registered nurse, stepped in to fill the gap.
At the end of the luncheon, Sharon Fogarty presented a rosary to Sister Mariana.
“To me, I think the one thing we should all try to strive to do is to be more Christ-like and to love our sisters and brothers,” Ms. Fogarty said, “and I think Sister does that, and she is the best example of that that I’ve seen in my life, and I hope you get to continue this for many, many years.”
Afterward, Sister Mariana said the luncheon is almost like an occasion of thanksgiving.
“It is, and that’s why we always time it usually in November, because it’s the Thanksgiving season,” she said. “We want to honor and thank our volunteers. We thanked God first in the Mass for all of His blessings as He’s provided for the clinic over the years, and then we want to specifically thank our volunteers because without our volunteers we could not do our mission.”