If anyone knows about how rewarding volunteering can be, it’s Elenora O’Bryant.
The grandmother has served in that capacity at The Ark Assessment Center and Emergency Shelter for Youth for nearly 11 years.
For four hours each Wednesday, you can find her engaged in such tasks as folding clothes and storing them, packing a suitcase for a child who’s going to be discharged, feeding babies, changing diapers, watching children play in the gym, and helping them with their baths or their homework.
Sometimes, however, the focus is to “try to help them get along and manners,” said O’Bryant. Other times she needs to lift children to comfort them or to keep them from getting hurt.
The shelter cares for children ages 0 through 17 years old who were abused or neglected by a parent or guardian.
“I really enjoy helping children with their homework,” she said. “More times than not, they’re receptive to me. Sometimes when they’re troubled, they don’t want to have anything to do with strangers. After I get acquainted with them a few times, they yell ‘hello,’ and they’ve got their arms wide open. It’s a blessing to me. I feel blessed each time I come out here.”
A homemaker and mother for most of her life, she has four adult children and enjoys interacting with her eight grandsons. When her children began attending high school, she started substitute teaching. “I had a mother’s day out in my home two days a week,” said O’Bryant.
That led to looking for an opportunity to further offer her services. “I just knew it was here,” she said of the shelter. “I asked the Lord to show me where I could be of help. A friend of mine and I were thinking, ‘Why don’t we go to The Ark and see what we could do here?’ We interviewed with Sister Milagros (Tormo), and I went through with the things I had to do to be a volunteer. I went ahead and started right away. I just feel like I’m helping these children.”
O’Bryant became the shelter’s first volunteer on July 23, 2003. “She’s No. 1, and she’s still with us,” said Sister Tormo.
O’Bryant said that when she began relating to the children, it was first a case of “sharing, then love. That’s so often it seems like they’re starving for.”
One of her fondest memories as a volunteer for The Ark involved a high school student who was trying to make basketball shots. He asked her if she wanted to try to make a basket. “We took turns,” she said. “That was special to me that he interacted like that. He was at least 16 years old. I’m not a sportsman.
“I’ve always enjoyed children. I’ve always enjoyed being around all ages and still do. I’m just thankful I can be out here.” O’Bryant, who turns 80 on Dec. 20, said she plans to continue volunteering “as long as I’m healthy and able.”
While generously giving of her time at The Ark, she comes in contact with a number of items that are there because of the community’s generosity.
O’Bryant helps the children to brush their teeth using toothpaste and toothbrushes purchased with the $47,339 the agency received through the fifth Coastal Bend Day of Giving, a project managed by the Coastal Bend Community Foundation.
In addition to other hygiene supplies like shampoo and soap, the giving campaign also paid for transportation expenses, the clothes and shoes the children wear, the food she feeds the babies, and the diaper rash ointment/skin protectant she frequently applies to the little ones, followed by a diaper change.
“She’s been a very reliable volunteer,” said Delma Trejo, the shelter’s executive director/administrator. “She’s been awesome in helping the kids. She’s very patient with the kids. She keeps up with everything.”
Keeping up wasn’t a problem for O'Bryant at last year’s inaugural Catch Me If You Can Calallen Middle School 5K Run/Walk, which benefited The Ark. She completed it in 41 minutes and 10 seconds – good enough to earn a medal for Top Female Masters in the 5K running category. O'Bryant again competed in the school’s 5K Run/Walk that was held on Saturday, April 12, showing no signs of letting up any time soon.