Wanted: Volunteers willing to help in Sun City Center, South Hillsborough

Volunteers like 91-year-old John Cortese are the lifeblood of Sun City Center, a retirement community along State Road 674 in south Hillsborough County. Since 1989, he has been giving back to the community by working on the SCC Emergency Squad.

Cortese serves on the squad’s call team, coordinating and tracking runs and paperwork. He also works on the street directory that helps drivers go where they need to go “without any worry,” he says.

To Cortese, volunteering isn’t a job. 

“It’s a pleasure,” he quips. “It’s the people that you work with. You know that you’re doing something for someone that is in need.”

But as Hillsborough’s South Shore develops around it, the Sun City Center area is being impacted by forces within and without. A study, requested by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s South Shore Council, found a “noticeable decline in the level of volunteerism,” particularly among the younger residents of the Sun City Center area.

“The challenge moving forward will be to determine whether the level of capacity for volunteering continues to meet the needs of the community,” it says. “... a growing number of SCCA [association] residents continue to be engaged in the workplace (including work from home), and are limited in how they choose to spend their free time. It is less a matter of not wanting to engage with the community, and more a matter of how best to allocate their time.”
For example, the Emergency Squad, which has been responding to area residents’ call for help for more than 50 years, has had to cut back coverage. It doesn’t charge for the ambulance service, which can save residents hundreds of dollars every trip.

“When I started, we ran three ambulances in the day and two at night,” explains Barbara Capron, a South Shore Community Action Council member who began serving on the squad 11 years ago. “Now we can only staff two in the day and one at night.”

The squad, backed up by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Advance Life Support in life-threatening situations, is just one of the many ways residents can volunteer. It and the Security Patrol help people to feel secure, the report notes, and “should be maintained and strengthened.”

“A decline in volunteer participation has important implications for how this community functions, but hopefully, this trend might even out over time as the younger generation settles in,” the study concludes.

Community Assets and Needs Assessment

The study was done by Robin Ersing, a professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Public Affairs, along with Angela Crist and Robyn Odegard, both of USF’s Florida Institute of Government. It relied on community baseline data, interviews and focus groups representing different cross-sections of the community.

The report, entitled Community Assets and Needs Assessment of Greater Sun City Center, FL Area, was shared April 11 at a meeting at the SCC Community Foundation: Community Hall.

A number of reasons are likely behind the change in volunteerism: a lack of pension funds that may necessitate people working longer, family obligations for sandwich generation families taking care of parents and children, and a change in lifestyle and volunteering preferences, sources say.

“Volunteerism is very much alive and well. The difference is, Number 1, there’s a huge number of things to volunteer for,” says Eileen Peco, Chair of SCC Emergency Squad.

Some choose to volunteer by participating in a charity run or other event, rather than putting in the regular hours for training and Emergency Squad service, she says.

The study also pointed to a need for an Adult Day Care Center to support caregivers, something that is under study by the South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging.

“It’s nice to see that’s something the community wants,” says Debbie Caneen, Director of Admissions at SCC’s SunTowers assisted living community, who attended the meeting.

The nearest county-run center is in Brandon, which means limited services in the south, adds Marcia Doscher, a member of the coalition committee working on the endeavor. “It’s an expensive proposition. It’s not just finding a building, it’s finding a building that is feasible for the regulations we need to follow,” she says.

“If caregivers don’t get a break, the caregivers will die before their patients. It’s fairly well documented,” says Bob Black, another coalition committee member. 

Additionally, the study recommended a central hub, or “one-stop shop,” for information about services that are available.

“While the Sun City Center area is fortunate to have an abundance of resources to support a comfortable lifestyle for residents, it can be a challenge to keep up with this information. Some of the feedback from the [Sun City Center] Chamber of Commerce suggests that people turn to them because they do not know where else to go to get questions answered about happenings in the community,” the report says. “This service could have a face-to-face presence along with an online searchable website, and a dedicated phone line.”

Some residents get news in print, while others browse multiple sources including the Internet. 

Solutions for communications

“Posters, flyers, mass mailings, tweets and email blasts from a central entity might address some of the communication concerns using multiple modalities to reach across generations and resolve issues of how the community gets its information,” it suggests. 

The area’s growth is bringing changes, some welcome and some not. 

“In some cases this influx of structural growth has resulted in new business opportunities,” the report states. “However, this regional growth has also resulted in concerns of increased traffic congestion (particularly on State Road 674), an influx of non-residents using local resources, and threats to public safety. The latter is especially a risk for the golf-cart lifestyle which continues to be an asset for many in the SCC community.”

The report notes there are other changes in the community as a result of societal changes. “A decrease in golf, but an increase in running, nature walks, archery, pickle ball, etc. should be noted,” it says. “An important question in this community is how the golf courses that attracted earlier generations to the area become a ‘renewed’ asset to support the quality of life that reflects the desires of the current generations in the SCC area.”

Less reliance on libraries and retail shopping outlets, digital medical records and other technological advances also will affect the community, it notes.

The report, intended as a guide for philanthropic endeavors, focuses on the most pressing needs perceived for the next five years. It further suggests:
  • Supplementing Meals on Wheels food delivery may help alleviate hunger and nutritional needs people may not want to acknowledge;
  • A “case management” service could provide follow-up assistance when someone reports a concern about someone in the area;
  • “Planning to Stay” services may be needed to help individuals in the event they lose their spouses and lack the finances to remain in their homes; and
  • Strategic partnerships can help connect student interns with experienced mentors.

The South Shore Council will be ascertaining the next steps. “We normally don’t meet in the summer,” says Rick Rios, the council’s Chair. “This summer we’re actually meeting.” 

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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