A desire to feel needed and to make a contribution to the community brought Claire Smith and June Weitnauer together decades ago.
Smith, 91, and Weitnauer, 82, now both live in Lenbrook, a retirement community in Brookhaven. More than 30 years ago, they became friends while volunteering at the Shepherd Center’s gift shop.
“We started with a card table, a box of chocolate bars and a big jar of chewing gum,” Smith said. “We would go to the Atlanta Apparel Mart to find items for the store.”
Through the years, the gift shop evolved into the center’s Auxiliary Board—a division that oversees the center’s fundraising.
Alana Shepherd, one of the hospital’s co-founders and secretary of its board of directors, said the auxiliary serves as an advisory board designed to help the center’s administrators in their decision-making processes. The auxiliary’s primary objective is to raise money for patient-aid funds, animal-assisted therapy and other resources for patients and their families.
Shepherd said the center has had a long-time volunteer base at Lenbrook. The center, built in 1975 and near Piedmont Hospital in Buckhead, is a private, nonprofit hospital and rehabilitation center dedicated to treating patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.
Shepherd said the role of volunteers in the auxiliary, such as the one played by Smith and Weitnauer, is immeasurable.
“Claire is a fabulous volunteer who became involved with Shepherd after losing her husband,” Shepherd said. “June is always trying to bring new donors and comes to every event. These two ladies are bridge builders.”
Smith and Shepherd go way back. Both were members of the Iris Garden Club in Atlanta when Shepherd’s son was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. That was nearly 38 years ago, before the Shepherd Center existed, and Smith recalls how motivated Shepherd was in finding proper care for her son to help him live independently.
“I remember Alana was looking everywhere,” Smith said. “She couldn’t find any place. Finally, she decided we needed to have such facilities in Atlanta for that type of care and rehabilitation. That is how the conversations began among prominent members of the Atlanta community.”
Today, Shepherd’s son, James, is the center’s chairman of the board.
As a founding member of the auxiliary, Smith is still a big supporter of the hospital. She takes advantage of every opportunity to raise funds, although now at a very limited capacity because of her health. June continues to be involved as her time permits by selling pecans at the hospital.
One of the auxiliary’s major fundraising events during this time of year is “Pecans on Peachtree,” an idea Shepherd said originated with a retired school teacher 28 years ago.
The auxiliary’s volunteers take the orders for pecans from anyone in the community in November so they can be delivered in time to make holiday treats. These volunteers also sell the pecans at the hospital. “Pecans on Peachtree” brings in approximately $100,000 in revenue for the center, Shepherd said.
“My freezer is full of them,” Smith said, referring to the pecans.
Still feisty, Smith admits it is hard for her to get around nowadays. She still enjoys attending some of the center’s events. But, she said she is quite content taking in the sights from her 17th floor apartment at Lenbrook.
“The view is spectacular,” she said.