People

From Oil Executive to Hospice Volunteer

Changing Roles

At the end of 2016 Judy Calabria faced a life event that most of us encounter several times. She was leaving a job — the only job she’d ever had. Judy joined Shell Oil Company as a programmer in 1984. Her work took her to places like The Hague and Kuala Lupur occasionally, but Houston remained home base. At the time of her retirement, Judy was managing people and processes related to major IT outages, disaster recovery and crisis response. Even though Shell had been her only employer, Judy wasn’t leaving all of her work routine behind. Rather, she decided to engage more fully into her role as a Houston Hospice Volunteer — a position that was already vying with the oil business to define her.

Judy began volunteering at Houston Hospice in February 2009, and she was named Houston Hospice Volunteer of the Year for 2017. Volunteer Coordinator, Elisa Covarrubias says that Judy assists with anything that needs to be done. “She delivers meals at Thanksgiving and gifts and cards to our patient families for Christmas. Every Friday she visits patients in the inpatient care unit. She has even made numerous emergency visits to be with patients who were in distress at the request of our nursing staff. Judy spends hours visiting and comforting as many patients as necessary. Truly, she does anything we ask. She visits patients, assembles and delivers Angel Bags of groceries and hygiene items for our families in need, trains new volunteers, works in the office and stocks and cleans the snack bar.”

VolunteerismJudy Calabria

Judy credits Shell with encouraging her volunteerism. “When I got to Shell in 1984 they had a really robust volunteer program for their employees. For many years I got involved in Veteran’s Day parties at the VA Hospital, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center Easter egg hunts, chaperoning kids to the zoo, holiday projects, fixing up homes, and many other volunteer projects that Shell offered to their employees. I liked being able to give back and help others. In the late 1990s I got away from volunteering for 7 or 8 years because I was traveling internationally. When my father passed away in 2008, I started thinking about things in my life that I missed and that made me happy. Volunteering was one of them. Both of my parents were under hospice care up in Ohio, and I really liked how hospice helped my family, so I asked the Ohio hospice for advice on how to select a hospice in Houston.”

The staff at nonprofit Valley Hospice in Ohio suggested Judy look for a nonprofit hospice in Houston. They also told her to look for specific accreditation. Houston Hospice met the criteria, so Judy signed up and applied the skills she’d learned at Shell to help hospice patients.

Applying Executive Skills to Hospice

“At Shell, I learned the importance of truly listening to what is being said and not assuming too much too fast. At Houston Hospice, these qualities are just as important. Communications is key when volunteering at hospice; knowing when to say something to a family member, patient, or a hospice employee, and knowing what to say during difficult or emotional interactions. It’s even knowing when to listen versus talk.”

Judy believes the tight deadlines at Shell taught her how to prioritize. “I prided myself on being able to juggle my work and the work of my team based on priorities. My motto when volunteering at Houston Hospice is that I’ll do anything the Volunteer Coordinators ask me to do. That’s why I have been so lucky to be involved in so many different activities at Houston Hospice. I look forward to continuing to help Houston Hospice in any capacity they need. I also appreciate all the Houston Hospice volunteers who do a smaller subset of hospice activities. They are just as vital to making Houston Hospice such a special place.”

Judy’s global experiences taught her about diversity and respecting the value that everyone brings to the table. “That has helped me a lot in working at Hospice, whether I’m talking to patients, family members, friends, or hospice employees. I’m always amazed at our similarities and our differences, and how there always seems to be a way to bond us together, even during difficult times.”

Opportunities to Smile

People often ask Judy why she volunteers for a hospice because they assume it would be depressing. Judy tells them that there are some conversations that are sad, but there are opportunities to smile and help people in ways that she would not have imagined. “I don’t sing, but one day I was asked to hum Christmas carols to a patient. I was amazed at the calming effect my humming had on the patient. Once I sat with a gentleman who was alert but rarely spoke or responded to anyone. I was telling him a little about me and how lucky I was to have been able to see and do things I never imagined. He actually spoke to me and even held my hand.”

Volunteers are an integral part of nonprofit Houston Hospice’s team. To learn more about volunteering at Houston Hospice, call 713-467-7423 or visit www.houstonhospice.org.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communications Specialist

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They’ve Made Houston Better: Spirit Award Recipients Sally and Bob Thomas

We all have that friend. The person who has seemingly endless energy and creativity. They accomplish more by noon than most of us do all day. This describes Sally and Bob Thomas — and when you Sally and Bob Thomasharness that kind of energy for good, you make a difference. They have had a positive impact on Houston and we are delighted they will receive the 2017 Laura Lee Blanton Community Spirit Award on October 12, 2017.

Sally Thomas

Sally Thomas was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and earned a BS in Geology from the University of Oklahoma. She worked as a geologist with Humble Oil Company when she met Bob Thomas. After marriage and the birth of their four daughters, Sally has dedicated her life to her family and community. She organized and taught Red Cross and Girl Scout swimming programs for over 32 years; taking her synchronized swimming team all the way to the Junior Olympics in Nebraska. Sally is currently an Advisory Trustee of the Retina Research Foundation, and she has served as a member of the Interfaith AIDS Respite Team at St. Cecilia Catholic Church where she is also a Lector and Eucharistic Minister.

Sally has shared her love for geology as a docent at the Houston Museum of Natural Science Gem and Mineral Hall. She was President of Memorial Women’s Club, and Houston Hospice previously honored Sally with the Betty Evans Award for Service as both a patient volunteer and board president. In 2012, The University of Oklahoma recognized her as a Distinguished Alumna of the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy.

Bob Thomas

Bob Thomas was born in Maramec, Oklahoma and graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a BS in Geological Engineering. After graduation, he served in the United States Air Force as a pilot, including a combat tour during the Korean War. Bob returned to the University of Oklahoma for graduate studies and joined Tenneco’s domestic exploration and production operations as a junior engineer in 1956. His distinguished career culminated in his election as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1990. Bob retired in 1994.

Like Sally, Bob has dedicated his life to community service. He served on the Houston Hospice Board of Directors from 2002-2012 and co-chaired two major fundraising campaigns. Bob has served as Trustee of the Houston Museum of Natural Science and as a member of the Board of Governors for Houston Forum.

Bob is a lifetime member and past Chairman of the Board of Stewards of Chapelwood United Methodist Church. He served on the church’s Building Committee and supervised the construction of a $25 million expansion of church facilities. Bob is currently serving as a Life Member of the Association Board of Directors for the YMCA of Greater Houston. He was elected to the Board in 1988 with past service including terms as Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Board. Bob’s service to the YMCA has included leading major fundraising efforts in 1996, 2004 and 2005, helping The YMCA of Greater Houston become the third largest YMCA in the U.S.

The 19th Annual Community Spirit Award Dinner

“Sally and Bob have made a profound, positive impact on Houston Hospice and our entire community,” says Cynthia Nordt, Vice President of Development and External Affairs for Houston Hospice. “They personify the essence of the Laura Lee Blanton Community Spirit Award. They have made Houston a better place.”

The public is invited to celebrate Sally and Bob Thomas as they are recognized for their unwavering service at the 19th Annual Laura Lee Blanton Community Spirit Award Dinner on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at River Oaks Country Club at 1600 River Oaks Blvd., Houston, Texas. Dinner tickets and table sponsorships will help fund nonprofit hospice care in Houston and 10 surrounding counties. Visit  www.houstonhospice.org/spirit_award_dinner or contact Cynthia Nordt at 713-677-7123 for tickets and table sponsorships.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communications Specialist

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