Volunteer of the Year

Healthcare Achievement Awards 2020

Volunteer of the Year

Rhonda Wallace, LifeCare Alliance

In 1997, Rhonda Wallace was participating in a women’s group at her church that had decided to welcome representatives from LifeCare Alliance. She listened as they talked about the services the nonprofit performs in the community, including its Meals-on-Wheels program, and decided she’d like to help. More than two decades and a career retirement later, she’s still involved and her role has expanded beyond her original weekend route.

LifeCare Alliance is one of the largest Meals-on-Wheels providers in the country, producing more than 4,000 meals for seniors and medically challenged and disabled individuals and 2,000 “Meals-for-Kids” each day. The organization says volunteers like Wallace are instrumental in the fight against senior isolation, a problem that is silently rampant in communities. 

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“One of my friends at the time wanted to join, so we joined together,” Wallace says. “I just heard that you would be helping the elderly people and I had time in my life to help. Initially I just enjoyed going out into the community and having the people we were helping tell me that they were so thankful that we would come. It felt good that you could help somebody out.”

LifeCare Alliance, however, is more than Meals-on-Wheels. Founded in 1898 as the Instructive District Nursing Association, the nonprofit was the city’s first in-home health care agency and Ohio’s first visiting nurse association, services that continue today.

The organization has several other programs, including a senior farmer’s market, Project OpenHand that helps people living with HIV/AIDS and the Columbus Cancer Clinic. The clinic, which has the same founder as the nonprofit, Catherine Nelson Black, was merged into LifeCare Alliance in 2005. It provides low-cost or free head-to-toe cancer screenings, mammograms and prevention and education services to vulnerable individuals in Central Ohio. 

After she retired from a career in food service at Upper Arlington City Schools, Wallace decided she could become more involved. She volunteered in the Meals-on-Wheels office, then in LifeCare Alliance’s wellness department and then by taking on office work at the cancer clinic. 

Wallace now splits her time between the wellness department and the cancer clinic, helping with tasks like making copies of documents, filing, handling spreadsheets, setting up file space and cleaning donated supplies. The nonprofit says she does a “great job of keeping both offices organized and on-task.”

“Rhonda is always willing to assist and will come to a clinic or wellness center to register clients,” Margaret Rembert, office manager for LifeCare Alliance’s wellness department, says in nomination materials. “She will fill in when someone calls off and she will do the jobs other shy away from, like maintaining the office area. We appreciate Rhonda and all the tasks she performs. She always has a smile and a great attitude. She is a great asset to us.”

In addition to her volunteer service, Wallace and her husband, Lane, are consistent donors to the agency. 

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According to LifeCare Alliance, the Meals-on-Wheels program is an important service because many of its clients are elderly and homebound and are unable to prepare meals for themselves. Many clients also are poor and consider the service a lifeline.

“Having volunteers like Rhonda who are able and willing to cover open routes is a huge asset to LifeCare Alliance,” Rebecca Hurd, the nonprofit’s director of advancement, wrote in nomination materials. “This reduces the need for paid drivers—saving thousands of dollars per route per year—allowing the agency to direct more of its limited funding to core wellness and nutrition services.”

The agency says it takes a reliable force of volunteers to keep Meals-on-Wheels rolling. The meals are delivered every day, including holidays, and the delivery driver often is the only person a client sees or speaks to each day. Volunteers like Wallace are vital to the clients’ independence and well-being.

“Rhonda is a compassionate person who believes in LifeCare Alliance’s mission to ‘take care of those no one else pays attention to,’ ” Hurd wrote. “In addition to her contributions to LifeCare Alliance, Rhonda is active with her church and volunteers with Holy Family (Church soup kitchen and food pantry) and the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.