Volunteering has, as Charla Summers puts it, always been in her genes.
“Early on, when I was in a sorority in college, we were required to do some sort of volunteering,” Summers said. “I went out and canvassed the neighborhood for donations to the American Cancer Society, and it just touched my heart to do that, even though I was being required to do it. Those people took the opportunity to tell me the stories they had about someone in their family who died from cancer and how they were happy to donate to the American Cancer Society, so I think that probably was the forerunner.”
Several decades later, Summers is still volunteering, though she now does it full time at Eastside Medical Center, and no one is requiring her to.
In fact, she’s spent so much time and provided so much help to the Snellville hospital over the past seven years that she was recently awarded HCA Healthcare’s Frist Humanitarian Volunteer Award, a national recognition given annually to a person who demonstrates the philanthropic spirit of HCA Healthcare co-founder Dr. Thomas Frist Sr.
“We see her daily and her impact on our volunteers, on our patients, on our employees and on our visitors,” Eastside CEO Trent Lind said. “Good people beget good people, and for her, she lives that mission and that motto every day, and she just represents what we’re all about.”
Summers does it all at Eastside; from running the Volunteen program for young adult volunteers to working on Eastside’s auxiliary committee to cuddling infants who are born to parents addicted to drugs — “maybe this is the one chance a baby feels the warmth of someone holding them,” Summers said of the babies — she’s well-deserving of the award, said Eastside Director of Volunteer Service Laura Hannah.
“(Summers’ work) is just truly astounding,” Hannah said.
But Summers, who cried when she was told she had received the award, said she volunteers not for the recognition, but because it’s fulfilling for her.
“I just kind of think that everything you do in your life just teaches you more about life and acceptance of others,” Summers said. “You never quit learning to you die, really, if you allow yourself, so I just like being out there with people and learning about people. I think if more of us did that, there’d be more acceptance for each other. I just have this thirst to meet people and learn more about their situations.”
Summers said she also hopes her work inspires other to do good and help where they can.
“I just want to be a role model to younger people,” she said. “You know, it isn’t always about what people can do for you, but what you can give to others. A quote I used in my little speech (at the awards ceremony) was, ‘What we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others remains for generations.’ That’s why I volunteer — I just totally believe that.”