Talking with Minnie, age 67, and Joe Vela, age 71, one can see that the two have a strong love for one another, but if someone listens a little closer, they will see that their love flows out for their community and those in it who are hurting. The Velas have been together for 29 years, having met at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD).
Joe worked 43 years at CCAD and Minnie worked 31, and both of them retired together on March 1, 2010. Retirement is the end of some people’s story, content to go home and relax and enjoy their well-earned time of not having to work. The Velas knew they needed something to do, or rather, Minnie did.
“I’ve got to do something,” said Minnie. “I wanted to be a greeter (at the hospital), but Joe didn’t want to; I picked up an application and filled it out for him anyway.”
After a review of their applications, the Velas were brought on to work at Christus Spohn Hospital in Alice. According to Minnie, Joe had to be “dragged” to work at the hospital, but soon became proud of the purple shirt he sported as a volunteer uniform. Minnie works as a greeter and Joe, the formerly reluctant participant, now serves as President of the volunteers for District 3 and works at the admitting desk.
“I love working with people who are sick and need our help,” said Joe. “I try to never let anyone open their own door.”
The couple works Monday and Friday afternoons and “whenever else” they are needed. They break up their volunteer hours with trips to various places around the world, living their life to the fullest and experiencing new things together. The couple has traveled up the East Coast, to Israel, to Spain and wants to go to Portugal in the near future. They were married by the Catholic church in Israel in 2014.
Joe always carries around a bag of lollipops for the kids. He buys a specific kind, ones that have a handle so the kids don’t choke. He gives these to the children and tries to make them feel more comfortable, whether they are visiting a loved one or coming in for care themselves. Sometimes a lollipop and cartoons on the TV can make all the difference to a child and this is something that Minnie and Joe know well.
Minnie specializes in shuttling people to and from where they need to be, which often involves wheelchair borrowing. Minnie likes to make things as easy as she can on anyone in the hospital, and if that means a wheelchair ride to visit a friend or family member, then rest assured Minnie will procure one.
“Everyone really knows us now,” said Minnie. “I feel appreciated a lot. This hospital is small, but it’s what we have. Everyone here is very caring.”
The Velas have four children between them, with three of their sons working at CCAD and the other being a principal in West Oso ISD. They also have grandchildren that they enjoy spending time with. Joe was laid up in October of 2016 after suffering a stroke. He was in the hospital for 12 days, but is glad to say that he “walked out and ate” by himself after that brief time. Joe also joked that he and Minnie have been taking turns falling once a month. Despite these minor details, the Velas say that they will “volunteer until they can’t walk anymore.”
Joe has 7,000 volunteer hours and Minnie has got 3,000.
The couple likes to work outside and cook and bake when they are not volunteering. They keep in touch with their fellow volunteers through a GroupMe chat “just like the teens.” They also travel on bus tours with their volunteering friends, keeping the family feel between the helpers in District 3.
“God gave me such a wonderful retirement and in return, I’m doing more for him,” said Minnie. “It’s like saying my ‘thank you’.”
Joe adds that “it’s always important to have a smile” when volunteering.