Englewood Resident Receives President’s Volunteer Service Award – You’re Never Too Old to Volunteer!

May 16, 2024 at 4:00 p.m.


A very special lady received quite an honor on May 7: Fern Ballou, a resident at Heritage Oaks Assisted Living, was awarded a gold medal as one of the 2024 President’s Volunteer Service Award winners. And even more remarkable - Fern is 94 years young and still volunteers with the Return 2 Work organization from her “office” at Heritage Oaks!

Rob Brazell started Return 2 Work in 1998 after battling a terminal illness that he overcame. This experience motivated him to found Return 2 Work to help other disabled Americans overcome their disabilities and return to work. Fern cites the organization’s slogan as “Return to work, return to life”. Return 2 Work (return2work.org) targets recently discharged and disabled veterans to assist them with finding employment. It also helps disabled civilians. The charitable corporation links applicants with employers through primarily online services and workshops. Fern volunteers with client intake and liaison to set up job interviews and describes herself as a “headhunter”. She also serves as the R2W Board of Directors secretary and a member of the Executive Committee and Mentors Committee. Fern says she feels honored to receive this recognition.

Fern became involved with the organization through a close friendship with the founder’s mother, Fran Nixon, at their church, First Church of Christ, Scientist, here in Englewood. Fern has a long history of working as a legal secretary well into her 80s. She then went to work for Nielsen Ratings until their office moved to Sarasota. At that point, she started to volunteer for Return 2 Work and has no plans to give that up any time soon! Fern remains sharp as a tack, is healthy, and is known as “the grandmother you wish you had” at Heritage Oaks where she has resided for 2 ½ years. Fern is from Maine and she and her husband began “snowbirding” in Florida in 1977. She has two children, Teri who lives in Arizona and Robert who is in Maine.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award was founded in 2003 by President George W. Bush to recognize the important role of volunteers in America. It honors individuals whose service positively impacts communities in every corner of the nation and volunteers are nominated by a certifying organization, in this case Fern was nominated by Robert Brazell. He was present to give Fern her medal, stating, “This is a great honor to present Fern with this high award – she earned it! At 94 she runs circles around people a quarter of her age. She demonstrates that you’re never too old to be productive.” Fern qualified for a gold medal based on her total number of volunteer hours which is over 500 hours. Along with the gold medal, Fern received a congratulatory letter from President Joe Biden that was read aloud by Chris Snider, Marketing Director at Heritage Oaks.

Fern was not the only one who was honored at the ceremony. Debora Henderson, a CPA in Port Charlotte, who does the taxes for Return 2 Work, also received a gold medal for her volunteer work with the organization.


Pictured here (l-r): Ron Aylward, Heritage Oaks Executive Director; Chris Snider, Heritage Oaks Marketing Director; Fern Ballou; Debora Henderson; and Rob Brazell, Return 2 Work.