Celso Fernandez: I Looked For Significance In My Life and Found It In Volunteering
Celso Fernandez is a volunteer in Area Agency on Aging’s SHINE program. He recently won the WellMed SHINE Volunteer Award during the agency’s 26th Annual Prime Time Awards Breakfast for his commitment to helping others.
To him, the award is an honor. He’s humble, so he won’t talk too much about being recognized for his service. He’d rather tell you about his love of helping others.
Here is Celso’s story.
Celso Fernandez was on a mission trip to Sri Lanka when he read a book called “Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford.
The book changed his outlook on life.
At the time, he made a good living as a lifelong AT&T employee specializing in technical program management. He had a great family. He was in decent health.
“I wanted something more – I wanted to have significance,” Celso said.
And so, after retiring to Port St. Lucie in 2014, he decided to devote his life to volunteering in his community. He was open to all kinds of work and searched online for opportunities. He found Area Agency on Aging and learned about the SHINE program.
After three days of training and following a mentor, he went to work helping senior citizens understand their Medicare and other healthcare benefits and overcome problems with their coverage.
“I fell in love with this work,” he said. “This is payback for a good life. I’ve been blessed and I needed to give back.”
Serving as a counselor for the SHINE program is rewarding, he added.
“The people I help always tell me ‘I’m so glad I found you. Thank you,’” he said. “That’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to help someone with an important issue like their health benefits.”
Life wasn’t always so smooth for Celso.
He fled his native Cuba at age 13, coming to Miami alone to live with his aunt. Soon, his parents joined him and they were resettled in Reading, Pa, where jobs and opportunity were more plentiful than in South Florida. There was a lot to get used to: the cold and snow, different food and culture, and a new language.
“We got through it by being together and working hard,” he said.
Celso later joined the Navy, concentrating on electrical services. He traveled the world and saw how differently people lived. Eventually, he left the military to start a career at AT&T.
“I always knew I would give back,” he said.
In the SHINE program, Celso is now part of the Treasure Coast leadership team. He works five hours a week, assisting people on the phone or in person.
Those hours aren’t enough, though. Celso wants to volunteer even more. He’s looking for opportunities to help veterans returning from service.
“There’s nothing better than helping people,” he said. “That’s what I want to do for as long as I can.”