Stories from the Heart

Inspiring Stories of People Helping People

The life-changing care Ascension Sacred Heart provides has touched the hearts of many who strive to ensure that this incredible mission of care continues for future generations. Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation is proud to be a partner in this endeavor. Please enjoy these ”Stories from the Heart.”

A message from Carol Carlan

As we settle into this new year, Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation looks forward to continuing its philanthropic tradition of ensuring all are welcome when they walk through our doors — with an emphasis on the poor and vulnerable. The Daughters of Charity would be pleased that their faith-based, charitable Mission has not only survived the past century but also continues to grow. This is made possible by our community partners, volunteers and our remarkable legion of donors. When I think of the difference their support has made to the success of the Foundation, I am immensely grateful.

The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart offers a 30-by-8 foot Mural Wall outside its Pediatric Emergency Department. We feature a Story From the Heart behind teenage artist Lauren Bonner’s inspiration for creating the first kid-friendly painting on the wall.

Martha Perez, Administrator/Vice President of Haven of Our Lady of Peace, is determined to provide the very best long-term care for seniors. Her heart-warming account tells us why she is so passionate about this and details the Haven’s services.

Our Stories from the Heart also include the outstanding Volunteer Guild at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast, whose willing hearts and helping hands are indispensable to the facility. And we feature foundation board member Kerry Anne Shultz, whose guiding life principle has been “Service Above Self.”

May your new year be filled with many blessings.

Carol Carlin
President, Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation


Long-term Care: Administrator & Advocate

Martha Perez serves as the Administrator/Vice President of Haven of Our Lady of Peace. She began her healthcare career in 1992, the start of 28 years in the field of long-term care — her purpose and passion in life.

Born in Guantanamo, Martha was 2 years old when her family left Cuba and applied for U.S. citizenship. Once that was obtained, they settled in Pensacola, where she grew up and married. Upon her husband’s retirement from the Air Force, they moved back to Pensacola from Italy, and Martha began job hunting.

She spent time as a nursing home receptionist in Gulf Breeze, a temporary position, but she enjoyed it so much that she stayed until a permanent job opened. She was hired and then transferred to a sister facility in Pensacola. After that, she advanced and moved up the ranks: medical records, AP/payroll, business office management, and human resources — all of which she enjoyed. But at that point, Martha had succeeded in just about every position available and was left wondering what to do next. Then it occurred to her, “Why don’t I get licensed and run the facility myself?” So, she did.

In long-term care, an individual must be federally and state licensed. She applied to the licensing board and got accepted. The next step was serving as an Administrator in Training (AIT) under a licensed preceptor. She completed a year’s internship, took the boards and passed, becoming licensed in 1999. She began work as a facility administrator, and that was the start of her tenure in long-term care, a field she will never leave.

However, Haven of Our Lady of Peace was the nursing home where Martha most wanted to work, so she kept applying there, year after year. Finally, she was hired as its administrator. She affirms, “This facility truly takes care of its people. It doesn’t just provide a beautiful environment, it is fully stocked with supplies. Just open up the closets and look.” She emphasizes this because she experienced a work environment where the supplies were not adequate to take care of the residents, which greatly troubled her.

The Haven was rebuilt and modernized in 2001. Instead of the long corridors associated with traditional nursing homes, its construction features four, homelike living areas or “neighborhoods.” Each room opens to a common dining and activities area and to a central nursing station. Martha lists the services that the facility provides: short-term inpatient rehabilitation, wound care, IV therapy, medication management, diabetes education, hospice care, and a secured Alzheimer’s disease care unit. The care team includes doctors and an ARNP specializing in geriatric medicine, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, nutritionists, activities and a chaplain.

What she finds most fulfilling in her daily work is the opportunity to connect and make a difference. She explains that if she were employed in hospital operations, she would be an administrator thinking about putting processes together and limited to “rounding” on the leadership team. She would never get to know the people she was serving — the patients. While at the Haven, she has the luxury of becoming totally familiar with all the residents and their families. “Every single day, I interact, walking the hallways, going into their rooms. I know their quirks and routines. If I make a decision, I literally get to know how it affects the end user. Residents can call me, or wheel to my office to complain. This is not something you get to experience in any other healthcare operations’ environment. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

It surprises Martha that a lot of people in this area don’t know that Ascension Sacred Heart has a skilled nursing facility. The Haven is not only a long-term provider but offers short-term rehabilitation as well.

She is concerned that in the health spectrum, seniors sometimes get forgotten. Yet their needs are just as important as other segments of the population, and she will always advocate for their care. She adds that it can be a difficult populace to serve, and she understands why many people are reluctant to work with seniors because it involves end-of-life patients. “Yet,” she says, “More than anything, this is an amazing place to work. Senior care can be so rewarding.”

When she isn’t working, Martha is an avid runner, enjoys boxing, loves pro football and is a huge Jacksonville Jaguars’ fan. When her son was born in 1996, he left the hospital fully decked out in Jaguars attire, from hat to tiny shoes.

Looking to the future, Martha hopes Ascension Florida will look to expand its services to the senior population. The need is there: Pensacola and the Emerald Coast’s communities are significant retirement areas with a huge senior population. She envisions Ascension Florida becoming the foremost provider — in Pensacola — of the best senior care possible. And she would like to see more done to inform the community of what the Haven offers to seniors, as it is an integral part of the compassionate, personalized healthcare provided by Ascension Sacred Heart.


Lauren Bonner: Artist & Advocate

Lauren Bonner was still in high school when she painted the mural that playfully leads the way into the new Bear Family Foundation Center for Hope at the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart.

Always artistic, she had focused more on performing as a 10-year member of the Pensacola Children’s Chorus. Lauren didn’t start painting until her junior year of high school.

“I fell in love with everything about it,” she says. “I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

So when she was asked to create the mural, it was a perfect fit. The granddaughter of Belle and Lewis Bear, Lauren has been working alongside her mother, Cindi Bear Bonner, to raise awareness for childhood cancer since she was a little girl.

“I look up to my mom, and I just see the great things she does for kids with cancer, ” she says.

It all started when Lauren was in the fifth grade, and her neighbor, Carolyn Hendrix, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at the age of 4. Lauren’s mom helped build the Facebook page Praying for Carolyn, and that is how the Bonners met other families whose children were also fighting childhood cancer.

Today, Cindi runs the Pensacola chapter of Rally Pensacola, an extension city for Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research. Lauren has had the opportunity to host events, attend vigils and she even lobbied on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C., to be a light to families in the darkest days of their lives.

“People think childhood cancer is rare, but it really isn’t,” Lauren says. “It’s the No. 1 disease killer of children in our country.”

That’s why it was so meaningful to her to make the Center for Hope a bright spot in a bleak moment. “I think it’s important to help people smile. We are lucky to have the Children’s Hospital because it gives families the ability to stay in Pensacola together during the cancer treatments and not have to travel to other hospitals,” she says. “There are siblings and jobs, and it is important for everyone to have some normalcy at home with their family.”

When she started designing the mural, Lauren focused on the innocence and happiness of childhood, tying in the symbolic childhood cancer Gold ribbon and the kite of the hospital logo. (Everyone’s favorite therapy dog Sprout is there, too.)

“I wanted to create something that would make every person who walked by it smile. The ribbon traces the wall above children hula hooping, flying a kite and throwing a ball. … I wanted them to see kids playing.”

Now in her first year at the prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, Lauren is proud to have been a part of the Center for Hope — and she hopes to continue mixing her passion for raising awareness and making art.


Serving With Heart

The Volunteer Guild at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast (ASHEC) is devoted to serving the community through substantial support of the hospital’s mission. The Guild is a Christ-centered organization with values that mirror those of the Daughters of Charity, founders of the original Sacred Heart Hospital. Their vision was to provide healthcare to all with an emphasis on the poor and most vulnerable. Guild volunteers consider it a privilege to help carry on this 105-year-old hospital ministry of hope and healing.

Auxiliary volunteers can be found giving personalized assistance with a smile and compassionate reassurance to patients throughout 24 areas of the hospital. Approximately 500,000 hours of service have been donated since the facility opened its doors. The Guild’s presence is acknowledged as a significant factor in ASHEC’S achievement of maintaining patient satisfaction scores ranking among the highest in the nation.

Additionally, the Guild has provided philanthropic contributions to the hospital in excess of $800,000, raised through membership dues, donations, the Guild Gift Shop and sponsorship of fundraising events such as the annual Emerald Coast Duck Regatta. Their charitable giving has helped make new and expanded healthcare services possible to meet the community’s needs. For example, the creation of the Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center’s SNOEZELEN® Multi-Sensory Environment (MSE) room was funded by the Guild in 2018. It provides therapeutic assistance to individuals with special needs and challenging conditions, such as autism. Young patients can enjoy a vast range of sensory experiences that enhance learning and treatment goals.

The Guild also provides scholarships and other funding resources to medical staff members seeking to further their healthcare education. And it assists with prescription funding for patients unable to afford their medicine.

Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast was built in response to the healthcare needs of a growing region. When the hospital opened its doors in January 2003, the Volunteer Guild was ready to serve. Twenty-five women attended its first organizational meeting; shortly thereafter, Jane Carron was nominated President and a Board of Directors was formed. Today, the organization consists of eight Executive Board Members, nine Standing Committees’ Chairpersons and 175 active volunteers. Members of the community are encouraged to join the Guild and lend their volunteer skills to its activities.

The Volunteer Guild at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast is dedicated to the support of the hospital and its mission in every way — particularly on the financial needs of various departments in the hospital and the educational needs of the medical team.

Guild President Judy Brock states, “Each year, the Guild is focused on fundraising to help fulfill the needs of the hospital. Once funds are raised, it is our honor to have various departments present to us their needs that are not fulfilled through capital projects. And the difficult part of the process is to select the projects we feel most need to be funded to meet the medical needs of our Emerald Coast community. Over the last few years, we have supported cancer treatment needs, rehabilitation services for children, and needs of the Family Birth Place and others. What an honor it is for us to serve Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast.”


Service Above Self

Kerry Anne Schultz was born in a small Nebraska town, the eldest of six children in a Catholic family whose parents were role models for hard work and heartfelt values. She and her siblings, at very young ages, were taught to be kind to others and help their neighbors. They were also encouraged to think “service above self,” which became Kerry Anne’s guiding
life principle.

As a high school student, she realized that her parents could not afford tuition for a private college, so planning for a scholarship would be necessary. She entered a pageant and became Miss Nebraska National Teenager on the strength of her essay and talent performance (the latter attributed to serious high school violin study). Winning on the state level meant competing in the national event held in Tennessee, where she placed third runner-up and was awarded the full academic scholarship she had set her sights on. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in both history and political science from Oklahoma City University. She went on to attend Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. Kerry Anne is the founder of Schultz Law Group in Gulf Breeze.

Kerry Anne became acquainted with Ascension Sacred Heart when she was admitted with life-endangering medical problems leading to the premature birth of her daughter. She says, “We are alive today because of the incredible care and treatment we received as patients. I am forever indebted to that hospital.”

When asked to join the Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation as a board member, she saw it as a way of giving back, and she wanted to lend her voice to helping others support the ministry. “My heart has always been in service. When you have a goal with a not-for-profit, whether it be fundraising or getting the mission and message of an organization out, when you work towards that goal with others that are like-minded — the organization will receive.”

Occasionally, Kerry Anne gets questioned as to how the local geographic region — not being a major metropolitan area — is able to attract world-class providers to the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart. Her response is that exceptional physicians are drawn to the area by virtue of its amenities and quality of life. They also see the support that Ascension Florida gives and how much the community believes in the facility’s amazing care and treatment of its pediatric patients. The child that is a patient in the Children’s Hospital is “almost enveloped with services that encompass everything.” Kerry Anne often shares with others the success stories of how providers touched the lives of children and families who entered the hospital’s doors. 


Ace Hardware Bucket Days Campaign: July 31–Aug. 2

Customers made a $5 donation to their local CMN Hospital for a limited-edition, 5-gallon bucket and received 20% off almost everything that fits inside the bucket. Customers and participating locations helped raise $403 during the campaign.


Destin Charity WIne Auction Foundation

Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF), recognized as the fifth largest charity wine auction in the U.S. by Wine Spectator, is pleased to announce the donation of $1.2 million to 16 children’s charities in Northwest Florida following its first virtual auction on Aug. 22. Each charity was awarded its funding in a private check presentation ceremony, adapted to fit social distancing guidelines. Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast received $83,000 to fund Pediatric and Family Birth Place equipment to include Halo Bassinets, Vein Viewer, Bili Lights and GlideScope.


About the Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation
Since 1915, Ascension Sacred Heart has been at the heart of healing for Northwest Florida and South Alabama. Like our founders, the Daughters of Charity, Ascension Sacred Heart is dedicated to providing quality, compassionate healthcare to the citizens of our regions, regardless of their ability to pay. This steadfast commitment to our community could not have been achieved without the support and generosity of the thousands of individuals, businesses and organizations that have donated to Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation. Through this charitable giving, Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation has been able to provide millions of dollars of free and low-cost healthcare to the poor, uninsured, under-insured and low-income families. With the help of generous donors, we are proud to partner in Ascension Sacred Heart’s mission of care along the Gulf Coast.