CRESTVIEW — A Florida organization will recognize a Holt senior Aug. 29 for her volunteer work helping residents in area nursing homes.

Railey Conner, 17, is a Baker School student. Crestview Rehabilitation Center nominated her as a Youth Florida Health Care Association Volunteer of the Year candidate and were notified that she won the award this month.

CRC Administrator Renita Infinger said FHCA represents over 82 percent of Florida’s nursing homes, over 550 of Florida’s 685 facilities, and Railey was chosen out of all the young adults who volunteer in member centers across the state.

In the nomination essay, Infinger stated, "Not only does she deliver Christmas gifts, but she also develops lasting relationships with many of the patients. She knows many patients by name, and she knows their hobbies, interests and life stories … Railey helps our patients reach their full potential by getting to know our patients and by giving them something to look forward to each year."

Railey said working with nursing and rehabilitation residents has made her focus more on her studies as an honor student.

"What happens now won't necessarily matter in the future, so I kind of focus on my studies more than the whole popularity thing that a lot of people focus on in high school … I want to focus on the big picture, because it's like you need to kind of do what's best for your future and take advantage of opportunities … It's shaped me into the person I am today because I do spend a lot of time volunteering. It's made me more compassionate, I would say."

What started out as a charitable way to celebrate her 10th birthday in 2010 has become a way of life for Railey.

"It started because my grandmother was in a nursing home and had Alzheimer's for a number of years at that point, so we used to go to church and take her by the nursing home ... the first thing Railey wanted to do was make sure all the residents there got Christmas presents," Railey's mother, Angie Holland, said.

"It has varied from someone wanting red lipstick and red hair to wanting a thing of cheese puffs and a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper. And she makes sure that whatever they have asked for, they get that," Holland said.

Railey said the most popular requests are crosswords, word search puzzles; bingo; large-piece puzzles suitable for young children and items with different textures for Alzheimer's patients.

"But really, they just like to see people ... if you have a day or two or three and  you're willing to go out there and chill with some old people, that really means the most to them," Railey said.