CRESTVIEW — Dignitaries at the city, county and state level attended an Aug. 29 ceremony where 17-year-old Holt resident Railey Conner accepted the Florida Health Care Association Young Adult Volunteer of the Year award.

The Baker School honor student is a regular volunteer at Crestview Rehabilitation Center, whose staff nominated her for the award. It recognizes her work securing Christmas gifts for and visiting residents in Crestview nursing homes since the age of 11. 

"We appreciate everyone that came out to make this day for Railey special, because she certainly makes our patients' lives special every year," Renita Infinger, CRC administrator, said. When she started working at the CRC three years ago, it was the first time in 31 years that she hadn't had to scramble around for patient gifts to let them have any Christmas.

"Railey is a huge part of that and I appreciate that greatly," Infinger said at the ceremony.

FHCA officials present included Director of Communications Kristen Knapp and Chief Lobbyist Bob Asztalos. Knapp said the FHCA represents over 550 of Florida's 685 nursing homes.

"We have a volunteer committee of administrators from across Florida that helped judge with these awards. They were so impressed with this amazing young lady," she said.

"Volunteers are really at the heart of quality of life for our residents … these people have given so much back to our communities, and to have such an inspiring young lady give of herself and inspire her friends and others in the community … her nomination stood above the rest," Knapp said.

Crestview Mayor David Cadle, Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, Okaloosa School Board member Tim Bryant, and State Rep. Mel Ponder were also among those present.

Ponder called Railey's efforts "phenomenal."

"I don't know if you'll ever be able to tell the impact you’ve made in the lives of many, but I do hope and pray that you'll get to witness that at some point in time, so just from my perspective, congratulations. I'm really honored by your victory today and the recognition by Florida Health Care in representing Northwest Florida so well," he said.

Railey expressed her gratitude for the award and encouraged those present to give of themselves.

"I just wanted to say that it's very easy to give your time. It doesn't cost a thing. Just like when you have three days, just come up here, even, and hang out. All those residents over there are actually pretty cool. I love hanging out with them.

"If you call bingo, you'd better call it right though, or else you're going to hear it ... They're like my bonus grandparents and I wouldn't trade them for anything," she said.