Edward Ferguson often meets people during their most difficult moments.
As a member of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office crisis response team, the Naples resident is called upon to help families cope with the unexpected loss of a loved one. And he’s not paid to do it — Ferguson retired from the Sheriff’s Office in 2000, but he remains on the crisis response team in a volunteer role.
For that, the National Association of Area Agencies of Aging and MetLife Foundation recently honored the 76-year-old Ferguson with the 2010 MetLife Foundation Older Volunteers Enrich America Award.
Ferguson was one of 26 individuals over age 50 to be honored nationally. He did not attend the May 7 ceremony in Washington, D.C., but was instead recognized at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office on July 12.
His volunteer work with the crisis response team is a meaningful opportunity to help community members who are experiencing trauma, he said.
The work is not easy, he conceded.
“I enjoy doing it,” Ferguson said. “I don’t enjoy some of the things that happen to people.”
The crisis team is just one of Ferguson’s many volunteer commitments. He has also volunteered with the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program since 1989. Guardian ad Litems advocate for dependent children who have entered the court system primarily as a result of alleged abuse or neglect.
Ferguson, a former college professor, joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1989 as the director of human resources and career development; he later became the department’s head of training and joined the crisis response team in 1993.
After his retirement, he stayed on as the crisis response team’s only volunteer, a commitment that includes 8-hour shifts, sometimes in the middle of the night or on weekends. He does three call-outs a month.
In addition to helping grieving families, Ferguson said he hopes he is helping his fellow colleagues on the crisis team through his volunteer work.
As a retiree, he has flexible hours, and doesn’t mind working odd shifts, he said. Also, since he does not have young children living at home, he doesn’t mind working weekends, because a weekend call-out doesn’t take him away from quality time with his family.
“I just wanted to stay on and do it, stay involved with the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “As a member of that team, you take the pressure off some of the younger deputies.”
If there’s a homicide, the crisis team might be called in to help the family through the trauma; the same is true of a suicide or some other sort of death that is not judged to be suspicious. Sometimes, he has been called when an elderly person has died naturally, and their partner is struggling to handle the loss.
Ferguson has accompanied deputies who need to make a death notification, and occasionally, the responsibility has been his. The job is varied, but the goal is always the same — to help his colleagues and families.
“You help families through hard times,” Ferguson said, “and that’s the enjoyment you get out of it.”
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