Tampa General Dishwasher Embodies the Spirit of Christmas
School was hard, though. Collins and his mother were told—incorrectly—that he was mentally retarded. "That's what they called me—mentally retarded," says Collins, 51 a dishwasher and kitchen assistant for 20 years at Tampa General Hospital. "I grew up as a handicapped. I went to a special education school. I had a slow learning problem. I had a hard time trying to read and write and spell out words. What was so hard about it, I had people making fun of me."
Rather than sinking into bitterness, Collins uses his childhood hardships as motivation. "I don't have no regret what I went through," he says. "What I went through was hard, and when I think about it I am blessed today to be where I am at now. I came this far and now I'm giving something to the community what my mother gave to me," he says. "I show the people as a handicapped kid, what I went through, if I can make it on my own somebody else can too."
For 20 years, Collins has been the heart and soul of TGH in the annual Hillsborough County Foster Angel Program, which provides Christmas gifts for many of the county's more than 1,500 foster children. TGH has been the highest donor of gifts to the program every year since 1989, and a good deal of the credit goes to Collins, who donates at least 300 gifts himself each year. He also makes many of the Christmas decorations that adorn the hospital.
For Collins, the spirit of the holidays is a 12-month endeavor. He moonlights all year, doing yard work in his spare time, and uses all his overtime earnings at the hospital to buy gifts for foster children, spending a few dollars each month to stock the toy chest.