ASHLAND Armco Steel is gone from Ashland, but some of the volunteer projects performed by its workers are thriving.

Charlie Adkins and Gary Mastin met when they were both crane operators at Armco in the 1970s. Today, they and several others make sure children who need to visit the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Lexington have transportation.

Adkins is the director of transportation for the hospital’s El Hasa region, which covers 16 counties, two of them in Ohio; he also is a driver for the program. He also serves on the board of directors of the hospital.

“I’ve been a Shriner for 45 years and I knew people who did this before who were Shriners. In fact, I came up with 15 from Armco who did it,” Adkins said of driving. It’s an opportunity to give back that draws Adkins to the project.

“I was raised in Lawrence County, and we didn’t have a lot,” Adkins said. “It gave me a way of giving something back.”

Adkins has about a dozen drivers who take turns running children and one of their parents to appointments at the Lexington hospital. A Cincinnati hospital combined with one in Dayton and their volunteer works sometimes takes them there.

Mastin, who retired in 2016, began volunteering for Adkins at that time. He said he made a couple of trips each month before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but now it’s more like one trip every two months. Adkins said they’ve made as many trips as 200 a year from the El Hasa group, but last year there were only 80.

“We still have the need,” Adkins said. “They just don’t want to be out during COVID.”

Safety protocols are observed. Adkins, who said he has been vaccinated and has had a booster shot, said drivers wear their masks. One patient and one parent make the trip. Mastin noted if appointments line up, two patients, each with a parent, might travel together.

“The ones we haul probably need the help more,” Adkins said. “They’re the most vulnerable and the ones likely to fall through the cracks.”

Those who had transportation but need help with gasoline can get help from the Shriners in the form of a gas card.

As a Shriner, Mastin said it’s an important way to help others.

“I believe it’s one of the core tenets of our organization,” he said. “Some patients just don’t have the means to get to the hospital.”

Two drivers make each trip and share driving duties using a vehicle at the El Hasa Shrine meant for transporting patients. Either on the trip there or back, they buy patient and parent a meal. Their experiences have created some touching memories.

“They’re all memorable,” Mastin said, but a couple of trips have stood out. “We were in a Wendy’s in Winchester and a 16-year-old boy came to me and said he saw our jackets and hats with the insignia on it and he said, ‘I just want to shake hands with you two. I was a Shriner’s kid. I have curvature of the spine and now I’m in the Clark County High School band and I wanted to thank you guys.’ It kind of tears you up.”

He also got a donation on one of their trips.

“An older woman came up to us and handed me a $50 and said her grandchild had been treated by the Shriners and straightened out her feet and she wanted to donate to the transportation fund,” Mastin said.

Adkins said he and Mastin are former Armco workers driving, but others have been recruited.

“I’m very proud of what we do,” Mastin said. “It’s something that doesn’t keep me busy during my retirement years, but pops up from time to time. I have at least three different friends who saw how much I enjoyed it so they joined, too.”

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The first Shriner’s Hospital was built in 1922 in Shreveport, Louisiana. There are 22 nonprofit medical facilities that are part of the Shriners Hospitals for Children network, treating burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate as well as orthopaedic conditions.

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