SARASOTA - Eleanor Ball grew up in Sarasota, graduated from Riverview High School, then returned after college to work more than three decades at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Now she's inspiring others to work in health care and helping save countless lives along the way.
Inside an old Newtown church fellowship hall are the healthcare workers of tomorrow. For three weeks this summer, a hand-picked group of middle school students will learn about the possibilities that await them if they complete their education.
"The people that draw the blood, how much education to they need," says Ball.
Eleanor Ball brings her health careers summer camp to the Suncoast Communities Blood Bank for a behind the scenes tour.
Maybe one of these students will work here one day collecting life-saving blood and plasma. “And then our goal is obviously to get them into higher levels of education, be it technical or college, but it does just make me feel good and does my heart well when I see our students advance."
Maribel Prezas is one of them. She's helping Ball with this summer's camp. The Booker High graduate lives next door to Ball and dreams of one day becoming a nurse. "I just graduated and I was about to give up for certain obstacles, but she was the one who encouraged me to keep going on and ignore those obstacles, and I'm really happy she did that for me."
Maribel calls "Miss Ball" her second mom and will begin classes at State College of Florida this fall thanks to her help. "She's just an amazing person and I've seen how much she does for the community and I look out the window and she's still there working late for the people in her community, because she really cares."
That caring goes well beyond Ball's summer camp. Year round, Ball shows people how to live and eat healthier, and how to detect cancer through her work with the Newtown Wellness Program.
On this day, she's putting together education packets for another of her pink ribbon parties for breast cancer. While no one's keeping count, she's likely saved countless lives. "Someone has to take the lead and I feel that's my mission, because of the passion I have, that I just want to help," says Ball.
One of those she helped is the longtime pastor of her church. "Anything that you need to get done, before you say it, Eleanor's already done it," says Pastor Gregory Harris.
Pastor Harris was recruited by Eleanor to help spread the word on prostate cancer. Little did he know, what he learned helped him become a prostate cancer survivor.
Pastor Harris says there's no way to measure what she means to her church, her neighborhood and her community. “You couldn't put a monetary value... (laughs)...You know, a person like her, her rewards will have to be in heaven."
Ball is the director of ministries at her church. She's also on the local and state boards of the American Cancer Society.