12686775695?profile=RESIZE_710xDanuta Fein with the shell collection at Sandoway Discovery Center. The retired nurse wanted her volunteer work to be completely different from her former career. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Brian Biggane

When Danuta Fein and her husband moved from just north of New York City to Delray Beach seven years ago, Danuta wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but after working as a nurse for 36 years, she knew it wasn’t that.

“I didn’t really have to work, which for some people sounds wonderful, but when you’re used to working, you’ve got to find a life,” said Fein, 64.

“So it was, What can I do here? I’ve always loved nature, so I ended up looking for volunteer opportunities online. And one day I saw Sandoway was looking for volunteers, and

I came here for the interview and found I just love this place.”

Part of the attraction was the building that houses the Sandoway Discovery Center. Built in 1937 and restored in 1997-98, the two-story house is the rare structure just across the street from the beach that is still standing after more than 85 years.

And she likes the people, both staff and visitors. As the person who works the door every Thursday, Fein is typically the first staff member visitors see and she does what she can to make them feel welcome.

“I’m doing the admissions, the sales and the gift shop, answer questions, directions, whatever,” she said.

With only four full-time people on staff, the center depends heavily on its volunteers, and Suzanne Williamson, the director of education and volunteer coordinator, said Fein is among her most valuable.

“She takes charge when she comes in, makes sure everybody has what they need,” Williamson said. “It’s really busy in the summer but she’s really good at managing the chaos.

“She’s so warm when people come in, greets them with a smile. And she’s really good with kids. And I love having a former nurse around. Especially in the summer,” when people need to stay hydrated.

When the center needs an enforcer, she can be that, too. “She even kicked one guy out for not paying,” Williamson said.

While Fein takes charge inside the building, other volunteers keep busy outside. “Some really enjoy the animal care,” she said, “and some enjoy doing landscaping. We have amazing landscapers here who have transformed the property. We have a gorgeous garden.”

Open Tuesday through Sunday, Sandoway hosts school-age children from summer camps on a daily basis and has people of high school and college age volunteering to help with the larger summer workload. A big attraction is the feeding schedule: Sharks and stingrays are fed daily at 1 p.m. and the rest of the aquarium animals at 2 p.m.

Fein enjoyed her experience at Sandoway so much that she also has become a volunteer at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

“I just love sea turtles,” she said. “I’ve had some amazing experiences coming across them while we’ve been on vacation, and I just love that they have the hospital there.

“They closed for a little while, and when they reopened all of a sudden, they needed volunteers. So, I’m like, yeah, I can do that.”

Again, Fein said, she “kind of gravitated” toward the front desk, answering phones and welcoming visitors. Admission is not an issue, because Gumbo Limbo is free to enter, whereas Sandoway costs $10.

Fein also volunteered as a Girl Scout leader for three or four years when her daughter was involved up North.

“Until you volunteer you don’t really realize the joy in it,” she said. “Because in my opinion, that’s what you get out of it. That’s why you end up doing what you do.

“You have to pick something you’re happy about doing. I tried to pick something completely different than what I did for my career, because I’d done that. But when you find it, it’s like effortless to just keep doing it.

“It opens up a whole new world.”

Danuta’s husband, David, works for a Fort Lauderdale-based company, Atlantic Coast Enterprises, training customer service reps for Jiffy Lube stores up and down the East Coast.

Daughter Allison does social media marketing for a pharmaceutical company in Boston and son Daniel is an oncologist, also in Boston.

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