Volunteer services department celebrates 50 years at LLUMC
A patient at LLU Children’s Hospital reacts with joy after receiving a handmade quilt from Cedar Grove Elementary School in Covina. The school developed its Blankets of Love program to teach students the value of expressing love to others.
They come in all sizes, shapes, ages, and backgrounds, but if Denise Winter is telling the truth, volunteers are the finest people on the face of the earth. Ms. Winter should know: She’s been the director of volunteer services at Loma Linda University Medical Center for the past 10 years.
“April 27 through May 3 is National Volunteer Week,” she says. “And like the slogan says, ‘Volunteers make a world of difference!’ At Loma Linda, we’re celebrating 50 years of volunteering by some of the nicest people in the world.”
Apparently they’re some of the most active, too. Ms. Winter backs up her assertion with statistics to match her words. “In 2007, we had a total of 1,892 individuals working at Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center. They volunteered in all the hospitals, as well as the University itself, and donated a grand total of 248,469 hours of service in 2007. That’s a lot of hours!”
According to an independent sector organization known as Points of Light and the Hands-on Network, the value of volunteer services can be calculated at $19.51 per hour. That is the charge employers would have to pay for wages and benefits if volunteers were employees. When Ms. Winter ran the numbers on her calculator, she came up with an astonishing figure of $4,847,630.10 as the value of volunteer services donated here in 2007 alone.
But monetary value doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. To get a
Kourtney Jones, left, and Elaine Hayes flash the million-dollar grins that make them so popular around the volunteer services office, where they help out with a wide variety of needs. �I get caught up in silly little things like wondering if my hair looks okay,� Ms. Jones reports. �It�s good to forget all that and do something for someone else.� Ms. Hayes adds that running errands as a volunteer is a great way to exercise. �And,� she notes, �from what my mom tells me, volunteering is good when you�re trying to get into college.�
feel for the intangible value of volunteer services, you have to meet some of the amazing people who donate their time, talent, energy, and expertise because they love people and want to make life better for someone else.
Let’s get started by going up on the fifth floor with Brian Christensen. He’s one of the regular “snugglers,” as he and Tom Hartman are called, whose main job is to make sure that hospitalized babies and children never run out of tender loving care. There are other snugglers in the neonatal intensive care unit, but Mr. Christensen and Mr. Hartman are the only two in this neck of the woods. What qualifies a person as a snuggler? “Someone who’s good at cuddling and snuggling with kids,” Mr. Christensen explains.
As we catch up to Mr. Christensen, he’s taking a young boy for a walk down the hall. Let’s call the boy Joe—although that isn’t his real name—and let’s assume that Joe’s having a hard time adjusting to being a patient in the hospital. He’s used to running around the yard and playing with his buddies; the notion of staying in bed for hours at a time doesn’t sit well with Joe. Mr. Christensen takes him for a walk, then stops and blows bubbles when the 5-year-old loses interest in the activity. A moment later, Mr. Christensen swoops Joe up in his arms and tells him he’s a really good boy.
Mr. Christensen retired from hi
You won�t see these faces on America�s Most Wanted. Volunteer Carole Brodeur (first row, center) is famous for decorating the waiting room of the pediatric dental clinic in the School of Dentistry. �We love Carole!� her colleagues unanimously declare. Front row from left: Magda Lavergne, Carole Brodeur, Rose Stokes. Back row: Lillian Andrade and Brenda Montesinos.
s career as a fireman with the Los Angeles County Fire Department in 1997. “After a year of not having a direction, I thought, ‘I’ll go try volunteering out,’” he says. “So I came over to acute care and saw the baby snugglers and thought I’d like to do that. I just feel a real empathy for abused kids. Being a Christian, I thought working to make life better for others was the best thing I could do.”
Ms. Winter explains that volunteers come to Loma Linda for many reasons. “Teens often need work experience or community service hours to graduate high school,” she offers. “University students need community service, or are searching for career ideas. Adults may decide to volunteer due to life changes, job changes, licensing requirements, referrals from doctors, or just a desire to return to the workforce after their kids are grown. Retirees volunteer to keep busy, learn new skills, or serve the community. Even corporations get in on the act. Corporate volunteers assist with special projects such as health fairs, fundraising, or other projects where their expertise is needed.”
Kim Bryant exemplifies the type of student who finds that volunteering not only meets educational requirements, but also connects to something much greater. “I play with kids in the playroom and at their bedsides,” Ms. Bryant explains. As a college freshman studying child development at San Bernardino Valley College, Ms. Bryant hopes to become a child life assistant at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. “My favorite part of the job is playing with the kids, seeing them smile and forget about being in the hospital. I have no favorites—I love them all!”
And while colleagues Kourtney Jones and Elaine Hayes don’t work directly with children, they agree that volunteering has made a big impact on their lives. “I would definitely recommend volunteering to my peers,” asserts Ms. Jones, a high school junior. “Definitely! I get caught up in silly little things like wondering if my hair looks okay. It’s good to forget all that and do something for someone else.”
Elaine Hayes, a senior, adds that running errands as a volunteer is a great way to exercise. “And,” she notes, “from what my mom tells me, volunteering is good when you’re trying to get into college.”
Robert Olsen is definitely not trying to get into college. “I’m a rocket scientist,” he laughs. But he’s not joking. Robert enjoyed a fascinating career as chief project engineer on the Saturn S-II second stage rocket that eventually hauled Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969. “After the launch, Neil came out to my office to thank me for making it possible,” Mr. Olsen remembers. But even though his pre-volunteering career spanned 25 years at North American Aviation and included a stint as director of finance for the high-flying corporation, Mr. Olsen finds a more down-to-earth kind of satisfaction in his second career at Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, where he’s worked for the last nine years.
“Know what the difference is between a volunteer and a staffer?” he asks. “We sit around until we see something that needs to be done, and we do it. They sit around until they see something that needs to be done and go take a meeting!” But the grin on his face can’t hide the earnestness he brings to his work. The answer becomes apparent when Mr. Olsen explains that working here is personal for him.
“I’m an alcoholic,” he shares. “When I went through the program here, they asked me to stay on as a volunteer.” He goes on to say that volunteering gives him something to do. That’s something of an understatement since Mr. Olsen’s job is to coordinate all volunteer activities inside the locked psychiatric facility. “We have meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and other support groups,” he observes. “Volunteers operate four groups here; the others are run by credentialed staff.”
In a way, the level of commitment Mr. Olsen brings to his responsibilities is almost monk-like in its demand for total dedication. “The alumni association here is different from other places,” he insists. “Instead of meeting once a year, we meet every Thursday at 6:00 p.m. There are 140 of us in the cafeteria. Half of what we do is social in nature; the other half is programming. We go bowling—and it’s often the first time that someone in our group has ever bowled without a beer in their hand—and we ride the train to Capistrano to the beach.”
The group Mr. Olsen oversees also runs sober living homes for men and women, which help recovering alcoholics transition back into the outside world. “I collect these,” he says, pointing to a mound of awards he has received over the years. “The one I got a year ago said I’ve donated 13,193 hours of volunteer service. The one I’ll get this May will say more than 15,000 hours.” He points out that he’s been sober for every one of those hours. “I’ve got nine years, nine months, and two days of sobriety!” he says in a matter-of-fact tone.
For Bev Krick, volunteering isn’t so much a sobering experience as it is a source of joy and satisfaction. “I’ve been here in Loma Linda for some 30 years,” she says. “I came here right after college and worked as an office manager in internal medicine. My last job here was as associate director of the alumni association in the School of Medicine. I married Ed Krick in 1983.”
Ms. Krick works one day a week in the gift shop at the Medical Center. “I’ve been at the gift shop for six years,” she explains. “I work the cash register, help with customer service, and do whatever I can. We can even dust the shelves if we want to, but trust me—I try to avoid that! I have shelves at home!”
What she doesn’t have at home is a chance to meet lots of new friends and rekindle acquaintances with people she’s known for years. “For me, volunteering here is a special event because I get to know so many people,” she remarks. “My favorite thing is meeting the customers. After being here in Loma Linda for 30 years, I know a lot of people.” Ms. Krick goes on to explain that one of the most interesting encounters she’s ever had as a volunteer was when she met a man from Texas who was in Loma Linda to receive treatments at the Slater Proton Center. They struck up a conversation, and before long they came to the startling discovery that they are actually related—the man is married to one of her relatives in the Lone Star State.
Doug Gunter has made a lot of startling discoveries of his own as a volunteer in the gift shop. His wife, Nikki, is the assistant manager of the Medical Center gift shop. “I started volunteering in mid-1999 because my wife hounded me for the longest time,” he confesses. “I told her it wasn’t my bag, but finally said, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a rip.’ I’ve been here ever since.”
Mr. Gunter goes on to state that he doesn’t have an official title or well-defined role in the gift shop. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for him to do. “Sometimes I’m here six days a week!” he grins. “Any time a volunteer calls in and says, ‘I can’t make it today,’ there I am. I stock candy, help the decorator, take things to storage, bring things out of storage, run errands—you name it. What I enjoy most are the people that come into this place. All the customers—the patients, nurses, doctors—they’re all just wonderful people! And my co-workers. I really like my co-workers!”
If you press him, Mr. Gunter will admit that things can get hectic in the gift shop.
“Sometimes the manager and assistant manager leave town to go shopping. That happened one Monday morning,” he recalls, “and all the volunteer called off for one reason or other. A young lady by the name of Maria—who had volunteered here six months ago—just showed up that morning. She stayed with me the whole day. I haven’t seen her since. She was an angel!”
Maurice Armster is an angel to many of his fellow volunteers in the emergency department. He works a variety of jobs to support himself—“I teach CPR, I’m a first aid instructor, and I teach driver training and traffic school”—but still finds time to volunteer two or three days a week in increments of four hours or less because he enjoys helping people.
And just as he takes a multi-faceted approach to his career, Mr. Armster likes variety in his volunteer work as well. “I train volunteers in the emergency department, visit Medical Center patients with the cancer visitation program, and help out at the cancer outreach program on Mountain View Avenue. I like training individuals in the various departments and visiting patients. I like to go onto the units and take little gifts to them—pillows for comfort—and let them know that there are individuals who are praying for them.”
When he’s not working at his day jobs, volunteering at the Medical Center, or conducting motivational seminars at churches in the area, Mr. Armster enjoys riding his Harley Sportster 1200. “I’ve been riding since I was 16,” he smiles.
If Mr. Armster likes to ride, Carol Brodeur likes to blush. That’s because her co-workers at the pediatric dental clinic in the School of Dentistry can’t stop bragging about her. “She’s the best,” someone shouts. “She’s the employee of the year!” another acknowledges. “She’s wonderful!” someone else agrees. “I told her she couldn’t retire until she turns 80! We love her here!”
By this point in the conversation, she’s so embarrassed she can hardly speak. But her comrades make a valid point—everyone loves a person who is willing to put their own interests aside to make room for others.
Ms. Brodeur has been volunteering at the clinic since March 2000. “I work in the front office,” she says, “helping the girls in things they don’t have time for. Like answering the phones, checking our patients’ insurance, all kinds of stuff that needs doing. I’m here three mornings a week.”
Like many volunteers, Ms. Brodeur has a busy life outside of her community service. “I have a 90-year-old mom,” she reveals. “Two to three afternoons a week, I take her shopping. We discourage her from driving—although she sometimes sneaks off to Stater Bros. on her own. Plus, I have another elderly friend who’s 89 in Fontana. She has no kids, so I try to get over to check on her once a week or so.”
But life isn’t just about responsibilities, and Ms. Brodeur enjoys weekend trips with her husband to Laguna Beach, Dana Point, or Oceanside. “We enjoy being outdoors,” she says. “Plus I like to go visit my daughter in Canada. But I also love working with the girls here at the clinic. It’s really fun—I get to meet all the kids coming in. I enjoy it here; I do!”
Janet George and Donna Morningstar love what they do, too. Ms. George has been volunteering in the volunteer services office since 2002, and Ms. Morningstar has been here a year longer than that. She comes in on Thursdays to help with phones, filing, and fielding questions from the public, and on Fridays, she’s over in the Children’s Hospital gift shop selling gifts and teddy bears. Ms. George enters information about new volunteers into the computer to create a volunteer database. “Personal information,” she discloses. “Names, addresses, and assignment numbers.”
As a former executive secretary for one of the vice presidents at Carl’s Jr. as well as the Ontario/ Montclair superintendent of schools, Ms. George is no stranger to office environments. But she noticed something different about Loma Linda, and she liked what she saw and felt.
“People are so nice here,” she says. “This is such a lovely environment. I’m always amazed that the people are so nice!” What else does she like here? “The interaction with people. I get a sense that I’m doing a little bit of good.” Ms. Morningstar uses some of the same words to describe the joy she finds in working for others.
“It’s the interaction with people,” she says. “I’m very people-oriented, and in the gift shop, you get to meet a lot of people: patients, visitors, employees.”
For Donald Hawecker, giving back to others is what makes it all worthwhile. On September 4, 2000, Don was involved in a devastating accident that left him an amputee, yet when you meet Mr. Hawecker, you get the sense that you’re in the presence of one of the most fulfilled individuals on the planet. “I run the peer support program for people with disabilities,” he notes. “I enjoy doing a lot of good for my community. I talk to patients who are recent amputees or quadriplegics, and I walk a fine line between giving them the best information that I can without ever using the D word (disability). The goal is to let them believe in what they can accomplish.”
What keeps Mr. Hawecker volunteering—not only here at Drayson Center and East Campus, but also as a commission member for the Riverside Council on Disabilities? “Being around people,” he says. “Helping them deal with their new situations. Lots of people are lost when they first come in. I try to get on the same level with them, same page. What I really do enjoy is when someone starts to open up to me. I get a big high when someone comes back after being in the program and says, ‘Hey, I remember you. I remember what you told me! This is what I’m doing now in my life.’ That’s the biggest high to me. To hear that once a year is fine!”
Does Mr. Hawecker miss his former way of life before the accident? “I don’t really miss it,” he says. “I’ve got too much to look forward to. I enjoy the heck out of life right now! What I get out of volunteering is personal. I’ve got friends and fulfillment I never knew before. It’s a joy that makes me smile. I know about it and He”—Mr. Hawecker points towards heaven as he says it—“knows about it and that’s enough for me.”
Ms. Winter is quick to point out that the volunteer services department is “extremely grateful to all the community partners” who raise money, donate blankets and toys, and write letters to support hospitalized children. “Volunteer services has had a community support invitation open for many, many years,” she says. “We go to churches, service organizations, schools, and clubs inviting them to get involved.”
And they do: Ms. Winter cites organizations like Project Linus, The Kiwanis Club of Uptown Riverside, Cedar Grove Elementary School of Covina, Redlands Junior Academy, and “too many others to recount who hold blanket drives, bake sales, toy drives, and other projects to make sure our kids are not forgotten.”
Ms. Winter reports that the Blankets of Love project at Cedar Grove Elementary started when school officials decided they needed to teach their students to love others. So far, the program has distributed more than 1,900 quilts that the students have made for patients at City of Hope, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the Riverside Burn Center, Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, and special needs projects in India. Each blanket comes with a letter and photograph from the student who made it.
Do hospitalized children appreciate these acts of love and kindness from strangers? You bet they do! An LLU Children’s Hospital patient named Ana was so touched by the thoughtfulness of the Cedar Grove student who made her blanket that she wrote a letter to the student who made it. “Dear Friend,” she wrote. “Thank you for the blanket. I appreciate the hard work you did in making it for me. I slept with it last night and it was very warm. I love it. Your friend, Ana.”
Ana’s appreciation for her blanket only underscores the core value central to everything volunteers do throughout Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center—it’s all a labor of love. Jennifer Gamble articulates that aspect of volunteering when she observes, “Volunteers have to be compassionate, loving people—especially since they aren’t getting paid.” Ms. Gamble should know; she’s a pre-nursing student at Cal State San Bernardino, and she’s been volunteering in the playroom on the fifth floor for nearly a year without receiving one thin dime in compensation. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t rewarded for what she does.
“I love being around all the little kids here,” Ms. Gamble insists. “I like to cheer them up. Being in the playroom has made me want to go toward the area of pediatric nursing for my career. I just love seeing little kids smile.”
Whether it’s a love for the individual patients they serve, a love for what they do, a love for the friendships and social networks they establish here, or just a heartfelt love for the altruistic notion of giving their time, energy, and talents to helping others, volunteers exemplify love in a million different ways.
Tom Hartman finds that love makes his world go ’round. After working for Tamco Steel for 29 years, Mr. Hartman didn’t like just doing nothing all the time. So he came to Children’s Hospital in 2001 and started volunteering on the fifth floor. “I’m a snuggler,” Mr. Hartman says with a look of pride that can neither be explained nor denied. “I pick up babies and snuggle them. TLC is what it’s called. Babies need TLC!”
Like his pal, Brian Christensen, Mr. Hartman finds his highest joy and satisfaction in giving love to abused children. “I get here at 7:00 a.m. and start volunteering at the front desk at 8:00. The playroom opens at 9:00 and closes at noon, then reopens from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. I pick the kids up and take them to the playroom or tow them around the halls in a wagon. It’s not a babysitting job; it’s an education. A wonderful education! You show the babies in acute care as much love as you do for all the others.”
Do the babies know they’re loved? About a year ago, Mr. Hartman snuggled a 2-year-old boy who needed some of his world- famous TLC. Someone snapped a picture of the two snuggle birds and the photo made it into the paper.
A short while after that, the abused child was fortunate enough to be adopted by a wonderful nurse on the unit and taken to live in her home. Not long ago, she showed the photo to the boy.
“Who’s that holding you?” she asked, pointing to Mr. Hartman and his high-voltage smile.
“Jesus,” he replied.
By James Ponder