Pandemic Perseverance: How Our Volunteers are Making an Impact
The pandemic has led to countless changes in our community, and the absence of more than 1,300 smiling people we’re used to seeing in the Med Center—our compassionate volunteers who offer words of encouragement to patients, who participate in our fundraisers, who bring in pets for therapy, and so much more—is among the most significant for Friends of Strong.
While the number of volunteers has decreased dramatically since the start of the pandemic, a small number began to come back last summer. With strict safety protocols in place, an estimated 170 dedicated volunteers have logged more than 10,000 hours since June 2020.
Since the initial outbreak, FOS has worked hard to redesign the program and provide additional training to safely welcome back our crew of devoted volunteers. At Strong Memorial Hospital, including Wilmot Cancer Center and Strong West, our volunteers help at the front desk, direct patients and staff throughout the hospital, and support our vaccination efforts. In fact, thanks in part to their support, UR Medicine’s Primary Care personnel administer up to 1,000 shots per day at the Vaccination Center located in the Saunders Research Building.
“Many volunteers didn’t want to leave their posts,” says Friends of Strong (FOS) Director Sandy Arbasak. “They really wanted to help out in any way they can. When opportunities at Primary Care’s Vaccination Center became available, they masked up, did their COVID tests, and their COVID training, and really took ownership of coming back.”
Even those who haven’t been able to return have donated handmade masks, much-needed PPE supplies, and purchased cups of coffee for doctors and nurses throughout the pandemic to show support in any way they can.
“It’s remarkable that people are taking their own time and effort to help. Even making the effort to get here is admirable and impressive,” says Karen Keating, interim volunteer program manager at FOS. “They’re enthusiastic, they like being a part of the solution, and we always try to show our appreciation every day when we see them.”
Jill Paladino, administrator and volunteer supervisor at Strong West, has nothing but good things to say about those who stepped up during the pandemic. “We’re honored to have such a fabulous group of kind, devoted, giving individuals and they really kept us going throughout the pandemic.”
Hear it from Our Volunteers
Mary Wagner has volunteered with us for more than six years. Before UR Medicine was able to allow volunteers back into the hospitals during the first lockdown in March, she was on the phone asking how she could come back.
Volunteering during a pandemic doesn’t come without its challenges. Mary explains that wearing masks can make it difficult to communicate effectively, and initially she was concerned about her and her husband’s safety while she volunteers at the hospital. “I feel comfortable now and I know that the hospital’s goal is to keep everyone safe. They ensure we have PPE and if there’s something I don’t feel comfortable doing, they’re fine with that.”
Mary says the pandemic has brought lemons and lemonade. One advantage? Getting a parking spot is easier than ever. She also notes that interacting with the smaller pool of volunteers has encouraged a stronger sense of comradery. “I feel like I’m part of a family. With COVID, there are fewer of us, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know other volunteers more closely. I really feel like I’m a valued part of the team.”
Mary isn’t the only one. John and Sue Amon normally volunteer with the PETS Therapy Program but, since it remains paused, the couple has stepped up to help in other ways. They’ve supported vaccination efforts at UR Medicine’s Primary Care Vaccination Center multiple times per week, despite never participating in a wayfinding or hospitality role before. Bobbi Lavoie, another volunteer from the PETS program, is also helping support our vaccination efforts.
Terrance Anderson, a volunteer for more than eight years, sees volunteering during the pandemic as an opportunity to fulfill his purpose. “I strongly believe that everyone who walks this earth has a divine purpose in life and mine happens to be helping people,” he says. “I don't view volunteering during the pandemic as a challenge, but as a privilege and an honor to serve.”
Paul Sugar, a volunteer at Strong West, is also happy to be back on the front lines. “It is absolutely awesome to be back volunteering,” he says. “It’s a very rewarding experience knowing that you can help others.”
Perhaps the most remarkable part of our volunteers going above and beyond to help the hospital is their unyielding enthusiasm. According to Wagner, “I am a people person. I get back double what I give. This is like food for my soul.”
Honoring their Service
Hazel Pugh, volunteer coordinator for Wilmot Cancer Center, describes the significance of their return in noting that during last year’s absence of volunteers in the Cancer Center, both patients and staff frequently asked how they were doing and when they would be able to come back. It speaks volumes to how much they were missed and appreciated.
“It’s especially important for our patients to have our volunteers here again,” Hazel explains. “They’re always a bright light for patients, giving them an opportunity to have a brief friendly chat, an in-depth conversation or just get a little something to eat or drink during their time here. They’re great.”
All of the volunteers, whether they’ve been able to come back or not, are incredible assets to our organization. While our usual activities and celebration surrounding National Volunteer Week (April 18–24) will be different this year, our volunteers will each receive a special virtual message of thanks expressing our gratitude for their selfless service to our community.
“If you see one of our generous volunteers throughout the hospital, at the Vaccination Center, or at an offsite location, please take a moment to thank them for their service,” Sandy suggests. “While we try to thank them every day and let them know how much we appreciate them, it’s still always nice to hear, and can really make anyone’s day brighter.”
By Marley DeRosia
Matt Ulakovic |