Volunteers Enhance the Healing Experience One Smile at a Time
Hundreds of friends and neighbors from as far afield as India and Saudi Arabia, who this past year have collectively volunteered tens of thousands of hours in a variety of supportive and meaningful roles throughout Strong Memorial Hospital, are being celebrated this week for their service.
Dedicated to supporting the mission and vision of Strong Memorial Hospital wherever and whenever needs arise, these amazing volunteers primarily serve with patient- and family-centered care in mind— connecting with, and providing comfort to those who entrust the hospital as they navigate their healing journeys.
Among them, Friends of Strong’s volunteers today serve in areas such as, but not limited to, Transplant, Imaging, patient advocacy, Psychiatry, the PETS Therapy program, Ambassador Services, Strong West, Wilmot Cancer Center, Surgery, Orthopaedics, the Hospital Gift Shop, Inpatient Pediatrics and Ronald McDonald House at Golisano Children’s Hospital.
“What better time to meet several of our best, than during National Volunteer Week,” says Volunteer Program Manager Karen Keating. “This annual observance of those who donate their time, skills and passions to public service is such a great reminder of the many impressive volunteers of diverse ages and backgrounds we host here at Strong.”
“This week – and every day – we hope you can join us in thanking these wonderful people for volunteering at Strong,” adds Sandy Arbasak, director of Friends of Strong.
Retired pharmacist Maurice Landesberg, of Rochester, has volunteered with Friends of Strong since 2013, serving in Pediatrics and Orthopaedics Guest Services throughout the years. He now volunteers in Inpatient Psychiatry engaging patients in conversation and seeking common ground where they can talk about topics that bring them joy and a sense of happiness.
“Sometimes we win and the chat goes on and on, while other times they tend to be shorter,” Maurice explains. “Either way, we both win; the patient gets someone who focuses on them for a few moments of the day without the health care stuff, and I get to make someone feel a little better.”
Having grown up working among the many hotels and resorts of the Catskills throughout his youth, service and relating with others is in Maurice’s DNA. “I learned a lot about customer service and taking care of people. I found that I could transfer these skills to the practice of pharmacy, and now volunteering at the hospital, but at a much higher level than serving a lunch,” he chuckles.
“I find it very rewarding to be able to make a difference in a person’s wellbeing,” he adds. “Although I’ve helped many people over the years, there are a few treasured memories of interactions with patients or a family who I’ve bumped into and who still show appreciation of my past service.”
“There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam which is often translated as 'repair the world' and refers to various forms of action intended to repair and improve the world,” he confides. “Volunteering is just one way to contribute this effort.”
Maurice enjoys doing his part to make the world a better place, along with dabbling in photography, going fishing, glass-working, kite-flying, traveling, taking classes at Synagogue, and spending time with his 5-year-old granddaughter.
University of Rochester Biology and Molecular Genetics student Tharan Mungara, began volunteering with Friends of Strong in spring 2022, and continues to show great commitment to doing his part in the Hospital’s Second Floor Surgical Center, serving as an extra pair of hands, providing patient transport assistance, connecting with patients to meet their needs and, more recently, also volunteering in the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Golisano Children’s Hospital.
“Especially at Strong, I feel that many people who have mobility difficulties or are unfamiliar with the hospital get overwhelmed and worried by the layout,” Tharan explains. “Making patients' visits to the hospital less stressful by walking with them, conversing and reassuring them all improves their experiences and is definitely a huge highlight of volunteering at Strong.”
A native of Bangalore, India, Tharan says that volunteering at Strong has been his most meaningful volunteer experience yet, and points to it as a way to make a positive impact for one’s community by taking some of the lighter tasks off of the shoulders of the hard-working professionals in the places where he serves.
“Being able to improve patient's experiences at the hospital is something that's just priceless,” Tharan says. “It’s been a huge part of my last two years of college—offering an escape from all the school-related things and it recharges me.”
“I've had the privilege of meeting phenomenal people from many different walks of life, which has also helped me learn and grow as I strive to understand their backgrounds and perspectives on things,” he shares. “Sometimes, I’ve met the same patient more than once, and seeing them remember me in a kind and positive way always puts a smile on my face!”
In his free time, Tharan enjoys cooking, playing sports – mainly cricket and basketball – and listening to and discovering new genres of music.
Upon retirement from a 36-year career at BOCES, Speech/Language Pathologist Stephanie Jeffers knew she wanted to channel her newly earned free time toward volunteerism, serving as an Usher for the Rochester Broadway Theatre League and, of course at Strong and Golisano Children’s hospitals.
Inspired by a love for children, one of the reasons she chose to volunteer with Friends of Strong is because after retirement she missed working with kids. “I had always wanted to volunteer with children and Golisano fits the bill,” Stephanie shares.
In her volunteer role Stephanie attends to children who may be alone, spending time to engage with them and help brighten their days with toys, games and activities; oftentimes offering parents a break to step away to the cafeteria or gift shop, as well as any other support she is able to offer through the Child Life volunteer program.
“I consider myself so fortunate to be able to work on pediatric floors and attend to so many different children’s needs,” she explains. “Because of my experience at BOCES I am comfortable interacting with any child or young adult.”
Stephanie believes that volunteering is one of the best ways to make a positive difference for others in our community. “There are many people carrying great burdens and I hope to lessen those burdens during my volunteer shifts,” she says. “For three hours twice weekly I let myself meet the needs of others. We need to think beyond our own front door!”
“I am always so touched and humbled when parents thank me for volunteering—honestly it is a privilege for me to offer any assistance and support that makes their stay more bearable. I also have to admit that there are a few families that return regularly and express gratitude for seeing a familiar face.”
When she’s not here creating smiles for the kids, Stephanie sings in the choir at her church, and with the Irondequoit Chorale, and is an avid Buffalo Bills and Syracuse basketball fan.
Aspiring physician and Sudanese immigrant from Saudi Arabia, Moe Ibrahim moved to Rochester 10 years ago, attends SUNY Geneseo for Neuroscience, and began volunteering in Strong’s Patient Discharge last summer, in 2022.
Although Moe volunteered with other organizations while in high school, the Friends of Strong College Volunteer program offered his first experience with patients in a clinical setting.
“I believe that volunteering makes our community more connected. No matter who we are, where we all came from, or the stage of life that we are in, we all depend on each other,” Moe shares. “Volunteering helps to bring us closer together because you never know how your kindness and willingness to help without expecting something in return can impact a person.”
One of Moe’s favorite parts of his volunteer role at Strong is delivering flowers and gifts to patients. “The staff is always so welcoming when I bring them and it makes me happy to see the place light up when I bring such gifts,” he explains. “I love that I can come in and make a patient's experience better, even if it is only a small part of their time at Strong. It makes my day and I leave feeling even better than when I came in.”
“My parents have always encouraged me to seek these valuable volunteering experiences so it is very easy for me to find enjoyment in giving back to our community,” he adds. “I'm very thankful for them for instilling an altruistic mindset in me even when I was little, because it has helped me grow so much as a person all these years and I've made amazing connections with people along the way.”
Moe finds strength and motivation in reflecting upon all the hardships and sacrifices his parents made to bring his family to the United States, which helps inspire his dream of becoming a physician and serve in large immigrant populations.
“So many mentors have helped me find my footing here in the US and so I wish to pay forward all the good they have done for me by becoming a leader and provide resources and access for children just like me who will benefit from the help in navigating their way in a new life, in a new country,” he says.
This summer Moe will study at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where he’s received an eight-week residential education and mentoring scholarship experience in laboratory or clinical research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, where he will explore medical and research ethics, health care disparities, statistics and research tools.
In his free time, Moe enjoys playing basketball with his club team at college, hanging out with friends, playing board games, and mentoring his younger siblings.
Stellar Students Among Us
Several University of Rochester students who currently volunteer with Friends of Strong, as well as many alumni to the program, have also earned high honors in their studies and are slated to soon be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society.
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa annually inducts the most outstanding students at America’s leading colleges and universities. Membership is by invitation only, and students are selected by faculty members who are members of the society. The University’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter was founded in 1887.
||Beatriz Medeiros Costa Pereira
An asterisk* denotes active Friends of Strong volunteers among this year’s cohort of honorees.
Matt Ulakovic |