The Loving support of the Mercy Guild Volunteers
● By Kimberly Boney
By Kimberly Bonéy
Photos by Sarah Marie Spectrum
EVERY TREE HAS ITS ROOTS, its trunk and its branches. Each part is vital to maintaining the tree’s integrity. But it’s what lies within, just below the surface, seemingly unnoticed, that keeps the tree standing tall, strong and beautiful. Mercy Medical Center - Redding is a tree, whose roots, trunk and branches stand firmly in our community. The Mercy Guild, the team of volunteers who give their time, love and energy to support the needs of the hospital and the community at large, is the very lifeblood of that tree.
The Mercy Guild, founded in 1958, is celebrating 60 years in service to the Redding community in April. The Guild is governed by its own board, has its own financial goals and serves as a major fundraiser for the needs of Mercy Medical Center - Redding. Members of the Mercy Guild come from all walks of life, ranging in age from 16 to 92 years of age, bringing talents and expertise from just about every professional and personal background imaginable. There aren’t too many teams in the world in which a 16-year-old and a 92-year-old could work side by side, at the same moment in time, with the same goal in mind – sharing a passion to help others. That, in and of itself, is something to behold.
Volunteers work in virtually every area of the hospital, from the information desk to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), from the engineering department to the gift shop. A volunteer may walk you to your destination in the hospital, drive you to your car on the golf cart or shuttle van, or hold the hand of a dying patient in the next room as a part of the No One Dies Alone Program. Sometimes volunteers are seen in the halls of the hospital wearing vibrant purple shirts and equally vibrant smiles, delivering care carts to families when they need it most. The volunteers are seen and unseen in their myriad roles, giving of their hearts and doing what they can to make a difference.
Deanna Gunter, Director of Performance Excellence at Mercy Medical Center – Redding, who oversees the volunteer program, says what inspires her most about the team is “the kindness they exhibit every day – every minute. They care for our community, our patients and families, and they care for one another.” Gunter says the sweetest compliment she ever received about her staff was simple yet profound:
“I just met a friend for life – a Mercy volunteer.”
“A volunteer is often the first person you see when you enter the hospital and the last person you see when you leave,” says Mercy Guild President Shirley Martin, who has been a volunteer for five years. Martin, who has made the “first impressions are lasting impressions” theme a major part of her focus during her term as president, recognizes just how crucial effective communication is to the work they do as volunteers. “Sensing how to engage is very important. Sometimes a smile is enough. Other times, people will want to talk. It’s important to know what to say and how to listen.”
Donna Leistinger, chairperson of the Information Desk, has 12 years of experience as a volunteer. “I enjoy making people feel comfortable and valued,” Leistinger says. “We all have talents and skills to bring to the table. The gratification and rewards are vast and fulfilling, not to mention the fun of meeting some wonderful new people. Some of my closest friends now are other volunteers I have met at Mercy Hospital.”
Ann Boyle, chairperson of the clerical department, has been a volunteer with the Mercy Guild for 23 years. She admits “it’s a lot of hard work – there’s no two ways about it – but I love it.” Boyle serves as the correspondence secretary, sending out birthday, get well and sympathy cards on behalf of the Guild. She ensures proper delivery of the blankets and hats that are made with love by members of the community to the NICU, so nurses can deliver them. And it’s Boyle’s keen eye and deft hand that play an integral role in decorating the Christmas trees that light up the hospital and the hearts within it during the holidays.
Chelsea Arledge, a nursing student at Shasta College, began volunteering a year and a half ago. Her own two children, born at 23 weeks and 26 weeks, respectively, were cared for in Mercy’s NICU. Arledge distinctly recalls a time when the scent of the soap in the bathroom at a restaurant sent her into a tailspin. It was the undeniable reminder of the struggle she had with her two babies.
Knowing the struggle of parents with children in the NICU has given Arledge the tools and the heart to serve as a support system for other NICU parents. She recently pioneered a NICU support group, recognizing the need for support not only while a child is still in the hospital, but afterward.
“I wanted to be a NICU nurse before I had my babies, but after I had them, I knew that’s where I needed to be. Being in the NICU was the most traumatic experience of my life, but holding those babies has been the most healing,’’ says Arledge.
Forty-three years ago, Ron Thoensen sold medical and surgical equipment at Mercy Medical Center - Redding. “Service was a major part of what I did then and what I continue to do now as a volunteer,” says Thoensen. For more than 20 years, he’s dedicated his time to working in the engineering department, where his skill set has come in particularly handy. Years ago, much of his time was spent repairing wheelchairs, but now that the hospital has begun ordering ones that no longer require such a level of maintenance, Thoensen stays busy putting carts together, making other repairs, running errands and seeing to it that unused equipment is donated to a local charity. “My four-hour shift goes by in about 30 minutes,” says Thoensen with a chuckle.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to be able to help someone. There isn’t a day that goes by that the staff doesn’t say how grateful they are for us. They say the hospital couldn’t function without the volunteer program,” says Thoensen.
For 60 years, the lifeblood that is the Mercy Guild has pumped through every vein of the hospital, from the roots, through the trunk, and into the branches big and small, creating the perfect conditions for the leaves and fruit to flourish abundantly. •