Making a Meaningful Difference
If you’ve been to Sentara RMH Medical Center as a patient or visitor and been greeted or assisted by one of the smiling people in blue vests or polo shirts, you’ve probably met a hospital volunteer. Sentara RMH volunteers range in age from 14 to 99. They offer kind and compassionate service to support hospital staff and help make every patient and visitor experience exceptional.
Like the staff, their focus is on safety and customer service, no matter where they serve. Volunteers can be found greeting guests, escorting patients,visiting with inpatients, providing warm blankets, delivering newspapers and flowers, making coloring packets for kids and caps for newborn babies, or serving on councils and teams whose aim is to improve the patient experience.
Each volunteer has his or her special passion to serve as well as compassion for other people, says Volunteer Services Director Debra Thompson. “I call our volunteers the icing on the cake,” Thompson says. “They provide that extra layer of comfort to the services Sentara RMH offers its patients. In sharing themselves, our volunteers find they get something valuable back—the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference in someone else’s life.”
And each of them has a particular story or reason why he or she has chosen to volunteer. Three of their stories are related here.
A junior at Spotswood High School, 16-year-old Nate Riddle has been a volunteer at Sentara RMH for two years. Whether giving directions to patients and visitors as a Guest Services volunteer or helping calm worried patients and families in the ED, Riddle enjoys interacting with other people. He believes spending time in the hospital will help him decide what kind of medical career to pursue someday.
“I really wanted to volunteer at the hospital to become more exposed to health care,” says Riddle, who also is active at his church, Mount Olive Brethren Church, and in the Ruritan Club. “I plan on pursuing a career in health care, possibly in administration or as a doctor, because I want to help others.”
Riddle volunteers during the summer, two days each week when possible, as well as throughout the school year. He also helps out in the Volunteer Services office. His grandmother, Linda Riddle, a long-time nurse at the hospital, encouraged him to get involved.
“We help make the experience at Sentara RMH a good one for patients,” he says. “As volunteers, we have time to spend with patients, letting them know we care.” He enjoys meeting new patients, listening to their stories and offering comfort. Once, he recalls, he sat with an elderly woman in the ED for about 30 minutes as she waited for test results. She had no family with her, and he felt she needed his attention.
“It was hard for me to leave her because she was all alone,” says Riddle. “I realized that volunteering for the hospital is a good thing because patients get a lot out of it. This experience has opened my eyes to how fortunate I am. I take a lot for granted, but I see people here who are not very fortunate. Many people go through hard times, and it gives me satisfaction that as a volunteer, I can make a difference.”
You don’t have to be a patient to experience healing at Sentara RMH. For David Huyard of Harrisonburg, volunteering at the hospital helped bring about recovery from the deep pain of losing Anna Mary, his wife of 56 years who died in March 2012. Sentara RMH has become a refuge for him . . . and for other volunteers who, like Huyard, have experienced grief.
“There’s something in this hospital I’ve discovered that’s more powerful than any surgical tool,” says Huyard, 82, who volunteers in the Emergency Department (ED) and the Critical Care Unit. “That’s a smile of affirmation. Life has taught me that the more we share ourselves with our fellowman in caregiving service, all the more the reservoir of our lives will continue to overflow.”
Huyard recalls one busy evening in the ED when a bearded man in the crowded waiting room began loudly expressing his displeasure at the long wait. Huyard went over to the man, shook his hand and said, “I saw you on TV last night. You’re with that Duck Dynasty bunch.” The comment broke the ice, and everyone around—including the man—burst into laughter. That sparked a light-hearted conversation among bystanders about the reality TV show.
“As I find things to say to make people laugh, I find myself being brought out of a deep pit of emotional pain,” says Huyard, who grew up in the Amish community of Lancaster County, Pa. “I find that one way to remedy this pain is by being around other people.”
An artist who had stopped painting during and after his wife’s illness, Huyard took some of his paintings to the hospital one day to show the ED staff. Shortly after that, Jill Young took him into the ED break room and asked if he would paint a mural on an expansive, white wall. He agreed and began painting a farm scene that he titled “Yesterday When I Was Young.” He engaged many of the ED nurses to help paint flowers and items on the clothesline. “Through the process, I came alive again,” says Huyard, who has since painted portraits for Sentara RMH staff members and other volunteers. “For the first time in three years, I felt like myself again. I knew healing was happening.”
Though moments of grief may strike him at any time, helping others through their own pain, fear or anxiety is healing for Huyard, who served with his wife as a missionary. Two years before she died, Anna Mary was a patient at Sentara RMH numerous times, and Huyard is grateful for the compassionate care given by doctors, nurses and other providers. The couple, who raised five children, were owners of Huyard’s Country Kitchen in the Dayton Farmers Market and together hand-crafted 62 violins.
After her death, Huyard crafted another violin using wood off a scrap heap, rather than expensive, exotic wood. “I wanted to make a statement that the Lord will take us off the heap—whatever heap we’re on—and He’ll put our lives back together so we can make beautiful music again,” he says. The violin, titled “Restored,” has become a symbol of his personal experience.
Karen Snarr-Beiler has never met a stranger.
A natural conversationalist, Snarr-Beiler loves people and introduces herself to patients on Sentara RMH Medical Center’s 4 East nursing unit as “Bubbles,” a nickname she has had since childhood. Her main goal as a hospital volunteer, she says, is to make people smile. “My role is to spread joy,” says Snarr-Beiler, 58, a salesperson for Cross Keys Vineyards who also hand-paints and sells wine glasses. “It doesn’t take a lot to make somebody else’s day.”
During the past several years, Snarr-Beiler has gone through major changes in her personal life, including the end of her 29-year marriage; selling the Pennsylvania home where her two children, now adults, grew up; and relocating back to her native Virginia. When Snarr-Beiler began focusing on what’s important, she knew volunteering at the hospital would be an opportunity for personal growth.
“There’s more to life than just taking,” she says. “One of the best ways to feel better about your own circumstances is to do something for someone less fortunate than yourself. Volunteering at Sentara RMH has been the ultimate reality check for me. When I walk out of the hospital, I definitely have an attitude of gratitude.”
Snarr-Beiler’s volunteer role is to visit each patient room on her assigned floor, checking to see if there’s any nonmedical service she can offer to make patients more comfortable. She may bring warm blankets, remove breakfast trays, or deliver fresh ice and a soda. She also spends quality time with patients, reading to them, holding their hands, listening to their stories or praying with them if they desire. She recalls one anxious patient whose hand she held for an hour.
“These are things I can do, so that the nurses and other medical staff can concentrate on caregiving,” she says. Snarr-Beiler’s parents, who still live in her hometown of Woodstock, inspired her to volunteer. Her dad has been visiting shut-ins, widows and widowers, hospital and nursing home patients from his church and community for about 25 years—“spreading joy,” as he describes it. Now, she hopes to do the same for Sentara RMH patients.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time or energy to make people feel special or cared for—and right now, I have the energy, enthusiasm and a little extra time to spread joy,” she says. “I don’t look at it as something I have to do. It’s something I get to do. Acts of kindness don’t cost a thing, and neither do smiles.”
While doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at Sentara RMH carry out their calling to deliver safe, effective, high-quality medical care, the hospital’s volunteers offer an added value that enhances the patient experience. Volunteers can take time to sit down and offer comforting words to anxious patients and their families, bring patients warm blankets or fluff their pillows, or offer assistance with meals or activities.
The hospital has close to 300 service volunteers who bring positive attitudes, energy and enthusiasm to their role of serving others. Debra Thompson, director of Volunteer Services, says the hospital can accommodate most people who want to serve, regardless of age or ability, within the parameters of safety. “Our volunteers include high school students, college students, retirees, empty-nesters and many others who simply want to serve,” she says.
Volunteers are asked to commit to a year of service and to working at least one 3- or 4-hour shift each week. Thompson interviews prospective volunteers once they complete an application and places them in positions that match their abilities and interests. “If someone has a heart to serve, we will try to find a volunteer role for that person at Sentara RMH,” she says. “When you volunteer here, it’s certain that you’ll get back at least as much as you give.”
All adult service volunteers are automatically members of the RMH Volunteer Auxiliary. People also can join the Auxiliary through membership dues payment rather than service. The Auxiliary has about 100 non-service members, many of whom support the hospital through fundraising efforts. The funds they raise each year help purchase medical equipment or provide services that enhance patient care. Last year, the Volunteer Auxiliary contributed more than $190,000 to the RMH Foundation, including around $180,000 from sales in Sentara RMH Gifts and Floral, which is largely staffed by volunteers. This contribution will be used to support nursing scholarships and advanced nurse training initiatives.
“It’s really hard to express the depth of our gratitude for what our volunteers give us,” says Thompson. “They share their hearts and their time to support our staff and help our patients. They come to work ready to make our guests feel welcomed and help keep our patients safe. They don’t ask anything in return; they’re here because they want to give back to the community. And that’s priceless.”
Those interested in volunteering at Sentara RMH Medical Center should contact Volunteer Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-689-6400.