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July 6, 2022

Guest Column | Volunteerism and Community Spirit Are the Cornerstones of South Monterey County Healthcare

How do you kickstart a quality healthcare system in a small agricultural town during one of the worst economic slumps in American history? Philanthropy and volunteerism, that’s how.

King City opened the area’s first full-fledged hospital in 1941, with 22 beds in a single-story building on Broadway Street. The community came together to create Southern Monterey County Memorial Hospital, laying the groundwork for what is now Mee Memorial Healthcare System.

While MMHS is now modern and technologically advanced, we cherish our small-town roots and our ability to deliver healthcare with heart.

If you follow local history, you’re aware that our modern foundation was built in 1962 when rancher Tom Mee donated all the proceeds from a cattle sale (more than $150,000) to put a community fundraising campaign over the top. Mee requested that the hospital (built on Canal Street on land donated by Dr. L.M. Andrus), be named after his late father George L. Mee.

Mee Memorial Hospital was born.

The present hospital was built next to that facility. Completed in 2001, it is the core of Mee Memorial Healthcare System in Southern Monterey County, along with four state-of-the-art medical clinics in King City and one in Greenfield. A hospital expansion in 2007 increased the number of beds to 119.

This never would have happened without the dedication and selflessness from a small cadre of physicians and nurses, a team of hospital volunteers and the grassroots generosity of a close-knit, rural region.

Strong community support continues today, led by our amazing volunteers in the Service League, along with the Mee Memorial Hospital Foundation, a nonprofit that through the years has raised several million dollars for the hospital.

As we approach National Volunteer Week (April 17-23), one thing remains clear in a complicated world: The solution to any problem begins with someone raising their hand to say “I can help.”

Established in 1974, National Volunteer Week recognizes the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges. Only together can we hope to build stronger communities that help stitch together the fabric that binds the world.

Today I’d like to shine a light on those who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in the health and well-being of Southern Monterey County.

It starts with our amazing Service League. As its name implies, it’s the driving force behind the wonderful team of volunteers that serve others. The League’s mission is to “aid in community healthcare and support all MMHS medical facilities,” and this group of dedicated volunteers take that mission seriously.

Independent nonprofit, the group provides vital services for the hospital, from staffing the information desk to stocking and operating the gift shop in the hospital lobby. They help strengthen employee morale by hosting breakfasts, handing out awards, holding scrubs sales and providing funds for needed equipment.

Through the years fundraisers have provided revenue for facility improvements such as a mammography machine, dialysis equipment, fetal monitors, and furnishings for the new hospital chapel.

They even step in to help bring comfort to patients and their families. When hospital visitors have questions, it’s often a Service League volunteer who provides the answers. You’d be amazed how much a warm hello and a smile can mean to patients and visitors.

Our volunteers go a step further for our long-term patients, engaging them by playing board games or bingo, reading to them or even attending to their important errands.

Service League President Donna Oliveira views volunteering as a win-win proposition. “We get something out of it, so much personal fulfillment, the friendships. It provides a creative outlet, too,” she said.

A retired high school English teacher, Donna walked into the hospital in 1998 to offer her services. Twenty-four years later, the 80-year-old widow still donates her time and boundless energy to the cause, saying it keeps her young.

Donna and her Service League partners exemplify the varied benefits of volunteerism.

Studies show that giving to others can help protect the volunteer’s mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep them mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose.

Beyond that, volunteering has such a profound impact on others. It allows us to connect with the community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need.

Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your comfort zone, and boost your social skills. It’s a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. It strengthens your ties to the community and exposes you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.

The group has great camaraderie, nurturing one another as well as the community. “It’s an extended family feeling,” said Donna. “It’s a fun, rewarding and enjoyable group.”

The Service League is actively looking for some “young blood” and new, like-minded members. If you have time to devote to this vibrant, fun-loving group of volunteers and community-focused cause, call 831-386-7396.

The Service League would love to have you in its fold, but if another nonprofit piques your interest, don’t wait! There are so many quality volunteer projects that need help.

Today, as people strive to lead lives that reflect their values, the expression of civic life has evolved. Whether at our hospital, at your office, at the local food bank or a pet rescue organization; whether through a vote, a voice, a chunk of time or a donation — doing good pays huge dividends.

Why not raise your hand today? Help accelerate change within your community and maybe even around the world.

Rena Salamacha
CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System
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