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May 12, 2021

Guest Column | Volunteers Strengthen Our Communities

April 18-24 is National Volunteer Week, an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of kind, compassionate people to strengthen and transform communities.

Our volunteers within Mee Memorial Healthcare System never cease to amaze me. They lend their time, their talent and their hearts to truly make a difference in helping us provide crucial services.

These selfless friends and neighbors have much in common, I’ve noticed. They are strong. They welcome challenges. They are open to possibilities. They honor commitments. They immerse themselves in their work. They use their abilities on behalf of others. They make things happen.

In return, their time volunteering often awakens hidden talents, and they develop new skills. They even have some fun along the way!

Consider Donna Oliveira, an extraordinary volunteer who landed into her role reluctantly. Persuaded by her husband to become more active in the community, one day the retired high school English teacher cautiously walked into Mee Memorial Hospital in King City to offer her services.

Twenty-three years later, the 79-year-old widow is still the driving force behind a small but dedicated team of volunteers as president of the hospital’s Service League.

Serving others completely changed the scope of Oliveira’s life. She 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.

Oliveira and her (currently) all-women band of do-gooders 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.

In addition it can teach new skills, help advance careers and bring fun and fulfillment to lives.

Our Service League members staff the information desk and stock and operate the gift shop. They support hospital employees through morale-building breakfasts, awards presentations and scrubs sales. They help bring comfort to patients and their families, and provide funding for needed equipment.

Through the years, Service League fundraisers have helped secure a mammography machine, dialysis equipment, fetal monitors, patient room TVs and even furnishings for the new hospital chapel. Day to day, members have their hands on just about everything, from stuffing envelopes, to baking sweet treats, to pushing wheelchairs.

Oliveira is proud of those accomplishments, but is quick to point out what the experience has given her and others who volunteer.

“It’s so rewarding to help, especially in a small town where everyone knows each other,” she said. “It’s a family feeling, and at times we have so much fun.”

As the pandemic eases, Oliveira hopes that more members of the community will see the value in volunteerism and step forward to bolster her ranks. “We really need more volunteers to expand our footprint in order to be of greater value to the hospital,” she said.

Currently, Oliveira works with 10 or so other women, many of them widows in their 80s and 90s. “It’s an amazing group who are so dedicated to our mission, and so respected,” she said.

That group includes people like Bea Hayes, a former senior home care aide who is now a key member of our Service League team of volunteers. Known for always saying “yes” to a request, Bea works the gift shop, provides haircuts for long-term residents and provides yummy baked goods for team meetings.

There’s also Lorraine “Dee” Escobar, a spunky former cowgirl who manages our gift shop. At age 90 and 5-feet-tall, Dee is a real pistol, taking care of business each day with a smile. Immensely popular with both patients and staff, Dee is a vibrant example of how volunteerism is a win-win for everyone.

Another dynamo is 80-year-old Sarah Wells, who brings love and compassion to the hospital in a variety of ways. Fluent in Spanish, Sarah often serves as an important interpreter for patients, and even writes notes for them. Sarah reveals the power of volunteerism on all fronts.

Oliveira admits that if it wasn’t for volunteering, they would all probably be sitting at home bored. At the hospital, everything flourishes, said Oliveira, who spends much of her time writing newsletters and grants (including one she secured for $20,000).

Working with the Service League helps the volunteers to remain vibrant and alive in the community. “It gives them a reason to get up in the morning, and brings a lot to the hospital at the same time,” she said.

While Service League volunteers have kept a lower profile during the pandemic, that will change soon, and Oliveira will be searching for kind souls to bolster her ranks, people who want to make a difference on a human-to-human level.

If that sounds like you and you want to help our cause at Mee Memorial, please call 831-386-7396. Who knows, it may just change your life.

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Rena Salamacha
CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System

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