Though it was many years ago, volunteer Laurie Anderson cannot get one particular patient out of her mind. "One time, a young woman burst into tears when I introduced myself," she says.
Turns out the woman had been in an auto accident and was pregnant and had lost the baby. The woman was distraught. Although she already had a team of understanding physicians, nurses and social workers, Anderson still felt she was able to make a difference by just listening to the woman and providing even more emotional support.
Once a teacher in Torrance and Palos Verdes, Anderson now only works part-time at a seasonal job helping people on and off cruise ships. But she started volunteering before she retired as a way to give back for all the good fortune she's had in her own life.
For many like Anderson, the most rewarding part about volunteering at Torrance Memorial is being a voice for patients. These patient representatives, as they are called, visit with patients and act as a liaison with the hospital on non-medical matters. Anderson, the chairperson in this area for more than 30 years, is no stranger to volunteering at Torrance Memorial. When she started as a patient representative, the program was in its infancy.
"It was something I was moved to do because of my own experiences-having surgery and feeling lousy and wanting someone to talk to," says Anderson. Plus, at the time, her mother-in-law was dying from cancer, and she saw the need for someone to sit with her loved one-other than family-and comfort her.
Now one of 10 patient representative volunteers assigned to units and floors, Anderson checks in weekly and then makes her round: visiting people. She's found a patient feels empowered if you just listen. Plus she has the opportunity to comfort them, even if it's just for a few short minutes. "I like the one-on-one contact with the patient," she says.
It's volunteers like Anderson who make up the spirit of Torrance Memorial; just ask any patient, physician or staff member. The hospital's dedicated volunteers are members of the Torrance Memorial Medical Center Auxiliary, which was started in 1951 by six individuals and has now grown to more than 850 members. Those willing to give their time come from all walks of life-some as young as 14 years old, others in their 90s. And while a lot of volunteers are retired or stay-at-home moms, others are between jobs or full-time professionals who come by after business hours or in the wee hours of the morning.come to us from our community," says Mary Matson, director of volunteer services. All volunteers must give a minimum one-year commitment, usually volunteering four hours a week. Each person is trained in a specialty area.
Matson says that the state of the economy has changed the face of volunteering. With more people out of work in the past few years, there was an influx of community members who wanted to use their newly found time for good. But many who came aboard to help others found that they were hooked and stayed long after they got back on their feet again.
Matson is not surprised, since longevity is a theme among Torrance Memorial's volunteers. "We have volunteers with us more than 40 years," says Matson. "Plus we get folks who are highly skilled-retired or not-some who ran corporations, former school principals and other upstanding members of the community."
Maybe you've thought about volunteering, but you're not comfortable sitting with a patient. We talked to the already dedicated volunteers and found some unique opportunities guaranteed to pique anyone's interest. What about putting your piano lessons to good use and playing for patients and guests in the lobby? Or turning your knitting hobby into adorable hats for newborns? What about calling out numbers live on Torrance Memorial's television station for weekly bingo? Here are just a few of the many wonderful specialty areas in which volunteers are making Torrance Memorial, and the community, a better place.
Greeting with Smiles
When you first walk out of the parking structure at the hospital, you may be greeted with a warm smile and someone eager to point you in the right direction. These helpful welcomers are greeters, one of the hospital's newest volunteer service areas.
Gail Long, a Rancho Palos Verdes resident and retired teacher of 32 years, joined the Auxiliary in 2005. Today she is the Auxiliary board president. While she was a teacher, her students at Torrance's Community Day School were court-ordered to do volunteer work, so she believed volunteering herself would set a good example. What her students believed was penance, she saw as a reward.
Today, beyond her board president duties, she works as a greeter, an escort and occasionally helps out in the gift shop. The new greeter program came out of a need to relieve the stress of patients and family members who arrive at the hospital and to assist during the five years of construction on the Main Tower.
"We want to minimize the frustrations they may feel when coming onto a campus under construction-providing a friendly, welcoming face to assist them with directions to their hospital destinations," says Long. While the team can assist wheelchairs from the valet stand and answer construction questions, they can also just serve to offer a friendly "hello."
Recently, a fellow volunteer became a patient in the Palliative Care unit. She was undergoing chemotherapy/radiation and lost most of her hair. "Yet when election time came around, she put on her baseball cap and pushed her IV from door to door on her floor, assisting other volunteers in collecting absentee ballots," says Long. According to Long, it's this selflessness that makes Torrance Memorial's volunteers so special.
Fun For All
There is still plenty of time for "clowning around" among the volunteers. Just ask Joyce Payne, who has been bringing her craft to the patients of Torrance Memorial since 1992. A professional clown and president of the World Clown Association, Payne not only chairs the hospital's volunteer clown unit, known as "Clowns on Rounds," but also is instructor and general advisor, or "subject matter expert," on hospital clowning.
Bringing smiles to the faces of children makes the hours of tediously applying makeup worth it for Payne. One boy in particular, in the burn unit, stands out in Payne's memory. He had "an arrayof Spiderman figures spread across the foot of his bed," she says. "It really surprised him when I was able to sing the entire Spiderman theme song! It really made his day ... and mine as well."
Though Payne is semi-retired, her husband and grown son support her travels to perform and lecture. Serving a two-year term as the World Clown Association's 29th president, she oversees a 3,000-member association with an executive committee and board of directors. But she always enjoys coming home and performing locally for the community at Torrance Memorial. "There is nothing more rewarding than to positively impact others with such simple actions and efforts of clowning."
For Moms and Babies
The Torrance Memorial volunteers are a welcome site to weary moms and dads navigating the world with a newborn. While some volunteers walk around with cameras and photograph the newborns for the parents and the Torrance Memorial website, others assist moms and families in Labor and Delivery or wheel around the cookie cart with warm treats for new moms. Families and babies are important to Donna Cohen, a volunteer who started almost 16 years ago at Torrance Memorial. A family affair, Cohen's children are also active in volunteer work around the community. Her family motto has always been that if you don't have money, you need to give your time.
But Cohen, who professes that babies make her a happy person, found her perfect volunteer opportunity when she became a cuddler. Now the chairperson, she was around in 2002 when the program was just being formed. Cuddlers, a coveted volunteer position, don't just hug babies and give them love-although Cohen admits, that is the fun part. Cuddlers also have to meet identified qualifications, such as infection control; competency in diaper changing; correct positions for cuddling premature and sick babies; and meeting confidentiality requirements. Many of the babies weigh only a pound at birth, so picking them up, when attached to wires and machines, takes extra care. But it's worth it. Cohen knows that it's a comfort for parents-who cannot be with the infant at all times-to sometimes receive a supportive hug or touch when they have just received bad news.
Cohen considers herself lucky to have always had flexible jobs, because in her mind the volunteering always came first-especially because of her dedicated connection to Torrance Memorial. "I've had a lot of surgery here," says the cancer survivor. "And my husband and kids have been taken care of here. It's a feeling that you need to give back to the hospital."
Cohen is proud to be a cuddler as the role evolves and the nurses and doctors become more bonded with the program volunteers. There are volunteers in the NICU from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. When the program started, the shifts were 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But that changed when one volunteer, who had trouble sleeping, asked if he could start coming in the middle of the night to cuddle. So while he no longer does the midnight hours-because his wife missed him at home-he still often arrives early in the morning when he's already awake.
What keeps Cohen coming back-beyond cute babies, of course-is the respect that the hospital administration and staff have for the volunteers. Volunteers are part of the Torrance Memorial family-so much so that cuddlers are now a part of a reunion each October when babies of the NICU return to the hospital to give thanks. "Cuddlers come to see the children all grown up," says Cohen. "I've even been invited to baby showers."
The Care Crew
What might seem like the most daunting volunteer positions can also be the most rewarding: working one-on-one with patients. In the area of patient care, volunteers spend their time in the medical-surgical units, critical care units, progressive care units, transitional care units and the emergency department. For volunteer Beth Zager, joining this team was a no-brainer. The long-time Redondo Beach resident survived, with the help of her loving husband and two sons, two bouts of breast cancer. The retired saleswoman of 21 years-and a doting grandmother of a 21-month-old-now spends four hours on Mondays volunteering at the registration desk in day surgery and four hours on Wednesdays in 2N oncology.
Ready to start her healthy recovery in 2010, volunteering "was my entry back into life, literally," she says. Zager knows that oncology is an emotionally tough floor. "It is kind of like going back to the old neighborhood after you have moved elsewhere," she adds. "I will never forget all the warm smiles and kindnesses, and I feel so very fortunate to be able to make someone else-anyone-feel that they are cared about, are important and to be positive when all else around them may be bleak."
Zager admits it can be a challenge. She often wonders how the patients are doing and what their prognosis is. However, she says it's an honor to hear people recant the special moments in their lives and talk about their future dreams. n
To become a Torrance Memorial volunteer, click here or call 310-517-4752.