SOAPBOX • Hospital's helpers offer time, experience

She is a grandmother in her 80s who spends every afternoon welcoming severely disabled children home from school with warm words and a hug. Her own children long grown, she rocks medically fragile children to sleep, lulling their struggling bodies into gentle dreams.

He is a lawyer whose life was turned upside down a year ago when he was crippled by a stroke. He recovered, returned to law and landed back in the hospital again Ñ this time as a peer volunteer. He uses his own experiences to convince stroke patients that life will get better.

She is a homemaker who wanted to give back. Twice a week she comes to the hospital. She spends her time calling to remind patients of upcoming appointments and helping staff with office work.

He is just out of high school and a volunteer in the emergency department. He helps the technicians and nurses with patients. He knew he was interested in medicine but wanted to make sure of his career choice. He knows now. He starts a nursing program later this year.

She spent a nursing career delivering babies. She so missed the hospital community after retiring that she returned as a volunteer in the gift shop. She stocks shelves, rings up sales and delivers flowers to patients.

These are just five examples of the men and women who give the gift of their time and talent as volunteers at Providence Health System medical facilities.

And we, as an organization and as employees, are the better for the generosity of these volunteers. At the three metro-area hospitals, Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center and Providence Milwaukie Hospital, more than 1,200 volunteers gave nearly 155,000 hours of service in 2005. That's the equivalent of an additional 74 full-time employees.

At Providence Portland Medical Center alone, 365 volunteers gave more than 42,000 hours of time. Our gift shop has an all-volunteer staff. Forty men and women keep the doors open 50 hours a week. All the proceeds are funneled into Providence Portland Medical Foundation, which in turn provides financial assistance to patients in need.

Our amazing volunteers range from teenagers to men and women in their 90s. In addition to operating our gift shops, they transport patients, read to children, staff information desks, drive patients to cancer treatments, deliver supplies to nursing floors, collate charts, answer phones and support staff in almost every department of all of our hospitals.

More important, our volunteers give of their hearts. They hold the hands of frightened patients, they put an arm around sick children, they encourage a worried parent.

We know the presence of these wonderful volunteers is the greatest gift they give Ñ whether to patients or employees.

The Independent Sector Ñ a nonpartisan coalition of charities, foundations and corporate giving programs Ñ placed the national value of a volunteer hour at $18.04. But to us, they are priceless.

April 23 through April 29 is National Volunteer Week. Providence Health System is a better place because of our tremendous army of volunteers. We take this time of year to recognize and honor our volunteers. But we thank them from the bottom of our hearts every day of the year.

Courtney Jackson is director of volunteer services at Providence Portland Medical Center.

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