To become a volunteer with the Northeast Georgia Health System, visit www.nghs.com/volunteer.
Dot Dusenberry is no stranger to bedside visits. The 12-year volunteer with the Northeast Georgia Health System easily recalls a moment from last year when she felt she truly made a difference in a patient’s holiday enjoyment.
“We went over to New Horizons over on Limestone Parkway,” Dusenberry said, adding she and her fellow volunteers decorated the nursing home for Christmas. “(The patients) are old and indigent in many ways. They don’t get out at all, and they don’t have a lot of family who comes to see them.”
The joy the decorations brought to the patients reminded Dusenberry why she became a Northeast Georgia Medical Center volunteer in the first place.
“If you could’ve just seen the smile on those people’s faces and how appreciative they were. They just kept telling us over and over how much they appreciated us doing it,” the 76-year-old woman said. “It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience, just being with them and seeing how much they appreciated what the volunteers were doing for them.”
While NGMC has a wealth of volunteers year-round, it doesn’t require them to serve during the holidays. According to Lynne Allen, director of volunteer services at the hospital, those who do continue to serve as the calender inches closer to Christmas deserve special recognition.
“It’s evident that our volunteers here are committed to making a difference in the lives of others, and I think it is commendable of them (to serve over the holidays), because it is a very busy time of year for people,” she said. “For them to continue giving their valuable time and service, it really says a lot about who they are.”
As family obligations, party preparations and shopping begin to pile up, volunteers face a whole other realm of responsibility at the hospital — it falls on them to operate two gift shops on the Gainesville campus, deliver mail and gifts to patients, operate a shuttle service from the parking lot to the hospital and decorate the hospital for Christmas, among other duties.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work,” Dusenberry said of decorating the hospital for Christmas.
This year it took Dusenberry and a staff of 20 to 25 volunteers two days to put it all together.
“It really makes a big difference for the patients and all the people who visit, as well as for the staff, because it helps to make it beautiful in the hospital,” she said.
Another important duty the volunteers perform is working as “patient friends.” Barbara Mayer, 62, has been volunteering as a patient friend in the hospital’s oncology unit for almost five years.
“No one ever wants to be on the oncology unit,” said Mayer, who is originally from Santa Barbara, Calif. “It can be an especially difficult time during the holidays.”
She and her volunteer partner, Bev Snyder, perform tasks such as restocking patient rooms with supplies, but the biggest aspect of their job is working with families whose loved ones are hospitalized. Snyder and Mayer bring the family members things such as coffee and reading materials. Sometimes, they simply show sympathy.
“One thing I always like to do is make sure the family members have eaten breakfast,” Mayer said. “Sometimes family members will be staying in the (hospital) room 24 hours a day, and out of their concern for their loved one, they forget to eat. I try to remind them to take care of themselves, maybe get them a cup of coffee, things like that.”
Mayer’s favorite memory as a holiday season volunteer is bittersweet.
“It was obvious it was going to be the patient’s last Christmas, and I just helped the family rearrange the room,” Mayer said. “They brought in decorations so that they could have a family Christmas celebration. The patient really enjoyed that, and so did the family.”
Some of the hospital’s biggest fundraising initiatives also take place during the holidays: Marketplace, the Medical Center Auxiliary’s annual benefit for Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County and Love Light, the annual tree-lighting ceremony where individuals can purchase ornaments in memory of deceased loved ones to be placed on the Love Light tree. The huge Christmas tree is placed in the hospital’s Love Light Garden.
Since its creation in 1980, the successful Love Light event has raised more than $2 million for Hospice of Northeast Georgia.
“We accept donations (for Love Light) all year, but the bulk of our donations are contributed during the holidays,” Allen said. “And we have many volunteers who come in to make sure those gifts in honor or memory are acknowledged.”
In addition to registering gifts and donations, volunteers were on hand to distribute cider and cookies during the tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 1.
“It takes us a couple hours, but it really adds to the ceremony and fun of the night,” Dusenberry said.
Volunteers also operate the shuttle service that ferries visitors from the parking lot to the hospital. They even get in on the holiday cheer.
“One particular (driver) had on a Santa hat and a red jacket,” said Dusenberry, who serves as the vice president of the Medical Center Auxiliary. “He also had a big white beard, so he really looked like Santa Claus driving the sleigh. They try to add a little fun for the patients’ families as they come and go from the hospital.”
As the holidays will eventually come to an end, Allen is careful to point out how the hospital volunteers aren’t just active one time of the year.
“Our volunteers serve each and every day to help patients and family members,” Allen said. “During the holidays they continue to serve, and I know that makes a difference in the quality of service that’s provided to the patients and their family members.”
Whether it’s working behind a counter or at a bedside, their contributions are invaluable to the operations of the hospital and to the individuals who spend the best time of the year with their life hanging in the balance.
“People that are in the hospital during the holiday season are sometimes very lonely,” Dusenberry said. “They don’t have anybody. The volunteers I think kind of act like a substitute family sometimes.”
Despite the amount of effort, time and occasional emotional difficulties, most who elect to keep coming back over the holidays don’t regret it in the slightest.
“It’s more fun for me than it is for them, I’ll tell you,” Dusenberry said. “I love it.”