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St. Michael's 125th

Stories

Donating time


Volunteer Dan Har Li makes her rounds in the Medical Daycare Unit, 2015. (Photo by Yuri Markarov) More photos

In April 1920, a group of 65 women, who had volunteered with the Red Cross in World War I, came together to form the Women’s Auxiliary to St. Michael’s Hospital. The precursor to both the current volunteer program and the hospital foundation, they began by producing linens – everything from sheets to clothes and drapes – all the while raising funds for the hospital.

Today, there are 500 volunteers who cover 430 four-hour placements a week, With volunteers in 70 areas of the hospital, Michael Kidd, director of volunteer services, said, “We have volunteers in so many places and we look for placements that are both satisfying for the volunteer and improve the patient and family experience here at St. Michael’s.”

The average volunteer has also changed. Originally, most were the wives of physicians, but now men make up 30 per cent of the volunteer base. Volunteer ages range from 16 to 90, from students considering health care as a career, to working professionals looking to give back and older adults in an active retirement. Forty per cent each are under 25 years of age and over 55. Yet, there are more similarities than differences, said Kidd: “All of our volunteers want to give back to the hospital and we love the diversity of people and ages we have.

The volunteers supplement the services provided by the hospital, greeting, informing, guiding and comforting patients and their families. They go above and beyond to create a supportive environment and reduce stress, because “when a volunteer goes into a patient’s room, they look for anything they can do to improve the patient’s stay with us.” said Kidd.

For Mary Joy Sloan, a 32 year veteran volunteer, even tea time is an opportunity for extra attention and care: “I usually put a tea bag in a teapot, and I give them a nice cup and saucer, and I find some cookies. And I put out the milk, the cream and sugar, with spoons so they can take the tea bag out when they want.”

The volunteers make a difference every day, said Kidd, giving “tens of thousands of hours a year, which translates into hundreds of thousands of moments of service, on a day-to-day basis.” The hospital thanks volunteers through its recognition program, acknowledging hours and years of service. But what keeps volunteers coming back year after year is knowing their time was well spent, with placements that match their personalities and talents.

And how does St. Michael’s volunteer program compare to other hospitals? "I think we have a terrific program, but then again, why wouldn't I say that," laughed Kidd.  One thing is certain: “It doesn’t seem to matter what you do here, everybody is treated with respect. And I think that’s so very important,” said Sloan.

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Photo gallery

Move your mouse over the thumbnails for a larger image. (Photos courtesy of the St. Michael’s Hospital Archives)