The Gift of Time
Our diverse league of volunteers — from high schoolers to golden-agers — carry out small tasks that reap big rewards for patients, families, staff members and the volunteers themselves.
Volunteer Phil Fraser
softly strummed his guitar
as he walked to the Medical
Unit. As he turned the
corner toward the nurses’
station, a somber 3-year-old
pushing an IV pole appeared.
“Sing me a Halloween song,” said the tot.
Racking his brain, Fraser’s mental
list of songs came up blank for anything
related to Halloween. “I’m sorry, I don’t
know one,” he finally had to admit.
Taking a step back, the little girl
looked Fraser straight in the eye and
with a deadpan expression commanded,
“Just sing it.”
With that, he tentatively began
to sing. “Happy Halloween, happy
Halloween, trick or treat, trick or treat …”
Grinning from ear to ear, the child
joined in on the second chorus and,
together, they stood in the hallway
and sang their new song.
A league apart
Fraser is one of nearly 1,100 volunteers
who share their time — and talents —
each month in assignments that range
from filing specimen slides in the
lab to tutoring hospitalized children
and teens who need to keep up with
Across the nation, Seattle Children’s
is known for having one of the largest
volunteer crews of any children’s hospital.
“My colleagues at other hospitals
are clamoring for volunteers. They ask
me, ‘How do you do it?’” muses Denise
Green, a 28-year Children’s veteran
who manages the volunteer office.
Working with volunteer coordinator
Alison Garrison, Green matches 1,200
new volunteers a year with jobs in
90 different departments.
Over the last seven years, Children’s
volunteers logged close to 910,000
hours of time, a staggering figure that
represents about $16.5 million in saved
“People from all walks of life
come through our doors to volunteer
for a variety of reasons,” explains Green.
“What keeps them coming back are
the powerful connections they make
with patients, families, staff members
and each other.”
Part of Children’s family
From 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days
a week, volunteers in their trademark
blue smocks can be found at the hospital.
None is more recognizable — or dedicated
— than Rusty Smith, 28.
Every Tuesday afternoon, Smith and
his parents, Mike and Sandi, travel one
hour by water taxi from their home in
the San Juan Islands and stay the night
in Anacortes. In the morning, they get up
early and head to Seattle so Smith won’t
be late for his volunteer job: a 9 a.m. to
3 p.m. delivery gig.
Smith has severe cerebral palsy and
received treatment at Children’s until
he turned 21. As a Children’s volunteer,
he maneuvers his electric wheelchair to
every corner of the hospital, delivering
toys to the playroom, parcels to the mail
room, and gifts, flowers and balloons to
Through voice software on his laptop
computer he explains why he’s kept his
campus courier position for the last eight
years. “I like the people I meet and I feel
good doing this job. I feel like I belong.”
On Tuesday mornings when Claudia
Cady brings out Millie’s “work clothes,”
the 24-pound Cavalier King Charles spaniel puts her head through her own
harness and wags with excitement as
Claudia buckles the green vest that
identifies her as a certified Pet Partner.
Being able to bring Millie to the
hospital is a dream come true for Cady,
a retired bank vice president. After
spending two years working with a
professional animal-assisted therapist
at Children’s and putting Millie through
the rigors of advanced dog training,
she says the smiles on the faces of
the children they visit make all the
preparation worth it.
But Millie isn’t just for the kids.
“Families and staff members love to
see her, too,” says Cady. “99% of the people at the hospital
who see my little black-and-tan dog
give us a big smile.”
The healing is mutual
When Green and Garrison talk about
their volunteers, they say that many
people not only give of their time, they
give of their hearts. This is especially
true of Fraser, the retired engineer who
sings and plays guitar for children on the
inpatient units every Wednesday morning.
After Children’s surgeons removed
a golf ball–sized tumor from the wall of
his oldest son’s heart in the early 1970s,
Fraser returned the favor for a few years
by crooning to hospitalized babies and
toddlers after work. In 2006, Fraser
came back to his volunteer stomping
grounds to delight more children with
his soothing voice and whimsical songs —
many of which he writes about places
at the hospital.
“My goal is to help the children
relax,” reflects Fraser. “Music is the tool
that I use to release them from the
invisible restraints of the hospital bed.
It’s also very healing for me.”
Even though his son is almost 40,
Fraser says he’ll never forget what it was
like to be a parent with a seriously ill
child — a feeling that continues to inspire
him. “There’s always one more song
that I need to write and one more child
I wish I could see.”
“We work for eight hours and sleep for eight hours. What do you choose to do with that third eight? I choose to become involved.”