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 Frasersoftly strummed his guitaras he walked to the MedicalUnit. As he turned thecorner toward the nurses’station, a somber 3-year-oldpushing an IV pole appeared.
“Sing me a Halloween song,” said the tot.
Racking his brain, Fraser’s mentallist of songs came up blank for anythingrelated to Halloween. “I’m sorry, I don’tknow one,” he finally had to admit.
Taking a step back, the little girllooked Fraser straight in the eye andwith a deadpan expression commanded, “Just sing it.”
With that, he tentatively beganto sing. “Happy Halloween, happyHalloween, trick or treat, trick or treat …”
Grinning from ear to ear, the childjoined in on the second chorus and,together, they stood in the hallwayand sang their new song.
A league apart
Fraser is one of nearly 1,100 volunteerswho share their time — and talents —each month in assignments that rangefrom filing specimen slides in thelab to tutoring hospitalized childrenand teens who need to keep up withtheir schoolwork.
Across the nation, Seattle Children’sis known for having one of the largestvolunteer crews of any children’s hospital.
“My colleagues at other hospitalsare clamoring for volunteers. They askme, ‘How do you do it?’” muses DeniseGreen, a 28-year Children’s veteranwho manages the volunteer office.Working with volunteer coordinatorAlison Garrison, Green matches 1,200new volunteers a year with jobs in90 different departments.
Over the last seven years, Children’svolunteers logged close to 910,000hours of time, a staggering figure thatrepresents about $16.5 million in savedlabor costs.
“People from all walks of lifecome through our doors to volunteerfor a variety of reasons,” explains Green. “What keeps them coming back arethe powerful connections they makewith patients, families, staff membersand each other.”
Part of Children’s family
From 6 a.m. to midnight, seven daysa week, volunteers in their trademarkblue smocks can be found at the hospital.None is more recognizable — or dedicated— than Rusty Smith, 28.
Every Tuesday afternoon, Smith andhis parents, Mike and Sandi, travel onehour by water taxi from their home inthe San Juan Islands and stay the nightin Anacortes. In the morning, they get upearly and head to Seattle so Smith won’tbe late for his volunteer job: a 9 a.m. to3 p.m. delivery gig.
Smith has severe cerebral palsy andreceived treatment at Children’s untilhe turned 21. As a Children’s volunteer,he maneuvers his electric wheelchair toevery corner of the hospital, deliveringtoys to the playroom, parcels to the mailroom, and gifts, flowers and balloons topatient rooms.
Through voice software on his laptopcomputer he explains why he’s kept hiscampus courier position for the last eightyears. “I like the people I meet and I feelgood doing this job. I feel like I belong.”
On Tuesday mornings when ClaudiaCady brings out Millie’s “work clothes,”the 24-pound Cavalier King Charles spaniel puts her head through her ownharness and wags with excitement asClaudia buckles the green vest thatidentifies her as a certified Pet Partner.
Being able to bring Millie to thehospital is a dream come true for Cady,a retired bank vice president. Afterspending two years working with aprofessional animal-assisted therapistat Children’s and putting Millie throughthe rigors of advanced dog training,she says the smiles on the faces ofthe children they visit make all thepreparation worth it.
But Millie isn’t just for the kids. “Families and staff members love tosee her, too,” says Cady. “99% of the people at the hospitalwho see my little black-and-tan doggive us a big smile.”
The healing is mutual
When Green and Garrison talk abouttheir volunteers, they say that manypeople not only give of their time, theygive of their hearts. This is especiallytrue of Fraser, the retired engineer whosings and plays guitar for children on theinpatient units every Wednesday morning.
After Children’s surgeons removeda golf ball–sized tumor from the wall ofhis oldest son’s heart in the early 1970s,Fraser returned the favor for a few yearsby crooning to hospitalized babies andtoddlers after work. In 2006, Frasercame back to his volunteer stompinggrounds to delight more children withhis soothing voice and whimsical songs —many of which he writes about placesat the hospital.
“My goal is to help the childrenrelax,” reflects Fraser. “Music is the toolthat I use to release them from theinvisible 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 waslike to be a parent with a seriously illchild — a feeling that continues to inspirehim. “There’s always one more songthat I need to write and one more childI 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.”